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The Audacity to Hope

September 9, 2018
In 2006, a year before he announced his intention to run for president, Barak Obama published a book entitled, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.” Now,…

Tough Choices

August 26, 2018
Joseph Priestley was a chemist, political theorist and inventor in the mid-18th century. Like many modern people of faith and science today, he felt that his science was integral to…

A Word to the Wise

August 19, 2018
In all my research I could not find when they were first invented nor could I find out who invented them, but I remember in all my classrooms growing up…

Worth the wait

August 12, 2018
All of us have heard the phrase, “Hurry up and wait”. Did you know that the phrase likely originated in the US military in the 1940’s. But one does not…

Confidence in God

June 24, 2018
Each Summer growing up I would spend a week or two visiting my Grandparents in London, ON. It was always a treat because it was a break from the usual…

Law Abiding?

June 3, 2018
Bible Text: Mark 2:23-3:6 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes I recently attended the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation Conference at Trinity Western University in Langley. While at the conference I was reminded of how much I enjoy learning, how much I enjoy listening to lectures just for the sake of gaining new knowledge. I was also reminded that I am not a scientist. Here I was with Jean Bullard, and many physicists, engineers, psychologists, professors, and researchers. Prior to attending this conference I had never heard of Planck's Constant or the Higgs Boson but by the end of the weekend I was able to sit through a lecture entitled, “Quantum Field Theory, Personhood and the Trinity”, and nearly understand the majority of the lecture. It was an enriching experience and I thank the congregation for allowing me to use some study leave time and funds to attend. I look forward to sharing more of what I learned with you.  It is unfortunate that many feel there is a conflict between science and faith when in fact, I feel that by attending this conference in which I was inundated with explorations in climate change, earth sciences, quantum mechanics, and physics that science expands our understanding of God. Science establishes a deeper sense of wonder - even when I was confused because I had no idea what cognitive science of religion really was. It reminded me of the statement in the Nicene Creed, “we believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” There is so much in this universe that we do not see, from galaxies to cells, yet God made it all and the more we see, the more we see into the creative power of God. UBC president, Santa Ono addressed the conference on the Saturday morning and reminded us that part of Israel's great “Shema” commandment is that it states, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, MIND and strength.” Learning, exploration within the mind, is a part of being God's people. But what happens when in our search for truth we discover differences? What happens when one opinion clearly opposes another?  It appears to me that the dialogue between Science and Faith, a dialogue, in my opinion that should be complimentary, has meant that many people feel they have to choose between Science or Faith. I would argue that the perceived dichotomy between science and faith is similar to the perceived dichotomy between law and practice in Jesus' time. This is no more evident than in our Gospel reading from Mark or in our psalm. The story in Mark has Jesus and his disciples making their way through fields and as they walk along they are plucking the heads of the grain and consuming them.  Now when I first read this passage I thought, the Pharisees are somewhat in the right, after all Jesus and the disciples seem to be stealing grain. They are walking through a field and helping themselves to the harvest. But it turns out that Deuteronomy 23:25 says, “If you go into your neighbour's standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand....and eat your fill.” So clearly the law states that they do have a right to help themselves. The Pharisees have an issue with the fact that Jesus and the disciples are “going through” the fields on the Sabbath. The Pharisees are upset because they are walking and eating on a holy day. Jesus defends their actions in a way that might be familiar to us as I have used a similar tactic when defending something about a doctrine with another Christian. The Pharisees use a portion of the Deuteronomy passage that we heard, “observe the Sabbath and keep it holy” to criticize Jesus' behaviour. But Jesus takes a different passage from Scripture and demonstrates how elastic Scripture can be. Jesus uses a story from 1 Samuel 21 in which David eats and shares the bread of presence, a sacred bread, with his hungry soldiers.  Perhaps you have had this experience too, person A makes a claim using Scripture that Person B can oppose by also using a different passage from Scripture. This does not make Scripture irrelevant but rather exposes the beauty of the Bible. The Bible speaks not only to historical contexts but can be used to assist us in our current context. For me, and this should not come as a surprise to any of you, what is important is that we do our best to understand both the historical and the current context before we use Scripture to argue or defend anything. Clearly Jesus' use of Scripture to defend his disciples' actions does not shock or appease the Pharisees. Rather they wait to see what Jesus' next move will be and of course Jesus does not disappoint them. As Biblical Scholar Matt Skinner states, “The issue [at the synagogue where he heals a man's withered hand] is not whether Jesus has the power to heal the man's hand, it is whether doing so on the Sabbath demonstrates a wilful disregard for the law of God—a law that was believed to give good order to life and to provide conditions for encountering God's blessings and holiness.” What is intriguing is that Jesus' remark about what is lawful on the Sabbath does not change the Pharisee's position and this grieves Jesus- he is saddened by their hardness of heart. Their strict adherence to these laws does not allow them to see the human need around them. Before we get all self-righteous about how we are not like the Pharisees I have to admit that I often see our doctrine acting as if it was law, or if I may be so bold, our Presbyterian polity can make us blind to the needs around us. As I say this, I acknowledge that right now, this week, our national church is meeting for its annual General Assembly and at this meeting there are tense arguments around inclusion of the LGBT community going on. But notice how in Deuteronomy the Sabbath law is meant to be extended to everyone in the household, from masters to daughters to slaves, everyone is entitled to find rest in God. Stepping away from doctrine is one of the reasons why I will often say as part of the invitation to communion, “this is not the Presbyterian Church in Canada's table, this is the Lord's Table.” Because it is not I or even the National Doctrine committee who has a right to say who can and cannot come to this table which the Lord has prepared. There was a time when only official members in good standing of the congregation would be allowed to take communion - but that kind of strict law only prevents people from getting to know God. So, remember that this is not the Presbyterian Church in Canada's table - but the Lord's Table when we participate in the sacrament of communion. The Pharisees have a mechanical approach to faith that means they are lost in the law. Dr. Arnold Sikkema, a physicist from Trinity Western University, gave the final lecture at the CSCA conference. It pointed out that electrons change their paths when they interact with each other - what makes an electron is to be in relationship with its environment - just as the trinity works in relationship and we are meant to be in relationship with one another. But what struck me was when Dr. Sikkema said, “God did not create things and then establish a law, rather God created lawful things. Thing and law are entangled.” Meaning that all things follow a law - but the law is not what defines us - it is not the law that gives us identity and purpose- rather it is that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.  Amen

Breathless

May 20, 2018
Bible Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 16: 4b-15, Psalm 104:24-24 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes Have you ever wondered why mint is the dominant flavour in toothpaste? I actually have, because, to be honest, I much prefer cinnamon to mint but few companies make cinnamon toothpaste anymore. And so, as with any life-challenging question, I decided to do some research.  I looked it up on Google. “Why is mint the dominant flavour in toothpaste?” I discovered that this is a fairly new phenomenon. In the past, cultures have used crushed shells, chalk or brick dust to clean their teeth; well before toothpaste was invented. In fact, vinegar was developed as a mouth wash in medieval Europe. But when early manufacturers of toothpaste were trying to develop a product that would sell, the cheapest and easiest oil to make in North America was mint oil. We all know how well mint grows in the Pacific Northwest- well, it does just as well in the North-East. And in 1873 a company called Colgate was developing a tooth cleaning paste in New York City and there happened to be a lot of mint in their estate garden.  However, I did some further research which exposed that it wasn't just the easy accessibility that made mint a prominent ingredient. It is mint's ability to make the mouth feel cold or refreshed or breathless. It is the sensation more than the scent or taste that cause us to associate mint with clean mouths. Apparently it is called a thermal illusion because the temperature of one's mouth doesn't change. However, within the mouth there are cells that will send messages to the brain when something is extremely hot or cold and menthol or mint oil turns on these cells without actually changing the temperature in the mouth. It gives us the illusion that it is taking our breath away and that, my friends, is why mint is the predominant flavour in toothpaste. The things you learn at church. It is actually that sensation of a cold mouth - or feeling breathless - that makes me prefer cinnamon. While today is Pentecost, a day in which we traditionally hear the words from Acts 2, I wanted to shift our focus. The passage from Ezekiel and the passage from John are not the typical passages for Pentecost and yet they link us to the Spirit - to that refreshing breath of God. Even the psalm today will help us connect with the Spirit.  More than a celebration marking the birth of the church, today's focus is on celebrating the Holy Spirit. This incredible gift, the advocate, the one that will guide us in truth. But I was also struck by the image of the Spirit giving breath to the breathless in Ezekiel 37. In fact, the Spirit is often referred to as the breath of God. In Hebrew the word “Ruah” is the same word that is used for Spirit, wind and breath. Pentecost is when God breathes life into the church. There are many stories in which God breathes and it is not a thermal illusion but life giving truth. God is big on restoration and recovery and that is evident in all of our passages today,  and we must remember that Jesus' promise of an advocate and the events in Jerusalem on Pentecost were not new ideas. From the very beginning of creation God's Spirit breathes life, hovers over waters, creates and sustains all things. This tells me that God has a passion for not only creating but restoring life time and time again. The story in Ezekiel is just one example but it is also rich in drama and imagery. In Eugene Petersen's paraphrase, The Message, the story begins, “God grabbed me. God's Spirit took me up and sat me down ...” This story is not only about a restoration image but it describes the Spirit as taking Ezekiel - grabbing him, raising him up and sitting him down. Perhaps you too have had that feeling of the Spirit taking a hold of you or perhaps more common is, when under a lot of pressure or when dealing with a lot of grief or challenged by a lot of pain, you know that you need to stop, and be grabbed by God's embrace and sit down surrounded by the Spirit. The Spirit is not only an advocate, someone who supports, promotes and speaks on our behalf but also a comforter. The Spirit can and does sit us down - especially when we are feeling lifeless. The Spirit can also lead us into places that terrify us. For Ezekiel that place is a vision, a visual metaphor, that is a little eerie. I am sure that apocalyptic comic and movie franchise Mad Max used this passage for inspiration. It is a desert or plain strewn with bones and the Spirit leads Ezekiel around them. Ezekiel essentially wades through bones in this dry place. And the bones have been there a long time because they are bleached by the sun. Ezekiel is told to preach to these dry, bleached, bones and as he does so he hears rustling. Notice how Ezekiel is told to prophesy three times. The first time the bones begin to rustle and connect, soon sinew and skin joins them together but they have no breath. The second prophesy gives them breath and they come alive. One might think that the process is done - that now that life has been restored the vision is complete, but instead God tells Ezekiel to prophesy a third time. It is in this third prophecy that true restoration occurs because the people are given knowledge about God and God's love for them. God explains that these bones represent the house of Israel - the exiles - the people who are scattered and strewn across a foreign land. Ezekiel is commanded to tell these exiles that God will breathe life back into them.  The bones Ezekiel observes in the valley are not only dry and lifeless; they are cut off and scattered. Their renewal includes not only connecting them back together, but a restoration of the land AND the knowledge of the Lord. The bones' transition from death to life stems from an infusion of God's Spirit. And just like in Ezekiel's vision it doesn't always happen in one go. First, we need our bodies to be connected, then we need the divine breath - but it doesn't stop there. True restoration occurs when we allow ourselves to be open to the wisdom of God. The Hebrew word ruah is used multiple times in this passage. It is first used in verse one to mean God's Spirit and then the preceding four times it is used to mean breath - God's breath. And while the story in Ezekiel is a vision or a metaphor for the Israelites, read through the lens of Christianity we see that it is about a restoration of all people. It is the Spirit that will breathe life into the disciples as they gather in fear at Pentecost. This Spirit is still breathing life today. I know you are tired, I know you have endured much, I know - but breathe deep the restorative power of God. The psalmists knew these realities all too well and psalm 104 does not deny it but it does move us away from dwelling on all that burdens us and reorients us to the indwelling of the Spirit. There are many times when we might feel like lifeless bones but the psalmist gives us a bigger perspective with broad scenes of the earth and sea and the abundance of life and activity that goes on with the unstoppable sustenance of God. I think back to some of the images my Father showed us at the Gazing Upwards event - the picture of planet earth on the edge of the Milky Way galaxy. That the world exists at all, that there is such variety and expansiveness to behold, is cause enough to celebrate our own life. Imagine - of everything that continues to be found in this universe God chooses to breathe life into us- God chose to breathe life into one just like us. God's Spirit advocates for us. In Psalm 104 the psalmist is taking in what he sees around him, understanding the world as belonging to God and beloved by God. There are many forces in this world that want us to believe that there is no hope, that it is a thermal illusion, that God does not exist or is not needed. Yet the story in Ezekiel, the promise of an advocate, the events at Pentecost, the awe of the psalmists, testify that God breathes life wherever hope has been lost, wherever people feel alienated or tired, wherever nature lies dormant, wherever new beginnings are needed, “wherever there is a longing to dream and be drenched in God's presence, wherever people search for God's truth and knowledge”. God restores life to whole communities and to individuals- animating the world. You may feel breathless both physically and spiritually but God breathes into all of us. Amen

New Beginnings

May 6, 2018
Bible Text: Acts 1:1-11 and John 15:9-17 Not that long ago I heard a very interesting story on CBC radio's show “Under The Influence”, a show that looks at the world of advertising and branding. This story had little to do with advertising per se but it did have a lot to do with branding or perhaps rebranding. It is a story about comedian Steve Martin. When Steve Martin started to do TV performances his popularity exploded. He went from playing small comedy clubs of 300 people to huge arenas of 40,000 people. But early on in this explosion he realized he had a problem. Those small comedy clubs were intimate settings. It didn't really matter where you sat, you knew you could see him and Martin was known for his body language and expressions.  But in large arenas all but the first couple of rows were left looking at a tiny spec on the stage. People left those early stadium shows disappointed, even Forbes magazine said he looked like an ant on stage.  Martin decided that he would wear white suits, because against the dark curtains of the arena, with the massive spotlight on him, in a white suit, he would shine like a beacon of light radiating from the stage. Soon enough wearing white suits became part of his brand. In many ways, a shift within Martin's career, something that was likely beyond his control, caused him to make a small change, which then stuck with him and continues to be a part of his brand. As we begin the second phase of the New Beginnings process, it is important to understand that sometimes external forces are beyond our control, but that slight shifts in focus will help us stand out like a beacon of light amongst a lot of darkness. In the Leader's Guide for the facilitators of New Beginnings the introduction states, “We are living in a very different world than we did 20 years ago. The rules of the economy have changed. The rules for politics have changed. There is a high mistrust of institutions AND the position of the church in culture has shifted. We can no longer ask, ‘How do we get more people to come to church?’  The conversations have to be much deeper. When the rules change, the conversation has to become more focused if you are to sustain your church's witness in your community.”  At the Friday night lecture the Rev. Ian Fraser named a number of factors for why people are no longer attending church, from changes in how we receive information to lower birthrates.  Ian then quoted Albert Einstein who said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Something new is required and we need to shift our thinking about long held assumptions. Imagine the possibilities. Who knows, perhaps as we participate in New Beginnings we will discover that a slight shift will give us a whole new identity that then defines us within this community. I know it sounds terrifying but this shift is not meant to change us at our very core- we are still who we are- with our focus placed squarely on Christ and being Christ in the community, but it is a shift in how we do that. For Luke the ascension shifts ministry from Jesus to us. The disciples are about to go through a change that will rebrand them. They will even be renamed; they will no longer be disciples but rather apostles. Post- ascension, leading up to Pentecost, the disciples will be rebranded with new responsibilities, yet at the core they will remain the same. The disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait for what has been promised to them, that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit. It should be noted that the Spirit is a dominant theme in Acts. Pentecost, which we will celebrate in a couple of weeks, marks the coming of the Spirit and the birth of the church. It is the Spirit that will command Peter to go and meet with Cornelius' emissaries, which will change the mission of the church. It is the Spirit that leads Paul on his various missions, opening up communities to the gospel. The Spirit guides many a process and for many of us who have been part of this leadership heading into New Beginnings there is a strong feeling that the Spirit is guiding this process. The disciples ask about a timeline, asking whether or not this is when the kingdom of Israel will be restored, something that the early prophets said the Messiah would do. But the truth is, even Jesus doesn't have a timeline. This points to the fact that humans do not have control over when and how the Spirit enters or interacts. In Luke the Spirit is portrayed as a Dove. In Acts the Spirit is like a tongue of fire. What is clear is that a direct effect of the Spirit's presence is the transformation among the disciples to apostles. They will preach and proclaim and through their proclamations others will be transformed. Jesus then declares that the disciples will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth and at this Jesus ascends. I suppose one could argue that the disciples have not quite made the transition to apostles just yet because they are still acting like disciples. They stand there stunned and staring up. Two men, robed in white, stand with the disciples and ask “why do you stand looking up?” Their presence is a little obscure but it serves as a reminder to the disciples that they need to fix their eyes not upward at the empty sky, but to Jerusalem, to the people, because it is those people to whom they will witness. I know that the world of the early church and our world are rather different and as we have learned through this new beginnings process the world has changed rapidly in its indifference to the church in the last few decades. Familiar practices in church growth and development no longer work. Early Christianity scholar Mitzi Smith gives me comfort as she makes two important points about spirit led witness and shifting our gaze. She writes, “Spirit-induced [witness] is necessarily contextualized, because the Spirit speaks through us in our contexts so that it can bring to us significant testimony and so that we can carry a relevant testimony to others within their contexts. Indeed, the crowds at Pentecost heard the apostles speaking to them in their own language,” and second, “We are given a vocation here on earth and that calling is not to be always gazing into heaven, indifferent to the injustices and needs of our neighbours, but to be busy sharing and being good news to humanity.” We are to be Christ's witnesses under the guidance of the Spirit. What do we witness to? We witness to the resurrection, to this profound act of love. We witness to the command that Jesus gives his disciples in his Farewell discourse, “to love one another as Christ loved us.” We are witnesses to this, and that is who we are at our very core. Nothing, no program or period of discernment will change that.  But also know that the Spirit leads us into unknowns. Just as Peter had to change what he thought of God's way concerning clean and unclean meat, just as Paul had a profound shift in his thinking, being witnesses means being open to where God's Spirit is working. I hope we all feel the Spirit leading us as we participate in this next step, I hope that as many as are able will participate in these discussions and small groups, and I know we will grow in our enthusiasm to be Christ's witnesses, to be beacons of light on an otherwise dark stage. Amen