Thursday, November 29, 2018

Hope helps us to rise

There is a line that has been running through my head as we get ready for a new liturgical year and for the seasons of Advent and Christmas: “Hope: does not weigh the heart down.” And that is an interesting thought when so much of the Gospel this week is about the end of things, judgment and so on. The Church is liturgy this time of year likes to focus on hope, joy peace and love. We do this because of how the world is these days. All we would need is a sign in the wider creation and we would know for certain that the end of things, of this life was near. But I have to doubt whether we would get ready for Jesus to come and appear to us. Would we be ready or would we be like it was the first time, where we were not so willing to make room for him?

So often I hear something like, “What is this world coming to?” we are able to put robots that drill into the planet’s surface on Mars and send astronauts to Russia and then onto the International Space Station but seem to be unable to handle so many other things. Situations like Brexit, bombings in the Middle East, the shutting down of the GM Plant in Oshawa, dealing with the economic downtown in the oil and gas industry and the loss of 120,000 jobs, or dealing with the migrants at the US-Mexican Border.  How can we think about hope when the world around us is so hopeless? How can any of the things I have just listed, become good news for us and the community around us?

It is because of what Jesus asks us to do in the Gospel (Luke 21.25-36) this week. Jesus asks us to stand up and look up so that we can concentrate on seeing him and his coming. We love to celebrate the baby in the manger but that is not the advent that we are looking for. Jesus has already come that way. He is coming again on the clouds with his angels and he is coming to judge the earth. Strong talk for an Anglican I realize, but that is what the Word teaches us.

I suspect that there are some reading this who will be fearful of that idea and that I believe that – except that Sunday by Sunday we confess that we are looking for him to come, to judge the living and the dead, physically and spiritually, in the Creed and in the Lord’s Prayer. We confess and pray that Jesus is coming again and that we are looking forward and rejoicing in his coming. Please also understand that I say this to you not because I want to throw a good and proper scare into you. I say it because I know that I shall be doubly judged – for what I have done with Christ and what I have taught you as a leader in the Church.

Standing up, looking up puts us in a good position to be able to reach up. God is already reaching out, reaching down and stretching out to you. All you need do is reach up. Looking up helps us to keep our eyes on Christ. Looking up and focusing on Christ keeps us from the temptation to think that we are God and acting like we are God. We need to stop playing like we are God. That is going to seem like and maybe even feel like death but then God is in the business of redemption and resurrection.

We rise to greet Christ and to draw him back here to be with us forever. We are in the time of preparation to make that happen. There will be joy in getting ready, peace in the waiting and love to undergird us in all that needs to happen. And hope will help us to rise.

Lift up your life and see the coming King. He comes soon. Maranatha!


Thursday, November 22, 2018

The unrecognized King

I want you to stop and consider something as you read this blog, this week: If you were to be arrested and suspected of being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence in your life to convict you? And I am not talking about the sales and the meetings and the other things you do around and in the building we call Church. What is there in your life that people could point to you and accuse you of being a Christian?

The Gospel this week (Mark 13.1-10) is for the Feast of the Reign of Christ the King. It is the focus of all that has been said and done since the Day of Pentecost and this is the end of another year in the Church’s Calendar. Next week will begin again preparing from the Feast of the Incarnation (Christmas) and the coming of the Living Word of God into our space and place.

In taking all of this in, there is a question that gets asked by Pilate in the Lesson that each and all of us get confronted with, “What is truth?”. Now please understand that I am a huge fan of the Star Wars movies. I saw my first one with my dad in May 1977. Ever since, I have always loved going to see the new one when it came out. And like every movie franchise, it has its catch phrases… like when Han Solo says, “I have a bad feeling about this.” There is another phrase from Jedi Knight Ben (Obi-wan) Kenobi and you might recognize it: “Everything things is true, from a certain point of view.” If you need a refresher or if you have never seen the movies, try this out:                             

I point this out because it is the issue that is being addressed. Pilate is struggling with what the truth about Jesus really is and what the leaders of the Jews are accusing him of. What is the truth of all of it? Is Jesus rebel scum trying to upset the political balance in his favour or is he a spiritual leader who has irritated the leadership of the Jews? What is the truth of the situation and how is Pilate to know or figure it out? As a spiritual figure, Jesus is not a threat but if he is a king, then he is a threat to Rome and its maintenance of Empire.

Thing is, Jesus is not a king like any other nor is his kingdom recognizable because of it borders. Jesus speaks to the lowly and the down trodden. He eats with outcast and sinners. He serves rather than demanding service from others. His kingdom is not built on military might or through violence. Those people who belong as citizens of his kingdom, are born from above and are powerful because they have been given power to live that life by God the Father. I spent some time watch footage of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation as the 39th Monarch of the United Kingdom.  The moment that caught my imagination was the “Recognition” when the people pay homage to the about to be coronated queen. Four times the people are asked if they will obey her and each time they resoundingly say yes.  Watch it here:

We know well of course what happens next. Jesus is denied by Rome and rejected and revived by his own. He was then taken beaten and scourged. Then he was marched outside the city walls where with two other men, was crucified and died. His throne was a cross and his crown a circle of thorns. The Good news in all that is that his death and burial are not the end of the story but the beginning. God the Father raised the Son from death and things went on from there.

So what happens when you have the truth standing in front of you? What happens when you are asked to give an account for the hope that lays within you? Would people be able to convict you as being a Christian person?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

This is not the end

I have never really been good at preaching on eschatological passages of Scripture, of which this week’s Gospel (Mark 13.1-10) is a part. What is eschatology you ask? It is the study of the end times. I know that most Anglicans tend to live and believe that the world is becoming a better place, slowly but surely. More than likely many believe that the world will slowly become a better place without help. This is something called process theology. Yet the evidence points to the contrary; that things are getting worse in this world, not better. So, it would be natural and normal for us as human beings when considering this world, ask how we will when things are going to be made better, or even perfect? And how will we know when such a thing is going to occur so that we can be ready for it?

This leads me to ask a simple question: what is expected of us as believers and follows of Jesus, in a world that is falling apart? In the last couple of weeks in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been noted and seen Turing his back on the Temple treasury and then on the temple and its system in its entirety. The Gospel places Jesus in a position of opposition against what is perceived to be the status quo.  This is a dangerous place to be because the mighty and the powerful want and need to keep the system as it is, to keep them in power and in control. So, it would be fitting to respond to the discussion between Jesus and the unnamed disciple as the disciple saying to Jesus, “This place is so great and so massive. Are we really,... we are going to fight all this?”

It has also occurred to me that when Jesus points out that no stone will be left in its spot on top of another, he also seems to be speaking of the stone on his tomb – that it too will be moved. In doing so, will render the changes that the world, that we as people have been looking for. And maybe this is a good time to point out that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus happen in the middle of a city that is in an occupied mess in a world that is in the midst of total upheaval. Jesus did not come to turn the world upside down, to bring it right side up and to turn the community of the Church, inside out. Remember too, there is no faith or trust in self reliance. That is what the faith of the nation had become – a desire to be self reliant and for the maintenance of the status.

Status seekers and those who want to maintain things are in a for a rude awaken because change and the transformation of this world and this life into what God wants it to be, is coming and we cannot stop it. We cannot make deals to prevent it. So, either we are going to have to learn to transform and to live within the will of God, or we are going to have face the chaos. Our faith cannot shield us from the chaos, the pain and the panic that comes from change, but it can guide us through it. Changes are coming to all of us which are going to upset and disrupt our status quo. There is no doubt about that. What is left to us is how we are going to navigate what happens and who we are focused on. Such times are going to force us to either live the courage of our convictions or we are going to have to capitulate to the flow of our society into whatever they believe will make us better.

Maybe that is why I am encouraged to hear Jesus say that these things that we are going through are the beginning of the birth pangs. Or more importantly, this is the beginning not the end. Wars and massive destruction are not what we are looking for, but we recognize that we are going somewhere. Yes, there is pain and suffering in the journeying. Mistakes and misjudgments will be made. We will get distracted and off track and need to be drawn back to the narrow path. What is expected of us is to be who we are in Christ – no more and no less either. And at the end of it all, there will be a new creation that will have new life. With that life there will be a celebration, a feast, the likes of which the earth and heaven have never seen but will rejoice in all the more.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

For all the souls, through thick and thin

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the guns fell silent, signalling the end of what has become known as “The Great War” or “The War to end all wars”. I have been privileged to have known and served with a number of people in a variety of uniforms over the years. People like my maternal grandfather who fought in World War II with Canada’s Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and with Lord Hugh Connaught’s Battalion. As I understand it, he was with the Canadians in Scilly and Italy as well as in England where he taught others to drive various machines. My grandfather told me that his main duties were to go and get vehicles of different kinds off the battlefields and bring them in so that the machines could be repaired and used again. I remember vividly our last Remembrance Day together in 1987; just a short time before he died.

He told me that as bad as the sights were, what was worse for him was the smells of things that would invoke memories. Crossing battlefields and doing your job to keep people moving, to keep winning battles no matter what, there are things: sights, sounds, smells that always stay with you. He served in the Canadian Forces from 1940-45. And though he never said it, life when he came home was forever changed and forever different because of what he went through and what he remembered of those years.

In ministry, I have also had to bury members of the Canadian Forces and help to bury members of the RCMP. Boys (and yes, I mean boys) like Private Steven Maynard and Private Justin Jones. Steven died in a car accident on a Manitoba highway, trying to keep a friend from running into a problem. Justin died with two other members of his unit on a road way in Afghanistan when their armoured vehicle set off an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). And there is Corporal Jason Derry of the RCMP who died suddenly at the Detachment in the community where we lived. He was a neighbour and used to delight our younger son with a flash of the lights and a blip of the siren when he would pass the house in his work vehicle.

It was hard at first, to understand what all this has to do with this week’s Gospel (John 6.35-40) and to connect it with Remembrance Day and the memories that such a day invokes. If there are somethings that these and others have taught me, here is some what I have learned from what they taught me:

·        One cannot fully and truly live, until one learns to go and in the going, unselfishly give.
·      In order for one to know peace, one first needs to receive the grace that only God Almighty can give; without it there can never be peace.
·       Until we are peace filled people, this will not be a peaceful world.
·       That God is not an unknown factor in the equation of life but rather a well loved Father.
·   That hope comes from knowing Jesus and experiencing his resurrection – the mistakes we make don’t have to be fatal and the deaths that we die do not have to be final.
·      That the hope and therefore the life that Christ offers cannot be changed, muted, faded or worn away. Faith needs to be tested (heated) to prove itself and so that it can be found to be genuine.
·         Courage is not the lack or absence of fear, but rather the ability to act in the face of it.
·         Jesus brings divine purpose to our common life and service.
·      Whether we come home to the arms of those who love us or fall into the hands of the One who created us, we are safe and secure.

It is Jesus who gives us bread to eat and life to live, not just for the here and now, but for eternity. Jesus changed the standard and made himself our source for life. Hope for the Christian person therefore comes from being in the presence of and fed by the hand of Christ himself. Christ offers each and all of us hope and life that is spiritual, untainted by fear and mistrust, and that cannot fade away (1st Peter 1.3-9). It is kept for us by the power of God because we trust and believe in him.

Maybe that is why there are no atheists in foxholes or on turbulent airplanes. Like those who have lived and died in battle, each and all of us understand that the only place to find true peace and rest is to know Christ. It is his grace that leads us to mercy and then into peace. Once at peace, then there can be real growth.

Rest eternal grant unto these O Lord and let light perpetual shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Someone through whom the Son shines

What is a saint? Someone through whom the Son shines. Or as my father used to remind me, “In the same way, so let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good work and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5.16.

I am often drawn at this time of year, to John 11 and to the raising of Lazarus and the fall out that happens in the wake of his rising from the dead. I am drawn to it, at least in part because, as I recently shared, I was left for dead. For a time after, I had many friends call me Lazarus because I cam back when I wasn’t supposed to.

I am drawn into John 11 because of the people around Jesus who just didn’t get it – including Mary and Martha, including the Twelve – because all they needed to do was be patient and watch for what God was going to do next. I have known many people over the last 30 years who have told me that they could have been a better Christian if they could have seen Jesus. To that I point out that Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet still believe.” (John 20) We need to intentionally go looking and listening for Jesus in the places and spaces that we live and work and go to school in and play in. Saints are not just people who were faithful a long time ago and we cannot possibly live up to that, so we are not going to try to do so.

Saints are more than the people we memorialize in stain glass whose past actions define faithfulness and greatness in the kingdom, they are people through who the Light. The Son still shines – to light our path and they ways in which we need to continue to walk. And I think that it is important to know that God is still at work in those who have gone before us. Death not the end of things but only the beginning.

This calls us to open our eyes and our ears and to actively search for Christ and when we find him – to love, worship and serve him. We all know that death stinks – we’ve all been there at one time or another. In our modern culture, we like to minimize it, clean it up, fix it up dress it up but never actually deal with the realities of death and therefore of life and how we live it. Can we love the people (our families, our friends and neighbours) enough to actually love them into the kingdom by the ways in which we live for and serve Christ in them? Genuine compassion proceeds from the Father and the strength to live a compassionate life comes from the Son through the genuine power and grace that is the Spirit. Think about John 11.35 which says this, ”Jesus wept.”

Ministering to people means that we come along side of others and we share with them whatever it is that God has given to us. Doing this kind of ministry means that we are going to come alongside the people that are sick and scared, wounded and suffering, even dying, to suffer and maybe even die along side them if necessary. This is an immense privilege and duty, especially for those of us who are called to live daily in such a ministry.

If you want to see Jesus – learn to serve. Because in seeking to find and serve Christ, others will see him shine out in you – another saint through whom the Son shines.

Oh, and Happy All Hallow’s Even too!