Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Making room for Christ

This will more than likely be my last post of the year. In large part, because I am not preaching this weekend because it is Christmas and that means that the Bishop is here.  There is a double meaning this year as it is the Bishop’s last Christmas with us: he retires from full-time ministry at the end of the month. Getting ready to bid him farewell from active ministry leaves me with a range of emotions. I am happy for him – after more than 40 years he gets his freedom. I am sad in a way for us because we have had a consistent and practiced hand on the tiller for so many years and it is in a word, “scary” as we step out in faith to look for, find and consecrate a new Bishop for the Church.

It reminds me of an old story I heard retold recently. It’s about a little girl who was upset about the thunder and lightning storm that was raging outside her house. Her father came in and offered to pray with her, and they prayed together. When they were finished, her father asked the little girl, “Now doesn’t that feel better?”  To this, the little girl replied, “No! I need a God with some skin on!”

When I then consider what happen in the stable that night in Bethlehem, in the quiet and the dark, in the cold... remembering the pain and the blood, the joy and wonder of the birth in time of the timeless Son of God, it is a whole lot more that a small wonder.

It had been a rough road watching all the way along the length of the Promised Land, from Nazareth in the North to Bethlehem in the South. It was hard and dangerous. Road conditions, weather, thieves, and bandits for days on end, including a grouch pilgrim as well coming into Jerusalem from elsewhere for the Feast of Lights were enough to deal with on their own. Getting to Bethlehem and not having anywhere to stay until, until through the generosity of a local shepherd, Joseph finds a stable where they can stay because the time had come for the baby to be born (Luke 2.1-20).

God coming to us in our own flesh and blood is something that makes our faith, our Christianity unique amongst the world’s pantheon of religiosity. We have Emmanuel – God with us he has skin on. This is the moment when we discover that God has come to us and is going to visit us and redeem us through the life death and resurrection of His Son. The wood of the Manger will become the wood of the Cross soon enough. But in this moment, we can choose to make room for him and to welcome him into our lives so that he can make changes in us or we can choose to continue to ignore him and take our chances on being good enough and nice enough when the Judgement comes.

Choosing Christ does not remove the anxiety or the threats and hurts that can and do happen in life. Having Christ in one’s life allows us to walk through those dark things and to be healed when necessary that we might be stronger having been through it. Think about Joseph. He was a devout man, sincere in his faith and he wanted Mary to be his wife. He took his own council and decided on the best course of action and then slept on it. During the night, God spoke to Joseph in a dream – and where else would a Joseph hear from God but in a dream? – and God spoke his mind to the man. In the morning, Joseph chooses to take on Mary and the baby, not because it was the right thing, the religious thing or even a good thing, to protect both Mary and the baby. It was now a good thing and Joseph chose to make room in his life for Jesus to come in.

Will you not make room for Christ in your life this Christmas? Sure there may be lots of clutter with the presents, the paper and getting ready for a meal later in the day. And no doubt there will and excuse or two as to why you might not. You want Christmas to be real? Do you want it to mean something more? Then it is time to make room for him and let him in.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The undomesticated God

The Gospel this week is about the unknown day and hour of the return of Jesus (Matthew 24.36-44). And as I say that, I recognize that the pericope (piece of the Scriptures) that we have to work with is too small. We actually need to include, at the very least what Jesus has to say about the fig tree and recognizing the season... when will it be summer again (v. 32-35)? I suggest this because to say that we know nothing about when the kingdom will come, is not true. There are things that we have been told will happen – things that will need to happen before Jesus returns. We know how to interpret the changing of a season from one to another. We will gamble on what we think the outcome of a role of dice or the outcome of a particular sports game or match will be. We can see when a human crisis is about to erupt and hear all about on a 24 hour news channel. But we still fail to see the coming of the kingdom of God.

We have been asked in the baptismal rites in the past few weeks, if we would seek Christ, loving our neighbours as ourselves and if we would serve Christ wherever we find him. We are asked to do these thing so that we are not passive about our waiting and watching for him. We’re asked not to concentrate on ourselves but rather to seek Christ in other places and spaces. We are asked to serve Christ by serving other people. We do this service to keep our faith and our lives from becoming selfish and idolatrous.

The problem is that our society has bought into the myth of progressive thinking and living. People think and believe that this world is basically a good place and what we need to do is make is a better and that will make everything good. Such thinking is not Christian thinking. If we were able to make this world a better place, would we have not done so already? More than that, f we could make this world into the kingdom that God desires to build, then why did Jesus come into this world to save us?

People were waiting and looking for the King that would take the nation back to the good old days of David and Solomon (which by the way were not as great as some would have you believe) when the kingdom was free and doing its own thing. Humanity has not changed that much in the last few thousand years. “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man” Jesus reminds us. People are going to choose themselves over God and are going to go their own way. Sin and evil are rampant. People are unaware that the next visitation is coming and that they are not ready. It reminds me of one of my favourite books, CS Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardorbe” when Mr. Beaver and Lucy are taking about meeting Aslan for the first time:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”  C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Following the King into the Kingdom is not about being safe. It is about meeting him and building a relationship with him that will lead you into living his life with him for an eternity. God made this possible because God did the unexpected. God came to a darkened manger in an out of the way place. He came through blood and water, through some fear and pain. He did not come to a palace with fanfare. He was received with joy by those who listened to the announcement of his birth by angels.
Christ’s coming to us caused Crisis in the places and spaces of power. There was palpable fear in the people of authority because the King could take it away from them. We shall hear of how these men will react in the coming days and months.
Advent is a time for preparations and for amends. It is time to take care of those things so that we are ready for his coming. He is coming. And until he does, we have as his Church been instructed and enabled to be his community in the world. We’re expected and required to seek him out and to serve him where we find him. Remember, he is coming back not as a baby in a manger, but as the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him but not all will do so happily or willingly.
And as we wait, watch and seek Christ out, remember to manage your expectations of neighbour and even more so of God. After all the Lion of Judah is not a tamed Lion; the domesticated God. But he is God, and God is good, all the time. And remember, God will do the unexpected. Don’t worry about what time it is.


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Of saints and the Christian soul

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day have happened this week. And because All Saints is a major (Easter type) Festival and its also the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I move it and celebrate it on the Sunday after. It is usually a good celebration and there are some times baptisms to do with it, like there will be this Sunday.

The Gospel this week (Luke 6.20-31) notes that people are coming to Jesus. They come for at least one of two and maybe more reasons. First, people come because they are seeing deeds of power being done: the blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, the lame are walking and the poor are becoming rich. Plus, people are hearing what God is saying through Jesus – they are hearing words of power (dynamos) and they explode just like dynamite. Second people, because they are experiencing God, come to Jesus to be cured – made whole. People are coming to and find Jesus because they want to be whole and free like they have never been before. They finding that being with Jesus is making them whole and setting them free. It is in this context (Isaiah 61.1-3) that Jesus ministers to people healing every person that comes to him, without reservation, without caveat. And in some real ways the Church grows.

Jesus and the Twelve have come down from a spiritual mountain top into the places and spaces where most people dwell. Jesus sits down and talks to them about what is important and what the nature and work of the Church should look like. Looking directly at his chosen leaders, he begins to talk about blessedness or righteousness: “Righteous are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Now, it is important to keep in mind that righteousness, from a Christian point of view is not something we do to become, but rather it is something that we are given by God and because we have it we need to act in a righteous manner. That is, we need to live as people who are in relationship with God – because we are.  So if we look at this, those who are economically disadvantaged, who are hungry because they have no food, who are weeping because they see and understand the state of the people and the Land – these are blessed and are righteous, because they are in the presence of God.

It is the inversion of what the world says and thinks blessedness is about. If you have lots of stuff – wealth, position, power you must be blessed. If you have lots to eat and drink and are able to eat five times a day, you must be blessed. If you have lots of friends and are able to party, laugh and carry on, you must be blessed. But that is not how Jesus and therefore God sees it. In fact he takes the time to warn people thusly by saying to them “Woe to you is coming if you have these things and do not bless”  Woes were used by the OT prophets to warn the nation and individuals about their impending disaster if they did not changes their ways and live a righteous life towards God and neighbour. These warnings were given because people had become arrogant and were ignoring the visitation of God for the purposes of redeeming them and shaping them into his priesthood, his holy nation.

God calls us to love our neighbours, ourselves, each other and even our enemies. We are commanded to act well towards others who we believe hate us. We are to do good to those who persecute us and to bless them. We are to move away from the idea of retribution, the eye for an eye mentality – no wonder we live in a world of sightless people. We are too busy taking out each other’s eyes and we live in a world that is blinded by fear and hate, by mistrust and self righteousness. We are too quick to try and take out the speck in our neighbour’s eye.

We are to offer whatever it is that our neighbour demands of us and we are to bless them by giving and not withholding. We are to hold an attitude of love so that when we speak to them or about them we don’t offer insult and cause ourselves to sin. We are to pray for them and ask God to bless them even in spite of (or maybe because of) what they have done to us or our lives.  We can do this because God will “save us from the hands of all that hate us” (Zach 1.71)

What do we do when we discover that we are in the presence of God, that we are indeed being visited and redeemed? We must give and we must dance! We need to give to God and to others until it pinches our lives, The amount is somewhat immaterial – it is how you give and therefore how you chose to dance that matters. What matters is whether or not your heart, your life and your home are open and ready to offer self and hospitality to those who will come. We are to give without thought of reward or return.

As Saints of the living God, as Christian souls, if we work at that, then the Son can shine through us and that means an awful lot to a world that is lost in sin, fear and the growing darkness.


Friday, October 28, 2016

The Tale of Two Trees and the men who climb them

This week, the Gospel tells the tale of two trees and the men who climb into them (Luke 19.1-10). The Two men? Zaccheus and Jesus. Both trees are instruments which bring salvation. The first is precursory and a foreshadowing of the second. The first tree and the events that surround it show who one man, who refuses to let Jesus pass by without seeing him and discovers that he is being sought by the one who seeks him.

The Zaccheus’ tree was planted decades before he needed it. But it was on the right street in Jericho – on the main road that the pilgrims used to make their way to Jerusalem. The road climbs a steep hill as it leaves the mostly abandoned part of the City. And along the way there is this forty foot sycamore tree with minimal stumpage and plenty of branches for a grown man to crawl into.   

Zaccheus was a man who was ‘vertically challenged’, meaning he was short.  People thought little of him because he was not only a tax collector and therefore a collaborator with the occupying Romans, he was often thought of as ‘irredeemable’ because he was a chief tax collector. To many, he was as corrupt as they come and too far gone for anyone to be able to reach. When Zaccheus heard that Jesus was coming and more than likely that he heard what happened with blind Bartimaeus getting his sight back, he made a plan and ran to his tree. He climbed for that one change to catch a glimpse of Jesus that he might know that God was revisiting and redeeming his people.

So the fact that Jesus would stop and ask to come to his house and to stay over was beyond anything that he could have imagined. It should not be lost that Jesus had no where to eat and nowhere to sleep that night. So hospitality was a must for Zaccheus – custom demanded nothing less. He gave his hospitality willingly and gladly. He got to walk with Jesus down the very same street that Jesus in morning would have to climb to continue on his way to Jerusalem and to his own tree as they walked to Zaccheus’ house.

Meanwhile, as they made their way to his house the religious people started grumbling to each other and asking if there was not someone better to hang out with for an evening because as it is , he has gone to be the guest of a public sinner. To show what the encounter with Jesus had done for him, Zaccheus openly declares that he commits to give half of what he has to the poor. Then he takes it a step further and says that anyone he has injured can come and lay claim as if he had stole sheep from them; repay them fourfold for the offense. These are not small amounts of money for Zaccheus was clearly a wealthy man. It makes clear that where there is repentance there is also joy and grace. Jesus himself points out in the Gospels that there is more rejoicing over one who repents than over 10 people coming into the kingdom who do not need to repent. Being willing to give and to offer of one’s won substance to the lives of other people is a sign of the fruit of repentance. Zaccheus took the time to stop and to stand still so that he could declare boldly for his neighbours to hear what God has done in his life – that he has been visited and been redeemed... and Jesus himself declares that Zaccheus is a son of Abraham.  That is also why Jesus declares that salvation has come and entered into Zaccheus’ life and house – he is living the message!

I think we miss something important in North American Christianity. Faith is not a formula to be figured out and solved. It is a life that must be lived in faith to the fullest and to work out our salvation every day with fear and trembling. To do anything less, is to stay up in the tree instead of coming down and going home. Moreover, with Jesus’ tree, we can see not only how far God will come down to climb this tree and call us to come home, it shows us how far we have fallen and need to be redeemed through coming to repentance.

One of the things that the series of stories in this part of Luke’s Gospel wants to communicate is this: be careful of appearances because they are often deceiving. Just because someone thinks that they are “All that and a bag of chips” does not that they have it all together. I have know people who could fake it real well for a time. And it also means that one cannot judge someone to be impossible for God to rescue; to be beyond the reach of God’s tree and mercy. Blessed are those who know their need of salvation for they shall know the arms of God.

Is your heart, are you open to that same invitation? Will you come down out of your tree and come home that you might be rescued and transformed by God and for the sake of your community?


Friday, October 21, 2016

Praying the Liturgy in everyday life

The Gospel this week (Luke 18.9-14), continues on the need for prayer and to keep praying without losing hope. I am reminded of some things that Jesus has said when I read this passage like, “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners...” and “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy not sacrifice.”  (Luke 5.32; Matthew 9.35)

The setting is a worship service where there are these two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. In the practice of ministry I have notice that there are two types of worshipers: those who believe that they are fine the way they are and then there are those who know there need of God’s mercy. One who is more concerned about himself and the other worried about how God sees him and knows that he is a day late and a dollar short. This puts him a position of contrition and humility while the other stands and blithering way, talking more to himself, thinking that God cared to listen.

It reminds me of a time early in my ministry when there was a change of Rectors in the large parish were I was serving at the time. Many times over several months and in many different ways and venues, the new priest thought it okay to be publicly critical of how I prayed and when I prayed, because to him, I “prayed too much.” The prayers were too long and it took too much time from other things that might be more important. Thing is, I have always found that I often end up in places and spaces that I was always needed but rarely anticipated. I have seen and continue to see that God uses me to help people even when they and/or I am aware that this is what is going on.

To me, prayer is more than the words that we offer to God – though the words we offer are important. Prayer is more than the silences that we keep and the things that the Sprit prays for us when we are a loss and do not know what to pray. Prayer is the attitude with which we approach God, people and life in general. We need to live this life as if we are in continuing mode of worship. Offering ourselves to people knowing that we have God’s grace to spend and to be spent ourselves in the service of the kingdom.

The Pharisee’s prayer was one out of his peripheral vision: letting God how great and awesome I am and how much better I am than the person next to me... just in case God has not noticed the other because I am so great.

The tax collector was focused on God, who God is and then who he saw himself to be in the light of the glory of God. This man experienced the holiness and judgement of God. Because he submitted and humiliated himself he finds that God’s mercy and grace are effective and real – he gets to go home with the understanding that he has got what he needed: mercy and forgiveness. These things have the potential to transform his life, his family’s life and the community and nation around him. The tax collector went home justified because it is God who forgave him and justified him, not someone else.

How then will you live your liturgy this week. Will you pour your heart out to God in prayer or will it us be a passing fancy? A thing you do to get God to give you what to think you want?


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Persisting in prayer, justice and equality

The Gospel this week (Luke 18.1-8) has three important words connected to it: prayer, persistence and justice. The first two I know lots about and the last, because of its usage in parts of the Church these days, is something that makes me cringe. The word justice makes me cringe for one simple reason: most people don’t know what it is they are asking for when the ask God for justice. It gets applied to the personal situation and to what might be perceived as the unfairness of the current social state of the community, but that is not what justice is. What people are searching for is not justice, but equality.  So let’s carefully consider what justice and equality might look like from a biblical perspective and then look at our own situation to consider how it might be understood and applied.

Jesus in Gospel lesson, tells his disciples and the Pharisees and the lawyers who are gathered around him talking, the parable of the unjust judge. At first I thought about pointing out the widow and how she harangued the judge until he decided in her favour. But then I remembered being thought that we need to learn what we can about God and how God acts and reacts, which puts the judge in focus.

So let me ask you, how do you pray? What is your thing to do? My normal thing to do is to come to the office and the first 20 minutes and the last 10 minutes of the day are spent in prayer – for the people I minister to, for the people I minister with and for other needs that I want to mention to God – things that I think are important both personally and pastorally. And I would note that there are things which I pray for a long time for as well as things that I have received almost immediately.

The parable encourages us to consider carefully the nature of God and how God judges people, situations and other things. And if we are going to do that we need to consider Scripture to hear how others have experienced God. Take the prophet Isaiah for example. Consider these words from Isaiah experiencing his call to be a prophet: 

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. (Is.6.4-6 NASB)

Isaiah went to worship and was allowed a glimpse of God for who he really was – he got to see the glory of the LORD (Elohim). Thing is, after seeing God’s big toe, he then was confronted by reality. Seeing who God was made Isaiah turned and considered himself and the life of the nation, he could see things he did not before. He saw the state of his life before God and the state of his people and the Land they had be given by God. It made him crumble. The passage goes on to note that his lips are touched by a holy coal from the altar and then answers the call to go and speak to the people what he has seen and what God needs to communicate with them. God asked, “Who will go for us, whom shall I send?” and Isaiah replied, “Here I am. Send me. “

What I take from that is this: we need to pray. We need to pray to gain the attitude of altitude. We need to spend time in God’s presence. And we need to learn to pray for what is requisite and necessary for the body as well as the soul. It is not so much about how you pray it, but rather that you mean it. We need to learn to pray and not give up because we are praying in the face of the reality of the coming of God’s kingdom. The world will act to preserve itself and its own interests because it is all about self interest and self preservation. For the Church, this life is more than just about having lots of faith or possessing the correct doctrine, (thought there is need of them both) it is about the pursuit of divine justice because in that is the Church’s hope. The Church must persevere through trouble and hardship wade through whatever besets it.

This does bring me back to the two people in the parable. The widow does persist in seek a judgement in her favour. So much so, that the judge who does not care about man or God actually beginning to worry about self preservation. He chooses to vindicate her in her small financial matter because he will be the worse for wear if he does not.

Consider then how God answers prayer: is it unfair that we have to wait? Why shouldn’t prayer be like a drive through window where we can order what we want an pick it up so we can get on with our busy little lives. Answer? There is a cost and there is a time. Somewhere in the middle of trying to get what we want there is a cost. Besides, a delay is not a no – what about timing. An answered prayer may take time to answer. Maybe there is something that God needs to do in us before a prayer is answered. Otherwise, how do we develop and grow as people of faith if it is not taught and tested? When he returns, will he find faith in the world? Wouldn’t you want to be one of those people? it is God who meets out justice because in his eyes we are all equal. 


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Of thanksgiving, faith and mercy

Should we not just learn to get along with other people’s ingratitude? If God has to deal with it from people shouldn’t we learn to live with it as well?

The Gospel for this week (Luke 17.11-19) has an interesting, biting edge to it, especially when one considers that this is our time to give God thanks for another year of harvest, hunting and provision. We catch up with Jesus, his disciples and the rest of the folks who are following Jesus as they make their way to Jerusalem and to what is to be sure, a confrontation with authority of gargantuan proportions. And we are not totally sure of where they are except to say they are in the North and therefore are in foreign territory.  That’s important to the piece of Scripture that we are studying but I will come back to that. It is enough for the moment to know that they are in an uncomfortable place and in an increasingly uncomfortable moment.

Jesus and the crowd enter a village and as they do, they are approached by 10 men who were lepers. They did what was required of them by society. They stayed a respectful, careful distance away and gave warning that they want to speak to Jesus. In fact they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They make a plea for mercy so that they can be restored to wider society and their former lives with the families and so on.

It is important to point out that not all of the lepers are Judeans (or Southerners). A least one of them is a local Samaritan a “Northerner”. The North and the South don’t get along on much. Often they would disagree and argue over things not unlike the arguments currently going on in the Anglican Church of Canada on matters of human sexuality. People often segregate each other by geography and theology in the Church. It is the same now as it was then. And we are more comfortable in arguments and thinking that is the way to unity than working to discover and do what God has called us to do and actually do it.

So let’s start with giving thanks... are you thankful for what God has given you in the past year? Are we as a congregation thank for how the Lord has supported us over the last year? How often do we receive something from another person and thank them for the gift but then forget to thank God for making it possible? We are often swift to recognize and call out the inhospitality and the ungraciousness of others but at the same time fail to see it in ourselves?

Giving thanks and remembering God in doing so is at the core of the Eucharist. We take the time on Sunday mornings to give thanks to God for all that God has done and is doing in our lives both as individuals and as a faith community. Even the very word eucharist means, “thanksgiving”. In taking time to give thanks, makes us both stronger and a better community. We do not let those things that we have, buildings, theologies and spiritual gifts to be our possessions though we received them from the hands of Christ himself.  By taking the time to give thanks on a regular basis, we kept our possessions and our theologies from being idols and ourselves from being self idolatrous. We are blessed not because of being in possession of the gifts we have received but rather that we know and are known by the Giver of every good and perfect gift.

Faith as an ongoing act of thanksgiving and praise, is not a choice and commitment to a particular set of beliefs and doctrines but rather a striving to remain within the relationship and calling to abide in God and in Christ on a daily basis. Giving thanks allows for us to recognize the presence of the living God in this place and to understand that wherever we are, every patch of land that we inhabit, is a sacred place. And because God is in this sacred place, he is in this city. Therefore we need to seek the welfare of this place because we are sent to it.

One last thought. Jesus asked why only the local Northerner returned and not the other nine. All ten men, this little community of lepers were healed, right? So where is the thanks and praise that is due? Is it not possible that the one man who returned found something in his healing that the others took for granted? Mercy gets us out trouble. Grace makes us whole, an entire person. Faith makes us ready for what’s next, for the life that is yet to come in God’s kingdom. Faith makes us ready for salvation. How many people, having been shown mercy and given grace by God for healing for get to be thankful, even on a weekly basis?


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Of endings and beginnings

I find it interesting that when one thing comes to an end, another thing has already begun to take its place. Endings and beginnings are one in the same. And in fact as human beings, hello and goodbye as well as endings and beginnings, are the very first things that we learn to deal with. We are in such a moment as we come to the end of an episcopacy and looking toward to the start of another.

In thinking about the last few years, one of the things I have come to appreciate about the Bishop and his episcopacy, is his unwavering commitment to the Christian faith and the unity of the Christian Church. I took the time to search the internet for articles about Bishop William and his time as Bishop as I thought I might look at the highlights. I noticed as I was doing this, an interesting trend. I saw in him a passion that has remained for the Church. He noted in his last Charge to Synod (September, 2015) that he was sorry that there was little growth in the numbers of people going to Church. I think if we look carefully, we can note that there are changes going on. There is an ending of the things that were and there are new things that have taken root but have not yet come to full blossom.

For example, the work of different parishes to become more self supporting and other parishes that have had to work on maintain their clergy and their physical presence in the communities in which they are found. Under the current episcopacy, the Camp was restarted has just completed it sixth camping season. The congregation in Fort St. John has looked to revamp their physical presence by relocating the Rectory and working on building a new Church building. The Church building in Pouce Coupe was closed and sold and at the same time, it has allowed the congregation to do some work in the building in terms of greening itself, including putting solar panels on the roof to supply energy to the building and excess energy is to be sold for a profit. The Stuart – Nechako Lakes Regional Parish flourishes. Lots of work has been done in the Parish to build up ministry and community – including the Soup kitchen and food bank which are housed in the Church building in Fort St. James. We are seeing growth in Houston, Smithers, and Kitimat. The Diocese is running the “Timothy Program” training and preparing people for ministry in the Nass. Masset is serving their area with a thrift store. Even here at the Cathedral, we are moving forward and reaching out to people. A lot of work has been done on the Cathedral’s buildings: church and house. And thanks be to God, there is not a single penny of debt from any of it in the last five years!

Additionally, one of the things that the current episcopacy has taught me is how to handle conflict well. It is important for one to stand up for what one believes in. It is also equally important in how one deals with the conflicts that arise from this, and the Church being the Church there will always be conflict on how the mission of God should be best carried out. Handled rightly, it can be a source of strength and give the Church the ability to draw the disaffected and the disconnected into the Church and empower and embolden people for ministry.

As example, I would point out to you a time that Bishop William and I were at a meeting in the South and a person in that meeting said a number of uncomplimentary things, including naming people “rednecks”. The Bishop looked me back into my seat and I am grateful he did. He kept me from treating that person as he had treated us. The Bishop called me to a higher standard of life and living.

St. Paul reminds us that we are not given a spirit of fear and timidity, but of love power and self control. It is the very picture of who Jesus was in his earthly ministry. As Christians, we are filled with the Spirit and therefore are capable of showing godly use of power, displaying divine love and doing so while self disciplining ourselves so that we do not mar the witness that God’s love and power can make. We can carry on the ministry that is to come in the days ahead, even in the face of hardship, opposition and do so without shame or fear. In fact we need to continue to move boldly and with all the spiritual gifts we have in possession because God the Holy Spirit is with us and in us.

We can plan on there being opposition, hardship and suffering, as we serve Christ. False teaching, spiritual abandonment and heresy are remedied through maintaining a good training program and solid preaching for believers. The future may be hard and scary. That is part of hellos and goodbyes, of endings and beginnings. The most important thing to remember is that there is, of necessity, the need to teach and to live the faith each and every day. We need to guard the Good Deposit with everything we are and have, and to do so with the Spirit as well (2nd Timothy 1.14).

As there is an ending, so there is a beginning. May God support us all as we come to it.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Where will you live, now and in eternity?

I have been watching a lot of movies lately that have spiritual, even Christian messages to them. For example, the “God’s not dead” series, “Seven Days in Utopia”, the newest of the X-Men movies, the remake of the classic “Ben-Hur” and the most recent one,”90 minutes in Heaven”. All of them in different was explore themes that are current in society. And in particular, the movies concentrate on what happens after we die. “90 minutes in Heaven” is the true story about, Don Piper, a young successful pastor, a married man with a growing family who dies in a car accident and spends 90 minutes in heaven before a fellow pastor prays for him and the young pastor is brought back to life.  

The Gospel this week, is about two men, who have only a little in common. One man lives in a grand palace: he throws lavish parties, eats incredible meals and does so wearing fine clothes, including fine linens and purple (the sign of royalty) robes. This certain rich man must have passed by the other man in this story many times because Lazarus lived at the gate to the rich man’s estate. Lazarus had nothing to eat and his clothing was his sores which the dogs sniffed and licked because of the order coming from them. Aside from their humanity and their proximity in terms of geography, the only other thing these two men shared was death. We are not told how long there was between the time that Lazarus died and was carried to Abraham and when “Dives” died and was buried by his family and friends (Luke 16.19-31). Whether time between these deaths was long or short, makes little difference.

What is important is what we hear and how we are going to act in response to the parable that Jesus tells. I should point out that this is not a story about how to safely get from here to the bosom of Father Abraham, how to get to heaven. It is about how to live in eternity, and to live it in the here and the now.

So, let me say something important: one of the things that everyone needs to be aware of is that self satisfied, self made people never see the need for help from an outside source – much less God - until they themselves are in real trouble. Through this story, Jesus is warning those who have a lot that much is expected of them because they have been blessed. Those who have much in terms of wealth and possessions have much worry about in maintaining what they have and their possessions. In this way, our ‘stuff’ can become idols and separate us from God and from our neighbours.

But more importantly, how we handle our possessions and how we work at the relationships that we have, shows the interior of our lives and our hearts. “Dives” saw and knew the situation of Lazarus but chose not to deal with it. He had the resources, he saw the need, he heard the warnings and admonitions of the Laws of Moses and the Prophets and still “Dives” Was not moved one iota to help Lazarus. Without help and care, Lazarus dies and finds himself cared for by a “Legend of the Faith”.
When the rich man takes his place in Sheol (Hades or hell) – he sees Lazarus and starts treating him like a servant or a slave. In my mind, maybe that is a step up in status for Lazarus because in the eyes of the rich man, at least now he is paying attention to Lazarus who could potentially be useful to him. But first he asks for mercy because he is now the one in pain and suffering and he wants to be comforted by Father Abraham.
Abraham’s reply reminds of what Jesus had to say in the Sermon on the Plain, ““But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6.24-26 ESV)
There can be no going between you and me. We are separated by the chasm – you are where you are and there is changing or easing those circumstances. Those who are here, who would go to you and minister to your needs cannot, and you cannot get over here because you chose to be over there in life.
Still trying to deal with things and to be in control the rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent to his family, so that they did not suffer the same fate as him. “Let him warn them so that they do not enter into this awful place”
“They have all the warning they need: Moses and the Prophets,” retorts Father Abraham. “The Scriptures will tell them what to do and they need to follow the Scriptures’ commands.”
“No, Father. They will not listen to the Law and the Prophets, but if someone they knew was dead and they see him, then they will listen,” pleaded Dives.
To this supplication Abraham replied “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, then a  man rising from the dead will not convince them either- they will never be convinced.”   
Fear is a poor motivator where faith is concerned.  And a dead man will not make the skeptic believe. The proper response to God and his Gospel is repentance.
One last thought. We are the siblings of Dives. He had brothers and maybe even sisters. Are we not them? We have Moses and the Prophets and the risen Christ (the man risen from the dead) calling us to care for the least, the last and the lost. We called to learn to live not just for that day when we find ourselves in heaven. We are drawn to God so that we might live into the life of the kingdom and do so in the here and now. We are called to open our hearts to God in worship and to humanity to have compassion for them.
So it comes down to a few simple choices – where will you live, now and in eternity? And what will it take for you to be convinced that we need to open our hearts to God and to one, genuinely caring for and sharing with one another?


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Do more than survive - thrive!

The Gospel this week (Luke 16.1-13) is an interesting piece of Scripture and one that many the Church ought to spend more time with. There are two basic things that I see in the lesson: (1) where is your heart before God is and where others are concerned, and (2) how do you deal with money and possessions?

The story of the shrewd manager is the tale of a manager who was a “freeman” and who handled the affairs of his Master (kyrios). Word reached the master that the manager was not acting properly and the manager acted immediately – suspending the wayward servant and demanding an account of his dealings because he was fired. Knowing that his time was coming to an end, the manager figured out what he was going to do to survive since he could not dig for a living and would not lower himself to beg for charity from others. Instead he chose to earn the kindness and generosity of those who were in debt to both him and his master. In this way, he created a quid pro quo situation. He helped out those in debt to him but removing his commission and making them responsible for what they owed to his master. In turn they were grateful and would make room for him when he had no other place to go. Clearly the manager knew and understood how to look after himself once his job was gone.

The Scriptures has a lot of things to say about mammon. In fact, a full third of every Jesus has to say about anything, has to do with how we use money and possessions. Having them is not an issue. It is how one uses them that can become an issue. Moreover, the ways in which we use our money and our possessions, describes what is going on inside. It shows how we are hearing both the Scriptures and the Spirit. It shows what or who we worship. And in this much Jesus is very clear. There cannot be any divided loyalties were God is concerned. Money and possessions can and do lay claim to people and their lives in ways that cause them to be alienated from God. Mammon can and does compete with God for your attention. So we must choose: God or our “stuff”. Ask yourself, do you have possessions or do your possessions have you?

And while I know that this makes people uncomfortable, I think it needs to be said. One day, each and all of us are going to be called to the throne and before Christ, we are going to be asked to give an account of our lives and what we did with what we have been given. So if Jesus asks me, “So, how was it? How did things go?” the last thing I want to have to say to him is, “I survived.” It is not that I think that would make him angry, but rather it would sadden and make him cry. All of the grace, love, peace, joy and strength that he offers and I could only manage to survive. As followers and disciples of the Master, we are meant to do more than survive. We are meant thrive!

Sure, there will be crisis moments that are going to have to be handled. There will be opportunities that we will miss or worse, squander. For that there must be repentance, forgiveness and absolution. And if you want to be great in the eyes of heaven then you had best learn to give and be ready to make sacrifices because that is the economy of God’s kingdom. Giving shows the heart of God. Hoarding what has been given makes steps in the direction of idolatry.

Remember that it is more blessed to receive than to give because it is only in receiving that we have something to give; for our hands were empty, and God filled them. We need to choose how we will serve and who or what we will serve and to do so faithfully. Being a follower is not just about having faith in and loving God. It is recognizing that God has faith in us and that what we do with the opportunities that are given to us and how we serve God and neighbour day in and day out.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Can God lose something?

Have you ever wondered if God could lose something? It is a question that I have been pondering this week as I have been reading and re-reading the Gospel (Luke 15.1-10). And as Luke would have it, there is a male and a female version of this pair of dramas. The shepherd and his lost sheep and the woman who has lost one of her coins. There is a simple rhythm to both stories: loss, searching, finding, and rejoicing.

But it all starts with the religious people taking issue with Jesus and the fact that he invites people who are tax collectors (Roman Government collaborators) and publicly known sinners. Why are the religious folks upset? It is because Jesus shares his table with them and eats with them. Jesus in doing so, makes these others, who in the eyes of civilized society are unacceptable and untouchable, his equals and worse, he hosts them and treats them well. Jesus is not acting like a good rabbi should. He is not acting like a good prophet should and, if he knew God at all, would condemn these traitors and sinners for what they are. And in doing so confirm what every other bible believing person does.

So it is important to remember that God is visiting and redeeming his people and that Jesus has already told them that he has come to call sinners to God, not the righteous. Jesus has come to seek and to save that which has been lost. (Luke 19.10) To illustrate this point, Jesus tells two stories that fit this theme: one about a shepherd who has a sheep wander away and a woman who losses a coin. 

This brings me back to the idea of loss – can God lose something or someone? I think the Scriptures can answer it well, and this was one of the first pieces of Scripture that came to mind:

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand — when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139.1-18 NIV)

This tells us something about the nature of God: He allows for us to have our free will and that means that we can make choices that cause us to move away from him. Maybe someone in the church has hurt us. Maybe we think a prayer went unanswered. Maybe we haven’t be able to sense the presence of God in some time. Whatever the reason (for their may be many and varied reasons) for there being distance between you and God, ask yourself a simple question, “If God feels far away, who moved?” God constantly and consistently acts like the people in the Gospel lesson this week to search out and find those who have wandered away from him. And God searches and draws those people home – even if they leave skid marks on the ground because they dig their heals in – until he carries them in the front door and then call others in the kingdom to come and celebrate with him the return of one who is lost.

The one God brings home has to choose to surrender... that is what is powerful about the sheep around the shepherd’s neck. The shepherd draws the sheep in with this crook. The sheep gets an exam. Twigs, branches and thorns are removed from the wool. Hooves are checked and trimmed. Cuts and wounds are cleansed with wine, anointed with oil and bandaged. Then there is the walk home. Not a free ride exactly. But there is a moment for repentance, to deal with why we walked away in the first place and then he brings us home. It literally means that we are the sheep of his pasture and the people of his hand.

And you might be wondering in this about the flock that got left? They have not moved. They have had the protection of God. They have been doing their thing as they have always done. The Shepherd and the found sheep will come back because shepherds and sheep don’t live in houses.

We have gotten lost. We have gotten sick and injured. And Christ found us. He healed us and made us whole and is bring us home to the Father so that there can be celebration. I know too many Christians who think that God is using a computer to keep track of all the wrongs, mistakes and sins of their lives. We might even be angry enough to say to God, “You were gone. You never really loved me. Was I ever really yours?” Remember that Jesus came to search for and find us, that we could come home to the Father and to the celebration that awaits us. Will we surrender to the Saviour? Will we be drawn home? We cannot be lost. God knows where each and all of us are and he is coming to us.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Will you chase Jesus up the hill?

This past week my family and I made the journey to Terrace for some back to school shopping.  As we make the turn to head inland from Port Edward and make our way along the Skeena River, we pass a sign that asks drivers, “Check your gas, next gas 134 km away”. It is a beautiful drive and one that I have made many times over. But each time one makes it, there is a little sign that asks you to consider whether or not you have enough fuel on board to make it to your destination. Will you make it up the hill and make it home?

The people who followed Jesus out of that house and onto the road in the Gospel (Luke 14.25-35) must have been akin to the throngs that welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday. And as he had challenged the Pharisees and the lawyers of the Law inside now he challenges those who go with him towards the city, calling on them to seriously and carefully consider whether or not they can make this journey. It is as if Jesus asks the people who are following him, “Why do you choose to follow me? You need to go home, sit down and figure out if you can do this, then come follow me.”  This reminds me of the song, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him I freely give...”

And this is important I think: Jesus is not advocating hating family, friends, possessions and even your own life. Jesus is asking for people to be utterly committed to him and to the kingdom. It is a divine demand to choose to make Jesus the centre of your life and thus the reason for which we do things. Our choices and our actions must be guided by Christ and his actions, so much so that it is part of our own person and our own nature. All the things that we have in our lives must be come subservient to what Christ wants and what Christ would have us do. Remember that serving God is perfect freedom.

So we, each of us and all of us have a choice to make: Will we bear our cross today? And please understand that this is not just accepting an idea that we need to bear with Christ, come what may. It is not an ideal that we must strive to in daily life. We must pick up the pain, the suffering, our individual crosses and walk with Christ or of necessary, chase him up the hill, dragging our crosses along. We do this not just as individuals but as a community. The implication of not doing this is simple: if we cannot let go, then we will not follow. We cannot be followers of Christ and do so on our own terms. There will be too many entanglements that will keep us from being faithful followers and will at some point cause us to reject the invitation.

Into all of this, is the issue of the follower and of the community of Christ keeping their saltiness. Keeping salt in one’s life makes a person wise. Becoming insipid make one foolish and impure. Therefore we are encouraged to guard our salty nature and stay salty. Salt in the ancient world had impurities which made it susceptible to becoming insipid. The picture that Jesus draws is that those who don’t protect their salt become insipid. Thus like the salt that has been allowed to be taken over by its impurities, it becomes worthless – not able to fertilize the field, not able to help the manure pile and so it is simply cast out as useless and irrelevant.

How does this apply to us? Consider well, the words of Jesus to the Church at Laodicea in Revelation:  
To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3.13-22 NIV)

So we are to count the costs so that we can finish the work that we have started and we are to guard our saltiness so that we remain wise in the ways in which we walk and serve. And at the same time we need to take care that we do not confuse position or choices with mission, for when we do, we loose both.

We are we ready to have friends in low places? Are we ready to deny ourselves and take up our crosses with Christ and follow him up the hill? Are we at least ready to heat up or cool off? God calls his people to the hardest places and spaces on the battlefield. We are all on temporary assignment. Where we were a year ago is not where we are now and where we are now is not where we will be a year from now. We will be called away from high positions at tables from parties and celebrations. We will be called from the hospitals, the battlefields and other places of pain, suffering and death. Count the cost, check your fuel because home, it is still a hike from here.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Guess who is coming to Dinner?

I wonder, if when Jesus accepted the invite to dinner at this prominent Pharisee’s house (Luke 14.1-14), if that man went home and said to his wife, “Dear, you’ll never guess who’s coming to dinner!” So when the time came and the guests arrived including Jesus at the appointed hour, everything including the trap. And by trap, I mean the one man they had invited that would never get an invitation otherwise. The trap was a man with dropsy. The Pharisees and the Scribes were looking for something that they could use against Jesus as a charge so that they could silence him. But then something else happened, something that they did not expect. These men were also being watched; being watch by Jesus.

So before dinner was served, Jesus, knowing that he was being watched started the confrontation with a question and therefore a challenge: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” In doing so, he anticipates the objections of those who are trying to ensnare him. His potential accusers remain quiet, perhaps because after last week they learned that to try and accuse him of anything immediately would bring about refutation and shame of their position.

Jesus does then, what Jesus does – he heals the man with dropsy. Still the religious men say nothing.

As they moved into the meal, Jesus recognized how these men were choosing their seats – decided who was who and who ranked higher than another. Jesus seizes the opportunity to turn this into a bit of a lesson on humbleness and humility. He challenges them not to take the place of honour but to take a lower place. By taking the lower place, you enable your host to honour you with a higher position. It causes both you and your host to be honoured – you get to move up and your host is shown to be attentive to his guests. And in doing so, your collective worth in the eyes of those around you is raised.

In fact Jesus goes so far as to suggest to his host and to the other invited guests that when you have a reception like the one they were having, it is important to include others where God is concerned. In particular, we should invite the poor, the blind, the crippled and the lame into our lives and call them friends. This is about sharing with them the good things that God has given to you. In doing so, you raise the level of honour that the people whom the world says has none and shows to God that you are aware that he is watching us. Moreover we show that we are keeping an eye on eternity and the fact that there will be another greater feast at the end of time. Where will you sit at that feast?

Move to being a faithful servant of God than being humble. One needs to act with mercy. Jesus points out to the dinner party that it is easy to invite those that are going to make you look good, give you brownie points and invite you to their house for the same purpose and reasons. If that is all you want then that is all that you shall receive and your account is paid in full. But one needs to recognize that in hosting those who can invite you back is not the kind of generosity God is looking for. Real and true generosity comes from giving to those who are without and cannot repay you for what you have done.

Think of it this way: last Sunday I was on my way to another community in the diocese to celebrate a Eucharist for the congregation because their clergy was away. I left before first light on that Sunday morning and when I came to a Tim Horton’s I stopped to get something to eat and to drink to enable the rest of the journey. When I returned to my car, there was a young couple struggling to get in car because the dogs had managed to lock the doors. Part of me just wanted to mind my own business and get on my way. After all I was on a mission from God, right?

But then I chose to take a few moments to help them out by taking my window scraper and we jimmied the door open. There was much relief and then some happiness that I had taken the time on a Sunday morning to help this couple continue their move home to another province in Canada. Why is this important and why would I mention it? Remember what the Scriptures say, ”Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13.16 NRSV). It was only a few moments to open the car door and I was on my way with my breakfast and tea but it meant the world to that young couple who were so stuck in the rain.

Take time to give and to be generous this week and remember, God is watching and rejoicing when we do. After all, we always know that Jesus will be there for dinner and he is the same: yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8).