Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Superman or Saviour?

When I was a child back in the 1970’s there was still on television the original Superman series. Superman was played by an actor named George Reeves. I loved to what those shows and laugh at the folks who knew Clark Kent and knew Superman but never seemed to put it together that they were one in the same person. People loved the fact that Superman would fly in, crash into a situation, and save the day and fly away again and then write all about it in the Daily Planet. No one every questioned him as to why he would do it. No one held him accountable for the damage and destruction that he cause and why? It’s a bird. It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman! It has occurred to me that people of authority don’t have to tell other people that they are people of authority. For Superman, it was easy as the big “S” on his chest – you know, the symbol that stands for hope? If he had a bat silhouette on his chest, then we would know him to be Batman. If he had a swimsuit and scales, more than likely he is Aquaman. For Jesus in the gospel there was a triumphant entry where many cheered and cried out things like, “Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” He came on a donkey proclaiming peace and claiming his kingship. But there was no epic contest with the archvillain being locked up or otherwise incapacitated. There was a death and a resurrection and there was a freeing of prisoners. And all that with out a cape or superpowers to make it happen. It is true that actions speak louder than words. It is also true that the words and authority we pay attention to also gives them power and legitimacy. That us why I think Jesus asked them to answer his question first. He knew that they believed in their own authority. He understood that they believed they had authority. It was tenuous though because it depended on others. The High Priests (Annas and Caiaphas) and the Elders did not accept John’s call to repentance and change. They rejected it. And at the same time they did not want the people to know this because the people would become angry with them. The leaders would lose a lot more than control if they denied John as a prophet. Hence, they said they did not know and so are no better of at the end of this confrontation. Then Jesus tells them a parable that must have enraged them about two brothers – like any of the brothers of old – Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David, and his brothers, even Moses and Aaron. One is asked if he will go and work in the Father’s vineyard. He tells his father he will not but then goes later and does as his father asked of him. The other brother tells his father he will do as he askes but never makes a move towards the vineyard. The upsetting part is that the less observant folks, the prostitutes, the beggars, the impure and the imperfect are going on ahead into the kingdom of God ahead of the religiously pious and those who love their own power and authority. This series of disagreements are key to what is going to happen to Jesus. The leaders cannot defeat Jesus verbally and so they will resort to action which means betrayal and handing him over to the Roman Government which leads to his execution on the cross. Superman has died. More than once. Jesus only once. And Jesus is raised from the dead, no more to die. The difference between Superman and the Saviour? One can save you in the moment of distress. Such a rescue can be praised. The other can make you new and ready for the life that is to come as you follow him into the kingdom and that is utterly worth a heavenly celebration. Jason+

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Watch what you are building

At an incredibly early hour this morning, my family and I were awakened by someone trying to beat down the kitchen door. I quickly got dressed and rushed down to the door to find out what was going on. Flashlights were being aimed at the door. Oddly, I felt some relief. I flicked on the front door light and was greeted by two rather tall RCMP Constables! I asked if I could help them. They wanted to know if I had called 911, they were searching for a person who had called. His name was Vince and he was in trouble. Everyone in the house had be identified so that the Constables could continue their search elsewhere. The RCMP left. I turned out the lights and followed my family back upstairs. As I tried to get back to sleep, I could help but think of a simple question: “what kind of world are we building?” There is so much for people to be afraid of: sickness and disease, unemployment, homelessness, addictions, mental disease, climate change, political scandals and our leaders lacking ethics. Oh and there is the present threat of coronavirus and death is several ways. We all at points in our lives, wish for life to become some sort of utopian state where we do not have to lock our doors at night. We want a world where everything is good and nothing disturbs us, especially late at night when we are in bed. This brings me to our Gospel for the week (Matthew 20:1-16). The workers who worked all day thought that the Vineyard owner was been unfair in not only paying a day’s wages but even more so in paying those who have worked all day done much of the heavy lifting and had to do it is the heat which is stressful, the same amount. It seemed unfair to those who had worked hard. Only thing is, they got what they agreed to. A day’s wages. It is what people who work at their religion want to get paid. God honours that desire. He pays them. And then people feel unfulfilled, and even cheated though they receive what they agreed to work for. They do not recognize that we are in a struggle against omnipresent death. So long as they have and receive the world is an okay place. Moreover, people these days, seem to think that God is like a Santa. We give him a list and he suppose to put whatever it is we want out there so that we can be happy. Worship is meant to help us remove our idols. Prayer is meant to so that our hearts, our minds and thus our lives align with the Spirit and the will of God. Even within the Church there are going to disappointments and consternation over who has what. It has often been that way in the life of the Church as much of the epistles attest to. Do we as a community of faith recognize that we are in God’s vineyard? Do we recognize that the work we do is his, to build a better community? It is time to get out there and work with and for Christ,because beloved, it is getting dark out there again! Jason+

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Freely you have received, freely give.

Why is it in this day and age, that people are unable to be merciful but, want mercy when they are in trouble? Why do people want to be rescued if they are in charge of their lives and they get to live their truth? Maybe it is because so many people have difficultly with things like sin, evil and judgement. It is things other people say, do and believe that are evil but essential we believe that we ourselves are good and therefore are not part of the problem. We are entitled to hold on to things like anger and resentment towards someone else, including God because we got hurt, we were wronged and we are going to make sure that the offender, the villain is going to get what is coming to them. So maybe our first issue is that we, even as Christians, struggle with the idea of forgiveness. The issue comes up again in terms of dealing with other Christians in the Gospel this week (Matthew 18:21-35) in the parable of the unmerciful servant. The conversation between Jesus and the Twelve continues from last week in being reminded of how to deal with someone who has offended you. Peter asks Jesus if the norm that the rabbis teach about forgiveness is to forgive the offender three times, then would Jesus agree that seven times would truly be merciful? Because after the seven time which is twice as much, you can walk away from a person and have nothing else to do with them, be they friend or even family? Jesus astonishes them with tell them, “not seven times, but 77 times.” What I believe Jesus is suggesting that there is no limit to the number of times that we should forgive a person. It is not about how many times you have to forgive another, but that you make a habit out of forgiveness for every person in your life. Our heavenly Father calls and wants you to be merciful as he is merciful to everyone, including you. This is why Jesus tells “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” to the disciples. Mercy and forgiveness must become a part of who we are and how we live. Forgiveness is like suntan lotion. You can dab it on your skin but it will not do you any good unless you rub it in so that it becomes a part of you. The Lotion can only protect when it is a part of you. Jesus tells of a servant who was called to his king’s palace and the king announced that there was going to be a settling of accounts. The servant owed an outrageous some of money 60 million denarii. One denarius was worth a day’s wages. And because he owed this much, and could not pay the some (the debt of a small country) the king directed that the servant and his family (wife and children, at least) be thrown into prison. The debt would never be paid off not even over several generations. Even so, the servant pleaded with the king to be forgiven his mismanagement and set free. The king regarded this pitiable servant and decided, through a gift of outrageous grace and mercy, to forgive the servant. He set the servant and his family free. However, the servant did not take the lesson to heart. He went and found other servants of the king who owed him money, a whole lot less money and had them thrown in jail until their debts were paid back in full. We are not told why he did this only that he did. Was it is pay back some of the debt? It is clear that very soon after he had forgotten the generosity and grace he had been shown and was a plague upon his fellow servants to make himself me secure. Servants of the king in the palace heard what this unmerciful person was doing and reported it to the king. Enraged the king had the man and family arrested and thrown in jail for the rest of their lives. Being merciful is a lot harder than needing it. There are moments when others hurt us in some fashion, and we want our pound of flesh. Christ calls on us to let go of our desire for so called justice. We are called upon to leave the hurt and the anger behind. Please understand, forgiveness is a process and not just an event. Please also remember that the forgiveness is a process. Things are going to happen. Treat people with charity. Things from your past are going to bubble to the surface and you are going to have to let them go again. In doing so, you are having mercy, not only on others but on yourself. You are not allowing the conflict within you to erupt and causing combat between you and others. And is this is of help remember what we pray when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins (our debts) as we forgive those who sin (are indebted to us) against us.” Are we ready to have God judge us as we judge one another? Are we ready to forgive as we are forgiven? After, did not Jesus say himself, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”? Jason+

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional.

 

It might be surprising to you but clergy these days when they are trained for ministry, one of the things that they have to learn is how to deal with and manage conflict within the life of the Church. Does that surprise you? One of the things that I have learned over the years, is that conflict, which happens within a person is inevitable. People deal with conflict within themselves all the time. Personal conflict gives rise to a number of really good pieces of music it, especially country music. The old hurting songs that talk about the wife leaving husband behind with kids to feed and crops in the fields that need to be harvested. The dog has died and the cat won’t speak to anyone anymore. “Picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille!”

If conflict is inevitable then combat is most often optional. We can choose how to act on what goes on inside us. And the way in which the Gospel calls on us to deal with conflict is interesting. It is put on the injured party to confront the other person and to try and gain satisfaction/relief from the situation. If that does not work, then try again with a couple of witnesses who may be able to help you work things out. If you cannot prevail to get a satisfactory outcome, then everyone goes before the church (local congregation and you try again to settle matters. If the offender does not listen will not act with contrition, then the offender is excommunicated and treated as a tax collector or a public sinner. Modern people at this point would think that this is where they could wash their hands of the offender. Would Jesus have? I do not think so. I believe Jesus would have continued to sort things out and draw that offender back into the life of the congregation.

I would point out to you that there are so many people, not only outside the Church who need forgiveness and thus of healing, but there are as many inside the Church who need the same thing. Are they finding it? And need and the desire for forgiveness goes well beyond the absolution of the Eucharist. Absolution is the reminder of God’s willingness to forgive, to heal and to bless as he is to remove sin and sent it as far as the East is from the West.

We need to consider God and his divine nature. The Father forgives iniquity, heals disease, redeems from the Pit. He crowns the faithful with steadfast love and mercy. God satisfies his people with Good as long as they live. The Father renews the youthful vigor of his people like that of an eagle. God is not foiled by numbers and is not stymied by our failures. In fact, he works all things to the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The Father by his very nature (and contrary to common thinking) leans always towards showing mercy and grace; slow to anger and swift to bless. Divine anger is swift to dissipate; bygones are bygones. God does not operate on an ‘eye for an eye’ basis, always looking to get revenge and to balance the books. He is sympathetic to our nature and our plight as people he created and that through sin, have been separated from him.

That reminds me of a parishioner, who in the middle of a Lenten sermon, got on her feet and rejected the idea that she was a sinner in a rather loud manner. She said to me, “I am just fine. God likes me just the way that I am. I am not a sinner.” Thing is, there is a misunderstanding about what a sin is. It is what everyone else does and you do not. It is more than about what we do, it is about what we do not do. It is the things that we did not do well and where we fall short of the mark. The Gospel calls us back to God, to come and be transformed into the creations he intended for each and all of us to become the marvelous creature we were meant to be. We are called to be more than right and work on rights, we are called to be righteous.

Lastly let me remind us all of what Jesus himself has said: “Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Do good to those who persecute you. If you are angry with your brother or sister, you are liable to judgement. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. Do not resist an evil doer. (Be perfect (in mercy) as your Father in heaven is perfect (in mercy)”.

So how do we handle conflict? We have two ears and on mouth. We should listen at least twice as much as we talk. We listen so that we can ask clarifying questions to better understand what is being shared with us. We need to take care in how we speak to each other, including in social media. We listen o learn how we might serve another person and how to lead in various situations. Let us be known in this community (inside and outside this congregation) for how we genuinely love, how we genuinely love one another. Is that easy? No, but consider the alternative by looking around you. 

Jason+

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

THE LIFE OF THE ORDAINED DISCIPLE: The sanctified imagination



There is a necessity in having a sanctified imagination, that goes beyond “What would Jesus do?” That is the issue that Jesus is dealing with where the disciples are concerned in the Gospel (Matthew 16.21-28). Last week, Peter acclaimed Jesus as the messiah, God’s anointed One. But then Jesus orders the Twelve not to tell anyone else who he really is. Weird isn’t it? They finally get it right and now he is telling the not to talk about it. That is when Jesus begins to talk about his mission and how it will be fulfilled: by going into Jerusalem, being handed over; beaten, suffer, die and then three days later, rise again.

Thing is, for Peter and the rest of the Twelve, they had their own visions of what was ahead and it did not include things like suffering, pain and death. They had what they thought was a reasonable understanding of the way forward. With Jesus in the lead there was a good prospect for victory and for Israel to become its own nation. They would break the wheel of violence, hatred and retribution and they would have their kingdom back and things would be good again. That was their vision of the kingdom. Jesus focused his sights, his thoughts on another way.

Jesus’ kingdom is built upon mercy and forgiveness on faith hope and love which allowed for him to break the cycles of hatred, violence, and war. Such a vision sets Jesus against the current system and its status quo. A system that worked to end his life and roll right over him. It is a situation that Peter and the others could not have imagined much less chosen to collide with and disrupt. The Twelve could not see that a cruciformed life that offers more that the status quo could be a better life. After all, who in the wider world doesn’t know the phrase, “Eat right, exercise daily and die anyway”? The way to life into that cruciformed life is to learn to give your life over to Christ first and then to others so that they can rise and live. Because it is not we who live but Christ in us.

What is needed in this moment, is a sanctified imagination. Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. And we need to focus more on what Christ wants and less on what we want. If we make time to spend with him we are going to find that we want is going to change is not circumstances but what we want because we are closer and closer to Jesus. We will come to want more and more has he does. Our wills shall align and we will seek to do for others as he does for us. Therefore, in this moment, “Our focus needs more focus.”

Can you imagine God raising Christ from the dead? Can you imagine your life in this moment without him? We trust and we act not because the end of the world is near but because Christ is amongst us already. Can you imagine life without Christ and without the hope he brings? Try asking for what he wants in your life, in your church, and then act on it in some small way. See what Jesus calls you to next.

 

Jason+

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Life of the Ordained Disciple: Gotta have faith!

 

In recent months, I have been watching Christian apologists (people who are schooled in the defending of what the Church believes) answer questions put to them and how they deal with all of the hot button issues of our time – from “How can we think that there is a God; to “Am I going to hell?”; to “Why can’t you affirm same sex relations?” I am not going to tackle those important issues here except to talk about God and what it means for us as humans to have faith in God.

So let me begin with the question asked in the Gospel, “Who do people say Jesus is?” There is a long list of thoughts: a good man, a good teacher/rabbi, healer and exorcist, wonder worker, prophet, and potentially the messiah. There are some who believe that he is John the Baptist come back to life or a prophet from long along like Elijah, who has come to usher in the new Davidic Age (the good ol’ days) by getting rid of Rome and becoming their own country again.

Other Gospels (Mark in particular) thinks of the journey of being a disciple is the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?” Whereas in Matthew, we concentrate on the place where the question is asked: Caesarea Philippi. Caesarea is home to all of the known religions of the world in that day, including the Temple of Pan, all of the Greek stuff, all of the old religious stuff from the past and all of the new stuff too. Jesus is interest in asking the question is two fold: What do you believe and what are you committed to?

Faith is not something you can earn to put in the bank. Faith are not bonus you keep on a card to earn free stuff. Faith is about a relationship that you have with something or someone else. After all, who in their right mind questioned whether their vehicle would start and bring them to Church and will take you safely home after the service is done? How many times have you sat where you are now and did not check to see if the pew would hold you up? It is a relationship that you have come to trust. And you trust your car and you trust your seat because it has not failed you… right. Neither has Jesus! We come into this place to declare to the universe that we are in relationship with the living God and that Jesus Christ is Lord. And some good news? Faith is not about points or deposits it is about trusting in and participating in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus on a daily basis. When we are faithful through trusting Jesus and participating in him, we have the whole thing which means that he has the power and the grace not us. Jesus is the powerful One. In Jesus, we are made complete and we are competent to proclaim his Good News.

So how does this work out in life? How do we know that we have faith? Well, you are probably sitting down to read this message. Did you check the device you are sitting on before you sat down? A pew or a computer chair. Had you sat there before? Did you check it out then too? I am certain that where you are sitting now, you have done so before, perhaps many times before. You have learned to trust that device. Learning to trust Jesus Christ works in the same way. You may not even know how many times you have trusted him to come through for you – and unaware of answered and unanswered prayers and how that has affected your life. Maybe, it is time to recognize that you are a person of faith – a mighty man or woman of valour. Maybe it is time to take a step forward, a step out, a step up and do something that you believe God is calling you to no matter how big and how little you believe it to be. Then watch as God uses it for his kingdom and his glory. And then do it again and again.

Jason+

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

THE LIFE OF THE ORDAINED DISCIPLE: THE FEAST OF CRUMBS

 

Are you aware that from crumbs there can be a great feast? Are you aware that it is not what you put in your stomach that corrupts you and your life but rather what you hold in your heart and let out of you that makes you unrighteous? What you speak and ask for, affects your life and the lives of those around you, including what you have with God. In the Gospel this week (Matthew 15:10-28) we get a vision of were the men following Jesus are in their faith and following of the Lord Jesus.

In the first part of the story, the Twelve communicate to Jesus that those listening to his teaching, especially the Pharisees, were offended by what he said. Jesus was questioned by those who followed his as to whether or not this is a concern for him. In reply, Jesus told this friends that he was not because the blind will lead the blind into the ditch, and they will not get where they are going in spite of the best of intentions. They will not catch nor pass you on the way to the Kingdom. I perceive this as a reminder to the Church that you can claim to have faith and therefore trust in the Lord but unless you exercise that trust and step up to do that thing God is asking of you, your faith is dead. If you are doing lots of things at Church but are not taking the time to spend not only with the Lord but also with in the community of believers to which you belong, then your works, however noble, are empty.

Moreover, I have been taught that when one preaches, the preacher needs to make the congregation glad that the came to hear or angry at what they have heard. I have had people over the years tell me that preaching is boring, is irrelevant, is pointless. I suspect that the reason for this is that such folks have tuned out because, if there is clear teaching of the Scriptures and there is clear proclamation of Jesus Christ, that what they here is going to make them angry because it is not going to match with what they believe personally. So they choose to be deaf and blind so that they do not have to be responsible for what is going on. Difficulty is, in failing to hear there is no opportunity to go and do and therefore to obey God. This makes members of the Church, not disobedient but rather irrelevant. We miss out on all those things that God has prepared for us. We do the Lord’s will not because we want to be blessed to receive. We have been saved, blessed, and enabled to see and to serve. Failing to do so has consequences not only for you but for those who need to be rescued, healed, and made whole.

This brings us to the rest of the lesson for this week. There is a woman who understands who and what Jesus is and is determined to find mercy for her little girl. She has the faith that is needed to persist in asking Jesus to do for her, what her daughter needs. What does she need? The little girl needs to be released from evil. She works at things, calling out to Jesus for mercy and is met with silence. Finally, the Twelve ask Jesus to dismiss her because she is being disruptive to what they are doing and there is no rest for her and no avoiding her demand. She was willing to stand between the life of her daughter and her daughter’s destruction so that she might save her life. Is this not what the Church should be doing? Comforting the grieving, feeding and giving drink to those who hunger and are thristy, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, and befriending the lost and the lonely where we find them?

In a real way, we are being shown what it means to trust in Jesus and it does not mean that we have to feed five thousand people. It doers not mean that we have to heal hundreds of people. Trusting does not even mean that you need to walk on water with Jesus. Seeking for jesus to have mercy on another is not just about that one life but about us all. It is especially for that one life and for the lives that this one life will touch over a lifetime. It is about the children that can come and jointhe nation and the nations welfare. It is not just about the present predicament but all that is to come. This woman persists because she can see by faith that there is enough for her daughter and for herself. This is the reverse of Jesus challenging his disciples to feed that multitude on the other side of the lake. The unnamed woman actively proclaims the same things that the Twelve did in the boat.

Jesus finally answers her, showing her faith to the Twelve. Jesus gives the woman the mercy and the relief she seeks. She returns to her home to find her daughter whole.

Where does that leave us? We don’t have to plead with Christ to make people whole, but we do need to ask and we do need sometimes to persist on praying, caring and sharing with people so that they can receive whatever  it is that God has for them. As the Scriptures remind us, Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God desires to feed, heal and bless his people. Let us go, that we might join in that feast, crumbs, and all.

 

Jason+