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?