Advent 1

December 3, 2017

READINGS: Isaiah 64:1-9 ~ 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 ~ Mark 13:24-37

The season of Advent is all about waiting for God. The mood is not so much one of fear and trembling but of joyful expectation. The hope is that God would come and set things straight.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, writes a prophet of Isaiah when the people are in exile, Come and make your name known so that the nations might tremble. Come and intervene and deliver us.

And then comes that gutsy plea to God. We know that we annoyed you when we sinned but that was because you hid yourself – hid your face from us – and now we are in exile and there is no one who calls on your name. So, remember us Lord, in a grace filled merciful way, for we are all your people.     It sounds like the perfect prayer for so many countries right now.  But it is also a dangerous prayer because it presumes God will intervene in a way that is good for us and bad for our enemies.

500 years ago, people called on God to help them with an abusive and corrupt church that had lost its way.  And God sent in Martin Luther to shake things up, to re-form the church into something that looked a little more like the church of Jesus Christ, a church that ministered and brought hope to the people. It took a while for things to settle but new life came to both the reformation churches and the Roman Church.  Years later, the church in England was shaken up and the Anglican church was born.  God always answers our cries, just not always in ways we might imagine.

This morning I want to share with you how God and the Bishop are responding to the cries of the church in Saskatoon. A couple of years ago, Bishop David developed something called the Locally Raised-up Clergy Program as one way to respond to the need for more clergy to minister to outlying communities on the prairies.

A year or so ago, my friends, Sheldon and Rosann, moved to Saskatoon to be closer to family.  I first met Sheldon about 15 years ago when he walked into my EfM [Education for Ministry} group wanting to find out what life was like after the cows where gone. His health made him give up farming.

Over the years, Sheldon became an EfM mentor and liturgical assistant at Lancaster and was often referred to as the “prophet of the wildwood”. Sheldon approaches the world with a Bible in one hand and Lonesome Dove in the other.  For those of you who have never read it, Lonesome Dove is a very long and drawn-out novel about the first cattle drive north from Texas.  When Sheldon arrived in Saskatoon, his daughter Emily, also a priest, encouraged him to apply for the Locally Raised-up Clergy Program.  You don’t need a university degree, just a heart for ministry and some training.

On Thursday evening, at the cathedral church in Saskatoon, surrounded by family and friends, Sheldon was ordained as a priest. He is celebrating his first Eucharist this morning at the church he now serves in Borden.

Sheldon is still amazed and humbled that God would take this farmer-philosopher from Lancaster and turn him into a philosopher-priest ministering to a very small community in Saskatchewan, the land of the living sky. Judging by the glow on Sheldon’s face, Bishop David’s experiment in ministry and the location are a perfect fit for my friend and his people.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

Pilot projects are an important part of our church. They help us experience things so that we can make informed decisions.  In September, we began a pilot project of worshipping together.

Just before I flew to Saskatchewan, David McCreery asked me to remind him why we began this combined service.  It’s useful exercise to be reminded of how we got here. A couple of years ago we would not have considered It, but then came a convergence of changing realities.

First came a significant number of moves and deaths that seriously impacted both numbers and finances.  Newcomers and long-time members could not make up that financial gap. Secondly, when our organist choir director moved on, we could not find a replacement for what we could afford to pay.  So, John Black came to help us out.  Wendy was asked to lead choir practice and anthems. Matthew asked to be a part of it and we ran that way for one year. And thirdly, while I was away last fall, and on a few other Sundays, we combined the 9:15 and 11 am services and there was so much energy and positive feedback from folks who enjoyed the richness, depth and fellowship that we decided to give it a try.

St. Paul’s is not like every other church in the diocese. For over twenty-five years it has enjoyed the benefits of both a strong choir and a strong praise team. And now, because of our circumstances and the benefits of doing so, we are working together to see if we can find a balance of music in worship that works for us.

This pilot project is taking a little longer than expected because we are still ironing out the wrinkles. We are not ready to make a decision as to the way forward.  We hope to be ready for Vestry. This morning’s conversation is about getting your feedback on the experience thus far and what might make it better.

Every week, people are going into the church to pray for us, this space, musicians and congregation … that God would bless and heal us as we find our way together.  Listening and praying are an important part of this time.

How we view this time is also important.  We can see it as a time of fear and sadness – of Exile –  or we can embrace it as a time of opportunity and hope for a way forward that is right for us.  Amen

Pat Martin+