Thursday, July 13, 2017

Send us out in the power of your Spirit, Lord

was reminded after the most recent Sunday when children were baptised, that some of the earliest words that we learn to say as human beings are “Hello” and “Goodbye” and there variations, like “hi” and “bye-bye”. In the past few days, my family and I have being saying a lot of the latter, after several years in the community, to people we have know and served with over those years.

It has caused me to reflect on some of the things that Bishop Anderson said in his sermon at my induction and installation in October, 2011, as we said hello to each other. In particular, he pointed out that you had spent time praying for a parish priest. Pointing at me, he said, “There he sits. What’s next?” Bishop William went on to talk about the role of a parish priest in the parish and for the necessity of everyone working together for the common good. He also pointed out that having a parish priest is a gift – having been given by God to the community for a time, however long or short.

In recent days, I have heard expressions like, “There he goes, so what about us?” There has been a lot of what I would describe as low level panic as I encounter people from various churches in the city who are genuinely grieving the departure of their clergy, most are leaving because it is time to retire. Others are leaving for family reasons and yet others are leaving because of what God is doing in them and they are needed in another place and space within his dominion. Plus, as a diocese, there is the electoral synod that will take place in October to elect the new bishop. This event will have to dovetail with the path you will walk to draw in a new Rector. I say this to remind you of a promise that was made concerning God’s people as there was transition from Moses to the new leadership under a new leader. The new leader was Joshua. The promise is recorded this way in Numbers 27:

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.” (Num.27.16-23)

You are not left alone – you are in the care of God, as you and I have always been.

Something important that needs to be sought is what the Scriptures have to say to us this morning. In this moment and if you are like me, there are lots of feelings running around inside. There is encouragement from the Scriptures to remember that the Spirit is here, in the midst of what we are feeling, ready to help deal with the fear, the sorrow, the pain of going on and ot parting. The Spirit aids believers in suffering. The Spirit helps in prayer and groans to communicate well beyond words inexpressible. It is the kind of thing that you see in Jesus in the Gospels, when Jesus is deeply moved; deeply moved from the guts.  The Spirit shares with us and prays for us within the will of God, that God’s will would be done in each of us and in all of us.

To the question, “what about us?” it is time to pray again for the renewal of the ministry of this parish and this diocese. There is a path to be walked that will draw in a bishop elect and a new rector. I will be with you in that. And I remind you of what the Scriptures say, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4) We have been blessed over the past six years, and some of blessings have had strange names. We have come a fair distance in the past several years. We have been enabled to do a number of things by God; one or two of them have been spectacular.

If there is a piece of counsel I would offer in this moment, it would be this: be careful what you pray for, you might just get it. As I have reflected on my coming to you, there were lots of worries about this ministry or that class or that service within the congregation. Congregations often seek ministers who will do their bidding and try to this make this parish great again. They might eventry to take you back to a time when things were better or at least less difficult. I would call on you to consider carefully what kind of person you need to come alongside you to enable ministry. No priest no matter how good that person is or how gifted that person might be is going to be able to “save” you – that job has been taken. So it is important for you to look for a priest who will love you and care for you and show you how to do that for each other. Look for someone who will build you up and raise up the level of community in this place – without which there is no reason for this beautiful building to stand.

As for the Gospel, I like the idea that the kingdom is like a net. A net is like a box of chocolates, you just never know what you are going to get. The net does not worry about what (or who in the case of the kingdom) is being drawn in. It draws in all that it touches. The sorting out (the judgement) will happen when the time is right. God continues to draw you together. You are not the same people that you were six years ago. You are not the same congregation I came to six years ago. God has been calling us and drawing us to himself. He has been teaching us and helping us to grow, building us into the Church that he wants us to be. So I encourage you to be ready to be surprised by God and the things that God is going to continue to do in your midst. 

Part of that grow is to be taken, blessed, broken and sent. When we dismiss this morning we will sing these words:
Send us out in the power of your Spirit, Lord,
May our lives bring Jesus to the world!
May each thought and word, bring glory to your name.
Send us out in your Spirit, Lord, we pray. - Ruth Fazal.

Today, God will take us, bless us, break us and send us on our way. And though we are bound by Christ and though we may be a part for a time, we will be together again,  and next time, forever.


And God is responsible for the result

This week’s Gospel is a turning point in the ministry of Jesus and the movement towards the City of Jerusalem and to the cross. This is the third speech of the five speeches that Jesus makes in Matthew showing him to be the new Moses. (Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23). Often called the Parable of the Sower, I would think of it more like the parable of the soil and the seed. The Parable is a part of a “Day of Parables that Jesus speaks to the people as he shifts his focus from teaching everyone who comes to concentrating on those who he has called, namely the Twelve.

Parables are important because they teach us about God, what God is like and what God does and maybe what God does not do. In the case of the Gospel this week, one might think God to be a bit of a careless farmer, not watching where he is putting the seed. Broadcasting seed, like ministry, is an art not a science. The modern world likes its best seed in the best ground for the best yield. And yet, for all the technology that we can devise there are things about farming that still remind us of our dependence upon God for the good crops, the good yields of fruit, vegetables, seeds for the next year’s harvest which leads to the food that is to come from them next year.

It is a reminder that God loves to be there to be the good provider for his children. I can understand that as a husband and a father, as a son and a brother, as an uncle, and as a priest because I take pride in looking after my family and my congregation. Ministry and farming have a lot in common. It is more than hard work, though it is that. It is an art. Farmers practice their art and clergy practice ministry. Doctors and nurses practice medicine. Mechanics diagnose problems and fix cars based on training and experience, not just what the computers can tell them. Carpenters, welders, fishermen all have knowledge and experience that they draw on. People in their various professions look to provide for their family, their community and themselves. It is a good and even godly thing.

The thing about practicing an art is not a like proofing in science, with demonstrative, repetitive and similar outcomes every time. What works in one place may not, or even will not work in another place, thought the conditions are similar. The good news this week is that the word and the kingdom, when they are planted and watered, grow often despite the conditions in which they are planted. The word and the kingdom can grow but the soil, the people in which they grow, need preparation. As the Scriptures say, What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1st Corinthians 3.5-9) The message grows where it is planted and it needs cultivation if it is to grow the way it needs to. Thrones need to be removed, rocks need to be picked, fields need irrigation and to be harvested at the right time.

When it comes to preaching the gospel, life is no different. I minister in a society that has become tone deaf to the Gospel and what it means because they have been deafened by the noise of the world and the teaching and preaching of an easy gospel of cheap grace. This has led to the Church in North America to being shallow and its members weak. The Church has been blinded by its own idolatries. The Church has forgotten what the Scriptures say, “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (2nd Chronicles 7: 12b-15).

There is a need in the life of those who witness and preach, to keep short accounts where both God and neighbour are concerned. This is why I have said to parishioners from time to time, “I am not here to be popular, I’m here to serve. If I am popular, that is helpful but being popular is not essential.” I have also said, “I am the most talked about man in town and not all of it is good.” It is essential that we offer and share with those around us the truth about what God has done and is doing. We need to make sure that we talk about today and about that Day – St. Paul’s two day calendar – it was all he ever needed. We need to be ready to explain ourselves and give reason for the hope that is within us. God will draw people from every walk of life as we are faithful o participate with him in the drawing. Heaven is more than a haven from life’s destruction and disasters great and small. It is more than the absence of evil. The coming of the kingdom is an opportunity to have mercy and show grace to enable people’s lives to transform towards what God is calling them to be.

Evangelism, that is the drawing people into the kingdom and into the Church, is a process and God himself, is responsible for the result. We are God’s field, God’s planting and he will enable us to bear his fruit, his crop to his glory. Now let’s get to work.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Of beginnings and endings

Hi there faithful readers,

I wanted to take a moment and let everyone know that I will not be writing for a bit after July 23rd. This is due to changes in my life and ministry. As soon as I can - by mid August is the plan I will pick up again and continue on with this blog.

I want to also say a thank you to many of you who have communicated that you are reading this blog and want it to continue. For those who are lay ministers/readers whoa re using this as a help in preparing to preach, there is almost 10 years of blogs to draw on now. Just type in key words into the search engine and you should be able to find everything you need.

To my Church families in Seal Cove Parish and here at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Prince Rupert, I want to say thank you for your encouragement to write and to share in sacred ministry.

To my new Church family at St. James' Cathedral, Peace River, AB, God willing I will see you all again soon!


Being double yoked with Christ

When you look around this city and at its people, what do you see? When you look at this congregation, what do you see? Can you see them as children of God? Can you see how and why God is coming near them?  The Gospel this week (Matthew 11.16-19,25-30) helps to shift the focus from the preachers, John (the Baptist) and Jesus (of Nazareth) to those who are responding and not responding to the message that is being preached concerning the presence and the coming of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus uses a parable to point out the differences between the preachers (John and Jesus) and those who active oppose the message and the things that the preachers are teachings. John came to play the “Funeral Game” – he sang a dirge and the religious people refused to mourn their sins and repent of them.  Jesus came to them, eating and drinking with outcasts and public sinners. They labeled Jesus a glutton and a drunk because the Messiah would be about the things that the religious people cared about and achieve the political goals to usher in the neo-Davidic period where Israel is totally free.

The thing that most folks don’t seem to understand about Jesus, is that he ushers in a new life with a new way of living that does necessarily or always conform to the social thinking and norms of the religious and political elite – we just like to think God thinks like us. The things, the miracles and acts of grace and kindness that have been done by Jesus in his Father’s name, point to who he really is: the Messiah, the Christ. We know who he is by what he does, not just about the declared goals and objects of a few people in power. Christ’s presence among the people means that there is a new way of living that is different and is life giving because it is lived in friendship with God.

Most people in this city and maybe even in this congregation want to believe that they are in control and that they are capable of saying to God, “You’re not the boss of me! You cannot tell me what to do”. It might help to remind ourselves that being heralds of the Gospel in this poet enlightened society is not an easy thing. People are more interested in what they can get out of something so long as it cost them as little as possible than in actually committing to something or someone beyond themselves because it is scary and they could get hurt. It has not changed that we, as communicators of the Good News still have to earn the opportunity to be heard before we will be heard by others.

What gets us through this? Notice what Jesus calls God? Father, right? Father and Lord of heaven and Earth. God is always God and Jesus submits himself to the Father. The difference come with the changes in the relationship that there are with and within Christ: Father with the Son and Christ with his Church. Because there are these relationships, there are two things above all else that we possess because of these relationships: Intimacy and authority.

God the “Father” or in Greek, “Abba”, is all that for Jesus and for us. We have the Daddy-Father. He loves us and he sent Jesus we might know him and have life in is kingdom with him. We are the Daddy-Father’s children just as Jesus is the Son of the Father. We are adopted into the family. This gives us the love and intimacy that we need in order to know what genuine love is and then to be able to share that love with others.

We also have authority to do ministry because we have been given it by Christ who receive all power and authority in heaven and on earth from the Father (Mt.28.16-20). We are competent to minister because we have been and are with Christ in his world in the world. We are competent not because of degrees and knowledge, or because people think we are. As we abide in Christ we are competent to minister with him and for him. Through us, Christ is building his Church and drawing people into the new life and the new creation.

That’s why Jesus came to us and played the “Wedding Game”. But the people he called, many would not come and dance and play. The religious could not, would rejoice in everything that was going on – that the poor and the needy were coming into the kingdom. Instead, the religious and the politically minded attack the personal character of the preacher without addressing the message.

Interestingly enough, Jesus has a surprise response to the ‘haters’: in that hour, he rejoices and he gives thanks to God, praising and confessing the greatness of God in making himself known to ‘simple and insignificant’ and ‘unenlightened’ people instead of the rich, the wise and the powerful. This is why even in this day and age, there the Church still struggles in actively proclaiming Christ to contemporary people. The Church has always struggled to reach out and to make Christ known, no matter what the date is. Yet those who have been with Jesus are recognized as such are participating in what Christ is still doing. They are ministering in the presence of Christ to the people who, in whatever estate we find them, the children of God.

I was asked recently who was responsible for reconciliation ministry in this parish. Answer: we all are! We’re all ministers of the Gospel and we are all ministers of the covenant (treaty) that we have with God. We are all ll children of the Father and the Lord of heaven and earth. Each and all of us are responsible for participating in making each other and other people whole again. Therefore we must first be reconciled to God and to each other so that we can go with Christ and work to see others reconciled to the kingdom, even when it is hard and the people are being all negative.  We are called of Christ to come and be refreshed by him, again and again in order that we would go and comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that they too might come to Christ.

We are double yoked with Christ, so that we can learn and work because the burden is easy and light. So what does the city and the world see when they look at us? Do they see people who care and are reaching out in love for them and out of compassion for what we see? Or do they see people more worried about the future and hoping they can return to the good old days to escape what’s next? It is a challenge that we must face and live thought it.