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“Jesus realized that God is love and Love is God. So believe what you want or need to about Jesus, and even about the nature of God; whatever feels true and right for you, but know that Jesus demonstrated in his lifetime that he cared very little for what one believes. Instead he would want to see how you love, how I love, how we love. There is a fire in this building! Please step inside! Being Christ is the practice of unconditional love, for in love is life.”
~ from April 26 Reflection
“My hope is that we might continue to strive to be a community of peace; a place where we can speak our truth without fear, a place where we can be our authentic selves free of the masks that make us what others expect; a place where every one of us practices and experiences love. We too, can find peace in the practice of loving each other and loving our world that is the act of being Christ for Love is God.”
~ Jim Hannah, April 19,2015, Reflection
" Wisdom is the light that shines forth from everlasting light,
the flawless mirror of the dynamism of the God-spirit."
Wisdom of Solomon 7:26
Our annual meeting and the reports that witness to the work and nurture of this community give me cause to reflect on our health and well-being. We have come through another very full and fruitful year. Reflection on what has been, continuously brings me back to the importance of embracing the God-wisdom in all that we are and all that we do. It is clear that there is deep appreciation for this church both among us who call this home and in the wider community. We are an interesting and diverse "bunch" which makes for lively connections and a palpable presence of the spirit! I say once again, how blessed I feel to be on this journey with you and I continue to gain insight, and hopefully greater wisdom, as we support, care and nurture one another. It is hard not to feel just a little collective pride with who we are becoming!
It is also vitally important that we continue to ask the big questions. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Who are we becoming and who is missing? Opening to these kinds of questions honestly will help us to find our way in a very uncertain future. The questions will help us to discern what traditions still have value and what change we need to embrace that we might continue to be the spirit of Christ in the world. Our Vision team has engaged in many hours of conversation and will bring forward a vision statement at our annual meeting. This statement reflects, I believe, much of the sentiment expressed by your responses to our request to each of you to complete the sentence - I come to Winfield United Church because... We heard overwhelmingly an appreciation for the gathered community as supportive and caring friends. We also heard overwhelmingly an appreciation for the experience of worship, the challenge of the message, the way of prayer and the music which all contribute to your spiritual journeys. This has inspired me to continue to respond as your spiritual leader with an open heart and mind.
I could not reflect on that past year without expressing gratitude to all of you, for your presence and commitment to this community. Mother Theresa once said “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” And so I am immensely thankful for hands and hearts that sing and play, lead and read; for hands and hearts that cook and bake, organize and administer; for hands and hearts that support and care, celebrate and grieve; for hands and hearts that build and repair, knit and crochet, decorate and plant; for hands and hearts on our ministry teams - council, worship, music, pastoral care, property, spiritual nurture, ministry & personnel, vision, and children's leadership; for hands and hearts in our Thrift shop team - coordinators and dedicated workers; for all the hands and hearts of passion offered to this community of faith, to the wider community and to the world! I am also tremendously grateful for Margaret Kyle who is such a gift to ministry and such wonderful support to me. There is so much blessing in this place!
There is no doubt in me that wisdom is indeed the light that shines forth from each of you and throughout our church. The God-presence can be seen and felt in our spirit-filled lives and our spirit-filled community. May it always be so!
His students asked him, “When is the kindom coming?”
Jesus replied, “It is not coming in an easily observable manner.
People will not be saying, ‘Look, it’s over here’ or ‘Look, it’s over there.’
Rather, the kindom of God is already spread out on the earth,
and people aren’t aware of it.”
Gospel of Thomas – saying 113
This past year marked our first full year together in ministry and there is no question for me that the kindom of God can be found in this place. I have a growing sense of a deepening spiritual life both as individuals and as a family of faith. I continue to experience an incredible energy in this community and your commitment to the work of God in its many forms is inspiring. I can only say once again how blessed I feel to be here with you – this work gives me such joy!
I found looking back over this past year to be a little overwhelming upon taking inventory of all that has unfolded. Our worship life has found a rhythm, finding some balance between the traditional and the new, providing both comfort and spiritual nurture for our worshipping community. There continues to be a strong focus on pastoral care as we do our best to care for and support each other in our day to day lives. Our Thrift Shop has seen a change in hours which seems to have eased a little of the load bringing new energy to this important ministry. Worship, Property and Pastoral Care Teams have all made huge contributions to this faith community. Our Children’s Church has continued to flourish with the very dedicated and capable leadership of Margaret Kyle and Julie Elliot. This was also a year of transition in the church office as we acknowledged the end of Beate Dreger’s fifteen years of ministry and welcomed Margaret Kyle to this position. This began a different way of “managing the plant” as we expanded the functions of the office and created an open door of hospitality beyond our Sunday morning experience. There has also been a year full of spiritual nurture opportunities including two book studies ( Bruce Sanguin’s Darwin, Divinity & the Dance of the Cosmos and Thomas Moore’s Writing in the Sand ), a weekly Bible study, special worship times ( Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, June in the Park, Advent contemplative ), and a multitude of one-on-one conversations. We also hosted Presbytery last February, feeding, sheltering and nurturing over 100 delegates who have continued to express thanks for our amazing hospitality. Then in October over thirty of us participated in a congregational retreat where we told and listened to each other’s stories, looked at what we value about this faith community and began to imagine where we are going in the coming years. And...we ended 2012 financially in the black and with a modest surplus!
That brings me to another new year and what hopes I have for 2013. One thing I have learned over the years is that one must never rest on one’s laurels. The current vitality and energy in this community is because of how we have worked and lived together and so that must continue if we are to experience ever deeper connection to each other and grow our call to compassionate action in our world. There will be new study opportunities to deepen our faith. There will also be opportunities to engage in spiritual practice. Margaret Kyle has already begun a Soul Collage gathering and there will be Centering Prayer times beginning during the Lenten Season. We hope to offer as many ways as possible to deepen our spiritual lives.
Many of you have said to me, “We have such a great thing going here but very few in the wider community know anything about us.” With that in mind we want to find ways to let the folks of Lake Country know who we are that they might also want to be part of our family. To that end we are making the further development of our church website a priority to include information not only about what we do but what we value, what happens here that gives our lives meaning. I really believe that this is a community worth sharing with others.
For my part, I will continue to be as present and available to all of you as I am able. I cannot say enough how much I appreciate this community – I feel like I have come home. At the congregational retreat I asked at one point, “Have I told you lately that I love you?”; to which the reply was a loud and resounding “NO!” (followed by laughter). My response then is the same one I offer now; I love you very much and in that love I glimpse the kindom of God.
“ Thus says God, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am God, here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will be a light to all nations.” Isaiah 42
This message of hope offered by the prophet Isaiah to a despairing and struggling people would inspire the gospel writers to see in the life of Jesus, this prophecy fulfilled. And hope is central to this story, our story, because hope is believing that something good is about to happen.
As we find ourselves in the season of Advent once again, a time of waiting, I believe that it is waiting with hope that will bring comfort to each of us, to our communities and to our world. These are challenging and uncertain times for all of humanity, all of creation, and yet we know that God is with us – Emmanuel. We have the power within us to choose hope and in that hope know peace, joy and compassion in all of life. This is the very heart of Jesus’ life and mission. This is what has inspired people for more than two thousand years to live a God-centred life with meaning and purpose. This is what draws us back each year to the manger – a reminder of our hope for the birth of God that continues to unfold in each generation.
I am glad that you are part of our community of hope at Winfield United Church, whatever your connection may be. And may we find in the weeks before us time to renew our hope for life with meaning, compassionate relationships, and a peace-filled world. May we know the spirit of the Christ-child as we draw closer to the manger this Christmas season.
Blessings and Best Wishes,
Message – Choosing Hope
Scripture Reading – Daniel 7:13-14 & Luke 21:25-36
Jim Hannah December 2, 2012
Well here we are at the beginning of another church year, here we are in the season we call advent. Advent, we are told is a time of waiting, waiting for the birth of God once again. Our ritual of bringing the Christ candle into our midst is put on hold which, in a way, suggests that the spirit of Christ becomes absent for a time. It is a part of our ritual which seems odd, that we could somehow be separate from that spirit that is so much a part of our lives and our world. But our religion asks us to wait, to stop perhaps and imagine a world without God, without Christ, without spirit. And in this time of waiting our tradition gives us four words to wait with – hope, peace, joy and love. These are four good words, four words worth waiting with – if we take them seriously. I believe, however, that too often the words hope, peace, joy and love become superficial in our worship experience. They become lovely words to build a service around with song and prayer and message, but rarely challenge us in the waiting to a new way of seeing or a change of heart and mind. My hope, no pun intended, is that this advent season might be different. This year I want to look at the deeper meaning and purpose of waiting with hope, peace, joy and love so that we might arrive at Christmas with new eyes and new determination to live into the way of Jesus.
And so this morning I am asking you to choose hope, and I mean really choose to live in hope. Our first reading today was Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man from the Old Testament book of Daniel. These were hard times for the Hebrew people. They were two nations divided – Israel in the north and Judah in the south – and they were fighting amongst themselves. This in-fighting caused them to be vulnerable to the surrounding kingdoms and so Israel and Judah both found themselves being attacked by neighbours. The Hebrew people were broken and despairing and wondered if God had abandoned them. And it is in the midst of such agonizing despair that Daniel chooses hope. The Son of Man, the messiah, will come blessed by God and will create a kindom that will never be destroyed. Our gospel reading from Luke, which originated with Mark, sees Jesus as the fulfilment of the Son of Man prophecy from Daniel. As the gospel writers reflected back on Jesus’ life they saw in that life the beginning of this new kindom that could not be destroyed. They were living at the centre of hundreds of new Jesus communities that constantly chose hope in the midst of unbearable hardship and oppression. And today, in the midst of the political foolishness and economic greediness that is marginalizing billions of people and killing the planet, it is the life of Jesus that calls to us choose hope. What is critical however, is that we need to realize our responsibility in choosing hope. Christmas has to be more than celebrating the birth of Jesus if it is going to change the world. Advent and Christmas need to re-kindle or grow the experience of Jesus, the experience of God in each of our lives. Jesus didn’t come into the world to save us from the world but rather he came into the world to show us how to live in God, change our lives and change the world. God is calling us to philanthropy, which at its root means literally love of humankind. And that is impossible if we are without hope, if we believe change is not possible. Choosing hope means that we have an expectation that something good is about to happen. But it also means that we have to look in a different direction – just as Jesus did. Percy Shelley, an early 19th century visionary poet, who ironically also died at the age of thirty and became much more famous after his death, says, “one must see oneself and the world through the eyes of the other and others.” It is only by putting ourselves in another’s place, with empathy and compassion that we can heal ourselves, each other and the world. This is metanoia, the change of mind and heart that is central to understanding the kindom that Jesus envisioned. But just like that single dandelion seed in the children’s story this morning, we have to be willing to let go. We have to be willing to let go and let God trusting that new life will happen.
Advent has begun, but this year let’s try not to rush straight through to the manger. Instead I suggest that we wait, really wait and watch and pray and act as if Christ were already here. Let’s make Christmas a celebration that is deeper than sentimentality – a celebration that the world will be saved by the power of the spirit in all of life – a celebration God’s reign by choosing hope.