Thursday, February 4, 2010

Welcome

Welcome friends,

I started this blog to document my sermons when I was a student intern/supply minister at Knox United Church in Didsbury, Alberta from Sept 2009 to June 2010. In 2011, I was ordained as a minister in the United Church of Canada, and on July 1, 2011, I became the settled minister in Borderlands Pastoral Charge in south-central Saskatchewan (Coronach, Rockglen, and Fife Lake).

In 2014, I began my first "call" as a minister at Mill Woods United Church in suburban Edmonton. I post my sermons there in another blog -- Sermons from Mill Woods.

I did not create this blog until February 2010. So all the sermons from Sept 2009-Feb 2010 are under the "Feb 2010" link or heading.

I hope you will enjoy reading some of my sermons and other materials posted here.

Ian

For my convenience, I post below the eight spokes on a "Prayer Wheel" to which I was introduced in a "Spirituality" course at Toronto's Emmanuel College in Fall 2007.

  1. Give thanks and praise
  2. Sing of love
  3. Request protection and guidance
  4. Ask for forgiveness for self and others
  5. Ask for other things for self and others
  6. Ask for inspiration
  7. Listen to the Spirit
  8. Pledge to make one's will align with the Spirit's will -- and then Repeat!
AND even more for my convenience, I now keep track of my work for "Sharing A Story" (or Theme Conversation, or Time with the Children) from 2014 onwards -- Ian

January 5, 2015 -- moving

Hello everyone. My name is Ian, and I am very happy to be here today. What are your names? Thank you. If you come back next week, you can see if I remember. But today, in order to get to know you better, I want to talk about moving. The reason: I just moved this week from southern Saskatchewan to an apartment in Edmonton. And now I wonder, have any of you ever moved from one house to another, or from one town to another?

Thanks. And what was moving like? What do you remember about moving? How did you feel?

I find moving both hard and exciting. I am very glad to be in Edmonton. For now, I am renting an apartment from my older brother, Paul. This winter, he is mostly in Toronto; and when he does come here, I go to the building beside his where my sister Catherine has a spare room in her condo. Until I find a place of my own, I think this will work well.

You know, moving from Saskatchewan to Alberta involves lots of steps. I have to get a new health car, a new driver's licence, new insurance, a new licence plate, a new phone number. It goes on! It is almost as though Saskatchewan and Alberta are separate countries and not just separate provinces.

Anyway, moving is often a part of life. The Bible tells of us may moves made by Jesus and his family, and I look forward to sharing those stories with you. For today, I am glad to have met you and I look forward to getting to know each other over the next weeks and months. 

January 12, 2014 --baptism of Jesus

Good morning. I hope everyone is feeling well today. Today is a Sunday when we remember and celebrate the baptism of Jesus, and so it is also a day when we remember our own baptisms. Do you remember when you last participated in a baptism here at Mill Woods? Anyone?

I last presided at baptism three weeks ago on Dec 22nd. I baptized two sisters and a brother from the same family. It was my last service at Fife Lake United Church, and perhaps the last Sunday worship service there ever. Fife Lake is almost a ghost town now. 30 years ago, 200 people lived there, but today it is probably less than 20. Even if my former pastoral charge survives, Fife Lake, as the smallest of the three towns and churches where I served, has decided to close, which I find sad.

You know, in Saskatchewan, as farms have grown to enormous sizes, many places have become ghost towns -- hundreds of them.

So I was glad that we could end at Fife Lake with these three baptisms. The two sisters are twins, both now four years old. But their older brother, who was also baptized, is 14. He is the first older person that I have baptized, and at first I was a bit puzzled about how to do that. It wasn't until I talked about the upcoming baptisms with the church Council that the penny dropped -- this boy's parents would not speak for him, he would speak for himself. Baptizing somebody older than "the age of reason" -- often said to be 12 -- is more like a Confirmation than a baptism. Have any of you been confirmed yet? Anyway, I met with the parents and with the teenage boy, and we talked, and he decided to go ahead with his baptism.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy learning more about Jesus and his baptism at activity time or here in the sanctuary if you decide to stay. Before our hymn, I now invite us to pray. Let us pray . . .


January 26, 2014 -- Justin Bieber!

Good morning. I am glad to see you here today. Today in church will hear a story about the very first time Jesus calls young people to follow him.

One thing strikes me about this story: when Jesus says "Come, follow me," Peter, Andrew, James, and John respond immediately. They drop their work, they leave their families, and they follow Jesus with no hesitation.

Imagine meeting someone so -- filled with light -- that you drop everything to follow him just because he asks. Can you think of anyone today that you might follow, just like that, if they asked; perhaps someone from pop culture? Do any names come to your mind?

Well, the story I have is about a young Canadian who has more than 40 million followers on Twitter, a group of people who call themselves Beliebers; you know who I am talking about, Justin Bieber. Despite his troubles this week and for the last year, would any of you care to admit being one of Justin's many fans? Or did some of you used to like him, but now not so much? That's what usually happens with teen idols, eh? We follow them, but usually not for too long . . .

Well, what would say if I told you that once I knew Justin Bieber in person? It's true. In 2007, when Justin was 13 years old, I was dating a woman who lived in Stratford Ontario, where Justin then lived, and she had two 13-year old children, a boy and a girl who are twins. That summer, which was two years before Justin Bieber became famous, her children were friends with Justin.

One weekend, I went to Stratford to be with my friend Karen, and Justin Bieber was one of the kids who was there for a sleepover at her house on a Friday night. Personally, I am not too keen on sleepovers. Karen and I did not always see eye-to-eye on how to raise kids, but then she was the parent, and I didn't have any kids of my own, so what did I know?

Anyway, that evening, Justin played the piano in the living room, and we were amazed at how well he played. When I heard that he had taught himself to play piano, guitar, and drums, and to sing, I was even more impressed. It was clear to us that he was really talented.

Later that summer, I saw Justin playing the guitar outside of a theatre, which is how he made money. Then, two years later, I was a student minister in Didsbury Alberta. One day, I walked into the Walmart in Olds, and there was a life-size cardboard cutout at the entrance with Justin's picture on it saying, "Coming, this November, Justin Bieber, My World!" I was stunned. So I called Karen and said, "What's going on with Justin Bieber! What's happening!?" She told me about his YouTube videos, all the hits he was getting, and his recording contract.

Things had not gone well, however, that first night I had met Justin. When Karen and I woke up the next day, we heard some stories about unhappiness among the kids in the night. Then, a few hours later, the police came to the door. It appeared that some houses on the street had been egged -- a nasty little crime that causes damage and upsets people. When Karen's son, Russell, told the officers who had been there at the sleepover, they were not surprised to hear Justin Bieber's name. They said that they had dealt with Justin and his father before. Nothing bad happened with the kids even though they had probably thrown a few eggs at two houses. But I remembered that incident this month when Bieber was accused by one of his rich neighbours in Los Angeles of throwing scores of eggs at his house, which caused a lot of damage.

You see, Justin Bieber is a very gifted person, and he is lucky to have been discovered on YouTube by Usher and others who helped him get a recording contract and to become one of the world's biggest and richest pop stars. But like all of us, he also has many challenges -- such as a young mother who raised him in poverty mostly on her own, and all the temptations of this world.

I can understand why so many people follow Justin on Twitter and are big fans. I think he is a great singer, and I am impressed by how confident he can be, like when he hosted Saturday Night Live last year. But Justin is also like any of us. He is a 19-year-old kid trying to grow up in a world that often seems crazy, and where having a lot of money and fame can lead to problems.

It seems likely that he was drunk and stoned this week in Florida where he was arrested after drag racing on a residential street. I hope that Justin can turn away from this damaging behaviour and continue to have a successful career and a happy life. Many people follow Justin, but he himself is also a follower of Jesus. I hope that being a follower of Jesus will help Justin turn things around this year.

There was no Twitter or YouTube in the time of Jesus. But if there had been, I bet a lot of us would have followed him on the Internet, just as Jesus' first students followed him any way they could. Following Jesus got those first students into trouble, which we hear about each year in the Season of Lent before Easter. But it was trouble born of love and done in the name of Love. That is why we know that following Jesus is a Way of searching for what is Sacred, what is Holy, what is God.

Anyway, I hope that my story about Justin Bieber helps us think about what it means to be hear someone and say, Wow! I am going to follow him no matter where it leads. This is what we try to do in church with our friend, Jesus.


February 02, 2014 -- communion, dress, ministry, and the 5 p's


Good morning. I am glad to see you here today. So, what seems different about me today from the first three Sundays I have been here? Hint -- it has nothing to do with this being Groundhog Day or Superbowl Sunday.

That's right, instead of a suit and tie, I am wearing a white gown and a green stole. I inherited this gown from my late father, so it means a lot to me. It is often called an alb, which means white in Latin. And, do you know why I might be wearing it today?

Well, it is because later today we will celebrate communion at this Table. Today, I am fulfilling a different role than in the other three Sundays. I will lead the central ritual of the church. At God's Table, we eat a symbolic meal in which we remember the life, ministry, death and new life of our teacher and brother Jesus.

Ministry involves many roles, which I sometimes remember using five different words, each of which begins with the letter "P." Those five words are: preacher, pastor, prophet, pedagogue, and priest. So, a brief explanation . . .

A preacher is someone who reflects on readings from the Bible and tries to show how the good news of Jesus is also present in our lives today.

A pastor is a friend, someone who listens and stand by others who are sad or sick and who help us remember that God is present even in tough times.

A prophet is someone who points out things that are not right --  in our schools, or city, or country. One example would be bullying. We don't like it. What can we do to prevent it? A prophet tries to say.

A pedagogue is just a fancy name for a teacher. This is what Renee and others do in your activities -- teach about the stories in the Bible and about the things we consider most important in life.

Finally, a priest is the name often given to ministers in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. I use it for times when I celebrate sacred rituals, as today in communion. When I consider the role to be more like a priest, then I am likely to wear an alb and a stole.

Any thoughts or questions about all of that? OK, well thanks for listening. I know that you will return after a brief activity to celebrate communion with us. But before that and before we sing our next song, I have a short prayer. So, let us pray . . .

God who is Love, we are glad that life has many roles. All of us are fed at your Table, and all of us are called to the work of ministry. May we remember the example of Jesus as we do your work of preaching, teaching or healing

February 09, 2014 --hymns and music

Music is important, right? It is for me. Is that the same for any of you? Well, today I want to talk for a minute about music in church. I hope you liked our first song, "Called by Earth and Sky?"

When I minister in Saskatchewan, most times we didn't have children or teenagers at Sunday services. But sometimes during the summer, grandparents would bring grandchildren who were visiting with them. One girl who was about 11 years old came several times last summer with her grandmother, and she told me that she liked that first song. I hope you did too.

I chose our next hymn because it is one that I sang in church as a child, and because it fits with today's Gospel reading. But, truth be told, I never really liked it.

I am having trouble picking songs for us to sing. I don't yet know what hymns people know and like, and which ones people don't know. I am creating lists based on old bulletins, and I ask people like Jennifer and Wendy for their opinions.

I also want to know what you think. After church this morning, I would be happy if you came up to me a and let me know if you like our next song, "Jesus bids us shine." For me, it seems a bit too cute. Even when as quite young, I liked more complicated songs and also ones that seemed sad.

Here is an example. When I sang in junior choir, I remember liking a Christmas song that is almost 1,000 years old and with words that are really hard to understand.

The first verse goes like this: " Of the Father's love begotten,     ere the worlds began to be,    Christ is Alpha and Omega, Christ the source, the ending he, of the things that are and have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore." We struggled to sing that hymn, but I really liked it.

So please feel free to tell me what you like and don't like. I think it would help me.

And now before we sing our next song, let us say a prayer together. I invite us all to repeat the lines after me

God who is Love / we give thanks for music / May we feel your Spirit / as we sing in church / or anywhere / Amen.

February 16, 2014 - Narnia

Good morning. I am glad to see you here today. So, after you leave for an activity, I have a reflection on our Bible reading that I call "The Great Divorce." I thought of that title because the Bible reading today is about divorce, which is a tough one, eh? Anyway, the phrase "The Great Divorce," was in my mind, but I didn't know where it came from. So I searched for the phrase on Google, and I found out it is the name of a fantasy book by one of my favourite authors. His name is C.S. Lewis. Do any of you know who C.S. Lewis was?

No, well what about Narnia? How many of you have read one of the seven Narnia books or watched one of the three Chronicles of Narnia movies that have been produced so far?

Well, C.S. Lewis is the name of the man who wrote the Narnia books, starting with "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" over 60 years ago.

How do you like the Narnia books or movies? When I was in elementary school, I loved the Narnia books. In fact, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" was the very first non-picture book that I read when I was seven years old. I don't know why I pulled it off the library shelf, but as soon as I read it, I was hooked; and then I read the other six over the next few years.

I have another question about the Narnia books and movies: do you know who the talking Lion, Aslan, is supposed to represent? Yes, Jesus. Aslan is presented as the one who sang Narnia into existence at the dawn of time, and who walks and fights with us as we confront evil and the difficulties of life. He is based on the stories of Jesus that we learn in church.

I didn't know about the link between Aslan and Jesus when I was a child. I just like the wonder and mystery of the books -- that you could crawl through a wardrobe or jump over a fence and find yourself in a different world filled with adventure and magic.
Narnia is not factually real, but I think the books remind us of something real and wonderful -- that life is not always flat and boring, that there are other levels and mysteries where love is fierce and life is bright and beautiful.

Lewis' book "The Great Divorce" is a fantasy, but one written for adults on really deep themes of heaven and hell. But I was glad to also remember the Narnia stories when I stumbled upon this other book this past week.

Well, that is all I have for you today, except for a brief. Please feel free to say the words after me. Let us pray . . .

God of Mystery / we give thanks for the wonders of life / and for books like thos about Narnia / that remind us of beauty and love  / Amen

February 23, 2014 -- Olympics and loving one's enemies


So, did any of you watch the hockey game this morning? Who won again? (Just kidding). I really liked the game today, and not just because it was exciting and Canada won, but because I often get up at 5 am on a Sunday morning to work on my sermon. And today for a change, I felt like all of Edmonton was up with me!

After our next song, we are going to hear a reading from the Bible about loving one's enemy. That sounds like a tough one, eh? This morning, our enemy was Team Sweden, and the Canadian players fought really hard against them. But do Jesus' words mean we are also supposed to love Team Sweden? That would not have been easy would it?

Of course, the Canadian and Swedish players do not just represent their countries. Back in the NHL, Swedish players like Daniel Sedin are part of the Vancouver Canucks. This morning, the Swedes looked like our enemy, but if you are a Canucks fan, Sedin will be your friend next week.

So here is a thought -- someone who seems like an enemy in one area, can be seen as our friend in another. Fun competitions like the Olympics can make people from different countries seem like enemies. And the worst thing that can ever happen -- war --  even makes people kill others from other countries.

My prayer is that we remember that the people we compete against are also just like us. All of us are loved by God. All of bear the image of God. We all walk with Jesus as the Christ towards healing and love.

Remembering this might help us receive God's grace to love our so-called enemies.

Well, that is all I have for you today, except for a brief prayer. Please feel free to say the words after me. OK, Let us pray . . .

God of Love / we give thanks for sports / and the excitement of the Olympics / May we also remember / that while competition makes us better / we can still love so-called enemies. / And may we remember / that all of us are loved by you / Amen.

March 02, 2014 -- Four Directions -- East

Good morning. I am glad to see you here. Today we have pulled out an old friend of this congregation, and it will be with us all this month. Do you know what it is? It is a Christ Candle that tries to show some of the teachings of First Nations people. It was made for Southwoods United Church in the 1990s by a man who has now died. What was his name? Ken Bert?

Last week, when Janice and I were preparing for a funeral, she showed this sculpture to me. I really like it and I am going to use it this month to help us get ready for a big event that starts on March 27 here in Edmonton. It is a meeting of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We need this Commission because of a sad and painful part of Canada's history. When ancestors from Europe came to what is now Canada, they conquered the First Nations people that already lived here. One part of that story involves the church -- Indian Residential Schools. For 150 years, many native children were taken from their parents and forced to attend boarding schools run by churches. In those schools, they were forbidden to speak their languages or learn their culture.

In the event in Edmonton, survivors of those schools will tell their stories as a way to help heal some of the pain and to help non-native people understand more.

Despite the sad history of those schools, the teachings of the First Nations were not completely lost. I am really happy about this. And I think it is good news for everyone in Canada, not just native people. This sculpture can remind us of some of the wisdom teachings of many native people.

Now, I don't know these teachings very well. I learned some of them in a class led by native elders five years ago, but I am NOT an expert. But by talking about this sculpture today and for the next few weeks, I hope to remember some of those teachings and help us be ready to hear some of the painful stories about life in Indian Residential Schools.

One of the teachings present in this sculpture is called "The Four Directions."

See these four poles? Each one is a different colour, and each one represents a different direction -- east, south, west, and north. Together, they make up the circle of life. It is a circle that connects young people to old, people from different parts of the world to each other, and all of us to the God who supports the world.

Today we look at the first direction -- the East. It is represented by the yellow pole. The East can represent many things -- a new day, the spring, and children. When we give thanks for the East, we can remember these things and be glad. One teaching I read this week also said the East represents Spirit.

I will have more to say next week. But today, I want to end our time together with a brief prayer that focuses on the East. Feel free to repeat the words of the prayer after me. OK? Let us pray . . .

God of Love / Today we remember / the East direction / We give thanks for the rising sun / for the promise of spring / and for children. / May the spirit of children / fill all our hearts / and remind us of your Holy Spirit / Amen.

March 09, 2014 -- Four Directions -- South

Today, we continue to prepare for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton at the end of this month. We do so by looking at this sculpture and learning a little bit more about the wisdom of the Four Directions. The teachings of the Four Directions is one of the gifts of Canada's First Nations people.

Last week, we looked at the yellow pole, which represents the East Direction. Do you remember some of the things that the East might represent? That is right. It can represent children, God's Spirit, the sunrise, the springtime, and new beginnings.

Today, we briefly look at a second direction, the South. It is represented by the black pole. The South can represent a lot of different things: the warmth of the sun, the growth of summertime, the blessing of our bodies and our strength, and young people.

On March 30, we will use this sculpture as our Christ Candle for the service, and we say a prayer that helps us remember the teachings of the four directions. But today, I want to end our time together with a brief prayer that focuses just on the South. Feel free to repeat the words of the prayer after me.
OK? Let us pray . . .

God of Love / Today we remember / the South direction / We give thanks for the warmth of the sun / for the growth of summertime / and for young people. / May the strength of our young people / help us live in peace with justice. /  Amen.

Before we sing another song and you leave for an activity with Lesley, we are going to hear Amy read this week's Minute for Reconciliation

March 16, 2014 -- Four Directions -- West

Today, we continue to prepare for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Edmonton at the end of this month. For the third week, we examine this sculpture and learn a bit more about the wisdom of the Four Directions, which is one of the gifts of Canada's First Nations people.

Last week, we looked at the second of the four poles, the black one, which represents the South Direction. Do you remember some of the things that the South  might represent? That is right: the warmth of the sun, the growth of summertime, the blessing of our bodies and our strength, and young people.

Today we briefly look at the third pole, the red one. It represents the Direction West, and it can represent the season of Fall, harvest time, our feelings, and our parents. I am glad that we look at the West direction today, because we have two parents, Melissa and Konrad, who have brought their son to church to be baptized in a minute.

The four directions form a circle. It show how the people from all parts of the earth are one. It helps remember the various parts of ourselves such as our spirits, bodies, and minds, and it shows the links between parents and children and grandparents and youth. During the baptism today, we could think about the connection between the East Direction -- representing children; and the West Direction, representing parents. Invisible lines between the two direction could represent the love that unites Melissa and Konrad and their son Jacob. It could also reminds us of the love that unites all of us who are parents or children.

So I hope you will stay for the baptism. But before that, I want to end our time with a brief prayer that focuses on the West. Feel free to repeat the words of the prayer after me. OK? So, let us pray . . .

God of Love / Today we remember the West / We give thanks for harvest / for the beauty of the fall / and for parents. / May the love of our parents / help us all grow in love. /  Amen.

March 23, 2014 -- Four Directions -- North

Today, we finish our preparations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Event in Edmonton, which starts this Thursday. For the fourth week in a row, we examine this sculpture and learn a bit more about the wisdom of the Four Directions, which is one of the gifts of Canada's First Nations people.

Last week, we looked at the third of the four poles, the red one, which represents the West Direction. Do you remember some of the things that the West  might represent? That is right: harvest time, the blessing of our emotions, and the fierce commitment and love of parents. Remember the baptism last week? Yeah . . .

Today we briefly look at the final pole, the white one. It represents the Direction North, and the North can represent Winter, times of quiet and contemplation, the blessings of our minds, and the wisdom of our elders and grandparents.

I am glad that we finish with the North Direction because the theme of the Event that starts on Thursday at the Shaw Conference Centre is wisdom. Many of the survivors of the Indian Residential Schools who will tell us their stories as children are now quite old. Finally, the chief elder of the United Church, our Moderator Gary Paterson, is coming to Edmonton for the Event. He will be preaching next Sunday at McDougall United Church downtown at 8 am, and we are all invited. I will go to McDougall before I come down here for our worship service, and I hope lots of others will be able to go as well.

So we have briefly covered all directions -- east, south, west, and north. Together, they reminds us that people from all parts of the earth are one. They help us to balance our spirits, bodies, and minds, and they show links between parents and children and grandparents and youth.

Thank you for listening to these teachings. Before you go to the activity, which is decorating the cupcakes for the Event next weekend, I want you to go back to where you were sitting and stay for a special prayer to bless the shawls. These shawls have been knitted for the survivors of Indian Residential Schools. And the prayer is based on the teaching of the Four Directions.

March 30, 2014 -- Lord is My Shepherd

Good morning. I am glad to see you here. I wonder if any of you sometimes think that church is old fashioned? Yeah . . . the readings from the Bible are thousands of years old. The way we pray sometimes sounds strange. The songs we sing are often ones that only older people know. Me, I quite like how old-fashioned church can seem, but I also worry that children like you may not get it.

The next hymn we will sing and the final one this morning are both old favourites. Both are often sung at funerals. I chose our next hymn because it is a setting of the Psalm assigned to this week -- the 23rd Psalm, often called "The Lord is My Shepherd." It was originally written in an ancient language about 2500 years ago, the English translation most people know is 400 years old, and the tune we will sing is 150 years old.

Last week, Janice pointed out to me a translation of this Psalm that is just a few years old. She included this new version in the April Connections newsletter, so we could look for it there. So before we sing the old version, I want to compare the first few lines from the 400 year-old translation to the newer one.

First the old one: " The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want; he makes me down to lie in pastures green; he leadeth me, the quiet waters by."

Now the new one: "God is my constant companion, my lighthouse, my beacon. Although I want many things, I trust in God to give me what I need."

Different, eh?

But I hope you won't mind singing the old words with the old music before you go to an activity with Nancy. Because it is so well known to people like me, it is really dear to our hearts. But I also want to be aware of the needs of younger people who don't know old favourites, and who might not always like them. So next week, perhaps we will sing some more recent songs.

But now let us sing the 23rd Psalm. Even though the translation is old, I hope you will hear in it a prayer that has helped many people over many ears. It is # 747 from Voices United . . .

May 18, 2014-- "Come My Way, My Truth, My Life"

Good morning. I am glad to see you this morning . . . I begin with a question. Can you name things about church that seem different from other parts of life? What makes church different than school, or family gatherings, or playing with friends? Any thoughts?

Well here's one thing: in church we talk about Big Questions -- what is the meaning of life? What is Love, and how can we best give love and receive love?

Another: n Church we also tell really old stories -- those of Israel from 2500 years ago, and the stories of Jesus and his friends, from almost 2,000 years ago.

I like it how old the stories are in church, and that we follow traditions that come from long ago. I liked this even when I was a child.

Today in church we are going to hear a story where Jesus tell his friends, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." That sounds funny, don't you think? What does it mean for Jesus to be The Way? How can a person be "The Way?"

Well lots of people have thought about this, and prayed about it, and talked about it for hundreds of years now. In a minute, we are going to sing a song that is partly inspired by this statement of Jesus.

This song is called "Come My Way, My Truth, My Life." The words were written nearly 400 years ago by a English poet, George Herbert, and the music was written 100 years ago by Ralph Vaughan Williams, another Englishman.

I like this hymn because its words are strange. The strangeness of the words can help me stop thinking and let me enter a kind dream-like space. And sometimes when I am feel like this, I might feel closer to God's Love.

Now, not everything about church is old. I like the old songs, by Patricia, our Music Director -- she likes all music, and she knows more about new church music than I am. So she will lead us in lots of newer songs in the months ahead.

But for today, I hope you like this old hymn, with its old words, and old music. I hope it helps you dream about some of the strange and mysterious ways that we can know God's Love.

But before we sing that hymn, I want to lead us all in a brief prayer. So please repeat after me . . .

God who is Love / we give thanks for music / May the mysterious words  / that we sing in church / bring us closer to your Love / Amen.







May 25, 2014 -- "I am the Dream"


Good morning. I am glad to see you this morning . . . So, last week I talked about an old hymn that I liked . . . "Come My Way." I said it was mystical -- a hymn whose words and music help us be present to that which is mysterious.

Mystical songs help me feel closer to the Holy Mystery we call God. Sometimes songs like that can make me feel as though I am dreaming.

Well today I have chosen another hymn that seems mystical, but it is a new one, and not an old one. It is called "I am the Dream" and it was written by a minister from Spruce Grove just west of Edmonton a few years ago. It is based on famous poems by a Czech poet, Rainer Maria Rilke.

Let us take a look at the words of the first verse. Gordon, would you advance to that slide? Thanks.

Who wants to read the first line . . . I am the dream and you the dreamer . .
Thanks. What do you think  that line might mean?

Who wants to read the second line . . . I am the song and you are the rhyme. Thanks. Any thoughts on that one?

Well, I hope you get my point. As in a lot of poems, the words are put together in a way to help us imagine, dream, and perhaps feel close to mystery and wonder. Perhaps closer to God.

I hope that you pay attention to the strange ways the words are put together when we sing the song in a minute. But before we sing it, I want to lead us all in a brief prayer. So please repeat after me . . .

God who is Love / we give thanks for poems / May the mysterious words  / that we sing in church / bring us closer to your Love / Amen.



June 08, 2014 -- Pentecost and boring church

I have a question to start. Do you ever find church boring? Yeah. I do too. Well, not when I am leading the service -- doing that tends to keep me awake. But when I was a child, I was often restless, confused or bored in church. I hope that isn't often the case with you, but sometimes I fear it might be.

Well, today is Pentecost. It is a Sunday when we remember how church began. And that beginning was anything but boring. A rushing wind came into the room where the followers of Jesus were praying. Flames of fire rested on their heads. They began to speak foreign languages. A huge and amazed crowd gathered. It must have been both exciting and maybe frightening.  But I doubt it was boring.

I try to remember this story when I am in church. If we are bored during church services or church activities, probably something is not right. Today, I am little worried because only the youth are going to an activity -- a brunch -- after this. The younger children are going to stay here with the adults. So I hope you aren't too bored with the rest of the service.

Before the youth leave for their brunch, we will sing together a hymn that tells the story of the wind and fire of Pentecost. And before that, I have a short prayer. whose words you could repeat after me.

Let us pray . . .

God who is Love / we give thanks for your Spirit / which is like wind and flame.  / May it remind us / that church can be exciting. / Amen.



July 27, 2014 -- Kings and the Bible




Today’s Scripture readings are like so many others – they are about kings and kingdoms. The first one is about the dream of a King of ancient Israel. The second one is about Jesus telling his friends what the Kingdom of Heaven might be like.

In my reflection, I am going to talk about earthly kingdoms, and the history of a terrible war that occurred between many of the kingdoms or empires of Europe 100 years ago. I am going to talk about World War One.

So at this time, I have some questions for you about kings. Can you name any kings that are alive and ruling today? Anyone? (Carl Gustaf of Sweden; Abdullah of Jordan and of Saudia Arabia . . . ) Does Canada have a king?

Well, when we look back 100 years ago, there were a lot more kingdoms and kings than there are today. But not all the kings were called kings. In Central Europe, they were often called Kaiser. In Eastern Europe, they were often called Czar. And the origin of these names was in the Empire of Ancient Rome, the Empire that ruled Palestine during the time of Jesus 2000 years ago. The monarch who ruled much of the world during the time of Jesus was called Caesar.

But in the church, we have another king, but one that is different from the kings, czars or kaisers of Europe from 100 years ago. Does anyone want to say who this other king that the church focuses on might be? That is right, Jesus as King or Christ. Christ is a Hebrew word meaning king or God’s anointed ruler.

Because I am focusing on earthly kings and on Jesus as King today, I selected the next hymn for its words. But Janice told me this week that she doesn’t think the congregation knows this song – “At the Name of Jesus.” Janice thought it seemed awfully old. I pointed out that it was written in 1925, not even 90 years ago yet! Well, maybe that is old, but because my head has been stuck at 100 years ago this week as I thought about the centennial of World War One, maybe I stopped thinking of 90 years as old. Anyway, I liked to sing this song as a child, and I hope we like learning it . . . Me and Patricia.

Thanks. We will now sing the first three verses. In particular, I want you to note the phrase, “King of Glory” in the first verse. This is one traditional way to think about Jesus. Then after the Blessing at the end of the service, we will sing the last two verses. In those verses, I hope you will notice the phrase “In your hearts enthrone him,” which matches part of my sermon from today. So now let us stand and sing together the first three verses of . . .

August 10, 2014 -- rock concerts and church

Did you read Janice Martin’s “Office Musings” this past Thursday in the “What’s The Buzz” email? She wrote about the concert last week at Rexall Place with Santana and Rod Stewart, which she and Reg had attended.

Janice and I talked about how much they enjoyed the concert on Wednesday morning, and I raised the issue of how concerts can feel like spiritual gatherings, often ones that are more meaningful and moving than a typical Sunday worship gathering. Janice agreed, and said that Santana in particular had provided moments of call, uplift, and encouragement, which are all elements of spiritual worship.

When I was studying to be a minister, there was a required course in Worship. At the end of our first class, the teacher put on a video clip from a concert by Bruce Springsteen to show us what great worship could be like at its best.

I don’t imagine that any of us will leave this gathering today and say that it moved us the way that Santana did so many people at Rexall Place this past Tuesday, or that Bruce Springsteen does with pretty much every concert he heads – although one can always hope and dream.

Another thing that Janice and I discussed on Wednesday was the music for this week’s service. Today's Gospel reading, which Brenda will read in a moment, is one of the three accounts of Jesus walking on water and calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Hearing this story always brings to my mind the 1970 hit song, “Put Your Hand in the Hand.” It was written by a Canadian writer Gene McLellan and was first recorded by Anne Murray, and then by many others. But it had its greatest success in 1970 in a version by a Toronto Gospel Rock band called Ocean.

Janice said that it had been sung before by Mill Woods. So I have included it as our next song. When we sing it, we probably won’t touch the power of a gathering of thousands, like at the Edmonton Folk Festival this weekend in Cloverdale. But I hope that it will bring back memories for those us who were around in 1970 and make us think about the power of large numbers of people being swept up in song, especially songs that direct us to God and to the healing available to us in Christ.

Let us now sing together . . . We are only going to sing one verse with the refrain sung before and after.
August 17, 2014 -- Babette's Feast

In the Gospel reading, which Ethel will read in a minute, Jesus talks about what we put in our mouths; and my reflection on this reading is about laws that regulate food and drugs. After writing the reflection yesterday, I was inspired by these subjects to re-watch an old movie about food and church. It is the 1987 Danish movie, “Babette’s Feast.” Does anyone here remember seeing this movie? It won the Oscar for best non-English language film.

I enjoyed watching it again. It tells the story of a small and aging Lutheran church in a fishing village in Denmark in the 19th Century. The congregation is all about piety and purity, but this doesn’t stop the handful of old people in it from sniping and fighting with each other about real or perceived grievances and sin.

The highpoint of the movie is a meal prepared by a refugee from Paris who has lived for 15 years with the two spinster sisters who lead this congregation. This chef, Babette, fled Paris after the popular revolution there in 1871. Her husband and son were among the 30,000 revolutionaries executed by the combined forces of the Prussian and French armies.

Babette prepares this meal, which costs her entire fortune, to celebrate the centennial of the birth of the founder of the church – the late father of the sisters. The sisters worry that the food will be so tasty and decadent that it will become a witches Sabbath, an opening for the Devil to enter their austere and pious lives.

In the end, though, they and the 10 other elderly members of this church eat the exquisite French meal and drink the wine. The film, which seems to both mock and admire the puritanism of this group, shows how the sensual delight of their meal of turtle soup, quail, caviar, champagne, fresh fruit, and decadent cakes opens them all up to wonder and love.

Despite how exaggerated the puritanism of this church and the meal might seem, this film resonated with my own past. The church of my youth was one torn between a Victorian or Puritan piety and the cultural rebellion of the 60s and 70s. We seemed to be living in two worlds at once, and it often felt uncomfortable.

Our food wasn’t great either. Alone of my friends in university residence as a first-year student, I enjoyed the food prepared by the cafeteria. Such variety! So many new flavours! Then a year later, I had my first meal ever in an Indian restaurant. I couldn’t believe that food could be that delicious.

Anyway, I hope that the story of the film, Babette’s Feast, and memories of my own church past will help prepare us to meditate on today’s theme.

August 24, 2014 -- racism and Jesus

In today’s Gospel reading, which Lindy will read in a minute, we hear what might be the most unflattering statement ever made by Jesus. After first ignoring a non-Jewish woman who cries to him to show mercy to her sick child, he then insults her, calling her a dog. Because Jesus is Jewish, he says that his mission is only to the lost tribes of Israel.

The good news is that Jesus relents when this woman persists. He praises her for her faithfulness and heals her daughter. The story ends well. It reminds us that God’s healing love is not for just one people – in this case the Jews – but for all of us.

But the story also shows Jesus acting in a way that could be interpreted as rude or even racist. And this brings to my mind the many problems we face today that fall under the heading of racism. This summer, in particular, has had a lot of news about racial problems, and I these reports have upset me.

Would people like to shout out examples of racism that they have encountered in news reports recently? (Tina Fontaine, Michael Brown, the subsequent riots, the hatred between Palestinians and Israelis that fuels the fighting in Gaza, the genocide of ISIS in Iraq and Syria towards Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims, the video of the beheading of the American news reporter, James Foley . . . other?)

Racial divisions, along with division within religions such as between Protestant and Catholic Christians, or Sunni and Shia Muslims, or between different national and ethnic groups – all of these division are a huge problem. The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman reminds us that this has been a problem for very long time, and it continues to frighten us and threaten us.

I will try to tackle some of these issues in my reflection, but to prepare for that I want to sing a song from More Voices. Like the Gospel story, it reminds us that there is room for all in God’s Love. I have never sung it before, but Wendy Edey tells me that sometimes it is sung before the Sharing Our Concerns part of our Sunday gathering. So now, before we hear our Gospel story, let us sing it together twice.

August 31, 2014 --Take Up Your Cross!

Friends, the stories of Jesus shape the life of the church. In them, Jesus' presence is magnetic and healing. They present teachings that move us into action. Jesus' call feels so compelling that people often respond without a second thought.

Except, there is also Jesus' call to follow him to Jerusalem and the cross, which we will hear again today. The journey to Jerusalem means confrontation with religious and political power and danger to all concerned; and for Jesus, it includes arrest and execution.

In a minute, Cathy Bayly will read Matthew's account this call. In it, Jesus also asks us take up our own cross, and to gain new life by losing our old one.

And no matter how drawn we are to Jesus or his ministry and message, this is a call that might make give us pause.

In preparing for this service, I looked for hymns that would capture both the power of Jesus' call and also our fears about it, and I found our next hymn in "More Voices." It is new to me, although Janice tells me it has been sung here before at least once.

As we sing it, note especially the last two verses, numbers four and five. Verse four contains images of climbing a hill and the chill of wood and stone, which evoke the spectre of the cross and death on Good Friday.

But note also the fifth and final verse. It shows how the call of God in Christ lives on after Jerusalem. It affirms that love never dies. IAN SOLO VERSE ONE?

Let us now sing this hymn together as we prepare to hear again Jesus' call. It is . . .

* We Sing Together -- "Jesus Laughed Out Loud," MV #133

Jesus laughed out loud to see the children play;
his joyful presence drew a crowd we could not send away.




September 07, 2014 -- Summer Vacation -- outdoors or in?




Good morning. I am glad to see you here.

So, summer break is over; and we are getting back to normal at school and church. I hope that you feel OK about the end of summer and that you will enjoy the Fall.

Today we don't have an activity for you in the lower hall. That will start again next Sunday. Today, since we will celebrate communion, you are invited to stay with us through the whole service.

Before we sing the next song and hear a reading from the Bible, I want to check in with you about your summers. I'd be happy to hear about some of the things you did. Does anyone want to tell us of something you did this summer? Things you liked? Things you didn't like. Anyone?

Great. I also enjoyed summer. I have especially enjoyed the beauty of Edmonton this summer, even though we have cold weather coming tomorrow. But warm weather returns by next weekend.

My sermon today mentions big changes in society that effect church. So what I now have is an observation from this past summer that also made me wonder about these big changes.

When I work at the church office, I go for a walk at lunchtime. Sometimes, I walk north to the golf course, or take the path that goes to 66th Street. Other times, I walk in Mill Woods Park. I enjoy these walks . . . except, I rarely run into anyone else. This seems strange to me, different than when I was a child. Back then, there always seemed to loads of people on the sidewalks and the paths. And so, I wonder if we don't spend as much time outdoors today as we did in the past.

I don't know about you, but I like being outside better than inside.

Now, Janice tells me my problem is walking in the middle of the day. Maybe she is right. I first came to Mill Woods one year ago this month for my job interview. It was a warm and beautiful September evening, and as I walked around the neighbourhood, the streets were hopping with kids on bicycles.

So maybe the changes aren't as drastic as I fear. But I suggest we can keep this kind of change in mind as we talk today about shifts that also affect churches.

OK, that's it for today, except before we sing our next song, I have a prayer. OK? So let us pray as you repeat after me . . .

PRAYER: God who is Love / we give thanks for summer break / for schools and learning / and for the people we meet at church. / May our time at church / Help us to follow in your Way / Amen.

Please return to your seat as I set up the next song. Thanks.

Our next song echoes the last line of today's Gospel reading. I believe we know it -- "Where Two or Three Are Gathered."  Patricia will play it through once, then we will sing it together once. At that point we will pause, then Lesley will start the west side of the congregation singing, and I will follow by leading the east side as we sing it through twice more as a two-part round.

 November 02, 2014 -- Halloween, O Wild West Wind

Had you ever heard about what I mentioned a few minutes ago -- that Halloween is followed by two other special days: All Hallows Day and All Souls Day? Yeah -- those two days don't get a lot of mention anymore compared to Halloween.

Well, I hope that you all had fun on Halloween on Friday. Did any of you go trick or treating? Yeah? What was your costume? [Anybody want to say?]

I have a question for you about Halloween -- why do you think we celebrate Halloween at the end of October? Any ideas or guesses? Well, Halloween is a scary time that reminds us of death. And the end of October is when the harvest is over and the leaves are almost all off the trees.

In October, it can seem like the whole world is dying. The days are getting short and the cold weather is coming. Fall can raise our fears about death and make us feel sad about people that we loved and who have now died.

But in the church we are not only aware of our fears of death. We also trust that new life comes with death. This is true with the plants and trees, which will grow again in the spring, and is true with us today and all our relatives and ancestors who have now died. Christ died and was raised to new life by God. The same will be true for all of us. And that is the best news.

You know, Halloween makes me think of poem that is almost 200 years old. It was written by a poet named Percy Bysshe Shelly, and it is called "Ode to the West Wind." I will now recite just a bit of it. It starts like this --

"O Wild West Wind thou breath of Autumn's being / thou from whose unseen presence the leaves dead / are driven like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, / Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red / pestilence-stricken multitudes!" It goes on, and then it ends like this . . .

"O Wind, drive my dead thoughts over the universe, like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth . . .  Hear O Hear, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

I hope some of you like that poem too. Every fall, I think of it especially on windy days when the leaves are blowing down the streets.

So thanks for being with me for a bit. Before our next song and before those of you who want go to an activity, I have a short prayer for all of us. OK? Let us pray . . .

PRAYER: God who is Love / we give thanks for Halloween / and for weekends where we remember our ancestors / May our time of remembering / Help us to live in your way of Love / Amen.

And now before any children or youth who want got to an activity, we will sing our next song. It doesn't have anything to do with Halloween – I chose it because I thought it fit a little with today's Gospel reading. It is from More Voices, #10. . .

November 09, 2014 -- Remembrance

Good morning. I am glad to see you this morning.

So, did any of you attend a Remembrance service at school this past Thursday? Yeah? What are some words that come to your mind when you think about that service? Some of things you felt? Who wants to share a word?

Yeah . . . sadness, pride, fear . . . Thanks for that.

Remembering past wars and praying for the safety of soldiers today can be painful, but we do it because it is important. Sometimes life calls us to sacrifice, even our very lives, and nothing is more important than life. And so we pray and mourn; we give thanks and remember.

In a moment and before those of you who want go to an activity, we are going to participate in the baptism of Ryan. When I was talking to Patricia, our music leader, on Tuesday about this service, at first I was worried that baptism, which is an occasion of happiness and hope, might not fit with the theme of Remembrance.

But baptism is not just about welcoming someone into a family or the church, it is also about confronting death and rising to new life with Jesus. In this way, baptism can represent the hope we most need on Remembrance Day – the hope that sacrifice and death, whether the death of Jesus, or of soldiers, or of any of us – do not have the last word. In baptism we rise into a new kind of life with Jesus as the Christ, which is also what we trust is the case for all those who have died in wars.

Two weeks ago, Georgia told me that she was learning "The Last Post" on the trumpet. The Last Post is played at most Remembrance Day ceremonies. It is followed by a minute or two of silent prayer where we remember the dead and honour them.

Georgia offered to play it for us here today, and in a moment, she will do so. We will follow that with a minute of silence. Then, after I saw "We will remember them," we will move to Ryan's baptism. During the baptism, I hope that you listen to the words we say and notice when we hear about birth, death, and new life.

At the end of the baptism, the choir will lead us in singing a song. This will take the place of the tune Reveillee, which often ends Remembrance services.

But before Georgia plays the trumpet, I want to lead us in a short prayer. OK? Thanks. Let us pray . . . .

PRAYER: God who is Love / we give thanks for this chance / to remember those who gave their lives / so that we might be free / May our time of remembering / Help us to live in your way / Amen.

LAST POST – GEORGIA – MINUTE OF SILENCE

"We will remember"

Thank you  . . . please stay for the baptism, after which, if you want, you can go for an activity

November 23, 2014 -- Reign of Christ -- Vampires!

Today is called "Reign of Christ" Sunday. Does any of you know what the word "reign" means? I'm not talking about rain as in water falling from the sky, but r-e-i-g-n, "reign". Yeah, it means the period during which a king or queen -- rules. We don't say that we are living during the reign of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In Canada we are living durng the reign of Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth the II – you know, "long to reign over us, God Save the Queen?"

Reign of Christ helps us remember that we try to follow God as King. But nowadays, many countries no longer have kings or queens. So here's another question – can you name any countries that no longer have kings -- countries that are republics and not monarchies?

Yeah -- China, India, the United States, Russia – unlike Canada, they no longer have kings. The most populous country that still has a monarch today is Japan.

I think another thing that keeps the idea of kings, princes and princesses alive is Disney. Who here has ever been to Disneyland or Disney World? Did you like it? At the centre of those parks is The Magic Kingdom, and there are lots of Disney princesses walking around.

But even with kids, I think things are changing. A few years ago, I saw a young girl in Toronto who wore a T-shirt with the phrase "Someday my prince will come" on it. That is the title of a song from the Disney film "Snow White." But on the T-shirt, the word "prince" was crossed out and replaced by the word "vampire!" "Someday my vampire will come." This was at the beginning of the Twilight craze, those books and movies about vampires and werewolves.

When I saw the T-shirt, I thought "HMMM." Things are changing even with young girls who want to be a Disney princess.

Anyway, I hope this helps you think about the different ways humans govern ourselves. In the church we work to create the realm of God on earth, a realm in which Jesus the Christ, whose light shines within each of us, would be the only King.

So please feel free to stay for the baptism of Fiona. You could stay here at the front on the blanket or go back to your seats, whichever you prefer. Before the baptism, we will sing the first two verses of a baptismal song, and before that I want to lead us in a prayer. OK? Let us pray . . .

PRAYER – Loving God / we give thanks for Jesus the Christ / who reigns in our hearts / and who leads us to your Love / Amen.

January 11, 2015 -- Rivers and baptisms

 Good morning. I am glad to see you here today.

Today we think about baptism and we remember that John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. That is why we just sang "Rivers Run Deep".

So today, I focus on rivers. First a question: who here can tell me the name of the big river that runs through Edmonton? That's right, the North Saskatchewan. It is beautiful, eh? My apartment building is on the edge of the river valley, and I love walking along the river.

But why do you think Edmonton is built along the banks of a river? It's kind of a pain how it divides the city in two, don't you find? Was Edmonton built here just because the river is pretty? No. Then why? That's right. Water. Humans need fresh water to live, and so all the big cities of the world are built either on the bank of a river or on the bank of a freshwater lake. This is also why so much of human history can be told as the story of rivers -- rivers like the Nile in Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates in Iraq, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers in China, and all the big rivers in Canada, like the North Saskatchewan.

More questions: does anyone know where the North Saskatchewan begins and where it goes? Right, it begins in the Rocky Mountain glaciers and it joins with the South Saskatchewan River just east of Saskatoon. The combined Saskatchewan River then flows into Lake Winnipeg, and Lake Winnipeg flows into Hudson Bay via the Nelson River. I think it is all quite amazing . . .

My childhood is connected to one of Canada's great rivers, the St. Lawrence. I was born in Kingston, which is where the St. Lawrence River begins, at the mouth of Lake Ontario. All of the water of the Great Lakes flows into the St. Lawrence River at Kingston, which makes it the Canadian river with the biggest flow of water.

I spent most of my childhood growing up on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Cornwall Ontario, which is on the border of both New York State and Quebec and where a big dam was built 60 years ago to create electricity from the river. And then, starting when I was 15, my parents spent 30 summers at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in the Gaspe region of Quebec. This is a beautiful place called the Gulf of the St. Lawrence where the river joins the ocean. There are tides, you can see whales and seals, and this is where my family buried my late father's ashes. So the St Lawrence is pretty important to me.

Besides the North Saskatchewan, are there are other rivers that are important to you? No? Well, as you grow older, I bet that you will have many experiences along rivers that will make them part of the story of your own lives.

For Jesus, the Jordan River was important. It was the place where his ancestors, the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, finally crossed from the wilderness into what is now Israel and Palestine. It was where the practice of baptism was first begun by John, and it is where Jesus himself was baptized.

So today as you hear about Jesus' baptism, I hope that you will think about all the rivers in the world and how they connect us to each other and to God.

And now, before you leave for an activity, I want to lead us in a short prayer. OK? Thanks. Let us pray . . . .

PRAYER: God who is Love / we give thanks for water and for rivers / for baptism, which connects us to Jesus / and for your power that heals us. / May we remember our own baptism / which means that we are your children / Amen.

And now before any children or youth who want to go to an activity, we will sing another song. I have never sung it before, but Janice brought it to my attention as a song that might fit with our theme today of baptism. It is from VU . . .

* We Sing Together: "Jesus came, a child like me," VU #583

February 02, 2015 -- capital city, 40 days

Good morning . . . I am glad to see you all today. So on Tuesday, we ate pancakes here at the church for supper. Holly, you were there. Did you enjoy it? I'm glad. I enjoyed it too. We do this – have pancakes -- each winter to mark the end of one church season and the beginning of another. Since Tuesday, we have been in a season called Lent; and Lent reminds me of my move last winter from Saskatchewan to Edmonton. Let me explain.

The idea of the 40 days and nights for Lent comes from two stories in the Bible. The first is about Jesus in the wilderness. In this story, God's Spirit sends Jesus into the desert for 40 days right after being baptized and before he begins teaching and healing. It strikes me as odd that God would send Jesus away by himself to face hunger and danger for 40 days right after telling him that Jesus was His Beloved, but there it is . . .

The other idea behind Lent comes from the end of Jesus' ministry, when Jesus decides to walk with his friends from Galilee in the country where they live to the capital city Jerusalem.

So, I have some questions about that story: what is the meaning of "Capital City?" Yeah, it is the city where the government meets. And what is the capital city of Canada? Yes, Ottawa. And what is the capital city of the province of Alberta? Yes, it is right here – Edmonton. We can see this because the Legislative Building is downtown. I often walk to the Legislature from my apartment – it is only about 10 minutes along the River Valley. I think it is quite beautiful.

BTW, did you know that the word "capital" comes from the Latin word "caput," which means the head? Anyway . . .

Before I worked here at Mill Woods, I lived for 2.5 years in a little town called Coronach in a remote corner of Saskatchewan. It is about a 10-hour drive southeast of here. To me, it seemed like wilderness. Now this wasn't exactly true. Most of the land was either farmed or used for grazing cattle, but hardly any people live there anymore. This is because farms and ranches have become so big in the last 60 years. As a city person, I found it spooky to drive along roads with hardly any other cars. It was beautiful, but I also felt lonely there.

So, when I flew to Edmonton in September 2013 to be interviewed for this job, I was struck by how big and beautiful Edmonton looked as Lesley drove me from the airport to my sister's condo downtown. And I thought of the story of Jesus' friends following him from the countryside to the capital city. I thought of the journey we mark during the 40 days of Lent.

In the church, we try to follow Jesus wherever he calls us. Sometimes this means ministry in the countryside. Sometimes it means praying in the wilderness and trying to resist temptation. Sometimes it means coming to the capital city where life can be exciting but also risky and where common people like the friends of Jesus try to stand up to more powerful people.

Later today, we are going to remember the last supper that Jesus ever had with his friends. This was in the capital city Jerusalem just before Jesus is arrested. Every time we celebrate communion, we remember Jesus' last week in the capital city. We remember how he had walked there with his friends, how exciting and mysterious it all was, and how Jesus death and resurrection in the three days that followed that supper give us the confidence we need to live in God's ways.

I hope you will join us for communion in about 20 minutes. When I take communion today, I will remember my journey from the wilds of Saskatchewan to the capital city Edmonton and how much I love trying to follow Jesus even when it seems difficult or risky. There is nothing better, I think, than sharing Jesus' bread of life and cup of blessing at a communion table like this one.

So that's all I have today. But before you leave for an activity, I want to lead us in a short prayer. OK? Thanks. Repeat after me as we pray . . . 

PRAYER: God of the journey / sometimes you call us to the wilderness / sometimes you call us to the city / We are thankful that you are always with us. / Help us to stay awake with you through Lent / Help us to follow in your Way / Amen.

And now before any children or youth who want to go to an activity, we will sing another song. It is communion hymn from MV . . .

* We Sing Together: "Bread of Life, Feed My Soul," MV #194


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