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  • "This generation"
    a good discussion about all those signs Jesus mentions Just stop and think for a moment In which generation has there been war or rumour of war WW1 was called the war to end all wars for the century preceding it was filled with conflict the Boer War the Sino Japanese War the American Civil War the Crimean War the European revolutions of 1848 and of course our own little War of 1812 But the list of wars since WW1 is even longer the Russian Revolution WW2 the Korean War the Vietnam War and plus all those conflicts within nations like Congo Biafra Cambodia Central America Serbia Bosnia Rwanda Iran Iraq Afghanistan the Sudan the list goes on and on A cursory study of history tells us there has never been a generation in recent history without war or rumours of war The same was true in Jesus day And really the same could be said if we look at natural history to find records of earthquakes famines floods tsunamis We hear about such disasters instantly now before they ve even finished happening Our ability to see what is happening as it happens makes it seem like the number of events is increasing But really there is no decade which passes without such events The last big asteroid which came alarmingly close to earth flew past 35 years ago In Biblical time that s one generation ago but it s hardly the blink of an eye in astronomical time So just which generation is Jesus preaching about Should we be cashing in our pension savings because the end is finally at hand Well not according to the Biblical interpreter we ve been using to study Luke s Gospel this year He showed me something new about that phrase this generation He argues that wherever those words appear in Scripture This generation is really intended to refer to every generation not just the time the words were first written nor that moment we pick up the Bible The phrase This generation actually appears many times in Scripture especially in the psalms and throughout the prophets In whichever generation they were written these words intend to grab the reader s attention and focus us on God s judgment You see Jesus words fit this ancient pattern as a wake up call for the faithful to pay attention to the purposes God is setting before us that very moment Every generation faces a moment of decision in which it is called back to faithfulness and commitment in the face of human sinfulness like war or earth shaking tragedy like earthquake or tsunami This generation is our generation but it is also every other generation past and future Humanity always needs to be addressed by God s challenge to live in right relationship with God our neighbours and God s world In one sense then every day is judgment day a day when our judgment is on the line when our choices matter Every

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  • The Original "Grinch"
    to a generation in exile in Babylon when everything seemed lost Malachi spoke to those who faced the challenge to rebuild a nation when the exiles returned home having lost heart and hope Like these prophets before him John the Baptist marched into the wilderness to call his generation to repentance and commitment when Roman conquerors were squeezing the life out of God s people As Mark s Gospel begins God is entering into one more situation of devastation and despair with a promise of new life Jesus takes his plunge into the River Jordan and rises with a blessing that reveals him as a sight for sore eyes You are my Son the Beloved with you I am delighted This heavenly declaration is as much a Christmas greeting as the angels singing Glory to God in the highest God s Son rises from the waters of baptism and in Mark s eyes these are the waters of his birth New life has begun in Christ and Mark wants everyone who hears the story to respond to him as God s amazing gift Yet somehow as we approach Christmas it s so much easier to imagine ourselves in the stories told by Matthew and Luke We can picture ourselves in Bethlehem on its crowded streets watching Joseph and a very pregnant Mary ask for a room at inn after inn We imagine ourselves with the shepherds out on a starlit hillside when the Milky Way becomes even more astonishing and voices of angels replace the wind in our ears We know how we d respond to that baby in the manger stroking his cheek smiling trying to catch his eye willing to hold him if Mary would let us We might even walk in the shadow of a wise man though they d be a little more intimidating I think We d watch in amazement as the gifts were unpacked and offered up smiling as we do when ordinary working folks win an unexpected prize The familiar Christmas stories create a place for us in our imaginations We see ourselves responding to the child as we do to each precious newborn in our families in our congregation with wonder excitement hope for the future But Mark has something else in mind for us Grinch that he is Mark wants something more from us when we catch sight of Jesus for the first time He s not interested in the wonder evoked by angels He won t be happy to see the tender smiles a baby s innocent perfections evoke No Mark confronts us with John the Baptist a no nonsense man clothed in the uncomfortable dress of an ascetic one whose faith and commitment come first John vibrates with fiery passion like the prophet Elijah daring God s people to take a stand take a side and go against the flow To follow Jesus is not to rock the baby To follow Jesus is to rock the boat and stand

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  • For the love of the world
    has turned against nation What am I to do asks God Ah I will send them a baby For who can resist the tiny perfections of new life The delicate skin the hungry cry the trusting tug of mouth on breast I will send them a baby says God To awaken their affection and call out their tenderness and mercy When they cradle this baby they will cradle their love for the world once more Singing Silent night holy night Sleep in heavenly peace sleep in heavenly peace And so God s baby God s babies are announced One for young Mary in her eagerness for the world to change And one for old Zechariah and Elizabeth in their weariness that things will never change Births promised and mystery engaged How to greet the mystery How to claim the promise In song of course Mary s song engages the world of the broken hearted It claims God s energy to rearrange the world God loves Singing We are marching in the light of God we are marching in the light of God Feel God s energy pulling the discouraged to their feet blessing the hopeless with new life And the rich The over bearing They trip over their own arrogance and find themselves humbled in need of mercy Singing We are marching in the light of God Zechariah and Elizabeth sing a different melody of disappointment and disgrace washed away of hope dawning after all those years Their story is for those who have known years of discouragement and for those who will not give up on the promise it is never too late for the people of God Singing Come thou long expected Jesus born to set thy people free John and Jesus Born into the world of pain and possibility Not dropped off on a doorstep by some angelic stork but loved through labour into life to bring new life into the world We welcome new life into our lives with songs with lullabies that make us smile tenderly with songs that teach and songs that tease with tunes to wind us up and get things done and tunes to settle us down and let things go We sing to our children to open up the world for them to help them engage that world in its pain and in its possibility We sing to our children because we love them And love is always more than a matter of words Love must travel with us like a song to embrace us in every situation Because a song that claims us will never let us go Thank God we still sing at Christmas Perhaps it s the only time some people sing out loud any more We sing at Christmas for the love of God and for the love of the world We cannot love the world if we will not sing for the world sing to the world sing with the world For when we are in

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  • A word from the angels
    and his wife Elizabeth a child born late in their lives after years of disappointment If we have tried and failed and tried and failed again we can be afraid to try one more time Our fear protects us from further disappointment But God s angel speaks to every disappointed heart to say Don t be afraid to try again Don t let your past discouragement write the script for the future But not all fear is born of discouragement Think about Mary The angel asked her to be open to something completely new something unheard of a miracle really a baby born of God s Spirit to bring new birth to the whole world When we cannot even imagine the scope of a new project we can be afraid to take it on People often scoff when we take on a dream no one has ever imagined before They tell us not to waste our lives on something untried unproven Do not be afraid said the angel That angel knew Mary had a lot to be afraid of But still God asked the unimaginable of Mary because God could imagine the outcome And so God asks the unimaginable of us sometimes And when our project is of God and for God God will be with us in the midst of it So we should not be afraid to try a daring thing in Jesus name Now Joseph faced fear of a different sort If he put his trust in his angel he was going to break the customs of his community He was going to upset more than a few in his family and at the synagogue by taking on a wife apparently pregnant by someone else We know how people gossip about such scandal We know the jokes his friends would make behind his back To face down what the community considers shameful even in the name of love is not an easy task Fear of what others are saying fear of how we ll look can make many of us mind our ps and qs Such fear keeps us living up to the expectations of others never taking a risk that involves colouring outside the lines But if we re afraid of what others think about us say about us we ll never give God s project a chance The angel is right to rattle our cage and dare us to undertake what God s heart desires for us not just what everyone else expects And then there were the shepherds struck by fear and wonder greater than anyone had ever seen What were they afraid of Were they so taken by all the holiness and wonder that they felt unworthy to share in the moment Maybe they were afraid no one would believe them a rag tag band of shepherds who smelled like the animals they tended Who would believe that they had received news to change the world A sense of unworthiness for the task

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  • A Labour of Love
    brother in Christ and someone who belonged to the family In a sense Paul invites Philemon to recognize the humanity in his slave rather than the property But Paul s appeal is not just about an idea that slaves have human dignity too No Paul s appeal comes straight from heart His letter begins with great thankfulness for Philemon for his friendship to Paul and his faithfulness to Christ It is probably the warmest and most personal opening to any of Paul s letters So we know Philemon was a dear dear friend But Paul goes on to echo the same deep affection for Onesimus the young runaway slave Paul speaks with the affection of a father for a cherished son It s not just respect Paul hopes to awaken in Philemon s heart but love I am sending my own heart back to you Welcome him as you would welcome me Paul s letter is a labour of love It sounds like any parent sending a child off to school with a plea to an old friend to keep an eye out for that child Paul s plea draws on an old relationship of affection commitment hoping against hope to open the heart of his old friend to a youngster in a vulnerable position Onesimus is like a home child and Paul hopes Philemon will adopt him into the family not just give him a few lashes and put him back to work Now Paul s concern for Onesimus is worth noting Because Paul s impassioned plea this labour of love on behalf of a runaway slave foreshadows something Roman historians noted centuries ago As the Christian movement grew Christians were known to advocate for better treatment of slaves Christians like Paul felt deeply for the poorest of the poor those people whom others treated like dirt Christians were critical of brutal punishment for slaves and the common practice of splitting up slave families selling children off separately from their parents In his letter Paul is appealing to a fellow Christian to change his heart toward a slave who had been baptized But Christians didn t limit their concern to slaves who were Christians or slave owners who were part of the church Eventually Christians would advocate for the abolition of slavery though the achievement of this goal would be many centuries in the making This stand did not endear Christians to Roman authorities but it became a noteworthy characteristic of the early Church compassion expressed to those on the very fringes of society So what do we make of Paul s plea for Onesimus and this early Christian advocacy for slaves For me this week it set the lack of empathy for all those home children and the mistreatment of so many of them in Canada under a very searching light I wonder why these children received such a cold welcome in so many places not even invited into the house on Christmas Day according to my old

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  • Faith Under Construction
    Albert Einstein a physicist at least as famous as Stephen Hawking In 1930 a Jewish rabbi asked Einstein if he believed in God Here s how Einstein responded The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science The one to whom this emotion is a stranger who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead a snuffed out candle To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly this is religiousness In this sense and in this sense only I am a devoutly religious man While not exactly a confession of faith Einstein s words express the same impulse that resonates in our Psalm today Pondering the wonders of the visible world the Psalmist can only give glory to the source of all that is something someone much greater more mysterious than words can fully express If Stephen Hawking bothered to ponder ancient poetry he might see that such words are not competing with science The psalms and stories of ancient people give voice to the wonder of which Einstein speaks and the trust that within the beauty and mystery of the world there is personal meaning and purpose which help us live in right relationship with that world We meet God in our personal encounters with this mystery and meaning So Harvey Cox sets out to explore how people who have met God have then constructed their faith over the centuries It is not a simple road map Looking back from the end of his career at Harvard Cox names several crucial discoveries made in the last 50 years since he began his work which have challenged him to reconstruct his faith in Christ His book examines the implications of these discoveries for our understanding of God He s also interested in the changes he sees happening among Christians around the world in our generation He finds people now seek an experience of God through spiritual practices not just a set of ideas about God He sees Christians seeking to become followers of the Way of Jesus rather than members of a particular denomination That phrase the Way is the first name Christians took for themselves back in the earliest days of following Jesus It s still a good image for us if we can identify with the sense that the road we take as Jesus followers is always under construction From time to time that road branches out into new territory as the world around us changes challenging us to reflect on who God is in the midst of new realities like new scientific discoveries relationships with people of other faiths who have become our neighbours global challenges like climate change world hunger Our scriptures for this morning reflect one of the important interchanges along that road of faith

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  • Talking Quilts - Marking Alberta Arts Days
    be ardent in spirit serve the Lord Talking Quilt 3 A sampler quilt old patterns in new colours Theme quilting creates beautiful new combinations and colours using many old patterns joining gifts old and new in each generation just as the Letter to the Romans pictures Talking Quilt 4 A quilt from everyday life Theme the practicality of quilting using familiar pieces in resourceful ways so that things aren t wasted but find new opportunities to cheer our lives In the Book of Romans Paul invites us to piece together our lives from the gifts God gives us our natural talents and from the practices that mark us as Christians genuine love mutual affection honour and zeal in serving others Some of the gifts we develop in our lives are so practical others make a bold difference when we live them out in spite of what others expect An exercise in the quilting of our lives Each person received a four panel handout two panels offer sketches 2 are blank Ev Kleis described her sketches and the wisdom she has pieced into her life from people and moments she remembers We took a few minutes to fill in the spaces on our handout appreciating people who made an impact on us wisdom we ve cherished that s become a part of us Comforting the World Second Lesson Romans 12 12 18 Rejoice in hope be patient in suffering persevere in prayer 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints extend hospitality to strangers Bless those who persecute you bless and do not curse them 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice weep with those who weep 16 Live in harmony with one another do not be haughty but associate with the lowly do not claim to be wiser than you are 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all 18 If it is possible so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all 19 Talking Quilt 5 The experience of giving a quilt away Often quilts are sold or auctioned as a way of raising money for a good purpose to share the gift of the quilt with more than one life Our Talking Quilt 6 isn t here today There were actually 8 quilts donated to the Presbytery of Calgary MacLeod about a year ago which were offered in a quilt auction conducted on line Our Presbytery version of E Bay The quilts came from many different hands and even different parts of the world They were auctioned off to help meet the Presbytery s goal of sending 100 000 to Africa through Presbyterian World Service Development The quilts raised over 5000 towards needed community development projects including digging fresh water wells for whole villages in Malawi Just one more way in which quilting brings comfort into the world and wraps many lives with God s love Our Offering given to piece together some goodness in

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  • Plan B
    out of slavery and danger Plan B From our story today precious to all Presbyterians for the burning bush at its heart we know Moses wasn t too keen on Plan B But his grudging acceptance of God s new idea for his life made him one of God s most significant servants of all time and gave God s people a chance at new life Plan B A challenge to be sure but a blessing in disguise We could also ask Zacchaeus about Plan B The day he met Jesus he was invited into a new lifestyle a new set of priorities not unlike Anne Lamott Zacchaeus was moved to a level of generosity he d never dreamt of before He raised a lot of eyebrows and so did Jesus Onlookers wondered how Jesus could consort with a tax collector a guy suspect in his own community with a reputation for feathering his own nest at tax payer s expense What s Jesus doing spending time with Zacchaeus Luke includes many stories like this in his Gospel Jesus spending time with people whom nice folks preferred to avoid But you see Jesus embodies God s Plan B for lives that have run aground In fact St Luke believed that the community of Jesus followers is God s Plan B to open up the kingdom of God to people on the fringe Jesus opened the doors on God s grace and mercy for all those whom religious people of his day considered unworthy Jesus insisted in his life and in his death that God s covenant of love and mercy was open to all who would embrace it Jews and Gentiles tax collectors sinners Ann Lamott you and me With God s grace there is always a Plan B No one is written off Everyone is offered a new beginning Now I should tell you I m a Plan B person too Ministry was Plan B for my life First I went through all the preparations got prerequisites scholarships to go to law school and completed one year successfully But I finally had to admit that God was tugging my heart in a different direction Just like that dazzling burning bush God s voice was too persistent for me to ignore forever A few years later a second Plan B took me into teaching and a decade later to Scotland for three years Now Plan B has taken me out of teaching and brought me here much to the surprise of my academic colleagues A friend of mine in Scotland likes to say If you want to make God laugh tell God your plans I d rather say that God opens up a new door sets plan B in motion when our own plans don t prove as fruitful as we once hoped Every time some Plan B has taken hold in my life the choices I d made in good faith years earlier were fraying at the edges God

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