Monday, December 10, 2012

“Prepare the Way” Advent 2C (December 9, 2012), MCC WIndsor, Rev. Martha Daniels

Baruch 5:1-9
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem,
   and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God;
   put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting;
for God will show your splendour everywhere under heaven.
For God will give you evermore the name,
   ‘Righteous Peace, Godly Glory’.
Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
   look towards the east,
and see your children gathered from west and east
   at the word of the Holy One,
   rejoicing that God has remembered them.
For they went out from you on foot,
   led away by their enemies;
but God will bring them back to you,
   carried in glory, as on a royal throne.
For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low
   and the valleys filled up, to make level ground,
   so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.
The woods and every fragrant tree
   have shaded Israel at God’s command.
For God will lead Israel with joy,
   in the light of God’s glory,
   with the mercy and righteousness that come from the Holy One.

Luke 1:68-79
“Blessed be the God of Israel, who has looked favourably on God’s people and redeemed them. God has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of God’s servant David, as God spoke through the mouth of the holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus God has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered the holy covenant, the oath that God swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before the Holy One all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Holy One to prepare the way, to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Will you pray with  me? God of peace and joy, show us your more perfect way. We are stumbling and lost—show us the path of peace that leads to the stable where we will find Jesus. Guide us on that road so that we may find him. In all your names, amen.

We don’t often read from the book of Baruch. It’s not in the Protestant Bible—the church reformers of the 15th century thought it didn’t really belong in the Bible—but it is in the Catholic Bible and you will find it in study Bibles, in what is called The Apocrypha, between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Baruch was a student of Jeremiah, but he sounds very different from his teacher. Jeremiah is angry, vengeful, scolding. Baruch—his name means “blessed” – on the other hand, speaks of hope and peace and joy.

All the uneven places of the road to Jerusalem will be smoothed out—it will be easy to get to the blessed place. God will bring peace and hope and joy and harmony to God’s people. It echoes the lines from Isaiah that we often hear at Advent—“every valley shall be lifted up and the rough places made plain, a highway for our God.”

We talked a bit last week about preparing—and here we are again. When someone special is coming for dinner, what do we do? We clean the house, we put clean towels in the washroom, we pick up the clutter in the living room, we make a special meal. Does anyone know For Better or Worse? Great comic strip, set in Canada, actually, written by Lynn Johnston. Over the years, she’s covered a lot of great topics, some of them painful or difficult—child abuse, the death of a family pet, late pregnancy, coming out, Alzheimer’s, and more. One of her more light-hearted strips shows a mom walking through the house, horrified at the mess—clothes all over the living room, toys on the kitchen floor, a sink-full of dirty dishes, piles of laundry…and she picks up the phone and starts dialling. “Who are you calling, Mom?” asks her young daughter. “Someone special for dinner,” she answers. Sometimes it takes that extra push to get us to clean up, to prepare.

Our reading from Luke today is about John the Baptist—he is the one who is to prepare the way for the Holy One, for Jesus. Much was made of this point in the early church, and we aren’t sure why now—but John says to Jesus, “I must decrease that you may increase,” and the logic of the early church put John’s feast day exactly opposite Christmas in the calendar, on June 25. But the point is that John is to prepare the way—to get people, the world, society---ready for God’s coming among them as the Christ, the anointed one, Jesus. That’s his job.

And, my friends, it’s our job, too. We are to be preparing for Jesus’ coming among us, both as a child at Christmas, and in glory, at that time that only God knows for sure. Christmas is a remembrance of his coming among us as a human being, as a tiny child, to grow and live as one of us, to know what it is like to be a human being, to experience the love and joy and terror and pain and sorrow and hope of being human. It’s a time to celebrate because God’s own child will be here, among us, present with us. That’s a very special guest indeed.

And what is it that Jesus is to bring? Baruch and Luke both speak of peace, of harmony. The Hebrew word “shalom” which is used here, means peace, yes—but so much more. It means a working together, a partnership, a mutual support network, lifting each other up, without jealousy or spite. It means having a secure foundation of trust in others, based on a knowledge of God’s love and care for each one of us, so that we know there is plenty for everyone, and we share that plenty—whether it is finances, time, service, love—with those who need what we have to give.

Now, that sounds a lot like an intimate relationship—that partnership of mutual care and support and trust and caring. Think about your relationships—with partners, family members, friends, co-workers. The best were and are the ones with that basis of trust and care and mutuality. They weren’t concerned about who spent more on Christmas gifts for the other—but whether the gift was needed and wanted and meaningful. They weren’t worried about who got to choose where to go to dinner most of the time—but whether the meal was good. They weren’t worried about who did more house work—but that each person did what they were best at.

However, we all also know that relationships take a lot of work—conversation, trust, sometimes some pain, trying this and that to see what works. It’s a balancing act, right? So if it is this difficult and tricky one-on-one, with people we know and love—our parents, siblings, partners, best friends—it’s no wonder that groups of people often can’t get along!

But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. And this is our work of preparing. This is what Charles Dickens, that ultimate Christmas story writer, emphasised in his stories like The Christmas Carol and The Chimes—we don’t live for only ourselves, but for others, in mutual support and caring. When we care for others, when we offer them what we have—whatever it might be, however small it might seem—we are clearing the path, the way, for Jesus’ coming among us.

As we decorate our homes, as we cook and clean and bake and shop for gifts, let’s remember what we are really preparing for—the arrival of the most special guest of all—Jesus Christ, child of God.

In all God’s many names, amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

"Waiting" December 2, 2012 (Advent 1C), Rev. Martha Daniels

Jeremiah 33:14-16
The days are surely coming, says the Holy One, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “God is our righteousness.”

Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Human One coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the realm of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Human One.”

Will you pray with me? Holy One, you make all things new. You bring about glad surprises and fulfill joyful hopes. Give us grace to recognise the signs of your presence among us, today, at Christmas, and always. In all your names, amen.

One of the most common complaints about Christmas that I hear is that the shopping season starts too early! It is out of hand, I think, when the stores have Halloween decorations and Christmas stockings up at the same time! When I go into DollaRama and see the stockings, even though my thoughts are more on pumpkins and candy corn, I know that Christmas is right around the corner. Those stockings (and candy, and trees and wrapping paper and ribbons and cards and…) are a sign of the coming of Christmas, as surely as the leaves on the fig tree are a sign of the coming of God’s realm.

There’s a difference, however. We know exactly when Christmas will come. Christmas Eve is December 24 and Christmas Day is the 25th. Some people celebrate more on the 24th and some on the 25th, but those are the two days when we can count on it being Christmas.

Some things that we wait for are much less certain, although we know they will eventually arrive, like the next bus or the server with our dinner. Sometimes we don’t know if the things we are waiting for will ever show up—but we wait with hope--the partner we will spend the rest of our lives with, a cure and vaccine for HIV/AIDS.  

Waiting. It’s probably the hardest thing for me to do. I am not really a patient person. I want to do things now, and have results immediately. I have probably seen too many movies, with their editing of time so that it seems to take just ten minutes to bake a cake and two hours for a child to grow up. One of the books I am currently reading is about patience…how to cultivate it, how to cherish the moment that is, and have the faith and confidence that events will unfold exactly as they are meant to.

This is the task of Advent—waiting, with faithfulness, hope, love, and joy for the arrival of Emmanuel—God with us. It’s harder, in some ways, than the waiting of Lent, even though Advent is shorter. Advent mostly takes place in growing darkness—the days are getting shorter, until just before Christmas, so it is gloomy. Lent is in the spring, as the days grow longer and lighter, trees begin to bud and leaf out, tulips and daffodils begin to push up from the ground—it’s easy to see the hope and anticipate the joy.

It’s not as simple in December, is it? Besides the darkness and gloom, there’s the pressure modern culture has created around the holidays—Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone is supposed to have parties and go to parties, to dress nicely, to bake and cook (even if they usually don’t), to give the perfect gift to everyone, to get along with family they would prefer not to ever see, to generally live a perfect life for a couple weeks.

I enjoy parties as much as most people, I love Christmas cooking—as you can tell—I like to give people gifts they can enjoy and use…but somehow, I remember a difference when I was young, and certainly the holidays are described differently in the books of one and two hundred years ago.  I don’t mean only Dickens and his Christmas Carol, when Christmas was a family gathering, a big dinner, and games after—sort of like our Thanksgiving, with the addition of a church service. But when you read Jane Austen, for example, or the diaries of Samuel Pepys, or the laws regulating Christmas—there’s much more about food and drink and gatherings of family and friends, and very little about gifts or clothing. It seems people cooked a special meal—but not one beyond their means; and maybe added a new dress, or spruced up an old one; and rather than two weeks of parties and feasting, were considered lucky to have Christmas Day itself off.

I’m not saying we should go back to those days—those were also the days of no unions, of child labour, of no income support, of poor health for most people. But perhaps the attitude is one we could regain. Rather than a huge feast of things we aren’t sure we want to eat, with people we aren’t sure we want to be with, giving them things we aren’t sure they will like—perhaps we could gather with the ones we love, sharing a feast of simple good food, and gifts of meaning. And we wouldn’t have to change a thing, except our attitude.

Patience is a virtue, we are told. Perhaps if we could be more patient, allow each day to have its own message, we would find more in those days. If a day simply becomes one more to check off on the calendar in the rush to Christmas, we lose something—the grace and space of that day. Take each day on its own terms, including Christmas, knowing it will come in its time and offer its gifts. Take the time to immerse yourself in that day, to drink in its message and sense and feeling, before you move on to the next day.

An Advent calendar works that way. Each day, one window or door is opened; each day, one chocolate is revealed, or one small toy, or one picture or one Bible verse. You don’t get all the chocolates at once; you don’t get the whole story all at once. Bit by bit, over time, it is revealed.

That is, ideally, how to live this time of Advent. We know Christmas is coming. We can see the signs, like leaves on a fig tree. But we will wait for it patiently, knowing it will come in the fullness of time.

But Advent is also about preparation. Yes, we prepare our homes, we shop for gifts, we read the stories of John the Baptist and Mary and Joseph, we bake and cook…but we also prepare our hearts. When it comes down to it, we are preparing our hearts for that one day, for Christmas Day—when Christ was born, when our God came to earth and was born as one of us. As we wait, we prepare. We do not simply sit—we wait actively through our preparation. And it’s about more than the decorations, lovely as they are; it’s about more than the food, good as it is; it’s about more than the gifts, as touching or needed as they may be.

Think of Mary—she waits, and yet she is preparing, mentally and spiritually and physically, for this birth.

What are we waiting for in our lives, in the world? Some things are obvious—world peace, an end to hunger. Today, World AIDS Sunday, we lift up the wait for and the work towards a cure for HIV/AIDS.  We wait, but we do not sit idly while we wait. We support organisations that are working on vaccines and cure and treatments; we remember the ones we have lost—too many! We teach prevention and safer sex practices, we offer resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. We do not simply wait for the answers to be handed to us on a platter.

Waiting. It’s difficult—few of us are as patient as we should be—but wait we must. But we can also act as we wait—prepare our hearts, our world, as we wait—for peace, for a cure for HIV/AIDS, for an end to hunger and poverty—for Christmas and the coming of the Christ child.  In all God’s names, amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What's Happening at MCC Windsor"


Fright Night Out Pasta Dinner!
Saturday, October 27, 2012
6 - 10 pm 
MCC Windsor
1680 Dougall Ave

Fright Night Out!!! Pasta Dinner/Dance
Featuring a pasta sauce contest between Fran and Jason, lots of pasta to try the sauces on, salad, dinner roll, coffee or tea, and dessert! Light snacks and other refreshments will also be available for purchase. We'll also have silent auction items, a costume contest, 50/50 draw, pumpkin carving and more!

We will also be collecting canned goods for the WellCome Centre for Human Potential, as part of our on-going support for them. Please help us replenish their shelves.

Tickets are $10 in advance (you can call the church office to reserve yours--519-977-6897) or $12 at the door; $5 for children and students with ID.

Honouring Lives Well-Lived: Planning for the End of Life
Wednesday November 7 and Wednesday November 14, 2012
7 - 9 pm both evenings

 "Honouring Lives Well Lived:Planning For the End of Life"
How do you want to be remembered? How does your parent wish to be cared for as her life draws to an end? Do you know who can make medical decisions for you when you cannot make them yourself? Is that person the best person to make those decisions Does your partner have a special hymn she wants sung at her funeral or memorial? What happens to us after death?  Where is God when I am dying?

None of these are easy questions. It's not something we like to think about--the end of our life or of someone we love. But with preparation we can have confidence that while it may still be difficult, we have made our choices ourselves with thought and prayers.

Presentations by clergy, hospice personnel, a lawyer, and a funeral director will offer insights and suggestions for you and those you love as you consider living wills, medical powers of attorney, funeral pre-planning, the meaning of death, and God's presence with us in death, among other topics.

Sessions will take place Wednesday November 7 and Wednesday November 14 at Hospice of Windsor from 7 - 9 pm.

Please join MCC Windsor; Bedford United, Westminster United, and Emmanuel United Churches, and Hospice of Windsor for this important time of sharing and information. 

Annual Budget Forum
Sunday, November 11, 2012
3 pm
 The suggested budget for 2013 will be presented by our treasurer, Linda. This is your opportunity, as members, to make comments and suggest changes. The budget will be finalised at this meeting and then approved at the Congregational Business Meeting November 28th. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance 
Rite of Renaming 
November 28th, 2012 
1:30 pm
 We remember and name our transgender brothers and sisters whom we have lost to violence and ignorance in the last year, and we look to the future with hope in a time of renaming--taking the name we are meant to have.  If you would like to participate in the renaming ceremony, please contact Rev. Martha.

Coming up soon....
World AIDS Day remembrance December 2
Trade and craft show December 8
Christmas Eve service December 24

"44 Years Later" Fellowship Sunday, October 12, 2012, Rev. Martha Daniels

Hebrews 4:12-16
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before God no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Child of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Mark 10:17-31
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’”
The man said to Jesus, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
When the man heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the realm of God!”
And the disciples were perplexed at these words.
But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the realm of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the realm of God.”
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Will you pray with me? Holy One, you guide us through the needle’s eyes of life, those times when we must declare your truth even though our voice shakes, lead us through to your throne of grace. Be present with us as we seek to understand your good news. Teach us not to see and hear what others want us to see and hear, but your truth alone. May all that we speak and hear be acceptable to you, our teacher, our redeemer, our friend. Amen.

44 years ago, in a small living room in Los Angeles, 12 people gathered together for a worship service. They had come after seeing an ad in the local gay paper The Advocate, inviting all who wished to come to a worship service. Led by a former Pentecostal pastor, Troy Perry, they worshipped, they sang, they read Scripture, they took Communion.  They were Caucasian and black and Latino, all genders, many spiritual backgrounds, all sexual orientations. The next week, they returned; some brought friends. The next week, more still. Over the weeks and months and years, that congregation grew—sometimes slowly, sometimes faster—and spread across the US and around the world. Together those worshippers formed the basis of what we know today as the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.

Rev. Troy Perry had begun his ministry as a young boy of nine, when he preached his first sermon on the street. Growing up, he confessed his attraction to men to his pastor, who told him it was merely a passing phase and that he should marry as soon as possible. Three children and several years of heterosexual marriage later, Troy could not deny his true nature. He was outed and expelled from the denomination where he had successfully pastored for many years. He found secular work and tried to forget his ministry. But he could not reconcile his sexuality and what he had been taught by his church, and so, wracked by his church’s judgement that he was condemned by God already, he attempted suicide. Troy’s roommate found him and summoned help. Lying on a stretcher in a hospital corridor, he was told, “God is not done with you yet. You have work to do.” His mother came to visit him, and as only a mother can do, said, “Troy, you are loved by God. You want a church where gay people know they are loved, well, go start one.” And he did.

MCCs have been in the forefront of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people for 44 years. Troy fasted several times in an attempt to force the California legislature to legalise same-gender marriage. He worked on campaigns to defeat discriminatory proposals, such as those that would deny teaching jobs to lesbians and gay men. MCC has testified for hate crime statutes, for equal marriage, and for anti-discrimination laws at all levels of government. Canada’s Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, of MCC Toronto, was made a member of the Order of Canada for his work on human rights issues. We have protested discrimination, we have worked for the protection of families with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members—children, parents, siblings, grandparents.

Around the world, we also work for women’s rights—to education, to protection under the law, to healthy care, to equal pay. We are also currently working in South Asia—Pakistan, India, Indonesia—for equal rights for transgendered men and women there. In South Africa, MCC was the place where a person living with HIV/AIDS could go and be accepted and a part of the community. Wherever a group is marginalised, we work to bring them justice and equality and protection.

We are known in many places as the human rights church. Our guiding call is that of the prophet Micah in the First Testament—“What does our God require of you but to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God?”

Seeking justice—that is human rights work.  It’s standing with people who are marginalised on the basis of who they love, or the colour of their skin, or where they or their parents were born, or how they worship God. It’s standing with people who have no health insurance. It’s standing with people who are not paid a fair wage for the work they do. It’s standing with people forced to work in dangerous conditions.  It’s standing with people who are denied education because of their gender, or race or location in society.

All those things and more are what MCC does around the world. But we aren’t doing it for political reasons, for publicity or because other people are doing it. We know our call—to do justice, love mercy, and walk with God—and that is what we do.

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews clarifies this for us. God’s truth is sharp and sometimes difficult to speak; it can divide countries, communities, families. But we have the example of Christ, who also spoke truth, spoke truth to power. It can be done—it may be frightening and we don’t always know what the consequences might be, but it must be done. Troy and Brent and others have fasted, been arrested, had threats against their lives and against their churches. Even I, with the little I have done here in Windsor, have received a few nasty calls and comments on articles in the Star or stories on TV.

Jesus is talking about this very thing when he says that those who follow him may lose everything. The truth, especially the truth about who we really are, can divide us from our friends, our families, our work, our homes, even, as in the case of Matthew Shepard and many others, our lives. When I came out, I had to leave behind everything except a few possessions, my son, a few friends, my family, and my call to ministry. And at that, I was lucky—I was not harassed, I was not barred from my son, I was not physically harmed or thrown onto the street. Some of you have experienced those things, or know people who have.

And yet we know our truth, the truth of who we are as God made us, and that sword of truth requires us to speak, to stand, to work—to be all of who we are, and to spread the good news of God’s love for all people. It is just what we do.

But there is a word of warning for us here too—those who think they will be first will be last and the last will be first. We cannot assume that we are free of mistakes—indeed, being human, we can’t help but make mistakes. Simply because we are marginalised in some ways, we are not then perfect in other ways. Being a woman does not mean a person doesn’t have to be caring, to share what she has with others.  Being a gay man doesn’t mean a person can be racist. We don’t get a bye on our errors because of the wrongs done to us. We can’t think that because we are, in some way or ways, marginalised, we automatically go to the head of the line. Marginalisation doesn’t make people saints.

The decision about who is first and who is last is not ours to make; either for ourselves or for others. We cannot know the actions and motives and needs of other people—the person who steals because she is hungry, or the person who lies on a job application because he is desperate for work, or the person who has never had a healthy relationship who deceives and coerces her partner. God’s calculus of salvation and promise is beyond our understanding; our own errors and mistakes are more than enough for us to work on.

And we know, with gratitude and thanksgiving, that there is grace enough for us. Christ’s love for us, for each one of us as individuals, provides us with grace and the promise of mercy. Because he too was human, Jesus understands what it is to be human—the promises we make because we want to keep them, but cannot; the fears and hopes that lead to half-truths; the insecurity that drives us to actions we don’t even want to make. He knows all these and so is able to bring us that grace and forgiveness, because he understands. Jesus knows the struggle to remain faithful to our call, to squeeze our way through the eye of the needle to right actions. When we fall short of our intentions, when we don’t speak that truth we know we should, when we can’t seem to find the courage to stand—Christ is with us in that moment, leading us through that narrow way.

MCCs have come through some hard times. There have been days and months when it was uncertain whether the denomination would survive; there have been times when this local church, MCC Windsor, faced the possibility of closure. But we have come through, my friends—we have survived and thrived, because we heard the voice of Christ leading us through that narrow way. We have stood with the marginalised, we have taken our place in the world and spoken truth to power. That is who we are—as UFMCC, as MCC Windsor. We will continue to stand beside those viewed as “less-than” in any way—age, income, gender, ability, sexuality, race, ethnicity, country of origin. This is our call, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk with our God every day.

Take up that call, church. Do justice, love mercy, and walk with your God, today and everyday.

In all God’s names, amen.