Rev. David`s Blog - July 10, 2020 Father of the Groom & Célébrant Some words are better in French. Célébrant, leading the celebration, I like that! Being both the father of the groom and the minister for the wedding ceremony this weekend of my eldest is a very emotional experience. And it happens in my new gardens in Cowansville. The visit of my mother, sister and brother-inlaw has filled the beds and rooms of my home. The mix of languages when the youth in your home only speak French is fun, new words are being invented and hand signals are necessary. Ça bouge! Families are about accommodating others. My mother was 31 when she was pregnant with me, her seventh baby. She has shared with me how difficult it was to mother in those early years with a non-ending flow of little ones afoot. As she inspects my garden in anticipation of her grandsons wedding we commiserate on her 60 year old son who is parenting at this time a 14 and a 13 year old. She has an opinion, about both gardens and parenting. I listen respectfully. We need celebrations and rituals in our lives. We need families, biological or other, always rooted in love. We need to know that relationships are rock solid and available in the long haul no matter what comes our way. The death of a three year old this week and the tragedy of four deaths last week in Notre Dame de Stanbridge remind us of the vacillation of life, never wished for, that happen and need all of our strength and courage. We need each other! We are community together. The Covid-19 pandemic has reminded us of the core relationships that nurture and root us. The socially distanced, small wedding is possible in part because my neighbour has given access to her adjoining backyard. It allows for the accommodation of the 17 guests who will be present. A challenge, but necessary so family can celebrate the rites of passage. And do so simply, with generous love and yes, accommodating the most fragile in our midst. One of the scriptures for tomorrow is from one of the oldest wisdom text of the Bible, Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12. It reads, in part, Two are better than one, together they work more effectively. If one falls, the other can help him up. If it is cold, two can sleep together and keep each other warm. Two can resist an attack that would defeat one alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break.
Grandma found silk material that my deceased brother Joe bought many years ago in China and stitched the following message on it: Mark and Jasmine, love is rooted in gardens! It will be a scarf wrapped around the hands of the couple after who speak their vows and exchange their rings. It is a symbol of the threads that tie our lives together and strengthen us in the storms of life. A couple speaking promises, their two cords intertwined with the presence of God, parents and family. Even those sending blessings by Zoom will be linked with us here. Have a wonderful wedding day! Whether rain or shine, love will be the focus and celebration. Thanks be to God. Amen. - Rev. David
Rev. David's Blog - July 3, 2020 Blue Velvet Is that not a song? The Friday blog is an opportunity to link into words my faith journey and spiritual practices that root me in life, hope and growth. When I got up this morning there was a kid on my new, clean, pristine, looking-so-good velvet couch. The camping experience must have ended at some point during the night. One of the stages in life is when you choose your furniture for your tastes, not for the wear and tear needed when there are younger children around. Mine was chosen a few months ago, just before COVID-19, from a lovely chic shop on Notre Dame in Montreal. It is made in North America, stylish, solid frame covered in deep blue velvet with one full cushion for seating. I read the riot act when it arrived: no food, dirty feet, drinking...this is my dream couch that lasts until...(you fill in the blanks)... One of the joys of having an emergency kid in my home is how the year-olderyouth became quickly a big brother and mentor. He has been a real help as the house accommodates another youth for the foreseeable future with trips to the recently opened Davignon Park Beach, paddle boating, hiking and biking, the two get along very well. The signs of the new arrival are everywhere: Shelby Lake huîtres on my kitchen counter, a mountain of laundry that cannot wait until my tradition of Monday morning, high energy that needs direction, jobs and watchfulness. There is the discovery of Pleins Rayons, an amazing Brome-Missisquoi initiative for youth with autism who repair bikes and sell them at very reasonable prices, on South Street, Cowansville. There are non stop questions, lights left on, toilet seats and water taps that break… whirlpools of water when the bath is used. A lot going on. I am remembering the Gospel from last Sunday (Matthew 10:42): ‘and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.` I am living in the preciousness of the every day. I am discerning the steps I take to stay healthy and balanced and am grateful for help in this initiative. When I bought the upgraded material for the couch I was asked if I wanted their super duper protective shield. As a parent I intuitively said yes, and this morning I add: thank God! The blue velvet couch will survive the next few months and the house will adapt to increased use. When I came down to the sprawled-on-velvet-reality I heard what sounded like laughter. Maybe it was Abraham or Sarah who laughed at the news of birthing a child in their later years? Maybe it was the laughter of my mother who comes next week to be part of the wedding in my back yard of her grandson, my eldest. She thinks I’m crazy and wonders where she sleeps as the guest bedroom has a new occupant. Maybe it is that lovely chuckle of God what looks at the things we do, purchase and see as important, and sends Life our way in the shape of a thirteen year old needing a room, bed and care. Both youth sought softer bedding during the night when the reality of sleeping outdoors sank in. I laugh at remembered adventures in years gone by as a sibling, a biological and foster dad. Bless the cups of cold water given in your name God. Bless our attempts to follow the example of Jesus our leader and brother. Bless all blue velvet couches! - Rev. David
Rev. David`s Blog - June 26, 2020 A Cup of Cold Water It’s a busy morning on Rue du Pacifique: the new house being built next door, the asphalt company starting work at 6h30 across the street and some animal digging up the bulbs planted in the rain on Saint Jean Baptist. With all the noise I almost feel like I am back on West Broadway in NDG! As I was heading to bed Sunday evening I had a call from Granby Hospital, a youth needed a bed for the night; could I help. There were many responses possible, and they all passed through my mind, but you know the one that I gave: yes. This week has been coloured by his presence in the guest room and the many questions a “guest” asks; may I have a bath (not shower) please, am I here tomorrow, can we go to the beach? There is a chaotic feel to my home as it accommodates this recent arrival with his higher energy and need to belong somewhere. It is rather full! Matthew’s Gospel (10: 42) has this short verse: If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. It sounds like so little, just a cup, and water is abundant (here in our context) is it not? That cold cup of water, with a squeeze of fresh lemon, was the most refreshing of drinks in the recent heat wave we all experienced. One sip at a time kept me hydrated. Thank God for water! Someone in the study group mentioned they had offered room in their AC-cooled place during the heat wave, it had the same theme as this passage, sharing what you have for the well-being of another. Matthew writes to persecuted disciples who were being ostracized from the community of faith of their Jewish ancestors as they chose to believe in and follow Jesus as Messiah. They were escaping to safer places and needed that cup of water on the way. Knocking at the door of a house could bring arrest or refusal to help. Did they pray to discern which house to approach? They were vulnerable. They needed hospitality in dangerous times. I was wondering if those of you on wells can be as generous with water as those on the municipal system? Even in Cowansville recently we were asked to not use water for cars or grass as the reservoir was strained by the absence of rain. How do we live in abundance while recognizing limitations of energy or ability? I am asking myself these questions. Hospitality is a big theme for Jesus. In the welcome of Jesus is the welcome of God who sent Jesus. In the welcome of a prophet or righteous person is the blessing of God and the community. It seems so simple. This invitation to radical hospitality begins with a yes, one night, one meal, one cup of water. Covid-19 has defined how we live as community, it has reminded us that we need each other locally in ways that government cannot provide. The getting of groceries for someone, delivering newsletters, calling and checking in. The base-community that gives the cold cup of water is birthing a movement that together seeks justice for black lives, indigenous women, and, I would add, our own youth. We are being asked to give something we have, a cup of water. We are being encouraged to do what we can in seeking justice for all our neighbours. We are being asked to live a hospitality of inclusion and generosity, not hording the gifts of Creator for ourselves but trusting that there is enough for all when we share with others. · Ready your cups! · Put a pitcher of water in the fridge! · Discern your role in this effort of generosity where each has a role . - Rev. David
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - June 21, 2020 Reflection: Setting Forth Karen Lackey Ryan The scriptures this morning remind me of days long ago when I left home to study in the city. Leaving home and small village life felt like a rough amputation: new location, new things to learn, new social situations, new responsibilities; everything new and unknown. This feeling of disruption and displacement can recur over anyone’s lifetime; we change jobs, change roles, change geographical locations, change partners, change financial status, and change state of health, among other situations that may arise. We struggle to reorient ourselves. Leaving the comfort zone of familiar friends and family and our usual ways of doing things, is both an opportunity and a source of anxiety. In today’s extreme example, Hagar is thrust away from home, with only a skin of water, a little food, and her young son. At times in life, we may find ourselves in a similar circumstance as that experienced by Hagar, or feel that way--totally abandoned, exiled from the safety and comfort of home, to be alone in the desert with responsibilities and limited resources, facing the worst. There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the stew. What Sarah had initiated as a solution to provide an heir for Abraham became a jealous competition between two women in the same household, each with a son, each of whom became fathers of nations. Hagar initially had the advantage over Sarah, since she gave birth to Ishmael years before Sarah had Isaac, to being totally exclude from her previous position in the family. As a slave, Hagar was subject to Sarah, which proved to be an insecure position. Ishmael had given Hagar a privilege that she exploited and Sarah resented. Sarah had been handicapped until she gave birth to a son. Isaac gave Sarah the authority she needed to protect her son’s interests. This is an early study in difficult family dynamics, an eternally modern tale of conflicted identity and status. Genesis 16 tells us that the trouble between the two women had started as soon as Hagar became pregnant. Hagar had run away from Sarah at this early stage, and was persuaded to return, by an angel of the Lord, and given a promise, 9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” And verse 11, “for the Lord has heard your misery.” By the time of chapter 21, Hagar was wandering in the desert, anticipating death, sobbing and listening to her son also crying. Soon an angel was reassuring Hagar that God had heard their cries. And “then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water.” So often it takes a crisis, an extremity of a situation, the likelihood of our immediate demise, for us to realize that we cannot save ourselves. We think we are so smart, and can problem solve our way out of almost anything. We cry to God in our anguish and pray that God will hear our prayer. We learn that we are at the mercy of God. It is said that we come into this world with nothing, and we leave this world with nothing. “You can’t take it with you!” We say that as an ironic joke. We know it, but in the meantime, we usually cling to whatever we can to reassure ourselves. Hagar reminds us that God’s mercy is what counts in the long run. Matthew 10 gives the disciples, and all of us who go forth as representatives of Christ, a preview of the challenges that being a follower of Christ can entail. The individual must put God first, above all else, even those whom we love, closest to our hearts. 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” There are other comforting and not-so- comforting, phrases. On the one hand, 30 “the very hairs on our head are numbered.” On the other hand, 34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And Matthew 10: 24 reminds us, “The student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.”This is reminiscent of a previous verse in Matthew 6: 24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. We are called to make a stand. We are called to assert ourselves as followers of Christ, and bear the consequences of mockery and threat to life and limb, even death, if only the death of our little, grasping ego. We are called, as Paul identifies himself (Romans 1:1), to be “a slave of Christ,” which is freedom. As Paul describes in Romans 6 , we live in Christ and die in Christ. We cannot please all the people all the time. We must choose God or Mammon. With Hagar, we must open our eyes and drink from the well, which is God and God’s Word, the ever-available thirst quenching waters of life. Drink deeply of the life giving waters of Love and Mercy and Wisdom, which is the only true satisfaction and firm foundation of this earthly life. With the disciples we must choose Christ as our teacher. As the United Church creed states, “In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.” Praise be to God.
Rev. David's Blog - June 19, 2020 Honour Thy Father The commandment to honour your father and mother is one I memorized in Sunday School. I still hear it in the King James old English, the only version that my Dad would read. He had the red letter study edition and read it religiously every day. I have his bible in my home, well thumbed, well read, well marked with notes, comments and questions. No one else wanted it. I have come to realize over time that he believed that the notes someone added were equal in importance to the text of the Bible. Sadly those commentators were from a very fundamentalist belief system. I obeyed the commandment and loved my father even though loving him wasn’t an easy thing. Although he fathered eight children, was a leader in the church and read his bible everyday he was a strict disciplinarian and emotionally absent. That means in real terms that he was not very likeable and any authentic connecting was almost impossible. No talking at the table was the rule, so you showed up, ate and disappeared into more enjoyable past-times than silence. I grew to like my dad when he began talking about his war experiences as a young fiveyear veteran of WWII. He never spoke of this until the 50th anniversary of the ending of the war. He opened the door to share the trauma he lived and his deep pain. I gave a eulogy for my dad at his funeral service. I spoke of the rawness and challenge of relationship with him and getting to know him better in his later years with genuine affection. Loving my dad gave way to liking my dad in his those years. Since I moved to Montreal I would greet him with a kiss on both cheeks, and although initially pushed away, he would in later years lift his face to my kiss even when his mind was residing elsewhere. In this Sunday’s lectionary readings Abraham sends his concubine Hagar, with his son Ishmael, into the desert to die (Genesis 21:8-21). And Jesus throws a curveball into his teaching of loving God with heart, soul and mind, and one’s neighbours as oneself. In Matthew 10: 34-39 it reads: Do not think I have come to bring peace to the world. No I did not come to bring peace but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers...whoever loves his father or mother more than me is not fit to be my disciple. How do we explain the example of our “father” Abraham, honoured as a patriarch by Jews, Christians and Muslims, being an unjust dad? How do we interpret the reading of Gospel that brings conflict into filial relationships and seems to contradict the commandment to honour fathers and mothers? Some stories of the Bible and texts are difficult to understand. We need to wrestle with them, seek meaning through collective conversation and engage through the lens of Jesus, even those passages that seem to contradict other teachings. I remember telling my dad about my sexual orientation and his inability to hear my story and struggle. He was silent for many years, torn between his reading of the Bible, the notes of doctrine and the ultra conservative church he was part of. One day he said to my sons: your name is Lefneski, mine is too, your dads name is Lefneski...we are a family...we looked at each other and realized he was affirming a fathers love over his religious conservatism and we loved him back. There are some difficult experiences in families: abuse, parental absence, rejection and judgement. Through grace we can be healed from wounds of the past and find the balance between loving God, ourselves and others. We can confront the injustices we have lived and seen and grow to even like those we are told to love. And when necessary we make the choice to follow Jesus into turbulent and controversial times with our families as we speak truth, unlock closets and live in the light, always! A blessing on all fathers, both biological and those linked through love. A blessing on the children of emotionally absent fathers. A blessing on the way we love others, by following their example or by doing the opposite, and turning love into liking the less loveable. A blessing this Father’s Day from God who is both a mother and father to us all. Thanks be to God! Amen. - Rev. David
Rev. David's Blog - June 12, 2020 Laughter in the Garden
I could do a series of garden blogs such as: Crying in the garden. (Last week.) Journaling in the garden. (Everyday.) Bird watching in the garden. (Amazing variety.) Observing life in the garden. (Constantly growing.) So many themes of my life are directly linked to the gardens I have developed, planted, and cultivated over the years.
Maybe I could do one about laughter in the garden? When Abraham first heard the news that he and Sarah would birth a child “he bowed down with his face touching the ground, but he began to laugh when he thought - “Can a man have a child when he is one hundred years old? Can Sarah have a child at ninety?” (Genesis 17:17).
In the second story from Genesis 18, it is Sarah’s turn to hear God’s promise as three holy visitors come to their desert tent to confirm the promise of the birth of Isaac. As she listens to the visitors talking with Abraham she “laughed to herself and said, now that I am old and worn out, can I still enjoy sex? And besides, my husband is old too!” (10- 15). I love her honesty and realism. And willingness for the possibility of a son to be born to them in their later years. - Laughter expresses our incredulity at incredible news. - Laughter cracks open our imagination and lets the seed of faith be planted. - Laughter decompresses our anxieties and rebalances life.
How many times have we laughed as we remember a loved one through our tears and grief?
In the midst of the pandemic there is need for laughter. Gail McEwen recently sent some signs from various churches across North America. Here are some: · 6 feet apart is better than 6 feet under tomorrow · Wasn’t expecting to give up so much for Lent · Services cancelled, God making house calls · What’s not cancelled: nature, puzzles, chalk drawing, love, hope. · Wash your hands and say your prayers cause Jesus and germs are everywhere. · Jesus cleans the heart, we disinfect the pews. · Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem, keep yours at home.
I read them, laughed and felt better after.
In Voices United (624), written by a Canadian composer Walter Farquharson, there is this theme appropriate hymn:
Give to us laughter, O Source of our life. Laughter can banish so much of our strife. Laughter and love give us wholeness and health. Laughter and love are the coin of true wealth.
Even in sorrow and hours of grief, laughter with tears brings most healing relief. God, give us laughter, and God, give us peace, joys of your presence among us increase.
God promises new life even in the midst of a pandemic.
God expects us to birth new possibilities and to be church differently than in the past.
God is in our midst to empower us in what will become a ‘new normal’.
May we laugh as Abraham and Sarah before us!
And birth promises of hope and joy for our families, neighbours and world.