FROM PASTOR DAVID’S DESK
Blessed be the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us
in Christ with every spiritual blessing
in the heavenly places, just as he chose
us in Christ before the foundation of
the world to be Holy and blameless
before him in love.
Growing up, one of my least favourite classes in school was physical education. You would think that, as a hyperactive kid, movement would be what I did best, but that was not the case. While sitting still was torture, sports were even worse because I was one of the most uncoordinated boys in my class. When members were chosen for the various teams, I was always one of the last ones to be chosen. I always felt that I was on a team because no one else wanted me on their team. I never
experienced being chosen among the first for a team. That is probably why I have never been a fan of team sports.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us that we are among the first to be chosen because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Not only are we among the first to be chosen, but we are also Holy, blameless, and loved. I do not think it can get any better than this! We are chosen and we are loved. During these difficult days of isolation and fear because of the pandemic, it is important for us to remember that we are chosen and loved. As the horror of the residential schools unfolds and we find ourselves searching for the emotions and understanding to cope with the reality of this
example of man’s inhumanity to man, we need to remember that we are chosen and loved. As we experienced the act of terrorism and hatred in our own community, we must remember that we are chosen and loved.
Being chosen always comes with opportunities. While it is comforting and affirming to be chosen and loved, we are not chosen to sit on the sidelines. God has gifted us with a variety of skills to be used in God’s name. We have been chosen to offer the presence of Jesus Christ in the world. We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, give clothing to those in need of it, take
care of the sick, and visit people in prison. These broad categories can be broken down into small but significant acts. I do not know about you but there are days I feel like I am in prison because of the mandated isolation. A phone call is more meaningful now than it has ever been. We have the food drive coming up at the end of the month. What better opportunity is there for us to feed the hungry and offer drink to the thirsty? We can donate clothing and supplies to the various agencies in our community for distribution, clothing those in need. Taking care of each other is a way to take care of the sick as we all deal with the realities of the months of covid and the events of June. We are all hurting and need each other. Because of Jesus’ love for each one of us we can be love and encouragement to our neighbours and to each other in our own church family.
We all go through times when we do not feel special. But remember, God chose us. No matter how we may be feeling, God has chosen us and will continue to choose us. We were chosen to be a meaningful part of God’s amazing creation. We were chosen to act out our faith in the world around us. We were chosen to be part of God’s story. We are chosen and loved by God.
Praying God’s Shalom for you,
Let the favour of the Lord our God
be upon us, and prosper for us the
work of our hands – O prosper the
work of our hands!
I am not a natural gardener, but only a struggling gardener at best. My grandfather and my father had large vegetable gardens which provided my family with fresh produce in the summer and canned and
frozen vegetables in the winter months. They took great pride in their beautiful gardens and their hard work. I was recruited for the picking, but that was the extent of my participation and my skills.
This year, probably due to the isolation and covid boredom, I decided to resurrect the flower gardens at the house in Grand Bend. Flowers were also my father’s specialty as there was too much shade for vegetables around the house. After his death, the perennials and the weeds had an ongoing battle. This year, armed with my father’s gardening tools, I went to war with the weeds. I did not realize all that was involved in planting flowers, but I was determined. After several trips to the
greenhouse for supplies, and asking many questions, I am happy to say that the beds are looking good. I think one more trip to the greenhouse should do it. Now my job is to keep my investment of time and money alive until the fall frost with more weeding, fertilizing, watering, and some prayer. I enjoyed the work I was doing, but I am grateful I did not know how much work was involved before I started as I might have given up before I began and just surrendered to the weeds.
Working in my little piece of God’s creation gave me time to think and reflect. I love the creation story. The visually descriptive and figurative language allows the imagination to experience creation in such a meaningful way. I can hear the wind from God sweeping over the water and see the first light emerging from absolute darkness. As the story continues, my imagination is overwhelmed by the richness of the images as the miracle of creation unfolds. Somehow digging in the dirt
and working with my hands planting flowers in the soil brought the creation story back in a new and meaningful way. Although I did not create anything new, I experienced God in the tilling of the dirt, in the new plants I held in my hands, and in the fertilizing and watering of the restored gardens. God and life go together as one, whether in a little garden or in the creation of the world.
God did not leave us to the weeds. We are fed daily by his word. God walks with each of us as we make our way through the garden of life, never leaving our side. God hears our prayers and answers in ways we do not always understand, but God always answers. We thrive and survive in the community, or garden, called church. Like my little plants, we are not alone but are part of something bigger, something beautiful as we blossom together in the garden of God’s world.
I wish you happy gardening, whether it be a large or small garden, vegetables or flowers, or a single potted plant on your windowsill. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation and remember you are a
significant part of that creation.
Wishing you God’s shalom,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
I have found these words to be especially comforting and reassuring in times of personal grief and loss, as well as during other challenging times in my life. This passage coupled with Jesus’ promise recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” gives me
hope and has carried me through many bad times. There are many more passages offering hope and comfort in the scriptures. I am sure each one of you has found your own special passages that speak to bringing you comfort and hope.
During this continued time of a pandemic which surrounds us with death, illness, disruption, and many inconveniences, hope can give way and become weak. Grief, frustration, and anger rise to the surface of our emotions. We want the things we have lost. We want things to be the way they were, but deep down inside ourselves we realize that things will never be the same, and that it is going to be a long time before we even come close to where we were before this started. Together we support and minister to each other, our neighbours, and the world, guided by the Gospel and in
response to God’s call.
Occasionally, I must remind myself that I need to make a reality check before hope really fades away. Even though I have not seen my family in well over a year, everyone has stayed healthy
and all are fully vaccinated. I have been inconvenienced by safely shopping in the early hours of the morning with my fellow seniors, but I have almost always found what I needed. (The bonus is that
I can wait to shower and shave until after I have been grocery shopping. Who is going to recognize me with the crazy hair and a mask covering my face?) I have not been able to travel, but the kilometres are not adding up on my car, and I am not buying gas every week. I am tired of preaching to a camera and coming into an empty church every day. I miss the personal contact I had with all of you, but you are staying safe and healthy at a time when it is not easy to do so, and for that I am grateful. Technology has allowed us to stay in contact in new way. There are so many other things that I miss, but when I stop to think about it, there is so much more I have to be grateful for during this time of crisis. For every negative in my life during this pandemic I can find at least one positive, and in most instances, I can find more than one positive.
Rosemary Clooney, and now I am really dating myself, sang about “counting my blessings instead of sheep” in the movie White Christmas. Counting our blessings every day, coupled with reading the passages of scripture that bring us hope and comfort, is the best medicine for what ails us during this pandemic. The negatives we see and hear in the news every day bring us down, but the positives that are in our lives every day bring us up and give us hope, but we must take the time to stop
and recognize them. They are not front-page news for the rest of the world to read.
We are not alone in this difficult time, or in any difficult time for that matter. Jesus promises
to walk with us always, and God promises never to abandon us. Take some time each day to read scripture. Never end a day without taking time to recognize at least three blessings you have received during the day. Give thanks to God for these blessings that have been given to you each day. And if you cannot sleep at night, remember to count your blessings instead of sheep. Most importantly, never forget that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, even in the trouble caused by a pandemic.
Praying God’s Shalom for you now and always.
“Do not be alarmed; you are looking for
of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has
raised; he is not here.”
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Each year on Easter morning we say this with enthusiasm and joy at the beginning of the Easter worship service. Following the journey of Lent, the harsh reality of Maundy Thursday, and the pain of Good Friday, Easter morning brings us back to a time of great celebration. We have been to the tomb and the tomb is empty!
This is our second Easter during a pandemic and the ways we traditionally celebrate are not possible again this year. We cannot worship together. We cannot share an Easter breakfast together between in person worship services. We cannot share a festive Easter dinner with family and friends. But we can still say with enthusiasm and joy, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.” Not even a pandemic
can change the fact that the tomb was empty on Easter morning.
We still have cause to celebrate. Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we may live in his love after our journey in this life is over. Because of Easter we have a future, an eternal future, in heaven guaranteed by the risen Christ on Easter morning.
On Easter morning, instead of thinking about what we are missing, think about the one true constant that is the blessing of Easter. We may be missing traditions, people, and even a chocolate Easter egg, but we are not missing the biggest and best gift of all. Christ died for our sins on a cross. Christ defeated death and gifted us with eternal life. We have cause to celebrate, and celebrate we should in whatever way we feel is appropriate and meaningful.
Next year we will gather again to celebrate and worship the risen Christ. We will share an Easter breakfast together between services, and we will join family and friends for an Easter meal. Until then we must celebrate in a different manner, but we must still celebrate the gift that is Easter. May we always remember we have something to celebrate, and that something is the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”
Blessings on your Easter celebration!
For just as the body is one and has many
members, and all the members of the body,
though many, are one body, so it is with
Christ. Indeed, the body does not consist of
one member but of many.
(1 Corinthians 12: 12, 14)
I have always experienced St. Ansgar as one body, or in a more familiar way, one family. The success or failure of anything we do as a family does not depend on any one individual or group of individuals, and that includes me. Since I first came to St. Ansgar, I felt this unity you as a church body share. In many church families this is not the case. Cliques often form and power struggles begin to eat away at the unity once shared by the church body. There is nothing Christian about such behaviour and I am sure God has shed many a tear over these disintegrating
Over the past five years I have had the privilege of serving you as your pastor full time, and for almost four years before that I served you half-time. You warmly welcomed me into the church family and have always been supportive. I have watched you welcome many other people into the church family with the same warmth and acceptance over the years. You live the teachings of Christ.
Since COVID I have not been able to visit with you personally, and I spend a lot of time in the church alone. You would think I would finally have the time to organize my desk. Yet, even with church doors closed, church life goes on. There are so many people who make this possible. I made a list of all these people the other night, and this list could be its own newsletter. I hesitate to start mentioning names because I would not want to leave anyone out, not that these people seek
any special recognition. Everyone who volunteers and makes the extra effort to serve God through service does so because they care about St. Ansgar, the people who are St. Ansgar, and about serving the mission of St. Ansgar. We all have different skills, talents, and energy levels. Everyone does what they can to support our church family, and they do so willingly and with love. That is how we as St. Ansgar church family continue to live out our mission, even with the church doors closed.
I am sure I do not say thank you enough, but please know that I appreciate everything all of you do for the church family. We are called to serve God through Jesus Christ, and you all do it so well. What we do is for the Glory of God, not out of a need for special recognition. Even though we cannot be together we remain united in our faith, our service, and our love for each other.
I pray God’s continued blessing on the people who are St. Ansgar, and upon the mission of St. Ansgar to love each other and our neighbour.
With deepest gratitude,
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountain shake in the heart of the sea.
When God makes a promise, God keeps a promise! Knowing this fact brings comfort and reassurance in these difficult times. We all thought by now things would be better and life would be returning to normal. Instead, we are once again locked down and even more isolated from friends, family, and our neighbours. Masks, social distancing, and handwashing are even more important. We are tired, frustrated, and impatient.
Now, more than ever, we need to hear God’s word as God speaks to us and brings us comfort and encouragement through the scriptures. “God is our refuge and strength,” as the psalmist declares, “a very present help in trouble”, and we are troubled. Turning to God and trusting God does give us refuge and strength to carry on beyond our present condition. In the shelter of God, we can rest. In the shelter of God, we are safe. Together we support and minister to each other, our neighbours, and the world, guided by the Gospel and in response to God’s call.
Many of the texts from scripture are comfort texts. They were written to bring comfort to God’s
people under all circumstances. The Book of Lamentations tells us, “The steadfast love of the
Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3:22-23) Isaiah wrote, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” (66:13) The psalmist also wrote, “This is my comfort in my distress, that your promise gives me life.” (119:50) And finally, one of my favourites is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (8:34-35, 37) I think we could also add “pandemic” to this incomplete list of circumstances.
These are just a few of the promises, only the tip of the iceberg, that are found in the Bible which bring comfort, peace, and the assurance that God is with us. We may be isolated, but we are not alone. I challenge you to sit down with God’s Word and see how many verses you can find. Listen for God’s comforting voice as it speaks to you. Know that God walks with us, and that we need only to stop and listen to hear God’s voice. Find comfort in what God has to say to us, and in what God promises to us. And remember the promise of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s Gospel: “I am with you
always, to the end of the age.” (28:20) We are never alone!
Come to the well of God’s Word and draw from the source of comfort, hope, and peace that only God can give us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praying God’s peace for you and your families,
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
As we enter a new liturgical year and the season of Advent, we are called to prepare not just for the miracle of the birth of baby Jesus, but also for the return of Jesus among us. During “normal” times we were caught up in all the secular Christmas hype. We were busy shopping for the perfect gifts and preparing special foods and treats for family and friends. Social obligations took us away from our families and from much needed rest. The intensity built until Christmas day arrived and we would greet it in a state of exhaustion and with a sense of relief.
This year we will celebrate Christmas in the “new normal.” We will not be shopping in the crowds of frenzied shoppers. We will not be gathering in large numbers. The hype will be toned down and we should be able to greet Christmas day in a much calmer and more rested way.
While we will definitely miss the hype and craziness we have come to associate with Christmas because that is what we are used to, we have also been given an opportunity to rediscover the real
reason for Christmas. We have been given the chance to greet Christmas day in a more rested, relaxed, and meaningful way. With the opportunity to pause and reflect in Advent we will reap the rewards of patient, thoughtful, prayerful preparation for God’s coming among us.
The four Sundays of Advent call us to reflect on Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy in preparation for the arrival of the Christ child. This year all four have expanded meanings, especially Hope. As Advent begins, we are invited to locate our Hope in Christ. We are also invited to take advantage of the extra time given to us as we isolate to study Scripture, reflect, and pray for understanding, renewed strength, and a deeper appreciation of the true meaning of the miracle of Christmas.
In this time of pandemic, it is easy to focus on what has been lost, especially during the holidays. We need to mourn those losses and recognize our feelings, but we must not dwell on them. Instead, we need to look beyond the losses to what gifts, however small or large, can be found in these difficult times. Explore these gifts as something positive to counterbalance all the negatives. We can celebrate Christmas in a relaxed and new way with deeper understanding and thankfulness. That truly is a gift!
The baby Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. The greatest gift of all came to us in the loss of a comfortable room. Yet the gift of the Christ child has been greatest gift we could ever receive.
Blessings on your Advent preparations and your Christmas.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love,joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:22-23, 25)
Community: First and Foremost a Gift Community is first and foremost a gift of the Holy Spirit, not built upon mutual compatibility, shared affection or common interests, but upon having received the same divine breath, having been given a heart set aflame by the same divine fire and having been embraced by the same divine love. It is the God-within who brings us into communion with each other and makes us one. This message both confronts and consoles us. It confronts us with our inability to heal our own brokenness with self-made solutions, and it consoles us with the revelation that God indeed does want to create among us the unity we most long for. - Henri Nouwen
When I read this a couple of weeks ago my mind immediately went to St. Ansgar. As a church
community we have received this gift of the Holy Spirit. We are more than a group of people who
worship together weekly in the same space, or by emailed services during the pandemic. The God-within has made us one.
The Drive-Thru Food Drive is the most recent example of how we live out Christ’s ministry as one. The overwhelming response brought in 673 pounds of food items for the local foodbank. Members came together to change our sign on the corner. To me this signaled to all those who passed by that St. Ansgar was alive and well, serving God’s people during this time of pandemic. Empty boxes were donated to be filled, volunteers helped to collect the food members and neighbours brought to the church, some of our community members reached out to their neighbours and co-workers for donations, and Kevin Dmyterko donated his time and pickup truck to deliver all that had been collected on the two Saturdays. Members of our community coming together for the purpose of following Christ’s
teaching made the food drive a success.
The Food Drive also provided an opportunity to come together as community. I was able to see and talk with members whom I have not actually seen since before Christmas. At one point we had thirteen people in the parking lot with masks on and socially distanced, visiting and catching up with each other. It was a beautiful sight in this time of isolation. What a boost in spirits seeing and talking with each other gave everyone who came and went those two Saturdays. The community gave and the community received. Members of our community successfully came together to live out our mission statement: Together we support and minister to each other, our neighbours, and the world,
guided by the Gospel and in response to God’s call.
Many “thanks” go to all those who donated their time and brought the food drive together, and to all the generous people who drove over to the church to make a difference in the lives of people we will never know. I feel truly blessed to be a member of such a community. The Holy Spirit is indeed alive among and in us.
Praying God’s continued blessing on our community,
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
This month we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a time set aside to acknowledge all the blessings we have received. Traditionally we give thanks for the gift of a good harvest with family and close friends, who are also a blessing. This year Thanksgiving takes on a new meaning. The blessings we have received this year are overshadowed by the “new normal” created by the pandemic. Our focus is more on what we have been forced to give up, the inconveniences we face every day, and the isolation we are feeling. This year the Thanksgiving holiday feels more like a time of grieving than a time of celebration. It is so easy to lose our bearings and focus on what we have lost. We lament the loss of those things in our lives we took for granted before the pandemic began.
This year our list of blessings looks different. For example, how often do we take the time to give thanks for our health? Those of us who have remained healthy in this pandemic have a lot to be thankful for this year. How often do we take time to give thanks for the little things in our lives,
especially those things that make our lives easier? We no longer take the small things for granted. We have food, shelter, and most of the comforts we are accustomed to having in our lives. While we have taken on new ways of worshipping, we are still free to worship. Members of St. Ansgar have reached out to each other more than ever before. Families have been able to spend more time together. The environment has benefited from the changes in our lifestyles. Many of us are more technology savvy than we were before the pandemic. The list goes on if we take the time to sit down
and count our blessings. I encourage everyone to take some time to sit quietly and reflect on all the blessings we have received in our lives this year.
It is so easy to focus on the negative rather than on the positive. Some days it is harder than others to name the blessings in our lives. But we must not surrender to the bad news and forget about the good news. The words from Lamentations remind us that the love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end. Not only that, but God’s mercies are new every morning. Remembering this makes waking up in the morning a cause for celebration. Great is God’s faithfulness today, tomorrow, and forever.
However and whenever we choose to celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year, remember it is a time to remember all the blessings in our lives. This year Thanksgiving celebrations may look different from the celebrations in past years. We may find it harder to celebrate than in previous years, but we will find we have more to be thankful for than we realize. Above all else, remember that God’s
faithfulness remains the ultimate blessing. God walks with us always, even through a pandemic. We have much to celebrate this year and every year. Praying God’s faithful blessing on you and your loved ones!
But the hour is coming, and now is here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
“Welcome back to church!” I have been looking forward to saying these words for months, and it looks like I am about to say these words to people sitting in the pews. Church is the people, not the building, and when the church gathers in the building something meaningful and wonderful happens. We have all missed this time together in worship.
But when we gather again, we need to be prepared for something different from what we are used to, from what we consider normal. We are going to have to adjust to a different way of worshipping God in order to worship together. The guidelines and restrictions are meant to keep us all safe as we gather. While disheartening, these regulations protect us so that we may continue gathering and worshipping in our church building. As Council chairperson, Maaike has put in many extra hours to protect our safety. Working together the Council has created the best and safest plan, and it is ready to be implemented.
We will be wearing masks, sanitizing our hands, and be seated at appropriate distances from the people we are used to sitting next to on Sunday mornings. We will not be singing or sharing the peace. Communion will look different. Many things that were so much a part of our worship are not currently possible. This is very discouraging when you put them all together.
We cannot let these changes take away from our worship, our time with God. Worship takes many forms. We all worship God throughout the week in ways that are meaningful to us. They do not look the same as Sunday worship, but are just as meaningful. Whether on Sunday morning, or at any other time, what is important is that we worship from the heart, in spirit and in truth.
For now, Sunday morning worship will look quite different from Sunday morning worship as we knew it. We need to prepare ourselves for this reality. This new way of worshipping does not have to be less meaningful just because it is different. Yes, it will take some time to get used to the changes. But the power of our new way of worshipping begins with how we prepare ourselves. Celebrating the joy of gathering and worshipping together again depends on our attitude of gratitude as we come to church. I know. I wrestle with these new realities every day.
So, as we gather once again, we need to be thankful for what we have rather than mourning the loss of what we do not have. Remember, these changes are only temporary, and the new normal will someday become the old normal. Until then I look forward to worshipping with you in a new way, and only after you are comfortable returning to Sunday morning worship. Remember, God is with us always, inside the church building or outside the church building. All God asks is that we worship God in spirit and truth.
Praying God’s Shalom for you,
For surely I know the plans I have for you,
says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not
for harm, to give you a future with hope.
I find this verse, and the two following verses, a comforting reminder that God is with us during
these difficult days as the pandemic becomes an even greater reality. Life as we know it has
changed dramatically. Who ever thought we would walk into a bank or grocery store with a
mask on and not be arrested? The uncertainty of the safety of going to school or attending church is on our minds 24/7. The unsettledness of daily life and the fear of what the new normal will be weighs on our minds, creating a stress that does not want to go away.
The prophet Jeremiah, writing to the Babylonian exiles, reminds them that God is with
them and that God has a plan for their welfare and not for harm. These wise words of
promise are words for us today. God does have a plan for our welfare. In the following
verses of this passage, Jeremiah reminds the exiles that they are all in this together,
that they are community. He reminds them that they are an impatient people, that they
must endure even when they feel like giving up.
As we social distance, wear masks, and spend much more time in the safety of our homes we feel like we are in exile. We have been exiled from life as we knew it. But Jeremiah reminds us that God has a plan, a plan that is designed for our welfare and not for our harm, and that God promises us a future with hope. In the following verses God promises that “when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.”(12) God promises that “when you search for me, you will find me.”(13) God is available! Despite all the upheaval in our lives, the one true constant is God. As we struggle with the uncertainty of this time, we know that one thing remains constant and that is the love of God. God is there for us providing a future of hope, a future for our welfare, not our harm.
We do not know what lies ahead, but we do know we can count on God to keep the promises God has made. When we pray, God will hear us. When we search for God in our daily lives and in our future lives, we will find God. All we need to do is pray and search, trust, listen, and be patient. It sounds simple enough, but we know that we are distracted by the news and numbers, by the daily reports, and the conflicting revelations science discovers as we learn more about the virus that exiles us from our normal lives. This is a difficult time. But we have the promises of God to carry us through it to the other side of the pandemic. We have the promises that God has plans for our welfare and for a future with hope. We are called to faith, to believe and seek with all our hearts.
Praying God’s Shalom for you and your families,
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly;
teach and admonish one another in all
wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts
sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do
everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Last week I completed two weeks of half-day
classes via ZOOM from Pittsburgh Theological
Seminary. Sitting in front of a computer in my office looking at a screen for four hours is not the same as being in class. I have missed two graduations, cancelled a flight, arranged for three months of my U.S. mail to be picked up by a friend, and now shop for groceries at 7:00 a.m. with my fellow seniors. These are just a few of the many inconveniences I have encountered as a result of the pandemic. I am sure each one of you has a list as long as mine, if not longer.
On the flip side of the pandemic coin I find a healthy congregation, a healthy family,
enough food and comfortable shelter, telephone and email contacts as a way to
stay in touch with church family, my family, with friends, and the opportunity to
continue working. These are just a few of the many blessings I have received
during this time of pandemic living. The list of blessings is longer than the list of
inconveniences when I sit down to think about it. I am sure if you made a list of your blessings you
would discover the same thing.
Personally, I know I can get caught up in the inconveniences. These inconveniences have changed my life and caused bumps in my road. They seem to be the most obvious thing in life right now. To
recognize the blessings in our lives takes some thought and quiet reflection. These
quiet moments of thought reveal to us a wealth of blessings we fail to recognize as
we go about our daily lives. And as I count my blessings, I realize how much I have
to be grateful for during these difficult times.
Gratitude is a much stronger word than inconvenience. Gratitude to God for the
daily blessings we receive turns our focus from what we do not have to what we
do have. All blessings are a gift from God. What we have is so much more than
what is missing in our lives. Showing gratitude for the blessings we have received
is a daily exercise we should practice, not just for our own mental health, but as a
way of recognizing what we often take for granted. This is a chance to say to God
“thank you” for all that we have been given, all blessings we have received. Focus
on the good things, give thanks to God, and be aware of the blessings we receive
instead of the inconveniences we experience. Practice gratitude and the inconveniences
will seem like minor bumps on the road of life. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow…”
Yours in gratitude,
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
My natural tendency is to be optimistic. I am not sure why this is, but I am grateful that I lean towards optimism rather than pessimism. I am sure being so optimistic has naively gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. Still, I would rather be a more positive person than always focusing on what is, or could be, wrong. I prefer sunshine to clouds.
Still there is something more to life than optimism. In his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, Henri Nouwen writes, “While optimism makes us live as if someday soon things will go better for us, hope frees us from the need to predict the future and allows us to live in the present, with deep trust that God will never leave us alone but will fulfill the deepest desires of our heart.”
Optimism is not a bad thing, but in comparison, hope is so much more. Hope allows us to trust that God will guide our steps and hold us safe in a divine embrace. We can stop worrying about what tomorrow will look like, or what will happen in the coming months, or even in the next year. Living in hope allows us the freedom to pay more attention to all the signs of God’s love that surround us. We are freed to reflect on our blessings and the gift of God’s grace. Hope opens our hearts enabling us to see all that God has provided, all that God has promised, and allows us to hear God’s voice as God speaks softly to us each day.
In these challenging and confusing days of the pandemic, optimism is not enough. ‘Optimistic me’ believes things will become better over time, that once again we will be with our families and friends, and some day we will be worshipping together as a church family. But optimism does not bring comfort. With optimism there is always an uncertainty. ‘Hope-filled me’ knows that all these things will happen with a certainty and comfort that optimism cannot give.
Hope provides comfort. Hope is promise and reassurance that God hears our prayers, walks with us always, especially as we journey through this pandemic, and will continue to be with us when these trying times are over. Hope strengthens us.
Our hope is in the Lord who made heaven and earth. We need to remember; God’s light outshines all the darkness in the world. God’s truth is more powerful than all human lies. God’s love is stronger than death. Cling to hope. Go deeper in faith. Dare to trust and hope.
As Paul wrote to the Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (15:13) This is my prayer for you now, and always.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
After many false starts, I believe it is safe to say spring is finally here. According to the calendar spring arrived March 19th, but someone forgot to tell the weatherperson. All the signs are visible: we are on daylight savings time, the robins have arrived, the Tundra Swans stopped off on their way back to the tundra, the spring flowers are getting ready to bloom, and the winter wheat is green and growing in the fields.
All those acres of brilliant green cast against the dull browns of the still sleeping vegetation remind us of the miracle of new life. Once tiny seeds lying in the ground, they begin sprouting in the fall, but with the frost and winter weather the tiny shoots lay dormant under the snow. As the snow melts away and the weather becomes warmer, those short green sprouts begin to show new signs of life. In the months to come the green sprouts will grow under the warmth of the sun, and nourished by the spring rains, grow into fields of yellow wheat. The ripened wheat will be harvested and will feed many.
The seventh Sunday of Easter is May 24th followed by the Day of Pentecost on the 31st. During these next 24 days it is important to reflect on the meaning of John 12:24, remembering that Jesus is the perfect example of a single grain of wheat, falling into the ground and dying in order to bring forth an abundant harvest to the glory of God. Having died and been buried, the single seed of Jesus Christ rose again producing the rich harvest of a multitude of believers. This fruitful harvest has continued for over 2,000 years.
Hymn # 379 in our Book of Worship is titled “Now the Green Blade Rises.” It is a short hymn but tells a beautiful story. The first verse starts the hymn with the words, “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, wheat that in dark earth many days has lain; love lives again, that with the dead has been; love is come again like wheat arising green.”
We, who have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, have within us the life of Christ, which can become abundantly fruitful when our lives resemble Jesus’ likeness. The goal of our calling is to mirror the attitude of Jesus Christ as we die to self and live for Christ. In doing so we, by God’s grace, will bear much fruit honouring God and our saviour Jesus Christ.
Praying God’s shalom for you and your families,…..and wash those hands!
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
It is hard to grasp the reality of Covid-19 from the comfort of our own homes. Yes, we are inconvenienced by it, but the pain and suffering are only on the television screen. That is unless you are in the health care profession or working on the front lines in some other capacity. Then the reality is very real.
This past Sunday morning I sat in our sanctuary alone. The pews, which are usually filled with the St. Ansgar church family, were empty. The organ and piano were silent. The elements for Holy communion were not on the altar. That was when the reality of the situation really hit me, and it hit hard.
We are quick to take Sunday worship for granted. Often on Sunday morning something that could wait seems more important than going to church and worshiping God. After all, we can always go next week. Sadly, that is no longer the case, and I don’t think things will be changing any time soon. The reality is that
as a church family we must distance ourselves physically from one another. This does not mean that we cannot be in contact in other ways. Pick up the phone and call other members of the church family or send a quick email. Even if we only do this once a day, contact will still make a big difference in the lives of those to whom we reach out. It is important that we remain in contact with each other, just as we are doing with our own biological families. We need to come together in a safe way to support each other. I also ask that we keep each other in prayer. In this time of such uncertainty we need to pray for each other. And we need to pray for those who keep us safe, provide the services that allow us to remain comfortably in our own homes, and who care for us if we become sick. The world around us is hurting and needs our prayers. After all, we are all in this together. This is also a time to recognize and give thanks for the blessings we have received. We have much to be thankful for in this difficult time. Counting our blessings helps to put our own reality into perspective.
Always, as Christians, we live in the sure and certain hope that God is with us always and that God will give us strength to meet the days ahead, especially during this worldwide pandemic. God provides comfort in this Holy and certain hope. Let us wrap ourselves in the promise of that hope.
Take to heart the words of our Dismissal Hymn on Sunday morning:
“Go now in peace, never be afraid. God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true. Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love, and show you believe. Reach out to others, so all the world can see.
God will be there, watching from above. Go now in peace, in faith, and in (God’s) love.”
I am looking forward to the time we can once again come together and worship God as a family in our church home on the corner of Wonderland and Lawson. Until then stay in, stay safe, stay connected…..and wash those hands!
Praying the Peace of Christ for you and your loved ones,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.
We have entered the season of Lent and have begun our Lenten journey of following Jesus on the way to the cross. Traditionally the season of Lent is a time of self-reflection and denial. Unlike Christmas and Easter, the season of Lent has not been sensationalized and commercialized by the retail world, so the real reason for Lent has not been lost in glitz and glitter. This allows us as Christians to take Lent seriously without any outside distractions.
Jesus teaches about a gracious God who calls his followers to the way of steadfast love. We are called to love our neighbour throughout the year, including, and maybe especially, during the season of Lent. I am encouraged by the Sunday School’s project of Do Lent Generously. This is a way to do for our others with simple acts of kindness. The packet includes a calendar of suggestions. For those who wish to view the program, or to do more, the website for the program is: www.40 acts.org.uk. We have extra packets in the office if you did not receive one.
So, this year my Lenten journey will be different from past years. Not only will I focus on self-reflection and some form of self-denial, I will also include the 40 acts of reaching out beyond myself to do for others. I hope you will consider joining me and the Sunday School as we do Lent differently this year.
The season of Lent is a solemn and serious season of the Christian year. As we approach the cross and the Easter morning let us remember that this season of preparation is a time for us to grow in our faith and to reclaim who we are and what we believe as Christians.
Blessings on your Lenten journey,
For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
In the month of February, we hear a lot about the heart. Officially or unofficially February has become heart awareness month. The Heart and Stroke Foundation talks about heart health and encourages us to eat correctly and exercise regularly. A renewed awareness of the heart as a muscular organ which pumps blood through the circulatory system of our bodies is created.
February also contains the St. Valentine’s Day holiday. This special day is set aside to celebrate the love we have for our spouse, partner, or other individuals whom we love in a very special way. Matters of the heart are talked about as a way of describing our feelings.
The word heart appears over one thousand times in the Bible. When we read about matters of the heart in the scriptures, we are not reading about a muscle pumping blood or a romantic encounter. We are talking about something much deeper. When we believe with our heart, we believe with a part of our being that that is not physical but spiritual. Our spiritual heart is the very essence of who we are.
In the Bible the heart is understood as the ruling centre of the whole person. The heart is a composition of all the components of our soul.
God’s desire is to have a warm and loving relationship with us. Our relationship begins with our heart and is maintained by our heart. This February is a time set aside to think about our physical heart that pumps our blood, our romantic heart that expresses our feelings for those we care about, and our spiritual heart that connects us with God the Father.
In response to the question asked by the scribes as to which commandment is first of all, Jesus responded that “you shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). Let us remember all three hearts as we enter the month of February, the two hearts that receive the most attention this month, and the heart that needs our attention not only this month, but always.
But, in accordance with his promise,
we wait for new heavens and a new earth,
where righteousness is at home.
2 Peter 3:13
The celebrations are over, and the decorations are coming down, if they have not already been packed away. The merriment and the good cheer are replaced with our daily routines. Life returns to normal, whatever that may be. The excitement of December has been replaced by the ordinary and uninteresting days of January.
How easy it is to forget that January is a month of new beginnings. We begin a new year and a new decade this January. We have new calendars on our walls and desks. Because this is a Leap Year, we have 366 days of new opportunities.
We have a future ahead of us with all kinds of possibilities. As I begin my 73rd year,
I realize there are not nearly as many possibilities as there used to be in my life,
but there are still more than enough opportunities available to keep me busy.
And I realize that it is up to me to make the most of each day that I am given and take advantage of those opportunities, even on those days when I don’t feel like doing much of anything.
I believe that each day is a gift from God. While some days are easier days than others, we can
still use each day to make a difference. It does not matter how big a difference we make, but that we take advantage of the opportunity to make that difference.
We do not have it in our power to create a new earth, that is not our job, but we do have the power to make our little corner of the earth a better, happier, and more positive place to dwell. All the little differences we make in the coming year will add up to 366 days of opportunities that were not lost, but which contributed to a better world where we are living.
Each day is also an opportunity to reflect on our blessings. A good practice is to end each day thinking of three blessings we have received during that day. Again, it does not matter how big or small the blessings are, but that we take a moment to acknowledge we have been blessed in at least three ways each day. In 366 days, that equals 1,098 blessings. I am sure we receive more than three a day, but this is a good place to start.
The important point is to remember that in 2020 we have more of an opportunity than we realize to make a difference, and that we have been blessed more than we ever took the time to acknowledge. Let’s make this year a year of gratitude and a positive change in our little corner of God’s earth.
Wishing you a New Year filled with God’s blessings,
Easter Message from Bishop Younan
The Easter Message from Bishop Younan
As we continue our Easter journey through the fifty days to Pentecost, I am sharing this timely Easter message from Bishop Younan, the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Having spent a total of six weeks in Palestine and Israel I am acutely aware of the oppression the Christian people suffer in these countries. These are the descendants of the original Christians. Many have left, with many coming to Canada. In light of the reality under which these people live, I hope you can find the same meaning and hope in Bishop Younan’s Easter message as I have.
Shalom, Pastor David
Resurrection Joy in a Fearful World
Easter Message 2017 – From Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
“…the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” ~ Matthew 28:5-8
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia! Al-Masih qam! Hakkan qam!
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, on Palm Sunday morning, after being in church and feeling encouraged by the message of “Hosanna!” sung by the children and the congregation, I heard the sad news of the massacre of our sisters and brothers in two churches in Egypt. One cannot receive such horrific news except with tears. The feelings of great joy on our feast day, and great sadness over such a horror, are inseparable—much as the great joy and great fear of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were inseparable as they ran from the empty tomb.
And so I must confess that as I prepared this Easter message from Jerusalem, the city of the crucifixion and resurrection, to the whole world, I had some doubts in my heart. I thought: What message can I bring this year that is different from past years? Has the Easter message lost its meaning, disregarded by Christians as well as others? Is it just a message of idealism, far from the lived experience of people today? What does the resurrection of Jesus have to say to us in the midst of the terrors, chaos, and uncertainty of today’s world?
But then I remember that the life of faith is not always one of assurances or certainties. Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand his teachings and his journey to the cross. Peter denied Jesus three times. The guards at the tomb were so afraid that they became “like dead men.” Mary Magdalene and the other Mary ran from the tomb with “fear and great joy.” And on the walk to Emmaus, the disciples did not recognize the risen Christ until the breaking of the bread.
Therefore, there is no shame to admit that here in the Middle East it is a very challenging time to proclaim and live the Good News of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus. The struggles we are facing are very real and are becoming even more complicated. We have good reason to feel confused! And still, the message of Easter comes to us very clearly: Christ is risen! The powers of sin and death have been defeated! And as the angel of the Lord has promised, the risen Christ now goes before us to lead the way in this broken—and often frightening—world.
I think of the story of St. Augustine, who was full of doubt but prayed earnestly for the gift of faith in God. While he was praying, he heard the voice of a child saying, “Pick it up and read! Pick it up and read!” He thought this could be the Lord telling him to read the Holy Scriptures, so he searched and found a Bible. Then he opened it and read the first verse he saw, from the Letter of Paul to the Romans: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh or the gratification of your desires.” (Romans 13:14) The young Augustine read no further, for there was no need. He later wrote: “No sooner had I reached the end of the verse than the light of certainty flooded my heart and all dark shades of doubt fled away.” (Confessions)
Thanks be to God, the risen Christ always comes to us when we are full of doubt, and shows us the way of love and light! For this reason, even in the midst of our confusion and sadness over the killing of innocent Christians at prayer, we can say with certainty: There is no religion which accepts the killing of innocent worshipers, who were doing nothing but seeking closeness with God. These acts are untenable and unaccepted in any religion. We are grateful that the vast majority of Muslim friends also stand with us as equal citizens against such horrors.
Today we are also facing a horrible and confusing situation in Syria, in Iraq, and across the Middle East. We see the images of chemicals stealing the breath from children, and of cities lying in rubble, and we wonder, “What can we do?” At the same time, we see missiles flying and we are afraid of what comes next – for Syria, and for the whole Middle East.
And again, although we may feel confused, because we have seen the risen Christ we know one thing for certain: Syria has no need of more weapons, more violence, or more massacres, or more extremism from anybody. This is creating international tension, straining relations between friends and partners, and we are afraid of what comes next. I urge world leaders to hear the words of Jesus to Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, after Peter had cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant: “Return your sword to its sheath! For those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Violence breeds violence, whether it is committed by terrorists or by governments. I call on the leaders of the world: Return your swords to their sheaths! Bring instead peace based on justice to Syria, to Iraq, to Palestine and to the whole Middle East. Bring a future for us and for our children.
As Christians in the Holy Land today, the turmoil in these many neighbor countries is very frightening. At the same time, here at home we are in our fiftieth year of occupation. Many Palestinian Christians are asking, “How long, O Lord? When will this end? Where do we belong?”
For this reason, I feel it is important to acknowledge that even as we sing our joyful “Hallelujahs” and celebrate Our Lord’s victory over death, some fear and confusion and doubts still remain. And yet, we must remember that we are not alone. These are the very same feelings the disciples felt after the resurrection of Jesus.
When our Lord was raised on that resurrection morning, the earth shook, an angel arrived in a flash of lightning, and the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb. It seemed the very foundations of heaven and earth had shifted. What we proclaim today as Good News, at that time was only confusing, frightening news! The guards, the women, and the disciples were all afraid of what they saw and heard. They were all afraid of what would come next. They wondered what the resurrection meant for their lives.
And yet, this same earth-shaking event is the one that gives us hope today. The powers and principalities of sin and death could not overcome the love of God. Yes, they could crucify Jesus. Yes, they could bury Jesus. But they could not bury God’s love for the world!
In the midst of their confusion, the angel told the ones gathered at the tomb, “He is not here, He is risen!” In the midst of bombings, Christ is risen! In the midst of persecution, Christ is risen! In the midst of violence and occupation, Christ is risen! In the midst of poverty and sickness, Christ is risen! In the midst of war, Christ is risen! And in the midst of our families, our communities, and our churches today, Christ is risen!
This is our hope, and we must cling to it. The message of Easter is not idealism. Christ’s victory over sin, death, and despair, is the only hope that has kept Christians steadfast in this land for two thousand years. It is the only hope that carried the saints of every age through trials, struggles, and persecutions. And it is the only hope that today will carry us through these confusing times in the Middle East and throughout the world. The Good News of the resurrection gives Christians clarity and purpose, no matter where they are, and no matter what the future brings. Jesus, the Morning Star, goes before us to lead the way—and the Way of Jesus is always the way of peace, justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, respect for diversity, and living together as one people of God.
Therefore, Palestinian Christians will continue to be steadfast in our land. We will continue to carry the message of resurrection in the face of all who promote a culture of death. In the midst of power struggles, political maneuvering, and the growth of extremism in our world, we will only proclaim the culture of life and life abundantly, will full dignity for every human being. As we celebrate Our Lord’s victory over death, in this 500th year of the Reformation, let us trust that Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection have already liberated us by grace. We are not afraid! Despite all troubles and tribulations, let us go out from our churches and into the world with the joy of the resurrection, knowing that the risen Christ goes always before us. Let us encourage one another with the two-thousand year-old Easter greeting of Jerusalem:
Hallelujah! Christ is risen! Al-Masih qam! Hakan qam!
April 2017 Message from Pastor Dave
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but he has risen. (Luke 24: 5)
Is Easter incomplete if you did not receive a chocolate Cadbury egg? Thanks to modern media advertising many people, young and old, think Easter is a failure if they do not receive the expected goodies. After all, what is Easter without enough assorted candies to cause a diabetic coma? Sadly, for many Easter ends with the Easter basket.
Those who know me know I love my sweets, and no one enjoyed their Easter basket growing up more than I did, but Easter in my family did not stop with the colourful eggs and jellybeans nestled among the assorted candies. Easter was a time for family and for church. Holy week was a week that always felt different in my home. There were the usual joyful preparations for family arriving and Easter dinner, but there was also an underlying seriousness that grew as we approached the Three Days. We attended Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services as a family. The reality of Easter was better understood in the context of the worship experience of the previous two days. After all, you can’t have Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. I am very grateful that my parents made sure my sister and I knew and experienced the entire story, not just the fun part.
As we approach Holy Week and the Three Days, I hope everyone will participate in the entire journey, and not just settle for the easy parts. Easter is not just about running to the empty tomb. Easter is also about the journey after the empty tomb, about allowing this journey to take us to the deepest regions of our hearts and minds. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God gave us such a miracle of love and forgiveness that it is worthy of our full attention and consideration. The resurrection is not an ending, but a beginning.
A chocolate Cadbury egg is so very insignificant compared to the gift of the resurrected Christ that it probably should not even be mentioned. Yet, it receives more attention during the Easter season than does the risen Christ. So, I guess the question is, “What is in your Easter basket? Is there room for the entire Easter story, or have the Cadbury eggs crowded out the true gift of Easter, the entire story of the Resurrected Christ?
Shalom, Pastor David
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