Sunday at Scarboro – February 11, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Co-Presiding: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Do You Not Know, Have You Not Heard? Have You Been Listening All This Time?

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore what we are being called to. Are you listening?

This Sunday's service is also our Annual General Meeting. A friendly reminder: if you make a motion, you get your name in the minutes and you will be able to remember that you attended! Have your say on the work and life of YOUR church!


Transfiguration Sunday/AGM Sunday
February 11, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice

Every year, the church celebrates what we call “Transfiguration Sunday.”  It’s a rather bizarre image that the scripture relates, about a motley crew of disciples following Jesus up a mountain, and then seeing the body of Jesus transformed with the glowing presence of God, and seeing Jesus standing there with Moses and Elijah – the two great figures representing the Law and the Prophets of their Jewish faith.

Every year, we hear how Peter wants to build some shrines up there. It is a beautiful moment to be remembered...but Jesus will have nothing of that. They descend the mountain to their lives below, and Jesus holds them to secrecy...his work is not yet to be revealed, and so they must only carry the moment in their hearts.

This Sunday, I find myself thinking about the shining moments of the church. You know, those moments of our life together when we, the Body of Christ, light up with the presence of God... Oh, there are a great many of them... this year, and in previous years... For the wider church, as well as for ours, right here.

The greater world of the Protestant Church has been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation...when Martin Luther began the process of relinquishing the common people from their separation from God and the scriptures ... a separation perpetrated by their own church. A shining moment in the life of the church.

And do you remember some of the shining moments in our own United Church of Canada? Decisions in 1988 that showed that we were on our way to the work of inclusion and full participation for the LGBTQ2* communities. And, hopefully, the work begun so many years ago towards apology, reconciliation and right relationship with Indigenous people will be seen as a shining moment, even if it was in response to the wrongs perpetrated by the church.

Do you remember some of the shining moments even in this past year, right here? The gala, the fall fair...and some stunning moments in worship - times when the music of the choir touched so many hearts, and the voices and virtuosity of the soloists and instrumentalists rang with the presence of God and transported the listeners to a holy place. Do you remember times like these?

The times of prayer, when we bring our joys and sorrow before God, and the joyful moment when the children capture some of the light to take with them, and the word proclaimed by preachers from this pulpit...do you remember these shining moments?

I remember one shining moment when a fire down the hill displaced some families, and the church was opened up as a place of hospitality and and place for the emergency agencies to begin their work.

They are moments to be captured and remembered...but they all point to one thing...the shining presence of The Holy in our midst.

It is tempting, always, to dwell in these moments. But as much as the church treasures them, we can't stay there.

What Jesus knew, as he urged the reluctant disciples down the mountain, is that building a monument up there might be a trap. It might only serve to keep them trapped in the past, reliving the shiny moments, and, essentially, keeping them from their own ministry, with the people, at the bottom of the mountain.

Recently, Ron and I took a whirlwind vacation to London, County Kent, and Canterbury, in England. The next slide is on the inside of Canterbury Cathedral...one of the few cathedrals that allow you to take photographs on the inside. The work in these cathedrals is stunning. Glorious moments of architecture that make one's heart soar, like the rising domes in the ceilings. We went to a sung Evensong at Westminster Abbey and a sung Eucharist at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, and the voices rising in those spaces were moments of exquisite beauty.

But even the beauty of those spaces is not meant to keep you there. Soon, the wardens of the church gently invited the gape-mouthed crowds to leave, and we found ourselves out in the dreary weather once again.  Like Jesus' disciples, we were out where the people are.

Jesus did not want those shining moments to be a trap.

One of our days in England, we planned a visit to the Tower of London. It wasn't so much the tower or even the Crown Jewels that I was excited about. We had read that there was a  colony of ravens that lived there. In my rather naive thinking, I imagined these ravens walking around the yards, getting up and leaving for the wilds, only to return every day to the adoring crowds. Of course, this is what we found (next slide).

The legend is that, if the ravens were to leave, the monarchy would fall, so they don't take any chances. When the birds are let out of the cage, they can't fly away, because their wings have been clipped.

Oh, they are well-taken care of...they have their own keeper, and they are fed and treated well, and they are loved and even coddled, but they will never be free. Oh, how many times the church has built its own cages, with all the best intentions.

And, yes, by dwelling in the past, the church runs the risk of building lovely, comfortable cages, even for ourselves.

Jesus did not want the shining moments to be a trap...As beautiful as our own shimmering church moments are...As awesome as the soaring voices and precious moments feed our souls and bring us joy, the church cannot allow an appreciation of the past to be the very thing that clips our wings...that builds our cage.

And so, on this Sunday where we look back at our church year, it is time to remember, with joy, that God is with us, and to savour those exquisite moments when the Body of Christ shone with the presence of God,

And it is time to descend the mountain, to where the people are... to where the work is.

It is time to look forward to other moments, knowing they will come, because, beloved church, God's holy presence wants us to fly.

(Silence)


 

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Sunday at Scarboro – February 4, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Do You Not Know, Have You Not Heard? Have You Been Listening All This Time?

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore what we are being called to. Are you listening? We will be celebrating communion this Sunday. All are welcome at the table.

Next Sunday is our Annual General Meeting. The 2017 Annual Report is now available here and under Resources / Governance / Annual Reports.


Do You Not Know, Have you not Heard? Have You Been Listening All This Time?
February 4, 2018
Rev. Erin Klassen

Friends, this is possibly my most favourite Scripture passage. I love the Hebrew Bible, what we sometimes call the Old Testament, especially the prophets - what they have to say is as relevant today as when it was written. Within the prophets, I love Isaiah - the combination of challenge and comfort, the call to action and the promises of God. I so appreciate Isaiah’s vision for the future and encouragement to live into that in the present. Within Isaiah, it’s this passage. In its entirety, it has so much to say. Then within it, there are so many individual phrases that capture our attention and spark our imaginations. This passage is one that sticks in my mind. It is the one that recommends most in times of grieving, or uncertainty, or hope. It is everything that I do believe and everything that I want to believe.

It is a call to remember who we are as people of God and to remember who God is to us.

This chapter from Isaiah begins with God saying the words “Console my people, give them comfort. Speak tenderly to their hearts”. Just sit with that phrase for a moment. Allow God to speak tenderly to your heart….     What is it that you hear?

What I hear and see in this passage is the beauty and fragility of humanity. We have a description of human effort with all of its potential and its limitations. We hear that even the young and strong will eventually grow tired. Everything that God and the Gospel call us to, following Christ, being love and grace in the world, working toward justice and dignity for all. That’s hard work, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. It can sometimes feel like too much.

And yet, we are assured of this: God is everywhere and everlasting, never fading, knowing everything and everyone – inside and out. God gives power to the powerless and comfort to the desolate. These are words of promise and continuance, an assurance of the strength of Love in the midst of the exile.

Our passage from Isaiah was written in an attempt to answer a crisis of faith provoked by the exile of the people of Israel to the lands of Assyria and Babylon. The words and imagery that we know so well, that provide us with such comfort: the mounting up on eagles’ wings, refer back to the Exodus from Egypt – another exile. We face so much exile in our lives.… mental illness, addiction, chronic health issues, cancer, grief, joblessness, divorce….

We often question, where is God in the midst of exile? of loneliness? of fear? of pain? of mourning? The answer in this passage is “I am here. I never left you.” Indeed, God is always here and will never leave us.

With that knowledge, we are encouraged to wait. Now, to “wait” for God is to cultivate an attitude of hope and patient expectation – essentially, the very definition of faith. The footnotes in my Bible note that usually the Hebrew verb means awaiting for God to act, to bring vindication or rescue. However, in this case, it is more akin to the Taoist principle of wu wei, or non-action. Waiting for God’s empowerment instead of relying on our own resources, provides an inexhaustible source of strength, of hope and of love.

To understand the depth and power of God’s strength and love. We are called back to the beginning, to cast our imagination and our vision all the way back to the story of creation.

                Was it not told to you from the beginning?
                Have you not understood since the earth was founded?

 

We are asked to remember that it was God that stretched out the skies like a curtain.

That God will be with us in this life of faith.

That God will help us to turn the world upside down.

When our values, our society’s values do not match, we are called to change, with the help of God. Again, it may feel overwhelming, like too much, like chaos. Indeed Isaiah assures us of this:

God reduces the privileged to nothing
                And throws the rulers of the earth into chaos.

But that particular word, “chaos” is in Hebrew word that is used there is the same one that is used in Genesis: tohu. It is is a single phrase that has so much meaning, it can be “formless and void”, or “bewildered and astonished”, even “unseen and unformed”. It is the description of the state of the earth before the Spirit called it into being. As such, it draws us back to the beginning to recall the gift of God’s creative power.

Indeed, this whole passage does, reminding us of God stretching the skies, and making the stars. The word used there: bara, means created or creating. It is only applied to God implying that only God creates, but it is also used only in this chapter of Isaiah and Genesis. Again, it is meant to bring us back to the beginning, back to the basics, which is the word of God.

The word of God that was with God, flows from God, and is God. In the beginning was the Word. As Michael T. Hillier tells us: The word that extended from creation’s first hour, through all the prophets to now, must be encountered again.[1]

This brings me to the Gospel of Mark. I didn’t include it in the Scripture readings. Honestly, I was hoping to avoid it because of this little gem included in today’s passage:

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. (Mark 1.29-31 NRSV)

I mean, what is with these guys? First, they abandon their father at sea. Now it seems that they can’t even let Simon’s mother-in-law get a moment of rest. Now, she has to get up and serve them. What if the poor woman just needed a minute to herself? A bit of peace? Have you seen that meme, it’s a beautiful pastoral scene, a meadow under the stars with an antique bed at the forefront? The words above read, “sleep doesn’t help if it’s your soul that is tired.”

Upon further reflection, I believe that this is the point that the mother-in-law is at. She does need peace. The kind of peace that Isaiah reassures us of, again and again, the kind of peace that Jesus offers. In the moment that they share, he lifts her up. And she goes about her work. The gospel reading goes on to detail city gathering round, bringing to Jesus those affected with unclean spirits. Because of her interaction with the word, this woman was able to continue in her ministry, fulfilling her (our) call to offering hospitality and hope to those around her.

If we are weary while living into our call as Christians, it is hopefully because we are doing the hard work of bringing God’s reign to the world here and now. May we be strengthened as we join God in empowering the powerless, may we have faith, and stay grounded in the Living God that has always provided for us from the dawn of creation.

If your job is mostly emotional labor, it's important to remember that your emotional exhaustion is not a moral failure. It's a workplace injury. (Sam Natale @pubicdefender on Twitter)

[1] http://breakopenword.blogspot.ca/


 

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Sunday at Scarboro – January 21, 2018

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Preaching: Rev. Lee Spice
Co-Presiding: Rev. Erin Klassen
Theme: Called to be Disciples - Anyone Listening?

The coffee is hot at 10:00am, come in and get comfortable. Service begins at 10:30 and is followed by coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall.

Come and explore what we are being called to. Are you listening?


“Anybody Listening?” - Real Consequences
January 21, 2018
Rev. Lee Spice

Jesus calls four fishermen – Simon, Andrew, James and John, and they immediately drop their nets and follow.

I love the aspect that Jesus call would become the most important thing – that answering this call would be a liberating step towards wholeness – that answering this call would be the way that a person could make a difference in the world…. “Here I go – I’m following Jesus!”

It is life-changing.

…but I have this vision of James’ and John’s poor Dad, Zebedee, sitting in the boat, watching them leave.  He has been left behind.

I have the suspicion that, when Mark wrote this narrative, he was hoping that we’d understand that the disciples were leaving behind their beloved old religious community, and pursuing a new path in following Jesus.  Zebedee was symbolic of their religious roots.

But I can’t get this vision out of my mind, of the old guy sitting in the boat, watching them leave.

He doesn’t know what the future holds, but he has to let them go.  He will be alright – if they have hired hands, they are not badly off, but to watch them go is to watch them leave behind the security of their occupation, the comfort of their family, their standing in the community, and the predictability of their daily lives.

All this they leave, to follow an itinerant rabbi who has this vision of God’s dream for the world.  Father Zebedee, like so many parents, shakes his head.

“Kids these days.”

And maybe he wonders if they’ve gone a little off the rails – spurning the values that he has held so dear; turning their backs on the ways that things have always been done.  The things that they think are important now, well, they’re not the same as the things that he thinks are important.

The disciples, not knowing what lies ahead, take a different path.  The only thing that they can be sure of is the uncertainty of the journey, and that they are being called by Jesus.  It is a tremendous risk to follow.

When James and John look behind and see their father sitting there, do they have a moment of regret?  Do they consider that the things they leave behind are valuable and honourable?  And yet, they go.

I wonder how strong it was – that draw to turn back – to return to the life of tradition, certainty, and stability.  Those ties are very strong.  They are anchors.  They’re not bad things – they’re good things – family and home and responsibilities.  Faith, the way it has been for generations. A certain predictability of how things have always been done.

Traditions and certainties of life are extremely powerful.  As Jonah found out in the Old Testament story, so are the assumptions that one has about life, and about the way things have always been.

To catch us up on the story – God had called Jonah to go preach to the people of Nineveh.  He didn’t want to do it.  The Ninevites didn’t worship the same God.  In today’s world, since Nineveh is in modern-day Iraq, they would probably be Muslim.

Jonah assumed that they didn’t have the same values. Or so he assumed.  They were known to be exceedingly cruel to their enemies. Unreasonable.  Inhuman.

Jonah had demonized the Ninevites.   It was a part of his upbringing to have these assumptions.

So, Jonah took a side trip, hopping a boat to the resort-like city of Tarshish, getting swallowed by a great fish and being spat up on the shore.  The next time God called, Jonah went.

He proclaimed to the people of Nineveh that God was so angry at them that they were going to be overthrown.  To be careful – this wasn’t so much a conversion call, but a call to “shape up!”

Jonah was convinced that the Ninevites were so bad that they wouldn’t listen.  Practically wringing his hands with glee that his old enemies were going to be destroyed, he continues to walk about the city, calling them to repent.

To his shock, in this city in which he is a minority, the Ninevites listen, and they do repent.  In a comic turn of events, the whole city turns out in sackcloth and ashes, including the animals.  Yah, a little bit of literary hyperbole – but the point is that the situation blows Jonah’s assumptions out of the water.  He has to leave behind all of the biases and pre-existing points of view that he had about the Ninevites – why, they might be God’s children, after all!

In both of the stories today, something has to be left behind.  There are real consequences to following the call of God.

The disciples, when following Jesus, had to leave behind the stability of their old lives.  In the Jonah story, old assumptions about “the other,” or strangers outside of the community, have to get left behind.

There are costs to following Jesus.  There are real consequences.  Of course, there are the things that are ahead – the opportunities and blessings along the road that a person might not even imagine.

But there are also things – whether they be good things, like stability and security – or bad things – like prejudices and old hatreds…things have to get left behind.  And they are powerful things.

It is tempting, sometimes, to pack up the old life with us, and take it along.  Clearly, the brothers on the beach were not going to pack up the old Dad and cart him along…but I think sometimes we try.

Picture this – you have a car load of groceries, and you have to head off to another appointment.  You have exactly 7.5 minutes to unload the groceries, put them away (or, at least, put the stuff that needs to go in the fridge away), and get back in your car.

The temptation is to load up with as many bags as you can as once – two looped over each arm, maybe then holding a couple more in front. Maybe one in your teeth.  Then you get to the door, which has conveniently slammed shut…and you have to put something down in order to open it. Huh.  It ends up not saving any time at all.

The church, too, has to remember that we, as church, must continue to listen to the call.  I think churches make the mistake of believing that, once church has been built, the creed written, the liturgies established, the structure organized; that the job is done.

As church, we have to remember that sometimes even our churchy accoutrements end up being the heavy load that we have to leave behind in order to follow the call of Jesus.

Recently, the Globe and Mail had an article about the Catholic Church.  It seems that many Christians, over the years, have been uncomfortable with the line in the Lord’s Prayer that says, “and lead us not into temptation.”  I’ve had that very discussion, myself, with our beloved Laura Duncan.  How could God lead us into temptation?

Turns out there is some difficulty with translation – modern scholars translate that line, “Save us from the time of trial,” and Pope Francis approved the French Catholics to say, “Let us not fall into temptation.”  The English alternative is still under debate.

But if the Catholic Church could leave the old words behind, in order to make the translation more understandable, then other Christians can do the same.

What church accoutrements do we have to leave behind?

Sometimes, when people hear preachers talking like this, they get anxious.  Visions of drum sets on the chancel and praise bands become worrisome.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

People do worry that chasing the millennial church-goer will happen at the expense of alienating seniors.

But the question is, to what new directions is Christ calling?  For seniors and millennials alike?  Where is God already working, transforming people…calling the church to stop dragging around the barriers and the “that’s how we’ve always done its” and step forward on a new path?  Where is the something new, the something important?

Here, at Scarboro, the leadership – particularly the mission team leaders and the board -  takes very seriously the call to follow.  The question is always being asked – what is our ministry? Where is Jesus calling?  And in that question – what do we need to leave behind?

Some of our sister churches are engaged in new ministries – taking some steps into new territory.  You’ve probably heard of Knox, building a café right off the sanctuary, and leaving behind some of the notions of what church and sanctuary is meant to be.  Or Northminster, doing a “supper church,” and leaving behind the idea that church can only be on Sunday.

And us? There are some exciting initiatives in which we are involved – the work we’re doing with the Indigenous and non-Indigenous women’s ceremonies is one area; the burgeoning senior’s ministry is gaining some traction; and there is work on the horizon for Scarboro to become a community hub.

Where else are we being called?  What is our special path?  Where is God already working in our midst?  And what notions must we leave behind?  Here we go!  We’re following Jesus.

Let us spend a few minutes in silence, in order to listen to God’s call.


 

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