Thursday, January 30, 2014

Live your life!

There is something positive to be said for the traditional understand of marriage and of faith. It was part and parcel of Jesus’ upbringing and formed the foundation of his ministry. The Gospel this week (Luke 2.22-40) highlights the faithfulness and that Joseph and Mary have to God and all that has been revealed and asked of each of them. The surprise of the Annunciation, the thoughts of quiet divorce, time with Elizabeth, seeing and hearing angels in dreams have all come together, not just because they needed to get to Bethlehem to do what needed to be done and to have the baby; important though that was. They were concerned about being faithful to God.

The couple were aware of what the Law demanded of them. They took Jesus to be circumcised on the eight day, and gave him the name that the angel had spoken to them. Then they waited in the area until the time came to go to the temple to offer thanksgiving and a sacrifice for cleansing of Mary after childbirth. Jesus was also presented as a firstborn son, who was meant to be a possession of God set aside for God, not just of the family. And so went the 40 days were over, they went to the temple to offer their sacrifice to God – two pigeons.

This is the frame around the two people we meet in the Gospel this week: Simeon and Anna. Simeon we are told is right in all his relationships and devout in his worship and prayers. And in addition to this, there is something unique about Simeon. The Holy Spirit rested upon him. This is important to know because it did not regularly or normally happen before Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit upon the Church. The Spirit was with and in Simeon for a purpose: to see and to know the Lord’s anointed when he saw him. Simeon was given the presence of the Spirit to identify for the world, the Saviour whom God has sent.

What a moment that must have been for Simeon to have Jesus in his arms, and to look into the face of his Saviour and know that things were going to be alright. In response to this happening, the Spirit enabled Simeon to give thanks and to bold declare that God is in this world actively working out the world’s salvation in full and clear view of all the nations. People in the temple heard this and came to see what was going on, and they too rejoiced.

One of them was more than like Anna, daughter of Phanuel, a prophetess. She had lived a short time a married life and then came to the Temple to live in an apartment within the Temple so that she could pray, prophesy and worship God - having done so for about 55-60 years. Having seen and heard what was going on, she spoke to all who were in the temple and would listen that she had seen the child King and that salvation and the redemption of the nation was at hand.

So where does this leave us? When did you last see Jesus? When did you last tell somebody else about him? When did you last act faithfully for God? Are you actively looking for him now? What God is looking for is not success or even glory for you – he is watching and waiting for each and for all of us to be faithful and do those things he has set for us to do. That means that the things you do, that you give thanks for the people you bless, matter to God because in the things you do, the words you speak, the things you take on, you bring the Spirit, you live the life of his Son and you convey the Father’s love, kindness and faithfulness for all people. So let us live our liturgy! Let us live the lives that God calls us to in Christ and let us be blessed and give thanks in Jesus’ name.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

On being righteous fisher folks

I remember the very first time that I went fishing with my dad. I couldn't have been more than about six years old. My family had gone to visit my Aunt and her family in McGregor, BC. I remember the trip in there because of having to be still and quiet as we crossed the bridge to get to the other side of the river. I discovered much later that dad was actually driving on a train trestle and he was holding the car and trailer on the rails as we crossed that bridge.

We went back to that same railway bridge a couple of days later with a fishing rod, a hook, some bait and one of those floating red and white floaters to see if we could catch a fish or two. The whole adventure reminded me of the old saying,”Give a man a fish he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.” This is the place and the time where I caught my first fish. I remember that I was excited, gleeful as I trying vigourously to winch up my catch in so it did not get away on me. It was mine and I was going to enjoy this moment. It had never occurred to me that it would need to be eaten.

In what I thought (for the longest time) was a poor fate both for me and for the fish was the moment when he was nearly to Dad and I and the net bounced against the pole and the poor fish fell back down into the fast moving water and he floated down stream as I stood and watched with great disappointment. I learn much later that my father had the same concern but a different feeling as this trout rose from the water. He was worried that I was going to finish catching this fish and then it was going to be on him to clean the fish and he was not at all certain that he wanted to so... ever so gently he bumped the rod and splash! The trout back into the river.

We are not told much about what kind of fishermen the disciples were when Jesus called them. But examination of the situation in the Gospel (Matthew 4.12-23) does tell us a few things about them, who they were and why Jesus calls them. For example, fishermen are simple and straightforward people. They have a great respect for creation and a massive love for family, home and community. I find that this is a universal truth, living in Prince Rupert and having lived in Newfoundland and Labrador. Fisherman are good at finding the fish, making the catch and bringing a “tuck” of fish home with them. Such folk make excellent witnesses and workers for whatever they put their hand too. Everything is tied up, screwed down, triple nailed and most of all anchored deep in faith and in the realities of life.

We are not told whether they were “successful” in their profession. With a fisherman, you eat or you don’t eat. That is the measure of success in the world’s terms. Simon and Andrew were out of the boat and at the end of a long night’s work and they were possibly trying to make a little more money or to catch breakfast for the family buy casting nets from shore. Or maybe the night’s work was unsuccessful. They had only a “waterhaul” and caught nothing and they are trying to make up the difference. Whatever the state when Jesus came to them and called on them to follow him, there was a choice. And that choice could cause a change in profession on many.

They left what they had behind. They put everything away in storage and they walk away from all that was familiar and secure to spend time with this Rabbi who, secretly for the moment, they thought was the Messiah. They went on down the shore and listened as Jesus called James and John from their boats, from their fishing, from their birthright and their father with his wealth. James and John walked through the rigging, hopped down on the beach, and left their father with the servants in the boat to go and catch people.

Please keep in mind, that though these men were leaving things and people behind, that does not mean that they forgot what they were or who they were. They were moving not to get away from family nor going to find themselves. They were moving towards the fulfillment of the kingdom of God on earth. They were moving to a greater feast and greater supper than has ever been imagined. They wanted that – they anticipated the smells and the tasting. They wanted the sitting and the eating. And the wanted it for their own too.

Lastly, remember when it comes to ministry and proclaim the kingdom, it is not about you and what you can do and have done. If you want to see the kingdom come in this city, then pray “God’s will be done” and then learn to see and get out of the way. Success and glory belong to God. Thanks dad for the lesson!


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Can we come with you?

When my wife Nova and I were first married and getting ready to come to the North, I crossed paths with Dr. Isabel Greenwood. I quickly discovered that our encounter was not chance meeting. Dr. Greenwood had sought me out because she heard where we were going and she wanted to help “clue” me in to life in the North. I came to discover that she too had been in the North. Her husband, like me, had been a Church Army officer and was subsequently ordained deacon and priest. He also was then subsequently consecrated a Bishop of Yukon.  The Greenwoods had spent many years ministering to the people of Yukon and Northern British Columbia. Dr. Greenwood had things that she wanted me to see and to know so that I would understand what I was getting myself into when I arrived there. Most of all she wanted me to see correctly.

There was a lot of advice that afternoon about how to minister to the North. But perhaps the most important piece of advice what about home. In particular Dr.Greenwood counselled me never to let my house become a fortress of solitude. We needed to invite people in and have people over for meals and special times. When I look back now, I can see that she was right. The most powerful moments of ministry were at the house, around the kitchen table and in the living room as we sat, talked and shared many things: much of them joyful and some of them hard and difficult for one reason or another.

The Gospel this week (John1:29-42) takes a similar approach. John boldly proclaims “Here is the Lamb of God.” And because John announces Jesus as the one whom God has sent to the nation, they are in a word “curious”. So they start to follow him. They whisper questions and observations back and forth about what they are seeing. They try to pretend like they are not following when they are. They try to look like they are not paying attention but they are.

Finally Jesus turns and confronts these two men and asks them a simple question: “What do you want?” Please note that they now have the complete and undivided attention of the one who is supposed to redeem Israel and make everything right as rain. They could have asked him anything... literally anything. They could have asked him about things to do with the redemption of the nation and how things were going to work out. Yet they simply ask to see where he lives... they ask if they can come with him and check out his life. “Come with me and you will see,” Jesus says to them. They went with him to where he was residing at 4pm in the afternoon and they spent the rest of the day with Jesus.

Andrew then went and found his brother Simon, told Simon about Jesus and then they left their nets and went to see Jesus and where he lived. In that moment, Jesus looked intently at Simon and tells him, “Someday, they will call you ‘The Rock’.” The Change for these, men, for the nation and for you and me has already started – that someday is still ahead. The question is, when you see Jesus, what you are going to do about it? Will you walk home with him or just stand in awe of him as he walks away, leaving you on the side of the road? You decide.

We are being called for supper with the Lamb. It’s time to get around the table with the others. Are you coming or are you staying here and not getting fed?


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

What a baptised person says and does

There is a great story told about an old scallywag who one day decided that he need to turn his life around. So he went to a local church and marched into the clergy’s office and plopped himself down. He boldly declared to the clergy that he was done with his old life and its ways and wanted to know how he could make a fresh start. So after some time, the pastor suggested that the way to start a new was for the two of them to go to a nearby lake and for the rascal to be baptized. So that is what they did. They walked down to the lake, walked in the water and the pastor grabbed the scoundrel by the scruff of the next and pushed the man down into the water and held him under for 10 seconds.

When he came up, gasping for air, the pastor asked the man, “do you see Jesus?”  The man replied, with a rather surprised “No!”

So the Pastor repeated the process a second time, holding the man under for 20 seconds. Again the man came up gasping and sputtering and was asked, “Do you see Jesus?” The reply was the same. “No.”

So for a third time and for thirty seconds, the man was held under the water. When he came up again, the pastor asked, “Do you see Jesus?”

“NO!” replied the man, “Are you sure this is where he fell in?”

This week, we recount the baptism of Jesus as Matthew reports it. It might be helpful to know that as long as there has been baptism in the Church there has been controversy over it. There are scholars who believe the Matthew was trying to help the Church understand why Jesus was baptised. Mark’s Gospel had raised the question about why the Messiah needed to be baptised when he did not know sin. That is why Matthew recounts the discussion in Matthew 3.13-17, between John and Jesus. Jesus tells John that it is okay to do this because it is the righteous thing to do.

For Jesus, Baptism was and remains about relationships – with God, yes. Baptism is also about our relationships with each other. Baptism provides for the community and for the individual necessary identity. Relationships and identities must been maintained if they are going to be worth anything. It is why when John was baptizing and preaching he warned the religious people about coming, being baptized, because they think it is the religious or spiritual thing to do. After all, one needs to cover all the bases, right? That is why John warns them off and tells them not to approach unless they mean it and he calls them a bunch of snakes.

Baptism is a great leveler. Archbishop Tom Morgan, who is a retired Canadian Bishop, once said to a group of clergy of which I was part, that, “No one is greater than they are at the moment of their baptism.” We are all equal at the edge of the lake, the foot of the cross and at the Lord’s Table. We get wet to take on his death and new life. We also need to come to the Table to be fed that we might truly live that new life that we have been given. Baptism tells us who we are, and who we belong to – God in Christ and to each other. We are not born as Anglicans nor are we made Christians. We choose these things just as God chose to send his Son, his Beloved, to us that we might know him and live. Jesus’ coming to us is a deliberate act of God and such acts can be accepted and received or rejected and discounted. God and his salvific acts cannot and will not be ignored.

Where does this leave us? Well there are a lot of things that could be said. But for me there are two important things that need to be said. The first thing is that the message that John, that Jesus and that the early Church preached is still needed today. The message? “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Good News.” It is as true today as it was then. God has come near us in the person of Jesus Christ. We need to make people aware that there is another way to live this life and God is providing it. People need to be drawn to it.

Therefore we need to major in the ministry to the minors: the unworthy, the unnoticed, the unimpressive, the unknown, the unlovely, the unhealthy and the unwanted. The Master will show us who we truly are if we look for him in others – to seek and to serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves. It is important to do this because the other side of the coin has its consequences to. Who wants to face the Master at the end of it all and have him say to us, “When you did not do this to the least of these, you didn’t do it to me?” We have a choice to live out this life with Christ in the lead or to go our own ways which will leave us without Christ and real, abundant life that grows into eternity.

The second thing we need to recognize is that we are the broken pieces of bread made holy for the communion of this city. When you are invited to the table, you take in that which is holy. It works to consecrate you through the work of the Spirit and divine grace. Then you are sent out into the city – broken up to fed and care for the ones whom God has set in your path. We are those who will draw those who see the need to make changes in their life to the water’s edge. They will see Jesus in us as we seek to see and to serve Jesus in them.


Friday, January 3, 2014

The Quest of the Magi

The people of the Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12) are an interesting cast of characters. We are first introduced to King Herod the Great who ruled in the South of Israel at the time of the birth of Jesus. He was a cruel and unforgiving sort of man who with repeated frequency kills anyone who might be perceived as a king in his place. He killed many people, including his own sons and his own wives if he felt threatened by them. Herod the Great was an appointed ruler by the Roman Empire and had to remain in the Emperor’s good graces in order to remain in power. So as a consequence of this, he was both brutal and tyrannical in his rule of the people.

Enter in one day to Herod the Great’s palace, the Herodium in Jerusalem, the wise men three who share the news that a new and the true King of the people has been born and they know this by the signs of creation they have been watching and following for some time. We know that these are men of faith. We are made aware that they are men of intelligence and of wealth. They are on a mission to find this newborn, heaven sent King so that they can worship him, give gifts and acknowledge his rule. This news creates fear in not only pretender Herod, but also in those who learn of the message that has been brought to the palace – that there is a true King. Work was done to learn where and when the king was to be born. As news spread from the palace it threw the city of Jerusalem into an uproar: many rejoiced at the news, some were trouble and others were genuinely fearful of what was going to happen next. The Wise men were asked to locate the child and then return with news that the pretender could go and repeat the action.

On the road to Bethlehem, they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod. So when the time came they went back to their own country by a different, unwatched route. When they arrived in Bethlehem, they sought out the house and the place where the boy King could be found and when they got there, they saw the Child Jesus and his mother, Mary.  Joseph might not have been there, he might have been out at work or somewhere else.  After seeing the child, they brought gifts out of what they had been blessed with – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is given for life, welfare and fortune. Frankincense is offered for the continual prayer and worship of the God who he is and who sent him. Myrrh is presented for the day of the royal burial of the body.   

Then having seen, worshipped and given, they begin the trip home, reflecting and rejoicing in what they had seen, learned and done in the work and travel to find the one that the Star of Bethlehem had announced.

That of course is not the end of the story, Herod in his wrath, sends soldiers to Bethlehem with orders to kill the boys of Bethlehem two years old and under (Feast of the Holy Innocents). Joseph is warned in a dream of the violence and death that is coming. And so Joseph takes wife and child to Egypt for a time. They do not return until led by the Lord to return to the North of Israel where Jesus finishes up his childhood and prepares for his ministry by working in his earthly father’s trade of carpentry.

So where does this leave us? What does this makes us in light of the Gospel. Paul points out in the Epistle lesson that we are the following: heirs with Christ of the kingdom; members of His body; sharers in the promise of Christ Jesus in the Gospel. Most of all, we are witnesses of the Christ and of his kingdom to the kingdoms and princedoms, the powers and authorities of this earth. We are witnesses and seekers of the once and true King.

God’s actions and ideas can be accepted and acted upon. God can be rejected and disavowed through our own stubborn self indulgent will and rebellious spirits. But God in Christ in this moment, cannot and will not be ignored. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He is God with the flesh on – how will you respond to his advent to you? What will you do?