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

Holy Disruption!

Sermon – Advent 2

December 7th 2014 (Year B)

By Roland Legge

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

 

 

It is hard to ignore John the Baptist!  Would you or I have been one of the many people who chose to come to John for his baptism of repentance? I am not sure if I would have left my comfortable sofa to go into the wilderness to be baptized by this loud and smelly man.   How in the world does this wild story this fit into Advent?

I think for many of us this Advent/Christmas season is supposed to be one of comfort, memories and nostalgia.  It is supposed to be a time of happiness.   It is supposed to be a time of generosity.  It is a time of frivolity with parties and concerts to attend.  It is the time of year that we think of the needy and try to make their lives a little better.  But John the Baptist has a difference understanding of Advent.

If we listen to John the Baptist, Advent is all about repentance!  Repenting is hard work.  It forces us to look deeply into ourselves to see how we need to bring our lives back closer to the ways of God.  This is hard work because we will have to face our own fears, shame and hopeless if we are to truly repent.  It will require us to change how we live not just in that moment but to integrate those changes into our lives on a daily basis.  Old habits will need to change.  But there is a huge reward that goes along with that hard work.  That reward is inward joy!

 

 

Much of what we have to do is in the choices that we make.   Much of what we have to do comes out of our conversations.  It is often about taking a stand and living into it.

Many years ago I took a stand when I chose to help clean the homes of people living with HIV/AIDS when there was no hope for recovery.   You see there were many homemakers who wouldn’t do this out of fear of infection and prejudice. This doesn’t mean it was easy, but with the help of God working through others I was able to do this and make a difference in these people’s lives.  I was able to it despite my own fears.

Recently there was a gathering of people who took a stand in a theater in St. Louis Missouri where the terrible violence has been taking place due to the killing of a young black man called Mike Brown by a white police officer.  It involve a piece of music written by JOHANNES BRAHMS called the German Requiem, that when first played in Vienna in 1867 caused a great uproar; there was boos, inappropriate behaviour and disgust. What was so controversial?  It was controversial because it was a piece of religious music being played in a public hall.

Now many years later the same piece along with Detlev Glanert’s arrangement of Brahms’ Four Preludes and Serious Songs was being played at the Powell Hall in St. Louis and got a similar reaction.  It took place after the intermission when

conductor Markus Stenz took the stage, two audience members began to sing. In strong, clear voices, they performed Florence Patton Reece’s famous justice hymn: “Which side are you on, friend? Which side are you on?” Nearly a dozen more scattered throughout Powell Hall joined in. While the audience watched in stunned silence, a banner unfurled from the balcony with a silhouette of a man’s face. It said: Requiem for Mike Brown 1996-2014.

 

Season of Disruption by Rose Marie Berger http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/season-disruption?parent=41143 

 

 

One theatergoer challenged if the theater was an appropriate place for a protest.  A Catholic Priest spoke up and challenged the man complaining by inviting people to change the chant from of “What side are you On” to How are we going to heal?  Then without further ado the conductor tapped his baton and the orchestra began to play Brahms’ Requiem.

It opened with pulsing bass and unfolding choral line from Matthew 5: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” 

Season of Disruption by Rose Marie Berger http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/season-disruption?parent=41143 

 

So Advent is a time of disruption!  John the Baptist and Jesus came to disrupt our lives so the Kindom of God can take root in our hearts.  Catholic theologian James Alison puts it this way:

“The One who is coming will not preside over us, but will teach us to want peace from within, and to learn the habits that make it possible. The One who loves us will come as one we despise, and crucify: The definitive puncturing of our god-fantasies, and yet the Presence of one who is powerfully determined not to let us remain wedded to our self-destruction.”

Season of Disruption by Rose Marie Berger http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/season-disruption?parent=41143 

 

 

Think for a moment as to how God is breaking into your heart.  How is the life and the teaching of Jesus disrupting our lives?  How is the Spirit within you calling you to make choices that challenge the status quo and open up new possibilities for new life in our communities and world that recognizes that we are all equal before our Maker?  Isn’t this what Christmas is all about!!

 

 

 

 

 

 repentance_httplifehopeandtruth.comchangerepentance

The Mighty Mustard Seed

 

Sermon – July 27th 2014

 

7th Sunday after Pentecost

 

By Roland Legge

 

Genesis 29:15-28

 

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

 

 

 

 

 

What is the Kingdom of Heaven for you?  Is it the place good Christians go to when they die or is it the world we live in right now?  For too long the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven has been abused.  It has been an oppressive tool for the church and governments to keep people in a state of poverty through the promise of a better life after they die.  This is not what Jesus was talking about!

 

 

 

For Jesus the Kingdom of Heaven was to be lived out each day in the here and now.  The Kingdom parables were told to encourage people in their faithful journey through life.

 

 

 

In the parable of the Mustard Seed Jesus was using this little bush as a symbol of the Kingdom. It is kind of like the dandelion flowers we all have in our gardens today.  First the mustard seed was small and when it landed on the ground it was prolific.  It was a small ordinary bush that never gave up.  Why would Jesus have used this ordinary innocuous bush as a symbol of the Kingdom of God?  It could be interpreted in a nice feel good way, in believing that this Parable shows us how small acts of ministry can have a huge impact.  Now this is very true.  But this story goes much deeper in suggesting that the Kingdom of heaven is like a weed that confronts, challenges, corrupts and subverts us often in most uncomfortable and disturbing ways.  So no matter how hard we might fight against it,  God will never give up.

 

 

 

 

 

I love the imagery of the women who hides the leaven for the bread.  In Jesus day leaven was a symbol of moral corruption.  But none the less, she takes it and makes a 100 loaves of bread which will feed many hungry people.  So here this women takes the subversive power of God, in the leaven, and makes use of it to transform many lives.  This is no picnic!  This is all about the radical transformation of God through the most ordinary things of life, the most irritating people and sometimes the things we consider dirty to manifest the Kingdom of Heaven. God never gives up! God will find a way to get through to us.

 

 

 

Who are the pesky people that never give up on Kingdom building?  There are many and you probably know someone who has that fiery passion to transform the world.  I think of Dorothy Day who led the Catholic Workers Movement much to the annoyance of church, corporate and government officials. Dorothy was born in New York City in 1897.   She was a radical women for her time and known for work in non-violent resistance (Pacifism) and women’s suffrage.  She was arrested a couple of times, one of the times protesting for the woman’s vote in front of the Whitehouse in Washington D.C.   She went on a hunger strike when we she was imprisoned.  Dorothy annoyed a lot of people.  She often got called a “Communist”.  I think God the Spirit was well pleased.

 

 

 

In think of Malala Yousafzai a courageous young woman from Pakistan who refused to be obedient to the Taliban who does not want girls to be educated.  She never gave up on getting an education even when she and her family were being threatened. Malala and her Dad remain determined to today standing up for girls around the world who are being oppressed.  They refuse to give in!  They are like those pesky mustard bushes and dandelions who won’t go away.  I am sure the Spirit is pleased.

 

 

 

I love this story from Joyce Hollyday who tells of some Brazilian women who refused to be pushed out of their community.  Here is how God worked through these courageous women.

 

A small group of peasants lived on a piece of land in Brazil, which was wanted for development by government and private business interests. To make their land seizure legal, those who wanted it got the Congress to declare the land theirs. The peasants were pushed off the land, their houses and crops destroyed.

 

As the people moved on to start over, this action was repeated several times. Whenever the peasants tried to resist, the police came in with force, wounding and killing some of them. Their burden of suffering was tremendous.

 

So when it became known that they were about to be pushed off their land yet again, one person asked, “Why should we resist? It will just mean that more of us will lose our lives. “Another pointed out that even if they were not killed, they would die slowly of starvation. Without land, they had no way to live, no way to plant or grow food. Despair was the prevailing mood, until some of the women got an idea.

 

With a little research, the women found out where all the members of the Congress lived. While the government officials were at work in their offices, the women went with their children — each to a different house — and sat on the front lawns of the luxurious homes.

 

These were some of Brazil’s most prestigious neighborhoods, and the sight of ragged women and their children on the lawns was an extraordinary and curious vision. After a while some of the wives of the Congress members went out with bread. The mothers told them, “We want no bread from you.”

 

Some of the wealthy women came out with money. “We have not come here for money, ” said the mothers. And eventually each wife asked, “What do you want?”

 

The peasant women answered, “We are going to die. And since this is a nice place, we thought we would like to die here. “

 

Then the wives asked, “Why are you going to die?”

 

And the mothers told of how their land was about to be stolen again, how their children were going to starve, and how the Congress was voting to make their doom legal.

 

The phones at the Congress began buzzing. Every wife called her husband to plead with him not to vote for the bill in Congress. And in the end, the people kept their land and their future.

 

A Collection of Mustard Seeds by Joyce Hollyday http://sojo.net/preaching-the-word/collection-mustard-seeds?parent=41124

 

 

 

God works through each of us to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus reminds us that there will be many ups and downs on this path toward holiness.  But the Spirit will always be present using us in surprising ways to subvert, turn around, and challenge God’s family to live with love, justice, dignity and generosity.

extravegant lovehttpwww.masterworksfestival.orgThe-MasterWorks-Festival-Offici_Extravagant-Love.blog