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.