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

January 28, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Character Study

The Bible Project

 

Words of Welcome
“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treatiesdid not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.
Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn There’s a Spirit in the Air VU 582

Call to Worship

One: The Spirit calls us to set aside our work and come to worship.
All: The Spirit calls us to set aside our everyday to join in worship.
One: The Spirit calls us to lift our voices
All: and share our hearts.
One: The Spirit calls us to worship
All: so we pray:

Opening Prayer

Holy Spirit, we pray that our worship today brings us to new understandings of your love in this world. May it be so.

Hymn I Feel the Winds of God VU 625

Theme Conversation Searching for Answers
Hymn Jesus, Friend of Little Children VU 340

Readings John 3:1-17

Musical Response I Know Your Word MV 108

Sermon The Most Important Part

So many times, I’ve read this and gotten caught up in the last part that I’ve missed the whole point of this story. I’ll go over the main points again.
Nicodemus is a teacher in the Hebrew faith. He has a particular denomination – he’s a Pharisee. Jesus is not a Pharisee, yet many who hear Jesus, like what he has to say. Many Pharisee leaders try to stump Jesus or catch him up in his own arguments while he’s preaching. He’s not one of them, so he can’t be right and it’s up to them to save these poor, stupid people from being sucked in to the Jesus following. Nicodemus is one of the Pharisee teachers. He’s impressed by what he hears from Jesus. But if he shows this desire to hear more, the others – his own people – will reject him. So he goes to visit Jesus after dark, when no one can see him. Jesus answers all of Nicodemus’ questions, but it is hard for Nicodemus to understand what Jesus is telling him. Jesus’ response seems so simple, that it becomes cryptic.
The answer is all around you. Change your life so much you feel like you are beginning again. Forget that past life. Follow my teachings, and the way will become clear.
This is a character story. It’s a story about a person whose relationship to Jesus we can learn something from. So yes, it’s a bit symbolic and cryptic. Nicodemus is embarrassed by so much. He was a teacher, learning from this crazy, new methods, but methods that seemed to be working. Nicodemus would likely have been embarrassed to even feel the need to improve his methods and then to have to admit to Jesus that he didn’t understand what it was that Jesus was telling him. Sometimes it’s hard to admit when you don’t know something.
I bet you are wondering at this point, if this passage is all about Nicodemus not knowing the obvious answers, where does the only begotten son come in?
This is one of those times when language really bothers me. I’m sure If I ask you to recite John 3:16, many of you, can – in the King James version. Anybody?
But we didn’t hear that verse in today’s passage. We’ve gotten better at translating Ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew in the last 500 or so years. Not to mention the evolution of our own language.
I enjoy listening to the evolution of my nephew’s language. This time last year, he could hardly talk. A few months ago my name was “Bob!! Bob!!” A few weeks ago my name was “Ka Ka” and currently I’m “Ah ka”. If he follows a similar progression as his older sister, I’ll likely be “Aunt Ka” for a bit then a really choppy version of Annika then a year or so later it’ll finally be Aunt Annika.
My point is that language evolves, as does our understanding of both God and Jesus. Barrett knew my name wasn’t Bob, but it was a name associated with me when he couldn’t say the right name. He did the best he could with what he had to work with. We do the same. The more science helps us to understand God, the more we feel compelled to moved away from terminology that doesn’t fit anymore. The more we learn about power, control, politics, mutuality and right-relationships, even more words and terms don’t really fit.
The phrase from the reading that did jump out at me this time around was about the wind. “The wind blows where it will. You hear the sound it makes, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus wanted to know how to have the kind of life that Jesus had. And Jesus answered “The wind blows where it will.” There is no one answer, the many answers are all around us.
This is one of the many reasons I love the United Church. Not only do we have ongoing discussions and relationships with many Christian traditions such as the Methodist and Anglican churches, but we also worked in the late 1990s and early 2000 with representatives from the Islamic and Hebrew faith traditions, simply to understand each other. In the end the official conversations became papers and studies for congregations. Recognizing that there are many ways to God is not just a United Church thing, it’s a Jesus thing. Jesus and Nicodemus were both Hebrew, but in the same way that the United Church and the Anglican Church are both Christian. Jesus didn’t keep his teachings or his worship only to people who practiced and believed the exact same things as him. Jesus spent time with many different kinds of people. People of the Spirit come from the Spirit.
It’s doesn’t matter what path you follow, people who live in Love offer Love. People who are happy, do things that make others happy. People who feel a sense of Peace, people who feel the Sacred offer Sacred moments.
We have many opportunities to offer those sacred moments in our everyday life: compassion filled hugs, words of hope, actions of dignity and respect. We do this because we believe that these all contribute to building the kin-dom of God, and in the kin-dom of God the wind blows where it will. We hear the sound it makes, but we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Let’s pray:
Holy Spirit, with no beginning and no end, we pray that our understanding of who we are strengthens our commitment to building your realm in this place. We pray for courage in the moments we cannot feel your wind. In your name we pray.
Amen.

Music Minstry Blowin’ in the Wind Bob Dylan

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation Thank you for your generosity. This lent we are going to participate in a community building practice. This program was devloped by The Prayer Bench, a Maritime United Church company that focuses on creating resources for small groups and individuals to deepen their spiritual practices. This company could not exist, nor could we participate in their rich resources without your generosity.

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 Spirit God, Be Our Breath MV 150

Commissioning & Benediction

Musical Blessing May The Love Of Our God MV 218

January 21, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Art Therapy Spot

English Language & Usage

Gospel Parallels

Words of Welcome
“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treatiesdid not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.
Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn God of the Sparrow VU 229

Call to Worship One: Sometimes we come to worship feeling joy. All: Sometimes we come to worship feeling angry. One: Worship is a place to come whatever your feelings might be. All: Come and give or come and receive the gifts of the Spirit. One: Come and worship. All: Come and worship.

Opening Prayer Spirit that soothes and rages, be with us and all of our feelings. May the Spirit’s presence in this hour uplift those who need to be uplifted, calm those who need to be calmed, and reassure those who need to be reassured. May it be so.

Hymn Love Us into Fullness MV 81

Theme Conversation Big Feelings
Hymn Jesus, Friend of Little Children VU 340

Readings John 2:13-25

Musical Response I Know Your Word MV 108

Sermon Be Grace-Filled When You Can’t Be Graceful

Remember back before Advent, the lectionary readings were all about the Hebrew people being held captive and building the Temple?  Well, this is the Temple in the lectionary today.  It was THE Temple.  It was this big, magnificent building to show that the King’s devotion to God.  People came from all over the land in the time before Passover to worship there…similar, I suspect, to the way many folks in Canada are currently travelling to see the arm of St. Francis Xavier. It was the opportunity to connect to the sacred past.

So Jesus and his followers have made this journey, and when they get there, people are selling doves in the area of the temple meant for everyone.  You might wonder why this is such a big deal.  I know at first I did, but when it was pointed out that doves were offered as sacrifices, I felt a little outraged too.  This would be similar our council setting up in the lobby and selling the envelopes needed for offering or selling hymn books or the prayers of confession needed to participate in worship and you could only use the ones purchased in the lobby.  Don’t bother trying to slip a plain envelope with your name on it in or you can’t sing in worship unless you’ve purchased the book they are selling in the lobby.  On top of that they only accept certain coins, let’s say pennies, so you had to visit the money changer first before you can buy your expensive doves.  The money changer, of course keeps a percentage of the money you exchange.

Not much wonder Jesus was angry.  One of the things he preached frequently about was every person’s relationship with God not needing sacrifices.  He preached about all people being able to approach God, regardless of their financial position.  He preached about systemic corruption in the church and about priests being no closer to God than anyone else.  So obviously even though he thought everyone had heard his message, they didn’t fully “get it”.  And then Jesus lost his cool. He ended up doing something he sort of preached against.  Jesus flipped the tables, he dumped the coins, he tore the place up with a whip.  The man who preached passive resistance and non-violence got violently angry.

To me this isn’t a story about the “rules” of the temple or sacrifices.   It’s a story about not being perfect and being ok with that.  It’s about being grace-filled when you can’t be graceful.  I noticed when I was searching for images of “flipping tables”, that there was a question about an Israeli idiom on a language website.  The person looking for the translation explained that in Israel, to “flip a table” is to do something vulgar out of desperation. Reminds me of something one might do in a moment of traffic-induced desperation.  Flipping tables during the time of Jesus or now certainly isn’t something to be considered graceful.

Because this particular incident is written about in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, each in a different place in the story of Jesus’s life, it’s quite possible that the biggest part of Jesus’s teachings happened after this moment.  In other words, even though Jesus totally lost it in front of a crowd of people, he still got up and taught again, something that would have required some grace with himself.

Have you ever acted out in desperation?  Have you ever felt so misunderstood no matter what you said or how you said it?  It’s usually at this point that I begin to cry.  When I’ve said all I can say, when I’ve done all I can do, and the message I’m trying to communicate still isn’t understood, the tears come weather I want them to or not.  Sometimes it works in my favor, but most of the time it just makes me feel worse.

I came across this fable told on a youtube video by a young woman.  I can’t quite figure out where it comes from, but it illustrates my feelings quite well.

Once there was a carver who made a mistake. We don’t know if it was a big mistake or a small mistake, but it doesn’t matter, the story is still the same.  The Carver felt so badly about the mistake, that the Carver made a little stone carving to remember what had happened.  The Carver always carried it.  But the carver had a lot of regret and the regret had a strange effect on the stone carving.  The longer the Carver carried it, the bigger and heavier the carving grew.  Soon the carver could no longer carry the stone in a pocket, so the Carver put the stone carving in a satchel. Soon after, the Carver stopped at an inn for a hot meal.  When it was time to pay, the Carver reached into the satchel, but the stone carving had grown so large, that the Carver had to remove it to get to the money.  The Inn Keeper looked at the stone with curiosity “What is that?” asked the Inn Keeper.  “It is a symbol of a mistake I made” said the Carver, “I carry it with me to remember what I have done.”

“It seems like a very heavy burden,” said the Inn Keeper, “you may leave it here when you go, if you wish.”

“No, I can’t do that,” said the Carver “don’t you understand?  I can never forgive myself for my mistake.  If I leave my stone behind, I might forget what I have done.”  So the Carver left, carrying the stone under an arm, as it was too big to fit in the satchel anymore.

After a couple of days, the stone carving was so large it needed to be carried with both arms.  The Carver passed by a young person standing at a well.  “Hello,” the young person called, “You look weary.  Would you like a drink?”  “Thank you,” said the Carver, “but I cannot lay down my stone, so I have no hands to drink with.”  The young person replied, “But it looks like such a heavy stone, you can’t put it down even for a drink?”  The Carver sighed.  “I can’t put it down for anything.  It’s a symbol of a mistake I made.  I carry it to remember.  If I put it down, it means I don’t regret it.”

So the Carver carried on, focused only on carrying the stone and regret.  Eventually the stone grew so heavy with regret that the Carver, stooped over with the stone on their back that they shuffled along.  Eventually the stone became so heavy with regret, that the Carver couldn’t move another step and was crushed beneath the stone.

Action (Put rock on the communion table)

I imagine a few of you are carrying some sort of stone.  Even if you aren’t, I’m sure you remember what it felt like to carry around the burden of a mistake until you learned how to put it down, respectfully, or perhaps you know someone who desperately needs to let that burden go.  Don’t let regret for something crush you.  Jesus didn’t.

Do what you need to do to let it respectfully go.  God is in that letting go process.  That’s what grace is – the process of letting go.  I invite you to join Laura Beth and I in a community art project to start your letting go process after worship.  Together, we’ll grow as we release what we need to release…burden, shame, or prayer for those who need to let it go.  In that letting go process, we’ll create something beautiful, an image of God’s grace, so that we can go on to offer grace to others. Amen.

Music Minstry Thank You For Your Grace

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation
Thank you for your generosity. Today we are going to embark on an interesting combination of art, prayer and music together. We hope that this can be turned into something shareable that will reach many people, maybe even those outside of St. Luke’s! Your generosity makes this possible.
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 Spirit Open My Heart MV 79

Commissioning & Benediction

Musical Blessing May The Love Of Our God MV 218

January 14, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Ancient Greek Pottery
Working Preacher 1
Huffington Post – B Brown
Centre for Addiction & Mental Health
Huffington Post – P Rollins
The Work of the People – P Rollins
Canadian Addictions Survey

Words of Welcome
“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treatiesdid not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.
Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn Let Us Build A House MV 1

Call to Worship

One: In the safety of this group of people gathered,
All: Welcome to worship.
One: To those of you who come week after week and to those of you who are here for the first time,
All: welcome to worship.
One: To those who are seeking and to those who know their own answers,
All: welcome to worship.
One: In this place, all are welcome.
All: Together we worship.

Opening Prayer
As our voices unite in prayer, may we remember the diversity of experience and belief. May we remember that even though we are different, God’s Love flows through us and moves with us all. Amen.

Hymn Behold, Behold I Make All Things New MV 115

Theme Conversation
Hymn Jesus, Friend of Little Children VU 340

Readings John 2:1-11

Musical Response I Know Your Word MV 108

Sermon

We’ve talked a lot about Brene Brown and her understanding of shame and guilt this past year. There’s a reason for that. One of the common misconceptions about church is that church is a judgy place, where you must be perfect to fit in. So let’s deal with this right now, because I’m about to talk about some hard stuff. Dr. Brown says the best way to get rid of shame is to be vulnerable. So without giving any details, who has ever done something they were embarrassed about? See, you aren’t alone. These people, aren’t about to judge you and neither am I. We’ve all done something we regret. Here’s another question, raise your hand if you ever had something go wrong at a party you were hosting…maybe the food was a flop, no one showed up, the guest of honour was sick, your carefully chosen outfit was ruined, in other words something didn’t go as planned. This is a no shame zone. To reinforce that fact, here’s one of my embarrassing host stories.
For me, leading worship feels like hosting a gathering. It’s not your typical sort of party, but I always try to keep the comfort of all of the worshippers on the forefront of my mind. Hosting a party and leading worship feel similar to me. Needless to say, I don’t host many parties – I’m too busy hosting worship each week. So this is one of my many embarrassing worship stories. Back in my first year of ministry, I was encouraged to wear my alb when I led worship, to help me feel at least on the surface like a minister. So there I am in my first pastoral charge, in my new alb. The congregation is older and many don’t do steps anymore, so I always come down from the pulpit to get the offering plates, similar to the way I do it here. But there are more steps. And I’m not used to walking in such a long outfit, especially upstairs. More than once I trip myself, but one particularly embarrassing time, I landed flat on my face. Let me tell you, that outfit that was supposed to give me confidence and keep me humble definitely kept me humble that week. Needless to say, I no longer need the alb to feel like a minister.
I tell you this embarrassing story, because I want you compassionate people to reach deep inside and find that moment and connect. The host in our story is embarrassed. They didn’t buy enough wine. Jesus saves the day by producing more, and it turns out to be even better than the wine from earlier in the evening. So in asking for help, the host’s situation is greatly improved. Even though this story appears to be about the host and Jesus, here’s the thing that I can’t shake this week. Maybe the problem was really with the guests.
How much is too much? At what point does drinking, in this case, or exercising, or eating, or video games or social media, or whatever become a bad habit? At what point do we move from enjoyment to addiction? Finding the answer to this question, has occupied my mind this week, and I have come to the conclusion that when I use something consistently to change my state of mind or distract myself from my reality, then its an addiction. This is a scary realization, especially for a procrastinator. I use a lot of things to distract myself, intentionally and unintentionally, from the realities of my day. Sometimes, I just don’t want to deal with the laundry or the dishes. It’s pretty easy to distract myself from those chores. Sometimes it’s from a hard pastoral conversation I can’t stop thinking about. A good bag of slightly stale gummies usually helps with that. Sometimes it’s a personal loss or hardship. Once I dealt with a relatively small hardship by running. I lost 30lbs. That might seem like a good thing, but I can see how people can overdo it. What if I hadn’t worked my way through that hardship and was still wallowing there? What if I was placating one hardship with running and another (cause we all know there’s never just one) with anorexia? Peter Rollins, an Irish theologian, suggests that an addiction isn’t a problem. It’s a temporary solution to deal with a bigger problem. His suggestion is to deal with the larger problem, and the addiction will become a much smaller problem.
So what was the bigger problem that the Hebrew people were facing? I talk about it all the time. They were oppressed. They were ruled by a king they didn’t necessarily agree with, who could be cruel, who judged based on religion and culture. The social culture around them was discouraging unless you were a first-born male, there would be no advancement for you. Having children was life threatening, but it was also the purpose of every woman’s existence. Food was coaxed out of the earth. Transportation was by animal if you were luck, by foot if you weren’t. And if we think our line-ups at walk-in clinics are horrible, compared to 1st century medical care, our line-ups are miraculous.
There are many parallels to our own culture and the current political climate. Here we sit in the middle of root vegetable season, with wind and rain around us. Minimum wage still isn’t enough to plan appropriately for retirement or to provide private mental health or medical health care. The President of the world’s largest empire threatens anyone who is different or poses a risk to his power. Now, I understand that not everyone here faces oppression. I get that some folks have no complaints about their lives. Quite honestly, I don’t have that many complaints myself. But as always this isn’t our history. This isn’t our story. We are simply supposed to learn from it and make the lives of the people oppressed in our era a little easier.
This gives us a larger problem though. It’s understandable for someone who has a hard life, to feel the need to mask their feelings with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, exercise, shopping or any other imaginable thing. But what happens when you live a life of relative privilege?
It doesn’t matter, you still deal with the things you don’t want to deal with in the same way. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, if you are using something to help you escape, forget something or even to replace your boredom, then likely you need to continue to deal with that larger problem in your life.
I tried looking up some addictions statistics in Nova Scotia and I was surprised to discover that the most recent are around 10 years old and mostly focused on alcohol and cannabis use. I really hope the stats have changed, because as a society we have. We’re a bit more aware of mental health issues and we’re a bit more aware of the effects of long term drug and alcohol abuse. Here’s a couple though: in 2007, 1/3 of Nova Scotians had experienced one incident of physical, emotional or sexual harm in the last 12 months due to someone else’s intoxication. ¼ of Nova Scotians who have over consumed alcohol have harmed themselves at least once in their lifetime.
Now I want to be extremely clear, I’m not preaching that everyone should go home and pour their bottles down the drain. All I’m asking, is before pouring that 2nd or 3rd glass, indulging in a whole box of chocolates, getting up at 4am to hit the gym hard before work, call in sick to game all day, or max out your credit card doing some retail therapy, I’m asking you to ask yourself: am I avoiding something by doing this?
This isn’t easy stuff. It’s not pleasant to hear or think about. But until we are willing to examine ourselves, we’ll never be able to help society understand the relationship between mental health and addictions. Things will never be perfect, but perhaps we can make it a little easier for us to make our way between the letdowns in life. To remember that God’s love exists, even when it’s hard to see.
We can’t always control what happens to us in life, but we can choose how we respond to it.

Hymn My Love Colours Outside the Line MV 138

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation

Each week a number of 12 steps groups use our space at a relatively low cost. It is often hard for 12 step groups to find a safe space that is anonymous in nature and offers no judgement for relatively little cost. Without such an opportunity, many folks would be struggling through their addictions alone. The struggle is real, and simply can’t be done alone. On behalf of those facing addictions and those supporting them, thank you for your generosity.

Music Ministry Be Thou My Vision Arranged by Laura Beth Smith

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 spoken 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 May The Love Of Our God MV 218

January 7, 2018

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Garden Hill – CBC
Garden Hill – Feed the Children
Garden Hill – Wikipedia
Sean Loney – Army of Problemsolvers – excellent interviews!

Words of Welcome
“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treatiesdid not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.

Lighting the Candle & Ringing the Singing Bowl

Hymn Dance With the Spirit MV 156

Call to Worship

One: Each of us have come from different places and spaces.
All: Each of us have come seeking something to comfort and calm or energize and uplift.
One: Each of us will hear the same words and sing the same songs with a unique perspective.
All: Each of us has a different needs, and we recognize that no one person’s needs are greater than another’s.
One: With this understanding and intent, our hearts unite in worship.

Opening Prayer

Ever-moving Spirit, we pray that with your guidance during this hour, we’ll dance, sing and pray our way to deeper meaning and richer relationships with each other and with you. Amen.

Hymn Will You Come and See the Light VU 96

Theme Conversation Come & See

Readings John 1:35-51

Musical Response Hear My Prayer O God VU 865 refrain

Sermon Who do you follow?
Come and See…the anointed one…can anything good come from Nazareth?…Come and See…
We are now in a brief section of the church year where Jesus begins his ministry and today’s reading is about the recruiting of Andrew, Simon Peter, Phillip & Nathanael. The men keep getting tempted by this “Come and See” phrase. Come and See the anointed one, the one we’ve specifically chosen to lead us out of this mess. Come and See what the bottom of the bucket Nazareth has created! You have to see it to believe it. The men do go and see and they then decide to follow Jesus and his teachings. I love the book of John, it’s metaphorical and symbolic and I love the mental puzzle of what it all can mean. I love looking for the repeated messages hidden in the stories and parables.
I spent a fair bit of time this week learning about a “solutions economy”. Author and Canadian Activist, Sean Loney, believes that focusing our attention on a solutions based economy can fix our current economic situation. What he means is that some of our social problems can be the solution to our economic problem with a little bit of resilience, a little bit of compassion from the empire and a little bit of luck. He proposes we take the problem and turn it into a solution to the larger economic problem. He uses an example of a reserve that required food to be flown in all but 6 weeks of the year. The government subsidies went towards the transportation of food. The few small stores that were there were the only ones benefitting from the subsidies as the people relied on these few stores for the crappy over-processed food they could access. Because of this, the diabetes and obesity rates on the reserve were astounding. Ironically, the name of the reserve is Garden Hill. Someone had an idea though. They applied for a Canadian Feed the Children grant and were able to establish a farm associated with their school. Each class was responsible for specific garden plots and had gardening and farming added to their curriculum. What they were able to produce, they opened a farm market for and were able to sell at a much more reasonable price – more fresh fruits and vegetables at a cheaper price! The farm project continued to grow and encompass other parts of their community, such as the canteen at the local arena! The changes didn’t happen overnight. It takes time to grow food from seeds. It takes time for gardens to produce enough to sell. It takes time to change our eating habits and reverse the affects of diabetes on our bodies.
I feel like this is the sort of thing happening in our passage this morning, “Come and See”.
We did this without government support. Come and See.
Come and See. We accomplished what other people thought impossible or unachievable. Come and See.
Have you ever felt like the system that is supposed to support you is actually holding you back? Like the support you need isn’t offered by the place that is supposed to offer it? Or what they are able to offer just isn’t realistic?
Now I’m not really a rule breaker. I like rules and standards and guidelines, until someone is left out. Here’s a great example. I was 26 when I was diagnosed with a learning disability. How does one get to be 26 and working on their second degree before they find out they have a learning disability? It’s easy. You fall through the cracks. You grow up in a rural area that is understaffed by psychologists and has a large population with low literacy skills. You have a genetic learning disability in a school environment where you are related to most of the other students with severe learning issues, but you develop coping mechanisms to deal with the educational system so you still do well in school. You grow up in a time when females are conditioned to be “good girls” who have to work hard to succeed. So you think it’s just a fact of life that you seem to have to work harder than everyone else. So you settle for being average in your first degree, and manage to talk your way into your second. You finally get a job that has a medical plan that covers the psycho-educational assessment report that the universities have been asking you for and that everyone requires before they can help you. You max out your credit card to get the report and work for months to clear it off because the health plan only covers $500 and the report cost $1500. But you finally get this paperwork. Now you have access to government grants and funding, but nothing pays for that initial $1500 once you graduate high school. My high school teachers were shocked. I hadn’t even been considered for the possibility of having a learning disability. I’m sure many of you can tell the same sort of story about trying to access a doctor or psychologist. Systems designed by people who don’t have to exist in them rarely work. Did you know that most government forms are a level 4 reading level? That means that your reading ability and comprehension has to be at a university level. And when I say government forms, I mean all government forms including forms for disability and learning grants, public assistance grants such as the heating rebate. The heating rebate people. This money and these services are only able to be accessed by people who could easily be working on a university degree. Income Assistance forms are a level 4. Income Assistance!!!
But here’s the beautiful thing. Our reading today, is just one more example of how the church is called to step up and fill in the gap. “Can anything good come from Nazareth? Come and See what he has done.” The question is a derogatory question. We hear it all the time. What does the Maritimes have to offer? Well, we have a lot if you can see past what we are lacking. Jesus could see past what was lacking in Nathanael and Phillip, even when they couldn’t see past the fact that he came from Nazareth. As individuals we can see lots of things that we’d fix in society. As the church, we can work together to rectify some of those situations. Foodbanks, homeless shelters, universal health care, the education system…so many social gaps have been originally filled by the church, to be passed on once they are become successful. What is the larger church currently doing to fill the gap? What is our church doing to fill the gap?
We can sit around and wait for someone to come and fix our problems and society’s problems, or we can find a way to fix them ourselves. We can say to our friends and family, Come & See what we are doing. Good things can come from church. Come & See.
This is our first Sunday in 2018. As a congregation, let’s make a new year’s resolution. Let’s commit to being solutions focused this year. Let’s commit to looking past the road blocks and into the bright future. Let’s commit to solving the road blocks or finding a way around them when we come across them. Let’s commit to looking forward to being able to say “Come & See”. Amen.

Hymn A Light Is Gleaming VU 82

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation

Every day is a day for thanksgiving, there are so many wonderful things we are able to do because we choose to worship together. Your offerings today are a sign of gratitude for these people gathered and for the community we create together.

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 spoken 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

December 24, 2017 6:30pm

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

CDC Article

Linda’s Sermon Dec 17 2017

 

Musical Prelude
Boomwhacker Choir – Joy to the World
Opening Words
We are here tonight to celebrate the birth of the one who taught us that we are capable of so much more love than we could possibly imagine. Words just aren’t enough to express how this understanding of Love makes us feel. So we sing! So we dance! We use colour, light and shape. We smell and we taste. We give and we receive. We share. Let’s start with A Story of Love

Lighting of the Advent Candles – A Story of Love – MJ Laing
O Come All Ye Faithful – VU 60

Opening Prayer
Creative and Compassionate God,
Fill this place with your Spirit. Fill us with your Spirit. Inspire us to open our minds and hearts to one another in worship. May our worship overflow this place and this night. Amen.

The Birth Story According to Luke 2:1-20
Dream a Dream – MV 158
Sermon – Words of Wonder

‘Twas the month before Christmas
And the CDC warned
To remove a few words
When you fill out budget forms.

I was surprised
At what they’d suggest
Are we still living
In the Old Wild West?

In the United States
The Center for Disease Control suggested
That the use of some words
Are absolutely detested

I thought this doesn’t make sense
How can this be?
Some of these words
Mean so much to me!

A colleague of mine
Was absolutely enraged
That she preached it all
Giving her best tirade

She recorded her sermon
And on Facebook it was shared
And Facebook’s reaction
Had me truly scared.

A bot found the sermon
As best as we can surmise
Then she was locked out –
A huge surprise.

Eventually, it all
Got sorted out
But I still am feeling
A fair bit of doubt.

I listened hard
Nothing was said
That filled me with
Any kind of dread.

A fairly United Church
Sort of sermon was preached
With the 7 “banned” words
In the Virgin Mary’s great speech.

No more Fetus,
Transgender, or diversity
How these words affect budgets
Is puzzling to me.

No more vulnerable
Or entitlement
When suggesting how
Government funding is spent.

Science-based and evidence-based
Can no longer be used
Can you see why
I am so utterly confused?

In the United Church of Canada
These words are often said
And in our policies they
are even more often read
To be United
Is to speak out
For people, for places
Forgotten about

To believe in the facts
And the power of love
And not think of
ourselves as above

To stand up for those
who feel all alone
and to provide seekers
with a spiritual home.

Being different is something
We consider a blessing
Unique and creative
Should not be distressing

The 7 banned words
Weren’t the only distraction
My Anglican colleagues
Also had a reaction.

#metoo was the reason
That Mary’s consent
Became a discussion
Where much time was spent

Was a bun in the oven
Really Mary’s choice?
It’s not very often
that we’ve heard her voice.

Consent, seems doubtful it appears
Mary isn’t what I’d call excited
her response to the request
seems like it’s recited.

“Here am I,
the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me
according to your word.”
Some clergy are worried
to talk about topics so tough
but I think that you all
are quite open enough

To explore the story
For all that it’s worth
It’s the circumstances that make it
A miraculous birth

The Hebrew people were dreaming
Of a leader of their own
And they chose Jesus before
He was full grown

The people needed someone
Who understood how it felt
To be held back for the hand
which life had dealt

Jesus sure had
an unlucky beginning
conceived out of wedlock
wouldn’t be confidence giving.

A lack of consent
on Mary’s part
only adds more
to Jesus’ poor start

Born during a censes
And laid in a manger
Let’s not forget his parents
Have to flee from danger

But still he grows up
to love everyone
meeting new people
he found quite fun

But it might never have happened
Without the humble beginnings
So we remember his happiness
Didn’t come from winnings
To assume that
you’d be angry to hear
the story’s not perfect
is what many clergy fear

But sometimes we must
Talk in realistic terms
Life isn’t perfect
Reality confirms

So where does this leave us
On this holy night?
With 7 banned words
And Mary’s great plight.

But don’t give up yet
Hope still exists
The people will
Continue to resist

It started with Jesus
You know he refused
To watch idly
While people abused

He spoke out against
When people were quiet
From the beginning the people in power
Knew that he’d cause a riot.

Mary raised her son to value
Another person’s choice
And to empower people
Helping them find their voice.

Mary won in the end
Avoiding victimization
she managed to change
the next generation

And the 7 banned words
Well, that’s for the US of A
I don’t care
to go there anyway

But I’ll continue to use them
And make them necessary
So hopefully they’ll
Become less adversary.

And now that I spent
5 mins rhyming
I’ll finish before
People start sighing

One last stanza
Will make this just right
Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night!

Music Ministry – A Child is Born
Prayer Music: Silent Night – VU 67
Prayers of the People
Spirit of Compassion,
We thank you for your presence with us. We thank you for acts of compassion we see each day: random acts of kindness by strangers, friends that feel more like family, and family that go above and beyond. We thank you for these moments of your love in our lives. We pray for those who feel lost and alone tonight, that they might reach out a compassionate person and we pray if we are that compassionate person, that we respond with love. We pray for those who are unable to be with their families this evening, due to work or health. We pray that those who have to work during this special time will work with compassion, knowing that we appreciate their efforts at keeping us safe and healthy. We pray for those who are sick or grieving, that there might be some small moment joy. We pray for those who travel this week, that they might make smart and careful decisions. We pray for those around the world who do not experience the Hope, Peace, Joy and Love that we do. May our experiences inspire us to do what we can to share Hope, Peace, Joy and Love with those who struggle. We pray these things and so much more.  Amen.

The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy – VU 73
Offertory: Ev’ry Day Is A Day – MV 185
Offertory Blessing
May these gifts, those given through PAR and our commitment to give be seen as the gifts they truly are. Amen.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – VU 48

Choral Blessing: Go Ye Into All The World
Christmas Blessing: Joy to the World – VU 59
Musical Postlude

 

December 17, 2017 – Advent 3

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Halifax Mission to Seafarers

Words of Welcome

“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treaties did not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.

Hymn   Hope is a Star   VU 7

Call to Worship

One: O come descendant of King David, you are the Key that unlocks the door to our safety and shuts out our misery.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.
One: O come Holy Dawn, your presence will help us to make it through these dark times and scare away death.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.
One: O come You who are desired by everyone and help bring us together in our mission and purpose. Help us to get rid of our conflict and be our Prince of Peace.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel   VU 1 v5-7

Opening Prayer

Today O God, we pray for Joy. We pray for enough joy to remember when we are going through the rough places in life. We pray that for those who have a hard time finding Joy: we might become a sign of Joy.

Hymn   There Was a Child in Galilee   MV 134

Advent Wreath   A Story of Joy  – Ron & Betty Baily

Response  A Candle is Burning   VU 6 v3

Theme Conversation:  Rev. Maggie – Mission to Seafarers

Music Ministry   One Little Candle   Dragonfly Choir

Readings Isaiah 55:1-13

Musical Response   Your Word is A Lamp unto my Feet   VU 840

Speaker:  Rev. Maggie Whittingham-Lamont from Halifax Mission to Seafarers

Hymn   There’s a Spirit in the Air   VU 582 v 1,3,5,7

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation

Thank you for your generosity. Because of your gifts, this week we were able to provide books to many families around the St. Margaret’s Bay area, prayer shawls to a number of women who will be alone and struggling to overcome addiction over the holidays, easy access to music and intergenerational engagement through the Boomwhackers. All of the shoeboxes for the Mission to Seafarers, our regular foodbank donations and donations to Brunswick Street Mission are also because of your generosity. Thank-you for continuing to give.

Offertory   Ev’ry Day is a Day   MV 185

Offertory Prayer

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

Prayer Music   Donna Nobis   VU 955

Prayers of the People

Ending with the spoken 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

Choral Blessing   Go Ye Into All The World

December 10, 2017 – Advent 2

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Advent Spiral:

Kairos

Camellia Waldorf

Dawn of A New Day

A Mountain Hearth

Ezekiel:

wikipedia

BJ Psych I

BJ Psych II

BJ Psych III

Text Week

Rev Gals Blog Pals

 

Words of Welcome

“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treaties did not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.

Hymn  Come Now, O God of Peace  VU 34

Call to Worship

One: O come Great Source of Wisdom who rules over us and guides us. Teach us to move as you do.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.
One: O come Mighty God, who came to your people on Mt. Sinai and brought them the ten commandments in a most sacred experience.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.
One: O come descendant of Jesse and deliver your people from all their enemies. Your people trust that you are powerful enough to save them from a bleak future.
All: Rejoice! Rejoice, God will come to be with us, to be with the oppressed.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel  VU 1 v2-4

Opening Prayer

Today, O God, we pray that our words might inspire peace within ourselves. We pray that the peace within will grow and inspire others to seek peace.

Hymn  Imagine  John Lennon

Advent Wreath  A Story of Peace  Wendy Thompson

Response  A Candle is Burning  VU 6 v2

Theme Conversation  Fun with “Dry Bones”

Readings  Ezekiel 37:1-14

Musical Response  Your Word is A Lamp unto my Feet  VU 840

Sermon

Ezekiel is another Hebrew prophet who has been captured is living in Babylonian captivity. Ezekiel is a bit on the dramatic side, and finds his ministry acting out the dreams he has on the city streets. Because of his dramatics and their harshness, Ezekiel isn’t well liked. Most of his prophecies metaphors and are rather depressing about the destruction of Jerusalem, but he does have a few redeeming visions, today’s being one on them. So we find ourselves standing with Ezekiel in this valley of dry bones. And God says “Mortal, can these bones live?” Now and this point, I’d love to get into DNA and stemcells, and really talk about living bones, but that’s a topic for another time. The bones clickty-clack their way together and begin to grow tendons and skin. And God speaks to Ezekiel again, “Breathe into the bones”. Now the whole reason I even enjoy this story is because of this particular sentence. God used the Hebrew word Ruach. The word that means not only breath, but breathing and also wind and Spirit. Once Ezekiel gets them full of gusto, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. Yes, these are the same bones, but they are so much more than just bones at this point.
Now, personally, I don’t feel like I’m doing Ezekiel any justice without mentioning that a number of scholars feel that Ezekiel is a classic case of Catatonic Schizophrenia. Other scholars feel that attributing Ezekiel’s visions to a mental illness, devalues God’s presence in the story. I don’t see it that way. What I see, is that Ezekiel likely would have had more visions and voices going on than just the ones we read about in his book. He would have had to figure out which ones represented the way he understood he was supposed to live his life and which ones were simply not helpful. He wouldn’t have been able to talk about the ones that weren’t helpful to him as that likely would have garnered him the label “possessed” and then he would have had even less help. It also means that God moves within people who have mental health issues or disabilities.
One summer, my last as a camp counsellor actually, I worked for the YMCA at Camp Hillies in the Valley. The camp serviced 4 groups of people: “Country” kids in the social services system, “City” kids in the social services system, Intellectually Challenged adults over 50 and Intellectually challenged adults under 50. Let me tell you, I learned a lot that summer. One camper in particular reminded me a lot of Ezekiel. This camper heard voices and had dreams that he said were from God. He also enjoyed wearing a black choir gown and carried around a wand he’d carved. Of course he loved the fact that I was studying to be a minister. At the end of his week at camp, the camper wrote me a note that had the feel of a blessing to it. I wondered a lot during my time with this camper if his faith experience or his spirituality was any less valid than my own.
What makes one person’s faith journey or spirituality more valid than another person’s? Other than the obvious of causing physical or emotional harm, I can’t see how my experience is any more valid than anyone else’s even though I’m a minister. Mine is no less valid either.
Clergy competition can be pretty intense. It didn’t take me long to figure out that there would always be someone had more scripture memorized than me, someone who was more pious than I was. Someone who constantly went on retreats, or could speed read through all of the great theologians. Someone who spoke eloquently and wrote academically. Someone who God spoke to with a physical voice, or left a sign. But just because I wasn’t the best at any of these things doesn’t mean that any part of my journey was less valid than another person’s. Growing up as an overachiever in a small community, it took me a while to learn that lesson. An over the top metaphor being part of someone’s call doesn’t feel too out of place to me.
Ezekiel was being called to bring the bones back to life, and not just to be alive, but to truly live. But the passage says nothing about them coming back together exactly as they had been. Only that they had been without hope, so they died, and after Ezekiel spoke, they had life and they lived.
Have you ever felt exhausted? Like there was nothing left to give? About this time last year we took our house in New Minas off the market. I was exhausted. We’d had 19 showings in 9 months and heading into my busy season, we didn’t feel we could handle another showing especially if we couldn’t decorate for Christmas or if we had to decorate for Christmas. So we took the house off the market. We needed to let it die. We had done everything that was financially possible for us to do. We got a lot of responses like: “nice house, but we want a garage” or “nice house, but we need fewer stairs” or “nice house, but the other had the renovated bathroom” literally, that was the only room that needed to be redone. Hopeless. No visible way forward. To make a long story short, sometimes, it doesn’t take much to offer someone who is feeling pretty exhausted a little bit of hope. Ezekiel didn’t have to do the work of putting things together. He only needed to offer hope.
Sometimes, in this particular time, it can be pretty easy for a church to start to feel hopeless. Nothing is as easy as it once was and people are tired. Sometimes it’s hard to offer hope. But what if we didn’t have to be Ezekiel? What if we just rest for a moment and listen for hope? What would we hear? Who would be speaking the words?
I’m offering you a challenge in this crazy and exhausting season. I’m challenging you to open yourself up to some unexpected hope. I’m challenging you to be inspired by stories you haven’t heard before. I’m challenging you to feeling your bones starting to rattle, I’m inviting you to be filled with passion and spirit.

Hymn  Put Peace into Each Other’s Hands  MV 173

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation

Thank you for your generosity. Because of your gifts, we are excitedly preparing for workshops in the spring geared to educate us about mental health, how to recognize signs in ourselves and others of deteriorating mental health and how to lead in a mental health crisis situation. Because of your time, talent, and treasures, our community will be a safer, healthier and happier place.

Offertory  Ev’ry Day is a Day  MV 185

Offertory Prayer

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

Advent Spiral Prayer

At the front is a large spiral of evergreens. When indicated, you are invited as you are able, to come up the stairs (please use the ramp if mobility is a concern) and enter the spiral near the cross. As you walk think of a person, place or situation that needs the hope, peace, joy or love of advent. Choose a candle to light, and as you exit, offer a prayer, blessing or energy to that person, place or situation. Place your candle somewhere along the edge of your path that speaks to you. Exit carefully to avoid kicking candles and leave via the ramp or the steps by the front. For those of you who wish to remain seated, please indicate, and myself or Heather will place a light for you. This tradition comes to us via the Waldorf tradition of the Advent Garden or Advent Spiral and seeking together to find light in darkness.

Music Ministry

Commissioning & Benediction

Choral Blessing

December 3, 2017 – Advent 1

Links of Interest/Bibliography:

Daniel

Babylonian Exile

Nebuchadnezzar II – Wikipedia

Nebuchadnezzar II – Ancient History

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Working Preacher Podcast

Story Path

Antiphon

Daniel – Wikipedia

The Bible Project – Daniel

Global News – Christmas Gifts & Income

Public Health – Holiday Stress

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Words of Welcome
“We begin by acknowledging that we are in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. This territory is covered by the peace and friendship treaties which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725. These treaties did not deal with surrender of lands or resources, but in fact recognized Mi’kmaq title and established rules for what was to be an ongoing relationship between nations.” May we honour the friendship, support and spirit of peace which was offered to our settler ancestors.

Hymn Make a Joyful Noise VU 820

Call to Worship One: O come, O come Emmanuel…
All: God, come be with us in a way that we can understand.
One: …and ransom captive Israel…
All: O God come and free your people being who are being controlled without reason.
One: …that mourns in lowly exile here…
All: Until your people see hope of freedom, they will remain alone.
One:…until the Son of God appear.
All: until we see your presence in future generations.
O Come, O Come Emmanuel VU 1 v1
Opening Prayer Today, O God we pray that our words might offer Hope to people who need it most. We pray that this time of worship will fill us with Hope and encourage us to pass Hope on to others who feel hopeless. May it be so.

Hymn Still, Still, Still VU 47

Advent Wreath A Story of Hope Paul Dunlop
Response A Candle is Burning VU 6 v1

Theme Conversation The Star Q & A

Readings Daniel 3:1-30
Musical Response Your Word is A Lamp unto my Feet VU 840

Sermon Christmas Idols
The Book of Daniel is one we don’t hear from very often, but since Jesus refers to the Book of Daniel in Matthew 24, we know Daniel was important to Jesus. We also know that this book is set during the captivity of the Hebrew in Babylon, a faith shaping event for many Hebrew people leading up to and teaching Jesus. So Here’s what you need to know about the book of Daniel.
Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego, were considered among the Hebrew elite: they were of the priestly bloodline, young, wise, diligent and pleasing to the eye. As such, they were capture and taken to be trained in the courts of the Babylon King to become advisors or servants of the royal family and friends. Many were taken against their will to be trained, but it was better than being killed. The trainees were given daily rations from the Royal stores and plenty of time to study or learn the ways of the people they were to serve. Daniel and company surprised their guards and overseers by refusing to eat and drink from the royal stores. Daniel’s guard warned him that if they appeared to be lesser than some of the others, that things would go poorly for him. But Daniel and his friends wished to keep their religious laws around food. So they asked to eat vegetables. The guards and overseers were surprised because Daniel, Shedrack, Meshack and Abednego became stronger and wiser than the captives who ate from the Royal stores.
The King has a dream that no one can interpret for him. In an effort to save himself and his friends, Daniel offers to interpret this dream for the King. As Daniel begins to speak he warns the King that he is only able to do this because of God and for no other reason. He then told the King that his dream of a giant statue made of mixed metals that comes crashing down is really about how the people in power will come crashing down because they are worshipping the wrong God. The King doesn’t fully understand and thinks that he is supposed to worship Daniel. When Daniel tries to redirect his worship, the King promotes Daniel and his friends.
As I said, the King didn’t really understand Daniel’s interpretation, so sometime later he erected a large, gold statue, something that alluded to him, and ordered that all of the people worship that statue. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were now working in other places, and when some of the people realized that they were not worshipping the statue, they told the King. The King questioned the men on this and they informed him they had no intention of worshipping anyone other than God. So the King, fearing that this might cause an uprising, ordered them to be put in the hottest possible furnace to be burned to death. The fire was built, the men were bound and escorted into the furnace. The fire was so fierce, that the guards who placed them in the furnace were killed before they could retreat. But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were walking around in the furnace along with a fourth, unnamed person and they were unharmed. Finally, the King understood. He ordered the men out of the furnace and immediately began to worship God.
That’s a summary of today’s scripture reading. Now if you are wondering where the heck are the lions? That comes much later in Daniel’s life. Even after the furnace incident, the King doesn’t fully get it and it takes at least one more strange experience before King Nebuchadnezzar fully comes to understand God. After King Nebuchadnezzar dies, his son takes over and scandalously eats and drinks from the sacrifices at the temple. All of the culminates in another interpretation by Daniel, the King being assassinated, and King Dairus taking over. It is under King Darius that Daniel ends up being thrown into the lion’s den because he wouldn’t offer his prayers to the King.
Daniel goes on to have more dreams himself before the end of the book, but I’m more interested today in talking about his encounters with the Kings.
I read an article in the Chronicle Herald online by a financial planner that gifts and giving at Christmas should only account for 1% of your annual income, and to not feel guilty if it has to be less than that. There are lots of articles on the stress that Canadians and particularly women feel over the holidays, along with some interesting trend studies that show that more and more people are turning to online shopping to help deal with both financial stress and the time factor that causes so many of us huge amounts of stress.
Here’s the thing I didn’t fully recognize until an honest conversation with Bob in October. As some of you may or may not know, we are finishing up the first stage of the adoption process, meaning this could be our last Christmas without two-legged children. Or we could have nine more. Either way it came up that I was a little bit worried about Christmas. Now I’ve been doing this ministry thing for 12 Christmases. I think I’ve had about three where I didn’t spend the majority of Christmas Day and Boxing Day in a comatose state. About five of them required heavy antibiotics in the week leading up to or the week after Christmas. So of course I’m worried about pulling off the perfect Christmas – the epitome of my own spiritual life and a huge family experience on the Sangster side of things for a child who most likely hasn’t had anything near the experience I had. Ask Bob about his first New Harbour Christmas. It’s a story in and of itself. Bob reminded me that he is perfectly capable of pulling off an excellent Christmas experience. After all, he’s responsible for the majority of the decorating and the Christmas tree, and last Christmas in my Tylenol induced stupor, Bob managed to pull off a complete turkey dinner. Don’t get me wrong – Bob is good, but he’s no Martha Stewart.
So why is it that I feel the need to have a picture-perfect Christmas? It’s not like all of my growing-up Christmases were perfect. There were plenty of rain-filled Christmases with power outages. Occasionally, not receiving the thing I wanted most under the tree or the preferred part in the Christmas pageant. There were sometimes silly fights with my sisters, sickness, or having to drive all the way to Canso, an hour away, for the Christmas Eve Service only to come back to peel 10lbs of potatoes. I’ll never forget the Christmases before Grammie got a dish washer, handwashing all of the dishes that 30 people require to have Christmas dinner. There’s no great answer as to my need for the perfect Christmas, but I do know that it can sometimes feel like my need to have it all go perfectly is more important than the actual reason I even celebrate Christmas.
A few years ago I happened across a free download of a Christmas Album. One of the treasures on it was Jessie Farrell’s “Christmas at My House”. The song is a list of things she’s not going to followed by a reminder of why she celebrates the season, the song then talks about some of the things she’s planning on doing, so these other things probably won’t happen. All through the song is an invitation to join her, if you can handle the things that will happen and won’t mind missing out on the things that don’t. The lyrics that stick with me are “Stop trying to make it perfect, cause perfect ain’t worth it. This Christmas make it all about love”.
Have you ever noticed yourself slipping and getting so caught up in craziness that you forget the whole point of the season? I wonder if it was the same way with the Kings in Daniel’s time – If they got so caught up in the power and fame of being kings that they forgot the reason they were there.
Suddenly fame and fortune mean so much more than the good of the whole. Suddenly a large golden statue in your likeness or a few million retweets and maintaining that image and the power that comes with it is more important than ensuring everyone is able to maintain the same basic standard of living. Suddenly fake tans are worth more than hard earned blisters and scars are seen as imperfections rather than a symbol of victory. A magazine worthy Christmas is worth more than what’s realistic and leaves everyone just as happy.
Last Sunday, I promised to take the time to enjoy my advent rather than plod through it. This Sunday I’m uping the ante. This Sunday I’m letting go of the perfect Christmas. This year, I’m going to attempt to balance work and play so that you all are spiritually fulfilled and that I get to spend time with my family. I’m going to attempt to not be sick this December, even if it means constant hand sanitizer, and staying home from some events because I have a tickle in my throat.
It doesn’t matter if I try to make things perfect. I don’t think God’s presence will be felt any more in my stress. In fact, I think it’s the opposite, that’s God’s presence is felt less in my stress. God’s presence wasn’t felt in the building of the statue, nor was it felt in being told how to pray. Bigger isn’t always better. It isn’t always what brings a person into a fuller spiritual life.
What are you going to do to bring yourself a little closer to God this advent season? What idols are you willing to get rid of? How are you going to offer the Christmas Spirit in a way that brings everyone closer to God?

Hymn Spirit of the Living God VU 376

Minute for Mission

Offering Invitation Thank you for your generosity. Because of your generosity, last week we were able to give over $600 and a large quantity of food to the St. Margaret’s Bay Area food bank in addition to our regular contributions. This is especially important as December and January are often the hardest months for families that have difficulty making ends meet. With your continued support, we can do even more.

Offertory Little Drummer Boy/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 Your Children Praying VU 400

Prayers of the People & the Prayer of Jesus
Ending with the spoken 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 Deep in Our Hearts MV 154 v1