Fools for love

Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (“foolish wisdom”)

Paul’s words from First Corinthians that we just heard remind us that following Jesus is an unconventional choice. Some even see it as a foolish or absurd one.

Conventional wisdom supports values like patriotism and obedience. It is about fitting in to get along. And for centuries, Christian churches have preached conventional wisdom even when it has been in the service of empire.

So given the evils of empire, I find it refreshing to be reminded by Paul that following a Messiah who is nailed to a cross is unconventional, foolish, or even absurd when viewed from the vantage point of conventional wisdom.

This winter in offering guidance on sacred indigenous teachings, Elder Evelyn Day is unearthing for us wisdom that was buried by the French and British empires when they conquered and settled North America beginning in the 17th Century. Much to its shame, the Christian church marched in lockstep with these empires. It played this role despite the unconventional wisdom of Christ that Paul highlights today.

Like Canada’s Indigenous people, Jesus grew up in a community occupied by a foreign empire. The religious leaders of his community tried to accommodate themselves to its evils. But Jesus and his friends refused to go along.

Instead of fitting in, the Jesus movement rocked the boat. Instead of kowtowing to ancient traditions, it lived an ethics based on inclusion, forgiveness, and love. Instead of striving for influence or power, the Jesus movement spoke truth to power even when this meant defeat and death. And instead of accepting death as the end, it saw in death new beginnings.

Unconventional people like Paul found hope – absurd though it might seem – in the death of their Messiah. By taking up their own cross and following Christ on the Way, they found greater freedom and love than they had ever known.

Paul became a fool for love, and he calls others to join his merry band.

This winter, I am learning a lot from our Sunday series on Indigenous Teachings, although I also realize there is no end to what one might learn.

One of the things that stayed with me when I first encountered Indigenous spirituality ten years ago in school was the power of the circle. Gathering to worship in a circle creates equality and encourages listening and healing.

Last Monday evening, I was reminded of that power when I attended the first of three evenings here at the church called “On the Brink of Everything.” After listening to introductions from our two facilitators – Clair Woodbury and Joyce Madsen – and watching a video, Clare and Joyce had the 16 of us break into two circles of eight where we spent 45 minutes sharing stories of our own spiritiual journeys.

Clair and Joyce laid out a unconventional purpose for these three evenings – the second of which occurs tomorrow and the third on February 25. They said “On the Brink of Everything” was not designed to yield any results, and they made no attempt to capture our discussions. Instead, they said the purpose of the series was simply to listen and share in community. That may seem like a foolish way to spend a Monday evening. But I loved it.

Our Sunday morning gatherings can be looked at from the point of view of both conventional and unconventional wisdom. We may believe that Sunday worship is useful for building community, for refreshing our spirits for the work of outreach and justice, and for motivating us to support the church’s many activities and committees. And I agree with all of these ideas.

But viewed from the point of view of the cross, our gatherings have no purpose other than to share pain, joy, and our love of God and neighbour. Personally, I like worship best when it flouts the conventional wisdom of empire and marketplace. I love it when we sing, pray, and share in ways that might seem absurd, but which flow from our deepest feelings and from our search for hope, peace, joy, and love.

Coming to church this morning may not have been the wisest choice given that the windchill was -40. But I pray that it fits well with our gracious reality as holy fools who sometimes find ourselves doing seemingly absurd things for love.

May it be so. Amen.

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Time to be afraid?

Text: Luke 8:14-25 (Jesus stills a storm)

When I looked at the long-range weather forecast last week, I felt a shiver of fear. Ten days in which it never gets above -20 degrees, with the overnight low forecast to be -34 on Tuesday?

I know that Edmonton is the most northerly city in the Western Hemisphere and that our winters often have extended cold snaps. Last month, the Edmonton Journal ran a story about the winter of 69 – 50 years ago – in which the temperature never got above -20 degrees from January 7 to February 2. But even though this is the ninth winter in which I have lived in the prairies, a span of ten days in which the temperature never goes above -20 still seems extreme to me.

But then I suppose without fear, one cannot show courage. This means that living in Edmonton during the winter can feel like an exercise in courage for me. Wish me luck over the next week . . .

As you know, fear has a lot of negative consequences. One of them is how it can make time seem to drag. When you experience a blessed night of deep and dreamless sleep, the night goes by in a flash. But when you awaken to toss and turn, the night can seem to stretch forever.

Today’s Gospel story is about fear and courage. As Jesus and his friends sail across the Sea of Galilee, Jesus is sleeping comfortably through a fearsome storm. When his friends awake him, he calms the storm and then rebukes them for their lack of faith.

This story resonates with the first time I went on a week-long canoe trip in Ontario’s Algonquin Park. Before the first one in 2002, I was scared. I worried about my back, my digestion, the physical rigors of portaging and paddling, the heat, the cold, the mosquitoes, and living in community with 15 strangers.

In the end, I loved every minute of it. In facing those fears, I realized that faith is not about avoiding the things that cause us to worry. It is about trust in our bodies despite their fragility; trust in the earth despite its indifference to us puny humans; trust in community despite the brokenness and pain we all bring to relationships; and trust in the God who is the Ground of Being, Life, and love.

After the first day, my fears dissolved and a sense of calm came over me. With grace, I had sunk into a state of faith.

Time felt different, and the week seemed to last forever. But it was not an interminable stretch of worry. It was a string of timeless moments. The week reminded me of the summers of childhood in which each delicious day was its own eternity and the resumption of school in September seemed impossible.

When we worry about the future or focus on regrets about the past, time slows down in ways that can be painful. But when we trust life, time can disappear. In this state, time probably feels the same whether one is nine-years-old or ninety.

Jesus accuses his friends of a lack of faith. He is not suggesting that the things they fear aren’t real. On the contrary, Jesus know that when they get to Jerusalem, he will confront religious and imperial rulers and be killed by them.

Instead, Jesus is suggesting that fear is not the only way to respond to things we don’t like. Sometimes with grace, we can rise about our fears into union with the divine. In this timeless state, we know that we are healed despite everything. We know that we are free to live into our sacred values.

When we remember that ego is an illusion and that our unity with the rest of humanity and the cosmos is real, we may no longer have time to be afraid. Instead, to quote English poet William Blake, we might see heaven in a wild-flower and experience eternity in an hour.

Someone once said that worrying is like praying for things we don’t want. Jesus directs us to focus instead on the grace always available to us, which is a timeless life within the heart of God.


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“Life out of balance”

Texts: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (the Body of Christ); Luke: 4:14-21 (Jesus preaches in Nazareth)

Ever since stories about Jesus and the letters of Paul began circulating in the Roman Empire, the church has described itself as The Body of Christ.

Today, we heard one of the passages in which Paul develops this metaphor. He notes that some in the church are apostles; others prophets; and still others teachers and healers. But despite these differences, we form a gracious unity.

Paul compares this to a physical body. The hand is different than the eye, but both rely on each other. Paul is celebrating diversity while acknowledging unity. He invites us to strive for balance among our diverse parts, both as individuals and in an institution like a church.

In the 1960s, the United Church of Canada’s General Council felt a need to evolve its understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ. It mandated its Committee on Faith to come up with a modern creed to replace those from the time of Rome. So in 1968, it adopted A New Creed, which has been well-loved in the United Church ever since.

But the creed did not remain static. The first version began as follows: “Man is not alone. Man lives in God’s world.” Then as feminist ideas spread in Canada in the 1970s, a request was made to make the language gender-neutral. This led to a revision adopted by General Council in 1980. Since then, A New Creed has begun with the lines, “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.”

In 1994, another request was made for the creed to acknowledge human responsibility for the natural environment. This led to an addition to the section of the creed that begins “We are called to be the church.” Until 1994, this section read “We are called to be the church to celebrate God’s presence, / to love and serve others, / to seek justice and resist evil, / and to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, / our judge and our hope.”

A committee first suggested adding the phrase “to care for creation” to this section, but that was criticized for implying that humanity is not part of creation. So the phrase was modified to read “to live with respect in Creation.”

I wonder if the fact that the Right Rev. Stan McKay was Moderator at that time – the first Indigenous person to be elected to this role – played a role in the phrase’s final form — “to live with respect in Creation.”

The 1994 addition upholds the value of respect and it reminds us that humanity is, indeed, embedded in creation.

Unfortunately, humanity is a part of creation that threatens the whole. There are different ways to see this threat, but a simple way is to look at the growth in human population.

Eight thousand years ago when agriculture began to replace hunting and gathering, there were only a few million people scattered across the earth. By the time of the Roman Empire, that number had risen to 200 million. The half billion mark was reached by 1650; one billion by 1800; two billion by 1930, three by 1960, four by 1975, five by 1985, six by 2000, and seven billion by 2012. If current trends continue, the earth might see 10 billion people by 2050.

The growth in humanity’s numbers has caused imbalances in the natural world; and restoring balance is not easy given that the world’s economy is based upon ceaseless growth. These imbalances also make the task of finding balance in our families and communities more challenging, I believe.

We try to care for our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; but this task need not be narrowly focused. Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves, and this might remind us that we are inter-dependent. At a fundamental level, our neighbours are part of us, and so self-respect also involves caring for our neighbours.

The work of freeing the prisoner, bringing sight to the blind, and raising up the poor, which Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel reading, is not just good ethics. It is also part of self-care because an injury to one is an injury to all.

Seeking balance in our hearts and minds and in our families and communities is work that never ends. It makes up the daily yin and yang of life; it involves many spiritual practices; and it is the focus of many conversations at home and church.

As the Body of Christ, the church reminds us that we are not alone. We live in God’s world where all living things are our relations. We may struggle to find ways to bring balance between economic activity and the needs of the environment. But we can be confident that every attempt we make to gather in song and prayer, to celebrate our unity amid diversity, and to love our neighbours as ourselves is a faithful response to God’s joyous call that we live with respect in creation.

May it be so. Amen.

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Honest to God

Text: Mark 8:27-35 (“take up your cross”)

Truths that we find difficult to accept are also ones that can open us to healing and love. This is a message I take from our Gospel reading this morning.

Jesus tells his friends the honest truth. Even though they see him as heir to King David and as an incarnation of YHWH, Jesus says that he can’t stop the Roman Empire from executing him.

No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus; defeat is not what Peter had signed up for! But for this unwillingness to hear the truth, Jesus then calls Peter a Satan. The honest truth, Jesus says, is that even a new Messiah cannot overcome the Romans.

Jesus goes on to make things seem even worse when he urges his friends to take up their own cross. This implies that it is not only Jesus who will be arrested and executed. So will they! This might be an honest assessment, but it hardly seems like a welcome truth.

So, why does admitting powerlessness open us to healing and love?

This is a tough question, and part of me wishes that the order of the seven sacred teachings upon which this reflection and six others are based had been different. We started last week with humility, which is the virtue associated with our greatest vice, pride. Today, we focus on honesty, which is about admitting the truth about our humble status.

I don’t find these first two virtues easy either to live into or to preach on. Perhaps I will find the next ones – on Respect, Courage, Wisdom, Truth, and Love – easier.

Nevertheless, I will try to sketch an answer. Jesus’ admission of powerlessness creates an opening to healing because the worship of power is an illusion. Peter and the others want a tribal king like David and a tribal God like YHWH. But by by leading his friends to Jerusalem and worldly defeat, Jesus shows them another way.

The path to the Ground of Love — which is the only thing truly worthy of worship — can be painful. It involves the death of our illusions in false idols like kings.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t know and respect the traditions of our ancestors. In the gospel stories, Jesus clearly respects the Jewish roots of his family and friends.

Happily, Jesus also leads us beyond. His death symbolizes the death of illusions in kings and other false idols. His resurrection symbolizes the glory of a Love that is beyond tradition and beyond worldly success.

The honest truth is we don’t have the power to achieve all of our desires; and the Good News is that the deepest level we already have all that we need.

Climate Change is one of today’s realities that we struggle to accept. You might not be surprised to hear that I don’t have any practical wisdom as to how humanity can unite to confront this unspeakable disaster. All I can offer is an insight from Jesus that in accepting our powerlessness we enter a space freed from attachments, fears, and ego and in which we can dance in the light of love and grace.

Despite being powerless, Jesus fearlessly confronts religious and political leaders. He doesn’t “win.” But he shows that out of so-called defeat new life with the Risen Christ can arise. In the resurrected life, we remember that victory and defeat are empty human categories and that at the deepest level there is only Love.

Like Jesus and his friends in the face of Empire, we seem powerless in the face of Climate Change. But like them, we can accept the Grace to confront this intractable problem with fearless abandon because in Christ there is no success or failure, there is only Love.

On many days, we are like Peter and unable to accept an honest assessment of our situation. But when, in a moment of Grace, we respond to the call to take up our cross, we are freed from attachments to present social structures and empowered to love our neighbours in the light of reality. In such precious moments we glimpse our individual and social powerlessness and simultaneously rise to a new life that is connected to each another and to Source.

At such moments of humility and honesty, we accept that not only are we mere mortals struggling with radical social problems. We are also beloved children of God who carry the Risen Christ within us. We remember that we are already healed. God is Love, we are in God, and God is within us.

In such resurrected moments, we are free to speak truth to power and embrace the hope, peace and joy of this moment of Love, both now and always.

And for this honest truth, I say, “Thanks be to God. Amen.”

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Nobody special

Text: Luke 3:15-22 (the baptism of Jesus)

The church sometimes calls Jesus a powerful king. But if so, he is a remarkably humble one. He is born as a helpless infant. He never achieves political or military power. He is yet another peasant straining against imperial rule. And in the end, he is executed as a common criminal.

The humble status of Jesus is similar to our own. We bear the image of God and carry a divine spark within us. But even the richest and most powerful of us is born in utter dependence and dies in utter helplessness. Birth and death reveal our lack of power. We are born humble and we die humble.

But even though we share the same humble status as Jesus, his glory and power are said to be revealed at his resurrection. This is what is implied, for example, at the end of the reading from Philippians we heard this morning.

So when, exactly, is Jesus raised from the dead? Now, that might sound like a silly question to ask in church because isn’t the answer Easter Sunday? But then I remember that the earliest account of the life of Jesus, the one written by Mark, contains no Easter appearances of the Risen Christ.

Another answer might be that Jesus is raised from the dead when any of us rise to new life after a crisis or painful loss. We say that Christ lives inside the hearts of all who follow a path of death and resurrection.

Yet another answer might be that Jesus is raised from the dead at our baptisms. Paul writes in Romans, “Through baptism, we were buried with Christ into death in order that, as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life” (Romans 6:4). Paul implies that our baptism is a symbol that we are already living a resurrected life in Christ. Resurrection is not something that happens after the biological death of individuals. It is a blessed state of joy into which we can stumble at any moment and which the church marks by the sacrament of baptism.

Perhaps. But if baptism symbolizes resurrected life, what does this imply about the baptism of Jesus? Perhaps when John baptizes Jesus in the River Jordan it is the same for him. Just as it is for us, the baptism of Jesus could be a symbol of dying to an old way of life and of rising to a new life in the heart of God.

This is the answer that I like best. The resurrection of Jesus doesn’t happen at Easter. It happens when John baptizes him at the beginning of his ministry. This means that in the stories that follow his baptism, Jesus models a resurrected life – a life freed from fear and one bursting with Divine Joy.

It is also a humble life. Baptism initiates us into a community of broken mortals who rely on a higher power to lead us beyond selfish desires and petty fears to a life that is in alignment with cosmic Love, both now and always.

There is glory in this life, but it not about the exaltation of individuals. It is about the glory of all the forces we are dependent upon and from which we have arisen – things like the cosmos, history, and the entire web of humanity.

Baptism symbolizes that the Risen Christ lives within us; and today I imagine that this is as true for Jesus as it is for us.

A post-baptismal life is eternal and loving. It isn’t about solving life’s problems. It is about lifting us above problems and fears and revealing our deep connection to everything and everyone.

The stories of Jesus upend the normal pattern of stories about gods. Jesus is divine, but also a helpless infant. Jesus is divine, but is executed by the empire. Jesus is divine, but he doesn’t inaugurate God’s kingdom other than in our hearts.

Life is filled with humiliations. The gospel stories show us how, with Grace, we can turn these painful humiliations into the virtue of humility and its deep joy. When we embrace our humble nature as ignorant mortals and as a baptized and baptizing people, we leave behind the ordinary standards of success and merge with the Source of Love from which we have come. We rise from the baptismal waters of the Jordan River dripping with eternal life, right here and now.

And as we dry off to continue down the dusty roads of life and ministry, we might hear the Holy Spirit saying, “this is nobody special, just another of my beloved and joyful children in whom I am well pleased.”

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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“Go West, young man!”

Text: Matthew 2:1-16 (the birth of Jesus; and the flight of the Holy Family)

When I was 19, I hitchhiked out West in search of adventure. I had finished my first year of university in Ontario; and I planned to take a break from school to seek my fortune in the Canadian West.

Unfortunately, I only made it as far as Winnipeg. After staying two nights in the YMCA there, I let fear get in the way and I hitchhiked home.

My childhood had been constrained by fears whose origins, even to this day, remain obscure. My decision to hitch-hike out West was a sign that a year at university had increased my courage. But the fact that I only stayed on the journey for a week showed that my fears still held the upper hand. My ability to trust in myself, the world, and the Loving Source we call God was weaker than I had hoped.

I didn’t come out West again until 2009 when I was sent to Didsbury Alberta as a student supply minister, and once again I was scared. In particular, I was afraid I would not be able to provide a healing presence for grieving families. But in the event, I loved being the minister at Knox United in Didsbury, including the work of walking with grieving families and of presiding at funerals.

I had imagined that those 10 months in Didsbury would be the end of my time in the West. In June 2010, I drove back to Toronto for the last year of my Masters of Divinity degree. Then in winter 2011, I took another leap of faith and applied for settlement as an ordained United Church minister.

I had hoped to be settled in or near Toronto, but was sent instead to Borderlands in southern Saskatchewan, which is by far the most rural and isolated place I have ever lived. But while Borderlands was not the settlement for which I had hoped, I appreciated my two and half years there. I enjoyed the three churches, the people of Rockglen, Fife Lake, and Coronach, and the beauty of the area. My fears of isolation were overblown.

In the summer of 2013 when I had been in Borderlands for two years, I started to look for a first call. I had expected that I would return to Toronto. But Mill Woods in Edmonton was looking for a minister and I liked its profile. When I met with the Search Committee in September 2013, we clicked. So I moved even further West after Christmas 2013, and I have now finished my first five years here.

Today as we reflect on journeys of faith, we do so against the backdrop of a story about the Holy Family after the first Christmas. Joseph, Mary and Jesus flee west from Bethlehem to Egypt when Joseph has a dream in which an angel warns him that King Herod is plotting to murder the baby Jesus.

The warnings given to Joseph are about fears bigger than anything I have faced. Nevertheless, I identify with him. The Roman Catholic Church venerates Joseph as the patron saint of workers; but I think he could equally as well be called the patron saint of step-parents. Despite not being the biological father of Jesus, Joseph cares for him with complete devotion.

The role of minister strikes me as a cross between a step-parent and a foster parent. Ministers are called to an existing family of faith. Their role is to love the members of this family and to allow themselves to be loved by them. Then, when the call is over, the minister moves on to another family.

The idea of God’s call intrigues me. In today’s Gospel reading, Joseph and the Magi respond to calls they encounter in dreams and in a wandering star. My own experience has not been as clear cut.

I returned to church 17 years ago in the face of a disintegrating marriage. As I engaged with Kingston Road United Church in the east end of Toronto, I was surprised by the strength of the pull of the Spirit there. Of particular importance to me was Holy Week. When I was a child, I had missed the power of this story in which Jesus is arrested, tortured and executed by the same evil Empire that had tried to murder him as a child.

Coming to grips with Holy Week changed my life. Finally, here was a story that reminds us of how false gods die in the painful ups and downs of life, and how, out of the ashes, the God who is Love rises to new life in our hearts.

The stories of Jesus provided what I had lacked in previous journeys. They help move us from self-preoccupation to faith in a God as big as the universe and as powerful as Love. Seventeen years later, I continue to follow their pull wherever they lead.

On a Sunday in July 2007 in Toronto as I walked from Kingston Road United to my apartment southwest of it near the shore of Lake Ontario, I made a decision to pursue ordination. The “call” I experienced wasn’t a wandering star; nor a vision of an angel in a dream; nor God’s voice speaking to me as to a prophet. It was the simple pull of gravity as I walked down a steep hill on a sunny summer’s afternoon.

Sometime later, I read an interview with the atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett in which he was asked, “Surely, professor, you must believe in some sort of higher power that orders and creates the universe?” To which Dennett replied, “Of course I do. It’s called gravity!”

I don’t know if that quote invalidates my call to ministry. All I know is that responding to the call feels to me like surrender. It is an acceptance that our small selves are utterly dependent on vast forces, which the church names as the God who is Love.

When I decided to seek ordination, it was not clear to me that at the end of the process there would be congregations. But when congregations showed up — first in Didsbury, then Borderlands, and now in Mill Woods — I got it. Congregations are a crucible in which ministers can confront fear and to try to accept Grace.

Any family would do, I suppose. But since I didn’t raise children of my own, I am grateful for the role of foster parent that is given to ministers. As an inexperienced minister, I am aware of some of my sins of omission and commission; I am grateful for all that I have learned by worshipping and working at Mill Woods United these past five years; and I look forward to the years that lie ahead for us.

Joseph responds to God’s call amid the violence of Herod’s rule. He obeys without hesitation. Unfortunately, this does not mean that children are not murdered in Bethlehem. Nor does his success in keeping Jesus alive as an infant save Jesus from arrest and execution as an adult.

Some ministers say they dread preaching on dark biblical stories like the one we heard today, and I can understand that perspective. But the horror of today’s story strikes me as realistic.

Like the journey of Joseph, Mary and Jesus to Egypt, our journeys of faith are not without warnings, danger, or pain. The point is not to avoid pain, but, with the help of Grace, to confront and then shed our fears.

When we respond to the pull of the Spirit, we don’t know where it will take us. Nor does it mean an end to heartbreak or to the evils of a violent society.

But responding to the call reminds us that no matter the immediate outcome, in the end, everyone returns to the Love from which we have come.

In 2014 I was called westward, as had happened when I was 19, when I was sent to Didsbury in 2009, and when I was settled in Borderlands in 2011; and I am grateful for these journeys of faith.

The call can take different forms — a star; a dream; or just the pull of gravity as you walk down a hill. Whatever form the call takes, I pray that we will keep a look out for guiding stars, visionary dreams, and the pull of higher powers. May they become for us stars of wonder, stars of night, stars with royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, may they guide us with a perfect light.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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After Christmas Eve

Text: Luke 2:21-40 (Jesus presented in the Temple)

At the Christmas Eve services on Monday, I appreciated remembering the eight Christmas’s before this one at which I have been a minister. I hope that like me, you enjoyed our gatherings on Monday and left them with feelings of hope and joy.

Another side of the church’s stress on Christmas Eve is the relief that ministers feel when these candlelight gatherings have passed.

This morning before I open the floor for sharing, I have a few words about what has come after the Christmas Eve services at which I presided.

The first one was nine years ago in Didsbury here in Alberta. In 2009, I was a student supply minister at Knox United in Didsbury. As I quickly learned, an important variable for ministers is the day upon which Christmas Eve falls. In 2009, it was on a Thursday. This meant that I spent a quiet Christmas Friday in Olds where I was renting a room from a college teacher and returned to Knox on Sunday morning December 27 to lead a First Sunday After Christmas service.

After that service, I drove to Edmonton to stay in my sister’s condo and to enjoy a few days getting to know the city better. On January 1, I returned to Olds to prepare for a January 3 Sunday service.

My next Christmas Eve as a paid minister was two years later in 2011 in my Settlement charge in southern Saskatchewan. I had worked for six months without a break after arriving at Coronach in July. So, following Christmas Eve, I took a month’s vacation in Toronto and the Caribbean; and it was on this break that I first used the bus to travel to Regina. The bus was a milk-run, which meant that a one-way trip took four hours. I was struck by the fact that during my first hour on the bus, I was the only passenger, and when I returned from Toronto to Regina near the end of January, I was once again the only passenger on the bus on its last hour to Coronach. This was another indicator of the isolation of the Borderlands pastoral charge.

In 2012, I took one week off after Christmas. This was the last time that I took advantage of a clause in my contract in Borderlands that allowed me take the fifth Sunday off in those three or four months per year in which there were five. I appreciated the concept, but it was awkward to arrange to be away for these three or four extra Sundays each year. Happily, this was not the case following a Sunday with three services and a Monday evening with three Christmas Eve services. A friend from Toronto came to visit me that week, and we enjoyed New Year’s Eve in Regina.

The 2013 Christmas Eve services, which fell on a Tuesday, were the final worship services I led in Borderlands, except for a release from covenant service in Rockglen the following Sunday on December 29. After that early afternoon service, I drove the two hours north to Moose Jaw. The next day, Monday December 30, I continued on to Edmonton to begin my life here.

My first Christmas Eve service at Mill Woods was in 2014. Following it, I took my last week of vacation for the year. This became a big experience as I spent time researching Pentecostalism and then worshipped on Sunday December 28 at the big-box Pentecostal church at 23rd Ave and 66 Street, the one now called “Hope City Church.” This lead to a sermon that I consider to be one of my most important.

The Christmas Eve service in 2015 was on a Thursday, and once again I took a final week of vacation after it. By this time, Kim and I were together, and we appreciated learning each other’s holiday traditions during our first Christmas together.

Christmas Eve 2016 was on a Saturday, and so the next morning, I gathered with a small group to reflect on the same Gospel reading from Luke we just heard. With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day both on a Sunday that year, we had small but meaningful gatherings on both days.

Last year, Christmas Eve was on a Sunday so we did something different. We held a “Christmas Eve Day” service at 10:30 in the morning, and a 7 pm candlelight service. Last year was difficult for me because I had spent six nights, from Sunday December 17 until Saturday December 23, in Toronto to be with my mother. She died on December 28. So, last year the aftermath of Christmas Eve was grief-stricken. Many people have sad memories at Christmas, and this has become one of mine.

After last Monday’s Christmas Eve services, I was tired. So I spent Christmas Day resting while Kim prepared a family Christmas Day meal. This was the second year in which members of both our families gathered at our place on Christmas Day, and I loved it. The rest of the week included a wedding rehearsal, a visit to a church member who is in the hospital, and some other small bits of work. After Christmas Eve, life goes on, including the challenging and gracious work of ministry.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard a story of Jesus being named on the eighth day after his birth. This short reading contains a whole world of meanings, and I have enjoyed preaching on it in the past. It is also radically different from Matthew’s post-Christmas story, which we will hear next Sunday on Epiphany.

So, this year, instead of reflecting upon Luke’s text, I now open the floor. Do you have something you would like to share about Christmas Eve this year or a story from this past week. What follows Christmas Eve for you – this year, or any year? If want to share, just raise your hand and I’ll bring you the microphone.

. . . Thank you so much for that.

And now, to finish this time of Reflection, I have one more offering. Last week, I came across a video on the website of the New York Times about Christmas 50 years ago. In 1968, the first humans to fly to the moon beamed a TV broadcast back to earth on Christmas Eve. Their broadcast, and the pictures with which they returned, had a major impact on humanity’s awareness of the place of the earth in the cosmos and of the importance of environmental protection.

So, here now is that three-minute video . . .

I hope this reminder of a significant event will broaden our imaginations of what comes after Christmas Eve. For NASA, what followed Apollo 8 in December 1968 was two more manned spaceflights to the moon in the spring of 1969 followed by a third one in July in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. This is an anniversary that many will mark next summer.

Apollo 8 also precipitated a new consciousness of the beauty, unity, and fragility of the earth and an obligation to give thanks for its blessings and to work to preserve it.

With this in mind, I now close with a prayer. May we end 2018 and start 2019 with thanksgiving for this good earth, love for its beauty and uniqueness, and intentions to work to cherish and preserve it both now and always.



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