Wet feet, cold feet

Sandy had kind eyes, a black leather jacket, large eyes, several rings in each ear, and few in her nose.  She was confident and kind.  I met her at Central Presbyterian Church, at a BBQ on the front steps.  I noticed Sandy for what she was doing.  She wasn’t standing in line, waiting for the street vendor-style ‘dogs to be ready.  She was kneeling down beside one of the two, large, stone potters by each pillar.

Someone had put in some beautiful, yellow and fascia tulips.  It had rained hard all day though, and they were beat down, their stems and petals lying in the soil.  Sandy had her hands in the pot, pushing the tulips down deeper, so they had enough soil to stand straight.  She carefully did the same with the other side.  Always looking to plug people into ministries they love, I went over to talk to this potential church gardener.  One more volunteer.  Victory.

I asked Sandy about the winter.  Had been long.  Just like everyone’s at the church, and in  this city.  Long and cold.  We talked about Hamilton, about the bus service, about the living options, and community housing, about the cost of apartments, about heat and about electricity bills.  It was the first day in a month comfortable enough to stand outside with no coat.  A heavenly breeze of 14C, blew.  I said how nice it was to feel that.  She said, “yes, it was a cold winter.”    “And a wet one.”  I asked what she meant.  Sandy went on to explain that in Hamilton, in the winter, downtown, when there is snow in melt, your feet get cold and worse, wet – cold and wet, if you don’t have a good pair of boots.  She said she didn’t this year.

It reminded me of day, being a very cool grade 7 kid in the Ottawa Valley, refusing to wear a winter coat or boots to school one day.  Playing outside in the slush in my shoes, and how miserable, cold and wet my feet were all day.  Soaked cold.

So I asked Sandy, “do a lot of people in Hamilton not a have a good pair of boots for the winter?”  She explained that good boots – warm and dry ones – are hard to get each winter.

And this made me wonder.  What does it mean for me to a Christian in Hamilton, driving a good car, wearing a goose-down coat, and never really needing to walk anywhere in the new boots I can afford, in any case;  what does it mean for me to be a pastor in a city if others have cold, wet feet all winter, and mine are warm?  What does that mean to be part of a church?

Well, if Sandy’s experience is wide in our city, and this is a need, I thought that day –  of a church that specialized in boots.  Boots for women.  Boots for men.  Boots for children, who need them.  Boots for newcomers to the city.  Boots for people.  And for a church to give them away, with joy.

What if we made everything – everything – in the church, about mission?  What if, along side our signs for worship and programs and special events, we had a sign on our sidewalk.  Need boots?  Come in.  All welcome.

I think that would be pure joy.

Palm Sunday, missing the cross

I don’t remember where the idea came from, but on Palm Sunday I woke up to a donkey on the front lawn of the church.  Turns out it was Presbyterian.  Its handlers part of a congregation, on the outskirts of the city.  But there it was, a donkey on Charlton Ave, Palm Sunday.  With it, there were children.  One child, had been asked, I was told, by a family member to go a special trip that Sunday morning, away from church, to which they responded, “No thank you.  I am going to church this morning.  My church has a donkey.”  So there was excitement.  Children and teens – lots of them – coming over in the hour before worship to touch the donkey.  To stand near it.  To speak to it.

About 10 a.m., someone from the church handed out songs sheets, which people held awkwardly in their mittened hands.  -4C.   We practiced the song for our procession around the block.  Hosanna.  Hosanna.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  We sang it once, and then, about 50 of us, all ages, left.  Donkey first.

The donkey headed up Caroline, and right on Herkimer.  We sang Hosanna, quite well, I think, as we walked.  The line was long, and the voices became stretched out, so it eventually become a round.  The ‘donkey processional choir’.   A few things happened that surprised me.  I was surprised how the children walked at the front.  They had one hand high, waving their palms, and the other hand, three of children, had on the donkey.  Right there on its back, little hands buried in its dusty hair.  The whole way.  The were very connected to this animal.

As we walked, a minivan came close, slowed down, and stopped in the middle of the road to watch.  After a minute, the windows came down, and out came the arm of a man who almost the oldest member of our church.  We waved back.  Off they went.  A few minutes later, the same van, having circled the block, was back.  Both windows down now, the man, and his wife and his grandson, all waving out the window, right in the middle of Herkimer, as we sang Hosanna.  Other cars slowed down, stared.

Like they had never seen a parade of Presbyterians singing Hosanna in this city.

When the donkey made it to Hess and Charlton, our whole procession stopped to catch up.  We kept singing.  An HSR bus stopped to let passengers off on Charlton.  The bus driver, put his coffee down, looked over, gave us all an ear to ear smile, and a big thumbs up.  Hosanna – as he drove off West in his bus towards Locke St.

Back at the church, we all gathered on the front steps, and sang Hosanna one last time before parading into the service with our palms.  It was chaotic; it was loud; it was energetic; it was joyful.  It was Palm Sunday.  We went into our church, the donkey back to its.

Two weeks later, I led the Prime Time Bible Study, a Wednesday afternoon.  We checked in, talked over our lives, what was happening in the church.  Talked about the donkey.  One senior, never short of words, never short of a good story or a kindness, asked me if we had all seen the cross?  A Ph.D. and ten years of university later, I hadn’t seen the cross.  She asked, “don’t you know, every donkey has one on their back?”  It’s said that ever since the beast carried our Saviour, every donkey had a cross on it, where two lines of dark hair met.

I had missed it.  In the cold, in the singing, in the joy, in the crowds, I had missed the cross.  Immediately I pulled up a picture, and there it was.  The whole time we had been out there that Palm Sunday, up at front of the line, leading the way along the street, leading the singing, leading this public witness to the story of a certain kind of king, was a donkey, on Herkimer Street in Hamilton, with a cross on its back; and three little hands, holding onto it.

A community BBQ, and shoes

For several years now, I have attended a program at Central where, from November to March each year, hot meals are served to those who come.  I walk around, feeling like a maître-d’, saying hello, getting to know the guests; feeling like I should have a violin, and be lighting elegant candles.  At times, we talk about the weather, or sports.  Two years ago, I came with a broken ankle.  Guests still ask how it is doing.  Other times, we talk about the birth of their grand children, the death of friends, pets, loved ones.  We talk about visions some have.  Of angels; of God meeting them.  I hear favourite Bible verses quoted, and the latest books being read, commented on.  If it is someone’s birthday, I will be told, and we will sing before grace.

And that is fine.  We all go our separate ways.

Other times, though, there are cross overs.  Like the wedding I have been asked to perform; or like the spouse, diagnosed with cancer, I was asked to visit over the months she was dying.  And her funeral, hosted by the church.  And like the three times individual guests came and spoke about these meals to the congregation.

I noticed something every year however.  Every year around March, the final month, guests would start asking, “is this going to be over soon”, saying “we’re not going to see each other until next October”.  One March, I batted around the idea of a summer reunion, small talk though, mumbling something about having to find volunteers, find time, budget etc. etc.  Another March, I actually heard myself saying, “well, maybe next year”, hearing acutely how words can be so easy, and empty.

But this March something changed. One of the guests suggested a BBQ. And, I heard myself agreeing, joining in, yes, a community BBQ outside the front of the church.  Yes.  Perfect.  Try it for a month, every Thursday in April.  I said, let me talk to some people and get back to you, wondering if I would.

Yesterday, I attended the second community BBQ outside the front doors of our church.  The team served 120 sausages, street vendor style, to 75 people.  I noticed a few changes from the winter program.  One the guests from the winter program actually had become one of servers.  She had joined the church team.  Coordinating the lines, handing out bottles of water.  The coffee shop from across the street had joined in.  They had provided two huge containers of hot drinks and coffee.  People driving by the front of the church in their cars, slowed down, hanging their head out the window, and having a long look.  As if they had never seen a BBQ outside the oak doors and tall steeple of a city church.  I noticed how people spoke to each other more loosely, more relaxed, being outside, moving around, laughing, chatting.  The atmosphere was almost fun.  I noticed how easy it was to invite people.  Three children played across the street with their Mom, and I yelled over, would you like a BBQ. Over they ran. We talked summer camps, gym space for after school basketball, and something about each of the kids.  Shortly put, there were more connections with our neighbourhood in 30 minutes, then I might otherwise see in a month.

One interaction stayed with me the most.

Because the BBQ was outside, as the guests arrived, you could see them coming.  One man, a regular during the winter, came by, limping.  After he had his sausage, he explained to me how each step he took, hurt.  His ankle, to his knees, up the leg, into his hip.  (I asked him how far he had walked for the BBQ, and it was about 2.5 km, a mile and half).  I said, “sir, that is no good, how can we help?”

He explained that he had gone to a pedorthist on James Street, was fitted for large orthotics and special shoes to balance out his gait, but not being able to pay for them, opted for the monthly payment plan, which after a month, he could not pay.  So here he was, a large man, walking in pain at each step, with what he needed to walk prepared but on a shelf in a store on James Street.  Nowhere near his feet.  I suggested the church use its benevolent fund to pay off the shoes, and that he pick them up as soon as possible.  His large eyebrows, unshaven, furrowed.  His lips, still yellow from mustard, turned down.  And he said to me, “can you do that?”  I said, this church would be happy to do that.  And so it is in the works.  Set for next week.  Next week, among other things, there will be a man, in our neighbourhood, walking without pain, because of a simple BBQ, the generosity of this congregation, and the grace of a God, who makes the sheer joy of opportunities like these, possible.

Wednesday’s Word – 1 November

“For truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God…'”  Genesis 33:10

Jacob meets this brother after years of running, lies and fear.  And he find in his brother the sweetest of responses.

Forgiveness.

It is something Jacob seeks.  It is something Esau gives.  It is a gift.

Nothing in the story tells us if Esau second-guessed, thought it over or regretted it afterward.  He simply gave it.

It’s a gift that points us to Christ, in whom we are forgiven, free and right with God.

 

Let us pray:  In you, O Lord, I put my trust.  Amen.

 

 

 

  • Greg

 

 

Wednesday’s Word – 18 October

“Abraham built an altar there….and called that place, ‘The Lord will provide.'”  Genesis 22: 9,14.

 

Abraham builds an altar.  Stone upon stone that becomes a place he will never forget.

It is a moment for him where God interrupts his imagination and startles him with possibility and provision.

I remember reading in an unpublished journal, a phrase someone had sketched in the margins:  Sometimes the darkest roads lead to the brightest places.

It was that way for Abraham.  With Christ, it is that day, everyday, with us.  Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not fear.

Let us pray:  Thank you God, thank you that you fill my life with hope, even when in the world and in my heart there seems to be little.   I look to you, provider, life-giver, God of hope.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

 

 

 

  • Greg

 

 

Wednesday’s Word – 4 October

“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go…'”  Genesis 12:1.

God calls Abram and Sarai in Genesis 12:1 and this marks a turning point.  Before chapter 12, death seems to reign.  After, it is call, promise and life.

But the call, for Abram, is something to answer.  One way or the other.  It is a moment for him and Sarai that we all have.  How they respond defines their life.  Go into the unknown, with faith.  Or stay where they are and make it on their own.

Jesus said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.”  We have been given much, and out of God’s abundance to us, we respond.

Lord God, grant that we may say ‘yes’ to your call to follow, in faith and in trust.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

  • Greg

P.S. Prayer for Thanksgiving Meals

 

Wednesday’s Word – 20 September

“I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.”  The Lord, Genesis 9:15

We can easily think of limiting God.  Of reducing God to an idea, a place, an experience in the past.

But the story of Noah and the Rainbow ends with an outrageous promise.  That the Lord, creator of sun, moon and skies, promises to be our God and the God of all.  The promise is not limited by any conditions.  The promise does not stop with a few.  But for all time and with all people and all the earth.

Lord God, grant that we might look for you this day, today, even now, in the good lives you have given us..  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

  • Greg

 

Wednesday’s Word – 13 September

“God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” ’ 4But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”  Genesis 3:3-4

In Genesis 3 there is a basic tension between what God says and humanity’s ability to live it.  The boundaries are clear.  They exist.  There is a better way to live.  God gives it.  But as much as the first humans may want to exist in harmony with God and God’s intention,  they find that on their own power they cannot.

The New Testament talks about that tension this way:  “ I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate….Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”  Romans 7: 15-20

Part of the Good News is actual power for living God’s good ways – and that’s available through trust in Jesus Christ.

Lord God, grant that we might hate sin and trust in Christ’s power to transform our wills, emotions, words and actions, to be in harmony with  you.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

  • Greg

 

Wednesday’s Word

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”  Genesis 1:1-2

In the beginning – in fact before it – there was God.  And after the end there will be God.  We live in the middle.  In God’s good creation.  All we have is from God.

From nothing, from ‘a formless void’, God created.  This is a fundamental action of God, the creator.  Terrence Freitheim says, “God’s creation is going somewhere; it is a long-term project, ever in the process of becoming”.

It’s a basic belief we share.  That, as part of God’s creation, we are going somewhere.  God is always at work among us.  That wind still blows.

Lord God, guide us through this week in the assurance that as our Creator, you are still forming and shaping us, and our church, through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

P.S.  Please remember Margaret in the church office, with busy start to the church program year, the Blessing of the Backpacks liturgy this Sunday the 10th, the Almahamid family we sponsored from Syria as their three children begin school in Hamilton, and all the children and youth at Central heading back to school.  A special donation was made this week from the Benevolent Fund to purchase back to school supplies for 25 children at the Good Shepherd’s  emergency residential centre.  Thank you for your generosity in giving to this fund!

  • Greg