Tuesday, April 27, 2010


On June 10th, 2010, The United Church of Canada will be 85 years old. In 1925, the Methodist Church in Canada, the Congregationalist Church of Canada and two-thirds of the Presbyterian Church of Canada formally joined together to become The United Church of Canada. The rest is history (still being written).

Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us.

In celebration of this momentous occasion, each United Church congregation has been “paired”. People from the churches are encouraged to be in touch with each other. The hope is that people will be talking about their churches and getting to know each other.

St. David’s United Church in Leduc, Alberta is twinned with Memorial United Church in Murray River, PEI. Drop them a letter (electronic or traditional), if you like:
PO Box 1,
Murray River PE
C0A 1W0

If you are travelling to the Maritimes this year, perhaps you can visit your sibling church.

Check out their website http://www.memorialunitedchurch.ca/.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I have heard the same sentiment expressed in different places and times. I heard it on the news again this morning: why are we being punished? Today it was an Icelandic farmer whose fields were covered in volcanic ash. I don't get why some people still quickly gravitate to seeing natural events as a direct conscious act of the Divine, bent on retribution. I don't get it.

I get it when we're talking about an ancient society with little knowledge of the science of the earth. When one's world view is small and local, the big picture of moving tectonic plates is not the first thing that comes to mind.

The volcano on Eyjafjallajökull sits right over the tenuous boundary between two plates of the Earth's crust. It is an active volcano zone. This mountain has a relatively recent history of similar eruptions. Erupting is what volcanoes do. It is natural. It is normal. It just happens.

So are earthquakes and tsunamis and rains and droughts. It is part of the life of this planet.

None of this dismisses the anguish and hardship and death that often comes to people living in these areas. They deserve all of our compassion and help. The deserve our prayers. But they are not served by an outdated theology that blames them for these hardships.

Natural disasters are not the result of an angry or vengeful god. And it is a lengthy stretch of providence to say that since it was God who set the universe in motion that these resent natural events were part a master plan to reward or punish people based on their faithfulness.

I believe in a God who actively loves and supports and cares. I just don't believe that God dictates that volcanic ash will fall on a particular field because of what anyone does or believes.

Can I get an "Amen"?

Saturday, April 10, 2010


As I was preparing to preach last week, I was reading Psalm 150, one of the suggested Lectionary readings for the 2nd Sunday of Easter:
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)

I found myself thinking of a new phrase that I think I may have actually coined (I'll take credit for it for a while anyway): The Chaos of Praise.

Some people in more charismatic churches might know this better than others. The idea that a noise filled room of such diverse expressings of faith can be a form of deep praise.

For all of us there should be excitement and value experienced when the diversity and variety of God's people becomes obvious. It should not scare us or bother us, but exite us. We are no more or less than others just because they are different than us.

Thank God for opportunities to join in the Chaos of Praise.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Well, another Easter season has arrived and the familiar themes have been part of the familiar hymns and reflections. So, often we hear language like: Jesus' death on the cross was "a sacrifice for the sins of humanity". It is the dominate theology, in fact. But it is almost certainly does not date back to Jesus' time, but is a result of later attempts to try and understand the crucifixion.

The notion of a loving God looking beyond our mistakes and providing us with deep forgiveness is a central image of the God of the Bible - this theme is found throughout the old and new testaments. But the notion of the utter sinfulness of humanity making us detestable to God is not clearly supported, biblically. This belief was not really expressed much before the 3rd or 4th century.

And so, to simplify Good Friday as Jesus sacrificially dying for the inbred sins of humanity and to view Easter as only an act of proof of Jesus' divinity is to sell our central story far too short.

To many 21st century-minded people, the idea of a needed sacrifice for sin is problematic. It is inconsistent with a God who is love.

Here's where the sacrificial language comes from. The roots of Christianity are in the Jewish tradition and culture. From some of the earliest days of the Hebrew people, there developed the practice, when the harvest was brought in, to bring some of the first fruits to the centre of worship (eventually the Temple). A small portion of the food was ceremonially burned on the alter - symbolizing that as the smoke rose up into the heavens, this offering was being shared with God, who made the harvest possible. This was an act of appreciation with hopes that God would continue to bless the people. The vast majority of the food, was used for those who needed it: priests, temple workers, widows, orphans, foreigners.

As the society's acts of worship continued to develop, there was a sense that one needed to ritually prepare one's self to enter the sanctuary. This often involved ceremonial washing or acts of contrition (sometimes a grain or animal offering, which was burned on the alter as a means of symbolizing giving it to God). Depending on the activities of one's life, what was expected varied. It is during this time, that this activity became associated with the idea of righting one's self before God. We can see how it makes sense that over time the act of "killing" the bird or other animal by burning it on the alter was directly related to the notion that the person was now "Right with God".

Move ahead to the first century - forty years after Jesus was crucified. An uprising against the Roman occupation in Jerusalem results in the destruction of the Temple. This forced a change in how the religious leaders practiced their religion. Because Christianity itself and many of the early Christian leaders had Jewish roots, the destruction of the temple had a major impact on the growing Christian Church. Save for the letters of Paul, virtually all of the New Testament was written after 70AD into a world with no Temple in Jerusalem - into a world where the old ways of becoming "Right with God" were no longer applicable.

And so, almost half a century after the crucifixion, when temple atonement sacrifices were no longer possible, the Christians began to speak of the lack of any need to sacrifice. Jesus had taught about a God who loves beyond expectation, who forgives those thought to be unforgivable. Because of Jesus, atonement sacrifices were not necessary.

This is where some early preacher came up with the sermon illustration that the crucifixion (i.e. the death of Jesus) is a metaphor for the out-dated sacrificial rituals. I like the style - I use metaphoric language and sermon illustrations all of the time.

The problem is that too many of the listeners to that sermon took it literally. They developed a belief system to match this literal interpretation.

Jesus didn't die for my sins, or for your sins. He was executed as a minor inconvenience to Roman order. the crucifixion means little more that the tragic end of the earthly life of Jesus.

Easter, however, is where the focus belongs. When the tomb is discovered empty, the disciples discover the mystery that not everything ends with death. Cutting of the head should have killed the Way of Jesus. But just days after the horrifying crucifixion, the disciples were proclaiming that they were as empowered by Jesus' enduring spirit as ever - maybe more so now. Some claimed to have seem him or talked to him, but most didn't. These few amazing experiences were so powerful that they changed fear into faith, despair into joy, mourning into dancing. The disciples just felt that they were not alone - that the death of Jesus didn't kill what they believed. Jesus showed people a Way to experience the love of God that was not destroyed on the cross. This spirit did not need breath to survive.

What do we know? Jesus was a travelling preacher, healer. His words and actions were so compelling that he developed a devoted following. So compelling was the Spirit within Jesus, that people expereinced God through him. He would be called Son of God and God's Annointed One. His methods and ideas ran afoul with some of his religious leaders. This conflict within the population (perhaps highlighted by the mini-riot at the temple over the place of money changers and sellers or more likely claims of Kingship swirling around Jesus) got the attention of the political leaders. Jesus was used as an example of what happens to those who promote disorder within the Empire, even the far reaches of the Empire. And so, Jesus was one of thousands of people who met their death on the cross at the hands of Roman officials. His followers were devastated. They were fearful - the desired reaction anticipated by the authorities. And then "something" happened. "Something" turned their despair, mourning and fear into joy, dancing and faith. That something is the mystery of resurrection. And that has nothing to do with sin.

Hallelujah! Praise the God who doesn't need me to be perfect to believe these things.