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The Other Visit of the Other Magi

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I do not usually post my sermons in my blog like this, but I was honestly fascinated by what I discovered in my research around the story of the Magi this year. Did you know that there was another story about the journey of another set of Magi that Matthew might have had in his mind as he wrote his story about the birth of the Messiah?
      In May of 2003, the world was treated to a spectacle that it would not soon forget. The Iraq War had begun with an invasion less than two months before. And in those two months the American and allied forces had made some remarkable progress, had taken Baghdad and were apparently in charge of the government.       And so that May, President Bush took a bit of a victory lap. He landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier that had just returned from the Persian Gulf wearing a flight suit and, standing in front of a banner that read mission accomplished,” he declared that major conflict in Iraq had come to an end.       It is an event that I hardly nee…

Basket Night at Thursday Night Supper & Social

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Got a request from The Cambridge Times for a brief description of one of our Christmas traditions from the Thursday Night Supper and Social. Looks like they finally didn't have room to print it. But I still thought that there is something well worth sharing there. This is what I wrote:
Thursday evenings from Thanksgiving to Easter, St. Andrew's Hespeler Presbyterian Church on Queen St. in Hespeler opens its doors to all who wish to come in for supper. The welcome is always warm and the food, provided free of charge, is always tasty and nutritious.

The best thing about the Thursday Night Supper and Social, however, is the community that has formed over the years it has been offered. Both our guests and our volunteers look forward each week to the opportunity to meet and talk and catch up on what has been going on in each other's lives. There is plenty of mutual support and encouragement.

All of this becomes even more evident as Christmas approaches. For example, at the most…

Why Judas the Galilean belongs in my nativity scene

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Why, exactly, did Mary and Joseph set out on such a dangerous journey in such a dangerous time. This is one aspect of the story that has never made much historic sense. The story seems to be saying that the Romans decided to conduct a census in a way that makes no practical sense – that they required that the people be registered, not in the places where they lived, but rather in the places where their ancestors came from. That, when you think about it, is a very silly way to hold a census. The whole point of taking a census, if you’re a Roman, is to find out where people live so that you can find them and tax them later. That is why the Romans always took censuses in the way that they are still taken to this very day - making sure that people were registered where they actually lived. There is no evidence that they ever took a census in a way that Luke seems to be describing.
But what if Luke isn't saying that the people all traveled to their ancestral homes because the Romans mad…

Book Discussion Series

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I am very excited to offer a book discussion series on my book Caesar's Census, God's Jubilee.
The Gospel of Luke alone tells the story of the birth of Jesus set against the background of a census taken on the orders of Caesar Augustus. This historical setting has always raised serious questions: Was there ever really such a census? Why does Luke describe the census as being carried out in a manner that does not fit with what we know of Roman practices and policies?
This book struggles with questions like those in a creative way which leads to some surprising new ways to understand Luke's timeless story of Mary and Joseph and their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Part investigation, part exercise in creative imagination, this book will help you to see the Christmas story in a whole new way.
The discussion will be held on Wednesday evenings from Wednesday, October 15 through to Wednesday December 3, 2014

We will meet at 7:30 pm in the Foyer at St. Andrew's Hespeler Pres…

It's a Love Story

True story:

Today I had the great honour and privilege of presiding at a marriage. As we prepared, I asked the couple, as one will often do, how they met.

They told me the story of how they had come to know each other while they were both working in different departments at the local Rona store. He worked in plumbing and she was in the flooring department. It was just a nice little story and they were a very nice couple who obviously loved each other very much and so their story put me in mind of the greatest love story every written.

That was why I started my sermon today like this:

"If you are at all like me, you found that to be a beautiful story - a classic love tale. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of the greatest love story of all times. Correct me if I'm wrong, but when William Shakespeare took up his pen to write what many consider his best play and what was certainly his best romantic play, didn't he open it with these words: "Two…

The Lighthouse Society

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Once upon a time, there was a lovely little coastal village. Life was good and peaceful there but there was one little problem. The nearby coast was treacherous and unforgiving to passing sailors. It seemed like there were shipwrecks just about every week. And so the villagers all got together and decided to do something about this terrible problem.
They decided to pool all of their resources and build a tall and beautiful tower. It would stand on the shoreline and offer warning and guidance to all who passed that way. They formed a society to make sure that the light was always lit, that the foghorn was ready to go off in bad weather and to ensure that the tower continued to stand and do its job. It was a wonderful achievement that made them rightfully proud.
There were some other benefits of all this work. In those days, the Lighthouse Society was the most important and most active association in the village. Everyone wanted to be part of it. Meetings of the society became the most im…

One week after returning from our mission trip. (Why it is sometimes hard to adapt when you come home).

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While we were there in Winnipeg for our mission trip, we spent five days in full-time connection with the various parts of the Winnipeg Inner City Mission. During that short time, a number of very significant things happened:
A young girl in the church went missing from her family.Another young girl, in desperate need of a new kidney, successfully underwent surgery that would allow her continue her daily dialysisThe church was putting together household items to set up housekeeping for a young mother and her children as she was in the process leaving an abusive relationship.A resident in A Place of Hope celebrated two years of sobriety.Another resident reached the end of her time in A Place of Hope and made arrangements to move out and begin a new and exciting phase in her lifeA church picnic (that had been as good as cancelled) was resurrected and organized in about two hours. This was, as far as I can tell, a fairly typical week at Winnipeg Inner City Mission with big doses of both g…

Why it is Important that we Came

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Our trip to Winnipeg has been short - too short we all agree. It seems like we just arrived, have just gotten to know the people there and to appreciate everything that is so special about them and we have to go. But there is absolutely no feeling in the group that it was not worth the effort to get here for a few days.




Why are we so sure that it was vital that we come? Because we have received that message loud and clear from everyone at all involved in the ministry that we have met and from the children and young people and families. Is that because of all the work that we did for them? Well, not exactly. They certainly appreciated everything that we did. Whether it was painting Flora House (and, yes, we did manage to get the main hall and the front and back entrances painted in our time with a little help from Derek) or organizing clothes and goods in the miracle store, weeding Papa's Garden, helping to keep the kids or youth organised and safe on outings or cleaning out mountai…

Thundering Eagle Woman

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Rev Margaret Mullin comes from a mixed First Natiions and Irish heritage. She is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a recognized First Nations elder who has had the traditions passed on to her from the elders who have gone before. There are eight eagle feathers on her staff to represent the eight years she has spent learning from the elders. The spirit name that she was given is Thundering Eagle Woman - a name that fits her very well indeed.

It is as if in her two different worlds have come together in one beautiful spirit.


Today she spoke to us about the long and difficult journey she has had to reconcile the different traditions that are her heritage. Today she participates in almost all forms of native spirituality and sees no contradiction to the teachings of the Christian tradition as she has received and absorbed it. 
I tend to think that she is on the right track. There is no question that the Christian church has done a lot of damage and been a party to a lot of damage that …

Smudging along

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I spent most of my day, our third day at Winnipeg Inner City Mission, at Flora House. The day's activities there began, as they often do, with a smudging ceremony. The First Nations kids take smudging very seriously and respectfully and it really makes for a good start to the day together for them.

In such a ceremony, dried herbs (usually some mixture of sage, tobacco and cedar) are set to smoking in a small shell or pot. The smoke is waved by a feather and each person takes a turn to waft the smoke over his or her arms, head and body.
The smudging ceremony is primarily a purification ceremony -- a way of putting aside mistakes, errors, regrets and things that weigh you down. This kind of ritual that is part of most every religion and is needed by everyone (even non religious folk) at least sometimes.
And that was kind of what all of our day's work at Flora House was about today. Flora House has gone through some tough times recently. There have been some things that have gone wr…

Overcoming the Overwhelming

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I'll start today's blog entry where the day started at The Place of Hope. We had a sharing circle where everyone was asked to share some reflections from the previous day. As we went around the circle, one word that came up again and again was "overwelming." It had been overwhelming in terms of the information and the stories that we had had to absorbed and were only beginning to process and in other ways as well.

The word that came to me in the circle was also overwelming but especially in terms of the challenges that fill the community around the Place of Hope. With gangs, prostitution, drugs, alchoholism and much more, the problems just seem too big. They are overwhelming. And when I face an overwelming challenge like that, the temptation is always to throw up my hands and say, "It's too big, it can't be solved so what is the point of even trying. We'll never get anywhere anyways."
To see the ministry that is taking place here at WICM against…

A gift from Vivian

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Our first day at WICM was very full and meaningful and I am quite sure that I will be processing it for some time. I have shared some thoughts on the early part of the day and am too weary now to reflect on all of the rest of it. But I did just want to say that I will long remember watching and listening as Vivian Ketchum stood by this monument to survivors of the Residential Schools (erected just a couple of months ago outside what will soon be an absolutely stunning human rights museum) and tell her utterly devastating story of what her time in the Cecile Jeffery Residential School (run by the Presbyterian Church in Canada) cost her.
Her testimony is so much more powerful because she is able to speak it now as a healed and healthy woman who has dealt with her loss and anger and betrayal. She has also done amazing things to help bring the church towards healing from what it was involved in by helping it understand what it did and still does sometimes. She is a wonderful illustration…

Toto, we're not in Cambridge anymore

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We started out first day of working with WICM with a round circle discussion in the Place of Hope. Margaret Mullin and some of the people involved here gave us an incredible look at the work they do here and the challenges that they face. Mostly she just told us the stories of people touched by the ministry here. Some of them are stories of great triumph -- people who overcome addiction, bad backgrounds and gang affiliations who managed to pull their lives together. Some of them were not necessarily triumphs but there was still much evidence of God's love and care touching their lives in some really profound ways. So many of the stories, sadly, even the triumphant ones, end in tragedy and death. She walked us through so many names on this banner. But even through the stories of tragedy, hope found a way to shine through. Margaret says that the biggest enemy that they face is what she called anomie. It is that sense that the people have here that as bad as their life is right now, t…

Writing at 20,000 feet

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I am starting this post in a Bombardier Q400 Turboprop airplane about 20,000 feet somewhere over Lake Superior. Soon we will be decending to Thunder Bay -- about halfway to our goal in Winnipeg. Of course, I cannot post this now, but I will as soon as I get a chance to connect to WIFI.
There is something about actually being on your way to where you are going that makes you think more concretely about what you are going to do when you get there. I must admit that, though I have been looking forward to this trip, I haven't necessarily given much thought to what we are really going there to do. I have heard a great deal about the Winnipeg Inner City Mission over the years, seen a number of pictures and a few videos. I have also heard Margaret Mullin speak passionately on a number of occasions about her ministery and what it means to her. But I expect that it will be really different to see the ministry in action. At St. Andrew's I am involved on a near weekly basis in interacting…