Thursday, April 26, 2012

Walking before the King

An old Chinese proverb tells the story of a fox that was captured by a tiger. The fox said, "You can't eat me because the King has made me the leader of all the animals." The tiger did not believe him because the fox was crafty. So the fox said to the tiger, "Follow me and see if any animal in the forest challenges me." The tiger agreed to this and followed directly behind the fox as the fox began his walk through the forest. To the tiger's amazement it turned out to be exactly as the fox had said. Not a single animal they encountered challenged the fox. Indeed every animal they met fled in sheer panic. After several such encounters the tiger finally agreed that the fox was the leader of all the animals and let him go. It goes to show that it is always easier to lead when you have a tiger backing you up.

I choose to tell you this story for a simple reason: we need to stop and examine our relationship with the Christ the Tiger. It is important to do so in the light of the many things that he has said in this chapter about who the real leader is and what real leadership is about. Jesus directly challenges those who call themselves, the priests and prelates, the Pharisees and Saduccees, the lawyers and Levites who make known the Law and how to follow it. There is a controversy about Jesus having healed a man who was born blind and did this healing on the Sabbath.  In doing so, Jesus provokes the leadership of the faith into finally dealing with him and this leads to his death on the cross.

You might wonder why Jesus would do such a thing? In making his challenge, Jesus labels those who claim to be decent shepherds and following God pretenders, thieves and robbers, and most of all he calls them blind. He boldly pronounces that he is the better leader and that he is God by telling them “I am the Good Shepherd”. But we need to be careful here, this is not a battle of political parties, trying to get someone to vote for them. Jesus goes much further than that. He claims that he can bring life to those who follow him. The heart of the argument that Jesus makes is this: “The thief comes for nothing but to steal, to kill and to destroy. I have come that they might have life and have life abundantly.” This means that those who try to live a life without the Shepherd live the shell of a life – a live that is not able to give life and a life that is not able to truly and full live.

So, in a real way not only do we learn something about Christ the tiger, we learn that there is a promise about having him in our lives. It is not just a promise. It is more than a huge promise. It is a life giving life, life transforming promise that, when you follow and walk before him, your life is never going to be the same again. It is also important to know that your Shepherd is going to lead you to where you need to be. This means you are not always going to go where you want to, but where you need to be, for your sake, for the sake of others and most of all for God’s glory.

We need to consider carefully how we live before the Lord, knowing not only that he is risen from the dead but that he is also Lord and King of all creation. Holy and faithful living is not just for those who are in the leadership, especially the clergy. It is for all who would walk before the Lord and with the Lord, so that we are with him even in the valley of the shadow of death, we continue to be who we are and continue to become the people that God created – filled with his peace, clothed with his love and moved by his power. We are to become the full life that God desires in the face of others.

So let us learn how to walk before the King and to live our lives to their divinely inspired fullest for the sake of his coming kingdom.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Having the Heart to care for our own

Long ago, there was a king who placed on one of his highways, a boulder. Then he hid himself nearby to wait and see if anyone would come along and remove the boulder from the roadway. Some of the wealthiest among his subjects, merchants and courtiers came to the boulder and simply walked around it. Many people loudly blamed the kings for not minding the condition of the roadway and keeping it clear, but did nothing to remove it themselves. Then late in the day a peasant, pulling his load of vegetables comes and stops at the large stone. After struggle and toil the farmer finally moves the boulder out of the highway so that he could pass with his cart and load of vegetables. After he picks up his load to continue on his way, he notices a purse on the side of the road with a note attached to it. Again he puts down his load and goes to the bag, retrieves the note and reads it. The note tells the peasant that this bag contains many pieces of gold which the king himself gives to him, because he took the time to remove the stone from the road. The peasant discovered that day what many of us need to learn: every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve his condition.

Perhaps by now many in the diocese will have heard that the amounts of money coming to the diocese from beyond our church walls and borders is going to be reduced yet again and will be reduced further  incrementally over at least the next four years. I think many of you would look at that kind of news as a kind of boulder that is in our road. I know that it has been a challenge that the leadership of the Diocese has had to grapple with for a while now. It has been hard and a struggle. Now we are faced with the reality that we are going to have to look at how we do ministry in this diocese and how we can do it differently. In the short term at least the reality is that we are going to have to consider personnel cuts as a measure to be able to keep doing what we are already doing. Perhaps that is another stone that we encounter.

We need to consider carefully how we are going to work together to remove the stones that are in our paths to building our ministry across the diocese. One of the things I deeply appreciated about the recently held Clericus was the opportunity to actually pray with my brother and sister clergy in this diocese for the life of this diocese. We were able to talk with one another and be with one another and agree in prayer with one another. The time sent us away from the Cathedral filled with hope and joy and a real sense of belonging to each other. And most of all in prayer, we began to see that God was moving stones out of our road.

At the most recent gathering of the Diocesan Executive Committee in March, each of the members talked a little bit about what was going on in their parishes in terms of ministry and what we as parishes were doing and how we were and are reaching out to people in the parish and beyond. In one parish there is a running group looking to promote health amongst the members of the community while another parish is having a meal and raising monies to help Camp Caledonia. A third parish is running a soup kitchen and helping needy families in the community in which they minister.

Perhaps where we have lacked in our common life as a diocese is in the financial support from within, of the frontline people who lead and administer all the great things that the parishes can do when they have leadership. We have become dependent on the grace and gifts of others to make our own ministry happen. This is the biggest stone in the road. This Diocese has benefited greatly from the generosity of givers from Great Britain in the beginning and from our fellow Canadians even now. There are farmers in Saskatchewan, professional people in Ontario and fishermen in Newfoundland, who every time they put money in the plate to support their own churches, are helping us to do what we do as well.

The hard work that we have ahead of us is to learn how to make the ministry of our Diocese and our parishes truly ours. We need to work to learn how to support the ministry of our parishes and our Diocese so that we can be effective in sharing the good news of God in Christ were we are: from Masset to Fort St. John, from Pouce Coupe to Kitkatla  and all the points in between. And there is one thing more that we need to keep in mind: God is in all this! God is enabling us to be his people, in his way with his blessing. May we take the risk of faith and move forward in the strength of our risen and ascended Lord and Saviour as the early apostles did, making it known that  Jesus lives and he reigns!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Learning to believe by giving your heart away

Did you know that the original meaning for the word “believe” meant to give your heart and not what we have stored in our heads?  Belief is about what we have given our hearts to not what we have managed to store up in terms of knowledge, facts and proofs. This is the moment when we are called to reach out not with what we know but with hope for the things we do not know and the things we cannot prove and yet still know that they are still true.  Or if you want to think of it differently, is believing without doubt really faith?

Let me draw you a picture of what those first days after the resurrection might have been like: there was no pipe organ, no piano, no priest lead and preach. It was the Christian community at its lowest and worst. They were in behind locked doors and shuttered windows for fear of what the world was going to do to them next. It was Church at its nastiest:  group who were frightened, disheartened and defensive. Into this perfectly gloomy conglomeration of people, through locked doors comes the risen Jesus who bids them a good evening and God’s very own peace. The first time he had to say it not just once but twice. The first bidding to was to announce his presence among the disciples and bring their disbelief to an end. Then he greeted them a second time so that they knew that they knew that it was him. Only then they could properly greet each other, Teacher and disciples. But there was one missing who needed to be there but he wasn’t.

And here is the thing about the absent Thomas. The Ranger had Yogi Bear. Snow White and the Dwarfs had Grumpy. Sesame Street had Oscar the Grouch. Charlie Brown had Lucy. And Jesus had Thomas. Thomas was not about to accept anything but the real thing. He wanted an experience all his own; to know that it really was him for his own self after what he had seen on that hill that day not so long ago. Many will pour scorn on Thomas because he did not just accept what he was told. Wasn’t it Thomas who was the one, who in John’s Gospel, encouraged and called his fellow apostles to go with Jesus that they would meet their death together with Jesus? Thomas believed with all his heart that Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One and had given it freely only to have it crushed on that hilltop just outside the city. Thomas didn’t need to have a change of heart, just a change of mind.

That’s why Jesus confronted him and challenged Thomas to open up his broken heart to continue to believe in him. And did you notice that Thomas did not need to do what said when confronted? He did need to touch and to see – he knew that he knew he was in the presence of the Master, which is why he boldly confessed for everyone to hear, “My Lord and my God”.

Having faith does not mean that you suddenly have all your questions answered. Having faith means that you will trust what you know because God has shown things to you and that you have hope for what you have not seen because you know God and put your trust in him. e need to learn to walk with our questions knowing that it may take time for us to know and to understand because, as St. Paul might remind us, we see in a glass darkly. We know only in part and only see in part. So I can trust and believe in what I know and leave room for hope because of what I do not know. Thanks be to God for that! Jesus is risen, alleluia!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Writing a blog for Easter Day as a priest is not an easy task. There is so much that one wants to say about God and what God has done in and through Jesus; in his passion and death, and through raising Jesus from the dead into a new way of life that transforms the person inside out. And that has made me stop and realize that we are going to have a whole season of Easter and so for the moment, I can somewhat relax and remind myself that at this moment there is only one thing that need be said: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. I say this to all of us, including me so that we might remind ourselves that Easter is  not just about one day. It is about everyday that leads us into eternity. So, in a real sense, Easter is not finished. At least not yet.

Easter is both a promise and a duty for everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. There is the promise of abundant life in Christ as we follow him to the places and spaces where we are to minister, work, play and be. In Christ there is life and we need to live that life so that other people will see it and want it. It is not a perfect little life with no challenges, bumps, scrapes and bruises. Jesus risen body will tell us that. He continues to bear those awful marks that we inflicted on him. What the Christian life is about is the grace, the joy and the love that allow us to live those moments knowing that God has acted and that someday this world is going to be a different: a better, a transformed place and we are in this moment invited to come and follow that we might participate in that world.

Easter is also our Christian duty to announce to the world as the “young man” did. To tell the world that the grave is empty and we will not finding the living among the dead. The cross was our doing and what our world wants. The empty cross and grave is what God wants and has done for us. The stone was rolled a way but have you ever considered why? Jesus didn’t need to get out, making the resurrection a reality. God allowed us in to see the place where the body lay so that we might ask the question, “Where did he go?” In and of themselves the cross and the empty grave are not proof that Jesus rose from the dead. What proves it is the Church encountering him time and time again. The grave, the cross and the community of Christ all point to what is going on. Those who want to know the reality of what has happened have to come within to discover it.

Jesus met his disciples after his death and they knew that they knew it was him; warts, scares and all. And in time they too learned to overcome their fear and that above all else there is one thing that needs to be said to this world: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is coming again.