Thursday, November 18, 2010

Are you coming or are you staying?

Where would you look for a powerful king? In a castle? On a boat? On a throne, dressed in dreadful splendor and wearing a crown of mighty splendor? Where would you look for your king? Would it be in a place of crying? Would you find him on a hill of pain and suffering; on a tree of agony and death? Where would you look for and find your king?

I have to admit that I was surprised when I realized where the Gospel was going to take us this week. Good Friday seems like it was so long ago and yet here is it in all of its brutal reality. The people who wanted him dead stand there now and observe the pain and suffering that has been inflicted. They acknowledge, however tacitly, that he is the king or more likely that he pretended to be the king and they challenge him to be great and terrible one last time. “He has saved others. Let him now save himself” some of the onlookers scoffed! Most of the crowd watched in silence as they stood by and did nothing. They leave that awful place beating their breasts and wonder, “Oh God, what have we done?” everyone including his own followers believe that this is the end of it all. All the hopes and dreams of the future are nailed to that terrifying tree with its victim. We haven’t fully realized yet that god in his Christ is on a mission and that this mission cannot be deterred, diverted or stopped by us. We can ridicule it. We can refuse to participate in it. But we cannot and will not stop the mission of God in Christ.

And as we stand there on that ugly little hill outside the city looking up we only begin to realize that our secret is out: that we aren’t the people that God wanted and created us to be. That we have become in a real sense the very opposite of what we were intended to be. In this king and in this little realm this is how God is going to draw us in and bring us back to him and to ourselves. Our hope does not live within ourselves except that it comes from acknowledging the mercy that only the king can provide. From his mercy he gives us grace and in that grace we find the peace he provides. And in know the king’s peace we find that hope and that life which is so freely offered. Those who live in denial, find it easier to stand there and mock the savagery we have inflicted while we fail to recognize the brutality we have become.

So as we stand there in the lowly, blood stained realm of our king… which will you choose? Will you go with him or will you stay behind with the mob? Your king makes this demand of you in this moment, “Are you coming or are you staying? It’s up to you. This is not a democracy. I am your king. Do you love me or do you reject me. Are you coming or not?” there will always be moments to be powerful – at least by human standards – and there will be moments to be impressive or to look intelligent. These are all fleeting, mere shadows of things.   

I welcome you to the throne. This is our king. Are you coming or are you going? You decide. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Its the end... but not just yet!

Perhaps you have seen the large desk diaries that many of the clergy carry with them. I know that mine is very important to me and I cannot think of what I would do without it. I have carried one since the summer of 1990 when I was given my first one by a supervisor and was encourage to write everything I need to do and everything that I had done down on paper. It has helped me to do things and get things done. My calendar has even helped me to have the occasion rest on a day off and get me organized for an annual holiday. I’d like to think that my life because of this particular book is organized and helps me to be productive for the Church and therefore faithful in my priesthood to God.

And then I reminded that it is the end… but not just yet. I was recently reminded that the Church is what you have left after the building has burned down and the clergy has fled town. I often think of a particular moment in ministry when I walked into the local store to get things for New Year’s Eve and the little gathering we were planning with friends at their house. There was lots of fear that particular year around the turn of the century because of something known as Y2K. Remember the Y2K bug? People were discussing the heavy subject of the end of things, time in particular when I walked in the store. Of course when I was spotted, some said in a loud voice. “O look there is the Minister. Ask him!” One of the regulars came to me and asked the question they all want to know, “What’s the world coming to, sir?” In one of moments of clarity, I pulled off my cap and scarf and boldly pronounced, “An end.” The once bustling store, thrumming with enthusiasm and excitement fell suddenly quiet. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Realizing I said something that could be earth shattering to the folks around me, I asked for a few minutes to go and get what was on my list and then I would come back to them and we would talk.  This gave me time not only to pray, furiously, it gave me time to organize my thoughts so that I might help these folks understand that thought things are crumbling, God is still with us. And having just come through the feast and were still in the season of Christmas I realized that something really powerful had happened. God’s salvation had come to us in the form of a child; someone who is small, is weak and who to most of the world anyway is hidden from plain sight. And look at what the Church has grown into. It has grown. There was a time in the life of the nation of Israel where the place of meeting was a tent. Yet we as humans fell the need and desire to manage things. And because we take charge the walls once soft and supple, allowing the Spirit to billow through have instead become stiff, rigid, calcified. The tent has filled with lots of furniture. And the Church builds its weight and height until it is unmanageable and is ready to topple in on itself.

Jesus calls to those who live in the rubble of this exiled age and invite them to follow him into a new way. A way that is not easily determined nor is it found with quick decisions or undemanding choices. Jesus offers the courage and the trust necessary to way a new way of life, a life that will in the face of the culture and society that we live in will face ridicule and persecution. And some of those who will pursue you will be those you would call family and friends. Yet, we to not walk this new path alone. Jesus walks the path with us. Jesus has promised that we will not be alone. He has promised that he will be with every step of the way. Whenever we gather in twos and threes for prayer in his name, he will be there. Whenever we gather to share in the bread and wine through thanksgiving, he will be there. When he is actively proclaimed by word and deed, he will be there. Whenever the least, lost and the last of his brothers and sister is served, it is him we serve. And we wait for the kingdom that is here and yet we are still waiting for it in full. Until then Jesus is with us and we are not, in the face of disaster, alone. That is in short, what I told those folks at the store more than ten years ago. I told them it was the end... but not just yet. He is with us and we are not alone no matter what date or time it is, no matter what the calendar says. Thanks be to God Christ is with us.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

God is making all things new

When I was last out to my home, I had to opportunity to go through the two neighbourhoods where I lived as a child. It wasn’t hard to tell that things were different from when I lived there. But then that was – relatively speaking – a long time ago. Of course there had been more development in the last 30 years. There were a lot of houses in the fields where my friends and I road our bikes and played. There are no more backyard rinks to skate on. No roar of the go-cart engines as we putted around our homemade track. There was no game of ball hockey out in the middle of the street. There were parents teaching their kids how to ride their bikes, chasing behind them as the rider learned to hold the balance. Families and individuals have come and gone from the neighbourhood. Some have grown up and moved away while others have died and still a few remain as if lingering and waiting for something. I fill in the people that I remember and fill in their place… how they sounded; the things they used to say and do. I remember the way things used to be.  

Things are much quieter now than I remember. To my eyes, things in the old neighbourhood have grown old and tried. Things have changed and we wish that they could have stayed the same, thinking that we could be forever here and forever young.  I wish that I could make it all new again. I wish I could walk down those familiar streets, seeing familiar faces and greeting friends. I wish I could go for one more ride with my dad to the local arena and score one more goal to be able to feel the thrill of it all. I wish I could make my family and friends young again and take away the pain and struggles that time has placed on them. I wish I could but I can’t. I wish I could do these things but I can’t. But God can. In fact he promises that he will make all things new.

This is why Christ came at Christmas and that is why we not only remember his death; we also proclaim his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to glory. In fact we celebrate that through this month – that Jesus is King and that he is coming again in glory to judge both the quick and the dead. Christ came to begin the process of the new life and the new creation. It is why he was found in a manger by shepherds and crucified by spiteful people who wanted a demonstration of power before they would believe the message, and though his death was the sign that he wasn’t able to deliver. But they were wrong, way wrong. They took Christ’s death as his defeat. It was the path Christ had to walk to free those who would believe from sin and death. We need to stop and realize this is going on today; that the new creation and the new life starts here and is still coming. God is still working out his new creation that Christ made possible through his incarnation. God still works to make all things new. Thanks be to God that he does and that he calls you and into this work with him.    

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I just wanna be a sheep - and a saint too!

When I was leading a ministry to and of children a few years back, traveling across Southern Ontario, I would teach the following song to children (and adults too!):

I just want to be a sheep, bah, bah, bah, bah

I just want to be a sheep, bah, bah, bah, bah

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

I just want to be a sheep, bah, bah, bah, bah

I realize that being a sheep these days is probably a negative thing. It is used for people who just follow the rest of the flock and never critically consider what is going on. No… in this day and age everyone is expected to be a hero or heroine; a person who is master of the destiny and who takes orders and nonsense from no one. Everyone has to be super. And you cannot be super if everyone else is super. And this is as true inside the Church as it is outside of the Church.

Now I not suggesting that everyone give up the hopes and ambitions, fall back in line with bowed heads behind the Shepherd, unless you find yourselves in the position that you need to. In fact I would encourage us to ask and try to imagine what this world would be like if the Church really was following the Shepherd. What kind of difference could we as Church make in the world if we were the sheep we ought to be, as often as we can be?

Christians are supposed to be people through whom the grace, love and mercy of God flows; the Church are people through whom the Son shines. In a word, we are supposed to be saints. Saints, not sheep. There is nothing particularly holy about sheep until you stop and consider that the Shepherd is also the Lamb. And that the Lamb surrendered his life so that we as his sheep, his flock might live. We follow the Lamb through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and we recognize his power to feed us, to clam us and to and protect us. We know that he has the kind of grace and mercy that will pursue us right into the House of God. That is the kind of sheep, the kind of shepherd he is.

As sheep, as people who are living the risen life, we can live in ways that take us beyond the limits of just life because we know the powerful grace of a willing Saviour and the love an eternal Father. Eternity is not just what happens at the end of life. It is happening right here in the middle of life, just as God has intended. Heaven is no reward for being a nice or even a good, law abiding person. Life with God is not an extension of this life. This life and this world have been overcome by Christ through his death and resurrection. This means that the old has going and the new is coming. And in all this, God binds them together, guiding us into the new life in the new creation. God still lives, still works, continues to transform and to reign in the lives of his people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. People like you, like me. We are made God’s people, God’s flock through the Spirit of Christ who is leading us on the way to home pastures. So, may you find yourself whistling, humming or sing, I just want to be a sheep and discover that you are a saint too!