Friday, December 30, 2011

Making our mission incarnational

Around the Cathedral these days, there is a lot of talk about the future and what the mission of the parish might be. And as it happens, I was doing some research towards some planning we are going to do this winter. In particular, I wanted to know how to define mission so that I could build on that for what we were going to do. Yet in my research I uncovered something I was not prepared for. The word “mission” as it was first used in English in the early 16th Century, according to a online dictionary, is now obsolete. The dictionary indicated that “the act of sending” had ceased. I take that to mean that we do not use the word in that manner anymore. I could not help but think of the work of the Church and what it is that we are called by God to do. And then it struck me. We do not do “mission” the way that we used to.

We could debate the merits and failures of the Church and how it has carried out its mission in Canada and in other places in the world. It would take some time to do that. I believe that such a discussion while tremendously useful on some levels would also distract us from what we need to do in the here and now. Such a belief comes from the old adage “the Church that lives unto itself, dies unto itself.” Thus I am pushing myself to look at the ministry of my own parish, of our Diocese and of the wider Church as something more than the establishment and maintenance of a physical presence in a particular place at any given time. We as parishes and as a diocese, need move from being mission churches to being churches in mission. After all, what is mission but a group of people who are working to see the goals and objectives of God established and accomplished in our lives and that of our community? We are sent and are trusted with the work that would bring people into the kingdom. Our mission is to embody Christ for others to see and to get to know.

When I served in the far North, I would walk (not drive) in the community I served. People in the community came to know me not just by my face or how I talked; people knew me without those things simply by how I walked. Even the children would point at me as I passed by on my way somewhere and would say loudly, “There goes Jesu Krist!” It did matter who it was that saw me, Anglicans, Roman Catholics? No, it didn’t. Even non-believers after a time of getting to know me would say that there was something different going on after I would speak with them. There was calm and a peace that they didn’t know themselves that would be present when we would talk. There would be joy and happiness that was deeper and more real.

So let us make being incarnational our mission. Let us embody Christ for others so that we might both present him and represent him in our different communities. Let us be about the work that God has set before us and be willing to pray with everything we are and give what we have that the kingdom would be extended so that we would go from being mission churches to being communities of mission.

Waiting for the promise

There is something that struck me over this Christmas season about the older people in the Gospel lesson (Luke 2.21-40). It is the ability of older people to wait for things that we have been promised. Simeon and Anna are two such people. Both had lived long lives. Simeon had been away from home a good portion of his priesthood. Anna had been without husband and family for even longer. Both were waiting for God to answer their various prayers which they had been praying in different ways with varying levels of enthusiasm over their lifetimes. Now is the time for their individual moments to shine, to proclaim the greatness of God and the ponderous gift that God had given. and then… well then what?

This is a moment when we can consider not only the faithful lives and Anna and Simeon lived and that is important. Their words and actions point out to the rest of the world who God is and what has done and is going to do in the life of the One they proclaim.
 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.For my eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Today we not only celebrate the movement into another year and the birth of a child who was named Jesus, we celebrate them together. And if we are to be more like Simeon and Anna, then we need to stop and ask ourselves an important question, “When we discover that God has been faithful and fulfilled promises he has made to you, how do you respond?” The Child that has been born for us, the Son that has been given to us should cause us to rejoice. Such a moment is an opportunity to celebrate God’s faithfulness and God’s blessings upon us so that we can become the people that we are. And if we are to be like Simeon and Anna then we need to recognize that this very celebration does not go away with the trees, lights and tinsel. God is faithful to us and responds to us each and every day. God responds to us and to our prayers, our hopes and our dreams each and every time that we are willing to stop and offer them. God’s grace and our giving are not limited to one day or even to a particular season like Christmas. This is a season when we can thank God that he has put his name on us and that god has blessed us. We can praise God that he remains with us and is present to us in the flesh and blood of his One and Only Son. We have indeed been blessed. And we have also been, as my children would say, “Owned”. Because we have been blessed; because we have a name that has been put on us and because God is in our midst, we are still his. And together we live out the risings and dyings of Jesus in our everyday, workaday lives.

Let us follow Jesus that we might learn more of him and of his true nature that we might reflect that light to the world and help people to share in the blessings and honours due is wonderful name. Come let us adore him and celebrate him. What are you waiting for… Christmas?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thanks to you who read

I wanted to say a thank you to all of my gentle-readers for your willingness to take some time and consider what is posted at Skypilot. When I logged on to write this week, there are been more than  2000 visits to the site. This is appreciated. I look forward to sharing with you in 2012. May God bless you and keep you, make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up the light of countenance upon you and give you peace.


Monday, December 19, 2011

The undomesticated Christmas

When you think about it, it was an interesting way to begin. An unplanned, unexpected pregnancy to a couple who had not come under the same roof yet to full be husband and wife. The wife had disappeared for a length of time to see a relative who was said to be barren and unable to have children. But the old couple did and they had a son. Angels came to the wife and then to the husband to reassure them that what was happening was of God and that God was at work in them and through them. Angels went to the couple and then to shepherds and whispered in the night to magi who had come to see and worship the new born king.

It would seem in our modern moment that we are more worried about what we want. Can we afford it? No problem that is what the credit card is for; we can deal with the fall out in January when the bill comes. That way we know that Santa Claus isn’t going to disappoint. We can even taunt the jolly ol’ elf with text messages telling him he is too late because we when out and got what we wanted and we really don’t want anything from him. As one Christmas commercial put it, Me – 1 and Elf Boy – 0. I have noticed in our culture we are moving more and more away from the idea that Christmas is about what happened that night in the stable more that 2000 years ago and that Santa has become an inept deliverer as well so we are going to have to save ourselves.

And yet in the younger generation there is still that hope. Kids understand that Jesus taught Santa how to give; that there is the need to be generous, caring and kindest in them as well as in the world. One of the things I want to work at is bringing a little bit of Christmas into each and every day so that someone can see and meet the King. After all didn’t John’s Gospel remind us that God came to his own and his own did not receive? God was in the world and the world didn’t know it. And if that is true then what else do we not know? Christmas is about God coming to us. He has come to us and made his presence among us made known. We can see his glory, we can receive what he has to offer and never be the same again – we can be reborn (anothen). We can go from what’s in it for me and why me, Lord to hearing the words, “Come, follow me.”

This is the moment when we are squarely challenged with questions like, “Do you believe that God still comes?” and “Do you believe that God is still at work in the world?” Most people believe that God is watching and keeping track but is not involved. Let this Christmas dispel that notion once and for all – God is here and he is involved through the life of his one and only Son. God comes to us in the flesh so that we might know him and live – really and truly live. God is doing things: great things and small things. God is doing things: mundane things and exceptional things. God is at work helping us as his Church to make know that God is here and he wants to share his love and his life with us. That is not something you will not find under the tree or in a brightly wrapped package in the closet. It is found in the earthenware jars that are us, waiting to burst out. And that can only happen if we learn to be like Mary and Joseph, heeding the voice of angels and the Message of God. Take some time and give thanks for the gifts that you have been given and thank God that the unwrapping of our undomesticated Christmas is still going on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will you make room?

Will we make room for God? It is a question that we ought to respond to each Christmas. Can we take a bit of time in the midst of everything that needs to be done to stop and take some stock to see where God fits into everything?  We avoid saying things like, “He must increase and I... must decrease, especially after Christmas!” Jesus came not to be just involved in your life and mine but to take the centre of it. The heart of the Christmas celebration is about being in the presence of the King and knowing the reality of his coming kingdom.

Think of it this way: there is a legend told about the king Hiero II who asked Archimedes to find a method for determining whether a crown was made of pure gold or if the gold in the crown was mixed with silver. One day Archimedes went to get into his bath. And as he sat down in the bath the level of the water rose up as his body displaced the water in the tub. He suddenly jumped up and ran out of the house, stark naked, and ran out into the street exclaiming, “Eureka, eureka! I found it! I found it!”.  Archimedes may have spent some time, days and maybe even weeks, thinking about how to weigh the crown. His discover came as a surprise to him. The truth had been the truth before he knew it. But now he knew that he knew it. He knew how to weigh the crown to discover the truth.

Mary understood this and was willing to receive what God was. Mary was willing to be open to what God asked of her even though it sounded silly, foolish. She was at least open to the possibility that God could take what seemed silly and foolish and make it possible and so much more. Through Mary and her willingness to hear and to respond, God works out salvation for all of humanity. Jesus comes to us because Mary was willing see the truth. We have not found it, he has found us. Now we have the chance to respond to him and his presence. This is as true for those of us who have walked with Christ for many years as it is to the person who is hearing about Jesus for the first time.

Mary had to wait for her time to come, for the birth of the baby. She and her intended would have to make the long trek to Bethlehem on dangerous roads and on foot. And there would be no room for them at the end of that road. It is not easy to make room for Another, but if we are willing he will come into us and live with us and we with him. And that might be the greatest gift any of us can receive this Christmas... so will you make room?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

light and hope in God's world

In thinking about holding out the hope and waiting for the coming of the King and his kingdom, I came across the following story during my sermon preparation and thought it important to share it here. The story is about a Rabbi named Hugo Grynn. As a child, he and his family were sent to the labour camp at Auschwitz. In the middle of that tragedy and horror Grynn’s father and family (as did many of the Jewish families in that place) tried to hold on to as many of the Jewish customs as they could. One particularly cold night at the start of Hanukkah, Grynn’s father called the family together. When they were assembled, he took a pat of butter, the last bit of food the family had, and took a string from his own ratty jacket and fashioned a crude candle from them. As he lit the candle Hugo objected and said to his father, “That butter was the last bit of food we have. How are we going to live now?” in reply his father said to him, “We can live for many days without food... we cannot live one minute without hope. This is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here. Not anywhere.”

For me, that is what John the Witness does for the people of Israel. He holds out the light; he reflects the light of the One who is the Light. He is like a roadside sign posts that light up in the darkness as the headlights of a vehicle fall upon it. The light is not his; it does not belong to him. He works to reflect what is not his so that the One can be seen and known. He reflects the hope and the joy and the confidence in God that all of us want and need in our own walks with God. This is a moment to be of good courage and full of joy because the One who is the Light is coming.

And one of things that I take from the story of Hugo and his father is that there is a real need to hold out that light, not just for self but more so to help others. We need the light the path by holding out the hope that is ours in Christ so that others can see and know it. Jesus came not only so that we can have love and peace and joy and all those other good things that we want for ourselves and for others. Jesus came that we might know him and through him know our heavenly Father. Jesus came that we might see and experience the heart of the Father and thus Jesus is the visible, audible Word and presence to us so that we might know the invisible, transcendent Father.

Such an upholding of light and hold out of faith for others requires patience on our part. The Church is not meant to be a refrigerator, keeping the faithful perfectly chilled for that moment of redemption. It is meant to be a womb which gives life and birth to new believers. It is messy, painful, and even a bit bloody and dangerous at times. Yet it is all worth it. We have something in our lives with Christ that they world is seeking and wants, even if they cannot describe it. They know that they need hope. They know that they need God even though they often don’t know how to express it. This season is the moment when the world is most opening to hearing about Jesus and the kingdom that he brings. Let us take this moment, this week and hold out our candles for all to see it. Let’s go light God's world. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Message is simple

The message, the good news is simple. It is three simple words “He is risen”. And by making that statement, you might think that I have gotten my date mixed up thinking that it is Easter or Holy Cross Day; or that I have lost all my marbles and taken and leave of my senses. The fact that Jesus is risen. And we should consider that when we come to the Gospel lesson this week (Mark 1.1-8) that is what is meant by the good news – He is risen. It is why he came and it is why he is coming again in a second advent.

And in this vain we need to start at the beginning to understand what it is that Mark proclaims in his gospel. It is not a nicely wrapped up whodunit like “NCIS” or “Diagnosis Murder” Episode. There are no birth narratives with angels or shepherds to look at. There is no manger scene with mother child and distant father to peruse.  Not even a lamb or a cow to consider.

What this beginning is, is uncomplicated. It is not a well thought out dissertation on the finer points of eschatology. It is not meant to be a creedal statement in the same way that the creeds are. It is a pointed and simple recognition that God is coming to his people to bring them back. He is coming to bring them home. He is coming to restore the order of creation as it was before things fell apart through our fault and wanting it all our own ways. So through the prophets, we are told that God and his kingdom are coming. In the midst of the wreckage and ruin of our lives, in the middle of the refuse and rubble of our kingdom building, at the heart of the destruction and desolation of our communities, Viola! Ta-da! Here is God. God is building a way home for us to follow and it is through his Son. Here is God ever present to his people, still victorious over the things that enslave us and God still reigns.

And to make sure that we are aware of this God sends a prophet. God sent someone who was willing and able to speak things out of his heart into the hearts of men and women so that they could respond and so that they might find joy in the message of their own salvation. Someone who is willing make God’s message and plan plain and known. John was such a man. With John there was a change and a new beginning. He was indifferent from the teachers of his day. He did dress like them. He didn’t eat what they ate. He did not live in the comfort of a city. He made his home in the wilderness. And people came to John, to hear him preach. Those same people who crowded the riverbanks found themselves responding to that teaching in their lives through baptism. Through John and his active proclaiming of the good news of God people were aware of the presence of God amongst them and began to make themselves ready for a mightier gift, a greater guest: the Messiah.

This change of mind, this repentance leads each and all of us into a new identity. We in effect die to one life and begin to live another – represented in the waters of baptism. We go in one person and come out another. And we gain this new life not just because we have the right creeds, know all the right doctrines or go to the right church, we have this life this new way of living and of being because God has made this way our way and this life our life in Jesus. God is being faithful to honour the promises he has made over the centuries to men and women of faith that three be redemption and there will be salvation and heaven and earth will be one, as they were meant and created to be.

So where does this leave us? We are the sentinels of this kingdom. Like John, we are called to draw others to the water’s edge and to declare clearly and forthrightly the good news that “he is risen”. We are the beginning of God’s work in this city, appealing to all who listen to come and be comforted by God and to be drawn into friendship with God and into his eternity.