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.