Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pass the salt, please.

Salt. We are constantly warned about the effects of too much salt on our bodies. We are told on television. We are told by doctors. We are told by family and friends. We are told not to use to much and it would be better not to use it at all. I want to point out to you that there is a physical and a spiritual consequence to a lack of salt in one’s life. Physically we need sodium and without a bit of salt in out bodies, our health fails and we can die from a lack of salt. Too little salt is as dangerous as too much.

The same is true spiritually for the individual and for the Church. We are already salt if we are believers in the Lord Jesus. No lines, no waiting. We are in this moment as people and as a community, salt. It should be noted that slat never stops being salt but it can lose its effectiveness. It can become something less than what it once was. The spiritual life can become diluted and insipid. Ineffective. Useless. All it becomes good for is being thrown out. Somehow a lot of why I am saying sounds familiar in the life of the Church... doesn’t it?

So what do we do? First of all we are called to recognize what we are: SALT. The Church is salt in the world. What does salt do? Salt penetrates deep into whatever it is given to. Salt brings out what is hidden; both the good and the bad. Salt preserves what it penetrates and it draws out the flavour of whatever it penetrates when it is cooked and consumed. Salt helps to retain water which is necessary for life to happen.

So what should the Church do? In short, it needs to participate. We need to be recognizable as Christian people in the world. We need to penetrate our society and preserve those parts of it that best reflect who God is and what God does that this city and the nation would recognize that God is amongst them. The Church needs to be self disciplined in its work in and with the world. The Church needs to be wise and disciplined in its witness to the world about God. We need to confess Christ; him crucified and risen from the dead. We need to remind this world that God has come to us, all of us. And in the going we need to live a life that is not just morally pure but live a life in the service of others.

People in the Church complain about the lack of young people. What draws in the younger generation is a faith that is not only deeply held, but that actually has an impact, in a positive way, on the life of another. Faith needs to lead and to go somewhere. Faith is not solely about one person anymore. It is about all of us. The way we live and the way we serve is watched. My generation is watching the Church with a great desire to see the fellowship grow and a drive to go and make Christ known. Conversely, my generation is not interested in the past or in trying to maintain the Church as it has been for our parents and grandparents. We will not support the structures of the past but rather concern ourselves with the mission and the kingdom. In the short term, that may make us a financially poor Church, but one worth being a part of as we focus on reaching out to the least, the last and the lost of our communities, cities and nations. We will become again that has no wealth to offer but will offer what we do have: health and rescue in the name of the Lord Jesus. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Out on the sidewalks and into the Kingdom

Last Sunday morning, in the midst of getting ready for the Sunday morning Eucharist, I went out to the big front doors to make sure that they were unlocked so that the early birds coming for the service were able to get in. When I open the door I spotted a little fellow out on the sidewalk. He couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old (or so I thought). He was there chatting with one of the clergy who was here for the service. It was in this moment that I realized that he was not wearing pants and that I had not seen him before. I went over to him and asked him his name. He mumbled something that I could not understand. I noticed that there was a medical alert necklace around the little boy’s neck and so I could my wife, who kindly brought the boy a pair of pants and I went to the kitchen and got him a cookie to munch on. Realizing that he could be seriously lost and ill, I decided to call the police.

In the meantime the same priest outside came across the babysitter who was of course frantic and worried about the little boy. The parents had gone to get groceries and had left the little boy in the sitter’s care. In a flash, he had gone from playing with a computer tablet to disappearing and the search was on. There was much relief and even a smile as the police constable arrived took his notes and went on his way again. Everyone was thankful that the little boy was back where he needed to be again.

I share this moment of ministry with you for a simple reason. Children, whether we realize it or not, are amazing teachers and terrific mirrors. They show us who we truly are and they can teach us how to be servants if we will let them. They will in their own ways reflect our attitudes and repeat all the things we say and do, without too much thought on their part. I think that is why Jesus took a child and put that child amongst his self seeking, me first disciples and challenged them to think not of themselves but of the one who needs to be cared for and to actively seek out those in need as if it were Jesus himself (Mark 9.30-37).

The 12 had been disagreeing with each other on the road as to who was going to fulfil what role when Jesus got to Jerusalem and wiped out the Romans and the religious authorities – when he returned the kingdom of great King David to the people of Israel. This in the face of the fact that Jesus had told them he was going to face persecution, suffering and death and after three days rise again from the day. They missed it. They didn’t get it. They were more worried about themselves and the places they would occupy in a kingdom that was not going to come than in hearing that it was that was going to happen.

So Jesus takes a little child, who has no money, no status in human society, no power to wield nor titles to hold or to confer. He shows them that power and authority is not something to be held and sought for the individual person. Rather such things are given by God to men and women who are going to serve in the building up of the kingdom, the world that is come. Power and authority, blessing and prestige are there for those who will serve the naked, the sick, the lost, and those who are imprisoned. Grace and mercy will be given to those who show it and to those who will proclaim release and jubilee to those who desire it.

We need to remember that Jesus comes to each of us and to all of us because we too have forgotten who he is and who we are. He comes to each and to all to help us discover not only who he is and thus who we are in him and for him. He comes that we might discover our own Galillees that we would effectively reach out with all that we have been given: power, authority, gifts, grace, love and so much more. All that is asked of us is that we offer three simple things: our actions, our prayers and our suffering. This is our common priesthood. It is what each of us needs to do and it is what all of us can hold in common. We do so for the sake of the One who did these things for us and for the rescue of those who will follow after us into the kingdom, those both great and those like a little boy on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Its time for mission not for monuments

There was a headline that caught my eye on the front of the last Anglican Journal. It was a statement that the Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand made about her Cathedral and what has happened to her diocese in the months since a devastating earthquake rocked Christchurch and has rendered so many church buildings, home and other buildings unusable. And that got me to thinking about some of the Church buildings that I have known in my own life.

The building in which I was baptised was torn down for a parking lot. The building where I came to faith, was confirmed, learned to do services and to serve at the altar is now in a museum static display. The building where I learned to preach, was vacated by the congregation because they could not keep going financially. In my first summer in full time ministry as a student, I participated in the closure of a building and the sale of that building to private interests. In the five years that I served the congregation where I was ordained priest, I had the deep privilege of burying about half of the active congregation in the church’s cemetery.  The interesting and most important thing to me wasn’t the buildings and whether they remained standing and in good shape or not. It was the community and whether they we’re vibrant and alive or not.

So If I go back to that list of places I have been in my spiritual journey and identify them for you, it might make a bit more of an impression upon you. I was baptised at St. Matthew’s, Abbotsford, BC. They were on their third and biggest building when I visited them about 20 years ago. I was confirmed at St. Clement’s, Houston, here in the Diocese of Caledonia. They have a much bigger and very pretty building than when I was there as a teen. I preached my very first public sermons at St. Christopher’s, Downsview, ON. that is now home to a vibrant Chinese congregation that was planted there after my time. I had the chance to go back and share with them and preach. And last but not least, St. Peter’s Church, Westport, White Bay, Newfoundland where I was ordained priest. In my time there, the parish closed three buildings to go from seven churches to four. The Sunday attendance went up and so did the finances. We worked hard to bring our buildings back up to snuff and still maintain a self supported parish with a full time priest.

What was the difference? Why did we grow? We claimed ownership and stewardship of our local mission. The focus of all the work on all these church communities was primarily on the community; on the people rather than on the buildings. We learned to pray as a community and we took the time to study the scriptures together. We had to learn to genuinely seek out Christ in our neighbours and to think of others ahead of ourselves. We did this because we discovered that in most cases what we had was not a financial problem but rather a spiritual predicament. We had been trying to husband very small fires which around which only a few could gather rather than lighting and carrying torches to go and find those who are sick, broken, in need and the dying both physically and spiritually. And in the process of lighting the way for others to come into our communities, we found some light for ourselves too.

How do we build our Church communities across this vast diocese? We draw people in by sharing with them ourselves and our lives. We need to focus on reaching people and caring for them. People are not going to care about fine sounding vision and mission statements. The world around us is waiting to see if God is still here and present in his Church and if God and his Church still care enough to do the deed and speak the word that needs to be spoken. We need to find new ways of being who we really are through rediscovering our enthusiasm for mission, to seek out the least, the last and the lost of our world and draw them in. In doing so we build for the time when there will be no buildings to worship in. The Church – the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church – is here because God has made it so. We, in turn, are here for the world because God his here for this world and to participate in it. Or as retired bishop and theologian N.T. Wright might put it, “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.” We are called and drawn to help others be ready for the new city, the new life and the world that is about to come. This is the time for planting for dreaming and for reaching out.  It is time to think and to live mission, not to build monuments or write our epitaphs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Persisting into the blessing and the Kingdom

Jesus took his disciples north to territory where most of the crowds would not follow, into modern day Lebanon. Jesus led his disciples towards people who were not going to be openly hospitable towards them. He wanted to take some time to find out what the 12 knew and to have some time with them. But his desire to be left alone to do some important teaching and listening was interrupted by his fame and a call from a woman who persisted in asking for her daughter to be healed and released from the demon that effected her.

So why did Jesus refer to her and to her child as “dogs”. There are many in the Church that are unsettled by this image of Jesus, that he would apparently be mean and nasty to a woman who had a sick child. But one needs to stop and consider what was actually said and what Jesus was actually saying to understand what he was up to.

Jesus pointed out this woman that this was not the time for the healing and feeding for those who were outside a particular group. This time was meant to feed and strengthen those who would in time and trail have to declare Jesus as the risen and ascended Lord. There would be a time to bless and heal everyone, but not now. Interestingly, the woman did not give up. She persisted. She was unwilling to stop. She would not give up. When she was apparently being brushed off, she kept right on going. And as a result of her willingness to do so, that is when she was blessed and her prayer was answered. She had a hope and she was not willing to let the hope or its future go. Because of her persistence, her daughter was healed and free of the evil that was destroying her.  

What does our world, our Church look and sound like when God is in charge? When people who are without hope are given hope; when people who are blind are given sight, and people who have been formerly deaf are able to hearing; when people who are imprisoned are set free and those who are in debt are forgiven and those who are dead are raised to life... that is what the kingdom of God looks like.  
How do we see it? We need to look beyond the past to the future that we might make this present different; better. We need to move from looking for a blessing to being a blessing around us; giving thanks for all that we have been given. When God is in charge, the Church and the world become fundamentally different; transformed.

Why should we become a blessing? It comes back to this mom who would not stop, would not give up, and would not go away. In the days that followed, Jesus healed another man from the North and fed another 4000 people, just has had done before. Others benefited from her persistence and opened a path for them to receive “all the benefits of his passion”. Yes the world is messed up. Yes there are divisions in the Church and there are all kinds of problems there too. Everything seems apparently in chaos. All we seem to do is go round and round in circles and nothing ever seems to change, perhaps in large part because we don’t want to look past all the things that we think are important, to the things that God wants us to focus on.

We are called to be kingdom people. We are made to be resurrection people. We are to be people who are not hobbled or fettered to the whims and will of this present world. We are called to build our Church towards that great moment when we will see God face to face. So let us persist in the risk of faith, continuing to be people of hope, that we might dream and change the world according to God’s will and plan.