Our Purpose and Mission Statement

Working to build God's dream. Help wanted!

We the people of Glen Rhodes United Church, are determined that our life together will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, differing abilities, ethnic origins and economic circumstances. Therefore, we hope that God will work in us so that we will be a sensitive congregation, willing to share our faith and gifts in language and worship, in the life and work of our church and wherever God calls us to do justice in the wider community, with compassion, fun and laughter

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

“Peace barges in”    Robin Wardlaw    December 8, 2013 

Advent 2, Year A
Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10; Psalm 72:1–7, 18–19; (Romans 15:4–13); Matthew 3:1–12 

John the Baptist is never going to get hired to sit in the mall. Isaiah is never going to turn up in the Santa Claus parade. Too fierce, too gloomy. But the message of the prophets—John, Isaiah, any of them—is welcome here. We can handle the paradox of Advent and Christmas. The birth of the Christ is a gift to be celebrated because the world really needs the gifts of hope, peace, joy and love.  We decorate our spaces with lights and greenery, but we don’t fool ourselves that the world is cozy for everybody. We may whip up holiday treats, but we know that many people on the planet have it tough. We may put on party clothes to look our best, but we know the tender, the broken and the ugly parts inside us.
The bible reveals a tough love in response to tough times. In Advent we reflect on the way things are versus the way we imagine they could be. The colour of Advent is a deep purple, or a deep blue—somewhat somber, penitential even. We all know, peace is not something that is easy. When things seem peaceful, it may be because money or privilege or distance is insulating us from what’s really going on.
Our scriptures today give us this challenge. They call us to intensify our Christmas. We yearn for the traditional festivities, all the good stuff of the season.
But listen to Isaiah. First the easy part:
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of God shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God.
This could go on a Christmas card. All good. Then the part that’s harder to hear:
She shall not judge by what her eyes see,
   or decide by what her ears hear;
but with righteousness she shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
she shall strike the earth with the rod of her mouth,
   and with the breath of her lips she shall kill the wicked.
Kill the wicked? Where’s the holiday spirit? Listen to John, camping out beside the Jordan, beating around no bushes for the people of his day and age:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Brood of vipers. Presumptions about worthiness. Axe. Trees cut down, fire. “Repent,” he tells people. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance.” These words are directed at us. Who doesn’t need to repent? And… they are directed at warlords. They are directed at those who manage giant corporations at the expense of ordinary people and the planet. They are directed at the smug, the proud.
The department store will not keep these prophet words alive. Militants, sure of their cause, will not speak these words from their pulpits and secret bunkers. Whose  privilege and burden is it, then, to keep the Christ mass?
Friday was the anniversary of a terrible shooting in Montreal. December 6, 1989. A man with a gun and a terrible grudge. The sickening powerlessness of students as the attacker separated the men from the women and then started shooting the women. Today and every Advent and every day, we remember the meek of the earth, victims of violence. We celebrate peace and we work for justice.
Thursday will become known as the date of another death, this one of a single man. The bible would say he died “full of years.” Somehow he was not brought down by an assassin, nor did he die mysteriously of injuries in a racist prison. Somehow his heart was not hardened by hatred, discrimination and vicious suppression of his human rights. He was a prince of his own Xhosa people. He studied and practiced boxing, and law. He was a fervent Methodist. He was a fervent Communist. When nothing he had learned in the village, the church, the classroom seemed to make any dint on a system that was killing his nation and demeaning the whole world, he turned to violence.
Nelson Mandela was arrested on his second mission to blow up a hydro tower, doing damage to the regime’s infrastructure. He spent a generation in jail. He missed his children’s growing up, the birth of grandchildren. In prison he got to know leaders and members of other liberation movements, helped run an informal university for prisoners who had little or no education, secretly communicated with freedom fighters on the outside still struggling for justice. When people in South Africa and around the world continued to resist the wickedness of apartheid it became clear that violence would no longer be needed. Instead breath could be used for words—words of healing, words of inspiration, words of peace—and Mandela was able to use his powerful words instead of his fists or his weapons.
South Africa, like much of the world, is still a long, long way from justice. Mandela said, “I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” Many more hills to climb. Some of our heroes don’t get to climb any hills. They only name a hill and urge us to make the effort before they are gone: disappeared, shot, crucified. Others live long enough to see how complicated it is to build God’s dream.
I said earlier that hope, peace, joy and love are gifts. And they are. Wonderful gifts. Equity, fairness, justice—these things are not given to us, it seems. The Christ has no wand to wave to make them happen. We need hope, peace, joy and love for the long walk up the hill, this hill before us that we can see, and then, likely, another hill beyond it. Sometimes the only way peace can come is to barge in with its vision of justice.
I was lucky enough to be in the Sky Dome that day when Mandela came to speak to the children. Forty thousand children waited patiently. Energetic MCs coached then on how to greet the great man. “Amandla,” we all cried. Municipal politicians spoke. The premier of the time tried to speak. His government was attacking teachers, though, and the children started booing him. They wouldn’t let him talk. Others tried to get the children to stop. He finally gave up. Later he blamed the teachers for putting them up to it.
When Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel finally appeared on the giant TV screen, getting ready to motor across the stadium to the stage in a little golf cart, the children started cheering. It was deafening. I looked at my watch. It took a few minutes for President Mandela to reach the stage. He slowly climb the steps to the podium. He started dancing on the stage. He raised his arms to salute the children, then to try to stop the cheering. When it finally worked, it had been seven minutes of non-stop adulation. Then sustained applause kept breaking out during his speech. He told them, “You have made me feel young again.” He encouraged them to work for freedom, he made us all feel like being better, standing taller, climbing hills.
The bible gives us pictures of peace: when everyone gets to sit under their own vine and their own fig tree. That sounds like a very pleasant form of food security to me. When brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. Sounds like a society of enough, where people have figured out how to resolve those little irritants that keep popping up in families and society. Where people, even the poor, are judged with equity.
It could happen. It could all come as a sudden gift, where we don’t have to do anything, but somehow I doubt it. If peace is going to come into this world, barging in, tiptoeing, dancing, it will take commitment, faith, vision, humour. There is no world leader, no prophet, no saint who can climb that hill for us.
Tuesday, December 10th, is Human Rights Day. It’s the anniversary of the signing of the UN Declaration of Human Rights in December, 1948. Sixty-five years old. Here’s how it starts:
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people, [and so on for several more whereases]…
Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS…
We celebrate peace and we work for justice.
Mandela said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Dorothy Thompson, the British scholar and peace activist, said, “Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.”
Put out your favourite Santa if you want, your angels, your creche. But get yourself a prophet figure, too, something a bit wooly and passionate, perhaps, who looks like he or she is barging into the party, calling the world to account, to repent. Add that to your decorations. When people ask about it, tell them you’ll put it away when all is calm, all is bright.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

“Is That Really a Light at the End of the Tunnel?”     Brian Elcombe
 December 1, 2013 

Advent 1, Year A
Readings: Isaiah 2:1–5; Psalm 122; (Romans 13:11–14); Matthew 24:36–44 

Those hot scorching days of heat and high humidity seem distant and far away. The end of the year approaches - December already. It seems as if winter may have finally arrived. The days seem shorter don’t they? Have you noticed that the streetlights come on earlier and go off later? Lights pierce the darkness. Brightness appears so powerful that we cannot see beyond it. It is there and in that uncertainty, we can become like a raccoon caught in the lights of the house or car. Frozen in infectiveness. Straining to see beyond. To catch a glimpse of what is beyond yet when we turn around the past is illuminated. We are in transition from darkness into light. The past can hold us or set us free. So how do we go from the holdings of the past?
The past is to remember and hopefully enable us to learn and move forward, to take us out of isolation. December 1st is World AIDS day. Persons living in the west with HIV/AIDS by 2015 over half will be over 50 years of age. This pandemic claimed more that 35 million lives and was considered a death sentence until recently. Long-term survival was seen as miracle. The introduction of retrovirals in the 1990’s prompted a “Lazarus effect”. People were getting out of wheelchairs. Funerals decreased. As lepers were viewed in the Bible, persons with leprosy isolated and shunned, so to were those infected with HIV/Aids. They became our lepers. Yet, for a long time in the 1980’s society was unaware how to engage in treatment or even what to do. The stigma prevailed. The introduction as mentioned above of the retrovirals eased the tension but left the survivors to deal with prejudice and isolation. High levels of anxiety and depression are common in about 75% of the survivors. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The first generation of people infected in the 1980’s whose campaigning led to medical breakthroughs and made survival possible. Education and support networks in Eastern Europe and Africa are limited and the epidemic spreads. However, the Canadian government has pledged $10.7 million that will provide five years of funding to two projects. $8.7 million to find a cure and $2 million for a project focused on curing babies and children who acquire HIV from their mothers during pregnancy. As the world carries on in its daily workings, the light of hope can be seen in the tunnel. Advent provides a new start to our church year. 
Even in the beginning of Advent as a society, we live in the uneasy relation of the Scriptures to both the historical past and the promise of what is yet to come. We fast forward to Christmas and the birth and yet must live in being told that not knowing when the event will happen. It speaks of ending times as in the great flood where Noah and his family survived. Some Christians believe that his gospel is the heart of Christ’s second coming. Theologian Karl Barth is supposed to have enjoined that people start their day with their bible in one hand looking for the signs of the end of times while searching the newspaper to see if those signs are yet in view. Advent calls us to be a community of faith.
As a community of faith it takes us from the historical apathy to the God that created is not only the goad of history but also the goal of history. It takes us in grace to a time that is new. A time when as a people of God we live in the history as past but also of present. That sense of history to present calls us in Advent be a community of hope. 
As a community of hope, we see the signs of the end but it takes us away from this sense of anxiety. To keep those “end of days time” hanging on the wall calendar. The serenity prayer usually attributed to Richard Nieibuhr, asks us to accept those things that we cannot change. It is even harder at times to acknowledge what we cannot know. In faith formation, we trust in a future we cannot control or even know the details of.  So how do we go forward into the unknown? We go forward as an Advent community of Memory. 
In that community of memory that can look back at history unafraid to the stories of disaster, in this case Noah. It shows us that choices are open to us. As people on a journey, we learn from history and from those learnings take comfort that we are a people not alone. History and the stories of them provide sketches and outlines for what could be. It allows us to move towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It also calls us to be and Advent community that is alert. 
As an alert community we are challenged to be awake, to be ready when the event happens. The story challenges us not to doze off, to be prepared in all ways – physically, mentally, and spiritually. It allows us to move forward. 
The light at the end of the tunnel is hope. It is that hope we are not required to know everything. It is that hope that we are not required to everything. We are challenged though to be ready. Can you be ready? What will you do this next week on your Advent journey?
 Thanks be to God

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

“Remembering the future”   Robin Wardlaw   November 24, 2013

Reign of Christ, Year C
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1–6; Luke 1:68–79; (Colossians 1:11–20); Luke 23:33–43 

Remember when you had to carry a phone around? Like, it was a separate object, that you could lose, or drop in the sink? Before we got the implants? Remember when planes used to have pilots, and you had to sort of steer your car yourself, and know when to speed up and slow down, and know how to get places? No? Well, it’s a long time ago, so don’t worry. Yah, there was a time when we used to burn oil. I’m not sure—in lamps or something, to make light. Or maybe it was for heating. I don’t remember. We just use it for plastic now. Well, not so much now that we’re digging up old garbage dumps and getting all our new stuff from all that old stuff. People used to just bury stuff. In the ground. Remember that? But it’s good for us, I guess, because it all stayed right there for us to use. And we used to let people suffer and die in poverty, whatever that is.
 What will they be saying about us in fifty years, a hundred, a thousand? If you could somehow go back to 1906, to the founding of a mission on this site, and explain to people what was going to happen in the next century, how much would they believe? Bombs filled with gas that melted lungs? Industrialized warfare? A rocket to the moon? Vaccines for diseases, boxes that showed moving pictures in your home, computers, rock and roll?
We can learn from the past. We can hope to leave things for the future better than we found them. But we only get to live in one age, one era. So we try to get our bearings from the examples of others. We try to figure out a way of being in our lifetime that is just, compassionate, creative, sustainable. We hope to have leaders who will help us work together, solve problems, reward the right things, the right people. We hope to be able to give leadership like that when circumstances permit. This is Reign of Christ Sunday, so we’re considering leaders. That’s why we have a picture of the city, too. Reigning over what?
Leaders have a mixed record, according the bible. Some shepherds scattered the flock instead of keeping it safe, keeping it together. Some leaders, challenging everyday violence against people, have met violent ends themselves. What will the future bring by way of leaders? Scatterers, or gatherers? Those who promise much but deliver little, or those who work away quietly, getting results?
Work away quietly at what? For too long, bullies have been in charge. The biggest bullies we call Caesar, emperor, king or queen, or sometimes even president or prime minister. They enable concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many. This country was founded by competing European empires and coveted by an emerging North American empire. Many people, many of us, have been hurt by empire. Empire values subjugate anyone who is different—First Nations, women, homosexuals, upstarts—and the environment. Nothing is sacred, really, except privilege. Empires are good at getting groups that should be working together to attack each other. Divide and conquer. You’ve probably heard about the attempt by soldiers of England and Germany to unionize on either side of the trenches when there was a break in the fighting in 1915. It didn’t sit well with the higher ups.
The cost of empire affects us all, even those who are getting most of the benefits of exploitation and violence. Jesus is one of the people who somehow recovered their true citizenship, their true allegiance. He and others say to empire, You’re not in charge, not really. You are not only not worthy of our adoration, you are very bad shepherds. People such as Steve Biko in South Africa and Maude Barlow in Canada, people in the righteous branch tradition pull the curtain back to reveal the ordinary people working the intimidating machinery of fear and control. Empire doesn’t like this. It gets very efficient at silencing, sidelining and disappearing its critics. Tribute must flow. Deference must be given, curtseys dropped, forelocks tugged, knees bent. In this age of democracy, we can’t seem to get enough Downton Abbey, enough lives of the rich and famous, enough celeb worship at the checkout. We need leaders who go about things differently.
The lust to control exists all over, though, not just on the grand scale: friendships, families, organizations, offices and factories, teams, clubs, churches, they can all be tainted, distorted, wrecked by someone determined to dominate. When I left the house this morning, a woman was talking about how her husband, how the fear he created in her controlled her. Slavery is on the rebound—someone controlling someone else utterly, colonizing the mind, the soul. The bible is about liberation for slaves, freedom from fear. That’s the business we’re in: liberation, freedom. If we say Jesus reigns, we’re saying Caesar doesn’t. We say this knowing there will be consequences. We still say so and so was “crucified” to describe an attack on them by the powers that be, even if there is no actual cross in sight.
Living in a situation where one person or group dominates can be bad, soul-destroying. But not in here. Here we create a sanctuary for one another, for anyone, a safe and sacred place where gifts are honoured, people are included and differences dealt with differently. Here, Christ reigns. This is true fifty-two weeks of the year, but we pay special attention to this aspect of our faith at this time of the year, at the conclusion of the church year. 
Time to review our lives. Advent is just around the corner. In Advent we await the coming of Christ into our lives and our world. Today we examine our lives to see what or who rules. Individualism says, No one is the boss of me. I am the captain of my soul. I owe nothing to you or anyone. Fascism says you owe all your loyalty to the state. The bank that holds your mortgage would like to remind you that it has first claim on you. Borrow more, they coo. Drug dealers work to keep users coming back. It was Faust, wasn’t it, who struck a bargain with evil, to get certain things in exchange for his soul.
It may have been a mistake for Christians to borrow the language of monarchy, dominance, grandeur for Christ. The Reign of Christ? We know that Christ reigns very differently than human rulers, but how does that word, reign, convey liberation, freedom? For those of us who have been ruled by someone or something not Christ-like, an addiction, a bully, we welcome the rule of something else, something loving.
But what if we are luckier than that at the moment? What is our relationship to Christ, to the reign of Christ? Christ needs partners in this vast, life-giving liberation movement. Not terrorists. What’s the point of fighting fear with fear? Partners, followers of Christ employ love to get freedom. That’s what justice is: love, organized.
So if you are still feeling out of control, subject to some craving you can’t seem to ditch, you are in the right place. If you are being bullied elsewhere in your life, this is your lifeboat. Scripture keeps talking about the last being first, the little one being the leader, the rejected being given the place of honour. Radical stuff. Not easy to do. And certainly not easy to keep doing. It takes a community such as this to recover your true self.
If you are feeling more blessed than that currently, you are in the right place. This is where your most fertile imagination about the future is needed. This is where you determination to resist other kinds of visions for the planet are needed, visions that beggar us all. It takes a community such as this to support you in your ministry.
“‘And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before God to prepare her ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.’” (Luke 1:76-77)
…a very personal message for those haunted by sin.
“‘By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’” (Luke 1:78-79) 

…a different message about the future, a message for the whole world about light and peace. Remembering the future. Remembering the way things are meant to be. We can’t do it alone, none of us. That’s another one of the Creator’s gifts—we need each other in order to fulfil our purpose. So look up at the various flag poles inside your life. Which one is the tallest? Where is the flag representing Spirit, or God, or Jesus Christ compared to the others? If you are not happy with what you see, let’s do something about that. Together. And be part of of a very different future that is coming into being all around us.
 
Our Remembrance Day speaker pointed out that wars are less numerous these days. Acceptance of sexual minorities is growing. Even in places like Afghanistan, women are gaining strength to resist male domination, thanks in part to the internet. First Nations here and elsewhere are finding their voices. In other words, there is hope. The examples go on and on. May they spring up right here, too, in each of us.

Monday, 25 November 2013

“Vegans all?”     Robin Wardlaw     November 17, 2013
 
Pentecost 26, Year C
Readings: Isaiah 65:17–25; Isaiah 12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–13; Luke 21:5–19
 
What is in your picture of the ideal life? Is it like the car ads, where a single vehicle swoops along perfect, empty roads through gorgeous scenery? Does your picture involve a beach, with palm trees? Are there other people in your perfect picture? One? A few? Many? Or does your picture keep things much the same except no more…fill in the blank here: no more waiting in line? no more telemarketers? no more packages that are impossible to open? no more worrying about calories? no more trips to the dentist? no more illness? no more fossil fuels? no more war? no more food banks? Is the music of your ideal world loud and in your face, or a pleasant background to other activities?
Futuring has a checkered history. Popular Mechanics used to predict that we’d have flying cars by now. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened. But all the symptoms of climate change scientists have been predicting for decades seem to be coming true, except soon than they thought. Today we’re being asked by our bible readings to think about the perfect future. The bible gives it a try. The results are mixed. Things are going to be amazing, says Third Isaiah. Things are going to go to hell, say Luke’s gospel. Everyone will be blessed, says Isaiah. Believers will suffer most, says Luke. Peace and love! Conflict and suffering!
What to do when the bible is contradicting itself? Toss a coin? Let’s slow down and have a more careful look at what we’ve got here.
The last few chapters of Isaiah were written much later than the first thirty-nine chapters. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the time of Isaiah the man, the prophet who prophesied in Jerusalem seven hundred years before Jesus. Chapter 65 seems to come from five hundred and twenty years before Jesus’ birth, about two hundred years later. By that time, the rocky situation in Israel has more or less settled down. The later writer still focuses on the ethics of the nation, but then there is this soaring poetry about how it will be when everything is transformed by Love.
No one and nothing will suffer. Predators will change their ways. Lions will somehow be able to digest straw. Tears? No. Infant death? No. Premature death of older adults? Not any more. Houses, food, a sure reward for work, safe child-bearing, security. Every good thing will come to pass.
This vision is still moving, even though it still seems far away. Especially if you are being exploited, oppressed or left homeless and starving right now. If the predator in your young life is not a lion but has a camera running and forces you to do all kinds of painful and demeaning things to make money for him. If the predator is not a wolf, but own a factory and forces you to spend your childhood earning very little while generating profits for him. If the predators on both sides of the fight have vicious weapons and send you and your family fleeing for your lives to some dusty refugee camp. If the predator is wild weather never before seen. You get the picture. Then the Isaiah vision is like cool water to a thirsty person.
The vision in Luke could hardly be more different. Social collapse, environmental collapse. And before those things, persecution of believers. A dreadful succession of calamities and horrors. A powerful vision if you are already being betrayed, persecuted and put on trial. This was the case for some of Jesus’ followers in the decades after his death. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The message from the founder was prophetic, even harsh at times against unfeeling authorities who had given up on the Isaiah vision. But Jesus imagines a world of sharing, not a world of suffering like this for those who share his convictions.
Here’s what’s happening. The young Christian movement has its ups and downs in the years and decades following Jesus’ death. People flock to it in anticipation something wonderful is going to happen right away. An end to the terrible tension caused by Roman rule. A new rule of peace and light. But things happen. Or more accurately, things didn’t happen. God did not intervene to clean up a messy human situation. Not soon after Jesus’ death, and then not after different predictions of when it would happen. Some people drifted away from the movement, some betrayed it. But despite many disappointments, it kept going, kept growing, eventually causing tension with some Jews as the two faiths slowly diverged from each other.
What we find in passages such as this one in the gospels, especially the later ones, is evidence not of what was Jesus was predicting in the year 30 or so, but of what was going on for some Christians in the sixties, seventies and eighties of what we call the first century. In Luke 21, we’re not hearing Jesus predict these things, we’re hearing the Jesus’ movement trying to make sense of a judgment day that had not come like it was supposed to, division and betrayal within the movement, and growing hostility from others.
But all is not gloomy. Even this scary cloud has a silver lining. You probably got that. “…you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict… You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:12-15, 17-19)
Endure. Get ready to witness to your faith just by hanging in there. You shall not perish, but gain your souls. This is the kind of teaching that so influenced the Civil Rights movement in the fifties, the 1950s. Don’t fight back. Be completely peaceful. Their violence against you is going to look bad on them. And the powerful thing for us is that both the Isaiah vision and the Luke teaching are aiming at the same thing: a different kind of world for everybody, a world where people don’t live in fear, traumatized, numb, and in fact, only plants are consumed. No one preys on others. We don’t spill blood anymore. We’re all vegans, it seems.
What’s the takeaway for a person today in a place like this, where food abounds, worship of all religions is protected by law, and the climate is still our friend? We’re coming to the end of the Christian year with Reign of Christ Sunday next week. At this time of year, we’re looking at the end of everything, the goal, the vision of our faith. Then we start over in Advent, another year of intense conversation with scripture, tradition and current events to figure out how we can be here in a creation way, a redemptive way, how to bear our own witness to the faith in us.
And this is when we celebrate our congregation’s anniversary, too. A hundred and seven years of a witness in this neighbourhood, a tradition of putting faith into action, reaching out to others, making a place of real welcome for everyone. A good time of year to review the past, and also look forward. And on this anniversary, it’s possible that we will choose a purpose statement for ourselves after church; a short way of summing up this congregation’s understanding of its call as the body of Christ here, now.
The invitation of scripture passages such as we have today, and of our anniversary, is to go into our relationship with the holy in a deep way, and a far-reaching way. Is there something here that calls me to a greater wholeness as a person, a greater sense of connection to others, especially others who are vulnerable? Am I hearing an invitation here to grow spiritually, to die to self as scripture puts it, so that I can live for the larger vision of Christ? And as a people, as a congregation, do we get the sense, on good days, that we are more than a collection of individuals, that the Spirit blows through here, doing something we could never do by ourselves?
Let’s not invest a great deal of our time in trying to figure out exactly what the ideal future might be. Instead, let’s take our cue from the letter to Thessalonians, especially the line at the end of today’s reading. Paul has heard that the congregation is experiencing a division. He upbraids believers who have persuaded themselves that the day of God has come and therefore they can just sit back and do nothing. At the conclusion of the finger wagging comes an instruction that transcends its original setting and time: “Friends, do not be weary in well-doing.” This must be a key verse for this congregation, one you have taken to heart long since. We can always discuss what well-doing looks like, what exactly we are going to do here. And we can admit that we do get weary. What we won’t do is sit on our hands because we haven’t yet figured out exactly what a future full of godliness looks like.
We can hear our scriptures asking us to think about change, too. The Isaiah vision imagines changes to the very essence of predators, of wolves and lions. We’ll come back to this next week. But in the meantime, what is stopping us from becoming vegans, so to speak? Changing our ways? Giving up our tendency to bite others, and chew them up? See ourselves as always in a win-lose situation, eat or be eaten? By “us,” I mean humankind. We have taken out the top predators in many settings—sharks from the seas, wolves from the land, and seen things get out of whack. What do we do about the predators among us? Surely we don’t need vicious people to keep a balance in the world, like the moose population needs wolves. So how do we get towards God’s vision for the planet? More on this next week

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

“Remembering and Remembrance”        by John Siebert   November 10, 2013 

Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11;  Psalm 98; Luke 22:  14-19  

1.  Introduction 

Remembering concerns what we each experience directly and can recall as memories: that boyhood homerun that won the game, the first time you met that special person. It all comes back—the sights, the sounds, the temperature. We can even have memories about great memories, as we recall those special moments and act in response.
Remembrance, as opposed to remembering, is the commemoration of an important event by a group, small or large, which instructs and creates shared understanding and commitment.
As we meet on the 10th day of the 11th month during the 11th hour, our minds turn to remembering, but, more accurately, we are prodded to engage in remembrance.
Most of us do not remember World War I. What we know about it we learn from storytelling, reading history books, from public displays of poppies and ceremonies, from reciting “In Flanders Fields the poppies grow, between the crosses row on row” in elementary school. I remember being chosen in grade 6 at Vineland Public School to recite the poem from memory at the Remembrance Day assembly in the gym.
What we do on Remembrance Day with our neighbours is engage in a publicly sanctioned national event. It can have personal elements. Some can recall grandfathers, uncles, maybe great-aunts who served in that war, so the public remembrance and personal memories can begin to merge. 

2. Vimy Ridge 

In a tucked-away corner in a field in northern France there is a monument at Vimy Ridge. It was created by Canadians to mark a bloody battle in 1917 in which Canadian soldiers died en masse on the way to defeating the Germans for control of a patch of ground.
The Vimy Memorial is spectacular. If you read the novel The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart, you get a sense of how much trouble, cost, and initiative were required to raise the white towers of stone with the carved figures embodying the virtues.
In a beautiful prose poem, delivered as a speech, Director of the Canadian War Museum Dean F. Oliver (2012) speaks about Vimy as place, battle, and memory. Oliver refers to the pivotal role of Vimy in Canada’s emerging sense of its own nationhood, as not just a colonial appendage to the British Empire.
“Vimy sits at or near the very centre of whatever national historical psyche Canadians might reasonably be said to possess.”
He also asks if the memory of Vimy has been used and abused: “Is Vimy a cheap spur to emotionalism? Is it a cue to pass the hat for history? Is Vimy a bumper sticker rejoinder to presumably dim and ungrateful contemporaries?”
 
                Place
As a place, Vimy hosted an epic battle, a historical and tragic accident. It had no previous military history, no fortifications; it wasn’t at the strategic crossroads of empire or even trade and commerce. Before the battle maybe 2,500 people lived in two small villages in rolling farmland.
All that was there was irrevocably changed with the battle in 1917. Today it is a parkland with a soaring stone memorial—a site of war tourism. (And some scandalous behaviour if the internet is to be believed!) 

                Battle
Vimy was an event on April 9, 1917, a battle in the First World War. It was not really decisive, except that the Canadian units took the ridge from the German enemy in one quick day of fighting. The weather was wet and cold with snow. The troops were dirty in their trenches, suffering diseases, with vermin small and large scampering over them and infesting their clothes.
It is estimated that 3,600 Canadians died and 6,400 were injured there. For some, the despair and carnage of war are summed up in the battle at Vimy. But that is not the case for everyone. Oliver writes: “For others, it is the nation incarnate, through fire and brimstone birthed at the very edge of hell.” 

                Memory
With the battle won Vimy instantly passed into the realms of memory, faith, and celebration—of recollection, imagery, myth, and remembrance. “Vimy became a shorthand narrative for the war itself. It still is.” But Oliver also asks, “How, and for whom? Does Vimy crowd out other narratives?” Canada’s government broke laws and punished people who didn’t agree with the mythmaking. “Wartime Canada sought to legislate the boundaries of patriotism and ostracize dissent, punishing those who resisted or who questioned too vigorously the grounds for the assumption of dissent.”
We are fortunate to live in Canada, a country that is self-critical and changes. We can agree with Oliver to “speak of heroes and feel no shame; but question the record and fear no retribution.” 

3. Project Ploughshares

The day-to-day work at Project Ploughshares is about making sense of the world of guns, bombs, and war. We focus on disarmament – nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, and the control and reduction of small arms and light weapons – and peacebuilding – how do stop wars from happening, stop when they do, and rebuild after they end so they don’t re-start.
At the back I have several copies of a letter to the Prime Minister asking him and his government to sign the Arms Trade Treaty. You can join us in that effort.
We do this work with and for the Canadian churches, including the United Church of Canada. We are the ecumenical peace centre of The Canadian Council of Churches. Our work also is linked to the just peacemaking pursuit of the World Council of Churches.
In December I was in Japan and Korea in advance of the WCC Assembly to see with our sisters and brothers there the impact of nuclear power, as well as the insecurity brought by the presence of nuclear weapons throughout the region.
In technical terms we are foreign and defence policy advocates. We create evidence-based policy responses (not policy-based evidence responses) to organized violence, providing constructive recommendations.
We read voraciously and try to think carefully about these complex and important questions. 

4. Responding to 9/11

A 2011 article by David Reiff in Harper’s Magazine in advance of the tenth anniversary of the attack on 9/11 for me captured some of the primary lessons of war in our current world, and the approach we take at Ploughshares.
September 9, 2001: most of us likely have firsthand memories of that day—where we were and what we were doing when the planes descended on their targets. I started playing golf in Niagara quite early that morning. About 10:30am I saw an unusual number of military jets taking off from a US Air Force base on the other side of Buffalo. In the club house I watched on tv the second jet flying into the World Trade Centre.
Rieff recites what is written on the brass plaque at the lower Manhattan site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood:
May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.
Unexceptional sentiments, writes Rieff. A time of remembrance, such as a funeral, is not a time for subtle historical revisionism, critical analysis, sharp rejoinder. It is a time for solidarity, deference, and piety.
This is what will take place tomorrow at cenotaphs across the country.
Remembrance of this tragic event, which seared a nation, and beyond, is a time for respectful recounting of the losses—personal for the family and friends of those who died—and for the broader notion of striving to live without these vicious attacks on the calm and mundane of everyday living.
But Rieff also points to the unseen guest at occasions of remembrance, and the fact that remembrance can have a downside. In the plaque’s platitudes is the phrase, “strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom.” This is not innocent piety. It is a call to action. It is a contemporary political claim on the nation. “The ghost at the banquet of all public commemoration is always politics—above all, the mobilization of national solidarity.” The essence of nationalism is that it can create support for collective action.
And such collective remembrance and action are not always wise, nor welcome.
Remembrance doesn’t usher in “closure,” a psychological term that can be, according to Rieff, a malign and corrosive fantasy. Remembrance can nourish illusions about how long we human beings can remember; potentially grave political and historical consequences can be nurtured by remembrance.
Rieff quotes Ecclesiastes 1:11, “There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen, among those who come after;” to make the point that there is no telling how long 9/11 will live in infamy in our minds and hearts, and that it may be saner and more healthy for the body politic to get on with forgetting than to dwell on remembrance.
At some point, historical travesties slip from stirring passions to being debating points, to being calendar blips, to being—for all intents and purposes—forgotten.
Consider Pearl Harbor, Rieff says to his fellow Americans. On December 7, 1941 there was an outrage, “a day that will live in infamy” according to President Roosevelt. Ten years later that date would be recalled with angry public denunciations. Fifty years later, Rieff asks, who would refuse to buy a Toyota because of Pearl Harbor?
Wars end, usually through negotiation and compromise. People move on. Old enemies become new trading partners. It can take years—or decades. The length of time can be determined by how much and how long people focus on revenge or exacting vengeance through processes of remembrance and action. Keep churning up the memories and you can prolong the period of getting to yes—that is, to peace.
Rieff delicately suggests that we consider cutting to the chase. The so-called war on terror will never end with what’s left of al-Qaeda in the dock or an acquiescing peace agreement signed at Tora Bora by Taliban leaders. Strategic forgetting may actually be preferable to remembrance if it speeds the process of reconciliation. “Then the peace that must come eventually might actually come sooner.” 

5. Christian Remembrance 

As Christians we regularly participate in an act of public remembrance that is apart from political life, but not without implications for political life.
The high claim of the church is that all other forms of remembrance are subservient, and are to be judged according to remembrance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
When we engage in the communal act of sharing the eucharist, communion, the Lord’s Supper, we share in confessing that remembrance of Jesus trumps all else:  the passage of battles, empires, kingdoms and potentates. And we not only do this in remembrance of Jesus’ past, but also in our belief in his presence with us today, and that this will continue until he comes again.
It should not surprise us that temporary political leaders, whose lives and actions will, in time, fade to dust, from time-to-time have perceived Christians as a threat to their own standing and proclamations of remembrance of lesser things, such as battles and centennials and their own mighty works. These are but vanities of vanities in the view of the writer of Ecclesiastes.
When we “do this in remembrance of me,” meaning remembrance of Jesus, these temporal realities are put in a different, lesser perspective.

6. Joining the Christian Story 

Christianity, like Judaism, is a religion of remembering.
In the Christian rite of baptism, we re-member, as in attach, our memories, our personal histories, to the life and story of Christ.
The Eucharist is our collective remembrance of this primary and life-changing commitment. It is a story of peace, and our shared journey to build it.

References 

Oliver, Dean F. 2012. Vimy Ridge Day. Canadian Military History, 21:3, pp. 48-57.
Rieff, David. 2011. “After 9/11: The limits of remembrance.” Harper’s Magazine, August.

 

Monday, 28 October 2013

"Give us this day" Robin Wardlaw October 27, 2013

Pentecost 23, Year C
Readings: (Joel 2:23–32); Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18; Luke 18:9–14 
 
Time races by. Yesterday we were getting started. The day before we were children, with all time stretching out before us. Change seems to happen faster now, and we know that people have been saying that in every generation. The psalm reminds us that it’s harvest time again—so soon!—and we are grateful for everything that rain and sun and soil give us year after year.
On Reformation Sunday, which we are combining with Peace Sunday this year, we think back five hundred years to the eruption against entitlement and privilege that split the church. Many people were upset that bishops were rich, and set up in those positions by powerful parents and benefactors. The church had stopped being the church, in other words. Martin Luther picked up the flickering torch lit by Anabaptists and other earlier reformers and nailed it to the door of the church in Wittenburg, in what is now Germany.
 
This week, a German bishop was disciplined for his lavish lifestyle. By the pope, no less. Can the Catholic Church change, and align itself with the poor? What about the other churches? What about this church? We do that. Can we change to take into account generations of people coming up who look for very different things in their spiritual lives, who see church the way it has been done as almost irrelevant?
 
It’s about focusing in what is truly important. Paul seems to be reviewing things at the end of his life, the end of about twenty years of intense missionary activity. He’s under house arrest in Rome, meeting with people, writing letters, and waiting for his trial by imperial officials. “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He is confident that Christ will have the crown of righteousness to award him, “…and not only to me but also to all who have longed for Christ’s appearing.” There is the strong sense that he is letting go. No more big trips around the Mediterranean planned. He’s not going to make it all the way to Hispania, what we call Spain, after all. His great goal, to preach Christ to all the world.
 
Perhaps we are like Paul, in the stage of life where our big adventures are all behind us. Different things may weigh on our minds these days, for the most part, than whether or not the crown of righteousness awaits us, but maybe these old scriptures are not completely dated. Look at the gospel passage, from Luke. A story about two men at the temple, total opposites in their image of themselves. The religious guy sounds obnoxious. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people…” No. I’m good, I’m solid. I make God feel good. The tax collector comes to the temple with a very different agenda.

This story has the effect of making us wonder about ourselves. As it was intended. Every week, the World Council of Churches puts up prayer concerns on its website to help churches know what to pray for when they are praying their way around the world. This week, our prayer focus is on island nations in the Indian Ocean. Wouldn’t I love to know who wrote that other Christians around the globe should pray for“The leading of the Spirit for churches to renounce self-justification and rather work for the establishment of justice and human rights for all.”Self-justification. I’m OK. No flies on me.
 
It’s this kind of spiritual and intellectual laziness that gets a person into trouble, often. And not just individuals. Our nation is allowed to launch missile strikes from drone aircraft and kill people in your country. Our industry is allowed to use the air we all breathe or the water we all drink for our waste disposal. Our sect is entitled to blow up innocent people in markets or buses or places of worships. We are justified.
 
Reformers want change, but not through violence. Martin Luther started off as a reformer, then turned more vengeful and bitter as the church opposed his ideas. He ended up supporting violence against poor people, people who had been inspired by his early writing to believe they were loved by God and had a claim to full humanity and all that entails.
Peace is not just the absence of open conflict. Syria is not at peace, but neither is Bangladesh, where people sew our shirts for a dollar a day. And we don’t enjoy peace either, if people have to visit a food bank to make it to the end of the month. Peace and reform are closely connected.
 
Let’s hear from others about what it takes to get peace, one American, one South African to start.
 
“It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Eleanor Roosevelt
 
“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Nelson Mandela
 
Believe in it, work at it, she said. Work with your enemy, says Mandela. He is celebrated around the world because he could somehow do that. He could see beyond his own suffering, his own mistreatment to the well being of his whole country. How badly do I want peace?
 
Here are a two more Americans with a very similar view of peace.
 
“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I do not want the peace that passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace. Helen Keller
 
What about Canadians? Here are a couple from the only Canadian every to win a Nobel prize for peace.
 
“The grim fact is that we prepare for war like precocious giants, and for peace like retarded pygmies.”
 
“But while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not. We want our own kind of peace, brought about in our own way.” Lester B. Pearson
Our hero, Jesus, didn’t live into old age. A few brief years to share the vision that burned within him. His share of the world’s work and the world’s struggles lasted something like three years, we believe. What if he had escaped the casual brutality of the empire somehow? What would his ministry have looked like after ten years, thirty, fifty? That was never going to happen, of course. He had as much chance of staying free as a Russian billionaire who speaks against the current regime, or a feminist in Saudi Arabia.
 
The only Member of Parliament to vote against war in 1939 was James Shaver Woodsworth, a Methodist and then United Church minister who founded the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation. This is his grace before a meal.
"We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are a part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world's work and the world's struggles."
What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. …we take our share in the world's work and the world's struggles. Or do we? Roosevelt, Mandela, Woodsworth—they’re all talking about the work required, the struggle. Can’t I just be peaceful? Isn’t that enough? Can’t I just treat others with respect, keep the weeds down around the yard, recycle like I’m supposed to and be thought of as a peacemaker? I’m not Eleanor, I’m not Nelson, I’m not J.S. I’m just, you know, an ordinary person.
 
This is our struggle as Christians, isn’t it? If, together, we are the body of Christ, what would we not do for Christ’s vision, God’s dream of a different kind of world? Peace, reform: our commitment, my commitment. Peace, a world re-formed: the promise of Holy Love. They don’t require a wholesale change in the way a person is in the world, but rather a different awareness, a different appreciation. What did Pearson say, again? “…while we all pray for peace, we do not always, as free citizens, support the policies that make for peace or reject those which do not.”
 
How do I know which policies make for peace? They will be the ones that make for more justice. They will be the ones that allow people with less to organize, say, to protect their rights, that curb the power of the powerful. They will be the ones that see the harvest as something that flows to everyone, not just the person with the biggest stick. The policies that protect the fish, the corals, the wild things and wild places. You know all this.
 
If we need to set up a peace school here, to figure how to make peace, let’s do it. If we need to practice our lines or our skills, our discernment of the policies that make for peace, we can. We have this inheritance—stories and traditions of the faith. We will add to the legacy in our time and leave something Christ-like behind us. We will not give in to smugness, that we are somehow justified by our own actions. Our race is not over. Our fight—for peace—is not yet done.