Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Far Side of Christmas

I have heard over Advent a lot of people decrying yet again about “how commercial Christmas is”. There is no doubt in my mind that there is two celebrations where Christmas is concerned in North American Society. The first is the secular “I need, I want, and I’m going to get” kind of Christmas celebration where people are bribed to go and spend money on what they think they want or what they need to possess in order to be happy. News shows and papers are constantly talking about how much people will spend and how good or poorly the economy will be doing based on how we respond to the demand of our culture and society that we buy everything to keep at least some of us happy and in money.

Then there is the other side of Christmas or as I think of it these days, the Far Side of Christmas. As far back as I can remember, Christmas has not been Christmas without being at Church. Whether it was in my first parish with a 1,000 other people (literally) or I was with the little congregation in Northern BC where I first came to faith more than three decades ago with thirty people maximum and the place was packed, it wasn’t Christmas for us until we had been to the Midnight Mass, we came home and we had some hot chocolate and opened one present before bed. Mom got to determine what present we opened. 

Like many others, I like the getting the presents and even going to get presents for my family that they think they are going to like. It is probably because as I get older, I have noticed how much more the far side of Christmas has come to mean to me. I have actually grown fatigued of all the Christmas shows that require someone or something saving the “Fat Man” because he cannot deliver the glitzier side of Christmas. Jolly old St. Nicholas needs the reality of Christmas just like the rest of us – but he is no saint and he is no threat to the way in which we live... unless we don’t get our stuff.

Even the traditional image of Jesus with his parents, the shepherds, the angels and the animals is no threat to us. In fact, I would say to you that the image is so familiar to us almost, that we bring it to the point of contempt. After all babies are a joy; they are a wonder and they are weak so how could they possibly a threat?

The King we await is a threat. He will come again to judge both the living and the dead (physically and spiritually). Jesus life and the new kingdom are a threat, if for no other reason than there will be no Santa to depend on. There will be a huge shift in the way that the world will live and only those who are deemed worthy will be a part of it. Remember the Parable of the Wedding Banquet. We will not be a part of the new life and the new world unless we are ready in this moment under the ways that God calls us to be.

God in Christ is here. And we are called to stand with him. Christ is Christmas. And if we find him absent who has excluded whom? Is it not us? Is not time to listen again to the voice of the angels as they sing; to the laughter of the Shepherds as they march to the Manger, to consider the quiet and the clam of the stable? Is it not time to make room of the little life that lays in the manger and know that he is going to grow and strengthen and call you to the barren tree of Easter? Isn’t that moment too on the far side of Christmas? And what does that mean for our stuff?


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The deep breath before the plunge

The Book that got me reading has finally been made into a feature film. In fact, the book is a trilogy of films. The Hobbit: An unexpected Adventure, the Desolation of Smaug and the most recent and concluding film, “The Hobbit: the Battle of the Five Armies”. I was and remain a lover of the literature of JJR Tolkien that created revealing the life of Middle Earth – the setting for the both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series. One of the things I like about the books of this series is the theology and the working out of life and its hardships through a Christian mindset. Please watch the video above so that you can understand a little deeper, what I share with you about what this week’s Gospel says about the Annunciation of the Lord Jesus to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).

The announcement to Mary that God was showing favour to her and that she was to give birth to a son. She took a moment, a deep breath and then acknowledged that she had indeed heard and received the message and was willing to allow God to work within her to work his miracle and bring about our salvation through her child. God would save his people through her son – and she must call him Jesus (The Lord saves).

Now let us be careful about some things. Mary did not just simply give up and give over – she pondered what all this might mean... after all what does it mean to be favoured by God? When one considers the examples of whomever else God favours, the Old Testament shows that that when you are on God’s side, you are in danger or are about to be in dangers of various kinds.  Mary was legally bound to her husband Joseph and then being discovered to be with child but Joseph not being the father could cost her everything: family, friends, reputation, marriage, not to mention her life and that of her unborn son.  

Mary was willing to accept whatever it was that God had for her to do – even if she did not understand it completely or thought it silly. There is a second story that goes with the Annunciation, the birth of John the Baptist. Zechariah the old priest and his wife Elizabeth had been childless most of their lives... people who had wanted them but had never been blessed with them. Zechariah doubted that God could make it happen in their old age and laughed derisively at the notion that it would now. As a result, he spent the entire pregnancy mute, and only when he followed the direction to name the boy “John” was he able to speak again.

Mary chose to believe not matter how silly or impossible it sounded. And there is something that this should make us aware of the presence of God in a person’s life – God is faithful to his people and he is a true keeper of his own promises and is trustworthy to his word.

Accepting God at his word does not make us crazy or foolish. It means that we are willing to trust and rely on Him and his word – even when the world thinks we are out to lunch. Allowing God to work in us and through us is what Christmas is all about. We might not always understand what we have been told; We may not realize what the consequences are of saying “yes” or “no” are. What we can trust is that God through his Son has our best interests at heart and is working out our salvation through Him.

This is the deep breath before the plunge into all that Christmas is: will you be like Mary and allow it be to you has God has spoken? Will you accept the thing that God has for you to do and allow God to begin to work in your life as he sees fit? Does it sound crazy or wild? Take a deep breath and then answer.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doing the ministry, proclaiming Christ

John the Baptist had an important, growing, even thriving ministry among the people of Israel. He was in a place away from the major cities and from the popular holy places where people practiced their religion. He was “in the wilderness” preaching and exhorting the nation as a whole to come back to God and to repent of the lives they had been living away from him. The main goal of his ministry was to point to the Messiah when he saw him. John’s ministry was one of proclamation – to tell the people that there is One who is coming who will be more powerful than he is and will baptize not with water but with the Spirit. He believed that the world around him needed to know that Jesus is amongst us.

Many asked John if he was the one the nation had been waiting for. John consistently pointed to the One who was coming after him because he ranks ahead of him; that the Messiah’s ministry must increase and that his own ministry, his proclamation and witness must decrease (John 3.30). It is not me, he is the One we have been waiting for... behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John came as a witness to what was to happen in the life of Jesus and to point people to him. if you wish to think of it this way, John the Baptist consistently told people “I am not the One” whereas Jesus consistently says throughout the Gospel of John that “I am”.

And this statement, that that Jesus is the “I am” is incredibly important. John the Baptist and John the Gospel writer are human witnesses of a cosmic, eternal and divine event. God has moved into this world in an unprecedented way in and through Christ. They are signing his presence by actively witnessing to it through their own lives.  To not witness what God is doing is to proclaim divine absence and our disbelief in God’s ability to come and reach us where we are. If we are to act in this way then we are sinning and thus separated from God. It means that we are broken, hurt and dying people. And that is why Jesus came and is coming again – that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And if you worry that you have done something that is simply unforgivable, that God simply would not let you off the hook for, that too was covered by Christmas. There is nothing original about your sin and God has come in Christ to do something about it. There is nothing that God cannot overcome in your life, once the Light has been put upon it. For certain there are going to be moments of struggle and pain but the greatest thing about Christmas and the coming of the King is that when everything is made new again, all of it will be behind us. We will truly be free and the work of Christmas will have only just begun.

So where does this leave us? We need to seek out Christ, because we need the Light to see. Our eyes will never adjust to the darkness. We need the light – even if it is only by a single, little, flickering flame. We need the Light and to follow it, not just so that we can help Jesus rescue those who are sitting in darkness, but so that we can find our way home too. Our eyes need to the Light so that we can get to “see” level and then with John the Baptist and so many other people over the last two millennia, actively show people the King in his true light. Then we will been seen for who we truly are, faithful reflections of his light and that he really is the One we have been waiting for. We must continue the ministry. 

Maranatha! (Come Lord Jesus, come quickly)


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On becoming an Andrew

This is the last week, the Last Sunday of the liturgical year for the Church. Next week we move into Advent and begin to focus on getting ready for the coming of the King and his kingdom. This Sunday we celebrate our patron saint, Andrew. It might interest you to know that there were two congregations here in Prince Rupert. St. Andrew’s became the Cathedral of the Diocese in the late 1920’s. The other parish was St. Peter’s, Seal Cove. St. Peter’s was meant to be the fishermen’s church and St. Andrew for the West end of the city.

In 1963, owing to the lack of money to keep both parishes going, St. Peter’s congregation was moved into the Cathedral. The chapel on the South side of the Building is St. Peter’s Chapel, in honour of the former Church and parish of Prince Rupert. I mention this because I think we need to be aware of the local history. I believe it is important to use this information to help guide us both in matters of the physical and the spiritual decision making that needs to happen in the working out of the mission. To this I would add that we need to know about the history of the person we are named after... what is his spiritual nature/heritage and how are we like him? Anglican congregations are often name for saints, and for the character of that saint because they believe that this best exemplifies the character of the community to which they belong.

Andrew was unique in the group of apostles in that he was constantly bringing other people to see Jesus. He would listen and respond to their needs, which usually meant getting them close to Jesus. Andrew himself was the first among brothers to believe and to be close to Jesus. When Jesus asked him and John what they wanted from him, they asked to see where he lived, and he was invited to “Come and see”. In the days of Jesus’ he was in the inner circle with Simon Peter, James and John and was often in the lead. This plays out in his ministry later on in John’s Gospel when a group of Greek men who came and asked Andrew to see Jesus.

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.” (John 12.20-26 ESV)

The Gospel this week, for St. Andrew’s Day, (Matthew 4.18-22) registers the claim that Jesus laid upon his original followers. They had spent time together and gotten to know each other. Then the command – not an invitation – came to the four of them to come to follow, and to learn how to be fishers of men. It is significant that the teacher chose the students and not students the teacher. In those days people would follow by their own choice (and still do!), coming and going as they pleased. Jesus chose his followers and called them deliberately into community with himself. Andrew was chosen by Jesus. Andrew left what he had (Family, friends, marriage, children house, business, profession and income) behind.

How do you respond to the call to be a follower of the Lord Jesus? We are confronted with that question each time that there is baptism in this church... Will you obediently serve him as your Lord? Perhaps this is why our mission statement for the Parish reflects this reality: our mission is to seek, to seek and to serve God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. it is not enough for the community of Christ to just do the first two things – to come and to see. Once we have come and seen there is the necessity of serving Christ where we find him in everyday life. In that way our everyday actions, thoughts and prayers become worship. Like Andrew we ought to strive to use the words of a familiar hymn to make them real in our lives: “take me life and let it be – ever, only, all for thee”. We ought to be all about Jesus and the coming kingdom. And if we are to do that then we must, like Andrew, cultivate and active interdependence upon God and each other so that we can be supported and carried thought he challenges of the day as we await that day when the kingdom is a full reality.  

All of us can be Andrews. All of us are and can be believers, followers and some of us even leaders of the community of the Lord Jesus. Let us ask God to give us grace to deepen our faith in Christ and the strength to effectively confess and proclaim that Jesus is Lord of all the nations. The message must go to the ends of the earth, and people must see the salvation of our God. Will you not take them?


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Know the Father, have peace.

A while back, I had a conversation with an elderly priest. We were talking about public ministry and public life as clergy and I asked him what he thought people wanted or needed the most. After some thought, he gave me a simple answer.  “Peace,” he said, “People want and need peace.” So I have been thinking about that this week. If people want peace, why don’t they have it? The world is a strange, busy, often violent place. This seen best and most of all in the life of Jesus and the ways in which we treated him and caused him to suffer and die. And that is when it hit me. Because we do not know God, we find it hard to know grace. And because there is precious little grace, there is no peace.

Our New Testament lesson this week is from First Peter. Here is what Peter says,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9, ESV)

One of the very first things that we can draw out of this is the fact that God is not an unknown entity. God is a well known and beloved Father. The life that comes from God the Father, the life that God offers to us in Christ, cannot be changed, eroded, faded or worn away by the passage of time. It cannot and shall not be ravaged or stolen away because that life belongs to God and it is part of the divine nature. If we have life in the Father, we are his and we belong to him. And if we belong to him then we must participate in the dying and rising of his Son.

But how many of us in the Church in North America, these days are ready and willing to die? How many of us are ready to risk death so that we may live and others with us? There is a certain amount of fear about the end of this life and even more so about the control of life and the loss of liberty and self determination in the face of decay and disease in our society again recently. Now more than ever, our society needs to see people in the Church live their lives with courage and integrity worthy of the kingdom of heaven. Please keep in mind that I am not talking about martyrdom. A gift such as martyrdom is a gift you get to use only once, and it is near the very end of this life. I am talking about bold living and proclamation of the kingdom: first, the simple actions of honest living and then, at the right time the right words to share the desire of the heart of the Father – that we would choose to love him back and to enter into relationship with him. Also remember that courage is not the absence of fear – such a thing is for fools only. Courage is the ability and willingness to act and to do in the face of fear, know that there will be a cost and offering the appropriate sacrifice.
Here, we need to be truthful with ourselves. Faith to come into its fullness is necessarily tested and tried by fire. Without having our faith, both as individuals and as a community tested, of what worth and strength is it?  Can we not recognize that death is not the end but only the beginning? As Scripture reminds us, “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30.5)

Maybe I can make things make sense this way. My own dad and I were very close. For reasons that I cannot to this day explain, having my father present always allowed for a certain amount of peace. He showed me how to control my fears and anxieties, passions and temper.  Over my childhood I can remember my dad teaching me that there was life waiting on the other side of the gate and that death was a gate all of us had to walk through., So when my father was sick and dying with cancer, I can remember him being sad that I had to look after him and help him to do things. It was a test that I think strengthen the bond between us. In the last few days that he spent in hospital, I would stay with him at night, to be there for him if he needed anything. When I would leave I would say to him, good night, Dad, I’ll see you in the morning.  It was a deep privilege for me to be with him, to pray with him and for him, the night he died because he had taught me to pray. And now when I go to visit his grave, I still remind him and myself, “See you in the morning.”

Is the lost real? Of course! Do I miss him? For certain. I remember what I was taught through my relationship with my father and that sustains me. And at the same time I have come to discover that peace, real peace, comes from knowing the Father and having relationship with his Son. And we have so much we can look forward to: On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine -- the best of meats and the finest of wines.(Isaiah 25.6) We need to know the Father so that we can see the old become new, the fallen being raised up, and all things being brought to their perfect in Christ on the day of his coming again. Know the Father have grace and when you have grace, you have God’s own peace.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Everything, according to plan - except not.

My wife and I have often made jokes about waiting on our wedding day. We were well planned and ready to go. The banns had been read in our respective parishes. The invitations had been sent out. The photographer had had a mishap with keys but was ready to go. Our families had arrived from both coasts of the country. My bride had told the clergy off, insisting that she would be at the Church on time and the wedding would start as planned.

There was one issue we had not planned on though. The Church where we were getting married was in downtown Toronto (Avenue Road and Dupont Avenue) and my wife and her family where coming from Don Mills. The plan was to travel the Don Valley Parkway. We discovered right before the wedding that the DVP (or as we had dubbed it, the DV Parking Lot) was going to be closed that weekend but didn’t map out a route for my wife’s uncle to follow, since he had lived in Toronto for decades.

I share this escapade with you, to draw us into a parable that is our Gospel this week – the Parable of the ten virgins or the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25.1-13). The Parable should tell us something about God because that is what parables are designed to do for us. So does this mean that if the God is closed, God is going to be late for the wedding? Not exactly, but let’s ferret this out a bit more.

First of all, let’s remember that weddings in the Middle East, especially in ancient times, were a big deal that went on for more than a single night. Weddings went on for a week. Everything was carefully planned and laid out so that there was nothing that would happen to spoil the festivities. Second of all, it was about waiting for the Groom, not the bride. The bride and the wedding party (the families and guests) waited at the place of the wedding for the Bridegroom and his party to arrive so that everything could begin. This is the total opposite of how we do weddings in our culture. The day is about the bride and the dress and the reception and the pictures of it all, the toasts and other traditions, etc...  The Groom, at least this used to be the case, got the Wedding night.

The focus is on the ten women who wait for the Groom. This is an odd thing, women waiting for a man and the man is late! Especially since their duty was to wait on and be tending to the bride not the groom. They needed to tend to their torches, adding oil every 15 minutes or so. Then there is a delay of some length. We aren’t told how long except that those who were reasonably ready now found themselves short. Five were reasonably prepared. Five more were extraordinarily prepared. You would think that when a friend or a neighbour is in need that one would share the oil, and help out. But that is not what happens. So, those who were less prepared for the delay of the start of the party, ended up missing out on the wedding entirely, because they had not been wise enough to be extraordinarily prepared. For the unprepared, it became a “weeding” party; that means that if one is not prepared, even for the unexpected, you can and will be “weeded” out. And Luke’s Gospel tells us that there was weeping and gnashing of teeth – and those who didn’t have teeth, were given some.

If there is anything that I have learned in the 20 years plus that I have been married and in the nearly 25 years I have been in ministry, is that there is a need to planned and there is a need to be prepared. However, in the case of the kingdom, there is one thing more that is necessary: to know the nature of the King and to be ready to wait as long as it takes for him to arrive. We need to be ready for the unexpected. We need to be ready to wait for as long as it takes. Please understand that waiting in the Bible is not idleness. It is continuing to do the things you do and doing them as for the Lord, so that we are helping, working to draw others into the kingdom. There are going to be moments of sudden ministry that are going to demand our best and draw heavily on our resources. There is no real excuse for not drawing on God to provide for moments such as those – we should not have waited so long nor been caught flatfooted.

Who has the faith to last until the end and where can we get more? Ask God, he will supply you amply. So be prepared to wait and to do what must be done in the meantime. It is everything according to plan. Except not. It is God working out for us and with us our salvation. Trust and live in that this week... in his name!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

For All the Saints - not worrying about "it"

This week is the anniversary of my ordination to the sacred priesthood. It will be seven years ago Saturday that I went to St. Peter’s Church in Westport, White Bay and was ordained as a pastor, priest and teacher in the Church. I remember that moment vividly for a number of reasons not the least of which there is a great collage of pictures that was given to me as an ordination present to help me remember that night.

But then I recall the Day – the Christian feast day on which I was ordained: All Saints Day. Over the years, there are two consistent things that people have said to me about saints and sainthood: (1) I don’t want to be a saint, you’ve got to be kidding me and (2) to be a saint you have to be dead and I am not dead yet. Moreover, they often think that when I tell them that they are becoming more and more like their Father, they think that I am teasing or kidding.

In my own case, I waited months to feel like a priest after ordination. I can remember sitting through lectures and writing papers, doing projects while still being a father and a husband... hoping and praying that when I got there that I would get “it” and that I would really like “it” and be a really good, even holy priest. And then I became concerned because it was not happening. Ministry in the parish was like it was before. Things were happening and going much like before. I knew that I was a priest but I did not feel like one.  This feeling went on for some time until, standing at the altar one Sunday, I finally got “it”.  No, I didn't suddenly become a paragon of Anglican ministry having been zapped by the Spirit. Rather, I finally understood that the moment of ordination was a moment of public declaration of ministry. I was publicly entrusted with the life and leadership of the Church. God had called me because he made me to be a priest, and I was responding and living out that call. And that is when I realized that sainthood and holiness for the whole Church works in the same manner.

We are the children of the most high God. God has chosen us, God loves us and God is continually blessing us as we seek, see, and strive to serve him. We are in this moment blessed. We are blessed not because we are special or have done certain things or acted in particular ways but we are blessed nonetheless. We are blessed and then we go to do our ministries and we come back to this sacred place to be renewed, replenished, resorted and reminded that we are blessed. Then we go again and re peat the cycle.  It is only through going to ministry and returning from ministry that we can begin to see patterns of how God is working in our lives and the lives of those around us so that we can recognize that God is fulfilling his promises to us and transforming the community around us.

In blessing us, God brings to bear all that he has in store for each and for all of us. We are blessed so that we are effective in living out the out the Good news and the proclamation of the kingdom and at the same time, blessed so that we can live into the kingdom that is coming through the grace and plan of God.

We are blessed. We are being blessed right here and right now. This is not just a future tense thing where we will suddenly arrive and we will know it all and we will be “it”. We are being blessed and we may not know why or what for – that is for a later time. We need to go and live life so you can figure what you are called to and then come back praising and rejoicing and then go and do it.

And that is what I intend to do all over again in my eighth year of priesthood: go and discover the ministry to the minors and then do it – wherever and whenever, knowing that God has already been there and I don’t have to worry about “it”.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

In considering heroes and the presence of evil

As I sit down to write this morning, my mind is in a jumble. The Gospel this week (Matthew 22.34-46) is really about 2 things: love and authority. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength and your neighbour with everything you have. On this, hangs all the law and the prophets. I remember telling the congregation recently, that what the law was good for, was for making people inoffensive to God and to neighbour. It was to work to keep them from sinning against the other, be it God or neighbour or both.

I find that statement, “love your neighbour” very difficult having just watched a video from the House of Commons, where the Sergeant at Arms, retired RCMP member Kevin Vickers, is fervently applauded for his actions yesterday in front of the Library at the House of Commons. His actions were heroic and he more than likely saved a number of lives – but why were they necessary? I understand why Vickers did what he did. He defended the people in his care and charge – like a good shepherd should. But do not the people around him understand just how costly such an act was? The very people who could have made it more difficult to commit such sin, are applauding a man who had to take a life and give that life which is taken little to no regard... what does that say about us as Canadians?

Please don’t misunderstand or misinterpret me: what Kevin Vickers did was heroic. No question. But it seems to me that the people who could be working on this issue, regardless of party or stripe, needs to sit down, make a good accounting of the leadership, or lack thereof, of this country and give their collective heads a good shake. As I consider the video, the applause for Vickers felt like a pat on the back for those who were applauding and I for one, didn’t like it. I think we should say a thank you and give to all those men and women who serve us, who put themselves in harm’s way every day, what they need so that we keep them strong to keep our country, the true North, strong and free. We as a country, needed Kevin Vickers yesterday. And Vickers’ heroic acts were necessary because of choices that people in government have made and have failed to countenanced the blow back of the decision to keep jihadists here in the country.   How quickly now, will the laws change in this country to allow young men and women to leave the country to join a jihadist movement but then strip them of the ability to re-enter the country because of what they might do here at home? It will be something to watch for.

And how do we reach out to the Muslim community? For certain there is going to be the desire for recriminations and a thirst for some sort of revenge. It is human nature. This senseless act of violence by a man who has been taken in by a lie – a twisted, warped understanding of Islam – needs to be confronted in this country by genuine charity, compassion and forgiveness. Against such things, there is no law. There are two families who suffered losses yesterday: (1) the family of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who gave his life in service to his country, protecting what we hold most dear and (2) the family of the gunman who lost a son to a lie and then to the gun of a Peace Officer.

I can find nothing to be zealously enthusiastic about over what happened yesterday. I cannot in good conscience feverishly celebrate the taking of a life, no matter how noble it might seem at the time. I can only hope, and to teach, the necessity to love and to hold authority correctly, for the good of every person.  And I pray that we as a nation react better to such evil in our midst in better and appropriate ways in the days ahead.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whose image do you bear?

Words for the song: take it and pray it this week – let it fill your soul, your heart, your mind and your life:

"I Give You My Heart"
(originally by Reuben Morgan, Hillsong, UBP, ARR CCLI#2588737)

This is my desire: to honor You
Lord, with all my heart, I worship You All I have within me, I give You praise All that I adore is in You
Lord, I give You my heart I give You my soul, I live for You alone Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake Lord, have Your way in me

In this season of campaigning locally for municipal government and faux campaigns federally, it is interesting that the Gospel this week (Matthew 22.15-22) starts out as a lesson in politics for the Pharisees and the Herodians. And if politics makes for strange bed fellows then the theology one holds also needs to be corrected too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were complete opposites. The Pharisees were ardent nationalists, wanting to rid Israel of the Roman empirical rule and occupation. They wanted the good old days of the rule of David and Solomon when they had their own country. The Herodians wanted and worked to continual the Roman Empire and its rule of Palestine. The Herodians where seen as collaborators and traitors of the nation by the Pharisees. The Herodians regarded the Pharisees as idealistic and as zealots to a failed, shriveled dream of a theocracy (divinely led government).  It is a small wonder that they, worked together to try and trap Jesus in his teaching so that they could discredit him. But this they did... or at least tried to do. They sent their own disciples, not abasing themselves to do the deed by their own hand or tongue, to question Jesus with the question of whether or not it was lawful for a Jewish person to pay taxes. If he answered yes, the people should pay their taxes, he could be denounced as traitorous and people would be repelled by him. If Jesus answered no, then he could be reported as an insurrectionist and reported to the local government to be dealt with for treason and sedition to the Empire.

To try and make things more difficult, these other disciples laid down the flattery really thick – praising up Jesus and extolling him as a man of God and of the people... then when he least expects it, they pop the clever question: “Do we pay the taxes or no?” What the Pharisees and the Herodians don’t recognize is that Jesus is not vested in the life of this world. He is on his way to Jerusalem and to the cross to destroy it. He is not entangled and enmeshed in the politics of this world but rather is focused on the will of his Father and of the kingdom that is coming.

Understanding and recognizing that there is a trap, he asks for a coin... please note that he did not have one nor did he ask Judas for one because he was the treasurer. The Pharisees and the Herodians produce a coin quickly and willingly, having anticipated the request. Jesus examines the coin and asks “Whose image and inscription is this?” To this question comes the reply, “It is the Emperor’s image and inscription.” Jesus pauses for a moment and then says to them, “If it belongs to the Emperor, give it back and give to God what belongs to God.”

Paying taxes and giving to God does not mean that the matters are separate; in fact it is the opposite. We are not expected to separate Church and Crown (State) but rather recognise that all authority on earth as well as in heaven belongs to the Almighty Father and to our Lord Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of this fact, 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28.16-20) 

We are also not to live as if we are individual humans trying to have individual hearts but rather to live with the heart of Christ in the community that he loves and provides for. Paying taxes and living in an earthly system does not mean that we blindly and glibly follow government leadership and never question authority. Rather, as Christian people, living in a democracy we ought to participate in it fully through taxes, voting, meetings and the like. We need one another. This means that I need you and God, in his foresight and wisdom has determined that you need me.

The one thing that is important above all else for the Church, is to recognize that without God, we cannot be Church. God is here and we are with him and gathered around him, to sing his praises, hear his word, and celebrate his presence through worship, encountering him through sacrament. Only in his presence and through his will, are we competent to be Church. We are living the life of Christ, his death and resurrection in the face of the personal and corporate evils of our day. We are called to confront principalities, powers, and strongholds both physical and spiritual in the name of the King and for the sake of the coming life in the kingdom that God wants to share with all who will come. We need to recognize that we are living in that moment between when the old order, the way of sin and death has been destroyed and the new life with the new order that is yet to begin. We live in a time that is tumultuous because of the death throws of the old world and the birth pangs of the new one.

What makes the difference? Whose image, and whose inscription do you bear? Is it not God’s own image? Cannot someone grab you by the foot, lift it up and see the label on your soul that says, “Made in Heaven. If lost, please return to the Manufacturer”?


Friday, October 10, 2014

The state of the thankful heart

I consider modern medicine to be a good and godly thing. But there is something that the most advanced medicine cannot cure – the state of the human heart. In looking at the lessons for this Sunday, which in Canada is also our National Thanksgiving holiday, I first thought that this Sunday’s Gospel lesson (Luke 17.11-19) was an odd choice for a day of national thanksgiving. I thought it was odd until I realized something important: you need to look at the state of the heart.

So let’s carefully consider what it is that the Gospel is communicating. Jesus is clearly on his way to Jerusalem with the purpose of confronting the religious and political authorities of his day. This will result in his execution on the cross and three days later he will be raised from the dead by the Father. As he makes his way to Jerusalem, Jesus goes through the foreign territory of Samaria. Jesus enters a certain town where he is confronted by ten people, all of whom had some sort of malady of the skin which pushed these people to the edges and fringes of society. They came to him and got in his path but not too close so as to remain a safe distance from any potential rock throwing from people around them. These ten people cried out to him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped and “saw them” in their situation and considered their affliction. Then he said to them, “Go to the priest and show yourselves to be cured.” These people did so and as they went they discovered that they had been indeed healed and cured. One of these ten lepers, instead of going as he was told to do, turned back to the village. When he turned back, he immediately began praising and glorifying God.  He found Jesus, fell down at his feet and worshiped him, giving thanks to God for his healing.

Why is this important? This is important because this one man stopped to recognise that God saw, knew and understood his affliction. As a result, answered his prayer for healing. The healing is not just about being able to go back to a life that has been interrupted. It is about the matters of the heart that allow for this man to be whole again. This foreigner, who by the religious people’s estimation, was as far from God as he could get, was finally coming home. He was coming into all the things that had been denied him for so long, not the least of which was a deepening and growing relationship with God.  It is important or us to understand that salvation is not just a rescue from adverse circumstance or a change in location of universal geography from hell to heaven. Salvation is the transformation of a life and the return of an entire lifetime. What each person does as a result of this transformation needs to be a response to what God has given and what God is doing in us and through us every day.

And what about the other nine? What did they do? Did they do as they were asked and go and show themselves to the priest at the temple? Did they simple go home and forget? We aren’t told but I would suggest that when you have encountered the power of God in your life, you are not liable to forget. You will treasure it. The question is, will you publicly give thanks for all that God has done for you, for your family and for your nation, and in doing so, let others see the state of your heart and hear you give thank this week. 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

I've got the power!

Our Gospel this week is Matthew 21.23-32 and it concerns itself with power and authority to teach and preach. It occurs to me that in this world, there are many who want authority and many more who seek power, thinking that possessing these things will make them secure and safe.  What Christians often miss is that power and authority are not for personal use but for the good of the community in which they participate. Power and authority are given to the Church by God to serve him in the world and others through his power motivated by God love and compassion for the world. All power and authority belong to God. Power and authority are gifts, given to be held and used for the sake of others not to be used as weapons for maintaining the status quo of the powerful and the gifted.

The strength of a Christian’s life is the witness that is put forth for the world to see. You see, it is not enough to come within four walls and pay what amounts to lip service to a creed and expect that this is all that there is to the Christian faith. If you do get involved and you don’t become active, then how do you know that you actually believe? I know many people around me these days who will openly say, “Oh I’m not religious. I spiritual.” It is not that they don’t want to be identified as believing in God, it is that they do not want to identify or have others identify them as being a part of the Church. they stand back and look at the state of the Church and recognize that the Church in North America has moved away from the teachings of Scripture to try and be popular and trendy so that people will give to support burgeoning budgets for buildings and programs.  Show me a person who claims to be “spiritual” and I will study them and explain their religious liturgy to you.

This is why we need to work on our own relationships with God and with each other so that we can bring a different, a better relationship for the disaffected, the disillusioned, the disinterested to discover. Jesus came to us to restore and rebuild those relationships. And if that means a little death for the institution of the Church and the personal agendas and plans of the Church’s leadership, so be it. We need to learn again to listen to the voice of the Lord and to submit ourselves personally and corporately work together for the sake of the coming life and kingdom.

Don’t just have a faith – even the devil manages this. Have the courage and the conviction of that faith to let your faith move you into places and spaces where he can bless you even more than you are now, that you might serve him in greater and mightier ways and the kingdom through your ministry combined with all our various ministries, builds for the day when he comes again and the kingdom arrives in its fullness. He will give you the power (energy) you need to do this and the authority to accomplish it. He who has called you, is faithful and he will do it.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Offer mercy, not a sacrifice

“Why does your Teacher eat with those traitorous tax collectors and other publicly known sinners?” It is an interesting question from this week’s Gospel (Matthew 9.9-13 for St. Matthew’s Day). It is often assumed in our faith that because we are formed in God’s image, we are like God and therefore, God must be like us. The ways in which Jesus acts and speaks, the ways in which he loves and heals are totally different from us. This is seen most clearly in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

The cross and death of Jesus shows us how God acts, how God brings salvation to us. The Cross also shows us who we are and it is not a pretty picture. God in the Old Testament rejects the kind of religion that allows for someone to praise God with fine sounding prayers and great but allows the heart to remain empty and far away for the realities of how God sees us and how God is at work in the word, especially through his own Son. The question posed above operates on an assumption: that God has to act in the same ways that the very religious do. This is an assumption not only of the religious elite, it is also an belief of those who are not involved with organized religion. This is why Jesus challenges those around him to, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’”

It is more important, as I understand it, for us as people of faith, to be people who are active in offering mercy. What that means is we are willing to go and seek out the least, the last and the lost and stand between them and their impending disasters and call them, draw them to yourself. We do this so that we can have the opportunity to show compassion and in doing that, to show them who Jesus is for us and who Jesus wants to be for them.

What is the better faith? To offer and empty sacrifice and think one’s self safe and righteous before a holy God or consider the blessing of being merciful, risking one’s own life – remember the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

The Gospel this Sunday is for the Church; to get us to question our loyalties and priorities. The Gospel challenges the long held prejudices about neighbours and strangers we find both outside and even more inside the Church. We need to offer God, the neighbour, the stranger, and each other a superior religion, than that which we have offered in the past. We need to learn what it is to be merciful and sacrificial, first for God and then for neighbour.  We need to learn what it means to live a life in Christ that is going to enable and encourage others around us to live that kind of life with us and for others. We need to offer the same grace, mercy and blessing that continue to transform our lives as we await the day of Jesus Christ.  If we go on and read the rest of the chapter, we see what we need to do – restore, heal, forgive and when necessary, raise the dead even thought those around us are going to scoff and laugh at us to scorn.

Who are the least, the last and the lost of this city? Who are the shunned people of our congregation that need to be called back to the life at the Table? Perhaps we are “the community of no consequence” in the eyes of the world because we are seen as weak, uniformed, and useless but that is not how God sees us. Maybe we are the gathering of the unwanted and the unpopular but that does not remove our identity in Christ.  And who just are we? We are his called, his chosen, and his sent people. We are God’s people and we are powerful in the eyes of the Almighty Father. God can do through us more than we can ask or even begin to imagine.

Why does Jesus eat with traitors and sinners? Because he calls them home to the Table and to the Great Wedding feast. He calls those who will listen and who will live at the Table and eat a merciful meal and not just think of themselves.  


Friday, September 12, 2014

What do you see when you look at the cross?

What does the cross mean to me when I look at it? What the cross mean to us as a congregation, faith community? It is a question that was put to me earlier this week in a chat that I use a part of my sermon prep. I can remember people being horrified by the movie, “The Passion of the Christ’ and its well documented violence and brutality... but what I find we often missed is the last moments of the movie, and of the Passion narratives themselves. Jesus is raised from death and leaves the tomb. I have placed the video from Youtube for you to watch and would encourage you to do so before you and I continue...

So often, we tend to forget that the plan for salvation was God’s idea. Jesus was born in a stable, to a faithful couple who were open to what God was planning to do in the life of their child, even thought it was hard to see and difficult to understand much less explain to anyone else. The disciples were in that same boat. They could see that God was doing something marvelous in the world through Jesus. They had their own thoughts on who Jesus was and what Jesus should do – to the point where one of them betrayed him into the hands of the authorities to try and force him into open war and rebellion as a way of trying to make a new world and a new life by force. Another disciple, after promising that he would be faithful to follow even though only the two of them be left to face death together, denies that he even knows the man he vowed to follow into the gates of death and hell. God chose the way that salvation is provided for us. God chose the method. God chose the time. Christ chose the nails.    

So when you look at the cross, what do you see? When I regard the cross, I remember him who possessed it as a throne. I see God’s mercy in the face of hostility. I see and hear forgiveness when pain is inflicted. I discover and possess grace for the time of suffering and brutality. I hear and experience the cry of accomplishment and victory at the completion of the mission. I know the helpfulness of community and am grateful for the hospitality of a borrowed tomb. Most of all, I see that the cross and the tomb are empty and that he who died, lives to be with us.

If that is foolishness to the world, so be it. It is self serving and self destructive to think only of one’s self and serve only number one. If you believe that you are fine and that you don’t need God or the community which he calls his own then I suspect that God will honour that choice. If the sight of the cross and the one who occupied it for your sake cannot make you see that he has your lumber and nails; that he has taken on himself your stripes and pain on himself, then you must be truly good and lost. And you have my pity.

God chose the foolish thing to confound the wise and the weakest way possible to make the strong stumble. Was it foolish for God to love us and to choose the nails? I believe that God deliberately chose to love us and to receive the nails. Those amongst the people of the world who would see, hear and respond to him and use the foolish/weak/the thing that are not to nullify the things that are wise/strong/that are seemingly permanent by the worldly standards. Those people are you and me, as God works out salvation among all his people. And he does it to make sure that this world will one day find itself upright and the way it was intended to be, as it was in the beginning.

So what do you see now, when you look at the cross?


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The reverberations of Heaven

I have realized of late that there is a real need for me as a Christian leader, as a pastor and a teacher of the Christian faith, to give more of a vision of not only what God is like and what life around him is like. I have come to realized that much of our teaching and preaching along with much of our music and worship tends to focus on God being great and awesome but at the same time transcendentally aloof. And we seem to like it that way. It is as if we are saying to God, “You can love me, but keep your distance. You can care for me, fulfill my demands and my needs but you are not allowed to impose yourself on me. You just keep your distance, do as we pray and everything will be just fine.”  It sounds like we think we have God over a barrel, up the proverbial creek and held hostage... doesn’t it? If we so have God in this heavenly headlock or arm bar (and we don’t) why is it that we so often pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”? Why do we ask for God to enable us to have his will done in us and to know the will of the living God, if we are not going to do anything about it?

The Gospel (Matthew 18.15-20) the last couple of weeks has been about binding and loosing. That is, whatever you bind or lose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven. We need to recognize a couple of important things about God and God’s people. First, there is the reality that God has free will. God can choose to bless and to curse, to cure and to punish because his judgment in holy. Things are done in heaven according to only one will – God’s. Period. Finito. Kaput. End of story. Therefore, our daily work is to be about binding and loosing on earth below what we see bound and loosed in heaven. We are meant to work to give a perfect reflection of what happens in heaven above.

It does not mean that we are working to Plato’s idea of a utopian, ideal plane... by no means! All relationships, both with God and with one another are going to need work and are going to need to be maintained. What we do need to remember is that being connected to God means that He is going to have impact and influence on our nature, on our thoughts and our way of living. You see faith is not just about you, or even just about you and God. It is about God you and others. Community and faith are part and parcel of being Christian. I need you and you need me. And we have a personal and a collective need of God. And remember what Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Church, the ekklesia (called out ones), are meant to be the core of the life and the society that is to come.

This is why Matthew’s Gospel takes some time to show how conflict in the community is to be dealt with. Every effort is to be made to win people over. Please note that it is not to show them where they are wrong but to win them over with grace, care and love. When all that has failed then, treat them as people Jesus loved best – outsiders. Faith is a great gift and it needs to be wielded very carefully so that the community is preserved and protected from bitter rancour and pointless debate and dissention. Expulsion from the Body of Christ is not just a matter of conflict management for harmonious congregational dynamics. Spiritually speaking, being expelled is a matter of eternal life and death. Remember, the things we say and do reverberate in heaven.

Therefore, we need to work to win over those with whom we disagree; with those who have tried to hurt us, who have worked to discredit us, and called our faith into question. We are to draw on the grace and the compassion, on the strength and patience that God can provide and win them over, overcoming with them and for them whatever it is that keeps you apart. In this way, we fulfill the command of Christ, “Love one another as I have loved you.”


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What kind of rock are you?

What kind of rock are you in the life of the Church and of the world? Are you the kind on which God and others can build up a spiritual temple? Or are you the kind of rock on which others stumble and fall and over which many will grumble and complain?

This is the dilemma that Peter and the other disciples face in the wake of last week when Peter made the great declaration of Jesus as the Messiah and this week of Peter’s denial of Jesus teaching of death and resurrection (Matthew 16.21-28). In essence, we need to ask ourselves a question – what kind of rock are we: both personally and corporately. It is going to be something that Peter is going to struggle with all the way through to that moment at the end of John’s Gospel (John 21) when Jesus restore Peter to fellowship after the denials of Maundy Thursday when he proclaimed “I do not know the man.”  

From that moment of first denial to his restoration on the beach, Peter was less of a foundation stone and more of a stumbling block. It took time before he objected to what Jesus was teaching about the way of his life and the cross, his death and resurrection. He had made the right proclamation in the face of all the world’s religions in Caesarea Philippi – Jesus is the one that had been anticipated. He was God’s anointed one – that is what “messiah” means. Where Peter and many of us fall down is in understanding who Jesus is what his mission was, is, and remain for us.   

Up to now, all the wonders of making wine from water, the healings, the teachings, the exorcisms and other signs were suppose to be leading up to something greater – a renewed Israel. The Messiah was supposed to make a country for the Jews free of the tyranny of Rome and other foreign powers. It would be a place of worship and religious righteousness; a kingdom that would bring back the glories of David and Solomon and that kingdom would never end.

The problem is that, such a kingdom would be self centered. We are tempted often to think that what is coming is about us: what we want and how we want it to be. We have our thoughts and agendas, our plans and mission statements and because of that, we often lose track of the fact that the life to come is not about us. The reality is, that life - life in the kingdom - is not about us. It is about God and the fact that God desires to love and to be in relationship with us. It is about God and being present to and in a relationship (personal and corporate) with the living God.

Jesus calls on all who will follow him to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him. Maybe we have been encountered by Jesus and by others as stumbling blocks. We are in fact now invited to get in line with Christ, learn what it means to love, to care and to follow and become the polished, living stones that we are meant to be. And remember that there is no such thing as a volunteer or part time disciple. The call to self denial, to living the cruciformed life, and to following faithfully behind the Lord Jesus begins in this moment. It begins with recognizing him as present to us in the eucharistic sacrament and then in going out into the world to do what he calls us to do. And in that we decide this week what kind of rock we are going to be – a foundation rock or a stumbling block. Which stone are you this week?


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How has the word of God taken hold of you?

Have you ever reflected on the power of a “word”? And no I do not mean a single word but rather word that is a statement. For example, have you ever said to someone, “Get out!” or “hide!” or even “Now!” wanting to protect them from harm or consequences of something that you know to be dangerous, possibly even deadly for them?

Jesus stops in this week’s Gospel (Matthew 13.1-23) to reflect on the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the power of the word that is being preached across the region by him and his disciples. Some are expressing joy at seeing all the things that are happening: people are being healed, given their sight, their hearing, their ability to walk. There are people being freed from evil and people who were not in the community that are now in the community. They are even working on raising the dead! Jesus and the disciples are making other people aware of the nearness and the presence of the kingdom of God. People of the world are coming to know that we have a heavenly Father, and that this is his world.

A word about parables: gives us a chance to see and understand who God is – in this particular parable it might be that God could be seen as ”a lousy farmer” – who would broadcast his seed into places that are not prepared to receive it and prove to unproductive. He does watch to make sure that the seed doesn’t go to places it cannot produce the fruit of what has been planted. It goes everywhere – the path where everyone in the house walks, into the thrones and bushes, and onto the shallow ground where it has no root.

But the parable does not consider the nature of the farmer beyond the fact that the Farmer gets the perfectly good seed to the land. The Parable actually points to the ground, and how the ground responds to the seed – and the people to the word of the kingdom. Those who don’t respond are choked out by different things. Some people are unable to receive because evil steals the word before it can take root.  Some have insufficient roots to withstand the test of faith. Other people are snarled up by the cares, changes and chances of this life while yet others are drawn inextricably to wealth and fame.

God sends his word and it does not return to him null and void but accomplishes that for which it was sent. The word of the Lord endures forever. It is a word of promise to his people who are cut off and far away from their homeland and think they are never going home again. They believe that God had been beaten and that they are by consequence, forsaken. Therefore God sends his word to his people. It is a word of promise that the bonds of affection will be renewed, that they will return and that they have not been forsaken. A “word” is sent forth to cause both action and a change in circumstance both personally and corporately.

In a Christian context this means that we need to deal with the things that will choke us out. We need to get our priorities sorted and deal with the sin in our lives. We do this by being in Christ. This does not mean that we have more faith in Christ but rather at we are in him and he in us.  It means that through baptism we have died with him and have been raised with him to live his risen life. It means that we leave behind the old life with its structures, its sin and death. We leave it behind to discover that we are living his life – the gift of an eternal life in freedom and in service to him. We are not ruled any longer but sin and death – we are truly alive in Christ.

So ask yourself this week, “How has the word of God taken a hold of me?” Consider how have the roots of your life in Christ taken hold of you, shaped you and strengthened you? The word is not just words – it is an experience too! After all the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  So go! And in the going make disciples!