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!