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

Monday, 17 June 2013

Vineyard envy and extravagant love   June 16 2013   by Rev. Malcolm Spencer

4th after Pentecost

Today many things come into view; it is the week of attention to first nations the Aboriginal people who preceded other Canadians by 1000’s of years. And it is Father’s day and that needs to go beyond the router, tie and dinner out. And we have these amazing scriptures that talk about the greed associated with power and the giving of lavish love.

A lot of power is given to political leaders and large corporations, they have the right seize lands and often to dispossess people. This Elijah story of the vineyard of Naboth tells of a warring King wanting a subjects vineyard. Ahab was at his wits end because as king Naboth refused to sell him his vineyard. This is a classic fight – powerful influents verses a single person who understood the importance of his patrimony his inherited rights to the land- that might mean also the right for the wine produced. Land ownership was important to the people because they had entered the land of Canaan for land to be independent farmers some the king the head of state should have understood because he had fought for the lands against attacks from outside and inside. But he felt as king he had the right to get what he wanted much like many companies today who take land from people for mining and other projects. Naboth died to protect the rights to the land of his ancestors so Elijah comes to Ahab full of anger over this  breach in his responsibility to protect his subjects and really tells Ahab and Jezebel that they have insulted heaven with this action of killing Naboth and they will end their life in violence.  Ahab does become penitent over this threat of the prophet but the die is cast Isreal’s kings are slowly entering decline and eventually they will lose to Babylon.

Aboriginal people have experienced much of this attitude over the years shoved off their lands for economic development for others. The first church I served in Saskatchewan was to fill in for the minister who had died – this was in the touchwood hills, the original home of Buffy St. Marie, there one of the churches was largely formed of those on the reserve but the non-natives ran the congregation and say in the front of the church. I remembered playing baseball against some of the kids from that area. This only lasted for a couple of months as I had to go to my settled three point charge in southern Saskatchewan.

Sometimes it seems to me little was settled in the settlement of Canada we had settled the country of the first nations and much is left for us to do to repair the broken relationships that we need to seek. The United church is in a long period of repairing our relationship with those in residential schools and those concerned with what is happening now.

The story in Luke of the woman with the Alabaster jar seems like something totally in a different space. Jesus found Simon, a Pharisee, who invited him for food at his home. Pharisees were more open to meet teachers and prophets but often liked the debate on issues for the faith. Here a woman comes and anoints Jesus and sensually uses her hair to dry his feet. She offered Ointment for healing and for the recognition of Jesus.. Ahab could have called Naboth and said I congratulate you for holding on to your vineyard and could had ordered a feast to celebrate his faithful stewardship.

In this story we hear Jesus’s appreciation for extravagant love which goes beyond the rights of the law or the any civil code or even relationships of power. It points to the power of faith to free folk to a new way of relationship. One that seeks solidarity with others, the welfare of others. Sitting in a Tim Horton’s the other day I watched the lineup of those lucky people that got the chance to spend $40 on coffee and then could get a coffee maker that makes these single cup units for free.

These are often advertised as opportunities to have a single grand cup at home not at the local deli – now I am not saying this machine is not good it is useful in offices where one is waiting and so one. But it is a sign of our society where our pleasure is alone or nearly alone not in community or solidarity.  Extravagant love is not ridiculous or unreal it is possible in many situations. As Jesus reminded Simon the role of the host is to care for the guest and to remember that forgiveness is the key to reconciliation in relationships. And this is the way for all aspects of our social life not only in personal relationships.

Let us cheer on our first nations as they reawaken that generous spirit of understanding the world. Let us cheer those who show love instead of resentment Joy instead of anger and remember above all that this  extravagant love is the love of God for all of us and we too are shown love and thought of in terms of love.

Fathers can set this tone in the family as well as mothers as we know many children need their fathers love and attention and help us to learn many lessons in life.
Father’s day may be a day to thank Dad or remember Dad but it is time to see the role of men as those who welcome extravagant love as Jesus told Simon and in this way lives change and communities flourish.

Let us cheer on the variety of men who take on parenting and grand parenting.

The end of hymn 589 by Brian Wren gets a close to the aim of this love
We tell our varied memories
Assembled in our global room
That Christ can wash our histories
As threads for Love’s eternal loom

Prayer
Loving and God we pray for the ways of a love that makes us more fully human and caring. We ask this in the name of Jesus our Saviour Amen

Monday, 10 June 2013

“With a little bit”   June 9, 2013   by Robin Wardlaw

Pentecost 4, Year C
Readings:1 Kings 17:8–16; Psalm 146; (Galatians 1:11–24); Luke 7:11–17           

“With a little bit of bloomin’ luck,” sings Alfred P. Doolittle, father of Eliza, the main character, early in My Fair Lady, the famous 1956 musical by Lerner and Loewe. The song reveals Doolittle as a man with very few morals. Here’s verse four, for instance, about love of neighbour, after we’ve heard sly advice about work (getting out of), liquor (getting into) and marital fidelity (optional).

The Lord above made man to help ’is neighbour,
no matter where, on land, or sea, or foam.
the Lord above made man to help his neighbour‑but
with a little bit of luck, with a little bit of luck,
when he comes around you won't be home!

I’m not recommending Alfred’s approach to life. The catchy chorus of the song based on the phrase “with a little bit” came to mind when I was reading the passage in 1 Kings. Elijah is, at first glance, the complete opposite of Alfred P. Doolittle. He is resolute, intense about  faith, and upright. Having Doolittle as a friend would be a laugh (a “larf”?), but you would discover that somehow or other, you always paid for the drinks. And he would turn up to help on moving day just as the work was all done. From the way he’s portrayed in the bible, knowing Elijah personally seems like it might be intimidating.    

Except in this story. Elijah finds himself broke and on the run. From the king and the army, no less. Alfred Doolittle could relate. Elijah gets sanctuary from a widow. Doolittle would be jealous. The widow is also broke, though. She has run out of basics, and there is no food bank in the neighbourhood. No grub around the ’ouse? Doolittle would be out of there faster than you can say, “bloomin’ luck.” But this is Elijah. The story goes a different way. No flour? No oil? No problem.

As a character in a musical, the United Church would definitely not be Alfred P. Doolittle. Not enough work ethic. It wouldn’t be Henry Higgins, either. Too snooty. Higgins was trying to get a lower class person to pass as upper class, just to show off. I hope that doesn’t describe us. I’m not sure which character from a musical it might be. Those of you who know musicals can think about it. Curious, adventurous, somewhat self‑effacing, straightforward, a little uptight still. It’s the church’s birthday tomorrow. Eighty‑eight years young. Still in recovery from an addiction to growth, and still over getting an abusive relationship with empire, with power. But still smiling, and still big-hearted.

The United Church has a chance to be more real, more faithful than it ever has been. The historian who came to address Toronto Conference two weeks ago led us through five eras of the church from 1900 to the present. He pointed out the times we have struggled to be faithful. Times, for example, when the leadership of the church squashed more daring proposals coming from the grassroots. One was to do with equalizing salaries for ministers.  Another, from Toronto Conference, approved of various socialist programs.  Early into the Second World War, the Young People’s Union proposed alternative service, for pacifists who didn’t want to take a weapon. National leaders put the brakes on. The tension in the church is often like this, between daring expressions of Christ‑like love and a fear of moving away from middle class values, values of security and a reluctance to ruffle any feathers.

We have a certain freedom now. Society doesn’t know who we are and doesn’t care. People with power are not concerned with Gospel values. Their days are taken up with helping the ownership class, the ultra‑rich, get even further ahead.  We are not on their radar, a minor irritant, at best.

And yet Canada is the way it is partly because of a theology of love of neighbour, an ethic of scrupulous honesty, a concern for those on the margins. The United Church was conceived in the first decade of the last century, a time of boundless confidence about the future. The birth was delayed by war, and then cold feet on the part of many Presbyterians, but the impulse at the heart of union, to make a nation with gospel values, persisted.

What is our mission now, as the consensus about national values has broken down, and a progressive vision has moved to secularism, materialism and individualism? We have these stories to share. Or if no one wants to hear the stories themselves, then they will inspire us. Stories about healing, stories about how far a little bit of flour, and a large dollop of faith can carry you.

The stories of our recent past are not much help right now. In 1960, there was a new United Church, hall or manse opened every four days. We honestly believed this rate of growth would simply continue. Like early investors in a Ponzi scheme. It’s possible a church might experience this rate of growth again, but to pine for those days gets in the way of being faithful now. We carry a message like a glowing coal, the way people used to transport their fire from one campsite to another in a little bundle. And there is hope. I said our society has moved to secularism. In fact, many people consider themselves spiritual. Spiritual but not religious. SBNR is the awkward short form for it. I can hear you thinking, Wait, that’s me! It could well be. Who wants to think of themselves as religious these days? The phrase has become so loaded with negative images.

I guess it’s possible that nobody owes anything to anyone else. That Ayn Rand is right. That there’s no such thing as society. You are the answer to that. You are the gentle objection. You beg to differ. A couple of you got Queen’s Jubilee medals the other month for extended community service, but it seems to me they could just bring a box of them by, and hand one out to everybody around here, and many other churches driven by love of God and love of neighbour. These stories about doing for others still move you, shape you. After church we are going to turn to our own history, using the timeline hanging on the wall. It will help us figure out how we got to this place. It can’t predict the future, but it may help us learn lessons from the past. The timeline shows us how much social turmoil has taken place since 1900. Church people, and United Church people have been in the midst of things the whole time. People such as Mike Pearson, Bertha Wilson, the first female Supreme Court justice and Jack Layton have been shaped by the United Church, and they, in turn, have shaped the country and the world. John Humphrey, the UN official who pulled together the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, came from Montreal, and the United Church. The list goes on and on. And those are just some high profile people. The real contribution of the United Church has been its members from coast to coast.

It’s ordinary congregations who have set an example for their communities with their responses to “the other,” whether that person is a newcomer to the country, a refugee claiming sanctuary, low income or homeless, or part of a sexual minority. Canada has been a viciously sexist, racist, homophobic place in times gone by. It is much less so now. And that’s partly on you, and hundreds of thousands of other faithful people who have been asking themselves the good questions about Jesus of Nazareth. Not just United Church people, not just Christians, of course–many others over the years. And United Church people are always trying to build coalitions with others seeking a more caring society. It’s what we do.

If we only have enough supplies for one day, we carry on. Miracles happen. If word comes that something is over, dead for all intents and purposes, we hold out hope. There isn’t a long enough roll of paper in the world to record all the Jesus events, all the little and big acts of redemption, all the feeding, sharing and reviving that have taken place because of the three thousand or so United Churches and their resilient, thoughtful, creative people.

Listen again to today’s psalm. Ancient words that feel like a summary of so many of the things that are important to us as we love and serve others, seek justice and resist evil:

Praise God!
Praise God, O my soul!
I will praise God as long as I live;
   I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
   in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
   on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob and Rachel,
   whose hope is in God their God,
who made heaven and earth,
   the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
   who executes justice for the oppressed;

   who gives food to the hungry.

God sets the prisoners free;
   God opens the eyes of the blind.
God lifts up those who are bowed down;
   God loves the righteous.
God watches over the strangers;
   she upholds the orphan and the widow,
   but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

God will reign for ever,
   with a little bit of luck,
   your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise God!
I added that part about luck.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

“Bulls, beefs and blessings”    June 2, 2013    by Robin Wardlaw

Pentecost 3, Year C
Readings:1 Kings 18:20–21, (22–29), 30–39; Psalm 96; Galatians 1:1–12; Luke 7:1–10

People like me are fond of quoting Margaret Mead, the line about changing the world: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Ministers like that one. Lots of people like it. It feels empowering, especially when one’s group is small. And who doesn’t want to change the world, or think of themselves as thoughtful and committed.

Today is about faith. Our bible stories are about the power of faith. Before we leave Ms. Mead, though, perhaps we should hear some of her lesser known quotes. She was an anthropologist. Much of her early work was on the cultural basis of sex roles. Then she investigated the influence of biology on male and female behaviors. Later she gained prominence as a lecturer and writer on family and child‑rearing issues.

There’s this quote from Margaret Mead about choices: “It may be necessary temporarily to accept a lesser evil, but one must never label a necessary evil as good.” Then there’s this one about modern times that seems to require a bit more explanation: “Life in the twentieth century is like a parachute jump: you have to get it right the first time.” Here’s one that sounds like a Buddhist koan, a mysterious statement that is intended to get us thinking. “Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” The next one applies to everyone, even thoughtful, committed people who want to change the world: “What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things.”

And finally, there is one that makes a preacher tremble. Here’s the last Margaret Mead quote: “If one cannot state a matter clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve‑year‑old can understand it, one should remain within the cloistered walls of the university and laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter.”

What can we state clearly about faith? What can we understand? There are many healing stories in the gospels, and elsewhere in the bible. There are many stories about competition between the Jewish faith and other faiths in Old Testament times. The healing stories usually feature a line about faith–the faith of a parent or the person who is ill him- or herself. There aren’t any other stories like this one about Elijah and the prophets of Baal: the bulls, the water, the sarcasm, the fire from heaven. The issue was drought. The people had a beef with God, and so the king turns to religious leaders for help, non-Jewish priests. The passage we read stops with the dramatic consuming of all the wet wood, the wet meat, even the stones by fire. What happens next after this passage is terrifying and revolting. Elijah orders the arrest of all four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and kills them all in the Wadi Kishon, one of the dry river beds of Israel. Then Elijah tells the king, here comes the rain for a thirsty land. First a little cloud, “like your hand,” says the prophet, and finally a deluge follows, filling the valleys and soaking the fields, giving life to the people.

These days we’re so much more advanced than this kind of naked contempt and violence. We don’t compete with other faiths and murder their prophets, unless we’re talking about drone strikes on distant teachers and commanders of a certain militant form of Islam. These days we don’t pour sarcasm on the leaders of other faith communities, unless it’s the television evangelists. Faith was not easy then, and it’s not easy now.

According to 1 Kings, prophetic leadership was almost extinct in Ahab’s day. Elijah claimed he was the only one left. Certainly he was the one who least afraid of Ahab and Jezebel. She had been ordering the murder of the prophets of Yahweh. The story is to show Elijah’s power, and especially to show Yahweh’s power. Never mind those false prophets. They can’t help you. The bible spends a lot of time on what happens during the time of bad rulers, and what becomes of them. The goal for the nation is so lofty. We can almost hear the bible writers gritting their teeth as years, sometimes generations are lost off on some dead end.

The Jesus story is a little different. Jesus has power, clearly, but he hears the witness of the centurion, according to Luke, and likes the analogy of being able to give order to unclean spirits so that people can be restored to health. The writer gets in a little shot at faith in Israel as the incident winds up: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Zing. All this tells us is that details such as this reveal that the story goes with the church’s later mission to Gentiles, not that Jesus was dissing his fellow Jews. There was a healing. The person who is sick is a slave, or a servant or a son of the officer, depending on whether we’re reading Luke, Matthew or John. The details vary, in other words.

A dramatic confrontation between religions. A story of healing, the healing of a gentile. Where does this leave us? We have weather and climate issues these days. We sometimes feel like the last remaining faithful few. We know of people who need healing. We may need healing ourselves. Some parallels, in other words, with bible times. To go back to Margaret Mead, did we get it right in the twentieth century, with all our decisions about weapons, chemicals, geo-politics, health, agriculture, greenhouse gases and so on? Are we careful about labelling necessary evils as evil, and not kidding ourselves that they are good? And if the ship is going down, what will the rest of the journey look like?

Last week we began a conversation as a church, a conversation about our purpose. It’s been a generation since people at Glen Rhodes put together the What Makes Us Tick statement on the front of our bulletins each week. Much has changed since those days, but many things have not. It turns out you are still very inspired by that statement. It still says things about this community that satisfy you and challenge you. You would be interested in a shorter version of it in addition, a condensing, a summary that is both vital and memorable. The conversation continues. Can we state our purpose “clearly enough so that even an intelligent twelve‑year‑old can understand it”?

At the heart of the conversation is our faith. Who is Christ for us? What do we think about someone like Elijah, so sure of himself as has the meat, the wood, the stones doused with water and still expects the whole thing to go up in flames without any human source of ignition? What do we think about the man, the generous Centurion, in the Luke story, and his confidence in Jesus, his faith that his slave, or servant, or son could be made better? One question for us seems to be about our future. Does God have a purpose for this congregation? That’s the easy question. Of course there is a purpose for a progressive, caring, big hearted Christian community in this neighbourhood. A second question is closer to the bone for many of us. How ready are we to follow God’s leading? We need to be able to state our faith clearly, too.

We are all consumers. We are all caught up in daily routines and cares. We are all people with aches and pains and worries and frustrations. And we are citizens of a world of blessings, a world of peace and justice. We are immersed in little matters and we are immersed in a beautiful vision of something else. We live in tension. We live between the one and the other. What to put in the garden, how you will pay all your bills, whether to get the brown cushion or the orange one for the couch–these things are important. When we join with others in holy conversation here, other things take priority. What call are we hearing–from God and from our neighbours? How are we being faithful to those calls already, and might there be some things we need to start, or stop, or change?

And at the heart of all that thinking about mission, do we expect that God, the Spirit, Christ will be involved, in our conversation together, and in our mission? “Answer me, O God, answer me, so that this people may know that you are God, and that you have turned their hearts back,” says Elijah. “Sovereign, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed,” says the Centurion. Answer us, O God. Speak the word, O Christ.

We make our offerings. Not usually large animals on the hoof these days. We have beefs with the Mystery at the source of all things. And we long for, we pray for, we hope for blessings to come our way, for the planet and for the hurting people of this corner of the world. Our faith does not have to be epic. It does not have to be perfect. It does need to be examined, shared, honoured. You can do that. We can do that. It will be intense. It will be exhilarating. It will be fun. We’re a small group. We’re committed. Let’s see if we can change the world.