i don't need anything else

Today is, by tradition, Good Shepherd Sunday. By tradition I mean recent tradition - since Vatican II in 1962 when the Roman Catholic church located this day on the fourth Sunday of Easter. The ecumenical lectionary follows this recent innovation and, hence, so do we. It is fine with me. It means we read the 23rd Psalm. And it means that, in a few minutes, we sing my favorite version of the 23rd Psalm - the one titled “My Shepherd is the Living Lord”, the earliest published hymn in the English language. But we aren’t there quite yet. We know the 23rd Psalm well, but not that well. It comes again as a holy guest, even a holy stranger, with a new Word, a Living Word. It comes as a guest because it is not the 23rd Psalm that we host this morning but the Good Shepherd who stands among us, who speaks to us, who leads us, who restores our life.


a spin to conquer cancer

My good friend and colleague Janice Love continues to train for the Ride to Conquer Cancer in June. Today her local newspaper in Vernon published an article about Janice, her ride and her fundraising efforts. You can read it at A Spin to Conquer Cancer. Janice has now raised $1,555.00 towards her goal of $3,200 (half way there). In order to participate in the ride she needs to raise $2,500 ($945 to go). All of the donations given in support of Janice are immediately used in blood cancer research (leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma). I am grateful to all of you who have already made a contribution. If you would like to make a donation in support of her ride and in aid of blood cancer research simply visit Janice's donation page (you can give online or print out a donation page and mail in your donation). A big thank-you to Janice and friends!


one year later

April 29 is a new date on my calendar of anniversaries. Last year it fell on a Friday, this year it leaps ahead to Sunday. I had returned home from work on April 27 to find a phone message asking me to call my doctor's office. When I called on Thursday morning the receptionist said that she needed to make me an appointment to see Charles, my doctor, about the results that had come back from my tests. She said he was busy and it would have to be sometime next week. Then she sounded a bit surprised and said, "Oh, he has already booked you in for tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. Can you make it?" At that moment I realized that the results must not be good.


we are more than what we have suffered

"Christians believe, however, that neither what we do nor what we suffer defines us at the deepest level. Though the way we think of and treat ourselves and the way others think of and treat us does shape our identity, no human being can make or unmake us. Instead of being defined by how human beings relate to us, we are defined by how God relates to us. We know that fundamentally we are who we are, as unique individuals standing in relation to our neighbors and broader culture, because God loves us - to such a great extent that on the cross Jesus Christ, God incarnate, shouldered our sin and tasted our suffering.

Even more, by opening ourselves to God's love through faith, our bodies and souls become sanctified spaces, God's "temples," as the Apostle Paul puts it (I Corinthians 6:19). The flame of God's presence, which gives us new identity, then burns in us inextinguishably. Though like buildings devastated by wind and flood, our bodies and souls may become ravaged, yet we continue to be God's temple - at times a temple in ruins, but sacred space nonetheless. Absolutely nothing defines a Christian more than the abiding flame of God's presence, and that flame bathes in a warm glow everything we do or suffer.


the hope that is in you

This morning at our weekly Bible at Breakfast group at a local restaurant in Vancouver we continued to read through the First Letter of Peter. Today we were hosting chapter three which begins with advice for Christian wives married to non-Christian husbands and ends with verses that link Noah and the flood with our baptism. We had plenty to wrestle with in the chapter. Then there in the middle of it all is a wonderful verse that, as one of our number put it, could easily be carved above the door of the Chapel to be read as we are leaving worship: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).


missional & communal catechesis

A few years ago I was fortunate to be part of a small group that sought to initiate a conversation about missional and communal catechesis on behalf of the Gospel and Our Culture Network. We had hoped to bring together a number of pastors, lay leaders and scholars to engage questions of Christian formation in North America. Unfortunately, funding problems resulted in us having to abandon our initial vision. The other day I came across our original invitation. I still find the questions it raises and the framework it proposes compelling. It reminds me of our dream of a new form of catechism for the missional church. Here is what the four of us (Mike Budde, Chris Erdman, Mary Fisher and myself) drafted then ...


a missional conversion

It is surprising what happens when the meaning of one word in your vocabulary changes. In my case, that word is “mission”. For most of my life mission has referred to a journey with a purpose, undertaken by an individual or a group. As a teen I watched every mission to the moon with fascination. Growing up in the United Church I learned that the Mission and Service Fund was our calling to “live love”. As a minister I worked hard with congregations to craft mission statements that gave direction to our objectives and goals. Mission had to do with us, with what we needed to do, because – as we said to ourselves – “God has no other hands but ours”.


christians and pagans

People turn to God when they're in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God's own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God's pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God's own bread,
takes up the cross for Christian and pagan, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, July 1944 ("A Testament to Freedom", p. 541)


wherever you turn your eyes

"It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? ....


call for submissions

Artists are invited to participate in the upcoming issue of "Salt of the Earth - The Christian Seasons Calendar for 2012/2013. This unique calendar which follows the seven distinctive seasons of the Christian year is distributed worldwide. To view a sample of the current Christian Seasons Calendar visit Salt of the Earth - A Christian Seasons Calendar.

Interested artists are encouraged to offer artwork that interprets scripture readings and themes within the Christian year. A list of the weekly scripture readings used in Year C of the Revised Common Lectionary can be found at Ecumenical Lectionary. We have one page available for an image for each of the following seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. This leaves five pages available for art work in the Season after Pentecost. On these pages we look for images that portray Pentecost, All Saints and the Reign of Christ as well as images particular to stories included in the lectionary readings during this season of growth in discipleship.


funerals as counter-cultural practice

The early morning phone call caught me off guard. It brought news of the death of a beloved elder of the congregation. It was not the news of her death after a lingering illness that surprised me. Instead it was her son’s casual mention that the family would - at their mother’s request - be holding no funeral or memorial service. Even on the west coast of Canada, where traditional practices of marking death are in rapid retreat, this confounded me. She had been active in the congregation for nearly half a century. She was a long time member of the Worship Committee, and an honorary elder of the Board. Her own husband’s memorial service had been of great concern to her just three years previous. I found myself pressing the conversation, wondering how this could be her desire. Her son said that in the time following her husband’s death she had been depressed and had written a short note in her “Funeral file” requesting “No service be held for me”. He noted in passing that, just below she had added, “But if you do have a service please be sure to use my favorite hymns”.


a way of life that is in ruins

"North American culture does not offer congenial conditions in which to live vocationally as a pastor. Men and women who are pastors in America today find that they have entered into a way of life that is in ruins. The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans. Any kind of continuity with pastors in times past is virtually nonexistent. We are a generation that feels as if it is having to start out from scratch to figure out a way to represent and nurture this richly nuanced and all-involving life of Christ in a country that "knew not Joseph" ....


a new beatitude

John 20:19-31

It is evening of that first day, that day when Mary stands weeping at the tomb, that day when Jesus calls her by name, that day when she tells the disciples: “I have seen the Lord”. The doors of the house where the disciples are meeting are locked “for fear of the Jews”. This seems strange. After all, the disciples are Jews. It is like saying that they have bolted the doors for fear of the Christians. Here John’s gospel leaps forward to the time half a century later when Jesus’ people are shunned by their own families and congregations. Here Easter is a time of locked doors, a day of anxiety, a place of fear. We imagine that Easter Sunday is all rejoicing and hallelujahs, a day for trumpets and organs at full stop. But here, in John’s gospel, Easter begins with Mary weeping and ends with the disciples locked in a room in terror. Their future is not obviously full of life. Their future is shrouded by death, by grief, by loss, by fear. I know what that’s like. I spent Holy Week in hospital, far from you, wondering what the future holds for me and for you. The doors weren’t locked but, yes, there was fear.


preachers must not be boring

"Preachers must not be boring. To a large extent the pastor and boredom are synonymous concepts. Listeners often think that they have already heard what is being said in the pulpit. They have long since known it themselves. The fault certainly does not lie with them alone. Against boredom the only defense is again being biblical. If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring. Holy scripture is in fact so interesting and has so much that is new and exciting to tell us that listeners cannot even think about dropping off to sleep."

- Karl Barth (Homiletics, p. 80)


the story of my conversion

In 1968 I was fourteen. Our confirmation class studied the “New Creed” that was adopted by The United Church of Canada’s General Council that year. The Mission and Service Fund produced stickers with psychedelic colours surrounding the motto “Live Love”. The stickers echoed the Beatles’ anthem: “All you need is love”. I stuck them all over my bedroom door in the manse. I began to sense that I had a call to the ministry and, in 1971, became an intended candidate. The church that formed me taught me the importance of being relevant and progressive in the way we were living love. This was our gospel. Or so it seemed to me. And when I had been ordained I found that this was what my neighbours in the community assumed about my church and, therefore, about me. It was our collective identity.


relevant irrelevance

In preparation for this coming July's annual gathering of the Ekklesia Project a number of Ekklesia Project members are posting reflections on this year's theme: Slow Church. This past week was my turn with a post titled "Relevant Irrelevance". The post begins ...

"I am learning to pastor a slow church. I am cultivating habits of patience and trust that God is forming a distinctive, faithful people year by year. When I became the pastor of Vancouver’s University Hill Congregation in 1995 I had no idea that I would still be the pastor seventeen years later. Now, looking back, I realize that this was to be my school in pastoring a slow church."

To read the rest of the post go to Slow Church


on spending holy week in hospital

Last year I limped through the Triduum after a bone marrow biopsy on the morning of Maundy Thursday. That was multiple myeloma's first incursion into my life in Holy Week. One year later multiple myeloma and amyloidosis interrupted Holy Week once more. This time it put me out of action for two weeks, missing Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, including six days in hospital. It has not been easy. Fortunately I am home again and recovering well.


easter times fifty

Easter is the precipitating moment of the Christian faith. Without Easter Sunday there is no church. Without the Risen Christ there is only death, silence, absence for the disciples who have forsaken and fled. Yet for many Easter comes and goes in the span of a mere twenty-four hours. Canada maintains the oddity of an Easter Monday holiday, though few take notice. Our daughter returned home from high school one day, dumbfounded by her classmates’ ignorance. They wondered aloud why there had been a holiday for Easter on both Friday and Monday. They understood that Good Friday had to do with the crucifixion. But they had no inkling of the rationale for a holiday on Monday as well. Canadian culture is not alone in rushing past Easter. The church’s forty days of Lenten preparations can leave many within the church feeling more at home with the tragic ending of Good Friday than with the incredible news of Easter Sunday.


your new news

The pain is palpable,
          death is close,
the bruises are countless,
                 and we are not comforted.
We know about steel against flesh,
           and explosions next to skin,
           and grenades upon bodies,
           and wounds untended,
                             filled with pus.
           All this is old news to us.


friday, saturday, sunday

The long Easter weekend is the heart of our life as a people. Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday are the crucial days that pattern the gospel into our minds and hearts, speech and action. The church is like a figure skater, repeatedly practicing the same figure until the movement is imbedded deep in her muscle memory. So in every season and every sermon we rehearse moving through this three-day narrative of the good news. This figure of the Triduum has become our short hand of the gospel, a way of asking each other “How is the gospel with you today? Are you living in Friday, Saturday or Sunday today?”