Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is there any hope?

“Is there any hope?” That was the question that was put to me by a friend and colleague. We were having a meal together after a long day of meetings filled with facts and figures, joys and sorrows in life and ministry.  We spent hours sharing, talking and eating. Eventually I answered his question and said, “Yes there is hope. But remember: Love God and pray for the Church.”

When I look at the descriptions that Jesus lays out for us in the Gospel (Luke 21.25-40) it might be frightening. It might be hard to remember that there is good going to come from the upheaval of not only this world, but of the entire cosmos. Looking at the state of the okiumene (Empire, the world) it is easy to get discouraged and doubtful. We spend some much of our lives trying to making ourselves feel safe and secure. Yet the world and its ways always seem to manage to ravage what we have and what we are leaving us on the side of the road like an abandoned child.

We do need to stop and recognize that there are things that we can do and situations we can exercise authority in but we can never have control. And when we recognize that we see that there is nothing in this world, this transitory life that we can honest have dominion over. Nothing of this world, this life is permanent: not the sun, the moon, the stars, this planet. Not the kingdoms, empires or nations of the earth. Nothing will remain. There will be signs that this life will pass away. There will be signs that things are about to change. No one will be left out of the judgment – not one person.

But lest you think that we are left without hope, we are not.  That is why we are getting ready for the coming of the King – and I don’t mean Elvis either, thank you, thank you very much. God decided that he was going to send his Son to “stabilize” the situation (and yes, the pun is intended). Jesus is our hope and there is no one and nothing better than that. The King is coming and is coming soon. We can expect to see great and awful things happening. Signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. We will see things happen between nations and kingdoms both earthly and spiritually including wars and rumours of wars. There will be earthquakes, acid rain, global warming and so on. Things are not going to get better soon. They will more than likely get worse.

Where is the hope? As I have said, it is in knowing that Jesus is coming and the sign of that is the cross. Jesus through his own life staked his claim to this earth and all that is in it. He brings with him his rule of the new earth and the new heaven. Our hope is in Jesus. The important part for us to play is to be willing and to actually seek out Christ to find in him something more profound than that which we call ‘Merry’ or ‘Happy’. We seek his presence. We want and desire his divine presence. We seek the serenity and calm of his presence. We seek to be in that place, in his presence for eternity. This is why it is our parish’s mission to seek, to see and to serve God in Christ – to find our perfect freedom. I pray that you rediscover the hope and the peace that God offers in Christ by loving us enough that he did not withdraw but give himself completely.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)


Friday, November 6, 2015

Will you be a Charlie Brown?

Throughout the years that I was growing up, my dad had various nicknames for me. I came to realize that those names could be somewhat situational. For example, when we were discussing work, politics, religion (which for me were all the same thing!) or whatever, he would call me by my initials “R.J.” and at times when I was struggling, fearful or afraid of failing yet again, he would call me “Charlie Brown”. I was never quite sure as a kid, what he meant by that. And when I came to really understand who and what Charlie Brown was as a teenager, it became an irritant and a blessing all at the same time. After all, just how many times did Lucy coax Charlie Brown into trying to kick the football? And how many times did he try and fail? Every time she pulled that ball away! And why did Charlie Brown keep going back, over and over again? He goes back time after time because of the hope and possibility that this time might be different... that he would finally get his due and he would boot that ball over the moon. It is not in his nature to give up hope of to fail to return again.

What does this have to do with the widow and her mite? (Mark 12:38-44) Everything!

One needs to read this part of the Markan Gospel keeping in mind what Jesus has Jesus said about religion and religious people: There is no faith, no trust and no love in a self made person and in self reliance. Men and women of wealth were come to the Temple to in a sense, “Pay the Church”. They came and they gave our of their abundance, making a great show of how much they were giving by the noise of the coins they had purchased to pour into the Treasury. The Rich and powerful were pouring in the large amounts of coin in to the trumpets of the Treasury created quite a din as the coins made their way into the bank. The greater the gift, the greater the pride of the giver and the bigger show in giving. But this is not what God is looking for. As Jesus makes it clear, they gave out of their abundance and it has not really cost them anything. It has not pushed them into the hands of God but into a self reliance that God has blessed and so long as there is lots, there is no motivation to see what’s happening; with God and with others. What happens when their homeostasis shifts? What do they do then?

Jesus watch this all going on, then observed a widow who had bought two messily coins and dropped them in. They barely made a sound as they slid down the pipes. It was certainly not the great show that others had made but it was this widow that Jesus pointed out to the others has having gave more than anybody else. Everyone else had given out of their wealth, but she out of the little she had, gave all she had to give. Who of us, has done that? Who has run the race, kept the Faith and is ready to be poured out like a drink offering, offering all they you are and have? She came and offered what she has to give, and gave it to God as a sacrifice and as an act of worship, putting her life into God’s hands. How many of us are willing to do this?

Some of the scholars I have read say that she was giving for the last time and that she was going home to die. But I think that we make certain choices that do not guide us to a good conclusion. For example, we assume that she is old but we are not told that. Plus we assume that she is alone. This widow is not. Even if there was no family, God is with her and favours her mightily. And I think that this is a major mistake on our part – to think that God cannot see or hear and that God does not care.

I believe that this woman has learned how to put herself into the hands of God – to depend upon God. It is not something that any believer automatically does. It has to be learned so that it can be a habit and the generosity that comes from learning to give and to live sacrificially becomes a part of a person nature and character. We aren’t told but I think this is not the first time that she had done this – that she has come and given all that she has had to God, asking God to support and give to her. Choosing to give and to sacrifice so that others might live is what Jesus does and calls all who say that they believe in him to imitate him in his life, his death and his resurrection. We are called to participate in it all that – that we might be finally found in Jesus at the last Day.

So if I need to be a Charlie Brown, I accept that there are going to be things I am going to having keep trying and things I am going to have hope in because, for now it is beyond me and my reach. Why would I do this? Because it is a part of my witness in the world that God is at work in me and making me ready for him and the coming of his kingdom and the bringing of the eternity that we will spend with him. Will you come and be a Charlie Brown too?


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Living with death and loss

In the quiet of the middle of the week, I am sitting at my desk pondering the words of this Sunday’s Gospel:
Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”  But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11.17-44 ESV)
It is a well known passage because at least in part, people hear it all the time at funerals. I cannot tell you how many times over the last 25 years I have heard this chapter read in churches, chapels and funeral homes and utter those same words in funeral services. But I find myself asking a simple question, “Do we in our culture, understand what they actually mean?”

In the nearly 25 years that I have been in ministry, I have done a lot of funerals; to the point where I have lost track of how many funerals I have done. I can understand what Martha says to Jesus, “If you had been year my brother would not of died, but even now, I know God will give you whatever you ask.” It is one of the stages we all go through when we are dealing with a loss. We try whatever we can to make it better; to make it right. We want and look for some semblance of hope and the possibility that we will not be separated for very long. I see it all the time in people: friends and family, strangers and parishioners. We try anger, denial, bargaining and avoidance before we find some peace and resolution.

I have spent lots of time (late nights and long days) with people and their families in the hospital waiting for the moment when death occurs.  There are things to talk about, things to share, and moments to be held on to. For instance, I remember sitting with a young man about my age and who was also a father. He was dying of brain cancer. The doctors had told the family to expect an awful death because of the disease and what they understood was going to happen. In the moments before his death, I gathered the family including this man’s children around the hospital bed and we prayed. We read Scripture. And a t a particular moment, I prayed a prayer that goes like this,

“Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
in the name of God the Father almighty who created you;
in the name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the paradise of God.”

For me, they are familiar words, that I have spoken over many people at various times, including family. What catches my eye though in this passage, is the person of Jesus himself; the way that John writes says a lot about what Jesus was personally going through. Is he upset at the death of his friend? Yes, he is. But to let it there and not acknowledge the things that are also evident, like he is very near to Jerusalem now and to his own death – it carries more and more weight. Jesus sees the people that are around him and how they are dealing with grief, sorrow, mourning and death and I would propose that Jesus (as the Gospel points out) is sickened and disturbed more than once by how people where handling not only death but also life.

I think of this moment in John’s Gospel as an “Isaiah moment” for Jesus. First we look at the Father, which Jesus must have done, and see who the Father is and then see ourselves and then look at that state of the people and the land around us and see how far we have moved away from God. Isaiah went through this and then chose to respond to the call of God to speak to the people with the all familiar, “Here I am, send me.”

And let’s be clear: when one says that you can see God, it means that you are learning to trust him for everything and all things. Case and point, in the Garden the night before his own death Jesus asks the Father to let the cup pass from him. But if it is not to happen, then not his own will, but the Father’s will be done in his life.

The basic tenant of the faith is that Jesus died. Jesus is risen. Jesus will come again. Jesus did not died to give you a clean death. He died that you might live. Forever. With him, in the Spirit, to be loved by the Father. The Scriptures reminds us that love is the opposite of fear and that perfect love drives out fear (1st John 4.8). What we are called to do is to come, to participate and to trust God that he knows what he is doing. It isn’t always easy. It isn’t always the nicest place to be in. It isn’t what we would do or have planned but keep something in mind: We are beloved of God and we are not abandoned. We are never alone. We are not alone in life and we are not alone in death. Some of the greatest things that God has and will bring to pass take time to come to their fruition. What perhaps matters most is what is in our hearts when hardships and tragedies of different kinds come to pass. Hardships show the contents of our hearts.  

So if there is a piece of advice I would offer in dealing with loss and death, it would be the words of Psalmist who wrote:

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. 
(Psalm 37.4-6 ESV)


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Future is so bright, I gotta wear shades!

As I sit down to write these for lines, the sunlight is drifting in my office window for the first time in many days. It is almost blinding! Been thinking a lot about windows, eyes and light this past week. By enlarge it has been about the light that Bar-timaeus experienced after a time of darkness. We are not told in the Gospel lesson this week that “Bart” heard that Jesus the Rabbi was passing by, walking up the hill and out of the City of Jericho on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross.

The way that the first couple of sentences are constructed, it makes me believe that Jesus spent at least a night in the city. He preached a sermon, called people to come and healed those who were brought to him. And because of the things Jesus said and the things Jesus did, Bart knew who he was looking at. That’s why, has Jesus passed him by on the street that morning, know that Jesus was going to Jerusalem and what would happen there, Bart saw his last chance walking away from him and so he began to shout, “Jesus of Nazareth,  Son of David, have mercy on me.” People, wanting to listen to Jesus and not bother with this man, or worse have this man bother Jesus, tried to quiet and subdue him. Such action, knowing that his salvation was walking away from him, up that hill, caused Bart to shout all the more, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And Jesus stopped. With a smile on his face, Jesus says to the people, “Call him.” What a role reversal! Those who had tried to keep him away and to keep him quiet are now being told to call him and to bring him to Jesus.  They communicate the news to Bartimaeus that Jesus is calling him and he immediately jumps up sheds his cloak and leaving all of his meager possessions behind nothing, is led to Jesus by those who had tried to silence him.

Jesus asks a simple question of Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” The question is not dissimilar to the one he asked of James and John last week, who proceeded to demand power and position in the kingdom when it came in its fullness. But instead of asking for many things, Bartimaeus asked for only one thing: “Teacher, let me recover my sight.” Jesus responds with a simple word, Go your way, your faith has made you well.”

As some will know, I went through a sickness many years ago and there were lots of concerns, even after the worst had past... would he be able to work again, would he be able to see properly again? I don’t like to talk about it much because what people hear and what people see is the pathetic figure of a preacher boy laying in a hospital bed not know whether he would live or die. Much live that man on the side of the road, there was a moment for me when, knowing I was in the presence of the Master, I said to him, ”Master, if it is time... then I surrender. Let’s go home.”   The answer must have been something like what Bartimaeus heard, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.”

Faith, and for that matter prayer, are not about what you can get God to do with your words or your own spirit, but rather what God can do through your life as you move forward in your path. We might be tempted to think that what God is doing is about us... it isn’t. It is about God and his kingdom and what he is doing for his people. It is about us, as a community of people that are trying as best we can to live out what he asks of us so that the world might see him in us.

And do you know what he did with his sight and his life in the days after the healing? Bartimaeus followed Jesus: to the city, to the upper room, to the cross and the grave and saw him rise again. And he was heard to exclaim, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Opus of Obedience to a Symphony of Service

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”  And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John.  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.35-45 ESV)

Then, after they heard what Jesus said about him being betrayed, beaten and killed, James and John asked Jesus to make them strong and powerful in the new kingdom. It sounds like there is a disconnect between what Jesus is saying is going to happen and what the disciples believe will really happen.  They don’t really believe that Jesus is going to die much less that three days later, he is going to be raised from the dead. He is just fooling around and trying to see what they are going to do.

Unfortunately, the disconnect is all too common and still happens. The interesting thing about all this though is that Jesus plays along with James and John, asking them, “What do you want me to do for you?” The brothers ask for power and authority and a good place in government in the new creation. So Jesus asks them, “Can you suffer with me and share in the pain I bear? Will you let yourselves drown?” Maybe they should have sat down and really thought about what they were saying. They we ready to do what it took to make themselves powerful and to have position and authority over others so long as it was within reach for them and in the power of Jesus to grant it to them.

Jesus, taking a deep breath says to the brothers, “Okay, you will follow and become like me and share in my pain and my trails. But as for where you will sit and what you will have, that is not for me to say. That is not in my hands.”

We are called by Christ to go with him and in the going, to learn to seek and to see and to embrace those we find. In particular those who are in need of care of love, those who need to be suffered with and give compassion to those who are in pain. In doing so we are to get rid of our plans and agendas. We are to seek out Christ in others and serve them instead of contemplating our next play for power and for position. Who are we not serving because we are seeking our own self interests? Who have we missed that might have been strengthened and enabled if we had worried more about them, instead of accruing and accumulating for our own selfish gain?  

Ultimately, we are taught to follow and to imitate the person and life of Christ as a way to serve and not a way to fulfil our greeds. Service and servanthood are about meeting the needs of the other and in so doing allowing God to supply both them and us. If we do not learn to seek and are not determined to see Christ, then how can we serve God in the Holy Spirit? By serving and loving others, we can help our city to see who Christ is and is for them. And we can never know the full depths of how God impacts other people’s lives through us.

Take a chance this week and choose to serve someone and see how that transforms the relationship you have with that person and how it grows and shapes both of you. I pray that we can become together God’s opus of obedient servants and a symphony of service to God and to our city.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Thanks and Blessing

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6.25-34 ESV)
Being thankful for what we have and giving thanks to God for al that we have is a lot better than worrying about what you have all the time, isn’t it? We live in culture that tries to reassure itself by sing blindly and timidly, “Don’t worry, be happy!” and we spend much of our time pursuing the stuff that we think is going to make us happy, satisfied, secured. In the verses that precede the Gospel lesson, Jesus calls on his disciples to get away from thinking like the world and from thinking that the pursuit of power and position is what we need to be about.

What we need to worry about is who our Lord is. Yes, we need to know who is at the centre of our life – both personal and corporately. Is it Jesus? Or is it money? Many I am sure expect me to proudly announce that the love of money is the root of evil and blast the capitalist society we live as being a product of that evil... well sorry, I won’t do that. I won’t blast our society for having what it has, but I will push and insist that because we have been blessed we need to bless others. And who have we been blessed by? Is it not the Father? And who have we been sent by to be a blessing in the world around us? Is it not Jesus?

The first thing is to stop and acknowledge who the centre of your life is... and that if it is not Jesus then you need to remove whatever or whomever it is that is at the centre and put Jesus there. It is radical these days, even within the Church to declare “Christos est Kyiros” (Christ is Lord). Much of the worry that we have in our lives comes from having someone or something else at the centre of our lives instead of putting Christ first. We worry about how we are going to have money for this and money for that. We worry about how we are going to make things happen so that we can have that boat, that cabin; that holiday, that car, etc... Jesus reminds us that God knows what we want and what we need. The question is will we seek him first and a relationship with him so that in turn h can bless you hand the relationship that he has with you, that others might be blessed through you.

Reality is, we live in an anxious, impatient and pent up world wondering what is going to happen next. What will happen and will I be okay? Will my family be okay and will it go well for them? If you find yourself worrying, ho do you deal with it? Ask yourself this, who is at the centre of your life? What Master are you serving? Count all the worries you have and then count all the blessings that God has bestowed upon you that you can count and see which list is longer. Then take time to give thanks and to bless God for all that you have and know that he is the Giver, the Donor of all our days. Don't worry, only believe. 


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

For the love of Family

Marriage. It is a word that strikes fear into the heart of many people within the Church these days, because of the fractious nature of the debates of the recent past and the demands for equality for some sectors of society. The Gospel lesson (Mark 10.2-16) will then, be something that will either be embraced or avoided for one reason or another. It speaks about marriage, divorce, the blessing of children and the reception of the kingdom of God.

But first let’s set the scene: Jesus has moved on from Capernaum, across the River Jordan and into the territory of Herod Antipas. The same king who had locked up and then had John the Baptist executed. The Pharisees saw and opportunity to have Jesus locked up. So asked him to talk about marriage and see if they could get him to offend Antipas and for things to take their course. Jesus questions them about what the Law and therefore Moses had to say about divorce. They discuss the passage from  Deuteronomy which says,

If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord. Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deut. 24.1-4)

The question that is being asked I think is this: “Under what grounds is it lawful to divorce your wife... what conditions have to be met for it to be okay to do that?” Jesus rather than agree with the standard of his day, or even of Moses goes back further and quotes Moses from Genesis where it is written,

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female... Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10.6-9; Genesis 2.24)

Therein, there is a difference between what the world believes about marriage and what the Church believes. The Church believes that marriage is a lifelong process of going from being two individuals to being a single unit. Thus marriage was God’s idea and the act giving woman to man and man to woman was, in and of itself, a gift. And it is a gift that is not given once and only once. It is the gift that is meant to keep on giving, husband to wife and wife to husband.

Unfortunately, the world has reduced marriage to uniting two people who believe that they have found their BFF (Best Friend Forever). Being faithful in that context seems to be reducing to “for as long as you both shall love” rather than the Church’s standard of “for as long as you both shall live.” Marriage is more than just feeling that one loves another. It is the deliberate choice to love the other person whether you feel like it or not. Being faithful to marriage bed is not just a physical thing, it is about putting one’s wife, one’s husband ahead of all things and all people, excluding everyone and everything but God, who binds the relationship through his own love and strength.

What Jesus calls the Church to, is a high standard of living and being together, especially in marriage. The marriage bond is meant exemplify the relationship between Christ and his Church. God came up with the idea of marriage and gave woman to man as a companion. Through Christian marriage, the world should be able to see God and glorify him because we are made aware of his presence by the way that the married couple lives together.

How do children come into this? We are challenged to receive the coming king, the coming kingdom like you are going to receive a newly born child. You need to present yourself to Christ to be blessed and then work to draw others into that blessing. You need to give them the Child that was in that manger so long ago and who invites those who will come to him to receive the power to become the children of God. May that be so for you today.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

There is still work to do

As I wind down for some time to have with family across this country and take some holidays to rest and reflect on the last year, I thought it might be good to take some time with this week’s Epistle and think about the life of the Church as a missional community and what might be ahead of us.

Our Lesson (Ephesians 4.1-13) is a transition from teaching the Church in Asia Minor about the nature of the single confession that every Christian makes, whether that person is a Jew or a Gentile to an exhortation to live a life worthy of the call that God has placed on every Christian – to come to him and to his kingdom. St. Paul calls on each of the believers to forgive each other whatever has happened in the past and to let go of that past so that together, as individual believers and as the Church, can embrace a common present and be prepared for what is to come.

I point this out to say this to the Church in North America, we have too often been told and have bought into the lie that the Church is dying. We have bought into the lie that the Church has no future. How do I know this? Think about what God has said through the prophet Jeremiah to the Exiled people of Israel, “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29.11 NIV) The problem with the Church is that it is not dead in North America: it is something far worse. It is become irrelevant. And the world knows it.

God has brought many people, of many different languages, cultures, races and nations together to be his people; his holy nation and his royal priesthood. God us brought us to himself to be his people. And since the kingdom of God has not come to fruition yet, God is still at work. And if God is still at work, then so are we. God isn’t finished yet and as the old saying goes, “God don’t make no junk.” Beyond that, God has broken down and removed himself the barrier that used to be between people. In Christ, he broke down the dividing wall of hostility and made all who take Christ as Saviour to be one people.  

And as such we are called to be a community of hope, of the resurrection and of life, not a society for despair, destruction and death of the whole world. Our response to the world in the face of despair, destruction and death is to hold out to people the courage, the hope and the life that we have with and in Christ because we have chosen to surrender to him. People believe that Jesus is the truth but so often, as the Archbishop of Canterbury recently pointed out about his own self, he did want all the moral stuff that came with being “Christian” when he first came to faith. What stops so many from being followers of the Lord Jesus is not Jesus himself but the thought of what life with Jesus and the Church would be like.

So how do we live to win people to Christ and then the Church? St. Paul lays it out in a simple manner. We are to live in humility, gentleness, patience and loving forbearance. These are the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.23) and are a part of the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church and therefore of every believer. These fruit are more than just a once given, always gotten type gift. They have to be used, developed, and maintained.

So don’t buy into the nonsense of the culture. The Church is not dead. There is a God and he loved the world so much that he has given us bread to eat and his Son to believe in. Until he comes again we are called to hold out life and hope for the world that they might come, receive forgiveness and know that they are adopted into the family of God, becoming beloved children of the Most High.  God is here, and we are with him.

Have a safe and happy holiday. We have work to do this Fall because God is not done just yet.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Working to be a leader and a servant

Do you know what a leader looks like? Would you know a king if you ever met one?  The Gospel this week (John 6.1-21) is about kings and kingship – or in modern day terms about “leadership”.  The world has its ideas and demands of what good leadership is about. And in a democracy, we reserve the right to call in new leadership and dismiss poor leadership. We will here all about that in the next few months through elections and the electoral process both here in Canada and down in the United States.

But let’s come back to the Gospel and the people whom Jesus fed in that lonely place for a moment. The Gospel notes, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6.14-15) People understood what Jesus was claiming about himself and who he was for Israel. The nation had not seen a sign like this since the days in the wilderness with Moses. People, having witnessed what Jesus had done, had their own expectations raised. The people were expecting Jesus as the Prophet God had promised, to be more; do more. The people were expecting the Prophet to bring back the good old days of David and Solomon. This is significant because they wanted to have their own kingdom back, and I suspect because they want to be great amongst the nations of the earth.

What they and the Church these days in North America often miss, is that we are different. We are not called to be like the other nations of the earth, only more glorious. As followers of the Lord Jesus, we are called by God to be A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that (we) may proclaim the excellencies of him who called (us) out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2.9) In essence then, we are called to some more, something bigger something better that we might participate in the coming of the kingdom of God and at the same time, draw others into it as well.

It is not lost on me that these who went seeking the powerful and miraculous Jesus in the place where they had been blessed, where they had eaten and had their fill, to discover that Jesus and the 12 had left and moved on. They searched and searched for him until they found him on the other side of the Lake, unaware of what had transpired overnight between the 12 and Jesus. Jesus himself rejected the temptation to make a fantastic earthly kingdom in favour of the rule of his Father in the kingdom that is to come. Jesus rejected the idea of earthly leadership as he did when it was offered to him by Satan. This is why Jesus withdrew from the people and went to a lonely place and to watch his followers out on the lake who, without him were struggling to get where they needed to be next.   

This is what makes the walk on the water so powerful. The Church gathered in that boat, struggling to learn to trust in the Lord in the rough water. There is another danger that the Church faces and that is thinking that we are on our own. Jesus is always watching, waiting and walking to us and reminding us that it really is him. The question for us is, “Will we let him into the boat?” Someone once quipped that, “If we took the Holy Spirit out of the Church, 95% of what we do would still go on.” The interesting thing is that Jesus, according to John, waited until he was invited into the boat by his disciples. It was not a matter of manners, but of choice. And in choosing to let him in they reached their goal immediately. So there is something important about the life of the Church and the need to recognize the import of the presence of the risen Christ being in our midst. Without him not only can we do nothing, as Church, as a holy nation and priesthood, we are nothing. It is in Christ that we are competent. It is in the presence of Christ that we live and move and have our being.

We must work to seek Christ our King and when we see him, serve those who are with him, in the least, the last, and the lost. After all, did Jesus say that whoever wants to be the greatest, the one who wants to be a leader, must be the last and servant of all?


Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Fidelity

The theme of our upcoming Diocesan Synod is “Faithfulness to the Gospel”. The word “faithfulness” caught my eye and my imagination and so I thought that I might spend some time playing with it to see if I might learn something new about it that I could share with you. It might be that the word “faithfulness” is something that we all seek to be but often find that, sooner or later, we are not. We struggle mightily with this idea of fidelity (of being faithful). We find it almost impossible to be faithful to anything else, anyone else in our North American culture because by enlarge because only the self counts. We live as if only ‘I’ matter: it is my truth, my way, my life that counts. As a consequence therefore, faith and faithfulness fall by the wayside because a lack of faithfulness leads to the degrading of our abilities to communicate with each other, which cause our communities and our society as a whole to fracture and crumble.  

Fidelity, according to an online dictionary ( I consulted is the quality or state of faithfulness. Fidelity is an exercise in exactness, working to be accurate in detail. Fidelity is the effort one puts into whatever is being done to be true to the facts, to a standard that needs to be lived and to the original text of writing. So if I have my understanding correct, fidelity is living out the command that Jesus gave us: love one another as I have loved you. Faithfulness moves from being adverb to be a verb. Faith and faithfulness are not just some that a person has, it is something that a person becomes that quality, enters into that state by living it. And in order to live it, it must be connected to others, beginning with God and then to neighbour. The interesting thing about this word faithfulness is that according to the same online dictionary, faithfulness is “obsolete”.

We are moving into and have come to an age in North American society where we are able to create social situations of “liquid gender”. People are able to choose what gender they are and to create that reality for themselves. More and more in civil society, we are trying to uphold a person’s right to choose for themselves, without regard for the impact on and the consequences for the community in which everyone needs to participate to help maintain community and society. Even within the Church, we fail to recognize that such belief and social action have an impact on the sacraments of both baptism and marriage. So rather than dealing with what is going on, we being to act and sound like the rest of the world rather than resisting the tide and choosing swim upstream. And in living this way we create an inability to be true to the Scriptures and to our relationship with the Almighty.

So what can we do, to stop and try to reverse the degradation of relationships and fracturing of our society? We must be the Church, wherever and whenever we are and are together. We must be the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ when we are apart and be his Church when we are together for worship. We must be choosing to be in worship regularly, to participate in the Eucharist thereby ridding ourselves of our idolatries and being empowered to live his life in this world. And we must make strides to aid each other in our walks, day by day. None of us can do it alone. Being a faithful follower means that we know that God is here and we, as his Church are with him; for now and for always.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Seek the help and the face of Heaven


This week’s Gospel (Mark 5:21-43) has two stories: one about a woman with an issue of hemorrhaging, the other about a little girl and the love of her father who would not let her die. The section picks up after Jesus returns from Gentile territory and the healing of the demonic on the far side of the lake (Mark 5.1-20). In his absence, the popularity of Jesus has not abated in the life of the Jewish community. Many people were seeking Jesus out, including the two people that come seeking him in the Gospel.

First there is Jairus. He has a little, beloved daughter – not quite yet a woman. She is sick and she is near death. Only help from heaven will save her from death. This is why Jairus goes looking for Jesus and when he finds Jesus, he pleads earnestly for him to heal his daughter. It is interesting that Jairus is seen and known to be a powerful man in the life of his family, his community and his nation and yet he is powerless to help his daughter. How the mighty must fall in the face of the things they cannot buy, cannot control and cannot coerce into their own worldview.

The amazing thing is that it does not take too much for Jairus to convince Jesus that he should do this for him.   Jesus is not only willing to go he is ready to go; immediately. I suspect that Jairus, being strong and powerful, was ready to do anything to get Jesus to respond to him and save his little girl. Therefore, I suspect there was some surprise at having Jesus ready to go.

Then, as they are making their way to Jairus’ house, something happens. Someone touches him and his healed - woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Like Jairus, she was a person of means and importance and she had been used by many who had tried to heal her. She had spent her fortune, lost her husband, family friends and her faith because she was constantly “unclean”. And because she had lost all these people, she had lost her heritage and chance at family, and she as a consequence, lost her nation. She was spent physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. But she had this one last hope: if she could get to Jesus and touch the hem of his robe she would be healed. She reached him. She reached out for the hem of his robe and touched him, and she was healed.

It is at this point that Jesus stops and asks a question, “Who touched me?” And with what I discern as being a certain amount of sarcasm from one of the disciples because of the crowd pressing into see, hear and touch Jesus, comes the reply, “With all these people, you want to know who touched you? That’s nuts!” So Jesus asked again, “Who touched me?” and the unnamed woman comes forward, with fear and trembling and expecting wrath for touching Jesus because she was unclean. What she got was not wrath and indignation, but acknowledgement that she was cured and was being given a chance to confess her faith in Christ, her healer.

Reaching Jairus’ house, they find that the little daughter has died and the mourners had arrived to do their thing, weeping and wailing, especially wailing. Remember the boat and the commotion on the Sea of Galilee? Why do you still have no faith? (Mark 4.35-41) When Jesus questioned the uproar, I think he was challenging the disciples with him (Peter, James and John) to recognize and connect that moment and this moment and the people who come as mourners laughed at Jesus when he declared the little girl not beyond help.  But first Jesus put the mourners outside.  

And to reassure the parents and the disciples, when the little girl got up, he asked them to feed her because being dead does tend to make one hungry for the living God. It also proved that she was not a ghost and that she was indeed alive.

What matters most in all this is two things: (1) How willing are you to get people, including yourself to a place or a position where you know you are in God’s presence? (2) Have you ever noticed that the people who have been with Jesus, that his presence shows and shines in their faces? So will you be that kind of person this week, someone through whom Christ shines?


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Placing courage in our faith and our convictions

This week’s Gospel (Mark 4:35-41) has an interesting twist as I look at the choices that are before us as a congregation (in deciding how we are going to approach the future with regards to our beloved building) and the choices and decisions that are before the disciples as they row for shore in their boat. Now, let’s be clear about something. Many of those men in the boat were experienced fishermen. They knew the lake. They understood the dangers and they were accustomed to being on the lake in the dark. So it must have been a very scary situation to have been in with the water coming in over the gunnels, water spraying them in the face from every direction. And to top it off, this master is asleep in it all.

That is the twist – of a sort. Over the past few weeks I have had to ask myself over and over again – when it is just me, and things are hard, where do I go? What do I do? To whom do I turn? The natural thing, when looking at the Gospel, is to think, “Well the boys, went to Jesus ad they got told off because they didn’t have faith.” That’s not it. Those men had watch Jesus for days and days, healing the sick curing the lame, opening the ears of the deaf, loosening the tongues and driving out demons. Why didn’t one of them take a stab at trying to claim the storm themselves? Why didn’t they trust God enough to hear the plea and act on their behalf?

The different times that the disciples had to go and find Jesus because he had gone off somewhere else to pray or heard him pray something like, “I thank you Father for hearing me but I know you always hear me...” (John 11:42) Is it possible that we are so often frightened and fearful of the choices we need to make, because are not willing to trust and to pray? What I see in Jesus is the confidence he has in the Father. he is confidence enough to trust God for what is next so that he can continue to do what he needs to do is incredible. So incredible, that this kind of trust allows us to sleep and to rest when things appear to be at their worst and even when they could be deadly.

When Jesus responds to the appeal of his disciples he speaks peace to the creation and calls on the disciples to be still and witness what God can do when you trust him. We want God it make the sailing smooth. We want God to fix all our problems and to take away all the pain. That’s what we want. It is how we want life to go – nice and smooth. The difficulty is often that is not what God calls us to. He insists that we follow and walk with him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. We are called in those moments not to be filled with fear but to take the time to recognize that God is here and we are with him. He gives the comfort we need and the strength we must possess to walk and to heal and to pray.

If I had to sum it all up, I would do so this way: Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in the face of it. If you need courage then be at peace. Be still. Know that God is God (Psalm 46:10). It is much better and much easier to live as a peace filled person rather than trying to control everything in the world around you, so that you can have a peaceful existence.


Thursday, June 11, 2015

His kingdom, his way, growing in us.

The parables of the seeds are the focus this week. Farming and the best practices might be a model for Church growth. Maybe. Nevertheless, there is something more important that we need to consider here than the usual. For example, Jesus talks about the “sporous” or spores that need to be planted.  We translate the word sporous as seed in the Gospel (Mark 4.26-35) but in fact, we are talking this week about some things that are the smallest things in the plant kingdom, that we they reach their fullness are, in their various ways something to behold.

For example, spores are microscopic and need to protect by other plant life. Unlike a seed, they are unicellular and they must hide on the underside of leaves and move around as the wind blows them. And unlike seeds, they are not multifaceted things, with internal resources to draw upon. But you might wonder knowing about plant life has to do with the Gospel and preaching this week. Quite a bit actually.

Parables tell us about God and his nature, who he is and what he does. The parables of the seeds shows us that God loves to take the little things, things that we discount or cannot see and make them count for something. He can cause them to grow into things that we could not have imagined and would not have planned to have happen if we could have conceived of it. So is the nature of the kingdom of God. It is here on earth and in earth (us) and the kingdom is growing. One of the things that we often miss in the Church is that the community that is the Church, like the kingdom that is to come in God’s time, is built to grow. We are not responsible for its growth. We are only expected to participate in its life. We are meant to plant seeds and water the earth to help provide the right conditions for growth but we cannot make what we plant grow. As St. Paul points out to the Corinthian Church,

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” (1 Cor. 3:5-7 ESV).

As Christians and as Christian community, we are called to participate in the kingdom that is in the world and in our lives and bodies through putting our trust in God and live our faith in the present tense. We need to do this because the presence of the kingdom of God in this world is a direct threat to the powers and principalities, dominions and princedoms that are in this world. The presence of the living God and his kingdom is slowly but inextricably growing in such a way as to crowd out and choke out all the other powers and places that would take his people away from him.

We can participate in the growth but we need to recognize that it is God who makes things grow and who gives the harvest in its due time. We need to concern ourselves with being the tool in the hands of the living God, sharp and ready for the next task. We need to be about the business of the king. We need to choose to live lives that are dedicated and consecrated to the kingdom. This means we are given solely to the goals of the kingdom and not to another purpose while recognizing that we are giving ourselves completely to God. To recognize that we actively pray for God’s will to be done “on earth (in earth) as it is in heaven.” Being consecrated to the kingdom also means that we chose to have no happiness, no w well being and no salvation other that what is given in the kingdom through the divine community of the Church. What should make each of us happy as believers and followers is the welfare of the community of followers of the Lord Jesus.  

So there is a challenge that St. Paul offered to the Corinthians that I will offer to you: Follow me as I follow Christ. The life of a follower of the Lord Jesus is a life that is meant to be lived in community with shared gifts and shared joys – something that goes well beyond personal appetites and satisfactions. And remember it’s not about us. It is about God and his will to bring us kingdom. It is Christ’s prayer and ours too.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Celebrating the life in the Spirit


This week we celebrate the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit – Pentecost. So I wanted to take some time to do some teaching on the Christian life as it pertains to life in the Holy Spirit. In the Church we call this “Pneumotology” or the study of the things of the Spirit. No let me say up front that most of the Christian life is not about the overt gifts that are given – especially the gift of tongues. While these are powerful gifts, this is not what is meant by life in the Holy Spirit. Gifts like prophecy and speaking in tongues (which are also a prophetic gift and must be given an interpretation by someone else) are meant for the edification of the Body of Christ and for the glory of God. These charisms (gifts) are an outflow of the life that is lived in the Spirit, but are not the base of that life.

If we are to get to the root of all this, we need to consider who the person of the Holy Spirit and what the ministry of the Holy Spirit is and does. The Spirit for example, is the creative power of the Father and the strength of the redemptive power of the Son as well as having the ministry of sanctifying the saints and bringing creation to its perfection through the redemption of the Son. The Spirit is present to the world for the convicting of sin and for making Jesus present to the Church and known in the world. The Spirit inspires the prophets and equips and enables the servants of God. The Spirit causes the stirring up of holiness in individuals and in the churches.

We recognize that the Spirit was and remains a part of the ministry of Jesus and of the Church that follows him. The Spirit was involved in the incarnation of Jesus – conception, baptism, ministry, passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The Spirit unites the Church to Christ and Christ with his Church. And because the Spirit indwells the Church, he is capable of transforming the Church into the likeness of Christ who is its head. The Spirit causes the Church to be faithful, producing the fruit that is in line with the Christian life: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 ESV)
The Spirit is a witness and a teacher of the Church. The Spirit shows and convinced the believers of the reality of the person of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and the presence of the Lord Jesus in their lives and that of the churches and the world. In essence, the Spirit is a spotlight on Jesus so that the Church can see him, know him and follow him in what he is doing in the world. Such seeing and hearing and doing results in the Church being obedient to Christ in everyday life.
Spirit also moves the Church to bear witness to the Christ we see and know through Scripture and in the world. In doing so, the Spirit enables the faithful to receive the divine witness: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1.15-22 ESV)
So, if we are to live life in the Spirit, we ought to be aware that we are being, in this moment, led, fed and enabled to be the people we are called to be by God. We are called to live in the Spirit in everyday life. And we live this life in the full knowledge that we are the beloved children of our heavenly Father and are coheirs with Christ and the rest of the Church of the kingdom that is yet to come.
Until then there are two things to keep in mind: (1) each and every believer has a gift that God has given to them that is meant for the good of the Church and the benefit of the wider community, which ought to be used for serving God’s people and glorifying God who is the giver of all good gifts. (2) Remember that the giving of the Spirit is a present and ongoing thing – yes it happened all those years ago. It is still happening. The power is available for us today. The Spirit is still filling, still giving, and still working to bring about the coming of God’s kingdom in the lives of men, women and children. Let us avail ourselves of the blessing the Lord gives and the power he provides and actively proclaim all the wonders that God is doing in this world for the sake of the kingdom and those who would be a part of it. Go and live the Spirit filled life and do so in Jesus name.