Thursday, February 26, 2015



February 22, 2015
Lent 1
Genesis 9:8-17
Mark 1:9-15
I have concluded - over my years of seeking to be a faithful follower of Jesus that – that the best description of God is to say (as the letter writer of 1st John wrote) that "God is Love".
Agaph.  Love without reserve.  Love without condition.
Love (as God’s basic nature and hope for human behaviour) is found throughout the Bible.  Our Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, was quick to point out that he understood that most important commandments in scripture are to Love God with our whole being and to Love our neighbours as we Love ourselves (Dt 6:5; Lev 19:18).
For me – when I am confused about what to believe – I default to this command to live out love of God, neighbour and self.
Agaph love is my litmus test for how to live out my faith.
I mention this because there are a few biblical narratives that I really struggle with. 
The common denominators are times when God doesn’t seem to be practicing what God preaches (God not behaving in a loving way):
·         The story of Abraham being told by God to kill (sacrifice to God) his son, Isaac, as a means of proving Abraham’ s faithfulness.
·         Even a strict atonement theology of Jesus’ crucifixion is a struggle for me.  It is premised that God requires a blood sacrifice in order to be right with God; Jesus was required to die to atone for the sins of humankind.
·         And... then there is the story of the grand flood in which God decides that humanity’s wickedness is so widespread that all land life deserves to be wiped out.
Now, I know that in each of these stories, there is some hope and promise in the end – but I struggle getting past the cruelness that precedes the promise.
I think that my quandary points to a wider truth: it is hard to know and experience the reality of any hope or promise while we are lost in the midst of the struggle.
And yet... I know that there are some among us who are able to grasp onto that hope earlier than most.  They are often the ones who can lead us out of struggle.
Recently, I was visiting with a woman in her late 60s who discovered that her chronically sore hips were not simply a result of wear and tear (and a sign that hip replacement surgery was on the horizon), but that a very aggressive cancer was growing in such a way that it was causing small fractures in the bones – making it painful for her to walk.  Over the next three months, the cancer spread to her lungs and eventually to her brain.  In a matter of only a few months she went from getting around her home with the help of a walker to being bed-ridden in three different hospitals and eventually confined to a full service seniors' lodge with no hope of living anywhere else for what was left of her life. 
While her whole family (siblings, husband, adult children, grandchildren) struggled with this miserable turn of events, she was a beacon of calm. 
I envied her ability to approach this news with far more gratitude for the blessings of her whole life than regret she had for how her life was going to end.
An attitude of gratitude is a powerful (and contagious) thing.
As a pastor…
I watched how her embracing of hope/promise/gratitude helped guide her family through this struggle.  When I met with this family to plan her memorial service (two days after her death), there was sadness to be sure, but there was also an eagerness to truly celebrate her life at least as much as they were mourning her death.
Her attitude of gratitude had spread with the same veracity as her cancer.
That's how I want to go.
I do struggle with the examples of outright cruel depictions of God in parts of our scripture.  But I also find myself guided out of these struggles by the dominance of welcome and compassion that pervades the totality of the history of the Hebrew people - and the ministry of the Hebrew teacher and healer, we know as Jesus of Nazareth.
I'm not fully at peace with my scriptural struggles, but I am able to grasp there is hope and promise after the struggle.
Thinking specifically about the Noah story, I have to say that I doubt very much that we are reading 'history' here.  Like the other stories in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, the account of Noah is (in my mind) more of a mythical legend than an historical account.  The purpose of these stories is to pave the way to understand the world we are living in now – not to share history.
·         'Let there be light' is not a story of how the earth was created, but relays a greater belief: that everything we know and experience has its origins in God.
·         The accounts of Adam and Eve (and by extension, Cain and Abel) are not stories of the literal origin of our species, but express a belief that the existence of hard experiences under God's watch make sense some how - there is some logic (the ancient hebrews believed) behind: the difficulty of providing for the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing); the reality of conflict and war – even among kin; and there is some logic behind the fact that childbirth is painful.
·         The end purpose of the Noah story is not about the end of human wickedness (check out any news website - it has obviously endured), but to provide an origin story for rainbows.  If it was God’s plan to end wickedness, we have to conclude that God failed miserably!
·         And the Tower of Babel is a necessary story as a follow-up to the Noah tale, if we are to explain the existence of various languages and cultures that are clearly a world reality. 
Grampa, if only Noah’s family survived the flood, how come there are so many languages in the world?
Well, once upon a time there was this city called Babel…
Now, let me be clear, just because I am NOT a biblical literalist about these stories does not mean that I reject the Bible.  I may not take these legend parts of the Bible literally, but I take them very seriously.
To paraphrase the late, great Marcus Borg, 'we need to explore the bible as more than literal.'
And to borrow a quote from the late, great (and fictitious) Professor Albus Dumbledore, 'Of course its in your head, but why does that have to mean that it's not real.'
There is a valuable distinction between 'the truth' and 'a truth'.
Jesus knew that very well.  He made up stories all the time that held a deeper message or learning for the people who were listening.
And so, I believe that the ancient hebrew storytellers of the first chapters of Genesis were expressing a truth even if they were not relaying true events. 
I am heartened by the part of the Noah story, where God, too, struggled with the cruelty of the flood.  In the passage we read today, God makes a binding newpromise (a covenant): "the waters will never again become a flood to destroy all flesh."  It seems that it was not only the inhabitants of the arch who were trying to reach a time of new hope - to reach a new time: after the struggle of the devastating flood.  God needed a new hope as well.  When I first realized that, it was a very cool insight for me!
When I read today's passage about the covenant signed in the defused light of a rainbow, I hear a tinge of regret in the divine voice.  I picture God reflecting on what had happened and thinking: There had to have been a better way.  I won’t do that again.
From that point on in the biblical narrative, Acts of Covenant become the new way.
As we move into the more historically traceable parts of the Bible - beginning in Genesis, chapter 12, we can read about the Covenant between God and Abraham - a covenant that extends to all of Abraham's descents: I will be your God and you will be my people.  And here is where Agaph enters the picture.  God promises to be faithful to the covenant even when the people aren't.
As Christians, we know that Jesus speaks with his followers of a new (or renewed) Covenant.
Speaking of Jesus… today, we heard the gospel of Mark's version of the beginning of Jesus' ministry.  A similar, but longer, version is also told in both Matthew and Luke.
There are three distinct parts of what we heard earlier:
1.    Jesus leave Galilee and ends up being baptized by John,
2.    Jesus spending 40 days in the Judean wilderness, and
3.    Jesus returns to Galilee proclaiming good news.
We aren't given much detail of what drew Jesus to come to John.  I know that Luke's gospel says that Jesus and John were distant cousins, but there is no indication that they really knew it each other.  Mark and Matthew make no mention of a possible family connection.
To me, it makes the most sense to assume that Jesus may have had a similar attraction to John as the other pilgrims.  John preached hope and promise through a recommitment to a relationship with God: "repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near" (Mt 3:2).  People came to John to hear this message about forgiveness and to participate in a ritual to symbolize a commitment to a different way of living.  "[They] came out to John and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins." (Mk 1:4)
 Jesus experienced this assurance of pardon is a wonderfully mystically way - he heard the voice of God affirming him: you are my belov`ed son; with you I am well pleased.
And yet, we can say this affirmation must came after some struggle within Jesus’ heart, mind and soul.  Jesus must have had some personal need for this baptism of confession and forgiveness that brought him to John.
That can remind us of a braoder truth:  admitting we are in need of a new start - a forgiveness - is often the hardest part of such a journey.
After the time with John, Jesus' has new struggles to face - he is inspired to go out into the wilderness for 40 days.  It might bring to mind the vision quest tradition of some of the North American First Nations traditions.
It is fair for us to assume that this time was planned by Jesus - to be an opportunity to find a clarity of purpose: a cleansing and renewal of heart, soul and mind.
As I said earlier Mark is brief in his telling of this story other than to say it was a time of danger and spiritual temptation. 
Mark also says that Jesus was not alone: God's messengers were with him.  Later in this service, we we recite together the United Church Creed.  I invite you to bring this story to mind, when we say together "God is with us. We are not alone."
After Jesus comes out of the wilderness, he experiences another struggle: John the Baptist is arrested.
Jesus responds to the incarceration of his mentor, but committing himself to his own version of John’s ministry.
We should notice that the language of ‘good news’ that Jesus uses in Galilee is pretty much exactly the same as John had used in Judea:  Repent, the kingdom of God/Heaven has come near!
There is not one of us who lives any reasonable length of years, who avoids living in the midst of some degree of struggle.  Sadly, some of us are deeply afflicted with times of struggle.
The promise in our scriptures today is that there is hope for a time after the struggle
And as we live within the struggle, we can be emboldened by the lasting covenant – we are God’s people.
We are not alone.
God is with us.
Thanks be to God.
Let us pray:
O God, lead us when we are in the wilderness. In the struggle, we long to know you, hear you, rely on you. Lead us when we come out of the wilderness to proclaim your good news. Amen.


“Jesus Tempted in the Desert”

Monday, November 11, 2013

November 11th in the Early 21st Century

We still hold to the tradition of November 11th as Remembrance Day, even though there are no longer any living Canadian veterans from WW1: the war to end all war that ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918.  Within a couple more decades, we will bid farewell to the final veterans of WW2 who (for people of my generation), have been the faces of Remembrance Day); and within the lifetimes of my children, there will be no more people to share direct stories of the Korean War: the third and final 20th century war that are often commemorated on our cenotaphs.
We do have modern veterans of the post-9/11 Afghanistan War and others who have faced armed conflicts through UN and NATO deployments.  These women and men will be the continuing faces of Remembrance Day for new generations, but we are witnessing a significant change in the nature November 11th… and I think I know why:
Most of the veterans of WW1 and WW2 were not soldiers by trade - they were wartime volunteers (and a few reluctant conscripts from 1917 and 1944).  After the wars, few of them remained in the armed forces.
Modern veterans are ‘career soldiers’ many of whom choose this vocation in peace-time.
I do not presume to rank the value of the war-time temporary soldier versus the peace-time career soldier, I just note that there is a difference. 
As the WW2 generation ages, we have witnessed our Royal Canadian Legions winding down.  It is sad to see, but it makes sense: the legions were built on the desires of the temporary soldiers to maintain the best of the comradery (which they had experienced in war) after they came home and moved on with their lives.  For the modern military, those supports are built into the career.  A relatively small percentage of modern military personnel feel drawn to Legion activity.  This type of soldier has different needs for comradery.
Lest we forget.  Even if we remember in a new way.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


June 22, 2013

Dear friends in the broader United Church and beyond,
We are most grateful to all who have contacted us regarding the situation in High River and have asked about the status of High River United Church. The last three days have been overwhelming for the whole community, as everyone has been evacuated from their homes and are waiting to return. The water came in so fast and furiously that people had little notice to prepare for leaving their homes. No one could have ever predicted what happened.

The church building is devastated. Water poured in from both front and back as well as through the floor boards. The sandbagging we did made absolutely no difference. In the end, there was 2 1/2 to 3 feet of water flowing through the whole church. We had an opportunity to get computers, hand bells, and many important documents to higher and safer levels, but the devastation in the church is overwhelming. It will be a long time before we will be back in the building. The challenge will be the fact that insurance will not cover this because it was flood water that damaged the building. And though the congregation has worked with great diligence and energy, we have not yet finished paying the mortgage off from our rebuild 5 years ago.

However, that is just the start. Most of High River was under water. No one has ever seen anything like this. Even areas of town thought safe from flooding were struck. Many, many of our congregational members will have damage to some extent in their houses and some will have lost their homes. Our own home had 4-5 feet of water in the basement when we left.

So many have been so gracious to all of us who have been evacuated. Friends, family and strangers have taken us into their homes, and it won't be for just a few days. It will take weeks and months to re-build our community. We also think of all the other devastated communities hit by the flooding: Canmore, Black Diamond-Turner Valley and Calgary.

Every time we start feeling overwhelmed, we say to ourselves the words of Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear I am with you; do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you. I will hold you up with my strong arms.” We really need to know those strong arms of God through you, the people of God in the coming days.
What can you do?

Pray for all the people, communities and churches affected by the flooding.
Donate through the United Church of Canada website to the “Alberta Floods” fund to help all communities effected by the flooding.

Donate directly to High River United through (search for: High River United Church)
Keep updated on our situation by checking out our High River United Church Facebook page.

High River United Church has committed to being a community of help, home and hope in the heart of High River. That commitment to our community and to God's mission will continue
despite this devastation with your help and support.

Rev. Susan Lukey and Rev. David Robertson

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spring 2012 Church Newsletter

Click here to see the Easter Newsletter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Friday, December 2, 2011


It has been an interesting year for ‘empowerment’. Last December, the world started to see citizen movements that began to change the world. Mohamed Bouazizi’s vegetable cart and scales were seized by police. He was an otherwise unemployed citizen of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia just trying to make a living. He appealed to the local governor’s office to get his wares returned. No one would even see him. The humiliation of this act drove him to a very public suicide as he set himself on fire. “How am I supposed to make a living?” he screamed as he lit the match in the street outside of the governor’s office. Within days, protests over Bouazizi’s death in Sidi Bouzid had grown into a revolution throughout Tunisia. Change was gaining momentum.

The Arab Spring which can be said began in Sidi Bouzid has spread and brought about changes in government in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia. Not surprisingly, leaders and governments in many ‘western’ democracies (including the United States and Canada) were encouraged by these grassroots civil rights movements. Many other nations in the region have been caught up in the warming of this desire to not allow corruption and violence and societal compliance to be the sole access points of power. Change is gaining momentum.

Then this past September, a similar sentiment surfaced in North America, as a group of grass roots protestors pledged to Occupy Wall Street in NYC. Inspired by similar actions in Kuala Lumpur and Spain in the summer, a rag-tag gathering of citizens occupied a south Manhattan park to bring awareness to issues of social inequality. The vagueness and broad nature of the concerns have made it hard for opponents to cohesively argue against them. There may be breaches in civic bylaws, but it seems that the civic lessons have made politicians reluctant to enforce those rules. Like the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement (or American Spring as it has been called by some Middle Eastern news organizations) has spread to many cities across the continent and around the world. Even colder weather and forced evacuations and violent incidents have not cooled off the desire for a change in the way people can and should relate to each other and to the wider society. Change is gaining momentum.

There may have been a time (as recently as a half a century ago) that Christianity was so ingrained into our society locally that celebrating the true meaning of Christmas made easy for the church. Regardless of an official freedom of religion, church attendance was almost expected – the church had it made. But, the days of ease are over for us; and I say ‘good riddance’. Now if we want an experience of the true meaning of Christmas, we have to want it bad enough to seek it out!

For many years, churches have laments the increase of the secular December celebrations – the increase emphasis on jolly old elves rather than babes in swaddling clothes has been met with complaints that things have changed too much. All that’s changed is that the church no longer can be lazy about its own practices and beliefs. Our context has changed and so must we.

If we want Christ in our Christmas, we have to invite Jesus to our party. That’s within our power. We simply need to be empowered. Let us, as followers of the Prince of Peace, occupy not the city square, but let us occupy this ‘time’ and our ‘hearts’ with that which reminds us of God’s deep love for us that God’s own child shared our existence: Word became Flesh. Jesus was not a member of ruling or economic elite, but he changed people, one life at a time. Each life changed because, each one became aware of a real spiritual connection to ‘the source of all that is’. May it be so for us! Child of Bethlehem, occupy our hearts!

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Here's my submission to the next newsletter that will be ready to read on September 4th.

I had been a minister with St. David’s for less than a year. I had a two month old baby girl and a three year old toddler at home; my big boy had just turned six and was starting grade one [#4 was a miracle waiting to happen]. For me it was a time of hope and wonder – the future was positive and open.

On that Tuesday morning, I did what I usually did: I waiting until the bell rang at East Elementary School and the kids filed in and then I headed to the church office. The car radio had been off for the drive to school, so I clicked it on to catch the 8:30am news. I was obviously late to the party because all of the commentators were long past explaining what had happened – other than to describe things as ‘scary’ and ‘tragic’.

It was September 11, 2001.

I headed home instead to watch TV (no CNN at the church). My spouse hadn’t seen or heard anything yet either. We learned that just minutes before, World Trade Center One, the north tower, had collapsed to the ground. WTC2 was already down. The Pentagon had been hit as well and no one was sure how many thousands of people were dead and how more planes were on suicide missions.

All of a sudden, it was a different world and it would never be the same. My kids are growing up in a post-9/11 world – where everything and everyone is suspect; where invasive security and pro-active war are commonly accepted as facts of life.

Now at the tenth anniversary of that world-changing day, I sometimes find myself swimming against the stream preaching about community, forgiveness, fairness and authority. I hear the silent caveats: but not everyone, right – not those who hate us or who don’t respect us. Sometimes these voices are in my own head.

During this month of September, I am planning sermons that I hope will allow us to confront the challenges of community, forgiveness, fairness and authority. These themes come straight out of the pre-determined lectionary readings. In fact, for September 11th (which is a Sunday), the Gospel reading has Jesus’ disciples asking him “how many times should I forgive someone?” Is there room for any forgiveness on 9/11?

Over the past two years, I have taken some study leave time in eastern North America. This has given me the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in NYC on two occasssions. Both times I have visited Ground Zero. Even over the course of 13 months between visits, I have witnessed progress in the building, particularly of the memorial area. And this overwhelmed me with a sense of closure and hope that I was not expecting.

I know that most people figured things would be further along after ten years and not everyone is happy with the ultimate designs, but I (for one) love the descending fountains right in the footprints of the Twin Towers (see artist’s rendition below). It reminds me of the falling towers, but also of the flow of life. On Sunday, September 11, we will share in the celebration of Baptism. I was tempted to not have the sacrament on the anniversary of 9/11, but the flowing waters of the memorial in NYC inspired me to hold on to what is good and hopeful and life-giving. On that Sunday, the same day the 9/11 Memorial will officially open in lower Manhattan, I plan for us to sing “Like a Healing Stream” as our opening hymn.

I would love that to be our theme for the different world that starts today!