Beyond Wood and Stone

Rev. Elisabeth's Cedar Park Blog site

Sabbatical Update

The Journal continues. You can find the latest entry  here and you can find the Journal week 1 by clicking  this, or using the tabs above..  I hope there’s a ‘thought for the day’ for those of you who are choosing to read this (and thanks for the encouragement).

To update those who are interested on my plans for the next 3 weeks, now that I’ve had chance to finalize some of them:

  • I head to the UK next week, to spend some time with my mother, who at 84 is no longer very mobile,  so we’re planning a few trips to old haunts, and lots of cups of tea.  I shall also visit with my father, who having suffered a number of strokes this year, is now in a nursing home.  For  a hitherto  fit, active,man-of- the-moors, and one whose mental acuity was legendary, this is a hard chapter of life to be writing, so I ask your prayers for my family as we connect as deeply and as meaningfully as possible.
  • Norman and I will meet up in London, to head to Provence, France. We will spend a week basking in late lavender and early grape harvest, croissants and honey, and such delights for eye, body and soul. He, alas must return after a week, but I shall stay on for another week by myself, to write, write, and write.


And so it begins….. Sabbatical

I will post periodically on this  front page of the blog, various highs and lows of this Sabbatical time.  I also intend to keep a regular (but not daily) journal which you can find by clicking the link here  or find “Sabbatical Journal” above in the black header.

After over a year of planning, preparing,  it begins, for me, and for the congregation of Cedar Park United… a time of difference, newness, exploration, attentiveness,  all the while being blessed by the surprises of  life in all its fullness.

Sabbaticals for clergy are meant to be intentional  periods of release and rest from the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of pastoral ministry, thereby creating  space and opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal,  for vocational reflection,  and for study.

The supreme model for taking Sabbath time is God! In Genesis we read that after the work of Creation, God took a breath, took a break from all that creating,  and took time to reflect upon it, and to celebrate its fundamental goodness.   In the Gospels, particularly the one written by Luke, we see Jesus frequently taking a ‘time out,’  heading off to the edges of the day, to the edges of creation, to reconnect with God, rest his body, and renew and retool for the ministry that lay ahead of him.   Good models  I intend to follow.

My hope and prayer for my sabbatical is

a) to rest my body and treat it well.  This involves time on my bike, on a golf course, at the gym, at the piano, cooking interesting food,and  some travel.

b) to bring to completion the work of my Doctorate in Ministry (D.Min).  I need to complete a dissertation/thesis, but I WANT to write down the best of our recent experiences of unlocking Scripture in community through the use of a “midrashic imagination”  – a faithfully playful, curious engagement of the Biblical library in ways that make relevant connections between these ancient texts, our own context, and God who is involved in both.

c) to connect meaningfully with my far flung family.  With parents in UK, our children and their families living in Vancouver and South Dakota, that is no small undertaking!

d)  to  pray and ponder, read and listen well to the call of God for the next chapter of our lives together at Cedar Park United, for you can be sure, God has things, good things in store for us!

My hope  for this Sabbatical time for CPU is that you relish this opportunity to worship in new ways with great worship leaders, Revs. Wendy Evans and Alyson Huntly, and our guest line up for early Adventwho will bring insights from other faith traditions in their Human Quest for the Holy.  My prayer for you is that you love and care for one another as you share the  ministries, programmes,  vision, and  mission of Cedar Park United in the months ahead.

May God bless the space between us.

Snow Day! Beware the Ides of March

Lenten Textures is online tonight, because of the dump of snow we’ve had in Montreal  yesterday and today.  Go to the Lenten Textures tab (above), scroll down, and you’ll find a link to the handouts for the third session,  where we walk with the Syro-Phoenician woman, as she encounters Jesus.

Lenten Textures -We walk this road together


In this Lenten Bible study course, we’ll be using “Midrashic Imagination” to discover the layers and textures of the Biblical texts which we will be using for each of the Sundays of the Season.

This year’s Lent texts take us onto the road walked by our ancestors in faith. What would happen if we were to meet these characters? What would they teach us about how this journey of faith that we are on? What might happen if we choose to walk this Road together with them?

Find the Lenten Textures drop down tag above, and you can find there the handouts for each of the Sessions. If you cant join in on Wednesday evenings or Thursday mornings, you can keep up with what we’re doing here!  Happy Midrashing!


The Sermon on the Mount: An invitation into counter-culture

I couldn’t begin to say this any better. Linday Paris-Lopez’ recent article on the “Sermon on the Mount” , posted in  Sojourner’s  Magazine online is well worth your attention.

If you subscribe, you’ll find it here:

If not, I’ve quoted extensively, below.


“……The Sermon on the Mount is a call to resistance. It has always been subversive and counter-cultural. Because of its core ethic of nonviolence and its insistence on the blessing of the powerless, it can be misinterpreted as a dissuasion from action, a plea to settle down and accept authority. Yet it uproots and overturns a conventional order built on and maintained by violence. The Sermon on the Mount calls on us to repent. Repentance is the first step of resistance. Before the powers of exclusion, greed, and coercion sweep us along in their destructive path, we are called to repent — turn around — and resist the tide that threatens to drown us all.

The Sermon on the Mount catches us in the current of our cultural violence and turns us around first by drawing our attention to the victims swept under the wave of human violence.How are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst for justice, blessed? Jesus blessed the people on the margins of his culture by embracing them, showing solidarity with them, building a community in which those who had always been shunned were welcomed and loved. As the body of Christ, we are called to be that blessing.

…… Jesus’s vision of healing a world in pain begins with blessing, not blame, so that we may keep our focus on those in need of comfort. This is not to say that Jesus leaves us with nothing to say to those who wield powers of oppression and violence. Acknowledging the victims of oppression, meeting them at the margins and building community upon their inclusion and well-being is the first step toward subverting and transforming oppressive systems. ”

And there’s more, in Matthew 5:38-41, Jesus gives instruction on how to handle those who mete out oppression:

“Neither acquiesce to evil nor return evil for evil, Jesus instructs, but reject oppression by asserting your own dignity with firm compassion, refusing to participate in or perpetuate the cycle of violence. In doing so, you refuse to be either a helpless victim or a heartless monster, reaffirming not only your own humanity, but also that of the one who would dehumanize you…..He teaches us never to lose sight of the human face in front of us. First we must see the humanity in those trampled by systems of power, and then we must see the humanity in those who wield those systems. Forces of exclusion, greed, and violence transcend even those who seem to control them, gripping humanity in their thrall. Striving to overturn oppressors through violence leaves systems of oppression intact, at most switching the places of victim and victimizer. But Jesus teaches us to overturn systems of violence with active inclusion and compassion.”


The Great Invitation

In a world where being a progressive/liberal/affirming Christian seems to be getting weirder if not harder, it’s perhaps not surprising that more of you are asking “How on earth do I talk about my faith with friends or colleagues, or family?”   I hope you’ll discover that at Cedar Park,  season of Epiphany is  being designed just for you and your questions!

The lectionary – the list of Biblical readings – gives us a series of texts that churchy folk like me often  refer to as “call stories” – but that’s church-speak.  What would happen if we were to read these texts  not as ‘call stories’  but as invitations?   When Jesus shows up near the sea of Galilee, he’s issuing an invitation -take it or leave it – to find out a bit more about what makes him tick as a spiritual human being.  When it comes down to it, that’s probably all we need to share with friends, skeptical or otherwise when they look wide-eyed at us when they realize we are church-goers.   If they’re curious at all, they’re probably curious to know why on earth we do such an archaic thing,  especially when the word “Christian” is being dragged through some particularly muddy pastures right now.

If you can’t join us Sunday mornings, you can read the sermons on this blog site . Just go to the sermon tag, and you’ll find the sermons in this series posted each week.   Once our church website team have completed the upgrade and reconstruction, you’ll be able to find them there too, along with audio podcasts of at least some of the sermons.

January 15: The Great Invitation: Come and See!

January 22: Come and Follow – a Daunting Invitation

January 29:  Invitation to be Blessed

February 5:  You ARE Salt and Light

February 12: An Invitation To Go Deep


No Rose of Such Virtue

This poem was written to accompany the singing of the choral work by the same name, by Chrysogonus Waddell OSC, sung at Cedar Park’s Christmas Choir Celebration.  Some of you have asked to read it again.

No Rose of Such Virtue

Semper Virginem,
upon your pedestal
to the left of the high altar
all dressed in the palest of blue,
with the pinkest of blushes on the sweetest of cheeks,
your mouth with the barest hint of a holy smile,
and your fine-boned hands cradling
– ever so gently –
a thorn-less red rose.

How unreachable a mystery
you were to this
rag-tag wild child
with skinned knees,
black-lined finger nails,
and a nettle-stung nose.

They taught me to sing
of your virtue,
having none of my own.
At least not the pale,
alabaster virtue of
that eludes me still.

Now, though,
I know something
of your true virtue.
the strength it takes
to bear a child.
To truly bear,
from birth to death,
– whose is no matter-
a child of your flesh,
cradled in care-worn hands,
blood red,
like a rose.

Elisabeth Jones. December 11, 2016

Advent’s gone dark blue! Why?

This is a really good question, asked recently by one of our Cedar Park children.  Here’s the answer:

We use dark blue during Advent – the colour of the sky just before the dawn breaks, as a symbol of waiting for the Light (Christ) about to break in upon the world at Christmas.  Neat?! (Some traditions also associate blue with Mary, Jesus’ mother).

Now you’re curious; here’s a quick explanation of why and what the other colours are.

Stoles designed by Jan Laurie, of Alberta Canada.

The use of different colours to mark the different seasons of the Christian year is an ancient tradition, going way back to the fourth century.  For a few hundred years, Protestants did not follow the colour changes – but in the mid 20th century the ecumenical “Liturgical Movement” encouraged churches like the United Church to get colourful – replacing the favourite burgundy velvet with the colours of the liturgical calendar for banners,  stoles (the scarf like coloured cloth the minister wears) and communion tables.

For much of the church year, the colour is green – the colour of growth.  You’ll see green between Epiphany (Jan 6) and the beginning of Lent, and again from Pentecost (usually in mid to late May) until the beginning of Advent (December).

Lent is considered to be a penitential season (a time to ‘turn around’ from ways that lead us away from God, and to turn back towards a life of faith and witness), and the colour is purple.

Easter and Christmas  are celebrations of the brilliance of the glory of God. How better to celebrate these feasts than with brilliant gold (or white)?

Pentecost is the day when we read the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit like tongues of fire.  So the colour we wear use is flame red.

For funerals at Cedar Park we don’t use black, the colour of mourning,  but we use white/gold, the colour of resurrection, because a funeral or memorial worship is a reminder that “In life, in death and in life beyond death, God is with us!”




Advent Bible Exploration: Texts and Textures

scripture-reading-1For the season of Advent we are enjoying the opportunity to gather, on Wednesday evenings, or Thursday mornings, or here in virtual space, to explore one of the  Bible readings for each week of Advent.  Go to the link above “Texts and Textures”, and there you’ll find added, each week, a new page which has the course handout, a powerpoint, and other resourcees to help you midrash these texts.  (Midrash is about ‘minding the gaps’  or exploring interpretive possibilities in a Biblical passage.)

Feel free to add a comment or ask a question, using the comment box at the bottom of each page. If you’ve never commented before, don’t be surprised if it takes a day or two for your comment to appear.  Hope to see you in this space, at some point during the Waiting Season!

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

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