Feeding the Soul


“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits ,and in his word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5 )
It was Christmas Eve. The church was filled with expectant worshippers, but as I looked out over the congregation from the chancel, I saw two special couples singing side by side – and waiting. The one couple was waiting for death to claim the husband’s terminally ill mother. The other couple were waiting for the birth of their first child.

How many others here are waiting for death or for life? I wondered. How many are watching for the coming of God into joyful and tangled or pain- filled existence?

Perhaps we are all waiting, I thought. We are all in this church waiting and hoping for something.

That is what Advent is all about, isn’t it? Advent recalls Israel’s centuries of waiting for the Messiah. The scripture reminds us that we, too, are waiting for God to move in our lives and in our world. Then Advent quietly insists that there is something worth waiting for. It tells us that our hope is not hollow, that as surely as God came to those people in the stable in Bethlehem, so God will come to us. With this assurance we can wait together, trusting and hoping in God.  

Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop 

God Comes Down Into the Muck With Us

Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  Luke 2:10-11

I just returned from a lecture at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.  The speaker was Peter Rollins a provocative, writer, lecturer, and storyteller.  His lecture was based on his new book "The Idolatry of God: Breaking our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction."  He said something that caught me off guard.  He said, "The Good News of Christianity is: You can't be fulfilled; you can't be made whole; you can't find satisfaction.  I had to sit with that awhile.  On the surface, it would seem that such a statement could suck the joy right out of the Bethlehem story.  However, if we are honest about it, Christ coming among us did not eliminate suffering from the world.  People still live in brokenness, grief, and despair.  But how is that Good News?      

The Luke 2, shepherd's field story is a favourite of mine, I read it often, not just at Christmas time, but whenever I need to be reminded of the amazing love of God.  Rollins went on to say that the truly good news is a much richer form of joy that we get from living life with all its difficulties, after we are freed from the illusion that there is something that separates us and alienates us from God.

And isn't that the true beauty of the Nativity, that we are not separated from God, that God slips on skin and walks among us?  That God comes down into the muck with us.
Do not be afraid.  God is with you.  May you not only experience the presence of God during this most holy season, but throughout all the seasons.

Peace be with you!

Pastor Steve Hoffard

This Getting Ready Business Isn't Easy

Advent is a season of getting ready, getting ready to welcome the Christ as He comes to us anew at Christmas and getting our lives ready to welcome Him when He comes again.

When we say this it doesn’t sound that challenging. After all, we want to welcome Him. We know He brings life and healing and forgiveness and joy. Those are gifts for which we are happy to get ready. Getting ready should be a snap.

But then we look at the scriptural account of our Lord’s coming and we find that this getting ready business isn’t all that easy. John the Baptist asked people to get ready, to repent, to make ready a path for their Messiah to enter their lives. But many had trouble doing that because they were set on welcoming a Messiah far different from the one who came in Jesus. They were a people (many of them) who worshipped religious laws and ritual and thought the Messiah would destroy all those who didn’t. They were a nation controlled by the Romans and looked to their Messiah to be a great military leader who would defeat these Romans and make Israel a great nation once again. And when Jesus came preaching love and peace and servanthood and dying for others they just didn’t get it. Even John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples didn’t get it. Their expectations didn’t match with God’s expectations and made their task of getting ready rather difficult.

And we may have a similar problem. Think. What kind of Messiah are we getting ready for? Like the people of old we too might want a Messiah who will make life easier for us rather than one who would change us and make us new people. We might wish our Messiah would wipe out things like terrorism and sickness and hard times. We might wish He would give us material riches and status. We aren’t always ready to accept a Messiah who preaches and embodies accepting and forgiving and loving and serving and dying, - who doesn’t take away all our troubles but who is there to walk with us and strengthen us through them, - whose gifts are spiritual rather than material, - who is not a Santa Claus but a Saviour.

Yet, that’s the kind of Messiah we are preparing to meet. Getting ready to meet Him has nothing to do with buying presents (unless it’s for the poor), having parties (unless it’s holy communion) and having a holiday (unless we make it a holy day). It’s about getting over these things so that our Lord can truly enter our hearts and lives and make those changes in us that will enable us to live more authentically as His children. So during the Advent and Christmas seasons we give thanks to God who has given us a Messiah to walk with us and share His life with us.

I hope I will see you in church this Christmas and extend warm Christmas wishes to you there. But if that is not possible, let this be my Christmas card to you. May the Christ fill you with all His love this Christmas and bring to your life all His joy.

Pastor Mike Schroeder

Chat With the Lord

Advent is the season of preparation. In our homes we cook, bake, clean, decorate and buy or make presents. All this fuss around Christmas is fun, but it is also tiring.

Advent is not for fussing – quite the opposite. It calls us to quiet down, to listen to God and to ourselves. Nowadays life is hectic. As a mother of four children, I know that it is not easy to find time or a place for contemplation and self-reflection.  But, I know too, that we need quiet time for ourselves. I would like to tell you about my recent meditation. I call these brief moments “chats with the Lord”.  

A while ago I took a personality test for career options. The result of the survey puzzled me a lot. Among the interesting information about my personality traits, it suggested that I don’t have a sense of humor and that I don’t make people laugh. This upset me. We all know that laughter can ease tense situations. Who wouldn’t want to be funny at times?  So one day with a heavy heart I said to the Lord:

Me: You know the survey I took?

Lord: ---

Me: Is it true that I don’t have a sense of humor?

Lord: ---

Me:  Is it true that I don’t make people laugh?

Lord: ---

Me: Do you know how I feel? 

Lord: ---

Me: Ok,  I’ll tell you….I feel crappy! I want to quit! 

Long silence.

Lord: How often do you hear people laughing at my stories? 
        Yet, I think I did a pretty good job.

Me: ---

Please, feel free to laugh at me, to me or with me!

Pastor Riitta Hepomaki

Follow me on twitter @RiittaHepomaki

Advent: Upsetting One's Lifestyle

We usually think of a birth as something to celebrate. I don’t know of any culture, at any time, that has mourned the birth of a baby. Even when a baby is born during a war or a famine, the parents somehow see in that baby all the possibilities of the future.

But in another sense, we are all afraid of births. Not just because of the pain of giving birth, though that is real enough. It’s not called “labour” for nothing.
In fact, we know that every birth means change. Ask any couple accustomed to sleeping through the night how a new baby can upset their routines. As soon as a baby is born, overgrown teenagers miraculously turn into responsible adults, concerned about health and nutrition. And insurance.  And education.  And job security. Once there were just two of them – now they have to adjust to a new personality in their lives.

And we don’t like change. Even if we look forward to the new, we’re still afraid of the unknown. We have to acknowledge our own ignorance, our weakness. We fear what might be.
“Our world is pregnant with possibilities”, said St. Paul, in one of his more memorable phrases. It is waiting for something to be born. But most of us still hope that it will happen to someone else. We’re terrified that the birth may happen in our lives,  that we may be the ones who have to change.
In that sense, we are terrified of all births, including the birth of Christ among us.

The tinsel of the coming Christmas season may be deliberately superficial. We hang it on our trees, reminding ourselves that when all this is over, we can go back to the way things always have been. The decorations go back into their boxes in the attic. The tree goes into the compost. Life can return to normal.
But if the Christ is really born into our lives, our lives can never go back to being the same again. May it be so for all of us, this Advent and Christmas season.  

Rev. Douglas Reble
Assistant to the Bishop

Though I walk in the midst of trouble

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; 
before the gods I sing your praise;  

I bow down towards your holy temple 
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love 
and your faithfulness; 
for you have exalted your name and your word 
above everything. 

On the day I called, you answered me, 
you increased my strength of soul.  

All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord
for they have heard the words of your mouth.  

They shall sing of the ways of the Lord
for great is the glory of the Lord.  

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; 
but the haughty he perceives from far away.  

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, 
you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; 
you stretch out your hand, 
and your right hand delivers me.  

The Lord will fulfil his purpose for me; 
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures for ever. 
Do not forsake the work of your hands. 

Psalm 138

Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals,
in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion,
for all generations. Praise the Lord!

Psalm 146

Grace: Cheap or Costly

Have you ever received one of those phone calls offering you a free ocean cruise? When you get down to the details, however, the free gift ends up costing way more than what you are prepared to pay! The grace of God is a free gift, but the cost is not hidden away in the details.

Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, warned against our tendency to presume that God's grace is a "cheap" kind of grace just because it is free. What he meant by "cheap grace" was an ill-considered universalism that presumes God to be incapable of doing anything other than offering love and salvation to all people regardless of their beliefs or actions, and regardless of the consequences of those beliefs and actions. Cheap grace says that God will ultimately absolve us of every consequence and failure to live up to God's intention for life.

The consequence of cheap grace is a passive helplessness in the face of sin, evil, and injustice. We cling to a lack of responsibility, and demonstrate an incapacity to respond to the hardships and tragedies of life because we choose to leave such things to God. The grace that we convey to the world then is a detached uncaring attitude that says, " Do what you want because God is going to love you anyway." This grace, instead of saving us from our sin, and offering us new life, locks us into our sinful ways with no opportunity for change.

Costly grace, on the other hand, calls us to be collaborators with God in embodying God's salvation for all people. Costly grace bids us to come and die to what we imagine our own life to be so that we might turn around into the grace of God that offers us a new way to live that is in line with God's intentions for all of life. This grace is the free gift of God that costs us our own lives so that we can live into Christ's life, death, and resurrection.

What we offer to the world, then, is not a passive helplessness, but an active collaboration in the saving purposes of God so that all people know the love of God in their hearts and bodies as well as in their minds. Because we actively participate in that love, all people can come to know how deeply God cares for them. We, then, live our life in Christ, collaborating with God in fulfilling God's purposes of salvation for all people.

Rev. Dan Phannenhour

Abundant Life

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Mark 16:8

This is the original ending of the Gospel of Mark; more was added later, because it made people so uncomfortable. One can understand why… However, I like this ending. I can relate to it. Fear happens. If I found myself in this scenario, I’m not sure that fear would begin to describe exactly what I’d feel. In truth, fleeing and not telling anyone seems rather calm a reaction.

These women approached the tomb with deeply grieving hearts. They had watched Jesus hang on the cross, helpless. It was he in whom they had put their trust and faith; how could he have let this happen? They watched not only their teacher and mentor die, but also their dear friend.

Very recently, I turned to a good friend and colleague and said, “it seems to me that life just doesn’t get easier.” It’s true – I feel like it’s something I’ve always waited for. Thinking that if I just get through this next thing, things will get smoother. However, what I’m finding is that once I get through that, or sometimes while I’m still working through it, something else comes up. A new challenge presents itself.

This year I’ve felt that acutely; my family and I, we’ve had one challenge after another. Lent is finally coming to an end, and I couldn’t be happier. I feel like Lent started six months ago! I need Easter in my life!

And that is why I can so relate to those women in Mark’s account of the Resurrection; because these women were faced with something that seemed insurmountable. When they went to the tomb, they learned what was the best news they would ever hear in their lives. But they didn’t understand, they were afraid; they needed time to figure it all out. And they did. We know that because we know the story. Those women left, fearful; but at some point they realized what really happened. They realized that Jesus’ death opened the way to life – real, abundant, challenging, wonderful life.

And that’s what Easter means to me this year. Not life that is spotless, easy, and harmless. This year, Easter means celebrating that Jesus gives me life that is full of challenges, because I wouldn’t be challenged if I didn’t love so deeply, if I didn’t care so much about the people whose lives are entwined with my own. Easter doesn’t mean my challenges disappear; it means Jesus is helping me through them.

Jesus said that he came to give us abundant life. Well, I’m living one.
Thanks be to God!

By: Rev. Joanna Miller

Soul Food

Marieta Holst made the best cakes ever. At least that’s what I, as a ten-year-old, wholeheartedly believed. This great early memory of sinking my teeth into a deep, moist, vanilla sponge-type flat cake with the best vanilla or chocolate icing in the world (with those green, blue and pink icing flowers on the corners) is matched only by my memory of the bright, warm and smiling face of the baker of the cake, and her late husband, Alf. My mom, dad, brother and I used to visit Marieta and Alf Holst in their home in the town of St. Jacob’s, Ontario. Remembering those sumptuous cakes immediately, automatically, brings to mind the warmth and goodness of Alf and Marieta Holst.

One of the best things we do as a church is come together to eat good food. Food is not just “fuel” to keep us going, but has always been meant to be enjoyed, and savoured, with others. A local rabbi in Kitchener recently said to me that a multi-course Passover meal in his home can easily last for over six hours! Amen to that! There’s just something very wrong with gulping down a Big Mac while dashing between appointments. Not only unhealthy, and a strain on the digestive system, but it’s also an ugly symptom of our speed-obsessed society.

I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons there are so many stories in the Bible of Jesus eating leisurely and unhurried with others, is because of the truly memorable and joyful occasions these mealtimes were. Whether at the wedding in Cana, or at the kitchen table in Emmaus, or eating barbequed fish over a charcoal fire on the beach, those who ate with Jesus remembered these as good, joyful, even life-transforming times. Jesus was good company.

In this season of Lent, as we wonder how and when we might experience God, as we search sometimes desperately for God’s life-giving, yet frustratingly elusive presence, let’s recall the stories of Jesus, who loved to eat with people. And the next time we find ourselves surrounded by good food and good company, maybe, just maybe, if we pause long enough, and observe, something of God may catch our attention. The warm smile of the person sitting across from us, the encouraging and affirming words of the person passing the plate of potatoes, or the understanding nod of the baker of the cake who cuts a big slice of it and offers it generously and eagerly to us, may be just what we need to know that God is closer to us then we think, and that God’s deep love for us never ends.

Rev. David Malina