Homily June 2, 2019
Two friends were hiking in the woods. It got dark so they decided to pitch a tent and camp for the night.
In the middle of the night one friend woke the other up and said. Look, I see millions of stars in the sky tonight. What does that tell you?
Astronomically speaking it tells me that millions of galaxies and potentially millions of planets exist in a vast expanse of space and time.
Astrologically speaking it tells me Leo is in Saturn and the moon is in phase 2 of a shift in its orbit.
Theologically speaking, it tells me God is all powerful and we are minute and insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe.
What does it tell you?
His friend replied. “Well it tells me that someone stole our tent.”
I think it’s good for all of us to have at least one good friend who isn’t afraid to point out the obvious. One true friend that has the courage to tell us the truth, especially when its what we need to hear as opposed to what we want to hear.
Our scripture readings over the past few weeks have mad references to friends and friendship as followers of Jesus.
Today in our first reading, Peter stands among the believers, those who have come and offered themselves to the way of Jesus and peter address them as “friends.”
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. Greater love hath no man than to lay his life down for his friends. No longer do I call you servants, but I now call you friends.”
Today, Jesus knows he must leave and so he prays for his friends and asks the Father to protect them and make them a holy people so that they may be and sent into the world so that others may know this life changing friendship Jesus offers.
The idea of friends and friendship played a key role in the life of the early church.
The first community of Christians that would have read John’s gospel in the late first century probably didn’t feel like they had too many friends. We must remember that this was a community in crisis. They were being persecuted by the government for their commitment to the risen Christ and what that meant for themselves and the world. They were viewed with suspicion by their neighbors because of the community they were involved with. They were holed up in each others houses eating the body and blood of a risen God. They were being ostracized by members of their own family who just couldn’t accept this idea of a Messiah who ended up dead on a Roman cross.
With so much outside pressure to say no to Jesus, we can understand their need to hear these words from Jesus and be reminded that just as he prayer for them when he was with them, he was still praying for them now.
So who were the friends of Jesus? What kind of people were they? Where did they come from? Perhaps most importantly, why would Jesus want them as friends. What did they have to offer?
In some ways I suppose it may be easier to turn the question around and say who they were not. We know, for example that, with some exceptions, they were not prominent people. Jesus didn’t hang around with the kind of people who had their hands on the levers of power in society. Since they, by in large, did not have connections in high places, they could not make things happen behind the scene. They were not in a position to manipulate public opinion or to affect the cause of human events.
It is important to make it clear that there were some exceptions. There were those people in high society who sought him out. There was a Roman centurion who came to him because his servant was paralyzed with pain. On another occasion Jairis, president of the local synagogue, came to him because his little girl was near death. There was also a man by the name of Joseph of Aramathia, who seems to have been a friend of Jesus. And isn’t it fascinating to think that Jesus didn’t seek them out to create the Kingdom of God but it was they who sought Jesus out because they though he had something to offer them. But by in large his friends were not the ruling members of Palestinian society.
Also, we know that his friends were working people. They were humble people. Indeed, when a rich young ruler appears that he is interested in becoming a disciple, Jesus tells him that in order to be a true follower he must give up his wealth. Surrender those things that he was relying on to give him life.
You might also say that the friends of Jesus were not particularly religious people. That is to say, they were not among those in the religious world of the time who worried a great deal about scribal law and ceremonial cleanliness. As far as we know, they were all lay people. There was not a rabbi among them. In fact, Jesus had to face criticism because his disciples broke the Sabbath law. Jesus was also frequently accused of enjoying the company of sinners. Sitting at a table, on the floor with them at their level and breaking bread with them. These were people who, for one reason or another, were not a part of the strict religious community.
Who were the friends of Jesus? We might say that they were a strange mixture of people. They represent both the young and the old. They came from different walks of life. They were both men and women. Some followed him very closely while others were at a distance. But the significant point is that they did not represent the establishment. They were more likely to be the outsiders of society.
What did they have to offer Jesus? Obviously they could not offer him wealth. They could hardly offer him prestige. They were not in a position to offer him political power.
But they did have one very import thing to offer. They had themselves. They offered him their love, imperfect as it was. They offered him their loyalty, even though at times it was flawed by self interest. They offered him companionship, even though they were not always around when he needed them. In essence, they offered to Jesus that which God created them to be. They offered him their authentic and real selves.
I went to a retirement lunch for a pastor I’ve known for many years. He was asked what his greatest joy was in 40 years of ministry. He told us that one of the greatest gifts he ever received was a call from a parishioner he hadn’t seen in 20 years. The message on the answering machine said, “I wanted to say thank you for that day you dropped by to see me when my father was sick.. He said, of everything I’ve done, of all the work around the church building, the hundreds and hundreds of sermons preached, reports written, meeting attended this was my greatest joy because I knew, somehow in that small act of care, this woman was touched by God”
We should never underestimate the power behind the sheer physical presence of our selves. It is a gift that can make the difference. We may not be able to give wealth, or prestige, or even good advice. But our ministry of presence can many times be the greatest gift in the world. Our presence, our giving of self to God and Gods mission for the world can be most transformative when our intention to be present comes as a thankful response for God being present to us.
The friends of Jesus may not have had much to offer, but they had themselves. They had their friendship, not always perfect, but friendship nonetheless.
One author puts it this way, that the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, can be put in six simple words. Jesus offers his friendship to you.
And the good news about being a friend of Jesus is that like a true friend, he isn’t afraid to point out the obvious. And yes, sometimes the obvious is not what we want to hear, but rather what we need to hear.
While the world will tell you that the most important thing you have to offer is your prominent position in society or your status with those on the top of the political scale; Jesus points out that it is you in your frailty, your humility, your brokeness that he desires. What Jesus needed to build the kingdom of God, he found in that rag tag group of flawed and damaged people he would call his friends.
Desmond Tu Tu once wrote, “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.”
It occurs to me that this may be the greatest gift we have to offer. That as we see ourselves in our brokenesss and with our flaws and with our failings, that those that come through our doors will encounter a people very familiar to them.
As we come this morning to participate in the life of this church and the life of Jesus, Jesus once agiain offers his friendship to us.
And if we over analyze it, or we try too hard to think it through so that we can justify why of all people he would choose us then we are missing the obvious. We are not only enough for him, we are just what he's been looking for.
Thanks be to God!
May 5, 2019 Year C
When we were in Florida years ago we dared venture into the Magic Kingdom Park at Disney. This place is busy 365 days a year but during March Break week its doubly so. Shoulder to shoulder people weaving their way through the park. At one point our boys took off on their own and we were to meet them at a certain spot. When Margie and I got to that spot we started to panic because there was no way on earth we would ever be able to spot them in the sea of unfamiliar faces. Yet we did. As we stood there watching, there was a brief moment that they jumped right out of the crowd. It was like thousands of faces disappeared and theirs were as clear as day.
The only explanation we could come up with was that they were familiar to us. That because we know our kids so intimately and were so attuned to their being, from the way they walked, their unique posture and what they looked like standing next to each other, that they were able to stand out to us even in the midst of such a large mass of people.
I'm sure we've all had that similar experience either with a family member walking through a crowded airport or a close friend you see in the midst of a crowed mall on Christmas eve. While the world can look blurry most times, we do have the capacity to perceive that which is familiar.
Which conjures up a question about today's gospel reading from John. How did Jesus' disciples, not recognize him? You would think that that the closest ones to Jesus would be the first to identify him. All that time travelling with him. Countless hours spent eating together, listening to him, witnessing amazing miracles and being in such a close and intimate relationship with the one they called Lord. Not to mention the fact that just days earlier, the risen Jesus had walked through closed door to be with them to breath the Holy Spirit into their being as they subsequently watched Thomas declare "My Lord and my God!"
How could they not identify the most influential person in their lives, was standing over there.
The logic in our heads may be trying to answer that question right now. And if your brain is being inundated with reasons as to why they didn't recognize their Lord you are not alone. Much ink has been spilled over the centuries debating this question.
-The disciples were nearsighted or had a stigma and they didn't have glasses optometrists back then.
-There was probably a mist over the water at that time of the day so the sight lines were a bit blurry.
-The resurrected body of Jesus was different. He was taller and perhaps had put on a few pounds from all that angel food cake.
We can debate all these theories until the cows come home, but by doing that we take the biblical story out of the church and put it into a courtroom. And in doing so, we miss the entire point of what Johns gospel is trying to tell us.
Because isn’t it interesting that the disciples inability to recognized Jesus happened after they went back to work..after they went back into their lives, back to the comfortable places they were before they knew Jesus.
The same happens for you and me today….. That in the routine business of our daily habits…as we habitually tread through the day to day often times same old same old of our lives…more often than not we don’t see and rarely recognize the risen Christ in our midst.
The truth is the majority of our time is spent in a type of spiritual blindness. We are so focused on the worldly orbit we exist in, that missing God and God’s presence in the midst of our everyday is easy to do.
And this is the what todays gospel story begs us to see and be aware of. That Gods presence in our lives isn’t so obvious all the time and if you’re not seeing it, or feeling it or aware of it….that’s OK! It doesn’t work like that.
Last week, Jesus told Thomas…who wasn’t too sure about this whole “Jesus is alive and hanging out with us” message from his friends….. That’s Ok Thomas…. blessed are those who have not seen……. There is something about being spiritually blind that has holy implications. This is the heart of the Easter gospel and the grace of the season of Easter which says to us that despite our limited human, regardless of our inadequate vision, in our doubt and our questioning and our wrestling with faith ……….God still shows up, Hope arrives, the divine and the holy come to us and a voice enters into our darkness and shines a light so that we may be reminded once again that love is standing right there on the shore.
Out in their boats, going about their lives, living and working and focusing on what they needed to do to get through another day, the disciples are called experience the risen Jesus. It’s made very clear that they cannot see Jesus by their own ability. Rather Jesus becomes clear to them when he speaks to them. “Children, you’re not catching anything are you?” It is when Jesus holds up their struggle and has them face their immediate need and then instructs them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. It is when they can in humility see they :Hey, this isn’t really working”, that they turn in another direction and are able to fill their boats with all that is needed to sustain them. Its not a move they can make, so the risen Jesus show up where they are and guides them to see hope, and a new way forward.
Look up. I want you to look above you right now. (Don't worry I haven't rigged buckets of water to pour down over you) Have you ever noticed that we gather every week in a boat. We walk through the doors of this sanctuary and take our place in the same seat (otherwise the walls would crumble)…but really we take our place in the story of the ones who began this voyage as Jesus followers so may centuries ago.
We are Gods people; gathered in this boat, often adrift in the uncertain waters of our lives and who enter this place hoping and praying that we may find whatever it is we need to sustain us. And the message we receive on this 3rd week of Easter is…if you don’t see me, if you wonder where I am, if you forget me or get so caught up in your world that I become a tiny blip on your radar…..I’ll still come, I’ll still call, I’m right here and I know you’ll see me…..You see, I have to….I love you..
Richard Rohr “ we cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. The only thing absent is our awareness.
That’s grace. That’s the Easter gospel.
Jesus is alive and he’s on the shore calling…always calling…. The call may be through the voice of a friend, the smile of a stranger, a dream of the ones we love but see no longer. That voice may call when we are wrought with fear or wonder how much more we can take and wonder if God’s packed up and left us sort it all out ourselves. Jesus comes.. Today in this very moment he is calling us to share a meal with him. And when we are fed and nourished, he offers us the greatest gift of grace we could ask. He says, now that you have stopped long enough to find me and we have been together, and you have seen and touched me again. "Follow me."
Sunday April 21, 2019
And now, the rest of the story…
Young Roberts’s dreams of being a professional baseball player were shattered, literally, when he threw his arm out as a teenager. All his hours of practice, hard work and dreaming, ended in the blink of an eye.
The disappointment was immense, and to pass the hours Robert spent time drawing. He’d always been a pretty good artist, but doodling a sketch or two when he was bored was about as far as he ever went. But now circumstances had changed. As he drew and sketched he found a new love of creating cartoons. Friends and family members loved them and they asked if they could have copies of their own. Eventually Roberts’s cartoons found their way into the local newspaper. From there he began a career as a journalist and the creator of a weekly cartoon panel and the author of a travel journal. In 1922 he made his first trip around the world and as he travelled he took an interest in strange facts and oddities he came across. This created a new topic for his cartoons which at first he called, unusual and exotic foreign locales and cultures. The title of the strip eventually changed to “Believe it or Not”. Robert Ripley, the creator of Ripley’s believe it or Not, once said that regarded the fracture of his pitching arm as the luckiest break he ever had.
At the age of 9, Louis became blind. after a freak accident in his fathers shop. While tapping out a design on a piece of leather with a hammer and a hole puncher, the hole puncher hit him in the eye and Louis eventually lost sight in both eyes. Some time later Louis was sitting in the family garden when a friend handed him a pine-cone. As he ran his sensitive fingers over the cone and idea came to him. Louis had been attending a school for the blind but their manner of teaching children to decipher letters on raised pieces of copper wiring was ineffective to say the least. Louis got exited about the idea of an alphabet of raised dots on a piece of paper. Using the same hole puncher from his fathers shop, the one that caused him to lose his sight, Louis Braille opened up a whole new world for those with impaired vision.
There are many times that opportunity and success are born out of adversity. Not always mind you. Sometimes the hardships life hands to us are so crushing and painful that we can barely hold onto life let alone celebrate it, but those dire things are the exceptions. In more cases we encounter struggles that we can meet head on. I heard someone once say our life journeys are a lot like riding a bicycle,. Either you keep moving or you’ll fall down.
Jesus first followers, that small band of disciples
viewed that first “Holy Week”,
that time we’ve just travelled between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, as a time of great adversity.
On Palm Sunday, palm branches were strewn along the pathway
to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem.
By Friday, a crown of thorns gouged his skin.
Earlier, the one named Peter, who was the very first to recognize Jesus
as the Messiah, has turned tail by Friday.
The cock that crowed to waken people early every morning,
now became the indication of betrayal and abandonment.
The cup of wine and the loaf of bread on that first holy Thursday
saw one, named Judas, dip his bread in the cup
and the next morning offer the kiss of death.
The same bystanders who had oohed and awed at the many miracles of Jesus now mocked him.. “He saved others; why doesn’t he save himself.
The adoring crowds who on the Sabbath had shouted ‘Hosanna’,
now screamed, “Crucify him”.
The one who saved others was hanging lifeless on the cross.
For the disciples what was supposed to be a new beginning came to a screeching end.
There’s an old fable about a poor old man and his only son. The old man had only one possession that was worth anything and that was his horse.
One night the old man’s prized horse escaped.
and the neighbours felt awful about what had happened so came to comfort him in his loss.
The old man asked them “How do you know this is a bad thing?”
Several days later his horse returned and trailing behind with a herd of wild horses.
What great news, the old mans friends figured that having all those horses was wonderful because now the man could train them and sell them. They all came to congratulate the man for his good fortune.
But the old man asked them,
“How do you know this is a good thing?”
One day while his son was taming one of the wild horses,
he was thrown and broke his leg.
Again the neighbours gathered to bemoan his new misfortune.
But the old man asked,
“How do you know this is a bad thing?”
Soon a representative of the King came to recruit young men for his army to go to war against the Kings enemy.
But the father’s son escaped recruitment because of his broken leg.
In true fashion,
the farmer’s friends came and expressed their pleasure
over the man’s good luck.
“But how do you know it’s a good thing? he asked.
I know you need to get that Easter ham in the oven and the story can go on and on forever so I'll stop there!
But here is the point. As much as we think we know. As much as we plan or invest or prepare or even dream, we do not know whether the circumstances in our lives will turn out for the better or not. Good fortune can sometimes turn on us just as much as bad fortune may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We live in an unstable and shaky world and we all know through the experience of living this life, that there are too many variables and unforeseen events waiting for us on the roads we will travel.
So thanks be to God that none of us travel through our lives alone!
For today is the day recognize that when we can’t see a way, God shows up to make a way.
Today we gather together as God’s people to remember that that story of God’s people does not end at the place where conventional wisdom says it should end. By all accounts Jesus should have been dead. His message of love of God and neighbour; his example of radical hospitability and humble service to the ones on the margins of society, his message of the sacredness of each and every human soul…it all should have all been silenced. If conventional wisdom wins out, his puny little posse of disciples would have faded away into oblivion.
Yet here we sit. Mary and the others found rebirth. The tomb, which was supposed to be an ending, was a place of new life.
More than anything, what this Easter day is for us is the day we can stand confident in knowing that God is a God of life! Today is our day to know that what our limited vision may only see as passing away, God enters into to bring about new life.
The power of the resurrection we celebrate on this Easter Sunday is not solely about what happened 2000 years ago…the power of the resurrection lies within our confidence that God has assured the world that death cannot, will not and never will win the day! The power of the resurrection lies in our assurance that our loving, redeeming, life giving God doesn’t do endings but rather breaths life into Gods world to create beginnings!
Like those at the tomb on that first Easter morning, we may be perplexed and not fully understand it right away. We may sit here in doubt and confusion and wonder what resurrection really is all about.
But we can’t not look around and miss the fact that Jesus is alive. Our very presence here today is a sign to the world that in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God has the final word. And that word is life.
Jesus is alive, His Body is active. New life is being breathed into our communities our world our families today!
You do not need to wait for death to experience resurrection. You can begin resurrection today and when you leave this place.
Resurrection happens every time you love someone back even though they were never very loving to you. At that moment you have been raised from the dead.
Every time you decide to trust and begin again, even after repeated failures or when obstacles are put in your way- when you are convinced that with God alongside you endings are not an option….at that moment, you have been resurrected.
Every time you seek and serve the stranger, renew and sustain Gods creation, see the dignity of a human life without asking if they are worthy of it……the tombs of this world are emptied and resurrection comes again!
My friends, I have a wonderful view from up here. I look out today and see the Body of Christ alive in the world today. I see the transformed and renewed Jesus here. I see his scarred and wounded hands reaching out. Ready to proclaim the love of God, ready to heal, ready to comfort those in need, and ready to proclaim love to all who the world has declared unlovable.
May we like those disciples on that first Easter morning long ago run and share with the world the good news that is given to us in the resurrection of Jesus. Let us shout out to the world that God is here restoring his creation to new life? May this holy food we share at God’s table empowered us to join with God in continuing to write the greatest story ever told. Today is not the end. Today is our new beginning!
Alleluia Christ is risen. The Lord is risen in deed. Alleluia.
Maundy Thursday 2019
One of my favourite movie lines of all time comes from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.The two outlaws have been chased by a persistent group of lawmen.They follow Butch and Sundance across the great western frontier from one state to the other. Every time our heroes think they’ve outrun and outsmarted their pursuers the chase continues.At one point the Sundance Kid sees them in the distance gaining ground and heturns to Butch and says, “Who are those guys”.
If we could peer through the window of the upper room that fateful night as Jesus gathered with his disciples for the final time, we might ask the same question. Who are those guys? Who are those guys Jesus called to follow him? Who are those guys Jesus wanted to share his final meal with? Who are those guys whose feet their master is washing?
There’s Peter. Peter who would later deny Jesus in the courtyard of the high priest Peter wasn’t faithful. He lacked the courage to take a stand in public. He was also quite impulsive and would say and do things without thinking.
There was Peter’s brother Andrew. The cynic. The one who can only see what can’t be done. We remember before the multiplication of the loaves and fish Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Andrew only saw scarcity, never abundance.
We would see the good buddies James and John. What a piece of work these guys were. They were in a boat mending nets with their father Zebedee. Immediately they left everything and followed Jesus leaving their father in the boat. But we discover later they were following Jesus because they figured they could come out on top with this rabbi. At one point they say to Jesus, “ We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you and Grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right and the other at your left. Jesus was a door into an exclusive club of privilege, power and authority. Only the righteous will get into the Jesus club, too bad for the others who decided not to follow..not much we can do about them.
Who are these guys that Jesus wanted with him. The list goes on as does the inventory of their faults.
Matthew. the despised tax collector. A tax collector of all people who took money from his fellow Jews and gave it to Romans.No Jew in their right mind wouldn't even make eye contact with this guy, let alone invite him to be a friend.
There’s Thomas. I'll believe when I see it thanks very much . Let me put my hand in the nail wounds of the resurrected one and prove to me this is all real.
Look there’s Judas. Well we all know how that turned out don’t we.
What a motley crew.. Those whom Jesus called to usher in God’s dream for God’s creation
The ones who lack faith or have much to learn. Those who are sometimes selfish or have hurt those closest to them. Those who have a past and have done things they’re not too proud of. Those of who doubt and those who look for ways to further our own agendas.
Who are those guys? Who gather around Jesus with all their faults all their brokenness all their pain and worry and fear…….
They are the ones Jesus wants. They are the ones Jesus loves. They are the ones Jesus will die for tomorrow. They are the ones Jesus needs to be part of the building of his Fathers kingdom. They are his friends whose feet he kneels before and says “See what I am doing for you….yes, the broken you…Now go and find others like you and do the same.
And tonight…. Jesus has done it again? He gathers the most unlikely motely crew around his table and offers to serve. Not because he has to, but because he was sent to.
You are those guys……May this holy meal you receive tonight give you the confidence to know that just as Jesus wanted them Jesus wants. Jesus needs you.
Homily Palm/Passion Sunday
April 14, 2019
During my days working in radio I had a feature on my show called Paul Harvey news and commentary. One of the highlights of that show was a segment called “The Rest of the Story. The iconic journalist Paul Harvey had a gift of telling the tale of a famous person. The distinctive feature of his storytelling was his ability to invite his listeners into pieces of a persons story. Parts of their story that while not well known, were the moments in their lives that formed and shaped and transformed them into the people they turned out to be.
I’d like to share a couple of those stories with you today.
Young Robert dreamed of being a pitcher in big-league baseball. Every spare moment was spent in the make believe ballpark he knew as his backyard. The baseball he threw into the old beat up mattress that lay against his father’s tool shed was his most prized possession. When he held it to his face before every throw he would recall its fresh smell from the first time it was gently pulled from its box 3 Christmas’s ago. Every time the ball made the muffled thump as it hit the mattress, Robert heard the sound of the crowds cheering his name. His practice paid off and as he grew older. He was offered a chance to play organized baseball in his hometown. There was no doubt that Robert was gifted. All his coaches and the other parents saw it as batter after batter did all they could to connect with his fastball. He was a young super-star at the age of 16 when he was asked to try out for a college team that had their eye on him for sometime. But during his first game under the expectant eyes of college recruiters and a few big league scouts, Robert’s first fastball didn’t even reach the plate. The pop of his arm snapping could be heard by the fans in the stands. Roberts’s doctor broke the news the next day that he would never pitch again.
Louis lived in France it was the year 1818. As a little boy Louis was sitting in his father’s workshop.
His father was a harness-maker and the boy would sit for hours to watch his father work the leather.
“Someday Papa,” said Louis,
“I want to be a harness-maker just like you.”
“Why not start now? said his father.
He took a piece of leather and drew a design on it.
“Now, my son,” he said,
“take the hole-puncher and a hammer and follow this design,
but be careful that you don’t hit your hand.”
Excited, the boy began to work. Slowly at first, minding his fathers warning. As Louis kept working he started to feel like he was getting the hang of this new skill. So he moved a little faster quickly tapping his hammer on the tip of the hole puncher. Faster and faster he went but he didn’t hit his hand as his father had warned, instead Louis he struck the hole-puncher so quickly that it flew out of his hand, off the table and pierced his eye!
He lost sight of that eye immediately.
Shortly after, because of the strain placed on his good eye, to try and compensate for his blindness, his healthy eye also failed him.
Louis was now totally blind.
These stories reach out and grab us on because in some way we’ve all walked the same path. We all know that pit in our stomach that grows out of disappointment. We’ve all sat in the uncertain shadow of lost expectations.
This past week I heard a song on the radio by Jim Croce called Photographs and Memories. That song paints the picture so perfectly as the singer sings of himself sitting on the floor surrounded by old photos and thoughts of what could have been.
As we begin this Holy week, we enter into a story all about disappointment. We enter into a real story about what it means to move from hope to disillusionment.
Jesus disciples knew that this was going to be there day. Their Lord and their leader was about to enter into the holy city of Jerusalem and usher in the kingdom of God. They knew this moment was ordained by God because the very colt that Jesus told them they would find in the village was ready and waiting just as he described it to them. All his teachings about the kingdom of God being with them. All the parables about how God was to be involved in their new world. All the hope and faith that they had invested in this rabbi from Nazareth was about to be rewarded. As they sang praises to God and walked the path from the mount of Olives with their king, they knew that all of Israel would finally be free. But no sooner had their parade come to an end, then the disciples came to the realization that something was horribly wrong.
The service that we participate in today is known both as Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. In the past 20 minutes we’ve travelled from that place of expectation, as Jesus entered Jerusalem for his final week, and we’ve moved to that place where those hopes took a turn that no one was expecting or was prepared for. Instead of being welcomed, Jesus is hunted. Instead of a crown of jewels for their king they watch his head bleed from a crown of thorns. Instead of his followers standing by his side in his most desperate hour, they scatter like seeds in a windstorm.
This is the great drama that is being played out today in churches, of all denominations, around the globe.
We are being called to invest ourselves in this great story which as it seems to us today does not look so good.
For those of us who walk through these doors today expecting to hear or experience something that will lift us and place a warm feeling in our souls this is probably NOT the story we want to hear. It’s certainly not the story the world would tell us we should invest our time and energy into. We should by all accounts be feeling good. Acquiring that what makes us content. Stockpiling those things that fulfill our lives. That way we’ll know God is good and God loves us. Yet during the holiest season of our church year we don’t get that message. Instead we get a real story that asks us to consider what it means when hopes turn to disappointment.
It is the story that forces us out of our comfort zones and asks us to contemplate the purpose of our journeys that, truth be told can often turn on a dime. We can ask what good could come out of a boys lost dreams or what possible reason could there be for a child losing his sight. How can we create meaning out of a saviour that suffers? If God is for us and with us and we are God’s people how can we understand the call to follow Jesus down a road such as this?
Most importantly it is a story that draws us into the biggest question of all. Where is God when my life turns into dark place I never expected….and certainly didn’t want.
The good news today is that the author of this story and the story of our lives is God. And God does has something to say to us as we walk this holy road from the excitement of Palm Sunday, through the darkness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, to the glory and newness of Easter Day.
God does have something to say that will transform not only your lives and the lives of your families but will also re-invent your soul.
So where does that leave us today. I would say it leads us to the only place we need to be. Gathered around the table of Jesus, reaching out our hands to receive the Holy food to strengthen us to walk with Jesus this week. A walk that will include the final meal Jesus shared with his friends where he commissioned them with the most important task they would ever get; to Jesus march to the pain, suffering and abandonment of his crucifixion at Calvary, and finally to Easter morning.
I hope you will join me and we walk this road together as a community of faith, and I hope you will come here next Sunday when the author of it all, our loving, redeeming and life giving God, will reveal, to us and to the world…
“The rest of the story.”
Homily March 24,2018
Yr C Lent 3
Luke 13:1-9, Isaiah 55:-1-13
Years a go there was a late-night talk show that was very popular hosted by comedian Arsenio Hall. Like any talk show, Arsineo had a few regular bits that he did that folks always tuned in to see. Letterman had his top 10 list, Carson had the Great Carnac, Jimmy Fallon has Thank you notes. Arsineo had…. Things that make you go hmmmmmmm.
Why do we call them a pair of pants, but we don’t have a pair of shirts?
If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Do employees at the Tetley factory take coffee breaks?
We would never count these as some of the great mysteries of the universe, but we can all appreciate the idea that there are some things in this world that we would like to know the answers to. Today we are being led into one of those questions. A question that human kind has been asking, pondering and debating since the dawn of time. A question that philosophers, scientists and theologians have spent their entire lives considering. A question that Jesus was confronted with and that comes to us in today's gospel reading.
“How are we to understand suffering?” More importantly, why do some suffer so much more than others?
Luke tells us that Jesus is approached by some people who ask him about a couple of different events that have just happened in their day. We must understand that it was the norm in Jesus day to equate the bad things that happened to people with being in disfavour from the heavenly realm. If God, or for many in those days the Gods, were unhappy with the way people were acting, then those on earth would suffer. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea had murdered a group of people from the area of Galilee because they were making illegal or undesirable sacrifices at the temple. The people want Jesus to make a connection for them. Did these folks go through this terrible ordeal because they were worse sinners than others. This probably wasn't the first time people from Galilee had done this kind of thing yet they are murdered and others are still walking around. This is a suffering we all too familiar with today. Suffering caused by someone else.
The other event the people want Jesus to explain to them sounds more like a natural disaster. What about the 18 people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they worse offenders than the others that were walking around the tower at the same time but escaped harm? Not everyone one was hurt, why were some spared. The crowd wants Jesus to connect the dots. Give us an explanation so that we can comprehend. We need to make sense of it in our minds, then at least our minds may be at ease and we may be able to avoid the bad stuff ourselves.
These are especially difficult dilemmas for those of us who know God. Those of us who put our trust and faith in God and must struggle with those same questions ourselves. Sometimes we may feel the need to have an answer for others who question even having faith in a loving God when suffering is so prevalent.
The mass shootings, the truck driver that slammed into a bus full of hockey players, the tsunamis, the earthquakes in the poorest of places… our loved ones who suffer health crisis for no apparent reasons….When there's neither rhyme nor reason for the horrors of life on this earth we want even more to have some kind of answer to make sense of it.
The famous preacher D.L. Moody told about a Christian woman who was always bright, cheerful, and optimistic, even though she was confined to her room because of illness. She lived in an attic apartment on the fifth floor of an old, rundown building in a neglected part of town. A friend decided to visit her one day and brought along another woman -- a person of great wealth. Since there was no elevator, the two ladies began the long climb up the 5 flights of stairs. When they reached the second floor, the well-to-do woman commented, "What a dark and filthy place!" Her friend replied, "It's better higher up." When they arrived at the third landing, the remark was made, "Things look even worse here." Again the reply, "It's better higher up." The two women finally reached the attic level, where they found the bedridden saint of God. A smile on her face radiated the joy that filled her heart. Although the room was clean and flowers were on the window sill, the wealthy visitor could not get over the stark surroundings in which this woman lived. She said "It must be very difficult for you to be here like this!" Without a moment's hesitation the shut-in responded, "It's better higher up."
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Jesus said No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish. Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam – fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent.
In his response to those looking for a reason for the suffering in our midst. To those who worry about what might happen to them in this broken world. Those who feel vulnerable and live in fear and uncertainty of the uncontrollable that might infiltrate their lives; Jesus invitation is to repentance. Jesus turns their vision from temporal things of this world, to “things higher up”. Jesus doesn’t do what we do. He certainly doesn’t respond with what we demand which is an answer to our question. Instead, Jesus echoes the prophet Isaiah from our first reading this morning who calls to those of us who are parched from staring at the hard part of our lives all the time. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters. Seek the Lord while He may be found.”
In his response to the crowds questions about why some suffer and others don’t, Jesus immediately rejects any attempt to try and keeping score. He won’t go where they want him to go, which is to try and calculate why some suffer while others do not. He wont do what we often do, justify the suffering of others because of who they are, or what’ve done or not done. Jesus’ instead calls them to repentance. He says our focus needs to be turning….turning near to God. To attend to our relationship with God. Both our individual relationships and our relationships as communities.
The Lenten journey that we are on right now as disciples is all about that. It’s about returning to God. Not because God is like a vending machine that gives us what we want when we give to it like answers we need to gain control or satisfy our need for answers. We draw near to God because we know that we are vulnerable creatures. We live lives that are shaky and unstable and we cannot walk these roads alone. We need to draw from the water that God has in abundance so that we may be nourished and given the hope and perseverance to walk in hope… in uncertain times.
We are very much like the fig tree in Jesus parable. Often times not being able to bear fruit because we get so inundated with the brokenness of the world that it literally sucks the life from us. Its so tempting to toss any thoughts of a better day aside. And if it was all up to us, we probably would…. There’s no denying that we creatures have certainly have tried over the course of history. Yet Jesus reminds us once again, this is God’s creation…..and God continues to call us back to trust that God is active in it…
God is the gardener. God refuses to give up on us. There's hope in this parable. Hope in the God who calls us back so that we may have the new life only God can create. Even out of our suffering.
One thing is certain, We will bear no fruit when we spend our time and energy trying to connect all the dots so that we can come up with a reason that satisfies us, because we will never find an acceptable connection on our own. Returning to God, Jesus calls it repenting, is the only path to new life.
As a wise mystic once said…. If we put off repentance another day, we have a day more to repent of, and a day less to repent in.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near.” Like the fig tree in Jesus' parable, we have been given time to bear fruit. That's why we enter into this season of Lent. We are called to continue in prayer and penitence. To keep ourselves focused on God by giving up those things that take us away from God's voice in our lives. Jesus knew that one of those distractions was our human desire to know the mind of God. It’s like trying to answer the unanswerable question. Instead may we turn to God. May we seek God in humility and humbleness, set our mind on God and God’s righteousness?
There are no easy answers to life's tough questions. The Church of Jesus Christ is not built upon easy answers. Instead, it is built upon a singular recognition that in the presence of the God we know in Christ, we will know a God whose love in our lives challenges and enables us to live without all the answers; we will know a God who is willing to dig around our hearts, patiently encouraging us toward repentance and faithfulness and fruitfulness. We will know a God who has given God's whole life to us, so that we might come to learn how to give our lives to God more fully.
Repent. Return to God. Draw close to God. The answers that you seek are nearer than you thought.
Homily March 3,2019
One of my guilty TV pleasures is watching the antiques roadshow on PBS. I think the allure to that show is the same for all of us. We all know it’s going to happen. A lady will be standing with the all-knowing curator of an art gallery. In between them sits a gaud awful looking painting that you’d think a two year old created. The art expert asks where she got it and she says something like. “I found it in a yard sale and got it for $15 dollars!” Then after a long discourse about the period in which it was painted and the artists’ connection to some French aristocrat in the 17th century, grandma ends up in tears when she hears the words “ I would estimate this painting at auction would easily command a bid of $500,000!”
Then I think, “I wonder if the guy that sold the painting for $15 is watching this right now”!
There’s nothing worse than tossing something aside because we didn’t know what it was and thus couldn’t appreciate its value.
I hope you’ve never had that happen to you. I hope you’ve never set something aside, only to find out too late, or even worse, to never find out, how valuable it was.
I hope that you don’t do that with the transfiguration story from today’s gospel.
The story of Transfiguration can easily be dismissed because we don’t know what it is. It’s hard to wrap this whole scene around our minds. This whole scene of dead prophets appearing, and Jesus glowing and the voice of God in the midst of a cloud
No matter where you are in your understanding of scripture, biblical stories, we will all react to this story differently.
Some will react to this whole scene by dismissing it. Seeing it as something unique to Jesus but not real to us today. It’s not something that happened as if we could record on a smart phone and post on YouTube, as much as it’s a story to explain or give us a sense of Jesus and who he was.
Some will say it’s absolutely true. But the danger in that is that we end up, like the three disciples, wanting to to set up camp and keep this one moment forever and never come down from the mountain. Our faith becomes one sided when we make it all about waiting for these incredible miraculous moments and never see that we must also spend time in the valleys of the world where things can get dangerous and uncertain.
But most of us are somewhere in between. Like many miraculous and extra-ordianry accounts in the bible, we wonder about this scene and ponder what it’s all about. What is it about this mountain top experiences and others like it. Why does history record people having these kinds of experiences - these kind of moments - and why they seem so rare. We wonder perhaps most of all - why we have had so few of these kinds of moments - these AWESOME moments in our lives. And we long for something to make it real.
Its interesting that so many important events in the Bible happened
Moses sees a burning bush and receives the law on Mt Sina.
Abraham is called to offer his son on Mt. Moriah
The Temple in Jerusalem is built on Mt. Zion
The sermon on the mount is preached - on a mountain...
God's son offers his life on Mt. Calvary...
Today…..Jesus is transfigured on the mountain
Perhaps the point about mountains is that we need to climb them in order to have the experiences they can offer us. No one climbs a mountain unless they know there’s something there or that they will receive some benefit out of it. Perhaps our spiritual lives are about knowing and trusting in every fibre of our being that God is doing something. Right here, right now. Something so wonderful and miraculous is happening in your life, in my life, but we haven’t intentionally made a move to see and experience it. We haven’t climbed the mountain.
A little boy, around the turn of the century, lived far back out in the
country. He had reached the age of 12 and had never, in all his life, seen
You can imagine his excitement when a poster went up at school that
on the next Saturday a travelling circus was coming to a nearby
town. He ran home with the glad news, and then came the question -
"Dad, Mom, can I go?"
The family was poor, but the father sensed how important this was to
the boy, so he said, "If you do your chores ahead of time, I'll see
to it that you have the money to go."
Come Saturday morning the chores were done and the boy stood ready
in best clothes by the breakfast table. His father reached down
into his overalls and pulled out a dollar bill - the most money the
boy had ever had at one time - and gave it to him. After the usual
cautions about being careful the boy was sent on his way.
The boy was so excited that his feet barely touched the ground all
the way to the town. When he got there, he noticed people were
lining the streets and he worked his way through the crowd until he
could see what was going on. There in the distance approached the
spectacle of a circus parade. It was the grandest thing that the
lad had ever seen. There were exotic animals in cages and bands and
midgets, acrobats, and all that goes to make up a great circus.
After everything had passed by where he was standing, a circus
clown, with floppy shoes and baggy paints and brightly painted face,
came by bringing up the rear. As the clown passed by where he was
standing, the boy reached into his pocket and got out that precious
dollar bill. Handing the money to the clown, the boy then turned
around and went home.
The mistake that the boy made - is the same mistake we can make in our
spiritual lives -
we can end up settling for less than the real thing,
for a portion - instead of for the whole,
and all because we either do not believe in what God can do,
or because we do not look at or understand what we have been given.
I did not know what it was, so I threw it away.
I can tell you that I am not one who sees visions or hears voices coming from clouds but I know I have had things happen that I still can’t shake from my memory. I was 9 years old when my great grandfather died. For the first time in my life I sat in a funeral home staring down the aisle at the open casket. I was petrified at what I was looking at and frozen in my seat as the hum of all the voices in the room echoed around. An older man who I did not know knelt beside me and asked if I would like to see my grandpa. I don’t know why but I felt very safe with him so I got up walked down the aisle to the casket. When I looked in and saw my grandpa I immediately felt at peace. I knew he was OK and I knew I would be OK. I felt a hand on my shoulder and when I looked up it was dad. The older gentlemen was gone and I never saw him again.
To this day I want to dismiss the whole incident because it didn’t make sense. But it’s still so crystal clear in my memory and I can’t help believe that it was a mountain top experience.
I can't explain to you what a holy moment is;
nor can I tell you just how and when special and sacred moments will come to pass,
nor can I even promise you that you will have such a moment if you
only do this or that,
but I do feel confident saying that these moments are real,
and that they come to us most often when we don’t get in the way of ourselves and are open to see them. They come when we are willing to climb the mountain.
You may catch sight of God in the beauty around you,
or experince God during a close encounter with death,
Some meet God in a special way during a period of suffering,
others while they are praying at special gatherings or at worship or when the bread and wine are taken.
I actually knew someone who said she felt Gods presence while chopping carrots in her kitchen!
The point is that they happen..they happen because God happens….Don't throw away those strange and mysterious experiences that have
happened in your lives because you didn’t know what they were. These moments may seem a bit odd, or you might have a hard time forgetting something strange that you experienced. Consider that that may have been be a holy or divine moment where God was with you.
Don't let go of those things that you do not understand or cannot explain.
Rather ponder them, wonder about them, delight in them, and use them as a source of strength.
Perhaps a new spiritual practice for you this lent can be to try and be more aware of holy moments. To intentionally set time aside for God to happen in your life. To look around at the faces in the grocery store and be aware of where God is in that moment, to visit a shut in and just listen to their story and deliberately be aware of Gods voice in that story….To set aside the ipad, turn off the news, stare out the window at a bird or go for a walk to the top of a hill and look around.
Perhaps when we do we will start to be more aware of Gods presence in our lives everyday…perhaps we will be less inclined to throw those moments away and begin to realize, as the disciples did, the priceless treasures hidden in the clouds.
Thanks be to God.
Homily February 3, 2019
Epiphany 4 Luke 4:21-29
On June 7 2012, David McCulloh delivered a commencement speech to the graduating class of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts.
Picture the scene in your mind’s eye. Happy graduates in matching gowns and caps glowing pride and a deep sense of accomplishment at what they had achieved. Parents, grandparents, family and community gathered together and brimming with pride for those celebrating one of the most anticipated and memorable days of their young lives. In the midst of this sea triumph, David Muculloh told them this.
Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.
All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.
You are not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what your under 9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.
If you googled or asked Siri the question, “what’s the best way to upset a crowd of people to the point that they will throw you off of a cliff….. You’d be directed to David Muchulloh’s speech at Wellesley high school in June of 2012!!!!
But we get it. Unless there’s a new Olympic sport someone is not telling us about, you only throw people off cliffs because they really upset you.
That’s what Jesus did.
Jesus is in the synagogue in his hometown and he has just read from ‘the scroll of the prophet Isaiah that said “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, give sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free. Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Jesus has claimed his messiahship. He is making the bold and world changing statement that in him, Gods promise to save Israel has become known. Salvation is here. Of course these people he’s speaking to are his hometown crew. They would expect him to take care of them first.
But Jesus is a smart guy so he immediately calls out their expectations when he says “You want me to do here in my hometown what you heard I did out there” He knows they are thinking what most would be thinking. If our messiah is here and our salvation is here then he should be doing something for us. If you’re my messiah, save me!
And this is the point that Jesus says the thing that starts the journey his flight off the cliff. Jesus doesn’t tell them what they want to hear. He doesn’t tell those gathered in their synagogue what they think they need.….He doesn’t confirm for them that they are the special ones. He goes in the other direction and reminds them that messiah has not come for just them. That they are not entitled.
Jesus points them to their history and reminds them that when Elijah the prophet was around there were many widows in Israel, there was famine in Israel, yet God sent Elijiah to a widow at Zarapeth in Sidion. In other words, Gods salvation was given to an outsider. When the prophet Elisha was around in Israel’s there were many lepers, yet God sent Elisha to Naaman and cured him. Naaman was an outsider.
Guess what Israel….Salvation and Gods mercy and Gods healing touch is not just for you. Cue the cliff.
We are travelling through Epiphany. The season in which we are to consider how God has revealed himself in Jesus. Today we are given a story from Luke’s gospel that may be difficult for us to hear because we’re use to thinking about Jesus being only for Christians. It’s a natural connection. Jesus is the Christ…. I am a Christian..ipso facto…. Jesus is for me. Anything outside of that parameter causes us to get a bit ancy.
Walking around wearing a clerical collar sometimes calls in some attention to one’s life. One time I was talking to a guy who identified himself as a Christion who said to me “you know, I once met a minister who told me non-Christians could be saved as well as Christians.” I asked him, why can’t they?” He replied, “Well if that’s the case what’s the point of being a Christian”?
This man’s walk with Jesus was only about what Jesus could do for him. He was the crowd that was in the synagogue that day when Jesus said…Since I am messiah your only desire is for me to do something to save you.
But this guy I was talking to made a good point. So what the point then of following Jesus. What’s the purpose of giving my life to Jesus and following, meditating, learning his ways if its not for me and for my salvation.
Jesus is saying to the church to on this 4th Sunday of Epiphany season, as he did to those in the synagogue in Galilee that Gods plan to bring salvation, healing, renewal to this world is an extension of us. God’s desire for a restored and transformed world flows from us. Jesus came…. into the world so that all of Gods children could be free.
He came so that all people could be renewed.
He came so that everyone could know the love that God has for Gods good creation.
He came so that the world could be a place of justice, equality, love and health for all peoples.
That’s the point. Just as Israel was to be a light to all the nations, so we as followers of Jesus today are called to be a light to the world. And that means the world in which strangers and foreigners exist with us.
They’re salvation is as much a priority to God as yours and mine. Jesus came for them. But before you start thinking of taking me for a drive to the top of Bolor Mountain and walk me to the edge……
Well here’s the rub…When we the church get that. When we as individual Christians embrace Gods love for all people. Then we as individuals receive our salvation.
When we commit ourselves to the transformative and boundless love found in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the whole world begins to change we become repeipients of the wholeness of Gods new world.
When we begin to see how God values those who are foreigners to us. Those who look different than us, talk different than us, think different than us..when that day comes, we will actually taste and see the reign of God on earth; because Our walls start to fall. Our prejudices begin to disappear. Our fear will goes away. No one is a stranger anymore, no one is misunderstood and suspicious just because theyre not like us…this is our salvation….!!!!!!
We’re not special if what we have been given in the life and teachings of Jesus the messiah is not shared with the world. Our specialness comes from knowing what messiah can do for the world and then telling it, showing it and living it.
That’s what Paul was getting at… If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
Howard Thurman known as one of the heroes and pioneers in the struggle for human rights and equality in the United States in the 40’s until his death in early 1980’s.
Tells a true story of living as a boy with his grandmother in a small house in segregated southern US. Their house bordered the house of a white family. The ladies that lived next door were so disturbed by the fact that there were black people living next to them that every day they would clean their chicken coop and throw the chicken droppings over the fence into Howard Thurmans back yard.
Years later, one of the ladies got very sick and one of Thurman’s grandmothers knocked on her door. She brought some homemade vegetable soup and some roses. The lady invited Thurmans grandmother in and she ate the soup and complimented her on how good it was. Then she told her how beautiful the roses were and asked where she got them. The grandmother said the soup was made from the vegetables in her garden and she grew the roses in her flower bed. The lady asked how she grew such wonderful vegetables and beautiful roses. Thurman’s grandmother said..”well, you had a little something to do with that>’
All those chicken droppings were used as fertilizer and fed the vegetable garden and the flower garden.
What was meant for harm, God transformed into good, all through the love offered in the name of Jesus to a stranger? Yes, even an enemy.
Maybe Jesus needed those people in the synagogue to drag him to the edge of the cliff. Maybe Jesus needs us to take him there too…..because there’s a great advantage to being on the edge of a cliff. It’s the best place to get a total view of Gods world. and when we do…..our view begins to align with Gods view.
God wants salvation for the world. God wants whatever walls there are broken down. God wants whatever fear there is turned to compassion. God wants to narrow the distance between you and the other. Because God so loves the world that God sent his only Son so that the world may know the transformative and healing love we offer and give in the name of Jesus. That is our salvation.
Make me a servant,humble and meek.
Lord, let me lift up, to those who are weak.
And may the prayer of my heart always be
Make me a servant,
Make me a servant,
Make me a servant today.
January 27, 2019 Vestry Sunday
Grandfather and his grandson went to see Superman movie. Leaving the theatre, the boy said. I wish I had powers. Grandfather said, “See that sad looking fellow with the parka pushing the shopping cart? Watch this. The grandfather walked over and gave the man a $20 dollar bill and said. My grandson and I would like to buy you lunch. The grandfather smiled at his grandson and said. “See you do have powers.”
Today is a day to consider our power. A power that comes with being the people of God in this place. A power that is often untouched, unseen and tragically at times overlooked.
Two year ago, our family took a trip to Florida and we found ourselves at Kennedy Space Centre. There was a wonderful exhibit on the Space Shuttle program which ran from 1981 to 2011. 135 missions were launched in that time period but sadly we remember only two. Two shuttles exploded shortly after launching, killing 14 astronauts.
A Space Shuttle has well over a million working parts, and each one of those parts has to function flawlessly for a successful take-off and landing. If a part the size of a playing card is damaged you have a potential disaster on your hands! That’s just the technical side.
On the human side, there are literally thousands of tech specialists, maintenance workers and engineers involved in each mission. All of these diverse parts, both human and technical have to work together seamlessly, everyone and everything contributing their own particular expertise, in order to ensure the safety of each astronaut aboard those billion dollar, high tech machines.
Someone has wisely noted that it shouldn’t really be a surprise when a shuttle explodes during a launch or implodes on re-entry; rather it’s absolutely miraculous when all of the parts work together for a safe, uneventful and successful mission! All that you and I see is a flawless, seemingly easy launch and landing?-no big deal. But It’s incredibly complex, with many different special people and diverse mechanical parts coming together to make it look easy.
A church community like this one is much the same. Right here in this place we have people serving in diverse roles. And when all those roles are working toward the same vision the church fulfills its mission. Leaders in liturgy, members of the outreach teams, pastoral care and social care team, office staff, property leaders, council and wardens, music ministry leaders, hospitality leaders. Is it any wonder we have such a big Vestry booklet?
And we have these folks doing all these things only because God has gifted each of us to do them.
As many of you know I share in recording a podcast at Crossings Pub and Eatery on Hyde Park Road in London. Last week as we were setting up our equipment, we struck up a conversation with a gentleman at the bar. I had my clerical collar on so as most often happens he asked about the church and why we thought people didn’t attend like they use to. We asked, “why don’t you go?” His answer was that as a young person he had gone every Sunday for years and was religious and believed in God and felt he had nothing to prove anymore.
His understanding of being part of the church is a common one. Most would say that they are here because they get something out of it. Its completely reasonable to us because the culture in which we were raised told us that’s how it works. In all aspects of our lives. We do things because we get something. We go to school to get knowledge, go to work to get paid, go to the gym to get healthy. Go to church to get…well you fill in the blank for yourself.
The problem is that its not the reason God wants us here. As we said to that gentleman in the bar…did you ever consider that you could come, not because of what you can get….but because of who you are. “You are the beloved. You are a cherished child of God, gifted and given talents and resources to offer. Coming to church is an offering. As the words of the Book of Common Prayer, (those little red prayer books we hid away because we decided they didn’t speak to us anymore) say, An offering of ourselves, our souls and our bodies as a reasonable sacrifice to the God who loves us.
Knowing this truth and embracing this truth is key to claiming our power as God’s beloved people.
You and I don’t go to church. You and I are the church. We, are a symbol and a sign for the world to see, that God has a dream for God’s world and has chosen his beloved to see it come to completion. That working through each of us, doing our part, giving our best all according to the gifts that we are gifted, God empowers us to live the prayer of Jesus when we pray, thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
That amazing philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once told a parable of a community of ducks. Each Sunday these ducks would waddle off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher would speak eloquently and passionately about how God has given the ducks a special gift. The gift was wings with which to fly. With these wings, the duck preacher would assure them, there is nowhere ducks cannot go. With those wings there is no God-given task the ducks cannot accomplish. With those wings they can soar into the very presence of God.
As the duck preacher encouraged his duck congregation, shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the congregation. Wings were lifted in praise. And, then, at the conclusion of the service, the ducks left the gathering place, commenting on what a wonderful message they had heard. And each of the ducks quietly waddled their way back home. They did not use their gift at all.
What a tragedy it would be, if that is as far as our discipleship got.
We heard the apostle Paul tell the church in the city of Corinth some 2000 years ago….. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, all its many parts form one body…..so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body--whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free..830 or 1030, greeter or singer, clergy or laity……..
Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that’s not a reason to stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ no reason stop being part of the body. God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. As it is, there are many parts, but one body . . .”
Today is Vestry Sunday. Today is the day we live out what it is to be One Body. Of all days we must consider what Paul is telling the church today.
As someone else has noted, throughout the Bible, there are other word-pictures about what the church should be. Its compared to a field and to a building, a bride. In each of these comparisons, the church is “like” this, or “like” that. But in this passage, Paul says the church is the body of Christ. Not “like” the body of Christ. We are the body of Christ.
St. Theresa put it this way: “Christ has no body now but yours . . . No hands, no feet on earth but yours . . . Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world . . . Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good . . . Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world . . . Yours are the hands . . . Yours are the feet . . . Yours are the eyes . . . You are His body.” You are the hope of the world.
And you my friends, have power. Power given to you by God to live out the teachings and mission of Jesus as the Body of Christ in the world.
My prayer for us is that as we head to our meeting today, as we prepare to move forward into this next year together by offering ourselves to the work of the Body of Christ that we will claim our power. That we will make ourselves a living sacrifice to the glory of God and the dream God has for God’s world. That we will lift up our wings and fly.
January 13 2019-Baptism of Jesus
Before my family and I left Chatham to move to London I was a member of Holy Trinity Church. One year I served as a representative to Synod and the gentleman I roomed with that weekend was not only a member of my parish, but also a very successful entrepreneur in the community. He owned, or had his hand in, at least a half dozen businesses throughout the county. It seemed everything he was a part of was doing well for him. Except one. On our drive to London he shared with me the story of his desire to start a fish farm. The idea was to breed fish in one of his warehouses and sell the fish to local restaurants and food processors. He had done his research and all indications were that this was something that would do well. To make a long story short,(and pardon the pun) the fish farm was drowning in debt within a year, the equipment wasn't working as expected. So he had to pull the plug and take his lumps and losses. After he told me his story I said "That must have been a difficult decision to make." He said, "Not really. The hardest part was making the decision to go for it in the first place."
I always remember that conversation because on my life journey (and I'm sure you can relate) there have been many times that I've had to make a difficult decision. And time and time again, it’s in the decision-making process that I stop dead in my tracks. If there's one place that slows us down to meeting our full potential, it’s in those times when we have to make a decision. I remember reading the line, "The more alternatives, the more difficult the choice.
Jesus made a decision. A decision, that had a great influence on him and on those around him. In Matthews account of Jesus' baptism, Matthew tells us "Jesus came from Galilee to John the Baptist" Jesus made the decision to seek John. John the Baptist, who was well known for his teaching and his ritualized bathing he was calling people to. A guy who the people were drawn to, but a guy who the religious authorities were a bit weary of because they weren't too comfortable with this new vision he had for Israel. Jesus makes up his mind to go to John and take part in something new. To enter into the Jordan river and step into the waters of Johns baptism. As far as we know, John wasn't running through the nearby towns and villages, knocking people over the head and dragging them out to Jordan to be baptized. People had to make the decision to go.
I wonder what kind of decision that was for Jesus? Did he pine over it for a while or was it spur of the moment? Did he spend time playing the "what if" game. What if he went, what if he stayed put. Did he discuss it with anyone? Was he worried, fearful, exited, cautious? I know when I have a big decision to make, my brain tends to flood with excuses as to why this might be a bad idea.
There's a story about nine soldiers who receive an all night pass from their military base. When morning arrived not one of the nine soldiers had returned. By 10 am one of the soldiers came straggling into camp and was met by the commanding officer. The C.O. demanded an explanation and the young soldier said, "I'm so sorry but I completely lost track of time and missed the last bus. I called a taxi and about halfway back the taxi broken down. I walked to the nearest farm and borrowed a horse. I rode for a few miles but the horse had a heart attack and dropped dead so I had to walk the rest of the way and here I am. The commander shook his head, gave the soldier a lecture and sent him away. One by one the other soldier arrived with roughly the same story. Finally the last soldier arrived at camp. He started his story.. "Sir I'm so sorry, I missed the bus.." The C.O. stopped him and said, "Are you seriously going to tell me how you missed the bus, called a taxi, when the taxi broke down you..." The soldier stopped him and said, No sir, the taxi was fine. But there were so many dead horses on the road we couldn't get through so I had to walk most of the way."
We all can come up with reasons and excuses as to why we don't, or why we shouldn't do things in our lives. The practice of making excuses can also spill over into our the life we live as Gods people.
Today as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we can reflect on the decision Jesus made to boldly step onto a path that leads to God and to move into the realm of God. As all the gospels tell us, Jesus' baptism was a definitive turning point in his life and ministry. It was his journey to see John, and his willingness to humble himself in the river Jordan that opened up 2 things. First it revealed to the people who Jesus was. The world, for the first time were witnesses to Jesus. The Christmas story we just celebrated was about a small group of witnesses gathering around the savoir to pay homage and to see what God had delivered. In Jesus baptism, that message was seen and witnessed by the crowds. The common folk, the ones who were out n the wilderness anticipating something that would renew them and their world. Secondly, Jesus baptism revealed to Jesus, who he was. As we heard from Matthew today, And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved". It is the first time in the gospel that Jesus heard his Father. In that hearing, Jesus enters that sacred place where God moves from being out there to establishing himself in here.
In short, the decision Jesus made, was one that God used to pull back the curtain and make known his great gift of salvation.
That what baptism is. That what baptism is for you and me. Stepping into the waters of our baptism is to step into the realm of God and to become part of that which Jesus became a part of. Stepping into our baptism is about God continuing to reveal to each of us and to the world, that God desires salvation for Gods creation.
When the church gives us a day like today, we are all given an opportunity to renew ourselves once again and to renew what our baptism accomplished. Whether the holy waters of new birth touched your forehead as an infant years ago in a time you cant remember, or your baptism occurred last week, the new life in Christ which you received in baptism is there, so that God can reveal to the world, and to you, God desire to save us.
As we begin this New Year together, its the perfect time for us to make a decision. To put away the excuses as to why we can’t step into Gods dream for Gods world and say yes to a pathway on Gods road to salvation.
There are so many ways to step into it. As I've said many times, our parish has many opportunities to live out what it means to live in Gods realm. Ways in which we can all live out the covenant God made with us at our baptism.
To continue in the teaching of those who gave us our traditions.
To seek out Christ in everyone we meet and to proclaim the good news.
To respect the dignity of all Gods children and to strive for peace and justice.
In the coming days you will be receiving Vestry reports as we prepare for our annual meeting on January 27. Part of that report will include an updated Mission and Ministry Plan for our parish. Within that plan are goals and objectives that invite all of us to step into our baptismal promises.
There is room at Gods holy table to serve. There is space for those who want to help proclaim the good news during worship, or lead Gods people in music, or visit the elderly and shut ins, or plan events that open our doors to the community. All of these, and more, are the ways in which through our baptism we step into the realm of God.
Perhaps God has been tugging at your heart to learn more about God, the church, Holy Scripture, Anglican and church tradition. We are blessed to have Canterbury College in our city are that offers courses and workshops for those looking to explore their faith more deeply.
Step into Gods realm by making a commitment to read one book this year about faith or spirituality. Attend a bible study or go online and find a daily scripture reading schedule. Make time for God. Sit quiet. Listen. Pray.
In a few moments I'm going to ask you to join me in the renewal of our baptismal covenant. The relationship the we entered into with God that definitive day when the waters of new life touched us for the fist time. Hear those words again anew. Inwardly digest them; Be conscious of the promises and be open to letting God reveal himself to you as he revealed himself to Jesus that holy day in the Jordan River.
Just as Jesus found, when we make the decision to step into our baptism and enter into Gods realm, we will find new life. New life for ourselves and new life for the world which will see the new life we are living by word and deed.
In Jesus' decision to step into his baptism;
Jesus became more aware of Gods Spirit within him and around him. So will you.
Jesus was more open to hearing Gods voice. So will you.
Jesus received his place in Gods kingdom. So will you.
Those around him were witness to something, sacred, empowering, life giving. The ones you are near will see it also.
The Spirit came to Jesus as a dove.- a symbol of peace. That inner peace we all crave that only God can give. We will receive that too.
Imagine what this community would look like if we all that to share with each other. If we all decided to step into our baptism once again. To step into Gods realm together as one.
Making the decision to go for it is the hard part. But let’s always remember, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus; which is a good place to take that first step.
January 6, 2019
I saw an old episode of Saturday Night Live over Christmas It was a sketch featuring Sylvester Stallone, John Goodman and Robert Deniro riding camels in the desert on route to see the baby Jesus. Instead of the sketch being about the three wise men, it was titled the "Three Wise Guys". We watch 3 New York mob bosses in conversation; "Ya Know, I hear this kid is gunna be big..Yeah, cant be too bad, his fathers in construction, and I heard the kid may not be his".
More than any other characters in the Christmas story the three
wise men, or magi, may be the most misunderstood.
We really know very little about the wise men despite the story
we tell in plays and songs around Christmas time about wise men paying homage and bringing gifts to Jesus.
The problem is that the stories and songs we share at Christmas are often a far cry from what we read in the gospels
First: The three kings (as in the popular hymn) were not kings at all, but rather they were magi, wise men, professional scholars in
fact, schooled in the science of astrology.
Second - we do not know if there were three of them or three hundred. The gospels only tell us there were three gifts given.
Today is Epiphany Sunday. A day when we are invited into considering what it means for us now that Christ is born.
Today, I want to look at the story of the magi - let's call it
the story of the three wise men for convenience. Today's story in Matthews gospel reveals to us the wisdom of the wise men. Today I'd like to draw three points from the story. Each of these points can feed us in our spiritual journeys and provide a wisdom that will feed us on our faith journey as we celebrate this season of Epiphany, which means "to reveal".
- we discover in the story that the wise men were seekers. They sought for truth and wisdom.
The magi knew that the star that they followed was no ordinary
star. They had been searching the heavens for
years for signs of something unique and significant occurring in
their world. They were open to new wisdom and truth - more than
this - they searched for it. They were not simply content to be satisfied with that which they already knew. So, when they saw a new
star in the heavens, they sensed in their hearts that it was a
sign from God.
Jesus said that if we seek, we will find, if we knock, the door shall be opened to us, if we ask, we will receive.
The wise men gained their wisdom because they chose to be seekers - they were looking for new things, new insights, new signs. They read their manuals, they searched the heavens for signs and wonders.
We can be seekers to. We can be the ones who look for newness in our relationships with God. New insights and new signs of how God is present to us. Last week Carol shared with you the challenge from bishop Linda to read the bible in a year. A wonderful way to look for Gods voice in your life. Who knows where it might lead you.
- The Wise men set forth in faith to find what the star pointed
Faith by definition involves the idea of making a journey - of
venturing forth - of risking one's very self in a new activity. If your idea of finding the living God in your midst is to stay in your comfortable space and wait for some-thing or some-one to bring God to you, then the magi may have something to show you.
The magi had to travel. They had to move from their home and enter into foreign territory in search of wisdom and truth. They did not know where they would be led or how long it would take, or what the end result would be for them. They only knew that it was important for them to make the journey.
This may well be the most important truth for us in the Epiphany
story. A story of faith with Jesus is always be a search. A search that we take as individuals, but also a search that we take as community. As we enter into another year as a community of faith at HTSSM, we will from time to time be asked to leave behind our comfortable places. Our ideas of what the church was, or should be again. And that leaving behind will take us into foreign territory where we will not know where we will be led, or how long it will take or what the destination will be. The same is true as we struggle with our own faith especially in times of turmoil. But here’s the good news.
Remember, the wise men sought help from other people as they tried to find Jesus. When the magi arrived in Jerusalem it seems that they lost sight of the star. They knew they were in the right area, but they
were not yet at the right spot. Kind of like us sometimes when
we go driving in a new city to find a friend. We get into the
right neighbourhood - but somehow can't quite locate the street
we are looking for. Our map may be outdated or in error,
whatever the reason may be, we are stuck and remain stuck until
we ask someone else for help.
We so often try to live our lives without relying on others. We try to be independent. To stand alone. To make it
by ourselves. Sometimes this comes out of noble motives - we do
not want to burden others. Other times it comes out of fear - we
are afraid of looking weak or foolish. Yet the Christian journey is not to be travelled alone. Jesus' first order of business was to create community by gathering others around him. We cant be Christians in isolation.
The bible says the wise men consulted with the people in Jerusalem. They ask where the new born king is and how they can find him so they can pay homage to him. Because
they ask - they receive. Their question is answered by people
who are familiar with the scriptures and prophecies concerning
the birth of the Messiah - and they take that answer and set
forth with it - and when they do so, once again they see the star
going ahead of them - until it takes them to Jesus.
There are many people who can help us on our journey of faith -
if we are wise enough to ask them. The question is: are we
willing to ask for help when we need it? When we are in the
right neighbourhood, but can't quite find our way to our
destination will we stop and ask for directions as did the magi?
The wise men accepted what God lead them to and they embraced it.
Everyone who knows the story always focuses on the gifts the magi gave to the Christ child. But we also have to consider what they were given.
They set forth looking for a king - a king of kings in fact.
After a long and hard journey they end up at a simple home in
Bethlehem - and there they find a carpenter and his wife and
child. There are no costly treasures in the house, no purple
robes, no gold rings, nothing in fact to show that they are in
the presence of person destined to be a great king. Only the
star stood overhead to indicate that anything special at all was
And they accept this. So many of us have a hard time accepting what God has given in the form that God gives it. Because we are waiting for God - we wait for great miracles, instant healings, signs
and wonders that will convince us that we are in Gods favour. Gods favour comes in the gift of an innocent helpless child. Jesus was born because God favours Gods children. We always must start with that because in that gift we are able to see and become aware of the simple gifts God gives us everyday.
The gift of compassion that we can experience by feeding the hungry, the gift of companionship in the surprise call from friend, the gift of presence with God when we are stuck in traffic.
We have this idea fixed in our minds that God does not, or should
not, appear to us in the ordinary aspects of our life. We do not
expect God to show up while we are at work in our office, or
sitting in a classroom, or doing dishes at the kitchen sink.
We have a hard time too considering that God's answers to our
questions can be found in a 2000 year old book,
or on the lips of our companions or our friends,
or that a dream we have had during a long and troubled night is,
in fact, a message from God.
The wisdom of the wise men was and is simply this
- they sought after wisdom and treasured the journey.
- they were willing to travel new roads in faith to discover
what God was doing.
- they did they hesitate to seek others along the way and
- they accepted what they found - even though it was plainly
dressed - and believed in it.
I pray that as we travel through this season of epiphany and this new year together, we might consider the wise men..and that we may always be open to the ways in which God continues to reveal himself to us.
I saw an interesting article the other day that throws a new light on Santa’s reindeer. Apparently we may have given the wrong names the jolly old elf’s flying crew. You see all reindeer, male and female grow their antlers in the summer. Male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of the winter season usually late November or early December. Female reindeer on the other hand keep their antlers until after they have given birth in the spring. Therefore it would make sense that every reindeer from Rudolf to Blitzen are actually female! When I mentioned this startling fact to my wife, she said "Well now we know why Santa never gets lost!"
I'm glad that you didn't get lost and that you were able to be here to tonight. However you have found your way into this space tonight, know that you have come to a place where we all gather to try and find our way.
This is of course the night when many come to share in what most consider being the most holy night of the year. Churches throughout the world do all they can to draw people into their places of worship. A friend of mine emailed some pictures of Church signs with messages used to try and get people into church for Christmas.
There’s the signs that use the Guilt message. As one church sign read "Staying in bed and yelling out Oh God, does not constitute going to church."
There’s the Promise of Reward method, as one church sign reads-" Free Coffee and Everlasting Life.. Membership has it's Privileges."
Then there’s just the corny but cute approach as in " Join us for worship, God answers knee mail."
We rely on signs to point us in the right direction and to get us to where we need to be. Ask anyone travelling this holiday season. Whether you're most comfortable with road signs or a trusty fold out map or have vaulted into the 21st century and use google maps we all count on the correct markers to help us navigate through our journeys.
Tonight we gather, as the church has always gathered on this holy night, to recall the night of the birth of Jesus. And as we do, we are drawn to the journey of two young people in need of direction. Mary and Joseph were relying on something to help them guide their way on their journey as they began to travel one of the most difficult roads imaginable. Young Mary, barely into her teens has been told she is about to give birth. There's not a mother sitting here tonight that doesn't understand what that revelation does to you. Suddenly thrust into a new vision for your life. It's like the pause button of your entire being gets pushed, and the hopes and dreams and aspirations you had for your life swiftly change course. What will life be like now? How am I going to cope with this? How will it all turn out?
And what about Joseph. A righteous man who only wanted to do right by his future bride.
He's been thrust into a dilemma of his own. A pregnant young woman and his unborn son to protect. Being forced to have to travel the long journey to his hometown. How will he negotiate the terrain? What unseen obstacles will he encounter? Will he be able to provide safe passage for them? What if Mary goes into labour in the middle of the dessert? Then what? So many obstacles, worries and fears for both Mary and Joseph as they moved along, just trying to find their way.
The story of Mary and Joseph’s road is the story of our roads. A story in which all of us are familiar because all of us have walked it and yes..are walking it today. Our journeys are full of questions and concerns and uncharted waters. All of us here tonight must travel down path ways that look dark and uncertain. All of us carry the burden of restlessness in our current life situation; and we worry about what life will be like for us tomorrow. And while we're on those rocky roads we search out the signs to help us along the way.
The struggle we face in our times today is that many the signs we have relied on to ensure we are pointed in the right direction; have changed The systems, and organizations; structures and institutions we used to look for as signs of stability and permanence on our journeys may not look familiar to us anymore.
I recently shared a conversation with a woman who can't leave her home do to her health. The very home she has lived in for 53 years. I asked, “Does it bring any comfort to know your neighbours and your neighbourhood so well. Her response surprised me, she said,” No, this isn't my neighbourhood anymore." There was a time when she could be certain that house next door held mom dad and their children. She knew them by first name and could tell you their birthdays. Now, fences exist where there were none before, and when she looks out her window she has more questions than answers.
Have you ever felt in that same place? Looking around and your world just doesn’t look familiar anymore. The signs we used to look at can seem faded and difficult to read.
Our work structures are not the same. They have not only changed, but as many in our area know, they've have become unstable. Unrest and war on the other side of the world has many folks wondering if they will have work in the new year. Auto and manufacturing plants that used to be a mainstay on our landscape are moving elsewhere. Even the idea of having an affordable home, the most stable of thoughts just 10 years ago, is now unrecognizable to many families.
For many in our communities this Christmas, the reality of change and uncertainty will be most notable when they look around the dinner table and see an empty space.
As we travel through this life journey together, both as individuals and as communities, we are constantly shifting, moving and changing. Those things that we've look for to give us that sense that we are on the right track, that we're moving in a positive direction, that we're going to be OK, always have been and always will be temporary.
But God has something to say to us on our journeys. As we gather together in the darkness of this holy night, God has burst into our lives with a new sign that points to a solid truth that we all must hold onto in these ever changing times
We often learn the most from our children so let me share with you a touching story about a man who was annoyed that his 3-year-old daughter for wasting a new roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became angry when the child tried to decorate a box to put under the Christmas tree. Christmas morning the little girl brought the gift to her father the next morning and said, "This is for you, Daddy."
The father was embarrassed by his earlier overreaction once he realized the gift was for him. He opened the gift, but his anger flared again when he found that the box was empty. He scolded her, "Don't you know that when you give someone a present, there's supposed to be something inside of it?"
The little girl looked up at him and said, " Daddy it's not empty. I blew kisses into the box for you." The father was crushed. He put his arms around his little girl, and he begged her forgiveness. He kept that gold box by his bed for the remainder of his years. Whenever he was discouraged, he would open the box and take out a kiss and remember the endless love of the child who had put it there.
Christmas Eve is the night we can receive our gold container filled with unconditional love. Through the birth of Jesus, God's "one and only Son, we have been given a sacred sign of what lengths God will go to, to ensure that there is one thing we can hold onto in certainty that everything will be OK. The gift we are given in the Christ child is the gift of God's love for us.
This is the great power of Christmas. You see, Jesus always is born. We long, hope, wait, anticipate this day, and we are never let down at the last minute. Every year, Christmas always arrives. Even if we are exhausted or broken-hearted. Even in our fear and despite our worries about lies ahead, the message of God comes again to you and me and declares
“Do not be afraid; for look and 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 Saviour, who is the Messiah”
While there are those times when it seems as if God has left us to make it on our own, and there are those times when the roads we travel are unstable and full of barriers….. tonight is the night God has gathered us to a place where we can stop…look…and stare in awe and wonder at a the baby in a manger and know that we have never been on those roads alone.
You see, we can never really be lost. God has made certain of that tonight and I am so glad that you have found your way here to celebrate that great truth.
So, rest tonight my brothers and sisters. No longer do you have to travel to find your way to God. For on this holiest of nights God has once again found his way to you.
Homily Dec 16, 218
Luke 3:7-18, Philippians 4:4-7
What would you do if you walked into a restaurant and the matrid'ee told you that he had the perfect table for you in the back alley next to the garbage bins? My guess is that you wouldn't want to stay.
What would you do if the teller at your bank laughed at your bank book and suggested taking your financial business elsewhere? My guess is that you wouldn't want to stay.
How would you react if you came to church one Sunday where the greeters threw the bulletin in your face; the offering was taken up twice and, instead of greeting you with the words. The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the minister greeted you by saying.."Good morning you Snakes in the Grass."
I know that the minister would be preaching to an empty room. But aside for that ;
my guess is that you wouldn't want to stay.
Everyone wants to be treated with respect and dignity. No matter how thick-skinned we may be, we are all sensitive to how others speak to us.
So how in the world did John the Baptist get away with being so rude. People had made the effort to come to see John in the wilderness. Luke tells us that they are "full of expectation." You know what that’s like. You’ve arrived at the theatre for the concert or a live theatre performance. There's a buzz of excitement in the room. You're whispering to each other, getting yourself ready to have an experience that will take you to a new and exiting place. Your mind isn’t on the worries of today but rather on what is going to happen in the next moments that will fill you with that rush of excitement you wish you could experience more often. This is what's happening out in the wilderness that day. But in an instant, that enthusiasm turns into a collective gut punch; as John looks at the people and says. "You brood of vipers"
A bunch of regular folk, who sincerely were looking for something to lift their spirits and give them a sense of respectability is taking it a bit too far. Why couldn't they just come out and be happy and celebrate.
It might feel like that for us these past 2 weeks as we've been following the John the Baptist story from Luke's gospel. Quite honestly, I’ve struggled with these readings in years past. These seemingly abrupt speeches and messages we’ve been given as readings approaching Christmas. Last Sunday it was a call for us to do the hard work of shaking off the baggage that we've been carrying around with us. This week we walk into our spiritual home and have to endure another passage of in your face adversity.
We're two weeks away from Christmas. Carollers are supposed to be singing. Greetings of peace and joy are supposed to abound. Isn't this time of year about smiling faces and warm cider to warm our hearts? What's with all the tough talk? Why should we stay for that?
There was a very popular TV reality series that I used to watch all the time called The Biggest Loser.
I was fascinated by this whole concept of these folks all coming to a ranch to try to lose hundreds of pounds.
The toughest personal trainer on the show was Jillian Michaels.
She's brutal in the gym with these contestants. She would scream in these people’s faces; she would stand on their backs when they do push ups, sit on their stomachs as they do sit ups, when the treadmill throws them off onto the floor, she speeds up the treadmill and throws them back on.
What's so striking to me is that despite all the abuse and the physical pain she puts them through they want to stay there. They're fighting every week not to be voted off and go home and escape the assault on their bodies and their dignity.
You'd think they wouldn't want to come back.
What's so remarkable about her whole demeanour is that after you've been watching for a few weeks you realize why she does all these horrible things to get these people. These folk are on the brink of death. Emotionally, physically, they are at the end of their rope. And inevitably there's always that moment when Gillian asks them why they came. They always say..to lose weight. And she says no really..Why are you here, what do you want. And the common thread, the one thing they all end up saying is "I want to live."
It's at that point that these people really kick it into high gear and do the work needed to live their lives with new purpose and passion. It's a great transformation moment.
I know why I watched this reality show. I hate to admit it but it's true. I see myself in these people. It's not about losing 200 pounds. It's deeper than that. I'm forced to see myself, nodding my head in agreement realizing that I too want life. Not just get through the day. Not just make it 5pm. Not just to wake up everyday hoping to feel good for a brief moment or two. I want abundant life. Plentiful life. To live each moment embracing all that is around me and not to feel like every time the clock ticks I’ve managed to get through another moment in the day.
Yes, John the Baptist gave it to them with both barrels. But I think John knew why they were really there that day. I have a sense that John wasn’t some possessed mad man standing on a street corner with a doom and gloom message. I have to believe that John knew that those who came to him wanted more than just a Hallmark Card moment. They wanted…
No; they craved life.
And I think that those who stood there. The whole crowd that had every reason to turn away and go home with their tail between their legs complaining about this lunatic who had the nerve to insult them, these folks had a sense that there was more to this dirty, unshaven guy than a few rude comments.
They didn’t leave. Luke tells us that they all stayed with John.
Not only did they stay, they sought counsel from John.
And not just the Jews…but those from every corner of the kingdom, yes even those who would be considered the outsiders to John and the people of Israel.
The Roman soldiers asked, "What shall we do” John said to them, "do not abuse your power and your authority. You are here to protect, not destroy"
The tax collectors asked what we shall do. John said, be honest and stay within the law. Show integrity.
The crowds asked, what should we do. John said "Whoever has two coats, must share with anyone who has none. Whoever has food must do likewise. See the needs of the other and fulfill those needs"
In other words…..life for Gods people comes from living like Gods dream for Gods world is real.
We all need a John the Baptist to come into our lives once in a while to wake us from our complacency; and force us to face the challenging questions like, What do we really want this Christmas? Is it a full and complete life in God's kingdom? Is it for hope to be abundant. For those who suffer to be relieved. For the hungry to be fed. For the lonely to be visited. For the dying to be comforted. For the oppressed to be set free.
If we are patient with this message from John the Baptist, if we don't get offended too quickly by his name calling and close our ears to his message, this Christmas…this new year… will be life giving for us… and for those who we share Gods world with.
Better yet, John's message has the potential to transform our families, our communities and our world.
In a few moments we, like those who came to John so many years ago, will wander together as a people pondering those same questions. And as we do, we will move toward the one that John first pointed the people to focus on.
The One who is more powerful than I is coming!
As the prophet Zephaniah said “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you, save the lame and gather the outcast, change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth and will bring you home,
What would you do if you slowly approached the manger this Christmas, giving your heart and soul to the voice of the holy child who says to you, "You are loved. I came so that you will always know." The the life you so deeply crave will be come from me"
My guess is, you'd probably want to stay.
Homily December 2
First Sunday of Advent
Years ago, Margie and I were driving home from Kitchener after a wedding. we were heading to Chatham were chatting away in the car as we entered the on ramp to head west on the 401. after about 45 minutes we noticed how much traffic there was around us which was uncommon for the way we were going. Then we saw it. A big green sign that read "Downtown Toronto next exit!"
We humans are not very good at reading signs.
But that’s also the people Jesus dealt with. All throughout the Gospels, people are coming up to Jesus and asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus will perform one sign or wonder or healing,( The Gospel writer of John even tells us that Jesus performed more signs than he could write down in one book) but then the people will just ask for another sign. Even when Jesus is dragged before King Herod just before he’s murdered, Luke’s gospel tells us that Herod was kind of excited to meet him because he wanted to see Jesus do some sign.
Seemingly everybody who meets Jesus in the Gospels wants some sign, but when they get one they still don’t seem to be able to read those signs for what they mean. They’re pushing at a door that says, We’re not too good at reading the signs; at least, not the signs that matter.
Neither were Jesus’ disciples.
Remember last week we heard the story of Jesus and his disciples sitting across from the massive mega church like Temple, gaping at the shining stones and dazzling jewels. Then Jesus, unimpressed, tells them, “All of that is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble.” They ask, “Teacher, when will this be? What will be the sign that this will take place?”
They want a sign to look for. Maybe they’re expecting Jesus to tell them something kind of cryptic and mysterious, like in a spy novel. “In the month of April, a blackbird with red eyes will land on the steeple and caw three times…..or something like that.
Jesus’ answer to them is so obvious, it’s almost comical. The sign is not cryptic, hidden or mysterious at all. Jesus tells them, “Well, when you see a great big old army camped around the Temple about to take it over, and they have really big weapons, well, that’s going to be the end of it. They’re going to tear it down.” Here’s your sign. And then Jesus says, “And when you see a great big angry-looking army about to take over the city of Jerusalem, here’s my advice. Run. Don’t be prideful or brave. Head for the hills.”
In the case of the Temple, what Jesus told them did happen. Around the year 70, the Roman Army encamped itself around the Temple in Jerusalem and destroyed it and left it in ruins.
There’s no mysterious sign here. It’s a very obvious sign. Even disciples who aren’t very good at reading signs, who are always pushing on doors that say “Pull” can get this one.
Jesus is making a point here folks. And that is, “Trust me, you’ll know when it’s happening. The signs that you so desperately seek; the signs you desire so that you’ll know that God has done what God has promised…bringing an end to your bondage, eradicating your captivity, freeing you to be the people God created you to be..those signs will be obvious and right in front of you.” Don’t make it harder on yourselves.
The signs Jesus gives can be trusted.
That’s the thing about having Jesus in our midst. That’s the great benefit of knowing and believing that God is with us and fulfilling Gods promises. The signs that we have a need to see, so we can say; Yes, God is here, God is present, God is alive…these signs are quite obvious if we just trust that they’re right there in front of us and know that we are always being invited to take part in them.
But we must be careful. There are some signs in the church that cannot be trusted. There was a picture being circulated on Facebook of an actual sign in a church somewhere in Florida. The sign was placed over the entrance to the sanctuary and it read..”Warning, Articles of value should not be left on seats during Holy Communion”
And there are other signs that we must be on the look out for. Signs that, as Jesus tell us, are about judgment and as such are a warning to us that we’re going off track and need to travel a new road.
When we encounter anger, hostility, jealousy, these are signs that we are broken and need a savior.
When we encounter despair, fatigue, or a lack of optimism and hope among the Body of Christ, these are signs that we are spiritually empty and that we need to return to God in our prayer life, in study of scripture, in the receiving of the holy food we need at the Lords table, and in releasing our need to control so that we can trust that God is guiding our steps.
Today, as we begin the season of Advent, Jesus goes on to speak of other signs. Jesus moves from describing the signs of the destruction of the Temple to describing the signs that will be seen when he returns. When the world will be in a place where God’s world order is realized, and Jesus message of love for God and neighbor are the most important things we do. And these signs will be obvious. They won’t be cryptic or mysterious or hidden. He says,
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, the roaring of the sea, people fainting, the powers of the heavens shaken, the Son of Man coming in a cloud.” In other words, it will be so clear that Gods reign on earth is here, that the entire natural universe will even look different. It will be impossible not to see it because it will be all around and all encompassing to the point that everyone will be in awe of it.
Jesus is saying, “Think about it. “In my first coming, I came unseen to eyes of the world. Born in a manger, covered in human flesh, visible only to the eyes of those who wanted to see the Son of God. Mary, Joseph, travelers from the east who in faith followed the star, shepherds who humbled themselves. But when I come again in fullness, it will be in power and glory.” It won’t be hidden. It will be obvious to all, like when you go to the eye doctor and they ask you to read the largest line of letters on the eye-chart first. The signs will be that clear to see.
Jesus says..”Trust me, you’ll know, you’ll see it. The sign Jesus gives can be trusted.
In the meantime, we can know that we are almost there, because the signs that Jesus performed are signs that the Kingdom of God has already broken in among us. God’s future has entered our present. It is at hand. The kingdom is coming. Scripture tells us, “soon.” Soon could mean tomorrow, it could mean a thousand years from now, but soon means it’s coming. Soon means we are one day closer to it today than we were yesterday.
The kingdom is near, and it’s coming with all its fullness soon.
And today as the church enters into the season of Advent we are given an opportunity to be aware of the signs that Jesus has put here on earth for the world to see. And these signs are sitting here. Right next to each you. The Body of Christ in the world today. This Advent can be for us a time when we recognize that we can be the signs of God’s kingdom for the world.
The signs Jesus gives can be trusted.
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees,” Jesus says. “As soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
Look at the church. Look at its people here today. We are signs of the new life to come. Through our words and our actions, through our giving and our loving, our forgiving and our compassion, the world around us will know that a new season is about to begin.
When a stranger walks into this sanctuary at Christmas and we tell them we’re so glad they are with us. We are that sign
When we place a gift for a stranger under this tree and say to them “You are worthy of receiving” We are that sign.
When we drop a toonie in a Salvation Army kettle, when we pick up the phone and make peace with someone in our family, when we seek out the marginalized, sing a Christmas carol to a shut in, visit the sick or send a card to the one’s who we know will be alone for the first time this Christmas…we are that sign.
This world will set up all kinds of signs for people, telling them -- us -- which way to go.
Many of the worlds signs are stop signs. Most of them say that the road we are traveling on is a dead end. There is no way you can go. To worry about yourself because no ones worrying about you.
So during this Advent season the church begins by setting up another sign in the world: That sign reads..”Gods Kingdom “Coming Soon.”
We are a sign. Let’s make this time of Advent waiting our time to hold Gods sign up so high so there will be not doubt that it exists.
Homily November18 2018
26th after Pentecost
I received a flyer in the mail this week advertising toys. No big surprise. What jumped out at me was a section advertising “retro” toys. Those tpoys I remember playing with as a child. One of the toys was Lincoln Logs. Small wooden blocks (plastic now because we don’t want our children eating stained wood) with notches on the ends that you could build structures with. There was nothing more fun than a big box of Lincoln logs and an empty living room floor. I thrilled to see that empty space, just waiting for my next grand castle to be constructed. And so I would begin to build. Setting up foundations and imagining the towering structure.
Eventually, I would call in my parents, so they could see my latest another architectural masterpiece. “Look at what I have created!” And of course they would “ooo and awe” and tell me what an incredible structure I had created. All was good….then my little brother came crawling through the room. Within seconds all that I had build came tumbling down.
Truth be told sometimes, by accident, I knocked my creation down, And sometimes, I must admit, I would tear it down on purpose.
What was certain was that the Lincoln log mansions I built never stood for long.
All of us have, or will have, times in which we watch our temples fall.
If you’ve experienced a break up or severed relationship you know what I mean;
If you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, you know what I mean. You know what crumbling temples look and feel like if you’ve been rejected by a friend, been fired from a job, lost money, said goodbye to a home, or watched your body betray you.
Whatever it is that we have relied upon - trusted in - believed in, like the theme of today’s gospel reading, our journey through life will see “end times”.
Often when the temples we have constructed collapse, we reach out in desperation to anyone or anything that promises to bring deliverance. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, food, or anything to mask the pain inside. Often times we turn inward and decide that since the world is a harmful place, that continually disappoints, that we will have to just go it alone.
But this is can be a serious mistake. One that Jesus spoke to his disciples about as they sat on the Mount of Olives and stared at the great temple across the valley. The temple was the centre of not only their spiritual lives and the place that Yahweh lived, but was also the centre of their life as community of people. Despite how unpredictable or dangerous the world around them was, the temple provided some certainty and trust. Yet Jesus tells them that even the temple is not immune to endings.
And so they ask: “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that the temple and all that it stands for will be thrown down and come to an end. How are these things about to be accomplished?
Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place. It is the beginning of the birth pangs.
Its interesting isn’t it. That Jesus doesn’t answer their question. He doesn’t give them a date or a time. He doesn’t have them focus on the rouble but instead has them look at how they are responding within the trouble.
Jesus offers a way to live in the midst of the collapsing temples of our lives. As Jesus followers today, the best thing we can do when our world is in trouble is to Beware and to not let ourselves go astray and drift from God.
The best thing we can do is to know that God is in the trouble with us.
I was speaking to a man who lives and works part of the year in Ireland. When he first moved there it took him along time to get use to the weather. Ireland is known to be a cloudy and damp country most days which can take some getting use to. That adjustment was made a bit easier about 6 months into his time there. He had to drive about 2 hours through the countryside with a colleague who grew up in Ireland. About 30 minutes into the trip his co-worker pulled the car off to the side of the road. He jumped out, ran to the back of the car and opened the trunk and pulled out a picnic basket. “what are you doing?”, said my friend. “The sun is out”, said the man. They sat in a field on the side of the road for 20 minutes and had tea and cake. When the clouds rolled back and covered up the sun they loaded up the car and continued the trip.
You see, when you are aware that the sun is about to break in and cut through the darkness, you’ll be ready to receive it when it comes.
When our personal temples collapse, our first instinct may be to conclude that God has packed up Gods bags and walked away. Jesus says, “No…do not go there” Be aware of God’s eternal promise to be with you always. Do not be led astray to try and find something else to turn your attention too.
Our lives are not immune to endings. When the conflicts and rumours of conflict are waiting for us outside of the safety of our homes, or when we persecute ourselves because we know we have blown it, Jesus opens us up to understanding that there is good news. Good news when we can start with the awareness that God is there with us.
When we, as Jesus followers, are aware that the sun can break through at any moment, then we will be able to grasp the new life awaiting us
Jesus reminds us that this is what happens within our lives. That out of endings, having our hearts and minds centered on Gods presence among us will lead us into newness of life. “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Jesus says.
When you think about the last couple of years of this very parish, we can see a living example of what that looks like. There were a few temples that fell here. There were a few endings that through no fault of anyone came upon you. Yet out of all that unknowing, and uncertainty, you kept faith in Gods presence and gather here today as witnesses to a new path and a new beginning.
This is what God does. Creating something new out of that which has ended.
Be aware..do not go astray. Because…
Out of that broken relationship can come new and as yet unseen opportunities for fresh relationships with others.
Be aware..do not go astray. Because…
Out of that bereavement can come a new understanding of the meaning of life, and new way of living life with gratitude and thankfulness.
Be aware..do not go astray. Because…
Out of that layoff - that firing – can come a whole new course of life, one full of new hope and opportunities you may have never even though of before.
There is an ancient tale about a man who was dying from a poisoned arrow.
His relatives rushed a doctor to his side, but the man refused to
have the arrow pulled out unless three vital questions were first
answered. He needed to know who shot him, whether it was a male or a female. Whether he was tall or short. Only when he got his answers would he let himself be healed.
My friends as we look at scriptures like those that were read today,
Scriptures concerning the end of things, it makes little sense for us to engage in debate as to whether or not the time is now, or a bit later, especially when we know in our deepest heart that for each of us there will be times when our world will be shaken, and our temples fall.
What we can do is pluck out the poison arrow before it destroys our lives. We can let our loving God love us, and in that loving we will find the new life God gives to us.
In a few moments the son is going to break through your clouds and come to you at this holy table in bread and in wine. So come to the table today. With outstretched hands and stop to receive the life he is giving you today.
November 11, 2018
I have no direct ties to the military. No member of my family served during war times. I have never been a member of any branch of cadets. Wars and stories of wars were not a topic of conversation growing up in my family. The closest we ever got were tales of my great grandfather building parts for tanks somewhere in Northern Ontario when he was a young man.
There are no stories I can share from relatives about what it was like to live through the war. No tales of uncles leaving home or stories of homecomings. And there were certainly no accounts of anyone not coming home and how that void has been experienced by those who mourn them.
I am thankful for those who have shared their stories. Those that were there in the midst of war, in many different capacities, who knew the importance of sharing their experiences. I am very conscious of the fact that I am one in a generation who must rely on the stories of others in order to grasp, with any sense of understanding, the reality of what it means when we choose war.
I am also very conscious of the fact that I have a responsibility to share these stories with my children and encourage them to share these stories with their children. Of course as time passes, and those who were there leave us, our responsibility becomes crucial.
This is our work on this Remembrance Day. Our remembering is about entering into these stories about real people, who lived real experiences and who were genuinely changed by their experience. If we just leave these stories in the past, we may escape some discomfort, however we will never gain the wisdom or understanding that can come from seeing ourselves in the people who have so valiantly shared their lives for us. By remembering, we honor those experiences and the people who share them with us. By remembering we are living out the hope that those who shared so wanted us to have. Hope for a better today and hope for a peaceful tomorrow.
Today we not only gather as citizens of a country, we gather as Christians. As followers of Jesus we are invited time and time again to be a light to the very nations in which we live. We are encouraged to pass on the good news of Gods presence in all of creation, in all of history both in times of peace and in times of war.
And so today I’d like to two stories with you. My hope in sharing these is that we as a community of faith can not only honor those who served, but also catch a vision of God’s presence in the midst of fear, chaos and darkness.
His name was Duke. He was a flier in a Lancaster bomber who recalls his first mission.
“ My stomach felt like the new wringer washer that Mom just bought. What wasn't being sloshed about was being squeezed dry. I was new to the crew, an 18 year old tail gunner - the most dangerous position in a bomber. My predecessor had been wounded during the last mission sitting right where I was sitting. It was a sobering thought.
You couldn't see much in the dark. We'd left England ages ago and crossed the black water toward France. I kept hoping we were going in the right direction but if we were lost then the rest of the squadron was lost too.
Suddenly the sky behind me lit up in an explosion that sent a tremor through our aircraft. Then another one went off over to the port side. It was my first taste of anti-aircraft fire and it was a frightening thing.
Explosions were going off all around like a hundred flash bulbs all at once. One of the bombers behind us was hit, losing a small piece of its wing but it carried on. Another plane was hit. One of its engines caught fire.
I felt a morbid fear well up in side of me. What if that happens to us? What if we get hit? There's no knowing who makes it and who doesn't. What if we don't make
it? What if...?
All I wanted to do was turn around and go home. But I couldn't. Suddenly, none of this made any sense. I guess I was near panic.
Then I heard the captain's voice on my headset. "How's it going Duke? If you're a little scared that's okay. The rest of us are a little scared too. But we're here together and we each have our job to do. I know that you can do yours. Just
settle down. Sing a song for us, why don't you. We'll be out of this in no time.You'll see."
I heard what he had to say and tried to think of a song but the only one I could think of was Jesus Loves Me. So I started singing it: "Jesus loves me, this I know,
for the Bible tells me so..." When I finished the second verse, I heard a few snickers from the rest of the crew but that was okay. It let me know they were there with me.
The captain was right. It wasn't long before we were through and on to the target. We got back to England safely on that first mission. Two aircraft from our squadron weren't so lucky. The encouragement that I received from that voice in my headset is something Ill never forget.
Gladys was a nurse who served in a field hospital and she remembers a young soldier who came in with severe wounds:
“The stretcher bearers brought the unconscious soldier into the field hospital and laid him in the waiting area. Then they were gone again. His right leg was shattered - part of it missing. There was a tourniquet on it. The first aid team had done their job well.
I started to clean him up and look for any less obvious injuries. With a wet towel began to clean some of the mud off of his face and neck. What I discovered was the most beautiful face. It was boyish and without blemish - like the face of an angel. I paused for a moment. As I was looking at him, his eyes flickered and opened. They were a clear, deep blue.
At first, he was confused and scared, still in shock. I told him who I was and where he was and that he was going to be okay.
He said he was scared and could I stay with him. I looked around. He was the only one waiting for surgery. "Sure," I said. "I'll stay with you as long as you want." Then I took his hand and he squeezed mine tightly.
We sat there like that for more than half an hour. He would drift in and out of consciousness and when he woke up, he was always scared. But when he looked up and saw me, he would relax, squeeze my hand and, once again, close his eyes to rest.
Finally, it was his turn for surgery. He squeezed my hand one last time and was gone to the O.R.
That was the end of his soldiering days. It's tough to march on one leg. He was stabilized and, the next day, shipped further back behind the lines toward England.
For the longest time, the image of his angelic face stayed in my mind.
I wondered how he made out. Then, one day, I got a letter from him. In that letter, he told me what a comfort I had been to him during those very dark hours. "I still wake up
frightened sometimes," he wrote," but when I do, I think of you there beside me, holding my hand, and I feel a lot better. You will never know what an encouragement you were to me. Thank you."
The stories of encouragement and reassurance are some of the most powerful stories of all that come from war. Those that made it home often talk about the others that were around them in their darkest hour. Encouragement comes in many forms. Through an embrace, through words, just by being there. Even in the midst of suffering and evil, people showed their concern and their care for others.
This is where God shows up. This is where we can see the love of God most clearly. The love of God breaking into the darkness through the embrace, through the words of comfort spoken to the fearful, through the compassionate presence of one human being showing up for another.
One final story.Many years ago, in the temple in Jerusalem, a widow crept toward the treasury and inconspicuously dropped in an offering that by all accounts totaled nothing. A young Rabbi, sitting nearby with his friends, noticed her and what she did. Her offering moved him. Not because she gave money; many people were doing that. What Jesus saw and pointed out to his friends was how God worked in the world. That the life God gives to his beloved children doesn’t come in big, loud and showy ways, but rather through what the world would only see as small and unnoticeable ways.
This is Gods way. This is what Gods kingdom looks like. When we give what we can give in that moment, and we give it out of our desire to look outside ourselves and see more than ourselves, freedom and peace and new life abide because God is in the embrace, in the word of love, in the sheer presence of one person in the life of another.
And so today as we remember them; we see the vison that Jesus gave to us. In our remembering we see a picture of what it looks like when self-giving in the quest for peace and justice for all of God’s beloved children surpasses the quest for self-serving and the seizing of power for oneself.
And when times get dark, as they will, may we have the faith to listen for the captains voice speaking to us as his Son squeezes our hand.
If you're a little scared that's okay. The rest of us are a little scared too. But we're here together and we each have our job to do. I know that you can do yours. Just settle down, Sing a song for us, why don't you. We'll be out of this in no time. You'll see."
Lest we Forget.
All Saints(transferred) November 4, 2018
If you were to ask people on the street what the highlight of this week was, most would probably point to Halloween. Not surprising considering all the buildup and the hype the day receives. As we gather here today we celebrate one of the oldest feast days on the church calendar, The Feast of All Saints. This is a day that I think should get a lot more buildup and hype for those of us in the church. Most of us look forward to Christmas and Easter in the life of the church, but All Saints also holds allot of potential to be a transformative and powerful part of our lives as well.
The early Church commemorated the life and witness of the martyrs from earliest times. But as the Church moved from a body of the persecuted by the culture to an acceptable religion, martyrs were fewer and fewer. There were though, many whose lives served as an example to the community without the sacrifice of death. This is the way we observe it today. The Church has widely observed the festival of All Saints continuously since about the year 600.
All Saints’ Day is important because it is the one church day set aside during the year to tend to a part of our human experience we often ignore. Today we tend to our grief. We experience grief on Good Friday every year , but that grief is for the suffering and death of Christ. All Saints Day is for us. It is for remembering the people we loved, who were important to us, who made an impact on our lives. Those we love but see no longer.
Commemorating those who have gone before and remembering our loved ones as we do today can be a difficult and emotional activity. But it can also bring us new life. That new life comes when we intentionally bring before God a sad part of our shared human experience so that God can wash us in holiness.
Grief is one of life’s most powerful human experiences, and grief is often very lonely. Those of us who have experienced loss know what it’s like to awaken on the morning after the death of a loved one and simply marvel at how the sun can rise another day, and the Earth can continue to turn, after our world has been completely turned on its head. We are grateful for all the love and concern friends and colleagues show us, but at the same time find it so strange to realize that they and the rest of the world keeps going about their business. It is a realization that all of us have at some time or another that our own personal battles and tragedies and defeats are not shared on the same level by the rest of the world.
But our grief does matter on this day, in this place. On All Saints’ Day, in God’s Holy Church, the losses that we have had over the years come front and center and on holy ground, are named for all to hear. On All Saints Day, our grief is no longer lonely and isolating, but we gather in this sanctuary and let our grief bind us together in a new and powerful way.
All Saints’ Day is an important ministry to us in our losses because it helps us re-enter that place of mourning in a rhythm, year after year after year each November.
I’m thankful for a past mentor of mine who once compared this day to when the green and life of the summer die and go to their winter rest around us. In the same way we also bring up the pain of loss on purpose in this rhythm, year after year. And each year that we revisit our loss, the pain softens and loses a little sharpness, begins to go to its own winter rest.
Every time we name our loved ones among the saints, whether silently or within our hearts, we honor not only their lives but our own long battle with memories both painful and joyful.
And it is so important to honor their memories. Most of our departed loved ones had a funeral to commemorate them. But the funeral happens right after the loss and often our emotions are completely chaotic, not to mention the practical circumstances we are trying to manage. If you have lost someone close to you, either due to sudden accident or long illness, you probably remember the days in the immediate aftermath as a haze of confusion. There are hundreds of details to attend to—notifying friends, organizing a service, thinking about wills and estates, the volatility of family brought together in a pressure cooker of emotion. Frankly it is often not a time to treasure the memory of the departed. I know through my experience of being with people in those times that many grieving families float through the funeral in a sort of disconnected shock.
This is where All Saints’ Day comes as a blessing once again. There is no chaos, there are no arrangements to be made, no being singled out to sit at the front of the church in a black suit or dress, no finding directions to the cemetery. We are all in this together, and the ones we are remembering are long settled in their resting places. It’s the chance to be private about our grief, taking out our memories in the quiet of our hearts and turning them over one by one, taking our time to remember and reflect. But we all enter that sheltered and quiet heart space of our own at the same time, in the same place. In a few moments I’m going to invite you to come forward and light a candle. And as you do, you will bring up the faces of your loved ones before your mind’s eye; peacefully and uninterrupted. And as you do you’ll know that others are doing the same. We enter the valley of the shadow of death together and walk through it in unity with one another.
But perhaps the greatest blessing of all this day is when we know that there is someone else who is in solidarity with us in our grief, and that is Jesus. In our gospel today, we see Jesus in the exact situation we have faced in our own lives—the inevitable but painful death of a loved one. Lazarus had been sick, they all knew there was a possibility he might die. But even Jesus can’t quite believe it at first. He doesn’t want to believe it, and asks if he’s been buried, hoping maybe the message has gotten twisted along the way and Lazarus is still just sick. “He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ And in that moment, Jesus human experience is synced with your and mine as we hear some of the most powerful words in all the gospels. “Jesus began to weep.”
Jesus had seen so much pain in his lifetime, and he took it on so bravely. He sees the suffering of his people crushed under the imperial rule of Rome, yet he doesn’t cry. He sees five thousand hungry and poor on a hillside needing him to feed them, Yet he doesn’t cry. He sees people tormented by demons, bleeding or paralyzed or diseased for years, and he doesn’t cry. He continues his ministry and cares for them.
But here, at last, he breaks, and for the simple, everyday beloved friend. There is nothing grand or dramatic in Lazarus’ death. One of his best friends gets sick and dies, and Jesus weeps.
And so perhaps on this day of letting our heartaches step out into the open on holy ground, we can be in solidarity with Jesus as much as he is with us. He always bears the burden for us. Maybe today we can say, “Jesus, we understand how you feel. We’re sorry you lost your friend. We love you. Come be with us for a while and we’ll all be in this together.”
Jesus brought his friend back, just as on the final day we will all be brought back to life by him to live with him and in him. And how did Jesus raise Lazarus up to new life? How did he bring him back from the dead? By calling his name. “Lazarus, come out!” Jesus called out his name.
That’s the unique blessing of today. When we light a candle, we’re doing the same thing. We’re calling out the names of the ones we loved who have passed on. And in doing so they are resurrected in our hearts. The life they shared with us; the love they gave to us; the gifts that they shared with others are made known again. In naming these saints today in this holy space we are recalling not only their lives but the life they gave to the world and through us, the life that can continue to be injected into the world we share with each other.
And today, across the entire church throughout our Diocese, across the Anglican Church of Canada and around the world, crossing denominational lines, the communion of saints remembers and calls out those who have gone before. Today in the church life is being honored, life is being resurrected, life is being given to Gods world.
Jesus command to his disciples that fateful day becomes so powerful for us, especially today. After Lazarus resurrection Jesus tells his followers to “Unbind him and let him go.”
You see my friends, life that is created and given by God cannot and should not be bound or chained, even in the grave.
The Holy and sacred life that Gods spirit breathed into the world at creation conquers death. It is at the very heart of our Christian faith!
That life continues. That divine life is meant to be unbound and let go into our lives and through us into Gods creation;
so that there may be healing, peace, and love in Gods world. The life your loved ones shared with you and with others; all that was important to them and everything unique about them is unbound today as we call out their names; either silently or aloud and remember them. That is the greatest blessing of this day!
Thanks be to God for the saints in light. Thanks be to God for all who in life and in death continue to glorify Him and who continue to give to us and to the world. Thanks be to God for this All Saints day. A day we are given to celebrate holy, sanctified and everlasting Life.
Homily October 28, 2018 (10:30am)
Pentecost 23- Team Jersey Sunday
Well don’t we look good this morning?! I was thinking that anyone driving by the church and watching you all walk in the front door might be thinking that they were missing a sporting convention. Either that or there is someone at Tim Hortons down the street saying to their coffee companion, “Those people at the blue church down the road must have all forgot to do their laundry yesterday”!
If you didn’t get the memo or have been away these past few weeks, today is Team Jersey Sunday and this is all my fault. I asked everyone to wear their favorite jerseys this morning. This idea came to me some time ago from a conversation I had with some other clergy. We were all talking about a topic that I’m sure you have probably discussed around the dinner table. “what has led to the decline of attendance at our churches over the years?” No one will argue that there are less people here than there were 20 or 30 years ago. This faith community is what it is due to that very fact. One of the reasons that came out of our discussions was sports and extra curricular activities. That young children and families are involved in so much on the weekends that the traditional Sunday morning between 8 and 11am doesn’t fit. Almost in jest, someone in our group said, “Maybe we should take out the pews and put in an ice rink”.
As I though about that discussion I realized what that conversation was about and what we were doing. We were grappling with the truth that the culture of the world we were living in, was now dictating how the culture of how the church was used to existing in. There was a day when it was the opposite. The church dictated what the culture should do. Now it was the other way around.
So instead of building an ice rink or a baseball diamond or a soccer field, the idea of wearing our team jerseys seemed to be the next best thing. As we gather today in our jerseys, and we see each other in our different colors and logos, we are reminded of who we are outside of the doors of this building. More so, we are reminded of where God, in Jesus Christ, is outside of this building.
When it comes to living as a people of faith we are called to be in the world. This was Gods great gift in Jesus. That God would enter the world in the person of Jesus and share in the life of his creation. God is not apart from the culture and the world. God, in Jesus is in the world. Living and breathing, blessing and transforming, redeeming and loving. And its happening through you and I his disciples. Jesus is very much alive and manifest in world. What we do today is to come as a sign (in our team jerseys) that when we are out there living as fans of ( the leaf’s…or…….) God is in the midst that.
And when God is in the midst of anything in Gods world, we know there is life. We know there is love. We know there is hope. We know that Jesus is exactly where Jesus always chose to be…right there in the midst of the people. In the centre of where people gathered. In the places where families met. Where young and old, healthy and sick, rich and poor shared space.
When I was doing the Anova walk last month where men from the community walked around Victoria Park in red high heel shoes to support the women’s shelter, we were approached by a couple of guys. (I think you may have met them here last spring). Rev Kevin and I were wearing my clergy collar so they came right up to us and said, “How do you think Jesus would feel about you walking around in women’s shoes” Our reply was, Jesus would have been right here in the middle of all this.” Jesus was right in the middle of this.
The Jerseys today are to get us to see, that whatever team we attach ourselves too out there, always includes being part of team Jesus.
But its even more than that. Wearing these jerseys today also gives us the opportunity to think about what it means to be part of Jesus’ team.
The truth is that there are some things sports fans can teach us ... if we are willing to learn. The word “fan” is a shortened form of “fanatic.” * A fanatic is “one who is unreasonably enthusiastic or overly zealous, going beyond what is reasonable.” How would our communities and families and workplaces be given life if Jesus disciples lived like a fan!
SPORTS FANS ARE FAITHFUL ... THEY DON’T CONFORM!
Sports fans like to identify with their team! Just like you today, they have hats, shirts, socks, even underwear with the logos of their favorite teams on them.(I wont ask you to show those off!) They don’t mind being different ... They enjoy being the only one in a crowd with the logo of their team on it! They are “representing.” Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, wore his North Carolina Tar Heel gym shorts under his uniform while he was winning championships for the Chicago Bulls.
Are we, as Jesus fans, striving to represent the ways of being the people of God he calls us to be? When the world says there isn’t enough are we representing God’s vision of abundance for all. When the world says evil is winning the day, are we representing as the resurrection people we are and knowing that God has defeated death and sin? When the world says the strong will win the day, will we speak out and say no..it is in our humility and our weakness that the world is given life. that the meek will inherit the earth?
Jesus team is Faithful….we will not conform.
SPORTS FANS ARE SPENDERS ... THEY DON’T WITHHOLD!
Every year during the Christmas holidays and New Year’s, thousands of fans follow their college teams to a “bowl” game. Fans invest billions a year on merchandise to fly their teams colors.
Can we be the spenders? Not of money (although that never hurts), but more importantly spenders of the very grace that God has shown to us. Spenders of forgiveness to our enemies, givers of grace and mercy to those who don’t expect it, dispensers of our time and our gifts to the most vulnerable in our midst, providers of a voice to those who have no voice….
Jesus team are spenders…they do not withhold.
SPORTS FANS ARE PASSIONATE - THEY DON’T GIVE UP! Despite the losses…we still keep coming back. Look at my Jersey…I’ve never laid eyes on a celebration to the promised land…..yet I still show up, and watch, and grumble and cheer in the small victories.. And im sure you in your jerseys do too.
Despite the brokenness and evil in gods world and regardless of how creation seems to look like through our lens…we still show up, we take part in our world and we grumble and we cheer the small victories. And we do that because we are a people of hope.
The story is told of a young pastor fresh out of seminary who began his ministry in a small country church. He arrived with a wealth of knowledge about the bible and theology and church history and he was so eager to impart all he knew . he went to visit a parishioner on his farm and when he arrived the old man was sitting on his porch smoking a pipe and reading the bible.
“What-cha reading there old timer” The man looked up and said, “The book of Revelation.”
Well that’s a very deep and nuanced theological piece of work. From all the metaphor and simile and story and imagery, what do you consider to be the point of the book?”
The old man plucked the pipe out of s mouth and stared at the young cleric for a moment and said “God wins”
Jesus team is passionate. They don’t give up on Gods world because God doesn’t give up on them. They live in hope.
In a few minutes we will walk forward as the diverse and varied people we are. And as we make our way to the Lords table, I invite you to look and see. Because no matter what colors or logos we wore into this place today and regardless of who we will cheer for when we leave, our journey to the table is a symbol of what it will look like when God wins the day. The day when all of Gods people in their variety and diversity will gather together as one. And when that day comes…all will be part of the celebratory parade of the victory of our God.
And that day my friends, is why we pull on our team Jesus jersey go out into the world and play the game.
Homily October 14, 2018
Mark 10: 17-31
A friend of mine likes to tell the story of being a small boy in an old country parish. It was a small church and he always used to sit about 100 yards from the high altar. He remembers being fascinated with the mystery of the Eucharist. These were in the days when the priests back was to the congregation and he was always wide eyed as he watched the movements of the priest blessing the bread and wine. But one of the most baffling parts of the service always came at the end. After the bread and wine had been served and the priest had moved everything from the altar over to the side table, he would once again turn his back to the congregation and make some circular motions with his hands, and then he would sit down. For years my friend tried to figure out what mystical incantations were taking place at that moment in the corner. Then one day the priest asked him if he would like to be a server. He jumped at the opportunity to finally see for himself what was happening in the corner after communion. The service seemed to take forever, when finally the priest started clearing the altar and placing the empty chalice on the corner table my friends heart started to race. This is it. The mystery was going to be unveiled. The priest turned his back to the congregation, reached out his arms and my friends mouth dropped as he watched he watched the old priest…grab hold of the knobs of the thermostat and turn off the heat.
I think on some level we are all captivated with those things that hold a mystery. We want to uncover the secrets. Who doesn’t enjoy the masked magician on TV who shows us how to really saw someone in half? And there’s nothing like a good mystery novel to take on vacation.
Perhaps if we understood how and why things work the way they work we’d feel more at ease in life. Maybe if we could wrap our heads around the mysteries of the universe it would give us more of a sense of accomplishment. Or could it be that it is innate and even natural to our human condition to be inquisitive.
God and Gods ways are a mystery. More often than not they don’t make sense and we can find ourselves scratching our heads to understand why God works in mysterious ways and what it all means for us.
According to Marks gospel, Jesus was approached by a man who was searching for an understanding to a spiritual mystery. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He’s heard Jesus knows a thing or two about God and Gods ways so he comes to Jesus in hopes of being able to get the answer.
I had a spiritual director who once told me to listen closely to peoples questions because that’s an instant doorway to their heart. that he learns more about a person by the questions that they ask.
The question we hear in our gospel reading reveals much about this man to Jesus, which is why Jesus responds the way he does. This is a man who can afford the luxury of asking questions about the good-life-to-come because he doesn't have to worry about the life-he-already-has. His mortgage is paid off. His creditors have been looked after. His stock portfolio is positive. He is secure in the knowledge that he has everything he needs; and he simply wants to know how he can have more.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life”
'Inherit' is an interesting word. The root for it in Greek means 'to inherit a piece of land'. This man simply assumes that eternal life is something he can acquire just as he has been able to acquire his riches.
Which is where Jesus stops him dead in his tracks.
When the man asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life Jesus reminds him of the short list of the commandments. But Jesus specifically tells him the commandments which have to do with our relationship to our neighbor.
When we read the story carefully we notice that Jesus changes one of the commandments we all learned in Sunday School.
ON THE SCREEN
'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness.'
Right so far. But, then, instead of adding the next commandment, "You shall not covet," Jesus changes the list and says to the man,
'You shall not defraud; . . ."
Now, why would Jesus want to go and do a thing like that, you ask? Why replace: 'You shall not covet' with 'You shall not defraud'?
Remember the young man's question - "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" This man had no doubt inherited most of what he owned; and, since what made most people rich in those days was owning property, we can assume that when Mark says "he had many possessions" he meant that he had "many properties". And since most wealthy landowners in those days became more wealthy by acquiring the land of their debt-defaulting neighbors we can understand that no one who had "many properties" had not become wealthy except at the expense of other people.
Jesus isn’t reprimanding the guy because he had possessions. There is nothing wrong with having things. The problems come with our attitudes toward those things we possess. And its not just “stuff” we possess a lot of things in our lives. We possess knowledge, wisdom, compassion, love, patience…(although driving in this city tests that on most days) As we accumulate, its easy to be seduced into believing that our security and comfort come from our possessions, rather than trusting that our comfort and security is first and foremost from God.
It was no accident, therefore, that Jesus decides to edit the Commandments for this man's benefit. Jesus knows why the man is wealthy, and he wants the man to know what he can do with what he has, so that he can truly enter into Gods world. Jesus wants the man to truly understand what it is to become a whole human being…… and be part of the vision that God has for Gods creation.
Go, sell what you own (because the only reason you have what you do is because someone else does not have..the scales are tipped in your favor) and give the money to the poor.
He is to give back to those he has taken from….Even out the scales.
John Shea is a theologian and storyteller and author who once shared a story about the powerful instinct within us to possess things. "He was in Oklahoma City when he was a young man, fresh on the speakers' circuit. He had just finished his talk, and people were coming up to ask questions. He writes,
“An old native American man suddenly stood in front of me. He had a large and elaborate belt buckle in his hands. It was a swirl of multi-coloured beads. Someone had spent their time and talents and gifts to create this beautiful piece. 'Please accept this gift.
He was a little taken aback, but had a quick response: 'Thank you. It's beautiful. But I can't accept it.
The man looked puzzled 'Why not?'
John Shea is not a small man. In his discomfort he pointed to his large waistline 'Well, would you want to call attention to this stomach with a large, beautiful belt buckle,'
The old man did not smile. He simply extended the belt buckle again. 'Please accept this,' he said again.
'It's too expensive,' Shea said, defaulting to his upbringing that taught him not to take expensive presents from people. The belt buckle was hand-crafted and had a look of elegance about it.
'You know,' said the man, 'you can give it to someone else.'
John Shea accepted the belt buckle.
Why does it not occur to us that the things we receive on our life journeys, where they be material, or spiritual, are not meant to be held onto but to be given away?
According to Jesus, we will know and see Gods kingdom, only when we take steps to do something about the way the goods are equally distributed among all of Gods children.
The only way to be fully and completely human is to let go of what you were not meant to possess. Jesus was so confident in the power of letting go, that he gave up his life so that his Fathers kingdom could be ushered in. Now he waits for us, his disciples to bring it to fruition.
Jesus, through his challenge to the man we meet today, has uncovered a great truth for all of us. For those of us who seek God every day, who pray for Gods kingdom to come to this world, and who want to know that there is more to this life than what we can hold in our hands, Jesus has challenged us to see what we have been given by God, and to see that all we have is ours, only because it has been given.
And then once we identify it, to find ways to go out and give it away. That may be our stuff….but it may also be our love, our compassion our time. What do you have that you can give away so that your neighbor may share in the wealth?
Let us humble ourselves enough to let God rule our lives and to live out our discipleship, seeing Gods kingdom as our first priority. When we can do that we will discover the answer to the mystery. We will discover eternal life.
Mark 9:38-50 Pentecost 18
An ancient king once asked his three daughters how much they loved him. One daughter said she loved him more than all the gold in the world. One said she loved him more than all the silver in the world. The youngest daughter said she loved him more than salt. The king was not pleased with this answer. But the cook overheard the conversation, so the next day he prepared a good meal for the king, but left out the salt. The food was so bland that the king couldn't eat it. Then he understood what his daughter meant. He understood the value of salt.
In the ancient world salt was a valuable and scarce commodity. It was used as currency in some countries even into modern times. Archeologists have discovered blocks of salt stored in bank vaults along with other forms of currency.
Today, Jesus tells us to have salt within ourselves. To be the vessels that can dispense value outside of us. Considering the value of salt, Jesus is calling us into quite a mission .
But then Jesus asks, "What good is salt if it has lost its flavor, if it no longer seasons food?" While it’s a great compliment to see his followers as possessing great value, Jesus also knows that if they don’t share that value with others, then they are not fully mindful of what that value means to the world.
"What good is it to be a follower of mine if there is nothing distinctive about your life? If by following me you make no real contribution to the life of the world, if there is no holy power flowing through your life and actions, what's the use of calling yourself my disciples?"
When I was a kid McDonalds did a very successful ad campaign by giving away backpacks and book bags with the slogan “Me, I’m the one”. While I’m not blaming the golden arches for all the problems of the world, I am very aware that I am part of an entire generation that was convinced that “I” was more important than “Them”.
The notion that “I” was the centre of all things and that “I” should do all I can to ensure that “I” was getting ahead and being successful and that “I” needed to safeguard “My” best interest was paramount.
And the powers of the world do a very good job of telling us that this is the way to salvation. The advertisers will tell you that you will be satisfied when you have the newest car or visit the best resort. The government will tell you that you’ll be fine when their policies are accepted. The investment gurus will tell you you’ll find peace when you have this amount of money to retire.
I dare say that same inner lens has crept its way into our spiritual lives as well. Salvation is often understood in terms of my personal salvation. Whether “I” will be saved, whether ‘I” will be judged worthy, whether “I” will make it to heaven.
The worlds standard is to take care of the individual first, then you can go ahead and worry about the others and their needs.
But this is not God’s standards. This is not Jesus vision. This is not the way to true salvation and the creation of a world where justice, peace and wholeness will be realized.
Jesus takes that whole idea of “Me I’m the One”, and flips that concept on its head. He has his followers consider a new way. A way in which their value to the world does not rely on seasoning themselves, but rather relies on knowing that God is seasoning the world through them.
With stark language he hammers in the concept of how far his followers must go to ensure that the world experiences and sees the flavour of the salt that God is shaking on the world through us.
I was having dinner at Crabby Joes on Oxford and Wonderland on Wednesday and the Leafs Canadians game was on. The Toronto scored a goal and the place erupted. One guy yells out, “when the Leafs win the Stanley Cup I’m shaving my head and tattooing Mike Babcock’s face on my bald skull! A bit overstated but we all get his point! This is Jesus today. Using strong overstated language to make his point of how valuable his followers are in giving life to a world that so
"If your hand offends you; cut it off. If your eye offends you; pluck it out. Jesus is making the point that his followers go above and beyond the expected. He taught his disciples that the righteousness to which he called them was a righteousness that exceeds the worlds understanding and makes the world perk up and take notice.
That’s why Christians serve and minister in prisons, hospitals, warzones, homeless shelters and deathbeds. The world says, stay away from those scary seedy places and people. Jesus says, you’re salt..go into those places and be with those people so they may taste the kingdom of God.
As that salt is sprinkled, the world can’t help but “Taste and See” that the Lord is good.
I read somewhere that a new Guinness Record had been set for the shortest sermon. One Episcopal priest stood up one Sunday morning, walked to his pulpit, stood there for a moment, said one word, LOVE, and then sat down. I know, some of you would like for me to attempt a sermon like that some day. But he did say what is at the heart of our faith.
The whole purpose of the Christian faith is to reveal to the world the love of God for the world and to invite people to receive that love and to share it with others.
There is a time honored story about a pastor who was supposedly a great lover of children. One day he looked at the sidewalk leading up to his house that had been freshly poured. Some youngsters were playing in it and leaving footprints in the fresh cement. He rushed out and yelled at the children.
Someone said to him; "Well pastor, we thought you liked children."
He said, "Yes, I love them in the abstract but not in the concrete."
The world is looking for concrete demonstrations of Christian love in action. The world desperately needs to see our love in action. Of what value is our faith if our love isn't stronger: our love for one another and our love for the world? Our love needs to be big enough to take in the whole world. Love can be so petty and so self-centred. Let’s not get caught up in empty claims that our phone company or credit card card company “love us” because we are their customers.
Because when we love more than the world loves, then we ensure our salt does not stay in salt shaker. When we love ore than the world does, that love penetrates into the world.
Salt penetrates the meat and becomes a part of the entire steak. Love penetrates a person’s mind body and soul and resides as part of that individual. We are called to penetrate the world in which we are set. If we do not, of what value are we? If we do not love, more than the world has the capacity to love, Gods beloved children will live in darkness and with hope.
Dis you watch the royal wedding of Harry and Megan. What do you remember most. It probably wasn’t the vows or the music or the fancy hats. If it was the sermon you are not alone. Bishop Michael Curry (Anglican by the way…just saying) made the world stand up and take notice. He flavoured millions of souls with a message about LOVE. Ive heard a ton of wedding sermons about love, I’ve preached a few…but this one penetrated people to the core.
"There's power in love. There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
"There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
"There's power in love to show us the way to live.
"Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
"A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world - and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
"I'm talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.
You and I are salt; with a higher standard FOR living not a higher standard OF living, a higher standard for loving. A love that penetrates creation and becomes alive in all people we are put in contact with every day on our journey.
And the best part is, that the more we season the world with the power of Gods love, we will find that all our needs will be met. And that, Jesus promises, is true salvation.
Homily- September 23, 2018
These are a few funny signs I saw on the internet this week.
Caution, Water on Road During Rain
Our Public bar is presently not open…because it is closed
Anyone exiting through this door will be asked to leave.
Some signs are a lot clearer than others. Sign are meant to point us in the right direction or give us helpful information to lead us to our proper destination. And Jesus was a master of using signs. Especially today when we remember the story about Jesus picking up a child and saying, “'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
What sign could be more obvious than a child. Which one of us sitting here today would be against welcoming a child. Seems Jesus is pretty clear….if you love kids that means you love me. We can all get on board with that.
No one really has problems with children do they?
Yet something struck me odd about just what was going on that day in Palestine when Jesus up the held up the child to his disciples. It was an odd thing to do because it came after they were arguing about greatness. Specifically, they were arguing about which one of them was the greatest. and in response to their argument, Jesus used a child as an example of what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.
It struck me odd because this is not consistent with the Jesus we so often encounter in the gospels. More often than not, the Jesus we see never stated the obvious. The disciples were always confused by what he saying.
The Jesus we meet often turned things upside down when he speaks to people. He returns questions in response to other people’s questions.
He tells stories instead of giving straight answers to people who try to pin him down. And above all - Jesus defies conventional wisdom about how the world operates and suggests that we need to do things that are the exact opposite.
"They who would save their life will lose it, “
"They would be first, must be last."
The giving of the shirt when someone takes your jacket?
Today: "Whoever receive a little child like this, receives Me."
Todays passage only makes sense if child he held up and the welcoming of that child were not so obvious.
As a colleague of mine likes to say, “If the gospel does not shock you, you’re reading it wrong.
In Jesus day, children were not important as they are today. More than half of them did not live to be adults. Many children were killed at birth (particularly girl's). Others were simply put out in the field to starve to death. In times of shortages of food, children were fed last. These were things people did because they felt they had to do them to survive. Moreover, children had no rights. Parents could do to them whatever they thought necessary to make the children obedient or to force them to work for the family. It was not a good time to be a child. Children, along with tax collectors and sinners were considered to be second-class citizens.
So in that context, Jesus saying "Whoever receive a little child like this, receives Me." Would have been shocking.
They were shocking words to those in Jesus day and they should be shocking to us because the gospel is saying that embracing Jesus; that saying that we are accepting of Jesus and Jesus message means that we have to welcome and be in relationship with those who are outside of our personal comfort zone. To truly say, I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior is to seek out and be in relationship with the very ones that we view as being on the outside of our circles of safety.
The greatest followers of Jesus are not the ones who have a perfect attendance record on Sunday. They are not the ones who write the biggest cheques, or say the most prayers or even get to wear the big white collars and fancy robes. That’s not how “greatest” is defined in Gods vision of the world.
If the gospel doesn’t shock you…your’re not reading it right.
Once upon a time these was a Squire who longed to be a knight.
He wanted to serve his king and be the most honorable and noble
knight who ever lived. At his knighting he was so overcome by
dedication that he made a special oath. He vowed to bow his
knees and lift his arms in homage only to his king.
This knight was give the task of guarding a city on the frontier
of the kingdom. Every day he stood at attention by the gate of
the city in full armour.
Years passed. One day as he was standing at attention guarding
his post a peasant woman passed by with goods for the market.
Her cart turned over spilling potatoes and carrots and onions
everywhere. The woman hurried to get them all back in her cart.
But the knight wouldn't help the poor woman. He just stood at
attention lest he break his vow by bending his knees to help pick
up the woman's goods.
Time passed and one day a man with one leg was passing by and his crutch broke. "Good knight, sir, reach down and help me up."
But the knight would not stoop or lift a hand to help lest he
break his vow.
Years and decades passed, the knight was getting old. One day his grandson came by and said, "Grandpa pick me up and take me to the fair." But he would not stoop lest he break his vow to the king Finally after many, many, years the king came to visit and inspect the knight. As the king approached the knight just stood there at attention. The king inspected him as he stood there, but then he noticed that the knight was crying. You are one of the noblest knights I have ever seen why do you cry? “Your majesty, I took a vow that I would bow and lift my arms in homage only to you but I am unable to keep my vow. These years have done their work and the joint of my armour are rusted. I cannot lift my arms or bend my knees.
The King replied, " My servant. Your devotion is second to none and I am grateful. But perhaps if you had knelt down to help all those who passed by, and lifted your arms to embrace all those who came to you, you would have been able to keep your vow to pay me homage today."
If we want to receive the kingdom, we must receive the King. The King of the kingdom of God, is not received by pomp and circumstance and the lure of power Our King, Jesus, is received by humility and servitude - he is received by forgetting about self and entering into the needs of others.
Greatness in the eyes of Jesus is found in the willingness of his disciples to receive, to accept, and indeed to really welcome those they would normally consider un- receivable, unacceptable, and unwelcome.
The king was saying to his disciples, To receive a child is to receive a vision.
Jesus was calling his disciples to a radical new vision of what the Kingdom of God is all about -- a radical new vision of how life can be and will be when God’s vision and Gods dream for the world is realized.
By holding up the child, in the context of an argument about bigger, better, best, Jesus is once again challenging the status quo and calling on his followers to a revision of what it is to live as Gods people in Gods Kingdom.
Despite their lower status, regardless of their inability to contribute and in spite of what they don’t have, children are a sign of worth in Gods Kingdom because they are outsiders.
If we are to live as a Christian community that is a sign in the world that God’s reign is up-and-coming, and that a new world is dawning that promises peace, justice, abundance for all, then it is time to set aside the arguments about power and wealth and prestige and self-importance.
In Gods kingdom, there is no time for bickering about greatness or for arguing about status and prestige. There is no place for defining what is power and authority based on how the world defines it.
The signs of the kingdom will not be obvious for all to see. Jesus calls us, the church, to make them clear. Those signs will be people and things that God holds up as worthy and life giving, so that through them, we will see a vision of what the world can ultimately become. be. A world that is Renewed, Communities that are transformed and lives that are saved.
In all we do and in the way we live with each other, Let us be a community of Jesus followers that has the courage to carry those signs.
Homily Sept 16 2018 (Mark 8:26-37)
Pentecost 15 Year B
I was recently sitting in the office of a clergy friend. The room was covered with pictures and artwork of different biblical stories. There was a picture of Jesus giving the sermon on the Mount, Moses with the 10 commandments, St. Paul preaching in the acropolis in Athens. There was one photograph that jumped out at me. It was an overhead picture of the city of Bethlehem on Christmas day in 2005. It was beautiful to gaze at the landscape of the city and its buildings. Over 65 000 people had gathered on this day to celebrate the birth of Jesus. AS I looked closely at the picture I noticed something askew. There in the background., floating above the crowds and the glory of the holy city, on this, the holiest of days, was a gigantic Tweety Bird balloon!
I asked, “why do you have this picture” he said, I love it because it reminds me of a great theological truth.” Being a person that makes jokes to relieve uncomfortable circumstances I replied, “What , that the gospel writers forgot one important player outside of the shepherds and the wise men.?” He said, No, it reminds me that the gospel isn’t always what we expect.”
My friend makes a great point. When we read the gospels, or the Old Testament stories, or any other parts of our holy scripture, often we are confronted with things that don’t fit.
Take our story this morning from Marks gospel.
Peter always seems to be the one who struggled the most with trying to get his head around this whole life he’s living with Jesus, and this occasion is no different. We have this great scene from Marks gospel of the disciples walking with Jesus. Jesus asks them the question, “Who do people say that I am”. Everyone has an answer. You’re John the Baptist, you’re the prophet Elijah..no, you’re one of the other prophets come back to life. Everybody had a vision of who Jesus was. But it was Peter who seems to get it right.
Peter recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah. Yet no sooner does Peter get a clear understanding of what this all about, then Jesus throws the Tweety bird into the picture. Immediately Jesus starts to go on about how he, the Messiah, must undergo great suffering and be killed. This just doesn’t fit into Peter’s picture of how things should look. Peter can’t see the link between Messiah and suffering.
Messiah meant salvation from oppression. Messiah meant freedom from captivity. Messiah meant God had heard the cries of God’s people and was acting to relieve the misery. Peter was in the midst of Gods action because the one promised was with him. Yet the very one standing beside him. The one he’s been eating and sleeping and traveling with who represents all of those wonderful truths is saying “I have to suffer” I have to be handed over to the ruling class of the day. Jesus is saying that the very ones I am here to free you from, are the ones that will cause the pain.
That’s a tough one for us as well. I think it’s the biggest challenge that we are forced to wrestle with as a people of faith. We profess a faith in a God who created the world and when God was finished, looked it over and labeled it “Good”. We give our hearts to a God who loves and has compassion for the world. A God who wants for justice for humankind. A God who encompasses peace and salvation and wants to deliver us from evil and rescue and restore us from all that hold us captive.
Yet when we look around that’s not what we see. Instead of a world of peace we have war. Instead of a world giving life, we witness people dying with and often for nothing.
This past week recalled the senseless and evil events of September 11. This weekend we’ve been watching hurricane Florence batter the Southern United states, a reminder of how our world can suddenly rear its ugly head and trigger senseless loss of life and massive destruction. Even as a Christian community we all know the sense of fear and helplessness when we hear the news of brothers and sisters suffering, or when we are forced to face our own suffering.
It’s so hard to connect those two isn’t it? God who created all that is good and who loves creation, with a world that is off course and continually disappoints. The 2 just don’t fit.
The good news we see in the gospel today is that the work of connecting Gods love for the world with the brokenness of the world, has already been done. You see,
we no longer have to carry the burden because God has connected those two things. God has attached himself to us and attached himself to all creation in the person of Jesus Christ!
If left up to us, we would constantly be obsessed with the suffering. Through our lens we only see the world from a human point of view. As Jesus says to Peter, if we only set our minds only on human things; things that we feel we must try to figure out and be in control of, then we will not mindful of heavenly things; things that God is doing with us and for us.
Every day, 7 year old Emily walked back and forth to school. One morning her mother looked out the window and saw a few clouds forming overhead. Although the skies were questionable she decided to let Emily walk the three blocks to class. As she kissed her daughter goodbye the winds started to pick up, but she thought Emily could make it before the storm actually hit. About half way down the block the sky lit up and mom say a flash of lightning in the distance. Full of concern she threw on her shoes, searched the closet for her umbrella and raced out the door. She could see little Emily a block away. Every time the lightening filled the sky, Emily would stop in her tracks, run her hands through her hair and just smile. What she is doing, her mother thought. I’ve told her time and time again if you see lightening run to a nearby home or look for shelter. As mom got closer to her daughter another flash of lightening filled the dark sky and once again Emily stopped, looked up and smiled at the sky. When her mom finally reached here she grabbed her daughter by the arm and scolded her. What are you doing young lady? Can’t you see you’re in the middle of a lightening storm? Its dangerous out in the middle of the street.
Little Emily answered, “I was just trying to look pretty cause God keeps taking my picture.
If we are only staring at the danger of storms, we will miss seeing what God is doing in the storms.
The suffering, the storms of life, the hardships that fall upon us are real. And if we had our own way we would choose to just ignore them altogether. That was Peters reaction when Jesus forced him to look at the suffering that Jesus would have to walk through. Peter said,” No, I’m not going there.”
Yet Jesus has Peter refocus his lens…Jesus points Peter to not be fixated on all the suffering and the brokenness of the world, but rather to see God within the suffering
Our faith life, as followers of Christ, is a call to point to the grace and mercy that exists within the brokenness of our world. Our life in Christ is to hold up God’s presence and be focused on the light that exists in the darkness.
If we only focus on the evil of those who slammed planes into the world trade Centre, we would not see the compassion and selfless love of those who ran into the burning building.
If we only focus on what will be lost by a hurricane, we are not focused on what can be given out of our abundance to rebuild and support those who have lost.
And when our brother and sisters in Christ and those we love enter into suffering, Jesus calls us not to ask why these hard things are happening, but rather to set our minds on how we can enter into their suffering with them and provide hope, compassion and love.
That which is of God is visible for us if we are willing to see. The kingdom of God is built by those who setting their minds on heavenly things. God has not abandoned Gods creation. In Jesus, we see that God has entered into Gods creation, as broken as it sometimes seems, so that it can be saved. Set your mind on heavenly things. Perhaps we, like Peter will discover that the very things we don’t want to see become the very things that save us.
September 9, 2018
Mark 7: 24-37
Some years ago we took a family vacation to Kalahari Water Park in Sandusky Ohio. It’s a huge resort hotel, themed in African décor that boasts America’s biggest indoor water park. 170 thousand square feet of water rides that will shoot you through tunnels, race you on mats through dark tunnels and shoot you straight down at 90 degrees into a huge bowl of water. They name the rides so you know right away whether they fit your need for speed. The Zip Coaster, The Tanzanian Twister, Zimbabwe Zipper and the Swahili Swirl. For those of us with queasy stomachs there are more gentle attractions like The lazy River which slowly floats you on an inner tube, or the wave pool where you can sit on the edge of the water and enjoy the gentle rolling water lapping at your feet. So while the kids were spending the day thrill seeking, Margie and I found our favorite ride which is called “Reclining Lawn Chair under Gazebo next to Beverage Hut”
Of course as the day drifted on there came the inevitable line from the kids “Don’t just lay here all day, come and check out some rides.” So I cased the place and decided to try the ride with the least chance of instant death. At least the people that were coming out of the tunnel at the bottom were laughing. So we climbed a few stories to the top of a tower and prepared to climb into a 4 person raft that would take us for our ride through the tunnel. I don’t know if it was because I had been motionless on a lawn chair for most of the day or if I’m just a clumsy oaf, but as I was lifting my right leg into the raft, My left foot slipped and for a split second, myself envisioned myself plummeting through this dark wet tunnel, without a raft, tumbling and spinning to the bottom. But I didn’t. What I felt was one hand on my lower back and another on my shoulder, steadying me and setting me back on my feet. Relieved but completely embarrassed I thanked the 18 year old lifeguard. He laughed and said “No Worries, that’s why we’re here.”
It’s comforting to know that when you lose your footing, sway off balance and seem destined for a fall, that there is someone there that can help steady you, get you upright again and rescue you from certain disaster. It’s good to have someone stand in the gap for you. Those hard to get to spaces, those cracks and holes we get stuck in from time to time.
We have a coffee table in our living room with tiny slits around the edges. Ever try to get a crumb or some dust or cat hair out of these little cracks? The only way is to have a pair of tweezers or a toothpick. Something to use as a go between to help get it out.
We all have fallen into them at some point in our lives. Once you fall into them, getting out of them can become complicated We know that our rides through life will take us to places where we will get stuck. Perhaps you are in that place right now. Stuck in financial worries, health crises, family disputes. Caught in a sense of sadness that you just can’t shake. An awareness within yourself that the person you see in the mirror every morning has lost their way. Perhaps there is someone in your life who this very day is off balance and who you know is ready to fall. Someone who is unemployed addicted, in an unhealthy or abusive relationship. Someone who is stuck in a place where they can’t see a way out and whose only recourse is to grind through the day.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus meets head-on, those who were trapped in the gap.
Could they be anymore helpless? In the Jewish world the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, who comes from other side of the tracks would be invisible enough, but to add to it that she is full of a demon would ostracize her even more. A deaf man who would be shunned because of his condition and deemed sinful due to his illness. These people not able to do anything for themselves to acquire relief from their affliction. This is first century Palestine. There are no ambulances, hospitals, pain killers or 1- 800 help lines. People are used to getting sick and then dying. Of not being cured of their diseases.
You may not know his name but you are probably familiar with his famous character. Michael Clark Duncan played John Coffey in the film The Green Mile staring Tom Hanks. His character in the movie was a death row inmate who was nothing like he seemed. Standing 6 foot 6 and weighing 300 lbs, at first look, one would presume he was an angry violent monster. But we find out very quickly that he is in fact a gentle giant with the mysterious ability to heal. Part of the story is that the wife of the jails Warden is becoming seriously ill, and despite all his influence and power he has not found a way to help her. He finds himself in the gap. Helpless, afraid, and seemingly alone. Even though he has a healer in his prison, he can’t understand how this giant of a killer could be the one to save his wife. And this is where we see the grace that is involved in this mans life. It takes the prison guards, a group of witnesses who had experienced the healing power of this giant man, to sneak him out of death row and bring him to his wife’s bedside so she may be healed. It took someone else, to stand in the gap and act so that new life could be given. It took another to bring the healing to the place where it was needed most. And through this gentle giant named John Coffeyy (initials J.C.), not only was the woman saved, but the Warden, who could not believe because he had not seen, was opened to seeing the world differently.
When trials afflict us, when disaster strikes, when troubles arrive on our doorsteps we need someone to ask for Gods saving help. We cant always do it on our own. We have a need, as hard as it is to admit, we have a need for others.
The demon possessed daughter had no voice as she sat in the gap. . The deaf mute was invisible to the world around him and as deep in a crevice as one could be.
Yet each seemed to have someone. It took the girls mother, as unlikely a source as could be, to stand in the gap with faith and conviction, and ask for Gods saving help. It took a few friends to stand in the gap and bring the healing touch of Jesus to this man so that he could be freed from his chains.
My friends, the good news we celebrate today, and every time we gather together, is that God has fulfilled our need. God has ensured that we have someone to stand in the gap. God has given us, through the waters of our baptism, the Body of Christ. This family of brothers and sisters, comprised of the young and old, male and female. This collection of the people of God who come from a variety of different backgrounds, various and diverse roads, unique and shared experience. What we see here week after week is a true sign of Gods love for us in those God has drawn together through Jesus. Despite our geography, race, politics, education, career and anything else that has the potential to separate us, God has brought together to walk up this isle week after week and touch and feel the one who stands in the gap for all humankind. Jesus Christ our Lord and our friend. This place is more than a place to go to church. This place is here so that we can be the church. That’s a powerful message to take from this place. So that we can live as people of God for each other, so that we can go out these doors and stand in the gaps of those who we know are in need. God has a lot invested in us. And because of that, we can be assured that God will do amazing and marvelous things through us.
We, working together with each other, with a devotion to God, and each other, will be agents of change in our community and our broken world that so desperately yearns for someone to stand with it when it falls.
Next Sunday is back to Church Sunday. A day set aside to invite a friend to church. Not for the sake of the church, but for the sake of the friend. Because God loves them and because God needs them. And mostly because God knows when they stumble they will need a guiding hand to steady them and say
“No worries, That’s why we’re here.”
September 2, 2018
Pentecost 14 Yr. B
As a child of the 1970’s, most of what I know about life came from watching TV. Anything I know about classical music I learned from watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.
My favorite show was happy Days. Every 10 year old boy dreamed of being The Fonz. The coolest guy on TV.
The Happy days show began every week with the opening theme song and pictures and snippets of the characters. The one I loved the most was the Fonz walking up to a mirror. In the back pocket of his jeans is a black comb. He saunters up to the mirror, pulls out the comb, looks at himself and gestures as if to say, “There is absolutely nothing wrong with all of this” and puts he comb back int his pocket. There’s nothing one can do when you’re staring at perfection!
I guess a day doesn’t go by when we don’t pass by mirrors in our lives. Mirrors in which we see images of ourselves, our families, our communities, our church.
If we’re being honest, most of us don’t see perfection staring back at us. Just the opposite. It’s easy to be quite critical of what we see. The world we live in often times seems so broken and scarred.
I saw a survey recently that asked “as a Canadian do you think things are better or worse than 20 years ago. 7 out of ten said worse.
When we look at ourselves we often see our imperfections or our failures and our sins? When we look at the other we see their sins. When we look at our communities we notice our collective failures or the brokenness of the world around us? When we look into our church do we see all that isn’t here or available to us. I would wager that for many of us today the answer to that question is yes. Most of us go through our daily lives only seeing that which needs to be fixed or problems to be solved. The danger that exists in that way is that the flaws and defects become the only vision we have.
You may be familiar with the Greek myth of Narcissus? He was the boy who after a broken love affair, wandered off into the forest and found a crystal-clear pool of water to drink from. When he bent down he saw his own face and became so enamored with his reflection that it consumed his whole being. In time he died a slow and lonely death because he could not break free from his image. The tragedy of he myth is that he was never able to love again.
This can happen to anyone who gets too obsessed with one vision. It can get to the point where we only see “out of order” signs on everything. We can become closed in to protect ourselves. Our vision becomes one of self preservation based on the world’s inability to give us order.
But we are not the subject of Greek myth. We are not a 70’s TV character. We are not bound for eternity to be entranced by the brokenness of the world. We are first and foremost children of God. Gathered here today we are followers of Jesus. And as God’s beloved, as disciples of the One who points to a new vision for ourselves and for God’s world. We have been given a mirror to stare into that reflects back to us the goodness and wholeness that God intends us to see.
That very vision that God has given to us to stare at is reflected in our scripture readings this morning.
All of them give us pause to reflect on how and what we see. The bible is full of beautiful imagery and story and metaphor, specifically written so that Gods people could work out an understanding of how to realize and view God and God’s creation. This was very meaningful to the people of the time because they lived in a world quite different from our own. Its not uncommon to hear someone today ask “Do you believe in God”? That question didn’t exist back then. The question that was asked was “Which God do you believe in?” in that context life wasn’t about proving God as much as it was about trying to understand God. To know that was to try and make sense of the realm that exists outside of themselves.
Our first reading comes from “The Song of Solomon” A biblical book of poems about human love. This short book is a snapshot of how God sees that part of our human experience. It is a picture to help us see how God sees you, his beloved.
The man and the woman in the poem are in harmony with each other. They exist in a garden, like the beauty of the garden of Eden. They are in healthy and life-giving relationship with the natural world around them. As we hear our reading today the woman can’t help but be exited as she hears and see’s her love.
The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11for now the winter is past, 12The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come. 1 Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
This poem is a mirror into seeing all that God has created is good. To see that God sees his creation and see you as one to be exited about. One that elicits a sense of joy and pleasure. The world is good. You are everything to God.
In the letter from James, we again see this humbling theme of the goodness which God brings forth. This letter was written in the late 1st century to Jewish Christians. These were folks who were struggling with how to live as followers of Jesus while at the same time being anxious about how to hold true to “the Law” which was in their DNA. The Torah and its commandments, laws, food restrictions were such a deep part of who they were as a people, they were trying to come to terms with some of the new teachings of Jesus that were contrary to those laws. So the author of this letter to his community writes the words we heard today, in an attempt to have people see what God loves and what it means to live with that vision being first and foremost. He writes.
‘Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights. 18In fulfillment of Gods own purpose God gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”
Once again we see the outpouring of goodness from our God. James tells us that all that God gives; all which God creates; that which is from God, is good. And James tells his folk to be doers. To be active in holding up the goodness of creation for all to see. The goodness of Gods world.
In our gospel reading 14Jesus says “Listen and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
God’s creation is good. God created and formed and breathed life into Gods world and was pleased and said “It is good”. It’s what we, as Gods instruments in the world, put out into Gods good creation that manifests itself.
As Christian communities We need to see the power in that? We need to embrace the possibilities that exist in taking on that understanding. That you, and me and all of Gods children have the capacity to manifest the very goodness and love and care and compassion for creation that God has for the world.
Jesus once said, “the kingdom of God is all around you” Do you see it?
Imagine what our world would look like. Consider the power of staring at that holy truth every single day.
Imagine staring at the church and not seeing empty pews, but rather seeing the gifts and precious creation within the pews.
To not see scarcity or lack of resources, or but to see the abundance that exists because God promised to providing it.
Imagine what our communities would look like to not see what separates us, but to see what binds us. To not fear a stranger but to be at home with a brother or sister.
Imagine what you would see when you stare into the mirror and see that you are the beloved…
Imagine approaching the mirror everyday with arms extended in thanksgiving and see the goodness in ourselves, our families our communities and our church, in this building and beyond, will heal the world.
That’s why God brought us here. That’s why God wants us here. That’s why we have been given Gods Son.
One night a child knelt by his bedside and asked God a question. God, if you love the world so much,Why don’t you do anything to make it better. A still small voice answered back.. ”I did. I created you.”
August 26, 2018 14th after Pentecost
Every Saturday morning, Frank sat at his kitchen table and drank his coffee and read his paper. Every Saturday morning, he looked through his kitchen window and watched his neighbor hang her laundry on the clothesline. Every Saturday Frank shook his head and said “ She needs a lesson on how to clean cloths. Those sheets are yellow and stained and I swear I see bird droppings on them” I should go over and teach her a few things. Every Saturday, Franks wife shook her head.
One Saturday morning as Frank sat at the kitchen table sipping and reading, he was amazed at what he saw. The neighbor was hanging her laundry on the line, but the clothes were immaculately white. He couldn’t believe it! The sheets were spotless, and the shirts were gleaming in the morning sun. “I gues she must have heard me and got her act together”, he said. Franks wife again shook her head and replied. “ She didn’t hear anything from you, I washed the windows.”
Its true for all of us. We see the world through a certain lens. We make judgements and we decide what things mean based on the windows we are looking through. Sometimes the windows are clear and it makes perfect sense. Other times we have to figure things out through a more clouded and stained lens.
That’s where we find Jesus disciples this morning in Johns gospel. Jesus is once again trying to explain to them who he is and more importantly his purpose for being there. We’ve been hearing him over these past weeks talk about himself as bread. The living bread that has come down from heaven. The bread of life that gives life to the world. The food that never perishes. And today the disciples get an explanation about this bread that disturbs them.
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats of me will live because of me.
Their response is; “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
Their difficulty comes on two fronts.
First, they are struggling with this troubling image of eating flesh and drinking blood. And why wouldn’t they. In their world only, Pagans took part in that kind of activity. The children of God didn’t do that.
For those of us today, and certainly for those outside of Christian tradition who hear these words, these words may disturb and confuse us too.
But its important to remember that these words of Jesus from John’s gospel are like some of the other images of himself. Remember when Jesus said, “I am the Lamb of God” or I am the light the world”. It wasn’t his intent to make people think he was actually a Lamb or that he was actually a sunbeam. If we only see these words and images through the cloudy window of literalism, then we wont see the beauty of the invitation that Jesus is extending.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats of me will live because of me.
Abide in me. These are the words that often get missed in all of this.
Jesus was inviting his disciples to be at home in him. Just as he is at home with God.
Jesus invitation is to know what it is to be part of him so that we can know and enter into the life God wants us to have.
Abide in me. Be at home.
Home is the promise of safety, of security. Home is a place where fear does not have the upper hand. Home is the place where we can let go and where we can trust that there is a safe place to fall.
And this is the second, and most difficult part of Jesus words. This invitation to come home and to know the abundant life that can be found in Jesus, is often one that we struggle accepting.
Yet to be home it is something we all desire.
This week, thousands of University and College students will be arriving on mass into our city to begin another school year. Most of them away from home for the very first time. And what will they do after mom and dad unload the SUV and give them a hug goodbye. They will go into their rooms and surround themselves with home. Pictures of friends and photos of pets. Stuffed animals from childhood and comforters from their beds. Text messages and snapchats from familiar faces now separated my long distances. They will surround themselves with home.
Abide in me….Jesus invites, surround yourself with me.
We all want to be at home with God. God our creator. God who formed us from the earth and knew us before we were born. Yet we find it difficult because the idea that we can come home just because God wants us home doesn’t compute. Shouldn’t we have to give to receive? Nothing is just given and free.
I remember as a young child coming home from school and realizing that I had lost the new hat that my mother had bought for me. For weeks I had begged for it because it had a cool Spiderman logo on it. So walking home that day I knew it wasn’t going to be a good scene. Instead of going home, I went to my friend Billy Bains house and told his mother I had permission to stay. In my fear, in my embarrassment I refused to go home.
We can all smile at the story of a small child but if we are being honest we all have made the decision from time to time that its easier to hide from God than it is to come home to God. We focus on all the reasons and ways God should be displeased with us. Our shame, our regrets, our feelings of unworthiness often steer us away from the life God wants to give us and like the disciples we say…This is difficult. Who can accept it?
A young man once said to me that he could never be part of a church because he was too damaged. He’d done drugs, he’d hurt people, he didn’t even know if he believed in God. How could I be part of a Christian community? When I told him that’s exactly why he should be here and that’s exactly how God wants you, he said..no way, that doesn’t make sense.
This is a difficult teaching, who can accept it.
The good news we hear today as those disciples who gather around Jesus once again, is that our God who wants us home, is the God who has wiped the window clean, so that we no longer see God through our distorted lens, but rather, we see God through the window of the One he sent to lead us home. Jesus.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats of me will live because of me.
I’m reminded of a true story of a soldier who was severely wounded. When he was out of surgery, the doctors said that there was a good chance of recovery, except that the soldier refused to eat anything. The nurses tried everything, but he refused all food, only drinking some water and juice.
A friend of the soldiers offered to fly his father over to see him. The soldier still refused to eat, so his father opened the suitcase he had brought and pulled out a loaf of bread that his mother had made at home in their kitchen on the other side of the ocean. Son, this bread was made by your mother, especially for you. The young man ate his fill and within a week was on a plane home.
When we are out in the world living our lives its easy to lose our taste for the food that fuels our souls. When we abide in Jesus, and come home, we taste the food that gives us life.
Food of community to nourish us. Food of prayer to sustain us. Food of forgiveness to cleanse us. Food of peace to quiet us. Food of immeasurable grace. Given freely and without obligation. This is the food we eat as disciples of Jesus.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Whoever eats of me will live because of me.
As we prepare to enter into this fall season, may we commit ourselves as the community of Holy Trinity St. Stephens, to clear off our windows of doubt, fear, unworthiness and shame. May we see ourselves, and the world outside our doors, through the same window through which God sees us.
A beloved people,
A worthy group,
An empowered community.
A parish that has accepted the invitation of Jesus to eat up all he offers; and who abides in him.
May we come to the table every week and here the words of our God as he says…Welcome Home.
August 19, 2018 Pentecost 13
1 Kings 2: 10-1, 3: 3-14
Some years ago I attended a workshop on all things prayer. The purpose was to learn about types of prayer in a liturgy, ways to pray individually, the history of prayer in Anglican worship and so on…. In one of our sessions we were sharing our favorite prayers. One person referenced the Lord’s Prayer, another spoke of her love of the prayer of St. Francis…and then one young man said his favorite pray was the one uttered by his 7-year-old son. They were at a local swimming pool and his son was standing at the deep end, his toes curled over the edge. Still unsure of himself in the water, he stood there for what seemed to her like a very long time. And just when it seemed that he was going to back away from the edge, he looked up to the sky, put his hands together, and said: "O Lord, give me skills or GIVE ME GILLS!" And he jumped.
As I left the workshop I realized that all the high flatulent information about prayer that I was trying so hard to learn and understand paled in comparison to this one.
Give me skills or give me gills. That pretty much covers all the bases, doesn't it? O Lord give me what I need to overcome what I'm facing; but if you won't do that, give me what I need to endure it. Provide for me the air I need so that I can make it to the other side and have life. Give me skills or give me gills.
This morning we heard about a young guy who was way over his head. Our reading from Second Kings finds Solomon in deep. As the story goes, his father is dead. He is grieving. He is afraid. He is carrying a heavy load. He's no longer swimming in the safety of the shallow end of his childhood. With one swift toss, Solomon is headed into the deep end of adulthood.
And what a deep end it was! It isn't just the loss of his father that Solomon is forced to confront. It is who his father was. His father was. David, the great king of Israel, the slayer of Goliath, the liberator from the Philistines, the unifier of the tribes, the master musician and wordsmith, the "man after God's own heart." So with David's death, Solomon not only took his place at the head of his own family; but he was now the head of the kingdom as well. Ready or not. And it was clear that Solomon was not ready.
None of us are ready when difficult times come upon us. I was chatting with a woman who was struggling with the decision about beginning to prepare her father to move from his home of 55 years into an apartment complex. When she wrote out her pro and con sheet, the pro side was 3 pages long. He has friends there, no stairs to worry about, meals are provided, access to shopping, health care professionals available. On the con side she could only write one line…”Making the move” She said no matter how prepared she thought she was its such a difficult thing to actually move into.
All of us have stood on the edge of the pool. Maybe you are leaning into something today. You know what its like to feel unsure. To be afraid of the unknown, to be in a vulnerable place of insecurity! Will I be able to handle jumping into "deep end".
O Lord give me skills or give me gills.
Solomon was very definitely not ready to take over as King. Despite the fact that he’s grown up in that world and watched his father David and was taught and molded to take over one day, Solomon knew when he was sitting on that throne for the first time that he didn’t have the skills, the knowledge. He didn’t possess the trust and respect of the people in his kingdom. He was full of doubt and uncertainty. He was, in fact, a mess. He was in way over his head.
But the good thing, the saving grace, if you will, was that Solomon knew it. And it is in that deep humility, that willingness to say, I can’t do this alone that Solomon is able to unburden his heart to God. Just listen to Solomon’s plea as he speaks to God,
You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O LORD my God, you have made me, your servant, king, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.
“I'm not up to this. I’m in this place in my life but I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm scared.
There was once a young girl who wanted to be a piano player, so her grandmother paid for lesson. The young girl practiced all day until she was able to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. As a reward, her grandmother took her to a concert to hear a famous pianist. They got front row seats in the packed theatre. As they were waiting for the curtain to rise, the grandmother went up to the washroom. The little girl saw a set of stairs that led up to behind the stage. Her curiosity got the best of her so she slinked out of her seat and snuck up to behind the stage. Her eyes glowed as she saw the grand piano glistening in the middle of the stage. She walked toward it and slowly climbed up onto the leather covered bench. With her index finger extended she began to play her song…Just as she hit that first note, the curtain rose…and she was staring at 500 people who couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The little girl was frozen. She looked out and saw the horrified face of her grandmother. Then she heard the audience start to buzz as the world-renowned pianist walked across he stage and leaned over her and put his hands on the keys of the piano. He whispered in her ear… “play your song”…and as she hit the first few notes his fingers began to fly across the keys. And a few minutes later, the little girl was on the receiving end of a standing ovation in appreciation for most rousing rendition of Twinkle Twinkle little star that they had ever heard.
What the Solomon story tells us today is that in those times when we are hanging over the edge and wondering how we are going to be able to make it through whatever it is we are having to dive into, that we can stop pretending that we’re diving in alone. We can stop pretending that we have to have it all under control.
We learn the last thing we should do is stop running away from God because God is going to find us anyway. God comes to us in our weakness and says…let me help you play your song.
It wasn’t until Solomon came to God out of his brokenness and realized he didn’t have the capacity to dive in without God that Solomon can make his prayer.9Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil. Not for my sake but for the sake of your people…..your kingdom.
When we realize all that we cannot do, we are in a perfect position to discover all that God can do.
We cannot avoid the challenges set before us, we’re all headed into the deep end at some point in our lives, so we should ask God for what we need to overcome it or what we need to endure it. We should boldly pray for skills or for gills, confident that God will always give us one or the other.
And sometimes, like Solomon, we may even get both. But however the answer comes, God always comes with it. And that is the very best news of all.
Homily: August 12,2018
John 6: 41-51
We are what we eat
I should have known better. It wasn’t like it was my first time. I’d bellied up to a hundred all you can eat buffets in my day. I’ve participated in the many different ways in which a person can tackle to all you can eat. I’d done the “fill your plate with your favourite item and leave nothing for the net guy in line" strategy. I’d attempted the old “I think I’ll eat healthy and go to town on the huge salad bar” routine. I’d even attempted the classic “around the world adventure, where the goal is to eat at least one item from every ethnic food group available.
So you’d think with all that experience I would know the golden rule of what to avoid when I walked into Mandarin all you can eat buffet a couple of weeks ago.
Yes. I got emotionally involved with the dessert section.
I think it’s a ploy of the restaurant to force the patrons to walk right through the middle of dessert section as they escort you to your table. Everyone’s eyes were bulging as we walked past the ice cream table with the 20 different flavours complete with chopped nuts and sprinkles. Or the endless pastry section with nothing less than 2inches of whipped cream falling off every tart. And don’t get me started on the pies or the cheesecake.
So after a small salad, and a bowl of soup I spent the remainder of my time wearing out the carpet between our table and “the den of iniquity.”
As I walked back to the car it felt like I was carrying a piano on my back; and the next few hours were spent motionless on my couch.
It’s true what we take into our bodies is what we can expect to get out of them.
There’s no debating that our Western culture has a vested interest in taking better care of our bodies.
Take a look at the massive health clubs in our cities wit their 3 or four floors of equipment and classes. Walk through Chapters book store and you can’t help but see rows upon rows of books and DVD’s and magazines attributed to nothing but fitness and healthy eating.
We know the value of keeping our bodies healthy and how we will benefit from doing that.
But there is more that enters into us than we can see at the end of a fork.
One of my favourite books and later movies is the J.R.R. Tolkien epic Lord of the Rings. The basis of the story is that an evil Lord has created a ring of power in which he has poured all of his hate and anger into. Everything that can poison a person’s soul with negative and harmful energy has been inserted into this tiny ring. Whoever has the ring in their possession takes on these many negative attributes. The story is about how one tiny and insignificant person is given the task of destroying the ring. We watch him during his journey with the ring as he starts to transform into the wicked persona of the ring itself.
The bigger picture is about how if constantly consume things like negativity, fear, hate, distrust…then we will transform into those things.
We are what we eat.
Too often we
feed on the food that creates harm in our life.
We see commercials for the latest products and feel empty, we see what our neighbours and friends own, and we become envious.
We read newspapers and watch the bad news on TV that always fills the top of the headline list and we can become bitter and lose hope.
We experience the hypocrisy of friends or family or coworkers and people we trust and watch the spectacular falls from grace of some of the rich and famous that we idolize…. we become cynical about people,
cynical about life.
We are what we eat....
and if our only bread is the bread of envy,
and our only drink is the drink of bitterness
if we continually sit down to a buffet of cynicism
we become these things.
But God has made sure that we have another table from which to eat. Today and every day that gods people gather around the table behind me we proclaim The good news. The good news that God has laid out a new banquet on which to feed. A buffet that will transform us and transform the world into the world of God’s dream.
There is an alternative to filling up on what weighs us down.
It is within this Eucharistic banquet we share today that we have been given the very food that can only lift us up.
For the past few weeks we’ve been hearing Jesus words about being the bread of life. The true and living bread. The bread that has come down from heaven that gives life to the world. The bread that satisfies the hunger we all have deep within our souls.
Today’s gospel reading is Jesus’ invitation to us to make that bread a part of who we are.
Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
There is a story about a father and son walking along the ocean. The boy said, "Dad, I cannot understand how Christ can live in us and we live in him at the same time." Further down the beach, the father noticed an empty bottle with a cork in it. Taking the bottle, he half filled it with water, re-corked it and flung it out into the ocean.
As they watched the bottle bob up and down he said, "Son, the sea is in the bottle and the bottle is in the sea.
This is the picture of what it looks like when we say we live in Christ. We live under the Lordship of Christ and He lives in us.
And that is never more evident than when we gather around the holy table as we do today. The Eucharist for us is not just a fanciful idea. It’s far from a simplistic ritual. In this Eucharist we are literally making the risen Christ part of who we are. We are sharing in a sacred meal that transforms our very being from the inside out. In this holy banquet God has said "I no longer want you to know me out there, I want to enter into your soul and abide inside you."
This holy meal that we are about to take in is our invitation to have the risen Christ be part of our being
Nothing beats regular meals.
A first-rate meal, well prepared and lovingly served, and relished bite by bite to the very end.
It is here in this place that the meal we need the most to transform us is served. And it begins here when….
We feed on hope when we hear our faith story through the word of God that we read from holy scripture.
We feed on peace when we greet each other in the name of Jesus.
We feed on thanksgiving when we offer ourselves and our gifts to God.
We feed on humility when we open our hearts and our hands to receive the gift of Jesus here with us in bread and in wine.
But perhaps the most important part to know about this banquet, is that when we come and participate and when we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation, we are transformed. Not just for our sakes, but for the sakes of those who are not here with us. we are transformed here, so that we can share the good news with those outside our doors.
Our call as Jesus disciples today is to make sure that others know that God wants to fill them with the bread that lasts forever. That they need not become stuck in a world that seems like the only food they get leads to fear and distrust and shame and guilt. God wants them to know the food that will give them hope….that will give them peace…that will give them life.
This is the good news we have to share with the world…we have been given a banquet prepared with a meal that will fill our souls….and by extension will fill the souls of those God will put on our path this week. Jesus wanted his disciples full, so that Gods dream for Gods world could be made real.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
May we truly become what we eat. May we be transformed into the body of Christ. May we feed the world.