Monday, January 31, 2011

Life outside the Salt shaker

At the end of one of the very first services I did in a congregation a few years back, I had the round face of a little fellow who was sitting in the last pew (also the one closest to the door) look up at me and ask the question, “Is this the end of the service?” To which I replied, “no, not the end of the service, but the beginning”
Serving Jesus, being in his service; it is a big challenge as well as a big gift. Jesus calls us salt and light and Jesus tells us that we are to go and be world changers for the sake of the kingdom. We have to recognize our true nature as Christian people in this modern society. We are not becoming slat and light, we are salt and light. Thus we need to go into the world to be these things. By implication then, if we do not go and be salt and light, we are the ones in danger of failing to be who we are and thus face having to be discarded, thrown out and trampled on. It is both an encouragement and also an imperative that we go into the world, not just to make disciples, but also to go and be the Church in the world.

What does that mean though, to be the Church in the world? How can we be salt and light, since that is what are? Well let’s consider salt for a moment. Salt in the ancient world was a symbol of purity. It was glistening white, and it came from the sun and the sea. It was considered to be one of the most pure substances on the face of the earth. For us as followers of Jesus then, we need to work at being pure. This means that we need to be willing to uphold moral standards and to be examples of holiness and purity in the communities in which we live. It is in fact how we in our own limited ways, fight the sin and corruption that we encounter in ourselves and in the world. We work at being unstained in this world as we move through it.

Moreover, salt acts a preservative. We know this in Newfoundland: salt meat, salt fish, and ribblets. Salt works in the foods we eat to preserve them until we can consume them. Salt holds decay at bay.  If the Church is to be the Church in the world then we are called to be an influence towards purity and good action towards both God and neighbour. Being in the world helps others to be not only reminded of God’s presence but to help people be better people in the long run.

And since I mentioned one of the most important ingredients for Sunday Dinner, let’s take that analogy a bit further. Who would want Sunday Dinner cooked without some short of salt meat in with the vegetables and the pudding in the pot?  While I don’t care for the salt meat directly, I do like the taste of the vegetables and puddings when they come out of the brine. The salt gives the meal its taste and to eat it any other way, would cause the flavour to be lost and the meal would taste bland. We need as the Church to rediscover the radiant joy, the fact that we are salt for that has not changed, so that we can have it in our liturgies and take it out into the world. There is no need for us to worship as if it is always a funeral. Nor should we speak like spectres, ghosts of Christmases past to try and get other people’s attention. We are called to bring holy joy, not just to worship but also to everyday life and everyday living so that the world might get a taste of the joy and the hope within us.

If we are not salt and light in this world then the Church are the ones on the way to disaster. We have denied who we really are and we are the ones who will be thrown out and trampled on by others because we have not live out our lives the way that God calls us to. We need to live the kind of life that is going to make others aware that there is a need for purity, there is a need for preservation and that we bring a holy joy; a joy meant not only for the moment but also for a lifetime.

Life outside the salt shaker is not an easy one. We are called to a better standard in terms of how we live and treat God, ourselves and others. It may take time to figure out how we live that kind of larger life and how to bring it to the places and space that we inhabit. But perhaps the greatest gift of all is the fact that we are never salt and light on our own. We are these things together in the working of God’s plan and Spirit. And that makes life in and out of the salt shaker worthwhile. God is here and we are with him. Leaving the salt shaker is not the end, but the beginning.    

Life of Brian - Blessed are the Cheesemakers

I found this on "Youtube" and thought that I might invite those who like to watch Monthy Python to watch this and then consider the message that might be behind it. I consider it to be quite a comment on the Church and its inability to stop and hear Jesus. Especially the fact that those who are farther away from Jesus are more likely to go their own ways than they are to listen and to fulfil what it is that Jesus is teaching. It is just something that is "completely different" from the usual blog I write. Oh! I will apologize now for the bit of "language" for those who might object.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Building the Church and making the kingdom visible

Nova and I on the front porch at St. Mary with St. Mark's Mayo
during a tea and sale at the start of the Renovation Project. 
For the third time in his life, Jesus was moving house. He and his parents had fled Bethlehem to avoid the soldiers sent by a jealous and enraged Herod. They went into Egypt and found a life among the Jews in that country. More dreams brought the little family back to Israel and to the north of the country where the family settled in Nazareth and Joseph found work in his trade, carpentry.  Jesus, having gone to John to be baptized and now hearing that John was in jail because of his preaching, recognized within himself that it was time to move out and get on the move.  

Where was he going? Capernaum. And he wasn’t seemingly willing to go it alone. On his way he went and found some others, who were friends and who were at least in some ways like mind about God and the things of God. And if we watch and listen closely, we’ll see Jesus inviting these fellows to come along and they become roommates in the city. At least he won’t be alone and it more than likely won’t be boring because where two or three are gathered together, there are at least four or five opinions!

One of the important things about getting to know Jesus is that you need to learn what he wants for you and what he wants to give you. We need to learn what it is that he has for us to give to others. We need to discover the nature of the kingdom and how it grows. We need to be trained in how to live for God instead of ourselves. That means when the call comes, we need to move from where we are to where Jesus is and wants us to be.  We are not to regard our circumstances as more important that the call – we need to move when we hear his voice! We must move because the call is not just about us it is about others; it is about eternity and it is about all of us.     

And there was a better place to start than the Galilee, the crossroads of the world. The Galilee was not unlike our own country: fertile for growing crops and the people like “strong leadership”. The folks in the Galilee liked a good scrap and would go a distance to see one if not get involved. Jesus, according to Matthew’s Gospel was an itinerant preacher who travelled around and moved closer to the people not just to draw crowds but so that he could speak some things on the mind of God so that people could hear it. Jesus did not opt for the cushy seat in the local worship house. He ministered to people whenever and wherever they found him. He ministered to people who had diverse ideas and thoughts about God and even people who weren’t one of his own kind. He preached a similar and popular message for everybody to respond to: repent and believe in God because God and his kingdom are close to you!” Jesus’ first disciples were impressed with his teaching and excited about the ways in which the power of God was displayed… they were certain this was the one that God had promised and they were going to be a part of a great beginning.

But let me ask you – how does the kingdom of heaven come near to you and to your community?  If we take the first image that we are given from last we, we are first to walk away from that place and moment of baptism and we are to go and follow Jesus to the place where he “abides”. And we are to keep following Jesus into all the places and spaces where we are going to find what we need to do and through that, to discover who it is that we are becoming. We are both in essence and in reality, building the Church. And that thought, reminds me of a story.

St. Mary with St. Mark's Church as it is today
after several years  of hard work and fundraising on the part
of the members of the Church.  
A long time ago, a traveler came upon a site in England where swarms of workers were building a grand church.  The traveler saw several men digging a ditch.  He stopped to ask three of them what exactly they were doing. The first replied, "Hey! I'm just doing what they tell me to do. All I care about it making a living to support my family." The second replied, "Me?  I'm digging a ditch from here to that stake over there." But the third worker stopped, leaned against his shovel, and with a gleam in his eye, said, "I'm helping Christopher Wren build a great cathedral."

So you are invited to come and bring your shovel, measure tape, and trawl: we have a church to build and we have a Great Architect who needs our help. And as we build we will draw others and they will see and know the kingdom in and through us, if we let him. 

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lamb of God

The day after their encounter at the River, the day after John saw Jesus declared as God’s Chosen one, these two men encounter each other again. But this time there was something different to do. The first day was about rightness and water. The second day is about witnessing to who Jesus is. John boldly declares for everyone to hear that he has seen God anoint Jesus and that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. In effect John has said, “I came, I saw, and I have revealed to you this man is the Lamb of God.”

Two days after the baptism, these two men cross paths once more, and Jesus is walking away from the river and away from John. And as he does, John once more revels what he knows to the crowd around him, “See! Look at him! The Lamb of God!” Two other men who were standing near John looked at Jesus as he was walking away from the river and they decide to go and follow this Teacher. Please note that they did not choose Jesus. Jesus chose them. Yes they “followed” him but as the Gospel describes it, they followed him as his disciples. They already were his disciples when they went after him. So it might be important to know that God is at work all the time in the lives of those he calls. Plus we need to keep in mind that God chooses whom God chooses and we are called to love every person whom God calls. It is not optional. It is a command. Remember? “If you love me, you will do what I command you… A new command I give to you: love one another as I have loved you.”

Being a Christian is more than a single moment of epiphany; of realizing just who Jesus is for us and for the world. Being a Christian may begin with a fantastic conversion experience and it could also be the living out of what we have been taught and believed for a lifetime. It could be living out a sacramental moment and figuring out what it means in the here and now for a lifetime. We do not arrive as fully formed, perfect Christians. We still have to grow into the fullness and stature of Jesus Christ. We still are being christened – that is, made like Jesus – not only in the good things, but also in the pain and the suffering and the compassion that this world needs to know. And whatever else it is, Christianity is about living out the life that we have been given to show people that we have come, that we have seen and that we are making known to the world around us that we see the Lamb, he is here and he is calling us… and that means he’s calling you too!

So what happens when we start out on the road with Jesus? We get to come and see! We are invited into all of his life, to spend time with him, to see how he really lives and how he really abides in God. We are called to abide with him so that we might be tended on by God – pruned and dressed so that we would be able to bear much spiritual fruit and grow in what we offer to God. And because we are called to abide and to come and see, we are confronted with the question, “What do you want?” or “What is it that you are looking for?” This is an important question for us not only as individuals but also as community. What is that we seek? It is not about who we seek but what we are searching for.

As a community of believers we are called to community and to servanthood; we are called to service and to companionship. This is why the Church was created! Our following begins with the first breath and is delayed by death for a time as yet unseen and unknown. And as we intentionally come and search, we will come to see God for who God is and we will find ourselves finally at home with him. What makes the Church holy is neither the rules it keeps nor the theology they have discovered. The Church is holy because God calls it holy and is making the Church so. Remember that the Church is God’s chosen people and therefore they are family.

So let us take this opportunity to make Christ known and to draw in those who are called to be family and in the process point out the way to God – look, the Lamb comes to us!      

Friday, January 7, 2011

And Jesus smiled

Early in my time in the North, I had a little girl who was all of about four years of age, walk up to me and boldly asked me, “Uncle, which are you?” I was confused about the question and did not understand what she was asking me. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, she asked the question again, only louder and slower, “Uncle… which are you?” Still not grasping what she wanted, she then asked, “Which are you?  Crow or wolf?” Now I understood. She wanted to know if we were related, if we were of the same clan or not. I reassured her that because the elders told me that Jesus was crow clan that meant I must be crow too because Jesus and I were brothers. The little girl smiled and went on her way; she wanted to make sure that we were friends and that I really belonged.      

Such is the nature of baptism: it is the sacrament of belonging. We are adopted into a community and into a family, and drawn in to a unique life. It is not unlike when one goes to the North from the South and lives in the small First Nations communities of Yukon and Northern British Columbia. One needs to know that they belong and that they are welcomed.  

“Jesus came from Galilee” to john to be baptized in the River Jordan. It was intentional and it was purposeful – the coming. But why did Jesus go? And why did he go to John and ask to be baptized? First, we can noted that because of John and his ministry, Jesus could see that the people were ready to respond. They were looking for the Messiah and they wanted to know that God was among them as he was in times before. The people were ready for revival. Coming to John was a deliberate action. Such actions cannot be ignored; they can be welcomed, they can be rejected but they will not be ignored.  And by Jesus going to John and receiving baptism, Jesus immediately set the standard. Anyone who desires to follow him will have to follow this standard. Moreover, it gave John the opportunity to boldly proclaim the start of the messianic ministry.

That’s why I think it dangerous for us as Church to think of Baptism as a single moment in our lives instead of the beginning of a process. Baptism is the beginning of a whole life inside a family and a community. Baptism is not celebrated to get something, it is there to start things; in particular to start relationships. Why is that important? Because, it helps us to know just who and what we are. In our modern culture we often obsess about our self identity and define ourselves by who we know or don’t know. After all, who amongst us wouldn’t want to hear the God of the whole universe say, “This child is mine, my beloved and I am well please with him/her”? Which is more important to us in this moment, to know God or to be known by God?

Being baptized gets you wet. We all know that. Water makes you wet. What becomes important after you have been made wet? That bath is only a moment in time. What we do to live in the time that follows is just as important as the moment. we are called upon to live and witness and to serve Christ in all those we find around us. We need to intentionally live out the dyings and risings of Christ on a daily basis to make him known. Or of you want to think of it a different way, when I was first ordained, I kept waiting for a special feeling, a sense of greater holiness to descend so that I might go and be a priest, a pastor, a teacher amongst the people of God and I got nervous when it didn’t come. It took time for me to realize that it was me God called and not a different, better version of me. I had to go and live out my priesthood with and among my people, building bridges and relationships with them. And in the process of coming to people deliberately Jesus has been there too, watching and smiling. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Kingly Presence

I found this online and thought it worth posting. I met the Very Rev. Herbert O'Driscall the weekend that he spoke at my Convocation from Queen's College in early May 2007. O'Driscoll is a visiting lecturer at the College of Preachers In Washington, This article appeared in The Christian Century, December 27, 2003, p.18. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Because we know almost nothing about the wise men, our imaginations take wing. If we were brought up in the Christian faith, these characters have ridden across our minds and hearts ever since we were taken to our first Sunday school pageant. Even the most sophisticated children secretly envy those who have been selected to play the wise men. Parents will ransack attics for pieces of fabric -- the more brilliant and exotic the better -- and someone in the family will create a costume that will be linked to no particular age or time or culture but will somehow speak of far-off places, distant shores, desert sands and starry skies -- all at the same time.
In my house, which all four children have now left, there is an old pine dough box. Once it was used in a farmhouse as the repository where bread dough would rise. But year after year at Christmas, the dough box had another, more exalted role: It served as manger for the Christ child. To this day there is a brass box in our bedroom that served for years as "the gift of gold" borne up the aisle, as did two of our pottery jars, both of them filled by the congregation’s imagination with frankincense and myrrh.
They have always fascinated us, these travelers who must have loomed in the entrance to the cave before an astonished -- and probably alarmed -- Mary and Joseph. All the language we use about them tends to reach for a larger-than-life quality. One of the church’s hymns claims that to rival their gifts we would have to bring to this "brightest and best of the sons of the morning, odors of Edom, gems of the mountain, pearls of the ocean." When Isaiah speaks of such visitors, he speaks in the most extravagant terms. "Kings!" Isaiah proclaims. icings come to the brightness of your dawn." And because the traditional three camels no seem enough to do justice to the celebration, we turn to Isaiah’s evocation of "a multitude of camels . . . the young camels of Midian and Ephah." Then, "all those from Sheba" are invited too.
But even Isaiah fails to satisfy our wish to paint a vast and wonderful canvas for these visitors to the stable. We go to the psalmist for more vivid images, and he obliges by bringing on stage "the kings of Tarshish and of the isles . . . the kings of Sheba and Seba," saying of them that they "all fall down" before this child.
This child. In those two words we give the reason for our longing for the most expensive language and images we can create, for we know this child’s glory calls forth every possible beauty of utterance, image, art and song. We know that no stage is too vast for this child, no visitor too royal to kneel, and no gift too precious to offer.
Moments later we listen to Paul. How excited he is by what he has to impart -- this mystery, this revelation, this gospel! Notice how he too is reaching for the most expansive language he can conjure up to express his thought. And no wonder. For instead of a small land and a marginal people being the recipients of this news, the entire world has become a wide field for God’s seeding. To use Paul’s term, the horizon has been pushed back to include the gentiles -- the world!
As we finish listening to Paul’s excited sharing of this vast new possibility for the gospel, we hear Matthew telling us how the Magi completed their journey -- dismounting, entering into the shadows of the cave, kneeling and offering their gifts. And as we listen we realize that we have seen the coming of the very first gentiles, kneeling and worshiping before this God in human flesh, a God not yet even weaned by his mother.
The Magi fascinate us also because they do not fit into this tiny stage of hill village and humble stable. Their sophistication clashes with this simplicity, their obvious power sits uneasily beside the vulnerability of child and family. They are urban in a rural world, affluent in the midst of poverty, cosmopolitan amid the provincial.
We discern their wisdom even as we read of their dealings with the court of Herod. Civilized and mannered, they pay their respects to Herod, yet with contemptuous ease they see the reality behind the pathetic physical and mental wreck Herod has become. They have gained experience at a far more powerful court, and have no illusions about Herod’s ability to be dangerous and vicious, even in his decline.
Theirs is a deep wisdom. The Magi represent forever and for all of us the wisdom that recognizes human life to be a journey taken in search of One who calls us beyond ourselves into faithful service -- One before whom we are prepared to kneel, and to whom we offer the best of our gifts, flawed and unworthy though they be.
We watch these visitors to Bethlehem, as they kneel with supreme grace and dignity before what is to them simplicity, vulnerability and poverty. They are prepared to kneel, for in their wisdom -- and this is the heart of what makes them truly wise -- they discern the glory that is hidden in this place and in this child.
And so we too, daily engaged in our own all too human journey, searching for that which would have us be so much more than we are, and bearing our unworthy gifts, kneel on the stable floor beside these royal ones, worshiping with them the child who is most royal.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Of "tilts" and faith

At first glance, John’s idea of Christmas, of the incarnation, is not going to inspire a whole lot for the world to sink itself into. There are no lights, no decorated trees, no animals, and no crèches, no presents and… well you get the idea. It is the one picture of Christmas that has never been painted. So what it is that John’s Gospel tries to communicate to us? Simply, it is that the very God, who made the heavens and the earth, has come among us in our flesh and we have seen his glory and known him. Many did not welcome him but some did. And to those who did welcome him, he gave them the gift of power to enable them to be the children of the living God. Christ, and through us as his followers, reveal the presence of God here in earth.

John shows us that the Word, whom we know as Jesus, participated in the making of the world; that Christ led the work to redeem the world from is sin, brokenness, and death, and Jesus gives good gifts to enable the ongoing work of the Church to enable the consecration of His Body. John’s Christmas is not about the manger and all that goes with it, it is about the fact that God has come among us in the person of his Son and that we have seen and known his glory – all of us. Yes, even you! In Christ, God has tabernacle among us and we have seen and known him. Christmas is more than just the glitz and glam of the one day that begins this feast. It is about God being among us. Otherwise this time of year becomes a season such as they knew in CS Lewis’ Narnia where, “It is always winter and never Christmas.”
So how do we move out now from Christmas? In some real sense, we don’t. We need to recognize that the Incarnation (Christmas) is always with us – all the way to the cross, the grave and beyond. It is why he came and made his dwelling with us. He came to bring us back to himself and to do that, he came and dwells among us. What we do need to do is to take the leap of faith that the Gospel is calling us to. The word believe as it is often used in John, is a verb; an action word. We so often readily acknowledge the basics of the faith: that God made the world and that Christ came into the world to work humanity’s redemption. This can be answered with the head without engaging the rest of us and our lives.

John’s Gospel calls us to something more, something deeper in terms of faith. Christian faith is not just a system of obedience to which we all must adhere. We have that in the law and we have not lived up to it. Faith, at the heart, is devotion to the person of Jesus and to the grace and truth that he brings. The Law became a thing of its own – detached from Moses and the relationship that was built in the desert. The Law was given that we might know who we are. Jesus came that we might know the Father and chooses to live by grace rather than by a kind of righteousness that leaves us alone. No such thing can happen to the grace love and peace that Jesus offers because they are his and he offers them to you and to me. Thus we are called to participate in his grace love and peace and by living in it and share it with those we find and those we know as neighbour. Thus Jesus in coming and caring has revealed to us who the Father is and has removed much of the mystery by opening the veil.

If Easter is the heart of who and what we are as a community, then surely Christmas must be our soul as Church. Take heart, God has made the world and is drawing his world back to himself in Christ through his Church. All of us have seen his glory. Now we need to make our response – the response of one life time. Let us go and pitch our tents next to his, so that we might follow him and his light into his kingdom of light and life.