Happy Birthday United Church of Canada

Sermon – June 7 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Year B)

By Roland Legge

1 Samuel 8:4-11 (12-15) 16-20; (11:14-15)

2 Corinthians 4:13—5:1

Mark 3:20-35

 

 

On June 10th the United Church of Canada will be 90 years old. We are really a very young church that was birthed out of our Canadian context. We have much to celebrate about our denomination. Up to now we have been a very courageous church taking strong stands on issues of social justice before most other churches confronted the issues.

  • It was miraculous that the United Church came into being. This was a very controversial topic in the time. As many of you know many Presbyterian chose not to join the United Church. I can’t imagine three denomination coming together today.
  • Then the United Church decided to ordain women. Lydia Gruchi from Saskatchewan was the first woman to be ordained. Many people left the United Church because of saying that women should be able to be ordained.
  • In 1962 ministers were given permission to marry divorced people. More people left the United Church over this issue.
  • In the 1960’s the New Curriculum came out and portrayed God in a much more human way. This again was controversial and more people left the church.
  • In 1988 the United Church was asked to prevent those who are homosexual from being able to seek ordination and commissioning. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit the General Council decided to change nothing thus allowing any person to test their call for ministry. We all know how hard this was for many church communities. Again more people left the church.

There continue to be changes to this very day. But people often forget that there are many new people coming to the United Church because of the United Churches strong stance on these social justice issues. I am one such person. So while it is sad we have lost many people we can rejoice because we have gained many more.

Back in the days of Samuel Israel was going through rapid social change just as we are today. The country was moving away from being a tribal society to a monarchy. Samuel, one of God’s prophets, felt called to remind people of their unique relationship with God. Samuel felt his people and his government were getting caught up in greed and too hungry for power. The story was intended to provoke questions of morals and ethics. Here is what William H. Willimon has to say:

The story is surely meant to provoke tension in our settled arrangements with the powers that be – to make each of us ask, in whom do I trust for my protection? Which god is the real object of my worship?

     In Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on this passage (Interpretation: 1 and 2 Samuel) he reminds us, “From its inception at Sinai, it was understood that Israel was chosen by Yahweh and that this chosen community of covenant was not to be like the other nations. Rather, Israel was to order its life in the odd and demanding ways of torah and to rely on the inexplicable love and remarkable promises of Yahweh (Ex. 19:4-6; Deut. 7:7-11).”

Pulpit Resource Classic by William H. Willimon

http://www.logosproductions.com/content/june-7-2015-everybody-else

Today our United Church among many other denominations are facing difficult times amid huge social change. This summer our General Council will be meeting in Corner Brooke Newfoundland.   Our church is bringing in much less money through the Mission and Service fund so we need to dramatically change the way we run the church. Over the past couple of years a committee have been working with people all across our church to make a suggestions that will help our United Church to get back on our feet again. I invite all of us to pray for our General Council Commissioners who will have some hard work to do this summer. Just like congregations the General Council has put off change for many years and we are now paying for that inaction. So what we have been used to will look very different in the next few years which will impact all of us in the United Church be it good or bad.

Many congregations across our country are suffering too. Foam Lake United Church is not alone. At our Council meeting last week we began talking about what we are going to need to do as we only have enough money to have full time ministry for another year. Ether we will need to get more people involved in sharing their talents and increasing our financial giving’s or we will need to go to part time ministry. Next year will be a challenging year. I hope we can see this as an opportunity to grow rather than a curse.

Just like back in Samuel’s time we need to hold on to traditions that continue to be life giving and that keep our roots strong.   But we must learn to reach out to people in a new way as our culture and technology have dramatically changed. Think for a moment as how many things you could have done this morning other than going to church.

I think God is calling us just like in Samuel time to find new ways of being church that will enable us to pass on the story of faith to our younger people of today. One way to start is by asking what our younger people (people 60 and under) would like. What type of worship experiences would they appreciate and not necessarily on Sunday mornings?

I end today’s sermon with this video from Rachel Held Evans. Rachel is a young evangelical woman who has moved over to be in the Episcopal Church in the United States. I think she offers a fresh perspective on what young people are looking for in church. I invite you to reflect on what she says. What questions does she raise for you? Is there anything that we can take from her reflections to re-inspire our church community.

I hope you will begin to reflect personally and together as to what is important for you in our congregation. Would you rather increase giving’s and participation or reduce the hours of your minister and take on the responsibility for the things the minister will no longer have time to do. How much energy do you have to experiment if any? Does it feel like the best option is to keep going as we are and keep the church open as long as we can? There is no wrong or right answer. It is more about what God is calling us to be about in this community.Crest_2012

Would you invite Jesus for Dinner?

Sermon – March 15th 2015

By Roland Legge

With Thanks from the Online Resource Faith Lens from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Numbers 21:4-9 Ephesians 2:1-10 John 3:14-21

 

Gospel Reflection

Presenting his gospel like a stage play director, John has turned down the lights.  Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night because John wants us to see that he is in the dark, in sharp contrast to Jesus, the light of the world (see also John 1:9, 8:12, 9:5).

In their conversation, Jesus is trying to get Nicodemus to see things in a different way, but with limited success.  Their disconnect mirrors a passionate divide that runs throughout John’s gospel between those who accept Jesus and those who reject him.  Those who accept him believe, and those who do not “are condemned already” as they shun the light in favor of darkness.

Jesus is like the dress:  the same phenomenon seen very differently, but always sparking a strong reaction.

But John, seeing him differently, would say that Jesus is the light.  The world is the dress.  (The Greek word for world is cosmos, which has various shades of meaning itself—humanity, “the way things are,” the powers that resist God, all of creation.  John, whose writing covers many levels at once, probably intends all of these simultaneously.)  Jesus the light shines upon the world and reveals its true colors.

But Jesus also reveals to us the true colors of God’s heart:  God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  God loyally loves the fickle world.  The designer’s eyes consistently see the world as worth saving.

The price tag attached is steep:  Jesus will end up black and blue on the cross.  Yet the colors of Easter are white and gold.  The Light changes everything.

http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/286

Discussion Questions

  1.  How do you see Jesus?  How is your view different from how others see Jesus?  Does he bring love or judgment…or both?

I see Jesus in many ways. I see Jesus as a spirit filled man who strived to make the world a better place. Jesus for me was one of the most God conscious persons to have ever lived on this planet. He had a close relationship with the Holy. Yet Jesus responded to the world in a particular time in history. While he was way ahead of his time in how he treated women, children, and people on the fringes of society; I don’t think you could call him a feminist.

How is my view of Jesus different from others? I put an emphasis on his humanity. I can relate to Jesus more if he is human. Can you?

I believe Jesus was a great healer. He spent much of his ministry healing people. I think the church has forgotten this important part of who we are. We too can heal in the name of Jesus. We have the ancient traditions of healing touch, anointment with oil, prayer and presence. Where I differ in my understanding of healing is that curing is not its prime purpose. Healing happens even when a person is not cured of his/her disease. Healing begins to happen when we care for each other in loving community. Healing happen when we recognize that of God in each other.

I believe that Jesus does bring both love and judgement. However Jesus is not one I fear.   I believe he wants the best for each of us. I would be very comfortable in having him over for dinner. Yet Jesus is much more than meek and mild. He was not afraid to shine the light on the dark. He was not afraid to speak out against injustice.

  1. How do you see the world?  Is it good or evil…or both?  If the world were two colors, what would they be?

I love the book by Matthew Fox called “Original Blessing”. In it Matthew suggests that when God created the world, all of its inhabitants animate and non-animate were blessed. I believe that God is rooted in our whole planet. Whenever an animal, plant or tree is made extinct I believe that God/Spirit is hurt because a part of it has been killed.

I believe that Mother Earth is good in the sense that it was created with love. Nature, the plants, animals, trees, fish, insects, people, minerals, and soil were all created so that all could live in union with each other. While nature is violent and destructive at times it is not evil. Mother Earth is alive and constantly changing. When earth is left to its own natural order life will continue to go on, there will be equilibrium so that the planet can stay healthy. Humankind is just one small part of the Created order.

Sadly we humans have over populated the planet. Over the centuries we thought we could do anything we like. But now more and more people are realizing that we have sinned by abusing our planet home. Sin for me is when we lose our connection with the Holy. We sin when we begin to think that the extinction of species, the poisoning of the air and water is okay. We sin when we begin to think of ourselves as gods who think we can overcome all our problems with technology. We sin because we have forgot the truth that we people are connected to everything on our planet and that every time we hurt the planet we hurt ourselves.

  1. Are there things in your life you keep in the dark because you are afraid they will be exposed?

Yes I have kept certain things in my life in the dark because of feeling embarrassed and ashamed. This is why so many people didn’t like Jesus because he had the natural gift to shine the light on the dark parts of our lives. Another way of saying it is our shadow sides. When I was young I feared that people would find out that I was nervous and anxious most of the time. I didn’t want people to know because I thought they would think I was crazy and a failure in the world. Ironically when I learned that I did not need to hide my problems I felt much better.

I think we all have parts of our lives we like to hide. Many of us think we are the only ones suffering because of some mental, physical, relationship or spiritual matter. It is kind of like trying to carry a huge rock on our back because we feel so exhausted from trying to hold everything in. But when we do let go and share what is going on in our lives we feel much lighter because we have let go of all the burdens we have been holding on to.

However I know many people will find themselves in a situation where it is not safe to share what is going on. In that case people need to find a safe place where they can tell the truth and get the support to work through the issue or issues and the help to discern what relationships which can be redeemed. To find the courage to let go of the relationships that are no longer serving them anymore.

– See more at: http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/FaithLens/286#sthash.m4XN8P2n.dpufblack-jesus

Adam and Eve: Another Perspective

Sermon: 

Sermon – March 9th 2014

Lent I (Year A)

By Roland Legge

Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7

 

 

Do you believe in “Original Blessing”?  I do.  I like the idea of “Original Blessing” much better than original sin.  When you look into the eyes of a new born do you see sin?  I don’t think so.  So why has the doctrine of original sin been such a powerful force within Christianity?

 

Original sin came as a way of understanding why humans can do terrible things to each other.  It explains why Jesus had to die on the cross so that we could be free of our sins which was only possible if our natural inclination to sin could be broken.  As Christians we came to believe that Jesus died for our sins. 

 

We do know that the doctrine of original sin was first developed, in the second-century, by Irenaeus. At the time Irenaeus was struggling against Gnostic cults which totally focused on the pure spiritual side of God through special knowledge.  Irenaeus and others thought that the Gnostics were doing unspeakable things with their bodies, while claiming they had clean spirits.  Now later scholarship shows this not to be true. None the less, Irenaeus was trying to compel people to believe that what they did with their body could lead them to eternal hell and anything that involved sex and romance must be suspect. Augustine of Hippo added to the doctrine of original sin when he wrote that original sin was passed through lust, which accompanied sexual reproduction, which made the will weak.  Most of Augustine’s disciples also equated original sin with lust. 

 

Then St. Anselm was the first medieval theologian to open up a new thought; separating original sin from lust and redefining it as a loss of righteousness.  Even later than that, Thomas Aquinas presented a more positive view concluding that the fall had left humans to their natural abilities while depriving them of supernatural privileges.

Wikipedia    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_sin#History_of_the_doctrine_of_original_sin

 

Matthew Fox believes that Augustine (354-430) and the Council of Trent, 1546, has had the most influence on how original sin continues to influence us today. Augustine took an interest in the doctrine of original sin and began to mix it with his peculiar notions of sexuality.  Later in the Council of Trent it became even more ingrained in our church doctrines.

 

I would like to spend a little time going over today’s Hebrew Scripture reading from Genesis because this story has been misinterpreted to justify the doctrine of original sin.  What is this story really about?  Is it really about the fall of human kind?  I don’t think so.  I think it is about how God was preparing God’s two children to go out into the big world themselves.  The Garden was kind of like the same home we hopefully grew up in—where our parents took good care of us.

 

I like to think that God set up the tree of knowledge in the middle of the garden to be the sign that would show God when they were mature enough to leave the “nest”. Here are some questions that God might be asking to ascertain if the children were ready to leave home. Were they ready to think for themselves?  Were they ready to take risks?  Were they ready for an adventure without any knowledge of how it was going to turn out?  I believe there would have been great sadness for God, Adam and Eve when they needed to part from the Garden—just as parent and child have sadness when the children move away from home for the first time.

 

Adam and Eve is a coming up age story and not the story of temptation and sin.  We must rid our society of the view that Eve was responsible for all sin in the world. We must portray Eve in a new way.  Here is a wonderful description found in the book Bad Girls of the Bible; Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue that reflects an image of Eve, after the incident of the apple, that shows her more in the image of God.

She thinks and speaks—with the man and the serpent and to God. She is able to engage in substantive theological debate.  She respects authority and exercises her own freedoms.  She appreciates beauty.  She is a seeker—she wants to be better, wiser than she was created to be. 

  She is an adventurous risk taker—just like God!  She is courageous—she eats the fruit without knowing what the future will hold. She is willing to take the risk, despite her fear of death.

Bad Girls of the Bible; Exploring Women of Questionable Virtue by Barbara J. Essex the Pilgrim Press Cleveland Ohio 1999 page 12

 

Why should we care about this today?  We need to care because this destructive doctrine has been used to justify the oppression of women and other groups that are seen by main line society as a threat.  Too often women are blamed for the problems of the world.  Any women who dares to speak up for herself is often seen as a threat.  Many women who try to get ahead in our business world find a glass ceiling that prevents them from advancing in their career.  Men get away with rape because the defense argues the woman was seducing him by the way she was dressed. Even today, women get less pay for the same work as a man.   Women who choose to have children and work away from home are looked down upon whether or not this by choice or necessity. Women who choose to stay home to raise children are still seen as second rate because they are not bringing in a financial income.

 

This is not just bad news to women, but it is also bad news to men too.  Men and women need to live in healthy and just relationships with each other.  When a man is holding a woman back he is also holding himself back.  If he always blames women for his problems he is not taking responsibility for himself.  If he is limiting what a women can do in the world he is also limiting what he can do.  For example, I like to cook, wash dishes, clean the house, and mow the lawn. I do not like fixing anything electrical, mechanical or doing wood work around the house.  Jen likes the latter and can do a much better job than I in those areas.  Men and women should be free to be fully who they are.  We are all equal in the heart of God.