June 28, 2022


I love watching movies! But there was one movie that I hadn’t gotten around to watching even though the dvd was sitting on my coffee table for months.  It was Call of the Wild, by Jack London and starring Harrison Ford.

I remember it being one of the first grown up books I read as a kid.  Call of the Wild is not always pleasant.  But the struggle to get dogs to pull a sleigh together is a vivid image. They go from a pack of snarling, growling individuals that snap and bite to a team that pulls together and gets everything from mail to food delivered across long stretches of cold northern territory.

The scriptures today remind me of the courage and hard work that goes into forming a dogsled team.  Jesus knew where he wanted to go, and nothing was going to steer him away from his purpose.  People who tried to get him to change course were left behind.  His fellow travelers, the team he had put together, were told in no uncertain terms that there was only one destination, and if they didn’t want to go in that same direction, they were not in the team.  The priority was on the destination, nothing else.  The destination was bigger than family connections, cultural traditions, or expectations of rewards.  The goal had to be at the centre of every decision along the way.  Even revenge on those who insulted him would not get to his goal. “Shall we rain down fire from heaven and destroy them like the prophets of old did to their enemies?"  Nope, Jesus had no patience for treating people like that, no time for violence.  He wanted his disciples to love their enemies.

He wanted team players who would pull their weight and let go of the need to be right, or the need for power or control.  To practice forgiveness of the wrongs others did and keep focused on helping people hear the good news of God’s redeeming love.

He wanted to pull people from their individual agendas into a team that could smoothly go the distance and be in it for the long haul.  Just like a dogsled team working together to travel the vast distances in the north.

Paul was focused on that too.  In his letter to the Galatians, he reminded them of the end goal they were working towards, and what stood in the way of them reaching it.  A goal of love, where everyone would know true freedom to live without anxiety, guilt, shame, resentment, depression, anger and fear. Paul’s phrase ‘Living by the flesh’ is better translated as ‘living by impulsive selfishness”, and the list of attitudes and behaviors that destroy teamwork as well as mental health is long.  Some seem odd to us today.  I’m not sure the last time I was tempted to indulge in some sorcery, for example, if I substitute superstition instead of sorcery, it has more meaning for me.  The rest, hostility, arguments, jealousy and the like certainly do tear us into pieces and keeps us all from moving forward.  Snapping at one another like dogs fighting over the lead spot in the dog team means that we are at a standstill.  The sled won’t budge and we won’t get one inch closer to Jerusalem!  But when we deal in healthy ways with conflict or selfish agendas, and substitute love and gentleness and the other fruit of the spirit, we can really get flying as a team.

How do we know we are using healthy ways?  When we have love, joy, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, the fruits of the spirit.  When we open ourselves to Christ’s vision, when we set our faces to Jerusalem, when we remember why we do what we do, the fruit reminds us and guides us to rise above our impulses, selfishness and self-destructive behaviors.  The fruit helps us to work together as a team and to stay focused on where we want to go.

Where are we headed?  On the road to freedom, and not just freedom for you and me, but freedom for all.  Can you imagine what it would be like to feel even a little freer from all the stress and challenge of your life?  5% less anxious about money or 5% less jealous of your partner’s friendships or coworker’s successes or neighbor’s car or family member’s vacation home or friend’s travel plans?  5% calmer, 5% more comfortable with prayer, 5% more courageous in talking about your faith? 5% more understanding of what triggers your emotions?  Now some of you who are new to our church might be thinking these are ridiculous claims, and maybe some of you who have been coming for a long time might feel the same.  But I bet if you think back to what brought you here, you might recognize a yearning to have that freedom.  And for those of us who have been here a while, if we look back to who we were a month ago, a year ago or even ten years ago, we might just be able to see that yes, we are that 5% better than we were.  I know that this congregation has helped me develop more resiliency when it came to dealing with all the craziness that Covid put us through.  I am definitely more prayerful than I was, and more focused on making our community a healthier place for all, a little closer to being the new Jerusalem that Jesus, Paul, Luke, John and more worked together to build.

The Call of the Wild was in the end a call to freedom.  We have a call to freedom too, just like Buck the sled dog.  The United Church of Canada says that we are called to be a bold, connected, evolving church of diverse, courageous, hope filled communities, united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship and daring justice. Here we say we are called to Worship, Inspire, Engage, and Empower. Together, with the Spirit, let us work as a team to journey to new ways of living with each other and the world in love and freedom.

June 21, 2022

Over, Under

 When I was a kid, the ultimate test of friendship was the teeter totter on the playground.  Unlike a swing that one person could power all by themselves, a teetertotter needed cooperation to make it work.  If you picked the right partner.

Too big and you would end up suspended up in the air, looking a little silly, and not able to pull your weight in the game of up and down.  Too small and you would end up on the ground and the other person would be the one looking silly. Then there were the extra long teetertotters that could accommodate more than one rider.  We didn’t know we were learning physics or even math in trying to end up with balanced sides.  And wasn’t it wonderful to have a kind teen or adult that would be at one end who could bring us up and down single-handedly?  Teamwork, co-operation, equality and trust were all required.  I remember feeling sad when I got to be too big for my dad to single-handedly lift me on the teetertotter, but by then he was introducing me to the mysteries of catching a ball in a big leather glove.

Teetertotters are often how we view our relationships with others.  Are we on top?  Are we higher than everyone else?  Who has got the power? Anti-bullying educators talk a lot about power and how there are a lot of people striving to have power over other people.  And there are a lot of people who are in situations where they feel like they have no power and feel bullied and depressed.  We know of children who die by suicide because the only power they feel they have left is the power to take their own lives.  Anorexia can be an attempt to find power and talking to addicts and alcoholics I hear the same kind of language, “no one is going to tell me what to do!”  There was a story this week of a Calgary Heart Surgeon who is retiring and has filed a complaint against Alberta Health Services. Why the complaint and why only once retirement is happening? Well, she is the only female heart surgeon in Alberta, and has faced microaggressions, gender bias and outright discrimination throughout her career simply because of her sexuality.  No wonder other female doctors are avoiding becoming heart surgeons!

It's easy to blame toxic masculinity for the competition over power that some say has been with us since the overthrow of mother goddess worship in ancient Europe.  Jean M. Auel, author of the Clan of the Cave Bear series, hypothesized that once men realized that they had something to do with the babies being born by women of the tribes, they became possessive and controlling over who had access to the women.  But I think it’s even more universal than that.  Women can be just as invested in the battle for power, and the worst bullies I had as a child were the girls who made some pretty cruel comments, or even worse, jumped off the bottom of the teetertotter when I was up high in the air.  I came crashing down, bruising my ego and my trust as well as my tailbone.

Toxic lust for power can be seen everywhere we look.  It’s at the heart of the invasion of Ukraine and the January 6 insurrection at the White House, and the Ottawa Convoy where protestors made noise and garbage for over three weeks.  It’s at the heart of the current run for party leadership of the United Conservatives in Alberta.  It’s at the heart of family violence, abusive relationships, racism and homophobia.  It is even at the heart of how we talk about the homeless in our community in Athabasca.

We want power over because we want to feel safe, to feel in control, to feel competent or important.  And we have historically done whatever we could to feel that power.  We put people like my great-grandmother in Bedlam under horrific conditions or locked them in chains in a graveyard to deal with their chaotic mental illness.  Is there a better, more humane way in which to address this toxic culture we live in?

Some folks have traditionally thought all that was needed would be to give power to the powerless, to give guns to victims or karate lessons to scrawny children.  Give a radioactive spider bite to a weak teenager, or a magic wand to a boy forced to live in a closet under the stairs.  From Spiderman to Karate Kid, the theory has been to give power to victims and that will fix society.  However, studies of bullying in classrooms show that when a bully and a victim are separated without any other interventions, the bully quickly finds another victim, but surprisingly the victim will often find another kid to become a bully!  Or the victim becomes a bully themselves, taking a turn on the teetertotter.

Jesus sidestepped the power over-power under teetertotter completely and frequently.  It’s seen very clearly in his approach to the Gerasene. He didn’t respond by bullying, putting more chains on the man, or responding like a victim, reacting with fear.  He connected with engagement and respect.  With questions to learn more.  And with authority and confidence.  But not with intimidating, controlling, blaming or shaming.  And he rid the man of the power that was bullying him, driving him to drastic behaviors. 

When people say that the world does not change, they are wrong.  I drove around Athabasca looking for a teetertotter in a playground and couldn’t find a single one at WHIPS, LTIS or the riverfront.  The world changes.  We can change too.  We may not send demons out of people as dramatically as Jesus did.  But we can face our own inner demons, the urges that demand we grab power over, or even the fears of being dominated by others power, and claim our identity as children of God who called to be freed from the tyranny of our own bullying and victim urges.  We can become sensitive to power dynamics at the root of sexism, toxic masculinity, racism and homophobia.  We can be healed and healer, committed to balancing the teetertotter of power with everyone we meet.  We do this with God’s grace and love; knowing that healing is real, change is possible and new life in Christ will make the world a better place for all!

May 31, 2022

That all may be one?

St. Lydia’s Baptistry, Kavala Greece

This week I got into a, shall we say, ‘intense’ discussion on Facebook.  Someone posted about how ‘those parasitical churches ought to pay taxes just like everyone else in the world,’ and I mentioned that churches have a large economic benefit for the community.  Of course, someone challenged that, and I dug for some research and statistics to back up that statement.  Which I found, by the way.

There were a lot of comments that started like “The church is” and described all the evils they had heard of.  Comments like “The Church destroyed indigenous people and their culture”.  That is true on the face of it, but Lutherans, Mennonites, Orthodox (Ukrainian and Russian), Baptists and other groups had nothing to do with residential schools. Should they be blamed for what the Anglicans, Catholics, Uniteds and Presbyterians did?  And other comments developed, I’m sure you can predict them, “All Christians are anti-abortionist,” or “science hates religion” despite the United Church having Nobel prize winning physicists in their congregations. Or my personal favorite “No progressive Christians spoke out against ‘fascist white brethren’s rants” to which I replied, “where were you when I was preaching ad nauseum against a certain red-haired president who didn’t even rule my country?”

And of course, we have the nauseating example this week of a young woman calling out her pastor for having sexually abused her when she was underage, the pastor tearfully confessing and the congregation rushing to forgive him and forgetting her.  And many folks in the states are saying that they are tired of prayers when it comes to school gun violence and racially motivated shootings.  “When do we do something?” they rightly ask.

Churches get blamed for witch hunts, crusades and patriarchy.  Case closed, churches are bad and the sooner we get rid of them, the better.  History proves it.

Or at least one very narrow way of looking at history. It ignores the history of ordinary people of faith whose daily living is shaped and sustained by their commitment to God. Ordinary people like Lydia who are transformed by a casual encounter by the river one day.

Do you remember Lydia?  Not the tattooed lady of Groucho Marx’s affections, but quiet Lydia in the town of Philippi? Not many people do.  There were no crusades in her name, and no cities named after her, no priests that ran inquisitions on her behalf.  But she points to a different kind of Christian history worthy of being followed.

She was a person of status, an independent businesswoman that was in the unusual position of being the leader of a household.  She was a seeker of meaning to life in general, and was looking for a God worth believing in.  She had gravitated to meeting on the Jewish Sabbath with other women, and the mere fact that they met outside the city meant that there were not enough Jewish men in the town to have a synagogue of their own.  It also meant that they were not comfortable discussing faith inside the city walls.  She was used to leading a household and dealing in valuable commodities like the rare dye to make royal purple, and she was a leader in a time and a culture that did not permit women to own things, and treated women as things to be owned.

Enter Paul.  He thought he was looking for a man from Macedonia.  He thought he was looking for a synagogue.  He thought he was looking for his fellow countrymen who were steeped in scripture and who already knew God through the covenantal love shown Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Leah and Rebecca, Moses and Miriam and Aaron, David, Ruth and Esther.  Instead, he found a seeker who was a gentile and a woman.  She also was the first European to be converted to the new message of love and hope. 

What a hope it was!  From being a seeker in the wilderness, she became a baptized member of a community.  From discussions outside the city, she became a hostess demonstrating unheard of generosity.  From being an entrepreneur, she became a leader of the church of Philippi.  From being an ordinary, non-descript woman, she became a saint!

Paul loved these people and took inspiration from them to continue his mission.  In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “As God is my witness, how I long for you with the compassion of Jesus.”  He also thanked them for their generosity, seen in Lydia’s offer of accommodation. Their generosity continued as he also wrote, “You Philippians know that in the early days of sharing the Good News, when I left Macedonia, no churched shared with me… except you alone.  Even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once… I have been paid in full and have more than enough.”

The city of Philippi is now a world heritage site after earthquakes and wars.  There is a lovely little church for baptisms nearby that is named after Lydia, the first person in Europe to be baptized into the Christian Faith.  At times like these where so many awful things are happening around the world and close to home, let us remember humble Lydia’s story.  Her love and hospitality laid the groundwork for a faith that would develop hospitals for the sick, hospices for the dying, schools for children whose parents could not afford private tutors, and compassion for those who were seen as unimportant.  Her faith survived plagues and wars, famines and natural disasters.  Her faith spoke to her neighbors, encouraging them and inspiring them, and transformed her whole household into a family of love.

When we remember the root principles of Christianity, love, hospitality, compassion and service, we strike a chord in the people we talk to.  The people on Facebook are shocked to hear that we care about the well-being of our community, and that we are compassionate to the powerless and the abandoned.  When we are united in love, we can make a difference that withstands the challenges of history and the tragedies that life can throw at us.  In life, in history, in life beyond history, we are not alone.  Thanks be to God!

May 24, 2022

The Great Debater

Last week we heard about a nasty individual named Saul who had a surprising turn around in his life.  He went from being a hate-filled, angry persecutor of the followers of Jesus to a preacher that travelled all around the ancient world sharing the good news of Easter.  Same passion, same energy, but different focus. 

Paul the passionate, Paul the positive, Paul the opportunist, and Paul the powerful debater.  Paul, who travelled to Greece and Turkey to preach.  What was the secret to his success?  Is there anything we can learn from him?

Like all of us, Paul was not perfect, and some of his writings show this.  He could scold the Galatians and Corinthians one moment and praise them the next.  His writings disrespect women’s roles in the new church in the Timothy letters (probably not authentic Paul), and yet his letter to the Romans ends with a list of strong women preachers and leaders, even naming women as apostles and ordering  the church to treat them with the same respect as himself.  Paul was a complex man but at the heart of his message was a strong conviction that hope and change and renewal was possible.  Transformation could and did happen, and it did so for the better.

In this story, Paul carefully observed Athens.  He looked at how the city decorated itself, what the buildings and streets were like.  He saw statues of Zeus, Hera, Apollo, and of course the bright-eyed goddess of wisdom herself, Athena.  And being named after the goddess of wisdom, Athenians prided themselves in their culture and philosophy.  Acts describes them as being full of Stoics and Epicureans.  Stoics focused on being resilient through the study of ethics and the practice of virtual living, including self-denial.  Epicureans, on the other hand, believed that pleasure was the most important part of life, so let’s eat, drink and be merry. These were sophisticated debaters and thinkers, and yet they were still hungry for new ideas.  There were other peoples as well, of different nationalities and different faith traditions, all ready to debate and discuss.  Paul was an exciting new thinker who was talking about things they didn’t understand.  So, they brought him to the big debate corner, the ultimate soapbox location, where people came to talk about the latest trend.

It would be like getting on the Oprah Show to talk about what Athabasca United is doing here.  Smack dab in the middle of the public eye, Paul had hit the big time.  He cleverly and very bravely started where they were at, talking about the statues they had to the Unknown God.  It was a way of showing that he was seeing what they thought was important. And hearing their search for answers to the questions that their philosophies were not answering.  He wanted them to know he listened to them, saw what they cared about and respected their values and beliefs.  He even quoted one of their philosophers, when he said ‘In God we live and move and have our being’.

It was all about making a connection with his listeners.

Then he talked about his understanding of what they were looking for.  They were uncertain about the Unknown Deity, what God was, who God was, what was God like, what did God hold as important.  Unlike many people whom he had preached to in the past, at synagogues and gatherings of Jewish people, the Greeks were unfamiliar with the Torah, the scriptures Paul loved to quote.   Instead, he painted a picture of God that was very different than what they were used to seeing, not an Athena who played favorites or a Zeus who was a skirt chaser or a Hera that was a jealous wife or an Apollo who was both healer and destroyer.  Not one of many gods, a god who specialized as these other gods did, over some aspect of human existence, but the only God. A simple idea that would have seemed very intriguing to people!  Simple, straightforward, and grounded in a God who didn’t need bribes and fancy rituals, ornate sculptures, frequent parades and complex recipes of offerings to connect with humans. 


But then he lost his audience.  He talked about Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.  Just as today, it’s not logical or rational, it offends the natural order, it is a leap of faith that confronts and challenges cynicism, apathy and depression.  It is not just a call for us to ponder how we live life, it assumes that there will be a time of justice and a time of accountability for the lives we live.  Something the stoics would struggle with, because they thought that the life of virtue would be its own reward, and the same for the epicureans. And it’s not just about how we live our lives but how our lives impact others.

So, Paul thought he had failed.  And indeed, the message of a God of love was resisted by Athens for a long time.  But Paul had planted seeds of faith in his debate with the Athenians.  Two of the listeners, Dionysius and Damaris, founded a tiny congregation with a few others.  400 years later Dionysius was recognized by historians as being the first bishop of Athens as well as its patron saint.  And while Christianity was strongly resisted in Athens for 300 years, now it has many churches, Greek Orthodox and Baptist and everything in between.

Today we can also reach people by sharing the good news with Paul’s simple formula.  First, and most importantly, observe.  Then connect.  Simply share your story, and last trust that the seeds planted here can keep growing in the days ahead.  If this was done in love when Europeans first came to Turtle Island, imagine how much different our history would have been.  Observe lovingly, connect lovingly, share lovingly and trust lovingly.  That is the way to share our story to those who feel overwhelmed by the many gods pulling for their attention, the many spiritual trends that leave people feeling empty and hopeless, and the many people searching for meaning and healing in our challenging world.  May we have the courage of Paul to speak in love to those we meet who hope of a better world and a better life.

 Thanks to Cam Dierker for sharing her photos of Greece!

May 10, 2022

The Big Thaw

 Just a week ago I walked down to the river. for me it’s a short trip, but it was amazing to see that there was still a lot of ice.  It was just starting to show water in places here and there.  And now a week later, it’s all thawed with nary a speck of ice or snow.

And we can see how fast it runs now that the ice is gone.  It is moving swift and silently once again.  The geese are nesting, the fish are biting, the flies are hatching, the bulbs are sprouting, and the grass is greening.  The season is changing before our eyes and another winter is behind us.

When we still had snow and ice, it seemed like nothing would change and spring would never come. Saul was frozen into such an attitude.  He had built an ice jam of cold fury towards people he saw as a threat.  He would not be moved from that position that these new-fangled ideas were an abominable twisting of the Torah. The more he heard them, the more he listened to them, the more of a threat they seemed, and the more icy he became to their ideas.

He became so obsessed with the followers of ‘The Way” that he asked for special authority to deal with them.  He wanted that ‘double 0’ designation that gave him licence to arrest and kill.  And he was willing to walk all the way to Damascus in Syria!  That’s 275 km away.  At the average speed of most humans, Saul was willing to go on a two week journey to round up and arrest malcontents so they could be punished.

All he could see was the threat.  All he could think of was preserving the status quo.  All he wanted to do was hurt.  He was frozen in his attitude towards people he hadn’t even met in person, condemning them without a fair trial.  Even helping with their execution.  He was the one who held the coats of others while they executed Stephen, he was the one described as ‘ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both women and men to put them in jail’.

But he wasn’t the only one frozen into a particular opinion and attitude.  The real hero in this story, I think, is Ananias. He also was stuck in the attitude that Saul was a threat to his family, friends and his new faith.  He didn’t want to deal with this dangerous man.  He only saw the danger and not the opportunity that lay before him.  No way he wanted to go and be nice to Saul!

But Ananias was a follower of the Way and knew that Jesus taught them to pray for their enemies.  He knew that the resurrection had turned all their assumptions about the way the world worked upside down. He knew that he might not be the greatest at preaching the gospel to cynical people, but he was the ‘johnny on the spot’, the one God could connect with and send.  He was the one who healed Saul’s deep, frozen soul.  He was the one that started the river flowing, and what a river it was!

Saul who was so frozen in his ways and his attitudes and his hate, broke down in front of humble Ananias.  He realized his stubbornness and anger had been not only so unhealthy it impacted him physically, it also pushed him into behaving in ways counter to the faith he honored.  His extremist mindset pulled him into what today’s psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’.  Instead of honoring God and studying the Torah, he was persecuting people he didn’t know, breaking the Torah’s command to love God and love neighbor.

Who do we connect with?  Are we a Saul, stubbornly frozen in sure we know what is right and best for our neighbors, and willing to do whatever it takes to prove that we are right, and certain they deserve punishment?  Are we an Ananias, wondering how on earth we can talk to someone as angry and hurting as Saul?  Are we Saul’s companions, helping guide him to the support he needs?  Are we the followers of the Way, wondering what we can do to keep ourselves safe during the threat Saul is bringing?

If we are honest with ourselves, there are times when we are frozen in resistance to God’s message of compassion.  There are times when we are called to help someone in pain, and we feel like we don’t know where to start.  There are times when we can speak a word of comfort, not realizing how thawing simple words can be.  Ananias was not one of the twelve, and we don’t have letters in the bible from him to the other teachers.  This is the only sermon he preached.  This is the only story we have of him.  A simple man, following a simple message, speaking in faith and hope and courage to someone he never dreamed he could influence.

On this Christian Family Sunday, when we honor the many people in our lives who have been sources of love and healing, may we find the courage to speak out to the Sauls in our families who are frozen in cognitive dissonance and hurting enough to recognize their need to change.  May we find the honesty to face our own stubborn blindness and know it persecutes not just family and friends, but even and especially our Holy God.  May we help guide those who are in pain to safe places where they can thaw and find healing.  And may we find God’s healing presence taking the scales from our eyes and bringing us back our sight and energy to flow like a mighty river in God’s plan to end conflict and hate for all.  May we continue the story of ‘The Way’, one step at a time, one story at a time, one thawing river at a time. Amen.

April 27, 2022

The Growth of Faith

I was in my kitchen the other day and looked out at my back yard.  For some reason, the deer this winter particularly enjoyed that space, and now that the snow has melted, there’s a lot of proof that they found nourishment between our compost pile and the dry grass of our lawn.  Lots of proof. Enough proof that I need to get out a rake and work away for a while tidying up after them.  I wish I had the passion for yard work and gardening that some of my neighbors do, or the members of the Garden Club do.  Where do they get their passion from? Their knowledge?  Their commitment?  Their energy? And quite frankly, that stretch of lawn feels overwhelming. Did I say there’s a lot of proof?  Our lawn looks like the Easter Bunny scattered a lot of unwrapped chocolate eggs or maybe glossette raisins very liberally EVERYWHERE!

I hear that a lot of people are also feeling overwhelmed these days.  Service clubs are looking for people to join, community organizations like PRAAC are short of volunteers, weekly gatherings of different groups are bemoaning low attendance, and the Senior’s Centre attendance has been up and down like a yoyo for their different events.  It doesn’t help to hear that hospitalizations are rising, people are still succumbing to Covid and the war in Ukraine keeps becoming more and more deadly.

We live in a complex time and that isn’t going to change any time soon.  Some folks have experienced trauma as a result. They are grumpy and tired and easily triggered emotionally.  In fact, it’s surprising when given everything we’ve faced as a human race in the last two years, that we are not more emotionally triggered than we are.  Trauma is challenging to deal with and the emotional stress can be more difficult to deal with than the disease.  Isolation, loss of community, and loss of purpose have all taken their toil.

That’s where I find Thomas so relatable.  He too felt overwhelmed by the events that had overtaken him.  Losing his beloved rabbi in such violent circumstances, no matter how much Jesus had warned him ahead of time, must have been intense.  Just like us, he grieved.  When I hear this scripture in 2022, I don’t hear the voice of a sceptic, I hear the voice of a grief-stricken man in a state of shock. And to be quite honest, a stubborn man who doesn’t want to grab the hope that his friends have handed to him.  

Just as I envy the Garden club members and my neighbors for their commitment to blooming and growing the community environment, Thomas was envious of the other disciples, their energy and renewed excitement in the mission that Jesus gave them.  Maybe he was feeling sorry for himself that he hadn’t experienced what they had.  Maybe he was angry that they were moving out of grief too soon, in what must have seemed ridiculous and disrespectful.

Faith, when we come right down to it, can’t be handed to us.  It can be shared with us.  It can be talked about and pointed to, but it’s something that we work through in our own ways.  And like a garden, it needs constant fertilization.  And maybe doubt is our sign that we need to add some more fertilizer to our faith garden, maybe it’s the sign that we are being called to wrestle with our understandings of God and spirituality and our place in the world.  

Growing our faith, like cleaning up our yards after the snow melts, can be different every year.  Some years, it’s a lot, some years there’s not much to do.  Sometimes the doubt is strong and needs a lot of intentional weeding and fertilizing, sometimes it is not so strong, and less challenging.  Either way, it’s an invitation to grow our faith to sustain us through the challenging times, the winters of our souls until we feel new growth arising.

One of the things that helps with growing my faith every year is being part of a wider community of thoughtful souls wrestling with the same questions as Thomas.  Whether it is here locally or with national leaders and thinkers, there are a lot of wise people gathering to ask questions and listen for answers that bubble up when our doubts arise.  Notice in our reading of Acts today that Peter didn’t address the court by himself but as part of a group of witnesses, the disciples who together saw and experienced the First Easter.  Maybe that was why Thomas was first left out.  He was not with them.  He was separated from their companionship.  It wasn’t until he gathered with them again in a safe space that he had an encounter with the Easter Jesus.  And it was when they were together that they had the courage and wisdom to speak their faith to their scoffers and detractors. 

Part of our group of witnesses and community is not just this congregation, but the many United Churches across Canada, as well as other Christian denominations.  One witness statement was first developed in 1968.  It was refined to eliminate sexist language way back in 1980.  It was added to in 1994 to reflect the growing concerns with the Earth.  And it has been shared beyond Canada.  It is in the United Methodist Hymnbook in the United States, interestingly enough.  And it is not a rule book, a list of “Thou shalt believe this and not that”, but more like a compass that points to the North when we’re not quite sure which direction to go.  It guides us and inspires us.  You could even say it fertilizes us to help us grow in our faith.  Whatever metaphor we use, it can remind us that together, we have a strong mission, ministry and hope.  To make a difference in the world, working with God in partnership and in trust to celebrate that we are not alone.  The creed is a witness to us, and becomes our witness to those outside these walls. It can inspire and energize us and give us hope.  Just as Thomas found Jesus when he least expected him, we can find courage in these words that grow our faith.

April 23, 2022

From the Dragon's Den - Doubting Thomas

2nd Sunday of Easter

John 20:19–31

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Name: Good morning, everyone. Happy Easter! I wonder if Robbie can help us with the gospel this morning? Lets call them. 1, 2, 3…Robbie!

Robbie: <Name>, can we tell a story together?

Name: That’s perfect for our Theme Conversation, Robbie. Do you want to start?

Robbie: All right. This is a story about a man named Thomas: “Don’t ask so many questions, Thomas.” Thats what Thomas’ teachers said in school.

Name: Teachers, eh? I bet Thomas’ parents said that at home as well.

Robbie: Thats what Thomas’ friends said too!

Name: But Thomas couldn’t help it. When the teacher told them things in school, Thomas often asked, “How do you know?”

Robbie: Sometimes that frustrated the teacher. “I know just because I know. Its true because I say so,” said the teacher.

Name: Thomas sounds like a dragon I know… But Thomas couldn’t stop asking questions. When Thomas grew older, he became one of Jesus’ special friends. He became a disciple. Thomas liked Jesus, because Jesus never told him to stop asking questions.

One day Jesus was trying to explain what was going to happen. “I am going away,” said Jesus. “I am going to get a place ready for you. Gods house has room for you and for everyone else. You know the way to Gods house.”

Robbie: “No, we don’t,” said Thomas. “What is the way?”

Name: “Thats a good question, Thomas,” said Jesus. “I am the way. If you really love me and love each other, then you know the way.”

Robbie: I still don’t understand all of it.

Name: Is that you, Robbie or Thomas speaking?

Robbie: Uh… Both, actually!

Name: “Thats okay,” said Jesus. “Just keep asking questions.”

Name: Not long after that, Jesus died. He was killed by people who didn’t like the way he said that God loved everyone. Thomas was very sad when Jesus was killed, so when some of the other disciples said Jesus was alive again Thomas really wanted to believe them.

Robbie: But he just couldn’t. His mind kept asking questions: “How can somebody be dead and then be alive again?” <Name>, I’m with Thomas. I is pretty hard to believe!

Thomas asked, “How can you be sure it was Jesus? How do you know it wasn’t somebody else?”

Name: “But we saw him with our own eyes,” said the disciples.

Robbie: “Maybe,” said Thomas. “But I have to see for myself. I have to see the places in Jesus’ hands where they put the nails. Otherwise I won’t believe it.”

Name: A few days later, Thomas and his friends were together. All the doors were closed, but suddenly, there was Jesus in the room with them. He smiled at Thomas. “Come here, my friend. Touch the places where they put the nails. It really is me.”

Robbie: Thomas did what Jesus said and was so happy to see Jesus. “Oh, yes, it is you Jesus. I am so glad. Now I know that you are alive again. I won’t ask any more questions.”

Name: “Oh, don’t stop asking questions, Thomas,” said Jesus. “I am glad you are able to see me so you can be sure. Then you can believe. But there will be lots of people who won’t be able to see me. They will ask questions, too. It will be hard for them to believe, just as it was hard for you to believe. I will need you to help tell them my story.”

Robbie: You mean, you’re not angry because I didn’t believe right away that you were alive again?” Thomas asked.

Name: “No, I’m not angry at all,” said Jesus. “I like it when people ask hard questions. But you won’t understand everything, Thomas. You will never find answers to all your questions. Just remember that I love you and that God loves you. Nobody can prove that part, but it is the part that is the most true.”

Robbie: Mmm. Most true! Amen to that.