Archive for April, 2014

Blog Posts
2014 23 April

‘Cuz you’re amazing…

Posted in Youth Blog

Hey my youth,

There have been quite a few ant-bulling days lately, as well as a couple of self-conscious youth, so I thought that I would add this thought out there.

Step 1: go look in a mirror for a couple of minutes. Look at yourself as though for the first time. Take in all of your features carefully.

Step 2: come back and finish reading this, please!

What did you see (besides yourself)? I have a feeling that almost everyone looked and immediately pointed out their flaws. Maybe your nose is too big, your lips too pale, your waist too big. Or so you think. Did you know that on this entire planet nobody looks quite like you? Nobody is exactly your shape, or has your eyes, or has all of your features combined. Only you. Does “God made you special and he loves you very much” ring a bell? Only you are you, and only you can control you. Try smiling at the person sitting by themselves in the cafeteria. And don’t forget: you are perfect in God’s eyes, cuz you’re amazing, just the way you are 🙂

2014 19 April

Can You See it? Easter Message 2014

Posted in Steinbach United

Can You See It? Easter Message 2014

by Gary Paterson

(Download this video.)

So long ago, the events we are celebrating—Easter as something that happened for Jesus some 2,000 years ago. And yet we believe, we trust, that whatever occurred back then, it speaks to us today, now—is full of promise. Easter as a verb—active, in motion; and we keep looking around, in our own lives, in the world, trying to figure out where Easter is breaking out.

So let me tell you about my visit last month to church partners in Colombia, a country filled with terrifying levels of violence as the army, paramilitary groups, and guerrillas continue their decades-long war. Kidnappings, disappearances, and murders are rampant. Over 5 million people have been displaced. And Colombia suffers from one of the highest inequalities in wealth distribution, where a handful of extraordinarily rich families are surrounded by a struggling middle class and millions of desperately poor peasants and workers. In so many ways, it’s like the first-century Roman Empire.

But what is happening with our partner, the Colombian Methodist Church, is also like what occurred long ago, as small church communities spring up around the country. From 17 to 43 in the past few years; communities filled with hope, with a hunger for justice and peace; ready to be with people most in need—the displaced, the squatters, the poor.

I was invited to preach at one of these congregations, the Divine Saviour Church in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. Not rich, that’s for sure, and a mixed Sunday morning crew of Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, and others, but oh, so filled with music, kids, energy, joy, eager to respond to people’s hurts. And generous—witness the gift of this stole, created by a local artist: a proclamation of life! You could feel resurrection in the air!

Which took me back to those first few Easter weeks. If there is any “proof” for resurrection, surely it must be found in the transformation of the disciples. That’s the one concrete, indisputable fact we can point to. Clearly something happened to change a frightened, dispirited group of men and women hiding behind closed doors into an energized community eager to tell the story of Jesus and the incredible promise of his resurrection. This gathering of nobodies was transformed into a church, filled with the Spirit, practising compassion, working for justice, living in hope. They became the body of Christ in the world; their very existence a witness to the resurrection!

Which is what I saw, what I experienced in Cali, with the people of the Divine Saviour—an Easter moment! In the midst of fear, war, poverty, well, people were being changed as was the community. Now there was a new hope, the promise of life, the Spirit of Jesus.

And it turns out, it’s contagious—as in the people of Divine Saviour are in partnership with the people of Southampton-Mount Hope United Church in southern Ontario. It’s a way of sharing resurrection energy. Letters and pictures have been exchanged, visits have happened, and then the two communities joined together to raise funds for building a combined church and community centre for education and outreach for the people of the Divine Saviour. Talk about being the body of Christ; talk about resurrection becoming real, about Easter happening every day.

And I find myself asking, where else is Easter breaking out? For instance, in your church? In thousands of United Churches across the country, the body of Christ in the world, witnessing to the resurrection? Can you see it?

 

Gary Paterson | April 19, 2014 at 8:00 am | Tags: Cali, Colombia, Colombian Methodist Church,Divino Salvador, Easter, Jesus, resurrection | Categories: Uncategorized | URL:http://wp.me/p2RwbK-nS
2014 8 April

Lenten Study 6- Palm Sunday

Posted in Steinbach United

by Moderator Gary Paterson

Welcome to the final week of our Lenten journey, “Turn Around Take Off.” Two years ago I was in Jerusalem for Holy Week. I remember the Palm Sunday Procession that began at the Church of Bethphage just over the summit of the Mount of Olives, me and thousands of pilgrims from around the world, many waving palm branches, although most of us had olive branches, which were much easier to come by. The day was bright; the energy, high; the singing, joyous, as the language of praise changed at almost every bend in the road  –English, Arabic, German, Tagalog, Swahili, Korean….

We were following the route Jesus took so long ago, the beginning of his last week, the time of the troubles, travelling from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11). Many of us paused part way down the hill, at the church Dominus Flevit (“The Lord Wept”), not following Matthew’s gospel, but rather, Luke’s description of the event, where Jesus stopped and wept over the city of Jerusalem, “If you had only recognized on this day the thing things that make for peace… but they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41-44). It’s a haunting cry, embodied in the architecture of the church itself, built in the shape of a tear drop.

I remember that moment, asking myself if I have recognized those moments of visitation, when the message of an angel arrives embodied in a stranger, when the Spirit comes close, and I am invited into a new path, a new way. I’m afraid that all too often, like Jerusalem, I do not see, I do not hear the challenge, the opportunity, the voice of Christ.

And our United Church – is now the moment for us, when Christ calls out to us? And finding no response, weeps, saying once again, “O United Church, if you had only recognized on this day the things that make for life….” What might Jesus be asking of us, in this time, in our place? And will we ignore it at our peril?

The journey down the Mount of Olives continued, and then there was another pause, at the bottom, at the Church of the Agony beside the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a moment to remember the night of final prayer, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not what I want but what you want.” Thoughts about hard choices, my desire to avoid, side-step; my skill at avoiding crosses; thoughts about the United Church maybe praying a similar prayer – who wants to go through the crucifixion times? But what if God is in the diminishment we are experiencing? What if it is God’s will to change us, each one of us; to change the United Church? What would it mean to say, “not what I want but what you want”?

The march into Jerusalem – thousands of us enjoying the great parade, perhaps not remembering the fear that must have hovered over that first procession. It probably wasn’t a crowd of cheering thousands, more likely a small band of followers, and Jesus on his donkey (though even the donkey might be in question, suggest some scholars).

Palm Sunday is a day to acknowledge that there is an edge to this Jesus, a sharp and demanding challenge. The gospel writers, perhaps adding details in the knowledge that came with hindsight, are clear that Jesus is staking a claim – challenging the powers that be, whether Roman or temple elites, proclaiming that there is a different way of living where we render unto God what is God’s – which, finally, is everything; Caesar can only claim the leftovers. Is this the zealot moment of revolution, of social transformation – no longer simply a reborn Nicodemus, a thirst-quenched Samaritan woman, a sight-restored beggar, a newly-alive Lazarus, but freedom for a city, a temple, a people – a second exodus, a Kingdom of God moment? The claims of the Palm Sunday Jesus have political dimensions, his teachings and witness have social and economic implications. He dreams of turning lives and the world upside down.

Note how both Matthew and Luke conclude the Palm Sunday entry with Jesus striding into the temple and overthrowing the money changers’ tables. There are lots of explanations for Jesus’ actions – maybe the money-changers were unfairly, unjustly gouging pilgrims and worshippers? Who knows exactly, but it one of the few times that Jesus gets really angry. Following Jesus will change our ways of doing business – no question about that! And whenever a Jesus follower (or a church) starts criticizing the way business is done, or government organized – then there will be push back. We have lots of modern examples, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa, the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, Oscar Romero in El Salvador, Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States.

I wonder where Palm Sunday challenges face us, in Canada, as individual followers of Jesus, and as the United Church – right relations with Aboriginal brothers and sisters? Right relations with the earth – “You have made my Father’s house a den of carbon emissions!” Or maybe it’s still the money tables two thousand years later, the growing inequalities of wealth and privilege with too many people living in poverty in a country of such wealth. Where is the Palm Sunday moment in your community, in your neighbourhood?

In this journey of transformation we know that with Jesus the personal and the political are intertwined. And as followers, we are called to speak up, to speak truth to power, as the Quakers say – to recognize that the life of the city, of every Jerusalem, is a place where the challenge and invitation of Jesus Christ need to be heard.

 

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

2014 5 April

Lenten Study 5 – Lazarus

Posted in Steinbach United

 

by Moderator Gary Paterson

(Download this video here.)

A Lenten journey of transformation, “Turn Around Take Off!” through wilderness into rebirth, the waters of life, seeing the real world for the very first time… and now, walking out of the cave of death, whatever it is that denies abundant living, rebirth again… “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:1-45)

And perhaps this is the moment to substitute your name in place of Lazarus’, or perhaps the name of your congregation… and ask yourself, what would that look like, how would that happen?

Several years ago I was leading a “spirituality workshop” for people living with HIV/AIDS, and I used this story of Lazarus as an opportunity for us to talk about death and new life. The first half of the gospel story was told, the part that ended with Lazarus dead in the cave. We paused in the reading and then spread out a sheet on the floor, which became the “binding cloth” that was to be wrapped around the corpse of Lazarus. On the sheet we began to write down all the forces, powers, and dynamics that bound us, that bring death. People leapt to the task and soon the sheet was covered – prejudice, homophobia, fear, virus and sickness, discrimination, addiction, poverty, no self-worth, sexism, isolation, despair – the list went on and on, an overwhelming combination of inner and outer forces, the brokenness within and the social structures that oppressed and crushed us. We stopped, and in stunned silence looked at our naming of all the death-dealing forces that surrounded us; and then we talked….

This might be a moment to make your own list – what brings death to you? what forces are pressing down on you? and what are the demons within that suck life from your days?

But the exercise didn’t stop here; the story continued.

This binding sheet was wrapped around my co-leader; he was bound; and placed in the middle of our circle. Dead; and the darkness of the cave was overpowering.

But then Jesus, the embodiment of resurrection and life, demanded that the rock be rolled away; he prayed to the God of liberation and grace; and then shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”

At which point, the “sheet-bound corpse” in the middle of the circle began to stir, unfolded, ripped the sheet in half, crying out, “In the power of the Spirit, I receive and claim my freedom,” and then invited each member of the group to rip a strip off the sheet, while shouting in the same way, “In the power of the Spirit, I receive and claim my freedom!”

As you can tell, it is a moment seared upon my memory, one that has continued to inspire me – and also one that has sparked questions, as I sit with the various characters in this story.

Lazarus, of course – the times when I have felt life draining out of me in the face of injustice, pain, subtle (or not so) oppression; or when I find my spirit shrinking when faced by the clamour of my internal demons. As a gay person I have heard Jesus’ invitation, “Gary, come out!” as a clarion call to liberation.

It’s left me pondering the gift of life that Jesus brings – how is it made real? Sometimes it comes as forgiveness and acceptance; sometimes as a wake-up call and energy. I remember times when Jesus has been a channel through whom the grace of God flows, a door into Spirit power. Sometimes it comes as love. And I’ve wondered how I might make myself more available, more open to the invitation, the command; how I might hear and act in response.

I also find myself thinking about Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, recognizing the grief that comes to all of us, when tears and broken hearts are what we offer in the face of death, loss, the inevitable endings and crucifixions. I think about the grief in our church, as many congregations contemplate closing their doors, even as they trust that God is indeed calling us, the church, into new life. “__________ United Church, come out!” What would that look like, how it might happen, how we might hear the invitation?

How might your congregation, or the United Church, hear and believe? Must we break free from the binding cloths of “old ways” that no longer bring life? Are there times when the church building has become a cave out of which we must walk? I worry that we have lost faith in resurrection, in the power of God to call us into new life – not just calling us, but actually empowering us to walk out of the old and into abundant living.

I wonder about the new Lazarus – what must he have felt like as he walked into the light of a new day, the binding cloths dropping behind him, the crowd of family, friends and onlookers, hardly able to believe their eyes, not sure how to respond to this reborn Lazarus? I’ve learned a lot from friends in 12-step programs, who have shared what it is like to hit bottom, to know death, and then to discover the possibilities of new life. They know something about grace.

I wonder if Lazarus found it impossible to be silent about his transformation – did he become a witness, dare I say it… an evangelist… like the blind man of last week’s story, or the Samaritan woman the week before? There’s something about the encounter with Jesus Christ, with the God of Life, and the experience of rebirth, of new life. It’s hard to keep quiet about it. “I once was blind, but now I see; I once was entombed, but now I’m free; I once was dead but now I’m alive.” I wonder how many of us have experienced such moments, when we have been filled with the power of new life – of, well, resurrection. When was the last time you heard such a story… or told such a story?

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