Monday, November 30, 2009

Here is an image of the front cover of Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl. I spoke about this image in my sermon on Sunday. I see the single flame breaking into the darkness as an evocative symbol for the role that meaning and purpose for living have in our lives. It is also a great image for the first week of Advent.

On Sunday we lit the first Advent candle. Many Christian churches use the Advent wreath during the pre-Christmas season. The first Sunday’s candle is for HOPE. The successive candles are for PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. The wreath is, of course, a circle, which in many cultures is a symbol for eternity, or infinity- things that do not have a beginning or an end.

Last week I asked children and adults to come to the front of the sanctuary and help me make a circle, which represented the circle of the church year. The suggestion has been made that the repeating cycle of the season of the church year is also symbolic of the infinite nature of God.

When I was reflecting today on the last two weeks of worship at Trinity, I made a connection between seeing the kids and adults standing in a circle, enacting the cycle of the church year for the rest of the congregation, and one of the points in my sermon for this week, which is that according to Frankl, those who devote themselves solely to their own happiness never achieve it.

Our meaning, and our hope lie in learning to live our lives in service to others- in dispelling the darkness with light.
Advent is the season in which Christians anticipate the birth of the Christ child. One of the theological words used to refer to this is "Incarnation", literally, the divine entering into flesh. Jesus is described as "embodying" the love of God.
We are called to the same work- to "incarnate" God's love for other people. As we do that, it becomes that much more real for us as well- we can see by the light of our own candle.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Religion Outside the Box

There is a weekly email I receive from a man named Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer called The 77% Weekly. (He also has a website called "Religion Outside the Box". Brian was ordained as a Jewish rabbi, and for a time served a congregation in Los Angeles. He left that work to become a high school math teacher, and also to begin a new kind of ministry, outside the bounds of organized religion. I first heard of him when he was interviewed on CBC radio's Tapestry, a weekly program about contemporary religion and spirituality. (That interview can be found by searching the CBC radio offerings on iTunes.)

The reason I mention all this is that this week the email from Rabbi Brian is a great companion piece to the sermon I gave on Sunday, about our cosmology, or view of the life, the universe and everything.

It would not be right for me to reproduce Rabbi Brian's work here, but you can find it for yourself at:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Questions about the Future

My sermon this week was about Apocalyptic literature in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. In a nutshell, what I was saying was:

1) These texts have been mis-used in the last two centuries of Christianity. Interpreters have made claims to be able to "de-code" the mysteries of these texts, and then make pronouncements about "the end of the world as we know it". These readings of the texts very likely go well beyond the original purposes of the authors. To use these texts, and their strange and bewildering images to frighten people into accepting Christian faith is abusive.

2) A more helpful interpretation of the texts may be to say that they express the sincere hope and faith that no matter how unfair life may seem, or how difficult, that ultimately, God is in charge. We place our trust in God, and carry on living our lives of faith.

Next Sunday is Reign of Christ, or Christ the King Sunday. On the church liturgical calendar it is the last Sunday of the year. Following that, on November 29, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent. Traditionally the Church Year begins with the preparations for the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus.

The stores are way ahead of us. As I drove home tonight from the church, I noticed again the festive holiday season decorations and lights that adorn "Dorval Crossing", one of the malls I pass. Their decorations went up before Hallowe'en!

Inside the stores the transformation is even more evident. The pre-Christmas shopping season is in full swing.

As I make my preparations for the Advent/Christmas season, and ponder the new church year that is about to begin, I have questions about the future of the 5th Page.

I enjoy the opportunity to reflect further, and sometimes in a different or deeper way, on the themes I address in sermons. Very often I actually do have material that "did not make it into the sermon", that I think is worth sharing.

I have also experimented with doing other things:

-posting prayers that I have used in worship
-sharing the lesson I teach in the Sunday School class once a month
-posting the "Trinity Top Ten" hymn choices
-posting material I have written for worship services for Halton Presbytery
-reflecting on the discussions that have happened in the Re:Member class

Lately I have been wondering about trying to make the 5th page more interactive. I am not quite sure how to do that. Maybe I could take people's questions, and then try to respond to them.

It would be good to know what people think.

Is the 5th page still interesting and of use to you?
Are there some things you like better than others?
What would you like to see in the new year?
Would you like to submit some topics or questions for discussion?
Can you think of other ways we could make this more interactive?

I look forward to reading your feedback.

Monday, November 9, 2009

bread and buns

the fifth page for November 8, 2009

On Sunday afternoon I phoned the woman I spoke about in my sermon, who used flour made from the wheat grown on her farm, to bake bread and buns that she sold to a local cafe’. Talking with her was a true joy. As nourishing as having lunch together in her farmhouse kitchen.

She reminded me that the money she earned from her baking all went to the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church. That is the mechanism our denomination uses to fund ministry beyond local congregations. Some of that money is spent inside Canada, and a lot of it goes to other places, allowing the United Church of Canada to participate in work being done with some of our mission partners.

In the same conversation I got an update on this woman’s family. In the sermon I mentioned her two sons. (She also has a daughter, who I forgot to mention! ) The daughter is happily married, to a local farmer. They have raised a great family. She has a “town job” which means that most days she is just a phone call and a few minutes away if her mom ever needs her at the retirement condo. This summer and fall she kept her mother, and her condo neighbours well stocked with fresh vegetables from her farm.

The youngest son is now working in Northern Manitoba as a social worker, involved with families that have been effected by Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. From what I hear, he loves the work, and it is exhausting.

The older son, the one who used to train soldiers in bomb disposal, is now out of the military altogether. He came back from his last tour in Afghanistan suffering the effects of traumatic stress disorder. Depression, the end of a marriage, and issues with alcohol are some of the ways his 20 years of service have left their marks on his life.

I don’t know if this man will attend a Remembrance Day ceremony this week. He will certainly be on my mind, and my heart as we take time to consider the costs of war.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Live long and prosper

My son and I went out for Hallowe'en together this past weekend. It was his idea that we dress up as Spock and Kirk from the latest Star Trek movie. This was the first year that it was just the two of us, as my daughter was out with her friends. (A sign she is getting older!)
We have a short route of houses that we visit every year, all within a block or so of our home. We tend to visit only people that we know. (It's not about the candy- we never finish all of it anyway! It's about the opportunity to see some of our neighbours.)
There is one lady who lives very close to us who takes pictures of some of the neighbourhood kids every year. This year as those kids came to see her again, she was able to give each child a print of their photo from last year. A real treat!
This lady also has an uncanny ability to tell which child is in there, underneath even the most elaborate, and identity-obscuring costume. We made some of our stops with another little boy named Jake, whose face was hidden behind his Spiderman mask. But even Spiderman did not fool the woman who knows all the kids. (It helps that she knows all the kids, and their interests, and could guess who is likely to be what character. It also helps that she talks to the parents, and hears about what the kids have planned. In other words, she can tell who the kids are, because she really knows and loves them.)
I think that God is like that. God can tell who we really are, no matter what outward disguise we put on for the world. The masks don't fool God. God knows us from inside, and loves us.