Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Our common priesthood

It is hard to believe but it will be five years ago this Thursday night (All Saints Day) I was ordained a priest in the Church of God. I thought that I might interweave some thoughts about this Sunday’s Gospel lesson with some reflections on what priesthood means to me now, in the light of this anniversary. To start with, the Sunday’s Gospel lesson is John 11.32-45. It is the recounting of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. In particular, there is one verse that I want to think about and that is the last one, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Why is such a thing important to us? We cannot say that we are not involved in the everyday things, including the miracles, which God does in people’s lives. God does and we are called as God’s people to participate. How do we know that this is true? Consider the whole story of the raising of Lazarus... it starts with Jesus not being anywhere near Lazarus. News is brought to Jesus from the home and the community of Martha, Mary and Lazarus that the man is sick and dying. Jesus receives the news and tells people that this sickness will not end in death. And then goes back to teaching, preaching and sharing, remaining in that same place two more days. In the meantime, this close friend dies.

Then, suddenly, Jesus announces that he is going back to Bethany to be with the people he knows. A disciple pipes up and points out that there are people in Jerusalem and around the city who want Jesus dead for what he did in the temple (knocking over tables, spilling the coins and chasing out man and beast with a homemade whip). “Why would you go back there, people want you dead?” questions the disciple. So Jesus tells them all, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep. I am going to go and wake him.” the disciples smile and say, well then why are we going, if he sleeps he will get better.” The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking of Lazarus’ death and that he was going to raise him up again. So Jesus bluntly tells them, “Lazarus is dead and I am going there to raise him. I am glad that I was not there so that you can believe the truth of what I do now.”

We need to keep in mind that all of this speaks both to what was said by Jesus in Chapter 10 about being the Good Shepherd and the Gate and at the same time foreshadows what is to come in the city and on the hill and in the cemetery three days after. Jesus is showing his disciples what is going to happen and challenge them to believe in him despite what they think they see and know. He wants them in this moment to reach out in faith.

If I connect this dying and rising event to the priesthood and what my time in the priesthood has been about, it has been exactly that: trying to see Christ in both his dyings and in his risings. God is in the destruction of a hurricane, in the earthquakes and tremours. God is with not only the strong and the rich; he is with the weak and the vulnerable. He is with the sick and the dying as well as the youthful and the exuberant. What we need to do is seek him. We seek him to really see him. And when we have really seen him, we then can move to serve him and those who are around him.

If the Church “militant here in earth” is ever going to become the Church victorious and the Church at rest there is going to have to be some work done to make know the words, the life and the grace of the person of Jesus Christ. We are called to be the ones to unbind the one who was called from sin and sickness into health; from sin into righteousness; from death into life. The Church needs to walk with the Master through the Valley of the Shadow of death, knowing that the cross is behind us and that we can face what is ahead with hope, fortitude and mercy.

We can do this because our common priesthood is rooted in the soil that the foot of the cross. It is the  same soil from which each of us is drawn and formed. It is the soil upon which we rebelled against God and chose ourselves instead of him. It is the same ground in which the cross was cradled and on which Christ suffered, bled and died for us so that the devil, evil and the grave were finally defeated. Such ground is sacred and therefore becomes the altar from which we proceed and celebrate. Some will go boldly and with great enthusiasm while others will follow in steadfastness and with patience but we go together to love and serve this city and let God worry about the rest.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

what would you have Jesus do for you?

Helen Keller was once asked what was worse than life without sight. In response, Keller simply replied, “No vision.” That is what sticks out for me this week through the Gospel: a lack of vision. For sometime now Jesus has been working to get the twelve to see and understand that the road leads to Jerusalem, up the hill to Calvary, down the hill to the cemetery and then right through the grave to resurrection three days later. All the disciples cold see was what Jesus death would mean for them and their little lives. They were wondering how they would get to be in power or positions of authority. Where was their wealth and fame to come from? That is why we learn of a man named Bar-Timaeus. (Mark 10:46-52)

Here is a man who leaves both his profession (begging) and this only real possession (cloak) behind when Jesus calls for him to come. Others have been trying to keep him away and still others trying to keep him from disturbing Jesus and those who are listening to him. Such actions make Bar-Timaeus all the more pushy and loud, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Like Jesus, James and John and the rich young ruler, Bar-Timaeus has a plan and it is a simple one: get to Jesus and he will heal me. So when he is called and assisted by those who had been trying to keep him quiet to come to Jesus he immediately gets up and goes and leaves the old life behind. Even before he gets to Jesus his life is already different because he is coming to the Master in response to his call. He has left everything that has been his life behind for the possibility of a new life, a new way of being because of an encounter with Jesus. The end of the old ways and the old life is the beginning of the new life and the new way of seeing.

For a long time, Bar-Timaeus has been in the margins of his community and his faith. Even his name notes this for the name “Bar-Timaeus” means one of two things: (1) son of my impure ones, noting that he was born blind because his parents were sinners, or (2) “ransomed one”. I like the later because it speaks to what God does in the life of this and how he is enabled to follow Jesus. Thus in this man we are called to see God at work to remove the barriers and to draw together the holy nation, the royal priesthood of all those who believe and serve him. There is a greater sight to which we are call drawn and to which every Christian must come: the face and person of Jesus. It is Jesus who stopped and had mercy in calling Bar-Timaeus to himself. It is Jesus who responded prayerfully to Bar-Timaeus’ request that he might see by giving him this eyesight. And in giving the gift of sight and of vision, Jesus enabled Bar-Timaeus to follow him into the city and to the cross.

Not only did Bar-Timaeus get his sight, he saw things in a new way. He saw colours and the vibrancy of creation. He saw the state of human life and people as they were and as they could be. Bar-Timaeus could see the world in ways which God wants all of us to see the world but refuses to. We would rather claim that we cannot see and that we do not wish to know because it doesn’t fit with what we want to see for us and for others. And where did this gift of sight take Bar-Timaeus; to Jerusalem, to the cross and to the resurrection.

So in considering all this, what would you have Jesus do for you and for us?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Serving your way to a good seat

How do you know when you are a leader? When you turn around and discover that people are following you. That’s what the Saint James and Saint John saw in Jesus. (Mark 10.35-45). And I deliberately call them saints because that is who they became. It also reminds us that saints are not the glorified leadership we sometimes make them out to be. Saints, like all Christians, are not perfect. They are forgiven. What is amazing is the fact that Jesus is telling them for the third time that he is going into Jerusalem where there will be a confrontation, he will suffer and die, and then in three days time rise again. The amazing part is that the people who would be leaders in the Church sometime soon still do not get it. The all of the twelve want power and fame and position. James and John decide to beat the others to the punch and ask first...

They try to set up Jesus first. “Master, we want you to do something for us.” To which Jesus responds, “What would you have me do for you?”  “Grant a place for one of us at your right hand and the other will take the left when you bring in the kingdom,” ask the brothers. So Jesus turns the tables on the brothers and interviews them for the spots they so desire. “Can you go through the pain and the suffering I will go through? Can you immerse yourselves in death like I will?” To this the brothers boldly nod and agree that they can go through these this, suffer and die with Jesus. Jesus tells them that this will be so but there is a catch. He does not control who has what power or what seat. That belongs to the Father and the Father alone. It is not in my power to give it to you.

When the others heard about this, they were up in arms. So Jesus called them all together and set the record straight. Power and position are for possession and promotion like the rest of the world but for service in God’s world. If you wish to be great in the kingdom of God then you must serve – I have come to give and to serve, including giving my life as deliverance, a rescue for many.

There is a great desire in people to be in control in a world that still seems to be so out of control. If we ran the world it would be a better place. We would put things right and do it better than the guy before us and better than anyone else can. The problem is though, many good, smart and powerful people have tried. They have tried and all have failed. Moreover, being “lords and ladies of the manor” is not the style of leadership that Jesus modeled in his own life and it is not to be the model of leadership within the Church, ancient or modern. Leadership does not come from the fashions you wear or from where you sit in Church, it comes from the service you give and offer to God through the Church and in the world.

The only way that we are going to let the world know that Jesus is real, is here and is here for them is if we are willing to take the risks that are going to lead to us suffering and in some cases dying for our faith. We need to recognize that suffering in front of power and glory, in the face of the governments and kingdoms of the world is how the Church was built and that the life of the Church is the blood of its martyrs. We as the people of God need to offer something that is more real than the unreal, unattached lives that our society lives these days. Our life both as individuals and as a community needs to serve as a wake up call to the rest of the world. We are not here for any other purpose that to help the world see and know Jesus that the world might know him, love him and learn to obedient serve him as Lord. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Are you blessed or are you a blessing

Have you ever heard the saying, “The one who has the most toys when he dies, wins”? Or what about the saying “The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys”? Or did you ever hear about the woman from Beverly Hills died, was buried in her favour car and if a family member did as she asked he would get 2 million for following her wishes? No?...

Now, you might wonder why I bring this up... Easy. This is the way the world thinks. It is   about trying to fill the void that so many of us feel when we seek to be independent, wealthy, famous and so on. It is not that any of these things are wrong in and of themselves, but stop and ask yourself a simple question: “What is missing from their lives that the need these things even in death?”

The young, rich ruler came to Jesus with a simple question, “Good Teacher, what (more)   must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17-31) How did Jesus respond to that question? “Why do you call me good? No one is good - except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” declared the man. And Jesus looked at him, really looked at him and then he loved him. “One one thing you lack then, go and sell what you have and give to the poor, then come and follow me.” The man went away sad because he was a man of considerable wealth.

First, let me say to you that I have gone right back to the original language, and there is nothing in the Greek that says that the man has to destitute himself and his family to give to others. He is expected to sell everything but then out of the sale give generously to people who cannot bless him and who have nothing to give him in return (so he thinks). It is not so much that the man loves his money as it is that the man loves whatever else he gets that his money can give him. Power, prestige, position and so on. Thus he thinks that he is asked to give up on what everyone around him says is his good fortune and God’s blessing.

Second, it is not enough just to not do the don’ts, we need to do some of the dos. We are called to love our neighbours, to do God’s work; to do good to those who hate us and persecute us. We are called to rid ourselves of our agendas and the false sense of safety and satisfaction that we have done all that needs to be done. We have not done everything that needs to be done nor have we fulfilled everything that needs to be done in preparation for the coming of the kingdom and the true Jerusalem. In being a believer, it is necessary to not only keep ourselves pure, but to make sure that we are fulfilling whatever it is that God has given us to.

Third, please stop and consider what used to be a blessing in your life and in our life as a congregation. What still is a blessing and what is perhaps now a curse? Blessing is not a sign that one is finished and that we can sit idlely by but rather an opportunity to do more ministry, and to build up things further. Being blessed is a moment to go and to be a blessing.

Last, I will ask you to consider the words we used to hear at funerals “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; bless be the name of the Lord” I would take this to mean that there is a lot of give and take in a relationship with God. Everything that we have and everything that we are comes from and returns to God. Does this mean he wants my Dodge? Not exactly. He wants the use of it to make ministry happen and so he finds ways to provide it to me so that my family can have an impact on this city and this diocese for the sake of the Gospel and the coming kingdom. And if God wants this from and for me, what about you? How have you been blessed? How will you use the grace, the gifts, the talents that are within you? Or will you turn and walk away? It is your choice and it is time to walk or to walk away. You get to decide. I invite you to come with us.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Gratitude and Gravy.

The Thanksgiving Holiday here in North America has a long and storied tradition. Many think it was the pilgrims in the United States that started the tradition. Most don’t realize this but Thanksgiving is older than that. It actually started in Newfoundland in the 1520’s as an act of thanks for safe arrival in the new place from Europe. Moreover, people these days seem to forget that this is a moment of great spiritual significance. The early “liv’yers” in Newfoundland like those who followed into Plymouth Rock 100 years later, were devout Christian people. They recognized that they were prayerfully dependent upon the grace of God for their well being and being able to give thanks was an important thing. We seem to have forgotten that. We often take what we have been given for granted and assume that we are entitled to the good fortunes we have and we are thankful we are not our neighbour.

Perhaps that is what makes the gospel this week so jarring (Luke 17:11-19). It is made clear where Jesus is going and why he is going there. He is going into the city and its going to be, well... it’s going to be murder.

Along the way, coming into a village, he was met by a small band of brothers who were lepers. These men were exiled and outcasts from their communities, their families, their children and their marriages. They heard Jesus was coming that way and so they waited, they hoped and they prayed that they would be healed. When the moment came, they approached him but did not get to close. They called out to him, calling him “Master” and in effect gave themselves to him, asking that they would be made well.

God’s purpose in Christ is to have mercy; to rescue people and to make them whole. God desires to have mercy on the human race and in doing so to fundamentally transform the way in which life is lived on this earth. God wants to change the way life is being lived in this city, in this church. God wants to start those changes with you. So Jesus asked them to obey the Scriptures and to do what the Law requires to re-enter in to the life of the community and so they do. In the going they discover that they are indeed healed and that is when there is a choice to be made: do they keep going to the Temple and the priests? Do they just forget what they were asked and go home and surprise everyone? Or do they go back to the place where the journey began and there give thanks?

Only the one person that no respectable man would give the time of day to, came back and offered praise for what had been given. A foreigner. An out-of-towner. One who was not supposed to know any better is the one who came back to God and to give thanks because we recognize that we have been blessed. We know that that we have been healed and have been given to. When this man came back he got low. He assumes the position of worship and of adoration, flat down on his face at the wonder that had been given him. Then he is invited to go and participate in all of life, not just having found the healing he desired but also finding the faith that will help him to live that life that is to come.

In this we too are called. In this we too can rejoice. In this most of all we can give thanks to God in Christ for what is yet to come... Now let’s pass the gravy!