Archive for March, 2014

Blog Posts
2014 30 March

Food For Thought

Posted in Youth Blog

Hey everyone,

A while ago at my school, we had a guest inspirational speaker, and I thought I would share one particular point of his presentation that stuck out for me. He said “Most people know what they’re doing, but not a lot know why“. Just something to think about. Have an awesome day!

2014 29 March

Lenten Study 4: the blind Man Receives his Sight

Posted in Steinbach United

Lenten Study by Moderator Gary Paterson

 

Hi, it’s good to be with you for this fourth week of Lent, as our “Turn Around Take Off” journey continues with yet another encounter between Jesus and, well, this time, with a man who was born blind (John 9:1-41). Once again, like the story of the Samaritan woman, we see Jesus in action, choosing the way of compassion. When his disciples raise questions about the connections between the disability of blindness and sin, Jesus brushes away their analysis.

And of course, while Jesus dismissed the theology that says illness or disability are a result of sin, either your own or that of your parents or even your grandparents, certainly other people bought into that theology. So the blind man not only had to deal with loss of sight and its economic consequences, but also the moral condemnation of other people.

So Jesus responds with compassion, and at one level, like the story of the “Woman at the Well,” it’s a “go and do likewise” story. Live a life of compassion, be a healer; bring sight to the blind. See what needs doing, where people are really hurting and respond concretely and practically.

I find myself thinking of other gospel stories where Jesus heals a blind person (there are lots of them, and that in itself says something significant), particularly the one from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 18), where Jesus asks very specifically of the person who was blind, “What do you want me to do for you?” Not a bad question! And the response is direct and clear, “Lord, let me see again!” When we are out and about in the community, maybe that’s the question we need to ask people (ask the spiritual but not religious perhaps, or those living on the street, or Aboriginal people), “What do you need? What do you need from me, from the church?” And then listen very carefully and respectfully to what they say! And then do our best to respond to THEIR need, not ours.

So the man receives his sight, although only a couple of verses are given over to the description of the miracle itself. A little spit, a little mud, a little Sabbath-breaking kneading, a washing in the pool of Siloam… and it’s done. The rest of the story is all about what happens after – and it’s all about metaphor. Jesus is the Light of the World, with echoes from the Prologue to John’s gospel, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Maybe the question we have to ask ourselves (and our church) is, “Do we really want to see?” For clearly John wants us to be thinking about spiritual blindness, and the ways in which we are not seeing clearly. Short-sighted folk who don’t have a view of the larger context; the far-sighted, who can’t focus on what’s right in front of their noses; middle-aged folk, with their presbyopia and reading glasses; and then later, astigmatism, and cataracts. I know, I know, I’m stretching the metaphor; but can we talk about seeing with Jesus eyes, or with Jesus glasses… depth vision, 3-D, seeing differently, clearly, honestly, lovingly?

Maybe we need to be talking about a church that needs the gift of sight, that has been working hard for some time at not seeing what is happening all around… until suddenly the numbers and finances have brought a crisis, where we can’t help but see our present situation. But then what?

John’s gospel talks a lot about what happens after the healing – the reactions of the onlookers, neighbours, family, the religious authorities, the people who don’t want to believe that the man can now see. We doubt the capacity of God’s power embodied in Jesus Christ to bring about such change, to open our eyes to the fullness of life. We are disturbed when someone is transformed; when the system shifts.

Clearly we all spend a lot of energy in “not seeing.” We all have our defences, our blind spots – usually to protect us from hard truths, from changes that might be painful to make, even though they would enhance life – our own, and that of our neighbours.

But then it happens, suddenly we see and our world is turned upside down. Can you remember times when that has happened for you? When the lights went on, when you could say, “I once was blind, but now I see.” How did it happen? What brought about that change? A person? A prayer? A crisis, and falling apart? An encounter? Maybe it was the witness of another person, perhaps a survivor of Indian Residential Schools telling his or her story, forcing you to see, breaking your heart open.

So, our eyes are opened; we see, which sometimes means it’s hard to fit back into the old ways of living. Sometimes others aren’t so thrilled about the changes in us – maybe they’re feeling threatened, judged, uncomfortable. That seems to be what happens in this story to the man who receives his sight. He’s confronted by interrogation and anger and eventually he’s kicked out of the community because he insists on telling the truth of what happened to him. He becomes a witness, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” And he even asks the religious authorities, (surely with typical Johannine irony), “Do you also want to become his disciples?” Is this what we are called to do? To witness to how our lives have been changed, even if speaking this truth sparks pushback. Can you remember a time when that happened?

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.

2014 29 March

Lenten Study 3: THe Samaritan Woman at the Well

Posted in Steinbach United

Lenten Study 3 – by Moderator Gary Paterson

It begins with an encounter… Jesus and a woman from Samaria (John 4:4-42). No doubt you already know that in simply initiating this conversation and asking for a drink, Jesus breaks down all kinds of social norms: Jews don’t talk to Samaritans; men don’t talk to women; rabbis don’t talk, alone, in a public space, with a woman who has had five husbands and is now living with number six without the blessing of marriage. (Was she just unlucky, or is something more being suggested?)

It’s just not done, except that Jesus does it. Which comes as a challenge – go and do likewise! A lived-out parable of inclusiveness and radical hospitality! And it comes as a gift, speaking to those times when we ourselves have felt shunned, on the outside, unworthy, and have yearned for a word of acceptance, respect, welcome.

This story goes to the heart of what it means to be in Christian community – the inclusive, intercultural, radically hospitable congregation, where we give and receive an absolute welcome. “There is no longer Jew or Greek (or Samaritan), there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus,” so says Paul. The floating question, “Is that your experience in the church?”

You have here another story about a seeker; not quite like Nicodemus, since the woman doesn’t start with any expectation that her encounter with Jesus might be life changing. But Jesus turns an ordinary encounter into a moment of searching.  He recognizes, I think, the unexpressed hurt, the thirst, so to speak, and tries to engage her, and us, in conversation.

He ask her for a drink and gets a question in response, “How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Which sounds strangely similar to Nicodemus’ “How can that be?” Watch how this intelligent, on-the-edge woman keeps asking questions. Questions can take us into the presence of the holy; we just have to figure out the right ones to ask. (Though I suspect that God, that Jesus, will use any opening to get to the heart of the matter, to our hearts.)

Once again what Jesus seems to be offering is the gift of transformation – not through the spirit wind this time, but through living water. Living water… powerful metaphor, no? I hear echoes from the Book of Psalms, “My God, why have you forsaken me…my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws…” (Psalm 22). Or Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God, my soul thirsts for the living God.”

We all have desert moments, when we are desperate for a spring in the middle of the wilderness, water to green our withering spirits. You know what I’m talking about. But can you imagine what it would feel like to simply say, “Yes, give me a drink.”… to accept the gift of living water, of grace, of spirit power? The offer is there… if you only knew the generosity of God, says Jesus, you would ask, and you would receive. Is it really that simple? Ours for the asking? Looks that way. Jesus offers, speaking for God, and we are invited to open ourselves, saying, “Yes, give me this water.” Has that ever happened for you?

The ability to ask, to say yes, comes not only because of the woman’s thirst, her desperation, her marginalization, but also has because of the acceptance she has already received from Jesus, the affirmation of her basic humanity. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, he was sweeping away all the barriers and put downs that we human continue to establish – who’s up, down; in, out; worthy, not. It’s almost as if he were saying, “I see you; I know you.” This becomes even more apparent when the question of how many husbands the woman has had comes into the discussion. He knows who she is, what she has done, not done. And that’s okay; the offer still stands. As it does for you and me. No matter what.

It’s a long passage, and you could stop right here, but there’s another round of conversation worth touching on, where Jesus and the Samaritan woman talk about worship, in particular, whether at the temple on Mt. Gerizim (for Samaritans) or the one at Jerusalem (for Jews). Sounds much like modern day denominational squabbles and point-scoring… which Jesus cuts right through.

Now, sometimes I find that John can almost overwhelm me with his theological circles, so I occasionally find the biblical translation/paraphrase offered by Eugene Peterson in The Message to be really helpful. Just listen to his take on verses John 4:23-24:

“It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

I find myself wondering what it would be like to worship like that; to find a faith community that worships like that, now that would be something. That would pour water all over my parched spirit.

One last comment, I’m caught by the way the story ends. This woman at the well becomes, well, an evangelist. Did you catch that? She races back to town, and before anyone can turn his back on her, she blurts out some good news about Jesus.  David Ewart, a semi-retired minister in Vancouver, has suggested that a good title for the sermon this coming Sunday would be, “The Other Good Samaritan.” I like that.

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.

2014 13 March

Lenten Study 2 – Nicodemus by Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

Nicodemus

(Editor’s note: We’ve heard from a number of you using the Moderator’s Lenten video reflections in your congregational groups that you would like the video segments posted earlier. Thank you for that suggestion. Below is the Moderator’s video reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, March 16. For the remainder of Lent, we will post the Moderator’s video each Monday, a week in advance of the Sunday it is reflecting upon. The upcoming video reflections can also be found on the United Church YouTube channel. The discussion schedule for the “Turn Around Take Off” Facebook group will remain the same. Thank you.)

Lenten Study 2 – Nicodemus)

It’s good to be connecting again, in this second week of Lent.

We’re moving now into the gospel of John, where we’ll be spending the next four weeks, exploring moments of encounter between Jesus and, today, with Nicodemus. (John 3:1-17.)

He’s a lot like many of us within the United Church, methinks, committed to the religious routine, a conscientious Pharisee, a good person trying to figure out what is the right and proper thing to do. But I wonder if he, again like so many in our times, has lost his zest, whatever it is that makes a person excited, even passionate about God.

Hard to tell, really, about Nicodemus, but the good thing is that man is still willing to ask questions. He’s heard about this Jesus – a teacher, who is rumoured to have done some amazing things. And Nicodemus wants to know more.

On the other hand, he’s not sure how much he wishes to risk. Certainly not his reputation; he doesn’t want to burn any bridges, and get in trouble with his fellow religionists. So he steals away at night – which is not a bad thing. Better to go at night than not at all, eh? And the night, well, it’s a good time for questions, when boundaries are more fluid, when it’s easier to slip off the straight and narrow. Personally, I do some of my more serious thinking in the middle of the night, sitting up in bed, not able to go back to sleep; the questions that surface at 3:00 a.m. have real power. And besides, it’s easier to catch a glimpse of the light in the middle of the night – star-gazing, for instance. And it’s amazing how one candle can capture and hold attention in a darkened room; contrast is everything.

So imagine the scene as if it were painted by Rembrandt, all shadows and light; maybe place yourself in the scene, listening, when Jesus starts talking about being born again, or is it “born from above” – the Greek works for either interpretation. Though I’m not sure it matters that much .

What is clear is that Jesus is inviting Nicodemus, us, to be changed, to be transformed to such an extent that it feels like a rebirth of some sort. Radical change, a new person.

“How can this be?” cries Nicodemus. Though I sometimes wonder if that’s the real question – maybe it’s more about whether we actually want to be changed. (I can remember working with a spiritual director, as I confronted a part of myself that needed to change, and I confessed that I wasn’t really all that certain that I wanted such a transformation. So, my director invited me to pray for the desire to be changed. But even that felt a bit iffy… and so I ended up praying for the desire to have the desire to have the desire to be changed. I wonder if that might have been a fit for Nicodemus?)

Jesus is clear that this rebirth stuff is not something we accomplish on our own, just as we can’t take much credit for our first birth. This time round it’s the work of the Spirit… which blows where it will, which may not be all that convenient – God’s time, rather than ours; now, rather than later on. What seems to be on the table is the offer of some spiritual power, that can work within us, upon us, through us, that will in fact change us. We can be, must be, reborn.

Now “reborn” is a charged word of course, since whenever it got taken over by conservative Christianity. But I think it’s a word that we need to reclaim. One way, is to talk about being reborn, and reborn and reborn… affirming that whatever this change is about, it’s not just a one-time thing, after which you can sit back and boast. No, it’s ongoing, a lifetime’s work, a journey, to use the old metaphor; if you’re Methodist in background, you might talk about ongoing sanctification. Or you might sing a verse of, “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me, Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me,” or “Breathe on me, breath of God, fill me with life anew….”

What John is convinced of, and is using Nicodemus as his foil perhaps, is that this life-changing Spirit power comes through Jesus, as if he were the conduit, the channel. Hence the classic gospel summary:

For God so loved the world (and just pause there for a moment and remember that it’s the world that God loves) that he gave his only Son (that’s incarnation, that’s Christ embodied in Jesus) so that everyone who believes in him (a tricky phrase to get a handle on, “believes in,” not dogma and doctrine, but maybe trust, openness, a willingness to grab onto the power source) may not perish but have eternal life (another phrase often misunderstood…not heaven and hell, what happens in the afterlife, but what is happening right now, here, this world).

We don’t know what happened to Nicodemus, though the fact that he shows up at the end of the gospel, helping Joseph of Arimathea take Jesus’ body off the cross, suggests that something happened. But in truth, the real question is aimed at us – what would our lives look like, feel like, if we were filled with the kind of Spirit energy that seems to be flowing in and through Jesus? And what would our United Church look like if it were reborn?

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.

 

Gary Paterson | March 11, 2014 at 1:24 pm | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-mk
2014 11 March

Lenten Study 1: Temptations – Moderator Gary Paterson

Posted in Steinbach United

 

Lenten Study 1: Temptations

Welcome. You are invited to be part of a Lenten journey, Turn Around Take Off!

You, me; individuals, groups; people all across the country questioners, seekers, the spiritual but not religious; maybe church people, long- time members, or maybe folk just checking it out.

Lent is one of those times when there’s space for everybody…. An opportunity to take time out; to slow down; to ask yourself, “What really matters in life? In my life? Or what really matters for a community of faith, a church, the United Church?”

Lent is an opportunity for asking questions… about direction, purpose, meaning; Lent is a time to look into the mirror, to look honestly at yourself, and hear those core questions more directly, more personally, more honestly.

The Bible is good at asking questions. Despite the fact that many people try to turn it into a straightforward answer book, with no room for doubts, contradictions, or questions.

But take, for example, the first thing that God says to humanity after Adam and Eve do their apple-eating thing. It’s not a scold, or condemnation, rather, it’s a question…. Where are you?

And in the next chapter, when Cain and Abel are going at it, when we have the first murder, God again asks a question, “Where is your brother?”

You could go a long way with just those two questions alone…. Where are you? Where is your brother, your sister, your neighbour?

Jesus is good at asking questions. According to John’s gospel, the very first thing Jesus says is, “What are you looking for?” Now, that’s a good Lenten question.

These are the kind of questions we’ll be sitting with for the next six weeks, that I’m inviting you to ponder, as you think about your own faith journey, and as you think about where the United Church is being called.

Today’s reading, Matthew 4:1-11, sets it up in a classic sort of way; a description of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness launches every Lent, year by year. Jesus has just been baptized, and then the Spirit leads him into the wilderness for 40 days of wrestling with questions, trying to sort out the direction of his life, his ministry, what really matters; trying to hear his call.

And we’re invited to walk along with him, experiencing temptations, struggling with what knocks us off course, what sidetracks us from listening to our call.

Wilderness…which we humans know all too well. Those times when we are stripped down to the basics; when we come face to face with our own mortality, our own shortcomings, threats and dangers.

Scary, threatening – we spend a lot of energy trying to keep out of all wildernesses. They aren’t usually a lot of fun. And yet, we also know there can be a gift in the wilderness. When everything we have relied on is taken away, well, sometimes we can catch a glimpse of what’s essential. We might hear the voice of the Spirit. We might discover a new way to live; new possibilities might emerge.

Wilderness…that’s what some people say the United Church is in the midst of – all those statistics of shrinking numbers, declining finances, aging membership.

And some have even suggested that God is in this diminishment, that it’s the Spirit that is driving us into this wilderness, forcing us to confront questions about what it really means to be people of faith, to discover again the why of church, not the how.

Today’s passage talks about Jesus and the three temptations that confront him…and the power behind those temptations. In many ways these might well be temptations we face.

Turn these rocks into bread…. Remember that Jesus has been fasting for 40 days, and so having his fill of bread looks might tempting, almost a question of survival. Taking care of myself, my own hungers…that’s what I spend a lot of my life’s energy on. And even when I basically have what I need, I get caught up in wanting more, thinking it’s never enough. Can’t be too safe.

Or maybe turning stones into bread, hooks our desire to be known as do-gooders, handing out bushels of bread to every foodbank across the land. Nobody starves, but nothing changes.

Or that second temptation…take a flying leap off the temple. You gotta save me God, that’s your business. Keep me secure; guarantee my safety. I expect miracles, thanks to a string-pulling, prayer-answering God. Except it doesn’t usually work that way…so then what?

Or the final temptation… power and glory and MONEY. All the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. Now that’s tempting…stuff, endless stuff; the lifestyle of the rich and famous, of those in the Western world, which is probably most of us….

This reminds me of another Jesus question: “What will it profit you to gain the whole world if you lose your life, yourself?”

And this temptation sure has hooked the church over the centuries. Seventeen centuries ago the church jumped at Constantine’s offer to become the official church of the state, and in return, bless the status quo of Roman power. We’ve been willing, most of the time, to offering a blessing to whatever government needs a religious back up, in return for recognition and status.

Seductive for any church…we’re important; we have power; we can influence the government…and we’ll use it all for good. But oh my, we’ve seen, over and over, where that leads – trouble! Talk about losing your soul!

All good questions these. They’re powerful temptations. But the real question is, “What’s tempting you?” What is distracting you from paying attention, from acting upon what really matters? What is distracting you from the urgency and wonder of your own journey, and that of your faith community? I wonder….

And I wonder where we might find the strength to do as Jesus did, to root ourselves in God; to draw upon ancient resources in the stories of scripture, of people who had walked this wilderness before.

Maybe that’s what this Lenten journey is about – the discovery of how we find our true selves, how we maneuver through all that might seduce us from becoming our truest selves, the people, and the church, that God would have us be.

 

You are invited to join the “Turn Around Take Off!” discussion group on Facebook.

Gary Paterson | March 10, 2014 at 10:55 am | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-m7
2014 8 March

Turn Around Take Off!

Posted in Steinbach United

 

Turn Around Take Off!

by Gary Paterson

Please join us for the “Turn Around Take Off!” online Lenten study with Moderator Gary Paterson and other United Church leaders. These online Lenten devotions begin on March 9, the first Sunday in Lent, and run through Easter Sunday, April 20.

Each week, the Moderator will offer a video-based Lenten reflection and Debbie McMillan, author of the 2014 United Church Lenten book, Confronted by Jesus, will lead us in discussion.

Throughout the week, a variety of United Church leaders will lead Bible study and pop culture conversations. On Sundays, Alydia Smith, the United Church program coordinator for worship, will engage us in devotions.

For more information, visit the “Turn Around Take Off!” group on Facebook.

Gary Paterson | March 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-m3