good news of great joy

"According to Luke" by Rhonda Chase
Preaching is a challenge on Christmas Eve. At University Hill Congregation we have one great Christmas Eve celebration full of carols and candles and children. This year the sermon is in three parts, with each coming as a response to the arrival of the characters in our nativity scene. We invite the children to dress as angels or shepherds in order to join in telling the story. You can imagine the excited entry of angels and shepherds in the midst of the sermon that follows. By the way, the magi will arrive at our nativity scene just after the twelve days of Christmas, on Epiphany.

- Luke 2:1-20

Scene one - Mary, Joseph & the Christ-child

“Good news of great joy.” It is the reason that we are together here on the eve of Christmas. Here because there is “good news of great joy for all the people.” It is good news for the human spirit. It is spiritual good news. It is, in other words, inspiring. Yet notice, biblical spirituality is always embodied spirituality. In the Bible the spiritual is inevitably material. Christian theology is about matter, about what matters. Did you hear it? Hear it in the first few verses, hear it in the materiality of people and places and things that matter: Emperor Augustus, all the world, a decree, registration, their own towns, Quirinius, Syria, Joseph, Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem, the house and family of David, Mary, engaged, expecting, time to deliver, inn, no place, gave birth, first-born son, bands of cloth, manger.  This is not a story about spiritual truths. Nor is it a story about universal values. It is the astounding news that God is working out humankind’s redemption incognito - below our spiritual radar - in the details and confusion and stresses of a very material world. How extraordinary. God entering the world and redeeming the nations through an obscure Jewish birth in occupied territory. Do you see? If then, also now. If there, also here. If them, also us.


velcade (round two - cycle seven)

Life on bortezomib (Velcade), cyclophoshamide and dexamethasone continues as I am now well into another thirty-five day cycle of weekly doses. Did I say that I am just a little tired of the weekly mood and energy swings caused by even my relatively mild dosage of dex? Oh, yes, I did. Nothing new on that front. However, my struggles with dex are offset this month with the good news that the free light chain count dropped from the last report of 145 to 95 - under 100 for the first time in awhile. It is a welcome Christmas gift to receive. After the slow and steady increases in the free light chains it is a bit surprising to see this reversal. It will be interesting to see if it continues following cycle seven and cycle eight. That will be the end of this round on Velcade. We have been assuming that the ever increasing numbers meant shifting to a new treatment plan in the Spring. But if the numbers stay low perhaps there will be the possibility of gaining approval for another round of this treatment. In the meantime, we carry on ...


christus paradox

We concluded worship on the Feast of Christ the King this past Sunday by singing "Christus Paradox." What powerful words. We sang it to Paradox, the tune written especially for this hymn by John Van Maanen. Sylvia Dunstan, the United Church of Canada minister and prison chaplain who wrote the hymn, set it to the tune Westminster Abbey. There is a wonderful version on Youtube sung to the tune of Picardy by The Birmingham Chamber Chorus. The hymn sings the great ironies of the incarnation of God, the Word made flesh. Singing this great paradox into our hearts and souls and bodies is crucial if we are to live and tell the truth about the servant Lord of the upside-down kingdom of God. What a gift ...



A sermon on the occasion of the baptism of Abraham Richard, Willow Samantha Jeanne, Aeden Sean Dennis & Rowan Pandora Louise - Reign of Christ Sunday

- Luke 1:68-79

Abraham, Willow, Aeden and Rowan. These are the names of the four disciples whose baptism we are privileged to witness this morning. Abraham, Willow, Aeden and Rowan. Four saints. Four who today are called out and set apart as signs of God’s kingdom come, God’s will done on earth as in heaven. Abraham, Willow, Aeden and Rowan. How appropriate that you are baptised on the final Sunday of the Christian Year, in a congregation learning to live in the peculiar gospelled rhythms of the Christian seasons. On Reign of Christ Sunday we leap forward into the future, to the end of time, to see that Jesus - the suffering servant who humbly rides on a donkey and kneels to wash the feet of his disciples - is the Lord, the King, the Messiah. Today we leap forward into the future in order to see life in the present tense with clear eyes. At the font we see that serving Jesus here and now is the end, the purpose, the goal of life. And here, in the four of you, we see that all of us are baptised into a community of disciples. We do not follow Jesus alone. At the font we are adopted into a surprising new family, a family in which water is thicker than blood.

the advent of a new world

There was a time when we at University Hill Congregation marked Advent with wonderful themes. Each Sunday in Advent was a day to celebrate one of four cherished virtues: hope, peace, joy and love. We do not do this anymore. Somewhere along the way we stumbled into celebrating the Advent of a new world in which these virtues have been turned upside down by the gospel of the Word made flesh. Yes, we continue to light the four candles of Advent. But now each candle stands for a chapter in the peculiar story of God’s entry into the world in Jesus.


velcade (round two - cycle six)

Here's the latest on my ongoing journey with multiple myeloma and amyloidosis. On Monday I was in to see my hematologist for a regular appointment. I am in the midst of my sixth thirty-five day cycle in the second set of Velcade treatments. There are eight cycles in a set. This set of Velcade treatments run through until early February 2014. As mentioned previously, the Velcade is still working but not quite as well as it had been a year ago. At that time the numbers of free-light chains were around 45 (we're trying to keep them under 100). The current number of free light chains is 145, up from October 1st when it was 131. Given that when I was diagnosed this number was over 1600 it is still pretty low at 145 (the reason we track the free light chains and not an M-spike is that I am diagnosed with free light chain myeloma). The addition of another chemotherapeutic drug - cyclophosphamide - in September brought the numbers down at first. Now there is a gradual climb back up. It is what we expected. So long as the numbers continue to remain relatively stable, with this slow increase, we will complete the treatments with Velcade. Then the plan is for me to go without treatment for five weeks so that we can measure the disease's response when no chemotherapy is being used. Assuming that the numbers show an increase similar to the ones I have experienced before when not on chemotherapy we will then begin a new course of treatments.


why living in the christian year is crucial to missional identity

At University Hill Congregation we have come to realize that keeping the Christian Year is much more than a way of keeping track of the worship life of the congregation. We have come to see that living out of an alternate calendar constantly reminds us that we are living in an alternative story. As one of those who recently ordered the Christian Seasons Calendar says of it: "I absolutely love your calendars. They turn time upside-down, which is delightful and just right." In our desire to rediscover the missional nature of the church (which is to say that the church is, at its essence, sent out to participate in God's mission of redeeming the creation) we are learning that re-discovering Jesus' odd, salty, holy way of life requires our immersion in a whole new/old way of telling time - time lived in a gospelled world. Here is an earlier post that reflects on this further - telling time.


daniel had a dream

 Daniel 7:1-18, Luke 6:20-31

“In the first year of King Belshazzar of Babylon, Daniel had a dream and visions of his head as lay in bed” (vs. 1). For anyone who has read the first six chapters of Daniel this is a surprising turn of events. Daniel had a dream? Up until now it has been the king having dreams with Daniel doing the interpreting. Up until now the story of Daniel has been one story after another of Jewish survival in the strange land of Babylon. We have read the tale of Shadrach, Mesach and Abednego in the fiery furnace because of their refusal to worship the golden statue (ch. 3). We have watched as Daniel interprets the writing on the wall - “Mene, Mene, Tekel & Parsin” (ch. 5). And we have seen King Darius tricked into a law that requires devout Daniel to be thrown into a lion’s den (ch. 6). Along the way Daniel has gained promotion through the ranks of the civil service because of his capacity to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (chs. 2 & 4). “The story of Daniel,” writes Walter Breuggemann, “is about Jews trying to maintain their acute faith identity in a complicated social environment where they had to deal with real worldly power ... Such an identity requires commitment and shrewdness and some deep resolve" ("The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann", p. 239) In other words, the story of Daniel is for a time like ours and for a people like us. For, the truth is, maintaining Christian identity in our complicated social environment surely requires commitment and shrewdness and some deep resolve. It leads me to suggest that the Book of Daniel be given much more attention when, and if, the Revised Ecumenical Common Lectionary ever becomes the New Revised Ecumenical Common Lectionary. As it stands the Book of Daniel is read but once in the three year cycle of the lectionary - on All Saints Day this year. We would miss it altogether if it were not for our custom of using the scriptures assigned for All Saints on the Sunday nearest November 1st.


sanctorum communio

Today is All Saints Day. For us a time to rediscover that the church is a "sanctorum communio" - a congregation of saints. There is more on this at my post from All Saints in 2011 -
school for saints. This Sunday at UHill we will mark All Saints and will use the lectionary texts for today, including Daniel 7:1-18. It is the first time in thirty-three years of ministry that I have preached from Daniel. How can that be? Looking forward to the challenge and the gift of this text.

For a wonderful contemporary interpretation of All Saints Day read Malcolm Guite's "Sonnet for All Saints Day."


the cure of souls

Born and raised in The United Church of Canada I must confess to some discomfort with a ministry of healing. Yes Jesus healed the ill, the broken and those possessed by demonic spirits. And, yes, surely the Risen Christ heals still. But even many years after ordination I still did not know how to embody this healing ministry with integrity in the worshipping life of the congregation. Then I was fortunate to be a guest at a Lutheran pastors' retreat that included participation in a liturgical rite of healing. It was a powerful and moving experience. When I described it to the worship committee at University Hill Congregation there was obvious interest but also general agreement that the congregation was not ready for a similar rite in its life.


remembering the 6th assembly

It was August 1983 - yes, thirty years ago - when the 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches met here in Vancouver. Tomorrow - October 30 (which is already today in Korea) the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches begins its gathering in Busan, Korea. We are marking the thirtieth anniversary of the 6th Assembly and praying for the 10th assembly throughout its meeting (Oct 30 - Nov 8). Our memories and our prayers will be focused by the worship banners from the 6th Assembly which we have placed in the Chapel of the Epiphany, worship home of the Vancouver School of Theology and of University Hill Congregation for the duration of the 10th Assembly. This coming Sunday, November 3 at 10:30 am we at University Hill Congregation will mark All Saints Day with a celebration of the Eucharist and a Rite of Healing. We hope that the congregation on this occasion will include guests who were active in providing leadership for the 6th Assembly in 1983. There is an interesting story behind the banners ...


exalted, humbled. humbled, exalted.

 Luke 18:9-14

(This sermon owes a lot to Will Willimon's sermon on the same text - "Pharisees & Publicans All" in "The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon" (pp. 51-55). I remember the gift of hearing Will say that he thought none of us preachers ever write any original sermons, that we all stand on the shoulders of the witnesses who have gone before and beside. I am grateful to be part of such a company.)

“Jesus also told this parable ...” Watch out. Jesus is telling parables again. You remember parables. They seem simple on the surface. We expect these little stories to be easy to understand. But they are not. The Hebrew word for parable is “riddle”. Jesus’ parables make jaws drop and leave the audience confounded. Parables are not soothers that pacify, they are sticks of dynamite that blast open the world we thought we knew. If we think we get the meaning of a parable and do not find ourselves blown away, well, it only means that the fuse is still ticking.


not talking about the bible, not using it, but listening

quoted from "Karl Barth's Emergency Homiletic" by Angela Hancock (pp 212-213) ...

"Sermons, Barth argued, must be tempered, shaped, qualified by God's Self-disclosure. What did this mean for these young preachers?


we went through fire and water, yet ...

A sermon on the occasion of the baptism of Alba Margaret Jean Andersen - Thanksgiving Sunday

Psalm 66:1-12

Alba, I am not sure when you will read this sermon. But I am imagining that one day you will. And on that day you will understand why you have learned to sing the first twelve verses of Psalm 66. You see, this is the psalm that is set for the church to sing today. You have known from the very beginning that you belong to a singing family. Every since you first heard the muffled sounds that made their way into your mother’s womb you have felt the rhythms and recognized the sounds of pianos and violins and voices singing in harmony. So it is fitting that you receive your own song on the day of your baptism. And your song is Psalm 66 (vss. 1-12).


velcade (round two - cycle five)

Some good news today with the arrival online of my latest blood test. The free light chain count shows that adding cyclophosphamide to my weekly chemotherapy regimen of bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone has had the desired effect. The number of kappa free light chains had risen from 115 in June to 130 in July to 146 in August. After the first five weeks with the addition of cyclophosphamide this has dropped to 131. Yay! By the way, the reason that the free light chain count is the main measuring stick for me is that I have been diagnosed with Free Light Chain Myeloma (there is an earlier blog post about this here).


salt of the earth: a christian seasons calendar 2013/2014

Good news - the 2013/2014 edition of Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar is now available. This unique venture had its beginnings in 1999 as we at University Hill Congregation imagined a calendar that begins with Advent and turns with the Christian seasons (the story of the calendar's beginnings can be found here). The calendar continues to grow year after year by word of mouth.

You can find the calendar at the Christian Seasons Calendar website where you can view sample pages, read reviews, download a promotional flyer and order online. Single copies of the calendar cost $15.95 (plus shipping and applicable taxes). There is a 20% discount on orders of ten or more and a 40% discount on orders of twenty five or more. Many people purchase in bulk and then give the calendars as gifts or make them available in congregations at a reduced rate.

We are grateful for your assistance in spreading the word about Salt of the Earth: A Christian Seasons Calendar 2013/2014 to friends and colleagues, near and far.


emergency homiletic

I just finished reading Karl Barth's Emergency Homiletic, 1932-1933: A Summons to Prophetic Witness at the Dawn of the Third Reich by Angela Dienhart Hancock. A very interesting, careful study of the homiletics class that Barth taught in the midst of a chaotic year in Germany for the nation and for the church. Lots here for students of preaching and of history to engage. The class itself was an act of resistance with Barth stepping onto the homiletical turf of his colleague whose sympathies lay with the rise of National Socialism and Hitler. Hancock points out the significant inadequacies in the published version of the student notes from these classes ("Homiletics") with the appendix pleading for a new text of that book. Of the student notes from Barth's preaching class, Hancock writes:


so we do not lose heart

A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Helen Louise (Jerry) Mackenzie

Psalm 139; II Corinthians 4:7-12,16-18

It is hard to know what to say. Jerry Mackenzie has been a part of this neighbourhood and this congregation’s life for sixty-three of her one hundred years. What do you say? Do you try to summarize all that she has done and been in a few short paragraphs? It is not possible. And what scripture should we read? Perhaps she left a note, an instruction, a suggestion. But, no, instead Jerry simply said: “Ed will know what to say.” I will? On such occasions I feel utterly inadequate. Thank God for the lectionary which teaches us the song to sing today - namely Psalm 139.



Jeremiah 2:4-13

“Hear the word of the LORD.” This is Jeremiah’s cry, Jeremiah’s offer. It is the radical claim that the voice and purposes of God can actually be heard by mere mortals. Not just heard, but received in the heart, mind and soul. It is a claim that is at the heart of our life together. The church lives out of the daring assertion that it has been together by the LORD who speaks us into life. It is a word addressed to “the house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel”. It is a word spoken to the descendants of Jacob who have received the blessed name “Israel.” It means “the ones who wrestle with God.” So we will not be surprised when the word from the LORD is not a soft, sweet, saccharine spirituality.


velcade (round two - cycle four)

Here is the latest news with regard to my ongoing treatments. I am continuing with weekly (four weeks out of five) trips to St. Paul's Hospital first thing on Tuesday mornings where I receive Velcade injections (and once every five weeks an iv drip of pamidronate to build up my bones). I had a good response when I began a second round of eight five-week cycles on Velcade in May (the free light chain count dropped from 170 in May to 115 in June). My doctor had forewarned me that this would, at some point, change. Sure enough, in July the number went up to 130 and then this month up to 146. Since the goal is to try, if possible, to keep the kappa free light chain count below 100 it means it is time to make changes to the treatment. My doctor advised adding Cyclophosphamide to my weekly medications (in addition to Velcade and Dexamethasone). He is hoping that this will extend the effectiveness of the Velcade treatments. Cyclophosphamide is taken weekly in pill form. Significant side effects are unlikely. I began taking it this week and haven't noticed any difference to the regular effects of the drugs (namely the high energy and emotions on Tuesday/Wednesday followed by fatigue on Thursday as a result of the Dexamethasone). Basically, everything remains quite stable and at a low level. I am the beneficiary of the new tests for free light chains which enable my doctor to identify, and respond to, small changes in blood chemistry that were, until recently, undetectable.

In the meantime, I have also been the beneficiary of sabbatical time with time to enjoy family and a gorgeous British Columbia summer. Yesterday I returned to my office and this Sunday return to preaching, with gratitude for health and life.



Thank-you once again to everyone who contributed to "An Evening Among Friends - A Multiple Myeloma Fundraiser" back in April. It was a great success in every way, largely due to the efforts of our daughter Anneke and her friend Sam. In the end $20,021 was raised for research into treating blood-related cancers such as Multiple Myeloma. Here is the report of the event at the website of the VGH + UBC Hospital Foundation.


in the beginning was the word

A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Bill Buck.

John 1:1-5,14 &16; Isaiah 55; Psalm 36:5-10

You may have noticed that University Hill Congregation cherishes the Bible. The Bible is given honour of place whenever we worship. The big book is lifted high and carried into our midst where it takes its place at the heart of our life together. The Bible is the scripture – that is, the script – of our life. The church is the company of actors called to live this script - to perform these texts - in the world. It is the reason that we invite one another to be the lectors, the readers, when we gather. It isn’t just the minister’s job to read the scripture because it isn’t just the minister’s job to live the script. So, over the years, our congregation has regularly offered training sessions for lectors. For many years Bill Buck taught us how to read aloud so that others could experience the life and beauty, the humour and ache in the text. He taught us basic things like “Take your hands out of your pockets” and “Don’t show up unprepared – practice, practice, practice.” But Bill always placed the greatest emphasis on this: “Read the text with great care and respect. Love each word to life.” When he came as a guest to the preaching classes that I taught here at VST he said something similar. In speaking to budding preachers about how to deliver a sermon he would tell us the key to performing as an actor is to so fully embody the part you are playing when you go on stage. The key to performance is to interpret the script in such a way that you are not pretending at all but are, instead, telling the truth.


call for submissions - christian seasons calendar

Artists are invited to participate in the upcoming issue of "Salt of the Earth - The Christian Seasons Calendar for 2013/2014." This unique calendar which follows the seven distinctive seasons of the Christian year is distributed worldwide. View a sample of the current Christian Seasons Calendar here.

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 A of the Revised Common Lectionary can be found here. We have one page available for an image for each of the following seasons: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week and Easter. There will be two pages for the Season after Epiphany (which includes the arrival of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus and the Transfiguration). There will be four 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.


ah ... after worship on a Sunday in June


a prophet, a famine & a death

Elijah and the widow of Zarephath (Paris, 14th century)
I Kings 17

This is how it happens. One day there is no prophet sent from God. The next day there is Elijah. His name means “Yah(weh) is my God.” There has been no warning. The text has been focussed keeping track of royalty and who is in power. In the verses that precede Elijah we have arrived at Ahab of whom the text says: "Aab son of Omir did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all who were before him" (I Kgs 16:30). Suddenly, unannounced and unexplained, Elijah steps into the story. Elijah is a prophet. And not just “a” prophet but “the prophet.” Still today an empty chair is readied for him at every Jewish Seder meal, at every Passover celebration. Elijah leaves this earthly plane in a blaze of glory, in a sweet chariot of fire that swings low and carries him home, bypassing the grave. Elijah enters the story by confronting the king. The king is responsible for the fertility of the soil, for the productivity of the people – in other words, for the gross domestic product. Elijah’s first message is news of an energy crisis. There will be no dew and no rain unless Elijah says so. Elijah, not the king, is the one connected to the source of life. Un-credentialed and unexpected, Elijah enters the scene with the surprising news that fertility and productivity, energy and growth are in the hands of God, not the king and not the powers that be. No wonder that king Ahab will say upon meeting Elijah after three years of drought: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (I Kgs. 18:17). 


seeing the glory

A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Milla Menzies

When Paul writes to the church in Corinth  about the variety of gifts given by the Holy Spirit he notes that some in the community are given the gift of faith (I Corinthians 12:9). It is often assumed that faith is a common gift, one that all in the church are meant to receive. But Paul thinks otherwise. He knows that living in faith, trusting wholly in the God we meet in Jesus Christ, is a gift received by a few on behalf of the many. When thanking God for the life of Millanka Menzies we find ourselves so grateful that the Holy Spirit gifted Milla with such deep and abiding faith. Milla’s faith was in evidence at every turn. It made her resilient in the face of many hardships. It kept her joyful when she could have been filled with despair. It brought her back to worship and to Bible study even when the minister exasperated her. Milla simply believed, trusted, somehow knew that God intended healing, wholeness, care for her, for her children, for all people.


return to treatments & some surprising news

It is update time. Last week I began my second set of eight five week cycles on Velcade (bortezomib) and dexamethasone. I am back in familiar surroundings, with a familiar nursing and staff team on the medical short stay unit at St. Paul's Hospital (8th floor). Yesterday was the second of four treatments in the first five week cycle. There is a new protocol in place on the unit to speed up the process of checking in, ordering the medication from the pharmacy, awaiting its arrival and then undergoing the injections. Yesterday I arrived at 8 am and was heading off to work at 9 am. It still seems a bit of  a wait for a two minute procedure but it is definitely an improvement. It is a peaceful interlude in the week as I rest in bed and enjoy the view of Vancouver's downtown and the north shore mountains, often chatting with other patients in the room who are also receiving treatment for one form of blood cancer or another. As during my first round of treatments, the main side effects are caused by the dexamethasone - namely, high energy and sleeplessness for a couple of days followed by fatigue for a couple days. With a three month interlude off of treatment I had almost forgotten what this feels like. It is a minor side effect relative to the effectiveness of the drugs. Still, it alters my week and reminds me that I am living a new normal.


bewildered, amazed & astonished

A Pentecost Sermon preached at the Celebration of Ministry Service, Maritime Conference of The United Church of Canada Annual Meeting in Sackville, New Brunswick on May 30, 2004.

Acts 2:1-21

It all begins at a Conference. Pentecost is an annual meeting. Everyone returns every year like clockwork, fifty days after Passover. Everyone knows what to expect. Old friends. Business. Worship. Crowded agenda. Not enough time. And then something totally unexpected occurs. The Holy Spirit - the vital energy of God - charges the community with voltage, with juice, that catches the neighbourhood off guard. Do you see? Pentecost is not locked in history like a fly trapped in amber. This dangerous text in Acts tells the story of a church being overtaken by God here and now.


holy thursday

Today is Ascension Day, forty days after Easter Sunday, ten days before Pentecost. It is the day referred to in William Blake's two poems titled "Holy Thursday". In his day it was a major festival. The day continues to be a public holiday in some countries. On Sunday we will replace the readings for the seventh Sunday of Easter with the readings for the Ascension of the Lord as we try to recover our communal memory of the Ascension and its place in the gospel story that narrates our life.

There are not many hymns for Ascension Day in The United Church of Canada hymn book. I suspect it is because we do not pay much attention to this event. But there is a prayer for Ascension Day. This is it: 


lamb & shepherd

Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17

This has been a week in which we have been gripped by momentous and tragic news. A bombing of the marathon in Boston with scenes of horrific injuries and the manhunt that followed. An industrial explosion in Texas that flattened buildings and lives. A devastating earthquake in China. We gather here shaken, aching, asking, praying. Gathered here we witness a baptism. Little Luke Vincent is baptised in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is marked with the sign of the cross as a follower of Jesus Christ. Hands are laid on his head as we pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life. On first glance, it appears so insignificant when compared to the week’s headlines. But look again. See the promise of God’s hand at work - receiving, blessing, transforming, healing. This is the drama of the sacrament of baptism. Here, in ways beyond our knowing, we die to the ways that lead to death and are born to the way of life revealed in Jesus Christ.


keep it simple

A sermon preached at the Memorial Service of Bernice Balfour

Bernice was crystal clear. On the day before she died we said good-bye and she told me three times: “Keep it simple, Ed.” It reminded me of all those Wednesday mornings when a group of us from University Hill Congregation gathered - often in her home - to catch up on one another's lives, to pray and to discuss a passage from scripture together. The group met weekly for thirty years. On many occasions I recall Bernice saying something like: “When we first read the passage today I wondered how in the world we could spend an hour talking about it.” Bernice often professed to not understand the scriptures, to wonder about Christianity. Yet, for those of us who were privileged to experience her companionship in this congregation over the past sixty years, she has been a living testament to a life of faithfulness. She kept things simple, in the best sense of the word. I remember how often Bill Taylor would remind us in those Wednesday morning sessions that the word we translate as “faith” in the New Testament (in Greek “pistis”) is less about “belief” and more about “trust.” Bernice knew about trust. You could trust Bernice. I think that was, at least in part, because she had been cultivating her capacity to trust in God Sunday upon Sunday, Wednesday upon Wednesday, decade upon decade.


good shepherd saturday & sunday

This coming Sunday is the fourth Sunday in the fifty day season of Easter. In keeping with the new Catholic liturgical calendar (and the ecumenical common lectionary) is is known each year as Good Shepherd Sunday. This year I'll be preaching on the good shepherd texts twice. On Saturday we will be gathering for a memorial service to grieve the death - and thank God for the life - of our beloved elder Bernice who died on Easter Sunday at the age of ninety. She has been a vital member of our congregation for sixty years. Bernice asked that we be sure to include the 23rd Psalm - the Good Shepherd psalm.

On Sunday we will be baptising two year old Luke. A few years ago I began the practice of preaching the sermon on the day of a baptism to the person being baptised. I first thought of this when reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer's sermon written from prison on the occasion of his young nephew's baptism. Though I expect that it was not unusual for preachers in other traditions to preach to the person being baptised - especially as this often occurred in the home among family rather than on Sunday in the congregation - I have always associated it with Bonhoeffer and, hence, with Lutherans. It seems most appropriate to me that this Sunday the sermon will be created for the baptism of toddler Luke since he is the inheritor of the Lutheran lineage of his parents and grand-parents (not to mention the rich Lutheran heritage of his birthplace in Camrose).


velcade, round two & a huge thank-you

First off, huge thanks to our daughter Anneke, her good friend Sam and so many family members and friends who contributed to the great success of our multiple myeloma fundraiser this past Friday. It was an amazing night, with so many old friends and neighbours joining our family for a big party disguised as a fundraiser. The food was delicious, the music was awesome and the deals at the silent auction were plentiful. The hall was packed with friends from as far back as my high school and university days, as well as from the three local congregations that I have served over the past thirty years. Along with those from near and far who have contributed online we have now raised over $17,000 in donations to the Hematology Clinical Trials Unit at Vancouver General Hospital. Like I say, amazing. It is wonderful to be part of such a caring and energetic community. Thank-you!

Now, on to the more mundane news of my ongoing treatment journey ...


countdown to "an evening among friends"

Our multiple myeloma fundraiser - "An Evening Among Friends" - is a day away. We are really looking forward to the evening which is already a great success. All one hundred and forty tickets have been sold. Yes, there will be a "sold-out" sign on the door. This morning our online donation page met Anneke's original goal of $5000! This does not include donations in the form of cheques that a number of you have sent directly to Anneke. And, of course, it does not include the funds that will be raised at tomorrow evening's bash. The musicians have been rehearsing. The food is being prepared. The silent auction will have a wide variety of unique gifts awaiting bids. Neighbours, friends and family are planning to gather. It promises to be a wonderful evening. Huge thanks to Anneke, her friend Sam and everyone else who is contributing to this remarkable and encouraging event.

By the way, our fundraiser is occurring during the 14th International Myeloma Workshop that is taking place right now in Kyoto, Japan. The International Myeloma Workshop is a biennial scientific meeting that focuses solely on myeloma-related research findings. The research presented at the meeting will cover all areas of multiple myeloma, including the biology, diag­nosis, treatment, and progression of the disease. The funds raised at our local fundraiser are being directed to the Hematology Clinical Trials Unit at Vancouver General Hospital and, in this way, we are participating in ongoing international research into new and improved treatments for multiple myeloma.

Many thanks to all of you who are participating in this effort with your contributions, continuing care and prayer.


an idle tale?

- Luke 24:1-12; Psalm 118 (a sermon for Easter Sunday)

“Perplexed. Terrified. Disbelieving. Amazed.” 
These are the words that Luke uses to describe the church’s response to the resurrection. We expect words like “praised God” or “filled with rejoicing.” There must surely be a “Hallelujah” or at least an “Amen.” After all, these are the words that fill the Easter section of our hymn books. We know that Easter Sunday is a day for rejoicing. And it is. But, first, says Luke there is perplexity. The resurrection is not simply the rebirth of the earth in the springtime. Don’t get me wrong, I am as grateful for a glorious spring day like today as you are. It is just that the resurrection confounds nature. It is the reason that Easter is perhaps best celebrated in the southern hemisphere, where the days are growing shorter and the leaves are dying, not budding. Then the songs of rejoicing might sound, well, a bit more perplexing. Even in its rejoicing over the news of the resurrection the church remains perplexed by the mystery. Are you perplexed by the resurrection? Join the crowd!


while it was still dark

John 20:1-18  (a sermon for the Easter Vigil)

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” While it was still dark. It is a small but significant detail. Matthew, Mark and Luke all note that Mary arrives “when the sun had risen.” It is the reason that Easter sunrise services have become a tradition for many. But we gather here while it is still dark. If we set our clocks according to Jewish custom it is already Easter morning. Then the day does not begin at sunrise or even at midnight but, instead, at sun down. It is the reason that the three day Triduum that begins on Thursday and ends on Sunday is not called the Quadruum. The passover meal begins with sunset which marks the beginning of the new day. So it is that we gather here remembering that Easter begins in the darkness. It should not come as a surprise that John records its discovery “while it was still dark.” Remember how John’s gospel begins: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (Jn. 1:5). The awesome discovery that the darkness has not overcome the light of Christ occurs, says John, in the dark.


the seven last words

(a sermon for Good Friday)

There is a tradition of marking Good Friday with a service that begins at noon and continues until three o’clock. It is worship that remembers the three hours of darkness when the sun does not shine. In these services it is customary to have not one sermon, not two, not even three but - count them - seven, yes seven, sermons! Imagine. A sermon marathon. In some communities multiple congregations gather to mark the three hours, inviting seven different preachers to preach seven different sermons. Each sermon considers one of the seven last words that Jesus utters from the cross. Some of you are right now saying prayers of thanksgiving that we do not have a similar tradition here. You will forgive me if I confess that it is a dream of mine to one day be one of seven preachers caught up in the Spirit, proclaiming the gospel on this crucial day. But since such a service does not appear to be on the immediate horizon I am taking the liberty of lining out a brief synopsis of seven sermons that might be preached if we decided to stay behind at noon until three this afternoon.

John's gospel records three of the seven words. Luke records three more. Matthew and Mark each record the same one, making the total seven. Seven is a significant number in the Bible. It is a number of completeness. Together these final words provide the church with a powerfully complete meditation on the gospel and the cross. They also give us speech for our own dying, our own suffering, our own participation in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. When we wonder what a good death, a faithful death - a death that participates in Christ’s dying and rising - is like we speak and we listen for words like these.


myeloma fundraiser update

Our April 5th multiple myeloma fundraiser is coming together well. We have a few tickets left. A wide variety of items have been donated for the silent auction. Many old friends and neighbours are planning to join us including at least two friends who are also currently living with myeloma. Today our local newspaper, the Peace Arch News, includes a story about the fundraiser under the headline "Cancer patient still counting blessings". Thanks again to everyone who has contributed to the VGH+UBC Foundation in support of the Hematology Clinical Trials Unit. Your generosity is very encouraging. You can donate online at the secure donation page or, if you would rather, you can donate by cheque. For more information contact me.


velcade breather, part two

I am well into my Velcade breather having completed a thirty-five day cycle without any treatment. My free light chain count has, as expected, increased. Yesterday brought confirmation that over the thirty-five days the number rose from 45 to 153. Since our goal is to keep the number below 100 this means I'll be re-commencing treatment. My doctor is currently applying for funding to continue treating the myeloma and amyloidosis with Velcade. My next appointment with him is on April 8. I expect that he will then confirm a new round of treatments. While it is not great news that my free light chain count has risen it is what we expected. The good news is that the Velcade is working and is necessary to manage the diseases. The next step is approval of the funding request and a return to weekly visits to St. Paul's Hospital.

In the meantime ...


galatians - week six

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter six and week six of our congregational conversation about Paul's letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter six. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these statements and questions:

diakonia - commanded to love

The mark of Diakonia is the root word for our terms “deacon” and “deaconess”. In the world of the New Testament it refers to the role of a slave or a servant (in Latin the word slave is “minister” and slavery is “ministry”). Diakonia exhibits the ways in which the church, as a slave of Christ, is obedient to Jesus who, after washing his disciples’ feet, says: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also ought to love one another” (John 13:34). When the church wonders where the boundaries of such extravagant love might be found it is reminded of the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46). These explosive parables announce that God’s love ignores the boundaries to care and concern that we have erected and accepted. They alert the church to the news that Jesus is unexpectedly present incognito in the hungry other, the imprisoned outcast, the forgotten invalid and the lonely stranger. Surprising hospitality to the other, the outcast, the forgotten and the stranger is a hallmark of God’s glory. Its emergence in community is a crucial sign that God is calling the church into being once more.


galatians - week five

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter five and week five of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter five. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these statements and questions:

What does life look like when one has “fallen away from grace” ? What typifies a church that has “cut itself off from Christ”? (Gal. 4). How do you interpret the phrase: “For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” (Gal. 5:5)?

koinonia - the coinage of community

The mark of Koinonia translates into words like “community”, “fellowship” and “participation”. It is the root word for “coin” which refers to coinage as everyday currency in common usage. Christian communal life – Christian koinonia – is every day community in Jesus Christ. It is the place where we practice loving neighbour and loving enemy. In the fellowship of fellow Christians we hurt and are hurt, learn to forgive and be forgiven. Sin and brokenness are no stranger to Christian life. This is no zone of perfection. Rather it is a flawed human community being saved by the amazing grace of God, not by our capacity to get life right. In Christian community we are invited to un-learn our proud independence and to re-learn the humility of mutual dependence. When Christian koinonia is in bountiful supply the church’s common currency includes the bearing of one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). The mark of koinonia is a reminder that the Christian life is necessarily social. For if God – the Three in One – is, by definition, a community then the glory of God is always shaping, forming, creating, intending and building koinonia. In a culture of increasing social isolation the church lives a counter-cultural alternative in which God calls into being a people being taught to love God and to love neighbour, a community called the church.


multiple myeloma fundraiser

It has been five weeks since my last Velcade injection and it is five weeks until I sit down with my doctor to plan ahead. Next week I will have a blood test that will reveal if my free light chain count is on the increase or is remaining stable. I am enjoying these ten weeks without treatment. Some are concerned that I must be feeling anxious as I wait to see what is next. I find that I am not anxious but, instead, am grateful to be in an early stage of this disease, to have good medical care and to be surrounded by a network of loving care and support.

In the meantime, my spirits are buoyed by the Multiple Myeloma Fundraiser that our daughter Anneke - along with her siblings and friends - is organizing. On Friday, April 5 at the Elgin Hall there will be music from talented local musicians, a barbeque and a silent auction. The funds raised will go to supporting the Hematology Clinical Trials Unit at Vancouver General Hospital. At some point I will be the beneficiary of these trials in which promising new drugs in treating myeloma (among other blood related cancers) are offered to patients like me. If you would like to attend the fundraiser or make a contribution to the silent auction please contact me.

You can also help us reach Anneke's goal of $5000 by visiting the donation page for her Multiple Myeloma Fundraiser and making a donation online.

I am very grateful for the care, concern, support and encouragement of so many. Thank-you!


galatians - week four

Here is the introductory page for Galatians 4:1 through 5:1 and week four of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

The words “slave”, “slavery” and “enslaved” occur thirteen times in this passage. Twice Paul speaks of being “enslaved to the elemental spirits of the word” (Gal. 4:3 & 4:9). “Why should Paul speak to the Galatians about the elements of the cosmos, and how does he intend them to construe his references? What, precisely, are these elements, how did they enslave, and how is it that their universally enslaving power has been broken by the advent of Christ? Was it not sufficient in Paul’s mind to characterize the period prior to Christ as one of imprisonment under the Law (3:23,25)? Why speak also of imprisonment under the elements, somehow identifying the Law as one of them? These are exceedingly thorny questions, as one can see from the extraordinary number of studies given to them, and from the striking absence of a consensus.” (J. Louis Martin, “Galatians”, p. 394). In what ways do we, and the world we inhabit, live in slavery “to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, to beings that by nature are not gods” (Gal 4:8)?

liturgia - a public works project

The mark of Liturgia literally means “ a work of the people”. In the ancient Roman world aqueducts were liturgical structures, that is, public works. Christian worship is a public work that is intended to benefit the world that the church inhabits. Christian worship is not a consumer activity meant to meet the needs of those who gather to worship. Those who worship gather to offer themselves to God on behalf of the world and to be sent into the world as Jesus’ servants on behalf of God. The early Christian community renamed Sunday as the Lord’s Day (often calling it the Eighth Day of Creation – an entirely new day of the week) as a constant reminder that Christian worship is the praise and response of a people whose life together is rooted in the startling, transforming Resurrection news of Easter Sunday. On Sunday the church brings with it the harsh truth about the world’s Good Friday ache and grief as well as its Holy Saturday longing and despair. Then, in Word and Sacrament, it meets the Easter God who, in Jesus Christ, brings to birth a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17). Here the gospel is revealed to be both intensely personal and radically social. Nothing and no one is beyond God’s power to raise from the dead. God’s glory is revealed when the liturgy is a performance of this gospel drama and when the gathered congregation are its actors.


like rain and snow

When you live in a rain forest you learn what to expect. It rains. A lot. And up on the mountains? It snows. A lot. By the time March rolls around we are dreaming of the days when the rains finally cease and the snow begins to melt. If pressed to find a metaphor for God’s activity in all of this our minds wander to those long warm summer days and glorious sunsets. But not Isaiah. Not today. Today Isaiah (Isaiah 55:1-13) sees a God of rainstorms and blizzards. Isaiah the poet-prophet says God is raining down speech on the earth. He says God’s voice blankets the earth in the way snow transforms the landscape. Isaiah sees that God’s word is never futile, God’s message is not wasted. God’s speech is like the rain and the snow. It soaks into the earth, into us, into the church. It waters arid ground, dry souls. It prepares farmland and rain forest and you and I and the church alike for God’s coming season of growth.


didache - training in the way

The mark of Didache (pronounced “did-a-kay”) means “teaching”, “formation”, “training”.  It is a mark of Christian community because the church is a school. In it we are taught the Way of Jesus Christ in the same manner that apprentices are taught a trade – through lifelong practice in repentance and confession, in forgiveness and reconciliation, in servanthood and sacrifice, in pastoral care and in social witness. Didache is less about learning a body of knowledge and more about becoming a new people. A congregation that bears the mark of didache is not a “come as you are, stay as you are” church. Resistance to the notion of conversion is dwindling in such places for these are communities in which people increasingly long to be converted from the anxiety-producing ways of the world to the peaceable Way of God’s kingdom come. In their desire to learn a new way of life – to “learn Christ” (Ephesians 4:20) – such congregations evoke memories of the name claimed by the early Christian community: “The Way” (Acts 9:2). Here Christian education is not simply a matter of teaching children to become belief-ful adults. Here the whole congregation is made up of disciples – students – who are learning a new life as adopted children in the household of God. Here it is clear that once we have heard the kerygma – the good news – nothing can stay the same.


galatians - week three

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter three and week three of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...

In preparation for our time together read Galatians, chapter three. Note your own questions and insights. Bring them with you to our conversation. Consider these questions:

In verse one Paul says: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified!” We have glimpses of the description that Paul offered of the events of Holy Week in I Corinthians 11:23-26 & 15:1-11. What is your reaction to Paul’s focus on the cross and resurrection rather than on the life and teachings of Jesus?


children of the promise

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

It is a primal story, an odd story, our story. Paul names it as a taproot gospel story. It is the story of Abraham. He and aging wife Sara have left home and family, risking everything on God. Still there is no child, no home, no sign of the future God has promised. Now the LORD appears in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abraham, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” Abraham is the great-great grand-father of the faith. Abraham is the primal figure of faithfulness. When God promises Abraham safety and a future we expect Abraham to say “Yes, Lord”. But, no. Abraham questions God’s integrity: “O LORD God, what will you give me, for I continue childless … You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” Abraham puts God on the witness stand and pokes holes in God’s testimony. “Oh, really”, says Abraham, “and on what basis am I to trust your promise since there is no child yet? In case you hadn’t noticed, we are not getting any younger.” We expect the story about the progenitor of the faith to portray him as confident, sure, as - well - trusting. But it does not. It makes a point of noticing that Abraham struggles to trust in God’s promise of an improbably blessed future. All the evidence suggests that Abraham and Sara are not the beginning of a new people in whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). Everything points to them being the end of the line. Abraham and Sara are proto-types. They are proto-types for all those who follow their footsteps in the faith - in the trust - that God will birth a future out of barrenness. It turns out that it is proto-typical for believers to disbelieve.


kerygma - the message

Kerygma, one of five marks of the church, is at the heart of the church’s life. Kerygma means “proclaiming”, “announcing”, “preaching”. A congregation lacking kerygma is a community without the extraordinary news – “The Message” – that is the church’s reason for being. The kerygma is not simply a neighbourly commitment to generic values of hope, faith and love or to peace and justice. The gospel is not the best of humankind’s attempts to reach out to God. It is, instead, the incredible announcement that, in Jesus Christ, God has broken into history to save and redeem the Creation. The good news is a cruciform story of God’s capacity to bear the world’s suffering and to overcome the powers of death. A kerygmatic congregation is learning that the glory of the God it meets in Jesus Christ is, paradoxically, revealed in weakness. To paraphrase Paul, believers long for proof that God is real (signs) while unbelievers expect a reasonable contemporary spirituality (wisdom) but the church announces Christ murdered (crucified), a scandal to believers and idiocy to unbelievers (I Corinthians 1:22-23). The church that God grows springs from the seed of the cross and resurrection. Where this message takes root and comes to flower one finds a people undeterred by hardship, unsurprised by tragic loss, unprepared to give up on the least and the last because it is coming to trust in the power of God to make new.


galatians - week two

Here is the introductory page for Galatians chapter two and week two of our congregational conversation about Paul's Letter to the Galatians ...



Luke 4:1-13

How appropriate it is that we celebrate Caleb’s baptism today, the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is the church’s great season of formation and little Caleb is deeply into formation in this first year in his life. When Lent began it was the culmination of the preparation of adults for baptism that would take place in the early morning hours of Easter Sunday. It was a baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Caleb is also baptized today into Christ’s death and resurrection here, already, at the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross and empty tomb.


after velcade, a breather

After forty weeks and eight cycles on Velcade and dexamethasone today marks the beginning of my break without treatment. Normally I would have been at St. Paul's hospital this morning for the first of my four weekly injections. It also means that I am not taking any steroids for the next eight weeks. Even though I only take a dose of dexamethasone once a week I still find that this is a challenge (much less than four times a week as when preparing for the stem cell transplant, but a challenge nonetheless). I am looking forward to living without the ups and downs that are the side effects of dex. I will be living normally, without treatments, at least until April 8 when I next see my hematologist. Between now and then I am planning on eating well, getting exercise and just generally enjoying life.


2013 online daily lenten devotional

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the day when Christians begin the season of Lent, a forty day preparation for Easter. Those who take the time to count the days from now until Easter Sunday will note that it actually totals forty-seven days in all. That is because the Lenten season of preparation and fasting does not count the Sundays. Sundays, for us, are always mini-Easter celebrations. For University Hill Congregation this is the twelfth year in which we have marked Lent by creating our own home-made Lenten daily devotional book. In the early years it was a hard-copy printed booklet for use within our congregation. Now it is an online resource used by our congregation and others who join us in the practice of reading, hosting and praying scripture as a means of continuing our formation as faithful witnesses to God's grace revealed in Jesus. You are most welcome to join us in this practice and are invited to spread the word to others who may be interested. Here is the introduction to this year's devotional, along with a link that will take you to it ...


galatians - week one

Once again this year we at University Hill Congregation have co-ordinated our weekly study groups so that all of us are hosting the same scripture together through the season of Lent. Some in our congregation are unable to get to one of the weekly gatherings but still wish to participate. To help them - and others who may be interested in joining in - we post materials related to our conversation here each week. Here is the introductory page for chapter one of Galatians and week one of our congregational conversation ...

with unveiled faces

This sermon owes its structure and content to a sermon on the same texts found in "The Collected Sermons of Walter Brueggemann" (pp. 65ff). While I regularly read sermons and commentaries in preparation for preaching I always find them jumping off points not landing places. In this case, though, I could not imagine a better tribute than to simply borrow Walter's riff on the texts and play it as best as I could. Here are the notes I cribbed and then used in my improvisation ... (thanks Walter!)

marks of the church god is calling into being

An eye opening moment for us in University Hill Congregation came when we were introduced to five marks of Christian communal life. We discovered them in Maria Harris’ book “Fashion Me a People: Curriculum in the Church”. In it Harris testifies that the creation of educational curriculum in congregational life involves a holy participation in God’s fashioning of a people. She posits that the medium which is the material of God’s artistic endeavour in forming the church are a set of forms – or marks – of Christian community that are first named in the book of Acts (Acts 2:42, 44-47): “There we find in one place the most detailed description of the first Christian community doing what will in time become the classical activities of ecclesial ministry: kerygma, proclaiming the word of Jesus’ resurrection; didache, the activity of teaching; liturgia, coming together to pray and re-present Jesus in the breaking of bread; koinonia, or community; and diakonia, caring for those in need”(p. 16).


changed from glory into glory

It is Wednesday. Half-way to Sunday's sermon. At this point in the week I habitually chew on the text for this coming Sunday, meditating on it, fretting, wondering what it is saying to me, to us. This week there is a phrase hidden away in the passage from II Corinthians 3:12-4:2 that intrigues and puzzles me: "And all of us, with unveiled faces, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another". I recognize something here. This is the source of an odd phrase in the classic hymn "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling". It is what Charles Wesley alludes to when, in the final verse, he writes "changed from glory into glory". Paul is, speaking of the transformation of the community that focuses its attention on the glory - the energy or presence - of God seen in Jesus. But I am not really sure how to describe these differing degrees of glory. What does a glorious church look like? Are congregations really being transformed - as the King James Version puts it - "from glory to glory"? What evidence is there? Later Paul seems to answer, saying: "So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (II Cor. 4:16-18). Paul writes to the pastor in me who is tempted to measure glory by what can be seen on the surface of congregational life. He invites eyes that see beneath the surface. He also writes to all of us who live with chronic incurable illness and others who suffer all manner of pain renaming it a "slight momentary affliction" that it is, somehow, preparation for an experience of God's glory that is "beyond all measure". The text is puzzling to me. I am not sure how to give voice to it on Sunday. I am glad it is Wednesday.


glory redefined

The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany celebrate the good news of the birth, baptism and ministry of Jesus. At the crucial turning point from the story of Jesus’ birth and beginnings to the story of his journey to a cross stands Transfiguration Sunday. It is, at once, the culmination of what has gone before and a glimpse of what lies ahead.

The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is dramatic, fantastic, spectacular. In a word, it is glorious. There is Jesus radiating divine energy on the mountain top while speaking with Israel’s most famous prophets – Moses and Elijah. Then comes the cloud of God’s presence and the voice of God adding three words to the ones spoken from heaven at Jesus baptismal anointing: “Listen to him.” And then, in a flash, it is over. No more radiance, no more prophets, no more cloud of presence or voice from heaven. Just Jesus and his trio of apprentices, climbing down, with instructions to say nothing of this “until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9).


in a riddle

"through a glass darkly" by craig brewer
I Corinthians 12:31b- 13:13 You have to pay attention. In the midst of this beloved ode to love there is a riddle. These verses seem so clear, so straight forward. No wonder they are chosen by so many brides and grooms. The poem seems anything but puzzling: “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude”. It sounds like accessible greeting card theology. You can almost picture the image of the honeymoon couple walking into the sunset.


on being eccentric

In working on the sermon for Sunday on I Corinthians 13 I picked  Michael Gorman's book "Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross" off of my shelf. He has helpful thoughts on Paul's famous meditation on love that will surely inform the sermon.

But that is not the reason for this scribbled post. On page two Gorman writes this: "Paul's spiritual experience was not part of 'mainstream' religion, comfortably situated in the center of his social world. He was, rather well off-center - eccentric (literally, 'out of the center'). As Paul himself admitted, identifying with the cross made him and his colleagues into eccentrics, 'fools for the sake of Christ' (I Cor. 4:10)."

I wonder if the pilgrimage that I have been on in three decades of ministry is towards receiving and recovering an identity that is at home with eccentricity. Coming from a Christian denomination that had grown accustomed to thinking of itself as central in Canadian cultural life "eccentric" was not one of the words we favoured when identifying ourselves. We liked "relevant" or "on the cutting edge" or "contemporary". But the truth is, we are off-center - eccentric. Once we realize that the cruciform gospel inevitably forms an eccentric people it is much easier to relax into - even celebrate - this peculiar identity. Being salt for the earth inevitably leads to living as a distinctive, odd, eccentric community. I am getting used to it. Slowly.


reading paul reading us

from a 9th century manuscript (Monastery of St. Gallen)
This coming Sunday we're reading I Corinthians 13. On many Sundays preaching is challenging because the scripture is unfamiliar to the congregation. But not this week. This week preaching is challenging because the text is so familiar. People have pretty well memorized this passage after hearing it at so many weddings. How to recover the surprise, even shock that Paul's words first elicited? How to find the source of energy - the voltage - that takes this out of the category of a sweet greeting card into that of a contentious polemic? These are the questions that I am wrestling with this week.

Soon it will not be familiar texts from Paul but unfamiliar ones that will be at issue here. Our Lenten study this year will see our congregation reading Paul's Letter to the Galatians together. Here is how we have introduced this Lenten study to the congregation:


if i have accomplished anything

A painting by Nicholas Brian Tsai

"If I have accomplished anything in my life it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God."

- Dorothy Day


velcade - cycle eight

I am now half way through my eighth and final cycle of this set of treatments on bortezomib (Velcade) and dexamethasone. After this cycle is complete on January 31 we will stop treatment and wait to see how long it takes for a bio-chemical relapse (an increase in the levels of my free light chains). I am looking forward to at least a couple of months without any treatments. The side effects from the treatments are minor but they do occur and the weekly trips for blood work and for injections are time consuming, so having normal weeks without any treatments will be a gift.