Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No request is too big or too small

For the second time in my ministry this Sunday, I am going to be able to preach at a Confirmation. And this service will be on the holiest of days in the Christian Calendar: Easter Day. There will be baptism first and then confirmation of those who are being baptized and others who have been baptized but have waited until this moment to come forward to be confirmed. Such things cause me to reflect on my own journey. I remember kneeling down in front of the then Bishop of Caledonia Diocese. I remember his hands going on my head and the heat that was coming from his hands. I remember that he prayed for me in the following manner: “Defend O Lord, this your servant, with your heavenly grace; that he may continue yours forever and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until he comes to your heavenly kingdom.” But what does this have to do with Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead? It has everything to do with it!

The Bishop asked God to defend me. That is no small request. He asked God to shield me from the attacks and the dangers I was going to face in my life. This does not mean that I am not going to have troubles or faces challenges. It means that all those things that are in the world that could overcome me, kill and destroy me are kept at bay. The Bishop asked also that God would maintain and support me in the face of trial and hostile criticism for my faith. The Bishop asked that God would through the ministry of the Holy Spirit prove of the fruit of the Christian life within me and enables me to defend my faith. And lastly, the Bishop asked God to help me with the race and receive the goal of my faith in his Son: life. God himself offers the “prize”, the crown of eternal life with God and all who have run the race.

Why would God do all this? Simply, because God loves us through and in his Son. God is here and he is with us through his risen Son. This is what God does for his children what every father ought to do for his children. Fathers need to protect, guide, shield, guard, and safeguard the children. And how should we as his children respond? By trusting what it is that he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord and our Saviour. We need to learn to trust him and put our lives on the line for him. We need even in the moment to recognize that Jesus Christ is Lord! Yes, the grave is empty and the cross is left behind, but Easter is more than the empty grave and the useless nails. It is the presence of the living Christ. We need to learn to trust him and to follow him as we move back to the Galilee with the risen Jesus and a whole new way of looking that the same old world.

Everything is going to change because of what was learned: not just at the cross nor at the tomb when Jesus was laid to rest on that Friday evening as the Sabbath was beginning. Those sights are all too familiar and we know what that is about. We need to learn to walk and to become the people that God is making us to be, in and through the power of the risen Christ. And what we will learn is to turn our church communities not just upside down, but (please God) we will learn to turn them inside out. We will seek out the least the last and the lost of this generation in this city and draw them to the heavenly City. We will do this so that we in turn can defend the people around us and draw them into the grace we live in and please God, into the life that is so freely offered to those who will receive it and truly live.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Come and journey with the Saviour

On Palm Sunday five-year-old Jason had a very sore throat and had to stay home from church with a sitter. When his family returned they carried several palm fronds. Jason asked them what they were for. "People held them over Jesus' head as he walked by," his father told him. "Wouldn't you know it," Jason fumed, "the one Sunday I don't go and He shows up!"

This week is one of my favourite to walk as a Christian and as a liturgist. We are going to move from the anticipated glory of the parade and the palms into the unexpected glory of the resurrection. The path that guides us there goes through the city and out the gates and up a small hill and then to new tomb. There will be many who are shouting, “Hosanna, hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

On Thursday night we will recount how Jesus gathered his friends for the “Last Supper”, taught them to serve each other through washing each other’s feet and command them to love each other so that everyone around them would see that God lives with and in them.

On Friday we will watch in almost virtual silence as Christ takes the punishment and suffer the death we should have received. We will here him speak to those closest to him, caring for his mother and for those who did the things they do to him with such words as “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

On Sunday – We know for certain who Jesus did this for: you. “My body, given for you.” He did it for you. He did it for me. Why did he do it? Because God through Christ loves us with an everlasting love. He would rather die than live in splendid, glorious isolation for eternity without you. He dies for you that you would go and live for him. he did it to brings us into the kingdom so that we could participate in the everlasting kingdom and in life and relationship with God and with each other.

So turn aside and come with me on this journey from the palms to the empty tomb. Learn where to put your trust for the days ahead and be prepared to travel with the Saviour beyond the grave to where we will have everlasting life.

Don’t miss the parade! Don’t let Jesus pass you by!


Monday, March 11, 2013

Costly way of following Jesus

What has believing in God cost you? It is a question that has been bugging me the last few days... but not for the reasons you would think. Like Mary (Luke 12:1-11) throughout all of my adult life I have offered myself in service to God and the Church. I have literally served from Sea to Sea to shining Sea. This time of year seems to make me stop and consider what has been offered to God in the past year; what has been given and offered, and what has been sacrificed for the cause of the kingdom. There are things that bring me joy, to see how there has been growth, and maturing in the faith and in the priestly life. Reflection also helps me to see the challenges and sorrows that have had to be met and the things that still have to be overcome.

In particular, I like to consider the “great” moments of ministry when people’s lives changed and they were different, transformed by what they saw and heard. For example, I remember ministering to a man on the South Coast of Labrador. He was sick and dying of cancer. The time with him was significant because in getting to know him, I discovered that he had been baptised and confirmed but he had never participated in the Eucharist. The Bishop came in and confirmed one Sunday and he was to have his first communion when the priest came to the community the next Sunday. Unfortunately for this gentleman, he had to go out in the boat in the week in between services. As a consequence, he was not in the community but out on the boat when the priest arrives from somewhere else and did not have his communion. He lived a good life, doing all the things a Christian ought to do, care for his family and his community. He lived his entire life thinking that he couldn’t have that part of the experience. I was glad to be able to share that first communion moment with him and other such moments as we prayed and he battled the cancer. That short time was a time of transformation and that man grew stronger in his faith and in the relationships he had with family and members of the community until the day he died.
And while some in the community saw his death as a failure of his health, his doctor and his faith, I can tell you he went to be with the Master confident in his faith and had his hopes fulfilled.

And what did such ministry really cost me? Some time, some prayer, and a listening ear which in turn meant so much to both the man and to his wife and family. Thus I think it is important to remember that we are not called to be great servants with super powers and great faith. The Master calls us to be humble, thoughtful servants who live everyday lives within an uncommon vigor and an extraordinary love. God calls us to serve and to bring whatever it is we have been given in terms of time, talents, treasure, tears and trees and use it to help those who are in need of seeing and know God to be able to do so.

And since when has loving somebody, even when they do not deserve it, ever been sensible? After all didn’t the Master say, “Father, forgive. They know not what they do.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Mercy of the Father

What does the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son tell us about God? Everybody identifies with the son who made the demands of the father and then went his own way, spent through his inheritance, found himself in a dead end, no where job working for someone who did help him out at all and was so hungry he was ready to steal from the pigs! Not only that but nobody wants to picture themselves as the older boy who, while he remained at home, was just as bad off as the brother who went away. The elder brother was consumed with what his father had done and allowed his brother to run off with his share of the money and other things from the house. After all he was going to be the one running the show somewhere down the road. The older brother always did what was expected of him: h always went to work on time, he never got himself into financial or girl trouble. He was the perfect son... or so he thought.

What about the father though... what of his hurt, of his life and generosity in the face of the unruly and self satisfied children? There are two things that we need to keep in mind about the father and thus about God as we approach this parable: (1) watch how he deals with the child who wanted everything and had nothing but an empty tummy, empty life and a broken heart at the end of it all and (2) see how he intentionally goes out to seek the older son who has refused to come in and celebrate with his father and so the father goes out to the older boy and tries to draw him in. Can you see yourself in either of these two boys? God can.

I can see the Father going out the end of the driveway and hanging on the gate as he looks down the road in suspense, waiting for the return of the son who has cut himself off from the family; for the child who has chosen to live life away from all that is familiar, not just the things, the rules he doesn’t like. He waits hoping to get a glimpse of the form of the younger child as he comes over the rise and his form shadows the setting sun behind him.

I can see him also go out to find the older boy who is refusing to come in to the house to welcome home his wayward sibling. The son is storming around a small glen trying to gather and bundle enough wood so that he can build a small fire to warm himself and cook supper later. I can see the father pursuing him, pleading with this child to come in and recognize that his brother is a changed man. Things will be different now and to live this new life within the family the younger and the older will need each other. All that the older boy can consider is how his younger brother walked away with everything and how badly he treated the family... why he should celebrate his brother’s return when he has treated his family so badly?

Can you see the nature of God in all of this? Actively pursuing and waiting for us to turn away and come to him? God gives mercy and grace to the wandering prodigal while loving and encouraging the dutiful and obedient child to make full use of everything that he has to offer him.

And let me say a word here about grudges: they are what you would wish for everybody else but would never ask for yourself. Thus we get resentful towards others and wish that we too had what they had Instead of celebrating with them, we choose to build walls with resentment and distain. So as part of our Lenten discipline let us make forgiveness a part of our everyday life. Let us make forgiveness, mercy an act of reconciliation and then allow forgiveness to be a habit of restoration between us.

Most of all, remember that the Father calls us all home, whether we have been away by ourselves or have been out doing our duty. God calls us to himself saying to each and to all of us: “Fear not; I have redeemed you and called you by name – your are mine.” (Isaiah 43.1)


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The disciple's trial

What is it in you that you allow yourself to be weighed down in this way?
Can you not receive my gifts, my mercy and grace and so find your own freedom?
Is it truly easier to kick against the goads?

I watch, with tears in my eyes, struggling to go your own way and live life on your terms.
You desire to have it all your own way. You reject my hand, pushing it away.
You grow deaf to the sound of my voice calling out to you to return and allow me to take your burden.
You grow blind to my care and compassion for your path and your pain.

Do you remember that I have been this way before?
Do you not recall that I have felt the pain, suffered scorn and wore the shame?
Look into my eyes and what can you see... is there any rest, any hope, any promise in me?