Friday, June 30, 2017

Living in the Lord's Dominion

It is not an idea that plays well in North American society, but as Christians, we are not our own. If we be followers of the Lord Jesus, then there are some things that we need to acknowledge and do something about. For example, we are living in the Lord’s Dominion. We do not often acknowledge this but when Canada became a confederation of provinces and territories in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, the country was known to be a dominion of the Crown.  We were called Canada from the Huron-Iroquois word “Kanata” for village. It was the preferred word for the country in Quebec until confederation in 1867, and Ontario became Upper Canada and Quebec Lower Canada. From this, the former French colony adopted the name “Quebec” because Canada fell out of favour as the British took control of large portions of North America.

While confederation talks were proceeding, they wanted to call the new country, “The Kingdom of Canada” but folks in London would not allow this because the Americans, just having emerged from a civil war and being a military power, still had grievances with the British Crown left over from the Revolutionary War in the late 18th Century. The Dominion of Canada was settled on for two reasons: (1) the term Canadian or Canadien, was used to refer to the local First Nations in their traditional territories and then was also applied to the French and later to the English as they grew in prominence and power on the contents. (2) Canada, instead of being a kingdom, was recognized as the Lord’s dominion (Psalm 72.8).  

Why the history lesson, aside from the fact that we are celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of this confederacy? The question of how we live in the Lord’s dominion is important if we are truly his followers. The Gospel today (John 15.12-17) reminds us of how we are to live, towards God and towards each other. We are reminded that we are his: his choice, his call, his fruit and his body. We are called to go and proclaim the same kingdom that Christ does and demonstrate it with the same power and wonder that he does. We are to be a community that is bound by the same love that he has for us.

That means that we are called to learn to love him and each as he has loved us. In order to be able to love like that, we need to see and experience that love from Christ himself. Each and all of us need to learn to love the other, by learning to receive the love Christ has for each and for all of us, Until we do we cannot do what he asks. So we need the presence of the Spirit to know Christ and his love. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit – which is more than a onetime event that happens in a lifetime, like confirmation and ordination. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means that we have had that event and that we continue to live out that event and persist in being filled so that we can proclaim Christ and his dominion every day.

Moreover, we are called to go first and minister and then come and pray, so that we will pray rightly. I can think of no more powerful and harsher experience that trying to ministry in one’s one strength, wisdom and power. Learning that we are not all sufficient, in and of ourselves, is important int he long run of proclaiming the Lord’s dominion. When we know what the needs are, then we can pray properly, with earnestness and with compassion. In order to pray for those kinds of needs, we need to comprehend and know what is on the line. And we can fervently pray, “Fill me up, Lord, cause I leak.”

What counts in living in the Lord’s dominion? That we express ourselves, our faith, in loving our neighbours as ourselves, even if that means that we give our lives so that another might live. As the Master himself said, “No greater love has anyone than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus did more than talk a good game like an armchair athlete. He lives a great life so that we might live it with him. We are called to follow in his footprints and see that the nails prints are our own. Our mission is to live out the dyings and risings of Christ on a daily basis and for all of us to become just like him.

We are not our own, we are chosen and we are commanded to bear fruit that will last, not just for this life, but for the life that is to come in the Lord’s dominion as well.


Friday, June 23, 2017

We are called to be Giihii

The Gospel this week is about the Christ life and the things we are going to face in it, as we live out the Great Commission (Matthew 10.24-39). Jesus gives those whom he is send out (the Twelve) instructions on how they are going to carry out his mission. He had given them power and authority to learn and teach, to serve and to lead. It is another four fold pattern of living the Christian life, just like the four fold pattern of the liturgy (take, bless, break and give). The mission was simple: make people aware of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven and make them ready for its coming. They need to tell people the truth and to help them get ready for the reality of the kingdom and its impact on us.

As I say that, I reflect on the fact that when I was in Yukon Diocese, I was called “giihii” in Gwitchen or in English, “man who speaks the Truth (Gospel)”. Eventually, as the people of the Northern part of the Diocese got to know me and how I walked as a Christian, I was called “giihii-inzi” or “the kindly one who speaks the Gospel/truth” The first person to call me that was an elderly woman by the name of Ellen Bruce.  I came to discover more recently that Ellen was the first of the First Nations woman in Canada to be ordained to be ordained an Anglican priest.

I asked her if I could call her grandmother since I needed someone to keep me in line and disciplined, since we lived so far away from our families and from all that was familiar to us. She agreed that this was okay with a bit of a smile on her face.  She did keep me in line, but did it with lots of humour and grace over the years that I was privileged to serve in the Yukon.

In some sense it was like the Gospel pattern laid down for us in the Gospel: a master and an apprentice. A teacher and a leaner. Ellen taught me about the realities of the land I was living in and how to relate to people so I that could be effective in my living as a giihii amongst the peoples of the North. People in that part of the world will not listen to what you preach until they see how you walk. They find it necessary to see the interior of your life and to consider it, as to whether or not it is truth and therefore whether or not you are worth following. It is important because the Faith needs to be caught and to be passed onto the next generation. We have a message that is both life and life giving for us and for the world. People need to see that.

This is also the way that we can see and reproduce in the lives of others, the life of Christ. People need to be able to see that we can die and rise in Christ, daily if necessary. Every teacher needs to have an impact on a student’s life. Without it, the lessons are probably not learned and the Christian faith is not propagated. I say that also have looked at the pictures from a former diocese, where I served for a number of years and the fact that I have had a hand in teaching many of those new deacons in the pictures about the Christian life and now God has called them to serve as ordained people. God did that, and I helped. There were many people that these freshly ordained people have encountered over the years who have served to help the new deacons to be ready for the tasks that lay ahead. They have been and will continued to be apprentice by priests, the Archbishop and the Bishop elect. What matters is the devotion to God, to the community and to the message.

I have given the last six years of my life, my family’s life and of my ministry to the congregation I serve. It has been a gift that has been freely given. Soon, it will be time to move on because the Great Commission requires it of me. At the same time, I believe that as you pray, God is working on drawing a new Master for you to apprentice under for we are reminded by the Scriptures,

“Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him.  Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.” – Numbers 27.16-23

Ministry belongs to the community and the community belongs to Christ. Authority over ministry is given to a few, who are chosen from the community. This is God’s Church and God will lead us all through.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Carrying on with the Great Commission

This week’s Gospel (Matthew 9.35-10.23) has some important things for me and for the people I serve to keep in mind as we move forward into change about carrying out and carrying on with the Great Commission.  

First, we are reminded of the itinerant nature of Christian ministry. Jesus went through all the towns and villages, preaching, teaching the Good News, healing every sick person and driving out every demon and evil. One of the things about this lesson is that it reminds us of the amount of work that needs to be done. It is more than one person can handle. Ministry is not just about one person and what that person can do for God (ie. the Minister). Ministry belongs to the community and what the Church can do about it. Jesus called the Twelve by name, and gave them power and authority for ministry. Jesus saw them for who they were and he called them to the work of the kingdom and to share in his labours.

The Gospel reminds us secondly, that we need to do things the way that the Master asks for them to be done. We need to go to the people we are sent to and we must move swiftly because we carry a message that is important – a matter of life and death. The message of the kingdom is of first importance and must be treated as such. Beyond money, loyalty, friendship, the mission to draw people into the kingdom is of utter import. The Church exists to continue the work that Jesus began to redeem humanity and bring them home to God.

We need to keep in mind that in calling people to faith, that faith is more than an intellectual assent to a set of doctrines and precepts, of holding to a particular set of morals and values. Faith is a verb, an action.  It is an ongoing commitment to a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Saviour and with the missional community that is the Church. Following Jesus into mission and ministry means learning to abide with both him and the others that he has called into ministry. Failing to do that, not working with God and with each other, not testing and examining our faith leads to problems, ruination and the downfall of the local community and ministry.

Even the old devil is capable of saying that there is a God – and he shudders and the thought of God. The devil is capable of having all the right doctrine and all the right words, knows scripture but is not committed to the Master nor the mission that we are called to come and join in. We are called to come and believe into a life with God and those whom God has called to be our family.

In the days since my resignation from my current parish was announced, people have been asking me, “What about us? What is going to happen to us now that you are leaving?” We are asked by Jesus to pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers to be sent into the fields. There is a need for a new priest and I believe that if God can call me, he will call another faithful pastor for this flock in his time. As I have recently been reminded by Scripture, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name: you are mine.” (Isaiah 43.1) This is true of all who have been saved by Christ and is doubly true of those of us who are called to the leadership of the Church.

God in his own time and way will call a new shepherd for this people. I believe that! God will not leave this people abandoned, because it is promised in Scripture, “that the congregation of the Lord may not be as a sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27.17) The welfare of this city is dependent on the life of the Church in its midst and God will not leave and abandon his own. He chose us, we did not chose him. God chose us and appointed us to go and in the going to bear fruit that will last. This means that as we are faithful, as we seek, see and serve God in Christ through the Spirit, the demands and needs of the ministry will be met so that people’s lives will be transformed starting with our own. Through it all the kingdom glorified and extended.

In the meantime, we need to recognize that there are people who need to be prayed with and for healing and other matters. There are people who are going to need to raised up, even from death. There are people who need to hear the Good News and to be taught how to follow Jesus. There are people who are going to need you to set them free from the devil and evil. Ministry can be, and often is dangerous work. But remember who you are with – even in the valley of the shadow of death, his rod and his staff is there for comfort and for defense. We will not be abandoned. He has called us by name and we are his. Thanks be to God for that!


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Our Great Common Mission

This is the Sunday that any wise Rector of a parish allows the Curate Assistant to preach, so I have heard. It is Trinity Sunday. Our Gospel is one I love to preach on (Matthew 28.16-20). Most inexperienced preachers will try to tackle the Doctrine of the Trinity and explain it through linguistic gymnastics and mental math or try to explain it away in a similar fashion. What is important is that we use this particular piece of theology to try and describe in human terms what is both divine and indescribable. Such thinking and such language allow for us to imagine what God might be like in his entirety, to anticipate him and celebrate the fullness, the wholeness and the unity of God in mission.

God is in mission in this world and he has created a community called the Church to come alongside him and participate in his mission. In the 1940’s, William Temple, then Archbishop of Canterbury, noted that “The Church exists for the sole purpose of bringing into its fellowship, those who do not already belong to it.” In essence, the Church seeks God out in the world, sees what God is doing and then tell the world all about it so that they will repent believe and receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and learn to serve him as King in the fellowship of his body, the Church” (Primates’ Meeting, Cyprus, 1989).

We see all through the Matthean Gospel, the theme of God: Father, Son and Spirit, active in the mission in different ways. Jesus’ baptism is a prime example. The Father announces his Son to the world and the Spirit descends upon the Son, to overflowing so that others could be blessed, healed and cured. The Godhead in all of the fullness that is possessed, leads into mission. God moves into places and spaces to draw people into himself and into his kingdom. As people, we experience and know God as one and as three. God has revealed himself as such to us. And just as importantly, we are called to follow God into those places and spaces where he already has been and is, that we might call people to repentance and faith in God and thus sign the presence of the kingdom.

I recently was in a church where there was a private meal going on in the parish hall. A gentleman of meager means appeared in the doorway hoping that he might be able to avail himself of some food. He was told that this was a private function but that he could come in and eat. He was ushered to his seat. Others got a meal together while another poured a cup of coffee. Yet another brought him as dessert while some others began to clear away the dishes and wash up. He quickly devoured his repas with gusto. When he was finished, he motioned to me and I went over to him. He asked for me to bless him, me being a priest and all. I hesitated for a moment because I had rules running through my head but then chose to do as he asked. I prayed the familiar words of the blessing of Numbers 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Num. 6.24-26)

Maybe that man was sent by God to show that Church and I who we are to each other. Maybe we entertained and angel or maybe even Christ himself. We will not know this side of heaven and this side of life what that kindness, that blessing did in that man’s life. What is important is that we sought God, saw him in another person and chose to serve him in Christ’s name. Surely the reward for such service will be in seeing Jesus in one another so that we might continue to seek, to see and to see him in action.

We can spend time considering the nature of God or we can see the nature of God in serve with God in his mission to the world. It is not logical. It is not about sound philosophy or the solution of a mathematical equation. It is about a God who is in mission to a world in need through a church in love. Will you not come and join with God in reaching out to this city and to the world? It is our great, common mission.