Wednesday, 28 June 2017


Today's blog is a looking ahead to what is to come as Tim and I move out of the office of pastor at FMC and into the pews.

Change is rarely easy and never avoidable. Today, I sit in front of my computer in a church office that is mostly empty. There are no pictures on the walls, the filing cabinets are empty, and most of the books are in boxes. Tim and I shared the pastoral ministry at FMC for 15 years. We love this church, its people, and the challenges of preaching, teaching, visiting, and reaching out into the larger church and our communities. It is not easy for us to leave this role and it will not be easy for people to allow us to be something other than pastors-especially while the role remains vacant in our church.

I am glad for the timing, that we and the church can do some adjusting over summer while our "normal" routines are already disrupted.

Change is not always good, it is not always bad. This change, for me, is definitely a mixture of the two. It is bitter and sweet. I choose, however, to put my energy into the positive and look to where God is calling us next. I told someone last week that my default is to smile. So here is my list for looking ahead:

1. I look forward to being a "pastoring person" without the limitations, expectations, and remuneration of a formal job description. There is freedom in this. Perhaps I will be more available for neighbours-and instead of "preaching to the choir" I can bring good news to those who don't have a whole church supporting them.

2. Tim has, since February, been working as the area church minister for Mennonite Church Alberta. The position is invigorating and he seems to be the right person at the right time for changing national and provincial structures. I've been called into a part-time position with the Mennonite Central Committee in Edmonton, beginning in September and am excited to take that on. 

3. I look forward to being able to put more focus and energy into writing for the Canadian Mennonite Magazine as well as some personal writing projects.

4.We have been blessed and encouraged by receiving calls into new work and ministry so quickly. 

5. My part-time positions are quite flexible, allowing me to be the 'home anchor' while Tim travels for his work. This allows us to keep things stable and supportive so our teenagers can still participate in their church and communities. We will also continue to be in the pews as members of FMC, however, will greatly limit our involvement and availability so that we do not interfere with new leadership.

6. I pray with hope that the church will move on well, addressing its lingering issues and doing the hard work of change that I believe it (every person in the pews) is ready to do. For myself, I commit to using any lingering grumpiness I have as a spur to learning and encouraging positive change for myself and the church I love.

Finally, I look forward to continuing to blog about the lectionary passages and issues of faith and life. The administration of this blog will undergo some change. Stay in touch for information about how to continue to access the "Lectionary Reflectionary"

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Curious things.

This morning I read some things that pique my curiosity. In the reading; Matthew 9:38-10:8, why would Jesus give Judas the same power and authority as the other disciples, tell them to 'go nowhere among the Gentiles, and why would the lectionary reading stop at verse 8?

1. Obviously this was written well after the fact because the writer includes an editorial comment that Judas was the betrayer. At the time Jesus commissioned the 12 to teach and heal, Judas was presumably a fully trustworthy member of the team. Later on in the story, at the last supper, Jesus seems to know who will betray him. He stops short of naming Judas, and he does nothing to prevent it. This is a curiously humbling story. Anyone of us, no matter what circles we run in, no matter what commissions, awards, or accolades we have had, could go sideways. Instead of condemning Judas and dismissing his story, I find a lot of value in the cautionary aspect. If we all realise that we are capable of the same misdirection/greed/ or whatever it was, we are more likely to be accountable, humble, and helpful to each other.

2. It is curious that Jesus would tell his disciples not to go into Samaria, not to go to the Gentiles, but to concentrate on the "lost sheep in Israel." This is intriguing on a few levels. One is, of course, that we think of Jesus as all-loving and inclusive. This jarring command to stick to Israel causes a reflexive "explain it away" mindset for us as we try to reconcile our idea of an inclusive Jesus with the exclusive words. I think, however, it is important for us to see Jesus as living within his culture. He too, has to deal with prejudices. (Then look at the turn around in Mat.. 28:16-20..."go and make disciples of all nations...") What has changed?

It is also interesting that he sends them to the"lost sheep" not to the leaders and important people. He's not very good at playing politics is he? Perhaps this example is important for us too. Very often in our organisations, and even our churches, the ones who get the attention are not the ones who are most needy. How can we empower those who aren't "lost" to spend their efforts on reaching out to those who are?

3. Finally, I'm not happy with the lectionary reading cutting off at verse 8-although I am pleased it didn't cut off at 7! Verse 7 emphasises proclamation and 8 is the practical work of healing and caring for those who need help. I'm glad to see proclamation and practise kept together, but it's still odd to cut this off mid paragraph. Jesus goes on here to instruct them on doing this good work without pay other than what is necessary-sufficient food and shelter. Perhaps this is the first notion of the central place that volunteerism plays in the community of faith!

What piques your curiosity?

This Sunday there will be a Father's Day Hymn Sing at First Mennonite instead of our regular service. Read Psalm 100 in preparation! Many of our people will travel down to Camp Valaqua for it's "Garden Party" and worship service. That's where I'll be!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Faith keeps on seeking and asking

June 11 is "Trinity Sunday", the first day after Pentecost when the Christian church traditionally celebrates the doctrine of God as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Or to use less patriarchal language,(and in my opinion better descriptive language), celebrates the doctrine of 3 in 1 as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Doctrine is a word that implies stuffiness and rigidity to most of us. It feels like a matter of "right belief", if you don't say yes to these particular statements, you are out. Doctrine, understood this way, doesn't make sense in a post-Christendom world. It doesn't make sense or feel relevant to millenials or their parents who experience the world and faith in shifting shades of grey. (Can I still use that phrase or has it's meaning been changed by cultural relevance?) It seems to me that faith relevant to today's world has to be much more about right action and loving others than it is about believing exactly the "right" doctrines.

In his (lengthy but very good) blog, Andrew Prior takes on the doctrine of the Trinity, reminding us that these scriptures for June 11 significantly predate any doctrine. (You can read it by clicking the link below.) The idea of only one God was hugely important to Jesus and the disciples.  So...what do we do with the idea that in today's scripture, Matt. 28:16-20, the disciples are worshiping Jesus? I won't rehash Prior's discussion on this, except to point out one thing. Prior draws attention to verse 17; "When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted." These are the disciples, the ones who acknowledge the resurrection and have stuck with Jesus. Prior points out that even among the faithful, worship and doubt co-exist, and they coexist well.

This idea that doubt and faith work well together is a great corrective to 'stuffy ideas of doctrine.' Prior suggests that a more helpful understanding of doctrine is to think of it as guide rails along the path to a mountain viewpoint. They will lead you safely to a particular great view, but they are porous boundaries that also also allow you to go off the trail to discover new places from which to observe and understand...and yes, perhaps fall. This idea of doctrine as guidelines, but not the only way to truth allows for the diversity, questioning, and practical engagement that, I think, is coming to characterize a church and faith that is relevant and vital today.

Here is a quote from Daniel Migliore's book; "Faith Seeking Understanding" that encourages the believer to embrace their doubts and keep asking questions.

Christian faith is at bottom trust in and obedience to the free and gracious God made known in Jesus Christ. Christian theology is this same faith in the mode of asking questions and struggling to find at least provisional answers to these questions. Authentic faith is no sedative for world-weary souls, no satchel full of ready answers to the deepest questions of life. Instead, faith in God revealed in Jesus Christ sets an inquiry in motion, fights the inclination to accept things as there are, and continually calls in question unexamined assumptions about God, our world, and ourselves. Consequently, Christian faith has nothing in common with indifference to the search for truth, or fear of it, or the arrogant claim to possess it fully. True faith must be distinguished from fideism. Fideism says there comes a point where we must stop asking questions and must simply believe; faith keeps on seeking and asking.

On June 11, we will be having a baptism and membership service. I love that this passage puts the disciples on a mountaintop with Jesus where faith and doubt are together. The commitments made on this day are a promise to remain engaged with questions of church, faith, and the ongoing challenge of being a disciple in an ever changing world.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Keepers, Sharers, and Shapers.

For June 4.

The church season is now post-Easter and the scriptures, like Acts chapters 1 and 2 (from last week and this week), deal with the beginnings of the church as we know it.

But it didn't start out looking as we know it today.

It started with Jesus' disciples and followers having to deal with Jesus leaving them to carry on his work without him.They organize themselves. They receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and people of many different cultures and languages are included in the hearing of the story of Jesus. The story spreads and the church takes shape as the keeper and sharer of it. As more and more people hear the story, more and more want to join in. 2:42 says they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and prayers. They also shared their possessions with each other, praised God, and had the "goodwill" of their neighbours.

Some of this sounds like the church we know. Good food, good fellowship, times to learn, pray, and worship together, and opportunities to share generously with others who have needs. Some of it, however, is wildly unfamiliar to us. They did not have the New Testament yet, except as oral tradition. Their scripture was the Torah, the laws and the prophets. Very few people were literate. Many were still Jewish and had a long scriptural tradition. The mixing of Jewish and Gentile Christians caused a lot of issues-who brought the pork to potluck? Who didn't ritually wash their hands...politics, culture, and the new ways of the church were problematic. They were very much a strange minority at the time.

The early church was radical. It clashed with the established religions and cultures. It was strange to be a place where rich and poor, slave and free, male and female....all had a voice. Women were leaders, deacons, in the early church. That was unheard of. Slaves were considered "moral agents"and able to make their own faith decisions instead of just following whatever their masters adhered to. That was unheard of. This was a radical thing and it was appealing, but not easy. The clashes with culture definitely found their way into the early believing communities. We hear bits of it in Paul's letters when he urges unity and love and when he struggles with issues of slavery and women's voices.

It is amazing that it survived. That thousands of years of church organization followed and eventually resulted in a Christendom that, instead of being radical and counter cultural-became rather conservative, normative, and formed the culture. And this formation and reformation continues.

The church will not stay looking as we know it today.

The church (in North America at least) is past it's "heyday". We keep hearing that churches are graying and shrinking, that generations X and Y (those born after the baby boomers) and millenials (those born around the year 2000 and after) are no longer seeing the church as the hub of spiritual and community life. That doesn't mean that Jesus' message is irrelevant, or that the church is dead. It does mean that we might, once again, be a strange and somewhat radical minority. (still with issues too-that just goes along with being human.)

Jesus' message of radical love for all, and especially the poor and disadvantaged, is hugely relevant and needed today, but perhaps the shape of the church as an institution is changing again. Maybe we are living into a time of new relevance, of a renewed awareness of a radical message that speaks against consumerism and individualism. Maybe we are living into a new awareness of our need for community and diversity that has more to do with practicing love for neighbour than it does in arguing about right doctrine. Some of this still sounds like the church we know, but a re-reading of the beginnings of the church challenges us to think about new beginnings for new times.

After reading Acts, what do we imagine our faith community might look like as it reorganizes itself for living into today's world as keepers and sharers of Jesus' story? How are we shapers of the church today?

Note: This Sunday, our congregation will be taking part in the "Blanket Exercise" and learning some of the story of Canada's Indigenous people. As we think about the institution of church then and now, how are we challenged to begin anew? How are we going to be part of the faithful re-shaping of the church as we come to new understandings?