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


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

Mission Awareness Sunday

April 29, 2018
Bible Text: Acts 8: 26-40 and Matthew 28:19-20 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes In a resource for this particular Sunday from the Atlantic Mission Society, a subcommittee of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, I came across this story. “Elva's feet     I imagine that being a missionary in the 21st century is a real challenge. But that mostly comes from my pre-conceived notions of what a missionary is. It's funny how I still think of a missionary as a David Livingstone-esque person. Someone who loves the Lord with such vigour that they are willing to travel to remote or uncharted areas. In Livingstone's case he was not only a Christian but a doctor and explorer. Or maybe I imagine someone as powerful as Eric Liddell who was not only an Olympic athlete but missionary to China where he worked as a school teacher and minister. His passion for the Gospel caused him to be imprisoned by the Japanese in 1943 and even then he continued to run a school for the children in the internment camp. I think it is a challenge to even think of the term mission in the 21st century because we are also coming to terms with some of the darker sides of mission, particularly when it is tied so deeply with cultural conversion as well as evangelism. How do we define mission today? What is a missionary in the 21st century? hit the floor. At age 101, and still living on her own, this isn't as easy for Elva as it once was. But as her feet hit the floor, it is time for a little daily prayer...a prayer of thanks for seeing yet another new day, then giving the day over to God, asking for strength to live, by grace,  through it, whatever it may bring. “Grant me peace about the things I can't change,” prays Elva, “and may your Holy Spirit come both to my body and my brain!” Elva's heart of faith gives her perspective on the physical limitations of the daily life that she now faces but also orients her outwards, towards others, finding ways to connect, share a laugh, and offer encouragement and support to those around her. At her age, Elva knows that life brings bumps and hurdles but she also knows that faith in God can accomplish miracles. There is much cause for wonder and amazement at God's presence at work in the ordinariness of daily life. She feels connected to Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This opens the lens of her life to the larger world and the world's deep need. Elva's faith-inspired wisdom is a gift of healing to those who find their days overwhelming or disappointing. Hope begins with just one small step forward, and so, in the gift of friendship and words of encouragement, a burden is lightened and a shadow is lifted in someone's life. She is a missionary”. As those who gather around Jesus and are called to live as Christ's body in the world, it is significant for us to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do this.  Fundamental to the early church is the calling to live out God's love in the world, reaching out and allowing God's love in Jesus Christ to transform lives. Transformation has always been a part of a missional purpose, but it strikes me that instead of focusing on one's notion of a traditional missionary that we should look at the many ways in which we are given opportunities to be missionaries, to develop and make connections, in our very living. Time and time again the New Testament bears witness to the presence of a power that imparts people and their living in life-changing ways.  This power seems to be present as those who have been touched by God's grace and love come into contact or connect with one another. The story of Philip meeting the Ethiopian official is just one such story. We meet Philip as the earliest followers of Jesus face the first wave of persecution against them and the good news they boldly declare.  Stephen has been stoned to death and hatred is all around. Philip flees northward from Jerusalem into Samaria, where he quickly garners a following as he proclaims Jesus as the Christ, and is empowered with gifts of signs that reveal the Holy Spirit’s presence in wondrous ways.  In the midst of being a missionary to the people of Samaria, Philip is moved in heart and body to go to Gaza.  No purpose is given…Philip is just sent. Along the roadway Philip encounters a stranger.  This stranger is nameless in the biblical story, but he hails from the country of Ethiopia, where he holds a position of status in the royal court of Candace, queen of Ethiopia.  This court official has made the long, arduous trip from his home to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, an indication that this man has spiritual awareness and thirst. No doubt his pilgrimage suffers a disappointment, for by the strict Jewish law, no eunuch of any nation is welcome to worship in the Temple. Imagine being a minority already, being an Ethiopian in Jerusalem, imagine being a eunuch, a choice that he likely did not make for himself but was made for him at a very young age, imagine making this long trip, only to be turned away at the door. However, the official from Ethiopia perseveres in his pursuit of understanding Israel’s faith and worship in the one identified as “the God of the heavens and the earth”. Somehow he obtains a scroll of Isaiah that he is reading in his chariot when Philip happens upon him along the road. In answer to Philip’s query, he is reading words but does not understand their meaning.  At this stage in the story I feel we could all identify with the eunuch. I know from our discussions in the Revelation Bible study that there are many passages in which we can read the words but are completely confused. Philip identifies this interaction as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and an opportunity for connection, as Philip responds to the invitation of the official to join him in his chariot, and explain to him the words that he is reading.  Philip sits down beside him and begins with this passage from Isaiah. Now understood in light of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection, Philip begins to tell him the good news of God’s love that has come to be present in human life, in Jesus Christ.  This is great news, particularly to this official, for in Philip’s witness, the man discovers himself to be included within the realm of God’s grace and love.  It no longer matters that he is from Ethiopia, a gentile, and a eunuch, for he is simply a child of God. Philip, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, transforms this situation by including this eunuch in the community. The Ethiopian official, we’re told, goes on his way “rejoicing”, carrying with him the scroll of Isaiah, the witness of Philip, and the truth of his baptism as he becomes embraced, and accepted, in the household of God, through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. As we celebrate Mission Awareness Sunday today, we are reminded of the power of God to change and transform lives, bringing release, new life, renewed hope and deep connections.  God’s Spirit is always at work, opening lives to hear the message of God’s love, and enabling people to take risks in reaching out to others in faith that is rooted in, and built upon the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The words written at the end of Matthew came to be known as the great commission in the nineteenth century. It became the primary ‘mission text’ and it is very clear why. However, like most passages of scripture, there can be radically different applications and interpretations depending on one’s culture, beliefs, or norms. It can become dangerous when one’s context influences the word of God and for centuries we used this passage as a way of declaring that God ordained cultural genocides. But read within the context of Philip's story we realize it is about witness, transformation and connection. Not only was Philip able to interpret and explain a difficult passage but the Spirit also placed a desire for such knowledge within the Eunuch, well before this encounter. Philip’s witness reminds us of the importance of a vital faith that is trusting and accepting of the Spirit’s leading.  The journey of the Ethiopian official reminds us that God draws all people to the Divine Heart, even when such people may not fit the neat categories of our human ways and thinking. The encounter of Philip and the official together cause us to reflect on the gracious ways of God that beget new beginnings in the midst of human giftedness and vulnerability.  God’s Spirit works wonders in wilderness places, along a desert road, with two strangers who become connected together in a life-giving way through faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe we don't all think of ourselves as missionaries, at least not in the traditional sense, and maybe we don't always have such powerful encounters like Philip, but we are reminded of the empowerment of God's Spirit leading us to new relationships and transformation every day, showing us that we are missionaries. Amen

Earth Day

April 22, 2018
Bible Text: Genesis 1:1-27 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes “You want me to do what?!” I remember saying to the project coordinator of the Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC for short). I was about 15 years old out on a project. For two summers instead of an actual job I volunteered with this organization. Roughly once a week we would head out to a park along the Hamilton Bay front and most often we would remove invasive plant species like English Ivy, Purple Loosestrife or Garlic Mustard. Much like the broom busters here in the valley, those days were spent doing hard labour but the payoff was worth it. After each work party you could see the progress that had been made in removing these plants. This time, however, instead of pulling plants I was standing knee deep in hip waders in the Hamilton Bay planting native species. I was being told to put my bare hands in the dark, muddy and leech and carp invested waters of the Hamilton harbour. “You want me to do what?!”I don't know if you have ever been to Hamilton, or seen its beautiful shoreline, but thanks to decades of steel factories and other industrial waste being poured into the water, the harbour has been condemned for many years. In my 19 years of living there I had never once seen anyone put any part of their bare skin into that water. So, with my first piece of water-grass in my fist I closed my eyes and plunged my hand into the mud. I expected to see that my hand had turned a glowing green when I lifted it from the sludge, but instead it was just covered in regular looking mud. After an entire afternoon I only had one leech to show for it. But that experience taught me that while creation is often beautiful and wild, it is sometimes gross and basic. Those summers working for BARC taught me that creation is fragile- certainly our relationship to it is fragile. When I realized that this year earth day would fall on a Sunday I was not only reminded of my time volunteering for BARC but I felt called to draw our attention to it and I felt that there were not better verses to hear than those from Genesis. The first words in Genesis were the first words I ever learned in Hebrew. They are lines that many of us know off by heart בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.. Bereshit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve'et ha'aretz. “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth”. I have often wondered how anyone can deny the existence of God after they have walked along a rugged coastline or ascended a mountain or bird watched in the Masai Maara. The beauty that surrounds us is just so breathtaking, astounding, humbling, and sometimes overwhelming that mere words cannot describe the feeling, much like one's relationship with God. But then you spend a couple days in the mud and you realize that creation is not always astounding or overwhelming. Sometimes it just simply is, and maybe it is when we are busy with our hands in the mud that our minds turn from God to just mud. There is nothing particularly remarkable or good about it.               Yet at the end of each day in creation it states, “And God saw that it was good.” But what happens when we cease valuing the goodness of creation and see it simply as a resource, or muddy water? Since the establishment of theology and doctrine, theologians have been trying to define the word “good” within creation. What did God mean when God saw that what was created was good? I have seen too much to know that good does not mean safe or well or OK.  In his treatise Nature of Good, Augustine declares that even decay is good as long as it exists, meaning that existence itself is good, because it is made possible by God and upheld by God.  Goodness means existence. Just by simply being, creation is declared good.  What else did God mean by good? When God saw that it was good, God saw that it was balanced and structured, that everything had its purpose in this balance. Then God created humanity in God's image. God even blessed humanity and said be fruitful and multiple, subdue the earth and have dominion over it and even then God saw that it was all very good. I don't know when it was exactly, some say it was the fall with Adam and Eve, when we discovered shame, some say it was with the ability to control fire, others say it was with the switch from hunter/gatherers to agrarians, but somewhere along the line this balance- what made creation good- was tipped. Instead of acting like reflections of God we decided we could be God. We took the instruction of having dominion over and subduing creation not as members of this created balance but as entities above it. In Genesis, God takes a formless void and gives it shape, or as it says in some translations, turns chaos into order. We took that order and tried to control it. I am certainly not the only Christian to tie faith and ecology. In fact, John McConnell, a devout Christian and Pentecostal, was the one to propose a holiday to celebrate the Earth at a UNESCO conference in San Francisco in 1969. He later wrote in his autobiography that as a Christian he believed, “humans had an obligation to take care of the earth, and to share its resources”. Incidentally he was also a major peace activist, “he believed that love and prayer could be more powerful than bombs”.  His concern for the environment, desire for peace and love for God were not separate but rather intertwined. “He was a lifetime believer in care of the environment which was founded on his Christian passion for peace and love.” While I am always struck with the fact that God declares each act within the creation narrative good, I have always been stunned by the act of creating humanity in God's image. What does that mean within the balance of creation? In his commentary on Genesis, Gerhard von Rad explains that humanity, “is placed upon the earth in God's image as God's sovereign emblem” meaning that humans “serve as God's representatives, summoned to maintain and enforce God's claim to dominion over the earth.” I find this language helpful but also archaic.  Even the term dominion is problematic to me- but I also hear the word, “representative”. As images or reflections of God we represent in our behaviour who God is- and I think we often misrepresent God. In her commentary Valerie Bridgeman writes, “the journey of creation becomes the journey of a people. Genesis does not intend to be a science lesson, not even a history lesson, but rather a theological treatise. “This is how much God loves and wants the world,” is what the words suggest. God delighted...It will fall to humans to live in wonder, or risk creation suffering from human hubris.” We have to note that God does not create humans first nor are humans the crowning achievement of creation. While we might hear that upon creating humanity that God declares it is very good and therefore we think we are the very best thing about creation but in reality the passage says that God saw everything that was made and it was very good. While humanity is made in God's image it is all of creation that is very good. I'm not one to get very political in the pulpit and I try not to let some of my environmental bias sneak through my sermons but today is a little different. I won't tell you want I think about pipelines or oil tankers- in part because I think the issue is far more complicated than a simple for or against. But for far too long we have used up resources as if they would always be available but we can't ignore the realities that such behaviour is not sustainable. In his article on the climate crisis the Rev. John Holbert says, “We have in fact “dominated” the non-human creation; we have in fact “subdued” the land and all its gifts. And the result has been a disaster: over-fished seas, threatened bees, withering drought, fouled air. It is time for us to end this foolish and incorrect notion that it is our world.  It is, and always has been, God's world.” If we look to Christ as our example of what a king should be then to have dominion does not mean dominate but rather servitude; to subdue does not mean control but sustain.  Celebrating or honouring Earth day is one thing but we who live on this island, in this incredible valley, can see with our own eyes that a glacier is melting away, we can count our stocks and know the salmon aren't returning, we can be told to boil our water due to over logging, so at what point do we take our role as images of God seriously and take care for God's world?   Amen  

Blame Game

April 15, 2018
Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes In October 1989 a song by a German Pop group debuted on the US Billboard charts at number 65. Seven weeks later it reached number one. The song became this group's most well known song and was ranked at number 21 for best singles of 1989. The premise of the song is that the singer realizes that they have made a mistake in rejecting their love interest. As the opening verse states, “You said you didn't need her, You told her good-bye....You let her walk away, Now it just don't feel the same” but instead of blaming himself for this heartache or mistake the singer says that he has to blame it on something other than himself and he declares, “Blame in on the rain, yeah, yeah!” Unfortunately this German pop group had more to blame on their demise then the rain because it was discovered in 1990 that the two voices heard on the recording were not actually the two guys who performed as the singers  but rather that they lip-synched their entire act. Millli Vanilli went from being extremely famous to completely infamous within a year. They were even forced to return their 1990 Grammy for best new artist. These two performers were blamed for being frauds when in reality it was the dirty dealings of the record company that got them into such trouble. Blame is a funny thing because we often don't want to blame ourselves for mistakes. It is why terms like scapegoats or throwing someone under the bus are so common. Blame is a big part of our passage today- but we have to be careful about where this blame is placed. The Acts of the Apostles or The Book of Acts as it is often referred, was written at a time when the relationship between the early Jewish-Christians and the traditional Jews was tense. It is clearly evident in most of the book that the author tends to place the blame for Jesus' death squarely on the Jewish authorities. In fact, if we think about the passion story from Luke, three times Pilate pronounces Jesus is innocent while the Jewish crowd exclaims “Crucify him!” In that version of the story Luke gives opportunity for the Roman governor to appear innocent of any decision to place Jesus on the cross, despite the fact that crucifixion was a very Roman form of punishment.  Peter's speech which we heard today continues this sentiment and unfortunately, throughout history, this passage has been used to support anti-Semitic behaviour within the church. So, we do indeed need to be careful about where we place blame or rather who gets used as a scapegoat. This book, as well as Luke's Gospel, was written at the end of the first century and it reflects a great amount of the socio-cultural context of that time. Following the destruction of the temple, Christianity began to spread within Gentile communities. Christians began to shift blame for the death of Jesus from Rome to Jewish authorities- because the bulk of new Christians were in fact, Roman.  If one were to read the Gospels in chronological order, that is starting with Mark, then Matthew, then Luke, then John, we would see this shift more clearly. We must learn to proclaim the gospel without blaming any particular community because really the only community we can blame for mixing up meanings or misunderstanding in the gospel is ourselves. While Peter's speech clearly places blame on the ignorance of the Jewish observers Peter's speech also reminds us of the healing that can take place under the guidance of the gospel. It is time that we focus on that healing rather than blame. This is where the rest of Peter's speech helps us to understand who it is we are to be as an Easter church, a church witnessing to the resurrection. This sermon follows a dramatic healing. Peter and John are going to pray at the temple- so you see, they are still maintaining many of their Jewish practices. A man who has been lame since birth was begging at the gate and he begs as Peter and John walk by. Peter asks the man to fix his attention upon Peter and John and then says that he has no silver, no gold, but what he has he gives and then he tells the man in the name of Jesus of Nazareth to stand up and walk. Which, to the amazement of the crowd, the man does. All those who witness this event are filled with wonder and amazement at what has happened. But Peter is quick to adjust their perspective and that is where our passage begins. Peter points out that this is not a solo operation. Not only do Peter AND John fix their eyes on this man but Peter also tells them that this power does not come from them alone.   John is often underestimated in this story because he is referred to but does not speak. However, the point is that Peter and John work together to provide healing. I know that there are a few jobs or expectations around this church that feel like solo endeavours. I know there are some of you who think, if I don't agree to do this then no one else will. But as we venture on this new beginnings visioning process together I realize how important it is to feel like this is not a solo endeavour- we need all of us to have healing happen. We also need the power and piety to come from God, not ourselves.  Here Peter is very clear about the authority from which this power comes. Peter proclaims Jesus as “The Holy and Righteous One” and “The Author of life” both these titles mean that Jesus is the true source of healing. The curious thing about these titles is that holy and righteous are descriptors from the Old Testament, they would have been familiar to the crowd to which Peter speaks, but “author of life” is not found anywhere prior to Acts. Peter is giving Jesus a new title in this speech. This tells me two important things. First, that it is difficult to classify Jesus and second that titles of all kinds hint at what God has accomplished in Jesus- but that doesn't mean they adequately describe it. This also means that we can get confused by all these titles and forget what they really mean- and who can blame us! Later on in Acts Peter's insistence in using Jesus' name as the source of healing, his emphatic persistence that it is by faith in his name that gives health to this man, is also what will get Peter and John in trouble. They will be arrested and interrogated the very next day because of this miracle. And those authorities will ask, “by what power or by what name did you do this?” In this confrontation Peter continues to respond that it is through faith in Christ.  We they are free to go, instead of blame, Peter and John meet up with the council and rejoice that they have been considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of Jesus. You see, here is where I think it's time we can only blame ourselves- in the early church in Acts it grows because there is healing, proclamation, and rejoicing. While we may or may not participate in physical healing  ministries I think we forget how to use our faith to heal situations. We certainly do not share in the same kind of witness or proclamation as the early church and we often lament rather than rejoice when the church is called into question regarding it's value to the community. We have no one but ourselves to blame when we do not heal, proclaim or rejoice in church. New Testament Professor, Greg Carey reminds me that, “At a minimum, we should remind ourselves of the countless ways in which we still reject Jesus, even, or especially, in the church. With respect to this passage, whenever we resist God's healing work, whenever we seek to conform the spirit of healing to our own structures and expectations, we play the part of authorities who imprisoned Peter and John.”  As an Easter Church- a congregation that resides in the space following the resurrection- instead of blaming society or changing culture we need to take responsibility and heal, proclaim, and rejoice in the power of faith in Jesus' name. Amen