Friday, December 27, 2013

The Annunciation of Christ... mas!

If clergy are allowed to have favourite pieces of scripture then the Gospel Lesson we are using on Sunday has got to be one of mine (Luke 1.24-36). It is the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus to Mary. In recent weeks there has been a show on television put together by a bunch people, for a purpose that is not totally clear to me. That is unless they wish to shoot do all the traditional doctrine that surrounds Jesus that has accumulated over the past two millenniums and try to rip out the foundations of the largest faith on the planet.

Problem is, not one of these people is a trained theologian. They are professors from history and religious studies departments and they have no training in terms of theology. Worse, they are posing modern, post enlightenment writing standards on what was a largely oral culture. Was there editing and revision? Yes. Of course there was. It took time for the things that the Church believed to be delineated and accepted. The Scriptures are holy to the community because they belong to the community. Modern understandings of ancient texts cannot begin with a word processor. It didn’t work that way. Altering a text was done in and by the community, not just a single solitary soul. The community accepted what was written and it took time for the Scriptures to become sacred to the community.

One of the things that makes this particular passage powerful for me is the fact that Luke, in order to get his orderly account, must have spent time with Mary and the family from which Jesus came. Mary herself must have at some point relayed something of the experience of the Annunciation. It is why we have it. It points to the great truths to the wider story of God working out our rescue, our salvation. The Annunciation is the fulfilling of the promise that was made in those awful, final moments in the Garden.

What promise? Try Genesis 3.15, when God tells the serpent that there will be hostilities between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; that the serpent will strike his heel and the Seed of the Woman will crush him. God in Christ is working to bring us back and to bring us home that we can be with him and be with him forever and ever.  There is nothing and no one that will stop that. One day he will come again, and the angels and the new City and we will be with him.

It is not something that diviners can see. It is not something that any historian or university professor can predict. This is God’s doing and it ought to be marvelous in our eyes. He has made his dwelling among us and we have seen the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth (John 1.14-18)

Take time to be with family this Christmas. Take the time to be with friends and those whom you care about and who care for you. And in the midst of it all, make room for him who loves us; who left his Father’s presence to bring us home and spend some time giving thanks that our rescue is in hand for what is ahead. And most of all remember what Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me as you have said.”


Thursday, December 12, 2013

What to expect when you are expecting...

When my wife and I were expecting our first son, we had a book in the house that was new at the time. It was called “What to expect when you are expecting.” Of course such a book is considered to be mandatory reading these days in getting ready for a baby. No one... nobody should leave for the hospital before you've read it. But what do you read and what do you need to know when you are expecting a Messiah?

John questions Jesus through his disciples, “Are you the one or should we wait for another?” (Matthew 11.2-11) John asks the question because Jesus was not acting like many thought the Messiah of Israel. He was not there to kick butt and take names. He was not leading a war against the occupying Roman Army and its Empire. There was no bloodshed, wailing, crying or annihilation of garrisons of soldiers. In other words, Jesus by John’s estimation was not acting like the Messiah many were expecting him to be. And because what he was hearing about the Messiah and his ministry he needed to find out if his announcement of the king and his kingdom was premature or mistimed in some way. Had John gotten it wrong and had he put his faith in the wrong horse?

We need to be careful when looking for God to do something: his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts because his ways and thoughts are higher than ours. He sees from another perspective and has his plan of salvation, of rescuing of us to fulfill. Therefore Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back and report what they see happening around them: the blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the leapers are made clean, the dead rise and the poor receive the good news of the kingdom that is to come. The kingdom that was and is expected is breaking into this world but it is not all that it is yet. Blessed are you if you don’t fall away because you don’t see me doing what you think I should be doing.

In essence, we are being challenged to redefine what we are expecting when we are expecting the Messiah. God’s kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this earth – Jesus made that clear before Pilate. Yet so often we live our lives and our faith as if it is the kingdom of me and mine: me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine. The kingdom has to conform to me and to my thoughts and my doctrine or it isn't right. It is rather idolatrous of us to think and act as such. We need to deal with it before God and with each other.

Unfortunately, John did not live to see the fulfilling of the plan: the ways in which Jesus suffered, died and was raised from the dead. He didn't foresee the formation of the Church and what the Church was going to be asked to do. There are some things that are hard to see when you are imprisoned and your own neck is on the block. You sit there in the silence and the grief and you wonder if it was the right thing and if it was worth it. You will question yourself and have your own doubts. God call and challenges us to change our expectations so that we can see what he is and to have better goals than what we demand of him and others for ourselves.

That means we can start by changing what it is we are expecting this Christmas. Instead of trying to keep trying to keep Christ in Christmas, try keeping Christ in Christians. If we can make room for him in our cells, then maybe the door to freedom will swing open wide and we will walk, finally free.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Welcome, your Majesty!

As I sit here on a cold Saturday night and reflect on the lessons that are before for Sunday, and on the things that have happened this week, it is almost unfathomable all the things that need to be completed in ministry. There is the day in and day out things. There are little things that need to be done so that other, much bigger things can happen. The way needs to be prepared for the coming King. Roads need to be improved. Bridges need to be strengthened and shored up. Then the King’s servants will announce the coming King's arrival.

Essentially, that is what Advent is about: rebuilding roads, rebuilding, bridges and traveling to meet the King. When we think all is mostly ready, some of us need to actually get out on the roadway and go looking for the opportunity of welcoming and escorting the King into the city. In the ancient world, failing to go out of the city and welcome the King would be to invite disaster upon the entire city. The King would have the city razed to the ground by his army.

That is what John comes to do, as his ministry for the people of Israel (Matthew 3.1-10). He works to get them ready for the King. He calls them to repentance and holiness of life. He challenges the religious and the spiritual people of his time and calls the leadership not to rely on who and what they think they are: children of Abraham. Rather, they are to give God the right place, first place in their lives and in the life of the nation knowing that God has come near.

They see him as a holy man and recognize him as a prophet. They know this and see this because they see how he is dressed and hear his words. Nevertheless, in spite of this they reject him and his message. Though he reminds the people of their past and calls these same people to repentance and to a great future, many reject John as an idealist and a radical and not for real people. His message does not share their faith, their beliefs and they do not agree with him. Therefore he is of no account.

How does this tie into the week? There have been a lot of moments of sudden ministry this week.  There have been a lot of opportunities to boldly declare the good news of God in Christ. These are moments where one takes care of a mom and dad whose seven week old son died and you are responsible for speaking a word of hope to them and to the family at the funeral. These are moments where you take the time to stop and pray with a fellow clergy who is ill and to anoint the family with oil. There are moments of courage and even of disagreement with people who don’t understand or want to be in control when they are not or worse, are not suited to be. There are moments when the kitchen tap springs a leak or a friend receives news that they have Cancer. In and through all of this, there are the opportunities in which we can shine or shrink; rise or fall.

How will you preach the gospel this week? What opportunities will you take and whom will you serve? Don’t worry about how you will be dressed and never mind what you will end up eating. Concern yourself with what you will preach and how you will actively demonstrate the Good News. I’ll see out on the road.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The King of Calvary

The kingdom is coming to you... are you ready?

As I sit at my desk in the quiet of my office, I have been reflecting on the Advent and Christmas that is to come and the sermons that need to be preached over the next four weeks. The lectionary (from which we draw our rota of readings for the years and seasons) starts with a wide view in where God is going in terms of the kingdom. The vision then begins to narrow down into the lives of people until it comes to the focal point of a little boy, born of a woman and laid in a manger. All of the hope, all of the love and all of the mercy that God has and that God is going to use are made available in this one child.

Advent is not a celebration, nor is it only the precursory preparation to the great event. It is not about Black Friday or Digital Monday or anything else that the box stores, Time-Life or the Shopping Channel can dream up to get to you buy something. Satisfaction and the entrance in to the kingdom that God is building cannot be purchased or negotiated. Admission is free and needs to be accepted without condition. Membership has both its privileges and it’s with all the responsibilities that go with being invited in to be a guest.

Advent is about getting a new and fresh vision of the kingdom that is growing in spite of how hard some are working to stop it, to kill it, and to destroy it in favour of something that is suitable and making God in their own image. Our attention is slowly turned on the future and what it might hold. Remember the furour over the end of the Mayan Calendar and the possibility of the end of life as we had known it? Or even further back when we though our digital age was about to come crashing down because of Y       2K and the fact that they had not used a clock that was only yy instead of yyyy? Remember the fear those such insignificant things cause?

Jesus reminds that we will not know when the end of this present age will come (Matthew 24.36-44). What we need to concentrate on are simpler things. God has promised that there will be a kingdom and that we can be a part of it. We are in the meantime meant to get ready and be prepared for that moment. And as we await that moment there are things to do. We need to especially regard the fact that we need to hold out the hope that we have from God in Christ that the kingdom is coming and coming soon. The “When” of the coming of our King has been determined but not foretold to us. We need to be ready and prepared for what is next. Are you ready for what is next?

There is a story that is told about a tourist who went to the Lake Como region of Northern Italy. While looking around, the adventurous tourist discovered a walled in estate. Peering through the bars of the gated entrance he saw an amazing courtyard. It had gardens full of flowers and trees and vegetables divided by immaculately manicured lawns. The Caretaker invited the visitor in and gave him a lengthy tour which was fully enjoyed.

At the end of the tour, the visitor asked, “Who lives here, in this great place?” The caretaker replied, “Just me.” The visitor was astounded. “Where is the Master who owns this place? When was he last here to at least visit?” In answer the caretaker said, “well it has been 11 years since he was last here and I get directions as to what I need to do from his agent.” Flummoxed, the visitor inquired, “So if the Master was to show up you would be ready for him tomorrow?”

After a moment, the caretaker said, “No... not tomorrow. I am ready for him today. I am ready for him today.”


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Can you get up, your Majesty?

(Just an aside: when I was learning to play the French Horn as a boy, I was given the music of this hymn "Abide with me, fast falls the eventide" without the words. I played it for weeks not knowing what it was. It was not until the day of a competition, that I discovered that I was playing a well known hymn and that the place where we were competing was a Church. quickly learning the words, with some help from my dad, it emboldening me and enabled me to compete to my utmost. Now we uphold the cross for others to see that they might come and follow too.)

This week we recall that the kingdom is coming, in all of its fullness, with all of the pomp and pageantry, the power and glory and all the quietness of a thief in the night.

This week we are reminded of the events that now seem so long ago... and it was only holy week and Eastertide. We are reminded of how he was arrested and tried repeatedly and by different judges. All of them demanded truth and then, if they got an answer, rejected it as impossible, preposterous and an outright blasphemous lie.

Pilate gave Jesus one last chance to recant; one last opportunity to save himself and to act like one of us. He had chances to save his own skin and to walk away free but he did not take. And so Jesus was taken and crucified. He died being proclaimed as a king.

I was talking with a friend this past week. We have both been standing in spots where kings of this earth, have been taken and executed by the people. In my friend’s case it was the Jerusalem Room at Westminster Abbey, where the King James Bible was authorized and where King Henry IV was killed. In my own case it was a grand meeting room in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg where Tzar Nicholas II and his family were arrested and were taken from to be executed elsewhere. I have stood where the Tsar stood and I have stood at his tomb in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. None of it is as powerful as recalling what happened that last night, as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, beaten and eventually dying.

I have never been to the places where he lived... where he preached and he healed. I have never seen the hill where he died. Yet, I now his life, his presence and his healing in my own life in this moment...and in this moment, etc... Jesus is more real to me now that any king or Queen, any prince, ruler power or even Bishop.  Thus maybe it should be recognized that there really is power in the blood of the king. We need to know that we have failed and fallen and that we need his strength and mercy to help us stand up again.

There is a line in the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” that has stayed with me and I come back to it now and again. The scene is Jesus has fallen under the weight of everything he is doing and going through and one of the soldiers sarcastically asks him, “Can you get up your Majesty?” the soldier clearly wasn’t aware of the power that there is in the blood of the king. He wasn’t aware of what God was accomplishing in Christ for him and the rest of the world. And he was not aware of what God could do to him in his anger over the execution of his Son. It is why Jesus prayed, “Adda, forgive. They don’t know what they are doing.” It wasn’t the force of the soldiers; neither was it a fear of the critics and the scoffers nor the strength of the nails that kept Jesus on the cross. It was our need for love grace and mercy of God that had him remain there.

So then the next time you pray “Our Father in heaven,” remember that you are praying for his kingdom not yours and for his will to be done in you and not yours in the world. That is a kingdom worth coming into.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Lest we forget, lest we forget.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 
we shall remember them. We shall remember them.

Lest we forget, lest we forget!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

For all the Saints, for all the kingdom, all for God.

This a big Sunday coming up for this Sunday me in a few ways. First, the Bishop is coming and is going to preach and participate in the worship on Sunday. Having the Bishop present at his Cathedral always adds something as well as an extra layer of busy-ness.

Second, it is All Saints Day in the life of the Church and thus is the anniversary of my ordination to the sacred priesthood – something to celebrate – six years of full time priesthood. I have spent the week, thinking on and reflecting on the whole of my ministry, the people I have ministered to, the people who have ministered to me, the kindness and the generosity of communities and individuals. It has made me think of how faithful God has been through some many things over the course of the... ummm 23 years, I have been in ministry: first as a Church Army Captain and then as a deacon and priest.

Most importantly, it is a festival Sunday this Sunday and it is All Saints Day. and there is baptism in the service this coming Sunday. I love to do baptisms. It was 17 years ago this past Sunday October 27th that I did my very first baptism – my oldest son. He is now working on his own ministry and being a leader in the wider community. His younger brother is starting on that very same path. I baptized him, with the Bishop present on Advent Sunday, nearly 11 years ago.

Why is this important? Because these are all the things that happen in the life of all of God’s saints and yes we are becoming one of those kind of people.

Every single one of God’s saints, moreover, has their numbers. Numbers have a way of reminding us of whom we are and where we have been. Numbers can guide us to where we need to be and the things we need to do in terms of a day to day basis. We tend to think of saints as being dead people. Dead people who lived long ago and who now live in stain glass windows. They are people whom the sun shines through. If you take a walk around the Cathedral, one of the things you will notice is who we remember in terms of holy people – lives that are examples to us, that we might be faithful in the risk of faith in our moment. These are memorials to the bishops, clergy and spouses who have served in this diocese and have gone on to glory along with those who have remained nameless but still are n=know to God. We need to become and are becoming by the grace of the living God, those kinds of people.

The ambition of the Christian life is not to have a monument that needs to be maintained on this earth. Nor is it the goal to have people remember you and softly whisper your name with sweet affection every time that they think of you. The goal is to be faithful to God through Christ so that you and others can get home. We need saintly people to encourage, guide and sustain us, whether they are here with us in the body or are at home with the Lord. That means the presence of some saintly people are going to move us, cajole us, afflict us so that we might be move for God and the sake of God’s elect, God’s people and his Church. The Gospeol must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Maybe the most important thing about this Sunday is that we will come together and enter together into the presence of God and a great cloud of witnesses, be encouraged and we will learn to see the kingdom of God extended and praise God for that with heart, soul and voice. That is worth celebrating.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

In the eyes of God, what are you?

When you pray to God, how do you approach God? Do you see yourself as a hero or heroine? Or do you come as a zero before the throne? It is important to note that this week’s parable (Luke 18.8-14) is told to those who think themselves righteous (right with God) because of who they are and what they do. What is not recognized often by those same people is that they are mistaken for they are often self deluded and thus self righteous because of the state of their hearts.

Such people tend to look down their noses at the others around them and treat others with active contempt because these self made righteous people are unaware of the state of their own hearts and are unaware of who they are in facing a holy, righteous God. They treat others as zeros – as if they are nothing; as if they are naught. They should, if they knew what God was asking and what Jesus teaches, know how to treat a neighbour and help them to be a +1 on their own scale. They ought to work to build the people around themselves up. But they don’t. Such religious people don’t even live in such a way as to help others see that they are missing something in their lives by living as God has instructed. The self involved don’t work with God to help the world around them to see that they are -1 and can be something more. We ought to work at seeing them as 10+ which is what we all hope to be someday by the grace of God. Hoity-toity people work at making everyone else a zero – a nothing, a naught.

You might ask, “Why these people do this?” Some will do so out of their own childhood and background. They might be completely unaware of it, but it still happens. Perhaps it is a lack of self esteem and/or sense of self. Sometimes it is out of a belief that they are superior to people around them. Such people degrade their neighbours to make them zeros in order to make themselves a +1. I have seen such things from people who think on themselves as true believers. Such folks are slick and smooth. They are warm and friendly until your needs impinge or conflict with theirs; then there is contempt, scorn and the possibility of public humiliation for the one who gets in the way. It may be that you think I am being too hard on such people. Please keep in mind that I regard such people to have lost touch with the reality of their won heart and have missed the call and purpose of God’s own heart where their own lives are concerned. We need to love them every bit as much as the poor; the least, the last and the lost because surely they are in that company.

Just as difficult to deal with is passive contempt. This is when people act as if others around them do not matter. Passive contempt reduces a person to naught because a neighbour, another person is paid lip service but then the offender acts in such a way that he or she reduces their target to zero by the way they act.

So how do we work at removing contempt for our neighbours from our lives?

First, we need to remember who God is and what the state of our hearts are. The Tax Collector considered ( and regarded by everyone, not just the Pharisee) as a loser, as a zero because of his occupation and entanglements with the Empire is the one who went away from his encounter with God as the one in relationship with the almighty because he knew the state of his heart and his need for mercy. A changed heart leads to a different, a transformed life. The Tax Collector left the place of prayer and of worship a different man. He needed to go and live it, which is why he left. The Pharisee was only interested in his resume and how impressive he was. He was in effect praying to himself and not interested in God’s or anyone else’s opinions. He stayed and went nowhere.

Second, let us keep our eyes on the Master and our minds on the mission. The mission of our parish is to seek, to see and to serve God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. We need to seek and to see Christ in each other in the lives of the people around us. We seek him because we desire to serve him when we find him. We love others and care for them because it is Christ in their lives that we are seeing and serving. God is at work in the lives of the people of this city. Won’t you go and find him and when you find him serve him with all that he has to offer you? Isn't it time that we got rid of the flimsy excuses and the weak armour of our own self righteousness to take the risk of putting ourselves in the nail scarred hands of our God and asked for him to be merciful to us, sinners? Isn't this the kind of prayer that is worth praying? Isn't that what takes us from being naught to being heroes and heroines in the eyes of our Father?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Pray, listen, watch and live!

There once was a man who loved the Lord and loved to spend time in prayer. And it happened that the Lord made it known to the man that a great flood was about to destroy his village and all who did not get to safety. The man made this known to his friends and neighbours and everyone prayed and got ready to leave, except the man who prayed. The day finally came and a great flood came to this village and everyone was ordered to evacuate. But the man who had prayed refused to leave his home. Instead, he prayed to God and asked God to save him. Then he climbed up on the roof of his house to await his salvation from God.

A short time later, a constable came by in a large truck, that was able to get through the rising water. The constable called out the man on the roof who had prayed after he had back up his truck to the house so that the man could up down into the pan of the truck from the roof and escape. However, the man on the roof called out to the constable and said, “Don’t worry! I am fine! God will save me!” After unsuccessfully pleading some more, the constable left the man on the roof behind.

A couple of hours later when the water had risen several feet, a couple came to the man on  the roof  and called to him, wanting him to come and get in their boat with them. But the man on the roof refuse, noting that the boat could hit a log in the fast flowing water. And so the couple left the man on the roof behind and made their escape.

Another hour or so later and after the water was nearly to the man on the roof, a helicopter came to the house and the helicopter crew pleaded with the man to tie the rope they had let down to him, around himself and they would lift and take him to safety. The man on the roof, shouting above the roar of the helicopter’s rotors said, “No thanks; no way! My God will save me!” The helicopter crew could only hover and watch as the overwhelming tide washed the house and the man on its roof away. The man on the roof died.

When the man got heaven he went in to see God and asked, “Sir, I prayed that you would rescue me... how come you didn't? ” God looked at the man who had died on the roof and said to him, “You prayed and I answered! I sent a truck. I sent a boat. I sent a helicopter. Three times I tried to save you. How come you didn't live out your prayer and respond?” 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Its time to get to the table!

So we are eating yet again because “Turkey Day” is upon us. It has been a while since I have had turkey with all the fixings. I am looking forward to it since it has been a long time and I like to be fed... don’t you? Yet Jesus challenges those around him not to seek and satisfy with a meal that will not last forever. We are not just here to eat our fill or “stog our gobs”. We are challenged to consider our appetites and how we fill them. And we are called on to consider more than where the next meal might be coming from.

So what do we need to do to get a meal that is going to last? It has occurred to me that there is a parallel here between a regular meal and the Eucharist. Where else can you go aside from Church, and get a meal that is going to last you a whole week? Where do we get the strength, the vision and the drive to be the Church of Christ in the world, if it is not from the Eucharist? To get spiritual and therefore imperishable food, one must put one’s trust, faith and hope in the person of Jesus Christ. We are the community of God and we are expected and required to participate in the person and life of Christ.

Need a reason to participate in Christ? Want a sign that Jesus is the one to trust? Jesus himself points out that we don’t need to have someone stand between God and ourselves, mediating your relationship with God. God responds to you and your prayers. You need to learn recognize those responses and that is done at the table with those who are in the journey with you and I. Where we eat is where we pray. Where we pray is where we share the load with our fellow sojourners. Moreover, there is the issue of where does life itself come from. If life comes from God (and we believe as Christians that it does) and we are to participate in Jesus, then doesn't that make Jesus God? I believe so.

The people demand the eternal bread as if it is a commodity to be traded and bartered with when in fact it is a gift. “Give us this bread!” the people demand of Jesus. Jesus points out that they have him – “I am the Bread which has come down from heaven”... so it as true spiritually as it is physically: we are what we eat. But this then means that we must seek Christ in order to eat and to live. So why do you seek Christ? Is it because you like to have your fill, or because you seek life in his name? What you do with Jesus is an everyday table matter. It is also a matter of eternity: what will you do with Jesus? Jesus is the gift of God for the people of God. Jesus is the bread of life not just for you, but for your congregation and your city through you also.

And to be sure, on this weekend when we stop to give thanks for all of God’s good gifts that we find around us, some of those gifts are disruptive just like Jesus himself. God’s truth disrupts our systematic dishonesty and sin. God’s grace upsets our stingy selfishness. God’s mercy dislocates our hardened hearts to give hearts of flesh to deal with our predilection towards indifference to both God and neighbour. God’s justice disrupts and exposes our unjust nature, relationships and ways with both God and neighbour.

The gift of God’s presence through bread and wine disrupts our ideas and thoughts of what is normal and right as well as our trends towards complacency and self involvement. We need to stop and recognize this thanksgiving that our hands were empty and then God, our God filled them, allowing us to give and to serve others.

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above – will you open yourselves to receive what God wants to give to you so that in turn, you might give thanks back to God and give to his people? Is about the harvest and giving thanks, yes! But it must also make us raise our expectation that the kingdom and the Eternal City are coming - after all another, much better feast awaits.

Happy Thanksgiving. Its time to get to the table!


Monday, October 7, 2013

The need for holy listening

When I pooled the articles together for this issue of the Caledonia Times, I noticed something interesting. By happy circumstance there was an overall theme and tone to the issue... namely the need to listen. I am discovering that everybody wants to be heard and there are some who maintain that it is there right to be heard. Yet we need to stop and consider carefully that if all of us are talking and typing, who is going to stop talking and start listening. Might I suggest that listen is at the very core of what is to be a Christian? It is the start of obedience to God’s will for both ourselves and for others. It enables us to be followers and to be effective in our discipleship so that those around us are bless because we have listened, done and led as God has called and told us too. And yes I believe that God is still speaking to and enabling and leading his Church.

There is a verse of scripture that comes to mind here: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1.22) failing to connect our doing with our listening does not make us disobedient. It makes the Church and its ministry obtuse and thus irrelevant. It is the very thing that so many fear and recoil from though seemingly they fail to hear and heed both the Word and the Spirit. Failing to listen to God and what God asks of us makes us irrelevant because we have not heard and therefore have not received what was needed; to have something to offer and give, we must first listen and receive. The danger is not in being unconnected to the world through our life and ministry but being irrelevant to God. It is his mission, his call and we are his people and his Church.

I think you would agree that you and I cannot steer a parked car. God cannot guide the motionless Christian. There is no spiritual life without listening. We have stopped up our collective ears and we are going to do things the way we think they ought to be done. What we need to do is to stop and listen for the Shepherd’s voice. We need to hear him so that we can be led to and through the valley, even if it seems like death. We need to quiet ourselves so that we can listen and then respond in appropriate ways with fitting action in the required time.

Failing to listen to God as individuals and as community causes us to become obtuse and irrelevant. In turn we then fall way (like lost sheep) and face both death of personal life and destruction of our faith communities. It is only in listening that we follow and find life. It is only in Christ that we live and move and have our being. And the obvious implication is that we find it nowhere else but in God who is in Christ.

Holy listening helps us to discover where our service and our sacrifices are to be offered. Holy listening helps us to discover where our altars are – those places and spaces where we discover we are needed and are needed by God to offer ourselves to him and to neighbour. We make the sacrifice and offer the gifts that others might hear and see so that they might live.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In the Judge, we trust.

I remember a parishioner from a while back, coming to me and telling me that he was going out to his cabin for the weekend: thus he would not be in Church Sunday night. He wanted to let me know this because he and the family would not be back in enough time to be ready for Church Sunday evening. “That’s fine,” I said, “But know that you will be missed!” The man was shocked judging the look on his face. To my comment he replied, “And PLEASE sir don’t go preaching about cabins on Sunday... that it’s wrong not to be in Church because you are out in the cabin... sir, I loves me cabin!” I thought about this for a moment and realised something important. My parishioner wasn’t asking for permission to be absent from church, he was feeling guilty about not being there when everyone else was going to be. He didn’t want me to make an example of him and his choice not to be there. So I response, I reminded him, “You will be missed because you are not with us but will still love you. And if your conscience is bothering you, we’ll be there at Church and we hope you will there too.”

This story seems to be linked to the experience of the villainous manager (Luke 16:1-13) who was charged with squandering his master’s resources. The Master must have believed the charges that were brought to him by people from outside the household, because when the manager arrived to attend his master, his master fired him. The manager was using what was not his in a very poor and scandalous manner – similar to that of the prodigal son who devoured his portion of his Father’s wealth by living lost and near death (Luke 15).

If the manager had been a household slave, the matter would probably have been life or death. But this man was a free man. He served the master as a free man and he was not a member of household. He had to make his way in the world. He evaluated his situation and realized that he could not do for another house as he had done, his career as a manager was done and his reputation was in tatters. He was not built to dig ditches, He was too proud to accept charity through debasing himself to beg the generosity of strangers but he needed to be able to look after himself. So he devised a scheme.

He called in all of his master’s debtor’s and had them remove the interest and his portion of the dealings (to which he was entitled) so that when he was penniless, he would have friends to whom he could go and stay because he was kind to them and reduced their financial burdens. The more mercy he showed the mater’s debtors, the more places he would have to stay. It would be a better existence than being on the street begging from them and others.

What is interesting is that the manager didn’t try to deny what he had done. He didn’t plead for leniency or seek the mercy of the master in the face of judgment. All he could consider was how to save himself in the moment. The manager wanted to spare himself the pain and anguish of having been caught and now fired for his indiscretions. The shocking thing about this story is that the master complimented the unsavoury manager for his ability to look after himself. He wanted to secure his immediate future and did a good job doing it. The master did not compliment the manager for how he had acted in office but for looking out for himself in light of his new circumstances.

Security, peace and plenty are what most people seek. Riches and fame might provide them for a while but such things are fleeting. They are actually a false sense of security and wellness precisely because they are temporary things. How we deal with such things shows how we will act and treat eternal things, which have the ability to give life. We have to decide who or what we will serve. Service leads to sacrifice and sacrifice becomes worship. Whom shall we serve?

If we found ourselves before God tonight and we are each asked, “Why should God let us into his heaven?” how would you respond to such a query? Consider carefully that from that moment and that place, what one is going to need is not a clever plan or a series of willing hosts but the very things I have already mentioned: grace, mercy and clemency. There is a need in this moment to ask for those things, knowing that God is waiting and ready to offer you and all who ask. We need to ask God not to be good to us but rather for God to be God; our God. We need to be willing to ask the Master to forgive and to lead us in “into green pastures, beside still waters, into right pathways and even through the valley of the shadow of death... even for his own name’s sake.” (Psalm 23) Be prepared not only for eternity, be prepared for the moment and be ready to honour and serve God, wherever he may call and send you.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Don't stay lost, get found!

Maybe you have heard the joke about the airplane that was flying from Vancouver to Toronto early one morning. On route during to Toronto, the plane crashed in a horrible ball of fire right on the 49th Parallel, the border between Canada and the United States.  The question was asked of the officials overseeing the awful scene, “Where are we going to bury the survivors?”

Of course one does not bury the survivors. And that seems to be the point that Jesus is making to the Pharisees in telling these series of parables in Luke 15. “Sinners” are coming to Jesus: the least the last and most definitely the lost of the nation are coming to Jesus because they want and need to be found. Being lost is not just about finding one’s self. Being lost or getting lost is to cause and face utter and total destruction. And people are coming to Jesus that they might be found. They are coming to Jesus because they can see that life is different with Jesus. Following and being with Jesus means that things in your life can and will change. Your life will find a new purpose and that such a life is going in a new direction and often in opposition to the life that has been previously lived.

Religious people tend to not realize this very thing. They are often satisfied with their lives: earning a descent wage by holding a respectable job, owning a home, has the right kind of life, clothes and food to  eat. Such people are glad to show up at Church services on time sitting in their special spots showing up to see who else is showing up and what they are like. Such people don’t need to be found because they don’t know they are lost.

Jesus notes in his stories that there is only one sheep and one coin that is lost. What most don’t consider carefully is that the Shepherd leaves the flock in the care of hired hands and goes to seek that one sheep. There are risks, for the sheep, the Shepherd and for the flock, who, complaining that the black sheep is gone again from the flood and the shepherd is seeking her. All the while the rest of the flock are muttering, “it is all baaaaad, yet agaaain!”

A powerful image of the stories is comparing God to a woman who has lost a coin and is going to look for it. There is a plan and a lot hard work to sweep the floor and make a careful search for the coin. She lit the lamp and is careful with each stroke of the broom on the dirt floor as she looks for the coin.

And when the lost are found and are safe from harm and destruction, the community is called together to celebrate the found and the great things that God is doing in the lives of the community. It is not enough in our modern day to seek out people to be members of our congregations just so that we can be proud of the pew numbers and hopefully pilfer the pockets, purses and accounts of the willing to support material ends. The mission of the community of God is to draw people to Christ by how we live our lives so that others who are lost can be found, find purpose for the life that is being given and join us in drawing of the city to Christ. After all, Jesus himself came to seek and to save that which is lost. So let’s get found and found together. Let's live like we are survivors and not be buried with the rest!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Time to stir it up!

This is an important Sunday for our parish is some ways: 1) we are making our worship time start a half an hour later than it has been in the past few years, 2) we are facing some major building and finance issues around roofs and other things, 3) we need to fill some key leadership roles, in particular the treasurer and the Secretary for Church Committee, and 4) this is the start of the third year of my four year term as Rector and Dean. So I think it is important that we start this third year together with this prayer, this collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people,
that richly bearing the fruit of good works,
we may by you be richly rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

As I reflect on the words of this collect and consider the words of Jesus in the Gospel for Sunday (Luke 14:25-33) to those with him on the journey to the City of Jerusalem, there are some things in our lives that we need to relinquish and some things we had better do. First of all, we had better relinquish the things that are going to keep us from following Jesus as his disciples. What needs to be given up, will vary from person to person. For some it is going to be financial things, for others it is going to be relationships of one kind or another. For some it will mean letting go of advancements at work while others will have to deal with failing health. We are all going to have problems, issues, threats, challenges, and hurdles which are going to have to be overcome.  We are going to need to make Christ and his kingdom, the centre, the top priority and the focus of our lives.

And as the costly, crossly way of life becomes more of a reality in us, as we follow Christ and seemingly move further and further away from what family and friends, neighbours and communities think we should be doing, they are going to think that we “hate” them. We won’t look like them, sound like them or act like them. Our goals, our plans and what makes us happy won’t match up. Our priorities, our objectives and our way of living is going to make us stand up and stand out and not necessarily in a positive or pleasant way. Our families will think that we have abandoned them, though nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus calls us: Ibis ad crucem! (to the cross you go!) in plain thinking and speaking we are asked to make the kingdom, seeing it grow and mature in our lives and in the lives of others the top priority of the work of our congregation and diocese. We are called to come and accept then go and bear the crosses given to each of us for the sake of all. We are called to be imitators of Christ. We are called to be there in the mess that is this life and to faithfully live the dyings and risings of the Lord Jesus that must be lived out in everyday life. And we are going to need support in doing that which is what makes me happy about the first line of the collect for Sunday: “Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people...” God will come to those whom Christ has called will renew, revive and refresh those who are working to see the kingdom of God come in the earthly community. It is not all on us. We are undergirded by the presence of God himself. God is already there in each moment. God has already foreknown would needs to happen and what needs to be done. And we need to come and participate in these things – bear our good works, that in the doing, we would be a blessing and then in turn be mightily blessed... not because we are gifted, creative, successful or even great or nice but because we are being faithful to God and focusing on the Kingdom.

We need to be aware that we are going to be called upon in moments of crisis. We are going to be set upon by circumstance. We are going to be troubled by lack of resources. But we are not asked by God to be nothing more than faithful to Jesus in towing our crosses up the hill after him.
What do we first as individuals, and then as a faith community, need to renounce and relinquish this week that we might chase Jesus up the hill? What will it takes for us to have hearts that want Jesus and the kingdom more than anything or anyone else?


Friday, August 23, 2013

I know what we are going to do today!

There is a cartoon show my boys like to watch called "Phineas and Ferb". If you have not seen it, its about two, very imaginative, very industrious boys who look to fill each day with adventure and their teenage sister who is always looking to "bust" her brothers. My favourite tag line in the show is this, "Ferb, I know what we are going to do today! Hey where's Perry?

This Sunday is an interesting situation (Luke 13:10-17). Its about being all tied up. It is about being freed, loosed from those bonds. It’s about being free and able to praise and worship God uprightly. It is about being blessed that we might give to others, and others see who God is and how God works to seek out those who are bound and bent over because they are oppressed by evil. God comes to seek and to save that which is lost: his people, his sheep.

It is a repetition from what Jesus proclaimed from the prophet Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry, “The Spirit of the Lord, is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s jubilee.” (Luke 5:1-19)  Jesus clearly says that “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” But then he does not leave things there. Over time Jesus lives his life to make the fulfillment of the scriptures an earthly reality.

That’s why in the middle of things, in the middle of worship and teaching, Jesus stopped everything. He looked at this woman, a daughter of Abraham, had been bound by an evil spirit for 18 years. The captivity had taken her way from being able to praise and to worship God. It had taken away to receive blessing and to pray properly. Jesus looked at her, was moved to proclaim her freedom from the disabling spirit and then lay hands on her to bless her for the next steps in the journey. This allowed the woman to stand up straight and being to live and to worship as she ought too.

But the story doesn’t end there because the president of the synagogue objects to the work of healing being done on the Sabbath. The confrontation between the president and Jesus leads to the religious people, the rabbis, the president, the lawyers and Levites to feeling humiliated. Jesus went as far as calling them “play actors”, essentially calling them empty and useless vessels while the ordinary folks were praising God and thankful for the release they were feeling from the oppression of the demands of the everyday Law and religion.

We are challenged and called to the same things: to recognize how we and others around us have been bound to things that are not godly, and to evil. We are called to work for release and for freedom for ourselves and for others. Most of all we called to work with Christ to seek and to save that which is lost: his people so that we can together enter into all the freedom and abundance  of the life of the kingdom of God through service, first to Christ, then to one another. In this way we will have grace to turn to the Lord and stand in faith and wonder; stand to be shown mercy that we might have forgiveness; lift our eyes and hand to heaven because we know peace and God’s peace causes us to participate in that full life and be blessed in order that we might give and bless others to help the world to praise God with everything we are.

So what are we going to do today?


Friday, August 16, 2013

ON holidays in August...

Just a quick note to readers to let you know that I am on holidays and will return to writing at the end of August. in the mean time, enjoy what is below.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Learning to pray

When I was a teen, I had the trip of a lifetime in going to what was then the Soviet Union. It was in the time of Conservatism in the West (Canada had Brian Mulroney as PM and the Americans had Ronald “Ray Guns” Reagan as their President). And there was the evil empire of Communist Russia lead by Mikhail Gorbachev. The cold war between Russian and the West was in full bloom. Along with about 35 others from my high school, I went on a trip to Russia in the Spring of 1986.

One of the things that I learned through my Russia experience was that school children were actively discouraged from being people of faith, people of prayer. Children were asked to sit at their desks and pray to God, asking for God to provide candy. They would wait for a few moments. When no candy appeared, the teacher would point out that God has failed to provide for them. Then the teacher would give them candy and tell the children that the State and party could provide for them and that there was no God. Their trust and faith needed to be in the Party and in their government. The Communist government of the day was atheistic and the Party believed that so should all the people be.

The trip took me by and into a number of beautiful former church buildings that had been turned into museums by the state since officially there was no God, and thus no need for prayer. Each city we visited had beautiful churches and cathedrals, monasteries and convents from Vyborg on the Finish border all the way into Moscow. Time and again, we would see women, with their heads covered, enter into the churches, they would “disappear” for a bit and return again, seemingly out of thin air. I learned later that they were in these places to pray and to receive the sacrament from the clergy – though it was totally unofficial and unsanctioned by the State.

My trip to the USSR and my encounters with Russian Orthodox Christians came back to my mind this week as I am getting ready to travel for holidays and trying to keep my prayer and spiritual life in order. The disciples come to Jesus early one morning and respectfully wait for Jesus to finish his Morning Prayer time with the Father. They knew the place and they went and waited and listened to Jesus as he prayer to the Father. Then, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, so that they could be like John’s disciples, only better because the Lamb had taught them to pray. Jesus’ disciples wanted to be one up and one better than John’s disciples.

So Jesus obliged them. He said them, “When you pray, pray this way:  Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” So if we want to examine how we ought to pray, let’s ready to have what has been taught:
·       Know who God is... He is God and he is Father. He has revealed this through Jesus, his Son. It is how he wants to be known. In fact, there is a place in the New Testament where we call out to him as “Abba” or “Daddy” Father. Knowing God as Father in such away runs against everything we see in our culture today where fathers are concerned. We seems to have lowered the status of father from know who our father is through God to thinking he is Peter Griffin of Family Guy or Homer Simpson. This is not who God our Father is. He is caring and compassionate, loving and merciful as well as all powerful and holy. God is present to each and to all, ready to respond to each and to all according to his purpose and perfect will for each and for all.

·       Know that God’s kingdom is coming to this earth. Are we ready to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven? Are we ready to have God’s will done in earth, in us as it is done heaven? Living the way God calls the world to live does not begin with someone else. Living out the kingdom starts with you and with me. We cannot run away from it. If we are God’s then it begins by allowing God to do the things in us, to bring us to the coming perfection at the end of time when we will seek to do his will and serve God in the way that God intended it to be all along. When we pray your kingdom come, your will be done we have to be willing to let go of our agendas, our lists and demands and allow God to bring things to pass in his way and in his time.
·         God knows what’s in our hearts, the question is do we?  Prayer is not so much about the laundry lists we like to make as it is about preparing the person to be ready to be an answer to prayer... and not necessarily one’s own prayers. Often when we pray we are being moved to see the world for how it out of what God sees. If you cannot steer a parked car what makes you think God can steer you if you are unwilling to be moved by what you see?

·         Don’t let the good become the enemy of the best God has for you. There is a temptation to see almost anything as an answer to prayer because we want answers and we wanted them yesterday. We need to be people of patience who carry an attitude of fortitude; people who will persist to seek God’s best not just what we can scrape together in this moment and make it work for now. God’s life, lived in God’s grace will never lack his blessing. Persist in this life that you have been given that not only will you be blessed but so will the people you love most. Prayer is not just about you and God: it is about the community to which you are connected, that through you God will bless them too.  So pray and live alongside your prayers. Don’t give up - persist in prayer.

·         Recognize that God will give what is right to give, when it is right to give it. Know that some times, God for the good of the object of your affections might say not now or no, not this way. God’s timing is perfect because he can see it all. And we know that God is working all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We are being conformed to the likeness of Jesus by the Father so that we can be like our brother. And through our brother, we will become more than conquers though him who has loved us. In God’s way, in God’s time we will be blessed.

·         Contrition and confession: remember who you are in the face of a holy, powerful glorious God. We are human, formed of the dust and to the dust we shall return. Remember that God delighted in thinking about you when he created first in his mind, then in forming us in the dust of this creation and then seeing us formed in our mother’s womb. Remember to say you’re sorry for falling short and for missing the mark. Always keep your accounts with the Father short because the Father is merciful and swift to bless. Ask to be healed and to be strengthened that you might live for God.

·         Pray in a way that draws others into the experience – Prayer and worship are not just about the words spoken: it is also about the unspoken desires of the heart and the silences we keep that we might here the still small voice of the Spirit who is within us. Seek and ask of God the way a child does of a parent. Persist with honesty and recognizing that if we know how to give to our children when they ask, how much more is God willing to respond with his best when we seek and ask of him? If you worship and pray in this way others will follow. So bring what is on your heart and the things that you believe only God can deal with and put that on the altar as part of your liturgy. Then you will see what difference that makes in your life beyond the walls of the church building.

Take time this week to go to your prayer closet. Take time once you are there to celebrate your Father and to bless his name and the things he is doing in you and around you. Remember who you are in the face of a holy and merciful God and give thanks for the abundance of grace and goodness. Pray that your Father’s will shall be done in you and through you, that his kingdom will reign on earth as it is in heaven. It is going to be a risk, but one that is going to be necessary to take, if the kingdom is going to be extended.


Friday, July 19, 2013

The P's of the Royal Priesthood

Martha was the one serving in this week’s Gospel. It must have been somewhere away; away from the house in Bethany because Martha was in a flap! She could not find what she was looking for and she wanted to fix a nice meal because it had probably been a while since Jesus and the 12 had eaten a proper, home cooked meal. She wanted this meal to be some special because of that. Yet nothing was going according to plan. Everything was extra work and Mary had disappeared on her so she was rattling around the kitchen with her frustration at the situation coming promptly to a rolling boil. She was ready to spill over like a pot, cooking rice with too much water in it.

Then she, stormed out the group and spotted her sister sitting at the feet of the Master, just like she was “one of the guys”! "Teacher, don’t you care that I have been left alone to do all this work? Tell my sister to help me out!"

With compassion for the work and the spirit of Martha, Jesus points out to the flustered chief cook and bottle washer, “Martha, dear Martha... Mary has made a better choice and she won’t have what she is receiving taken away from her.” While some might consider this a ‘slap down’for impatience, it is not meant to be – just an eye opener and a refocusing of priorities where all of the disciples are concerned. Martha’s service was being accepted. What Jesus wasn’t going to accept was the worry and the anxiety that Martha was expressing because of the elaborate agenda she had set. One dish would suffice. It did not have to be a major feast. The extra time and energy could be put to other, better uses. As it was once apply said by a missionary, “God’s work, done God’s way, will not lack God’s supply. “

So what does one do when you're in a spot? What do you do when you think things are going to hell in a hand cart and you cannot tell one end of the egg from the other? Here are some thoughts about serving in the royal priesthood of all believers:

1)      Provision:  There are countless times recounted in Scripture when God has provided for his people. He provided a son for Sarah and an heir for Abraham; Abraham found the ram when he need it for the altar instead of sacrificing Isaac. God gave Hannah a son and she gave Samuel back to God that he might be a powerful prophet; and be the king maker. God led his people out of bondage in Egypt, through the Red Sea and fed them in the years out in the Sinai Desert. God provided a way home from exile in Babylon. And most of all God have us all Jesus that we might have a way home to him. We need to recognize that even the poorest man is equipped with everything that God can give him. On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. Eat and be filled then feed that others that you might be followed into the kingdom.

2)      Prayer: Where prayer is focused, power falls. I remember a gentleman telling me that he would not pray the Lord’s Prayer because he didn’t need bread, he had lots in his house. The point of prayer is not to get things but to communicate thanks and ask “those things which are requisite and necessary for the body as well for the soul (BCP).”Give us this day our daily bread is to ask God to provision the day and the demands that are going to be place on our resources so that we can be faithful to proclaim the kingdom, that the kingdom would finally come. Prayer provides the connection between God and ourselves, both personally and corporately to have the power and the direction we need to proclaim and the power to do it well.

3)      Power: there is a little chorus we used to sing all the time: “For I am building a people of power, and I am making a people of praise. We are given by God through the Spirit “dynamos” or dynamite. Power in God’s kingdom is not given to those who rule but to those who serve. Leadership is not about position, provision or power. It is about those who serve and those who need to be served. Power is given to enable the servant to serve the least, the last and the lost not ourselves. Divine power is not given so much to turn the world upside down as it is given to turn the Church inside out.

4)      Persistence: Christianity is a way of life that we need to persist in: day by day, day after day. It is the only way in which the Church is going to grow and mature into the Body of Christ. We need in our modern society, to learn how to persist in prayer, in wisely using the provisions we are given and sharing, and operate sensibly with the power and authority to serve and care for those who are around us as neighbours. We need to persist in blessing and being blessed. Blessings are not just for fair weather but for the every day – fair or foul weather. We continue to sail on, even when life is heard and the going not so clear. Life may not be what we would call “fair” but we do know that God is always faithful.

5)      Proclamation: we are to announce the coming of the one, true King and to tell how God has provided for you and for the community, and to let people know that the same kingdom is coming near to them, whether they respond or not. When the world recognizes that we are being provided for, that we are active in prayer and in being answers to prayer, in being powerful and persistent servants of the least, the last and the lost in the name of Christ, then do we make the kingdom fully known to this world of God’s.

There will always be the worries of ministry and somehow will some things get done. Nevertheless, when we recognize that there is provision, prayer, power, the need for persistence and the need to proclaim the greatness of God's grace and love, we are well on our way home.