Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

God: Between Rocks and Hard Places

I don’t normally post sermons here, but a number of you have asked for this one, so here you go.


Rock hard place
God: Between Rocks and Hard Places     (Luke 21:5-19)
Seated, teaching, is Jesus.
But have we heard what he said?
We, as in those who wear his name,
comfortably or otherwise,we fundamentally, or evangelically, or liberally named followers of this Jesus?
I wonder, did we watch his lips shape the words,
but not hear them?
“When you hear of wars, and rebellions,
earthquakes, disasters, disease, terror plots….
do not be alarmed.”
It seems to me that far too often those who wear his name,are precisely those who drum up the fear, the alarm! But didn’t he say some of us would?
“Many will come in my name, saying ‘I’m the one, now is the time!’”
We know them: the ones who traffic others’ terror,
the ones who blatantly read the political tea leaves
as a sign of divine impending wrath, when he said no such thing!
But we, do we hear what he said?
“Don’t be alarmed.
Don’t be deceived.”
Oh, Jesus, that’s easier said, than heard!
We are too on edge.  We too live in an ugly world,
everything you talked about is happening now.
War, earthquake, disaster, disease, corruption,
vainglorious self-serving elevated to alarming political
proportions,where the stakes are globally high.
Pipe bombs and truck bombs kill those who wear your name,
and no name, for no good reason,
and for the life of us,we are now begging you,tell us,
Where is God in between all this?
Your “Don’t be alarmed. Don’t be deceived.”
Don’t feel like the answers we need.
Back in June, while I was on study leave in St Paul,
Minnesota, just after the gay nightclub shootings in Orlando,
just as the horrifying spate of racially motivated killing
was erupting all around the US, I wrote on this blog , perhaps too glibly,
that despite all this gunmetal grey ugly mayhem,
“God does have a Dream, a future for creation, and
for us, as God’s people called to be blessing in it.”
I wrote that because I believe it, and I need to believe it.
But it was not convincing to one reader,  who wrote back to me (and I have their permission to share)
“I don’t think God has a dream. In fact I’m feeling less
certain every day that God even cares about us… I
don’t see the evidence – just a world wallowing in
despair, hatred, cruelty, selfishness, corruption…Maybe God has wandered off to another
For this person, and for many, God is nowhere to be found
between these rocks and hard places.  Evidence suggests
we’re on our own.

I struggled long and hard with how to frame a helpful,
faithful response.
I needed to read this Gospel.
I needed to sit at Jesus’ feet.
I needed to listen, to let those shaped words
get past my ears, my head, to sink into my soul.
And until I did, I’d never noticed this:
that as Jesus points to a Temple
that was indeed crushed to rubble,
as Jesus points to a world Hell-bent, then and now,
he did not point to God in between,
he did not rush to God’s defence, (as I had done),
he did not try to answer the  unanswerable problem
of God’s supposed goodness and human suffering,
he pointed right back to us.
There then. Here now, and said (I’m paraphrasing, obviously!)
“When all of this happens… and it has and it will,
and it will continue to happen…I invite you to do three things.
First,”Don’t be alarmed.”
……. You know how much work it takes not to be
frightened? (image of a frightened first time mother in
labour, who knows that being alarmed won’t help!)
We know that to practise non-alarm, non-worry, non-fear,
that sort of non-violent, non-fearful response
to fearful, violent times
is hard, disciplined, spiritual work.
It takes prayer,
it takes presence,
it takes practice,
it takes community supporting one another
to be not-alarmed.
The second invitation Jesus gives
is for when the fear-mongers fill our newsfeeds,
when the alarmists seduce us with their weapons of mass defence,
for when we are told “the sky is falling!”
“the church is dying!”
He says, “Don’t be deceived by these messengers of doom,
and don’t follow.”

This is a practice of resistance; resisting the urge to act out
of fear, or hatred, or despair.
It is also a practice of honesty.
The truth is, despite war, earthquake, famine, disease,
corruption, decay, despair,
life is born again, and again;
love erupts across the planet far more frequently than lava
flows from volcanos,
courage creeps out from the craters of ruin all the time.
The practice of honesty, the defiance of deception,
the refusal to waste precious energy on fear,
is to hold onto and hold out for others to see,
this truth: Life and Love win.
Which brings us to the third invitation
that Jesus offers:
“When hell is knocking on your doors,
This is your moment, your chance to be
who God made you to be.”
When, not if,
the world is hell-bent,
we are formed, knit us together to be,
a person, a people made in the image of
a healing, mending, justice demanding God.
A wiser follower of Christ than I once declared,
that “the glory of God, is the human fully alive.”  (Irenaeus of Lyon)
Being the we, we are made to be,
means practising non-alarm,
practising courage,
practising honesty,
resisting evil and its evangelists,
and instead being the hands and feet, the lips of Christ
when the walls come tumbling down,
standing beside, upholding,
the ones imprisoned, hated, or hurt,
because of the name they wear,
be that name Islam or Israel or Jesus,
they, we, are all God’s own.
If we want to see where God is
in a world hell-bent,
in between the rocks and the hard places,
then look in the mirror.
Look at the person beside you.
Look at your children.
Look at all who don a face mask and pull at the rubble
of the latest disaster in search of life.
Look at all who burn the night-light pushing refugee
paperwork through the machineries of state.
Look at the retiree who drives a neighbour to their doctor’s
Look at the seed that sprouts in the ashes.
Look at every dawn, every rainbow.
Look at…every smile, every tear of compassion,
Listen to every voice raised against hatred and bigotry,
Look at every connection of care…..
and there you will see God in Between.
Maybe sometimes that’s not enough for some of us,
but that one, (pointing to the chair/Jesus)
seated under the shadow of his own cross,
that’s what he lived,
that’s what he called the Kingdom,
the Dream of God,
that’s what he’s invites us to do and be.
Don’t be alarmed,
Don’t be deceived.
Be the people of God.


August 28,2016.  Elisabeth R. Jones

D.Min Update

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Wow!  Thank you so much to all those of you who came out on a HOT Thursday evening to find out more about my D.Min journey.    I’ve attached a link here; it’s a pdf version of a powerpoint. It should work on most browsers, if you have adobe… and most computers do.   Just click on the link below. Enjoy!

D Min Update PPT

What on earth is next?


Thearth-rat’s another way of asking “What future does God dream for this world?”  This was the topic for our second week in the D.Min programme at Luther Seminary.  Needless to say, such a question is especially ‘loaded’ this year with the freight of the shocking attack on LGBTQ party-goers in Orlando, the upcoming Presidential election in the US, not to mention the daunting refugee crisis facing the world, and the growing impact of humanly compounded global warming.  What a time to be asking  question, “What on earth is next!”  I remain in deeply in awe of and grateful for the extremely talented cohort members with whom I am studying. Thanks to them, the conversation was rigorous, and at times troubling, as you can imagine,  (which may explain why my Facebook posts were few last week!).

There are no simple answers, no one-size fits all solutions to the world’s crises and possibilities.  Except one:  God does have a Dream, and God does have a future for God’s creation, and for us as God’s people called to be blessing within this earth.  All we need to do now, is figure out just what our particular, peculiar gift is to this unfolding future!  And that’s where you come in, Cedar Parkers:  we get to figure this out together, in community, gathered in prayer, worship and exploration of the texts of Scripture and of our lives. What on earth is next is both in God’s hands, and ours, and that’s awe-inspiring, isn’t it?

Pride and the Passion of God

I thought I was going to write about “my week at Luther Seminary” in this post. I thought I would be waxing poetic and lyrical about a rich week of learning how to embody the lively Word, how to get in touch with a more gutsy (as in less cerebral) engagement with Scripture, Culture and context……..

But Orlando happened.  The US awoke this morning to yet another mass-shooting, this one compounded by the racial and gender politics that have this country gripped in fear. Despite this fear, a community of Minnesotans chose to go ahead anyway with their first “Pride Fest”, and I couldn’t imagine being in a better place today. (See this link: ) I can’t pretend to know enough  to speak to the details of this senseless, scandalous tragedy, but my guts know enough to write about what I do know:

I know that when God was creating, at the dawn of time, Ruach (the Spirit of God)  hovered over the chaos and, with a Word, God fashioned beauty, wonder, love, light.  And all that God created was and is beautiful in God’s delighted gaze.  All. Every sweet child, every grey hair of an ageing head, everyone. ALL.

God’s Pride in the manifold diversity of humanity is unabashed, bold, more proud than any Mama or Papa could ever be of their child.  God’s Pride includes my LGBTQ siblings. ALL.  God’s Pride includes every colour of skin,every expression of life affirming, heart enriching, earth-mending spirituality, faith, religion. ALL.  God’s Pride swells to see all who use their political power for the good of society, the good of the environment, the protection of the weak, the celebration of diversity, regardless of the name of a political party, the name on a ballot.

So, God’s Passion – God’s anguish, sadness, agony — is raw and all consuming tonight,  for wanton acts of terror break God’s heart.  Small-minded and small-hearted bigotry breaks God’s heart. Using tragedy to score political points breaks God’s heart.  The ascendancy of a tribal culture of fear breaks God’s heart.

Knowing this, I pray. I pray my own anguish and despair to a God who knows more than we ever shall, the depth of sorrow of a broken world.  I pray that my guts, and God’s passion will stir me and others to share in  God’s  Passion and Pride; to love what God loves, and to live loving as deeply as we can, for God’s sake.


When the Word won’t stay on the page

LS Banner 2

Luther Seminary D.Min Year 2

It’s so good to be back here at Luther Seminary in the Twin Cities! I get to reconnect with a bright, talented, diverse cohort of ministry colleagues, as we re-energize one another with wisdom, curiosity, and a common thirst for learning more about this strange and wonderful calling of congregational ministry. We have an amazing teaching faculty too, who love what they do, and love that we  are eager to learn with them. Don’t get me wrong, dear Cedar Parkers, I LOVE being your Minister, and that’s why I’m here; to quest for richer, deeper veins of wisdom that will help me live my call to serve God in the world with you as well as I can.  This month is about you as much as it’s about me.

So, if you’re interested, follow this blog for the duration of my second year residency. I’ll post twice each week, to try to give you a flavour of  what we’re up to, in courses titled “Preaching as the Proclaimed Word.”  and “Preaching Church into God’s Future”   ( I decided not to take the course on Psalms, but to carve new learning curves, even though I LOVE the psalms…. oh right, y’all knew that already!)

Today, I took a leaf out of Rev. Ron’s  book,  delivering a passage of Scripture learned by heart (you’ll get to experience this text with me in September, until then, it’s a secret!). What a tough discipline, what hard work, and what surprising graces eventually emerged from the learning, and the performing of it in a circle, each of us taking a different text and retelling the  Bible story from Genesis to Acts.  Most of us were new to this skill, very nervous about it, but at the end, we wanted to do it again!  Some highlights:  reimagining the impact of   “Jesus” teaching while cross-legged on the ground.Lee in Luke

That’s enough for today.

Meanwhile, please pray for me, for energy and health to thrive and learn. And, please know that I am praying for all of you, that God hold you all safe, and blessed until we are back together again.

Blessings abound!

Easter’s New Candle

A ‘new to us’ tradition at Cedar Park in recent years is the lighting of a new Christ Candle, and procession of light at the beginning of our Easter Sunday Worship. In many Christian traditions, both of the East and West,  the church is plunged into darkness on Good Friday, to signify the death of Christ. Then, in the dark hours of Easter Saturday/Sunday a new Christ candle is kindled, and then processed through a dark church towards the front, where it will stay for the coming year.

We don’t (yet) gather for a night Vigil at CPU, but this powerful procession of light is such a rich way of marking the Resurrection, and the release of the Light of Christ once more into the world.

We are blessed in the United Church with a freedom to adopt, adapt and create rituals which feed our spiritual imaginations.  This one has always been very powerful for me, and I hope it will become a cherished part of our Easter Celebrations.

Meanwhile, darkness descends, this Easter Saturday, and we wait……

Below is a sonnet written for Maundy Thursday, by British poet Malcolm Guite.

Maundy Thursday is so called, from the latin word “Mandatum” meaning command.  The way John tells it in his Gospel (chapter 13), Jesus met with his disciples for a last, loving supper, where he blessed and broke bread, and blessed and shared the cup. During that last supper,  he bent to wash the feet of  his disciples, which resulted then, as it does now, in a ‘conversation’ about the true nature of love. In his body, and actions, Jesus showed them/us that love is concerned for the other, love is often manifest in acts of generous, compassionate service – like soothing clean the dusty feet.  In case we missed the significance of his embodied, sensory, teaching, Jesus also said (13:34) “A new commandment I give you; that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

In many traditions, a rite of footwashing is observed on “Commandment Thursday”  so that we can experience in our own flesh what it might mean for us to love the world, and those close to us, “just as” Jesus has loved us.

Now, sit for a while with Malcolm Guite’s poem….

Here is the source of every sacrament,

The all-transforming presence of the Lord,

Replenishing our every element

Remaking us in his creative Word.

For here the earth herself gives bread and wine,

The air delights to bear his Spirit’s speech,

The fire dances where the candles shine,

The waters cleanse us with His gentle touch.

And here He shows the full extent of love

To us whose love is always incomplete,

In vain we search the heavens high above,

The God of love is kneeling at our feet.

Though we betray Him, though it is the night.

He meets us here and loves us into light.


Syrian Response Latest NEWS!

Below is an information update from  our Cedar Park United Syrian Refugee Response working group.

Dear Fellow Cedar Parkers,

  • The Cedar Park United Syrian refugee sponsorship team is making steady progress, and been reaching out to the larger faith community. Here’s an update on what we’ve done so far, and what’s planned for the near future:


  • The refugee sponsorship team spent the late fall learning and preparing for action
  • Cedar Park United is now an active member of the West Island Refugee Network – a group of West Island churches (primarily United and Unitarian) and has attended two meetings to share information and pool resources
  • Cedar Park United is now working with Actions Refugiés Montreal to bring a Syrian refugee family to Montreal. We should find out just who we are sponsoring in a couple months; our application should be complete within 4 months. It’s a lengthy process requiring patience.
  • Our next step is to include the larger congregation and community by creating learning opportunities/events.
  • We will also be beginning the process to create specific project teams to share their skills and talents when the family arrives. These groups will become more crucial and active once we have passed the matching phase.

If you want more detail on the above, keep reading, by reading the full report on the Syrian Response page of this blog(click on the link up on the right)

 Meditations of the Magi

Some say we three were wise,

some say we were magicians,

some say we were kings;

that we brought expensive gifts

of profound, or obscure symbolic significance.


Of such stories are myths made and faiths founded.

But this we know now,

travelling back by such a different route:

We have seen wisdom, magic, royalty.

We have been given wealth and gift beyond price.

For we have seen God,

swaddled,  helpless, hungry,

speechless, in the arms of a woman,

needing to be loved.

This is how the world is redeemed:

God calling out with the worldless cry of a newborn,


Syrian Refugee Update Latest!!

Syrian camp kids.On Tuesday, the Congregational Board approved the recommendations of our Syrian Refugee Response Working Group to

a) go ahead with an application by CPU to become a sponsor of a refugee family.   We had explored the possibility of partnership with a group of West Island churches, and had great conversations with them, but came to the conclusion that they were already farther along in the process, and that there would be limited opportunity for the many at CPU to be as fully involved as you’d like to be,  so we’ve taken on the challenge ourselves.  (This way 2 families will be helped)

b) open a dedicated fund for the  ‘CPU Syrian Refugee Project.’  This means you can donate to this fund, knowing that all your donation will support the project, from application right through to on-the-ground support of our refugee family.  As with all identified donations to CPU, you will receive an tax receipt for your donation.  (It is NOT part of the government matching scheme).

As of this afternoon – Friday Dec 18,  we have ALREADY received donations, and one significant cheque from a community neighbour!

If you’re wondering “What have we gotten ourselves into?”  The answer is “A BIG piece of work!”  However, I have no doubt that we are doing the right, if brave/bold thing. This feels so much like the strong call of God. After all, what better work can we be doing than pooling the resources of this community to extend our care to those who are in most need of it?  We will be challenged, we will work hard, we will hit road blocks, but we will grow in unimaginable ways as a congregation.   I am honoured and proud to be serving as the Minister with with such a Dream team!Blessings,



PS.  I have created a dedicated page for all the Syrian Refugee Updates, so if you want to know more,  look up at the top of the home page, and click the link, where you’ll find lots more information.


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