Thursday, June 25, 2020

The life of the Ordained Disciple - The One legged cup of Tea

In living as an ordained disciple of Christ, there are lots of challenges. It is at its most challenging than when I sit the in kitchens, living rooms and other living spaces of those who follow with me. For example, I remember going to see a family who was coming for baptism. They had a little boy who was born into the family and they wanted to have him welcomed into the Church, so tht he could come and participate with the rest of the family. I remember that visit because the wife, sitting in a chair across the room from me, was visibly shaking because of my presence. It might have been because we were of different ethnicity and therefore cultures. There where differences in things like height, gender, and education. But we had two things in common – the desire to be followers of Jesus and the desire to welcome the little boy into the life of the community that was our congregation. The family through experiencing hospitality of the Church received a welcome and thus depended their faith and their commitment to the life into which Baptism drew them.

I can recall times when I have been welcomed into a home and the mid day meal has just been finished but my host haul every back out to make sure that my needs are looked after – including the rabbit that still had the head on. There would be tea, bread with jam, and cookies of all sorts. It was difficult to say no and not just because of the cooking and the baking. It was hard to say no because people were offering their hospitality to care for me and sharing their lives with me. A very deep relationship comes to be a part of the congregation as the pastor moves around and shares in this way with the people he is to care for. There is a deep and abiding mutuality in sharing your life with another, which to me is what a welcome and hospitality are all about. There needs to be more hospitality shown in the life of the Church, regardless of the doctrines and opinions that each person holds. After all, Jesus himself said, “whoever welcomes you, welcomes me. Whoever welcomes not just me but the One who sent me.”

Part and parcel of being an ordained disciple means that I work to create sacred space, a living altar if you will, where people can bring their hopes and fears, their troubles and thoughts and make them known to God. Pastoral visits can be such a thing that is long remembered by those who participate n it. Such an example is a lady, very dear to me, who was also my warden. I would often (unintentionally) be there at dinner time and a bottle of stew would be heated up for my mid day repass. The family still recalls those moments and the man of the house would blame my youngest son for getting crumbs under his own chair – even when I was there without my family. There would be lots of laughter and the occasional tear or struggle.

After learning that I was diabetic, I created this new thing that a old timer called “a one legged cup of tea”. I would ask for the mug, the tea bag, the hot water, and a spoon (the leg!). I did this to do as I suggested above, to create sacred space and time between a parishioner and myself so that I could accept their hospitality and be apart of their lives for a short time.

This sometimes makes me think that we need to make every Sunday morning a back to Church service – not just for the newcomer and for those who have been away for a while, but for those who have been here for weeks, months and years on end. We gather on Sunday around the Lord’s table for a meal and to celebrate all the good thing going on and to pray for all the things that need to be prayed for because what we pray matters. As St. Paul would point out, “We walk as yet by faith, not by sight” and thus we need to communicate with God about the things going on around about us because “We only know in part and only see in part.”

And maybe I need to point out that the Church – the missional community here on earth – is to the Divine mission, as burning is to fire. The Church is not on a mission. The Church does not have a mission, it belongs to God. The Church is mission. It exists for the express purpose of drawing into its fellowship those who do not already belong to it. We live our everyday lives in such away that the world will see and hear Christ and consider him and his kingdom. We do this, one legged cup of tea at a time.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

The life of the ordained disciple

Have you ever stopped to consider what it takes to be an ordained disciple of Christ? I ask that question of you as well as of myself, no matter what your order is.  There is a simple challenge that every ordained person has to live with every day: how will I live out the dying and rising of Jesus this day? Jesus in the Gospel (Matthew 10:24-39) calls those who would follow him to not find their life but lose it for his sake. Jesus calls for total commitment even if it means your life. There is nothing and no one more important to the disciple than the Master. And every servant is watched and there is nothing that goes unnoticed, not even when you give a cup of cold water to someone who needs it.

The life of the ordained disciple is one that is called (perhaps not unsurprisingly) to total commitment. That commitment means that there is always the potential of a cross and of death as well in the near future. The Gospels often note such a thing. After all, whatever fate befell the Master, the servant ends up waiting for it. Ministry calls for such servants to be vulnerable and left to cultivate a dependence upon God the Father on a daily basis. The disciple looks to the Father for provision and for protection. The disciple is given authority to heal the sick, exorcise evil, cleanse the leper, and raise the dead. We are called to recognize that we are to be peacemakers and not peacekeepers and that peacemaking can be a rather messy business.

Because of that, fear of the messiness if not fear of everything in general, is the biggest disabler of ministry and worship. It is a driving force in our economy. It is used by politicians to gain and hold power by making people of afraid of what could happen if they do not remain. Fear is often used to maintain the status quo. There is fear in the Church because of shrinking numbers in congregations. There is fear because there are shrinking budgets. There is less and less energy giving to seeking the least, the last and the lost and more and more concentration on self preservation and on maintaining life as it used to be.

Maybe every Sunday needs to a back to Church Sunday? It is for certain that the Christian faith lives only one generation at a time. So what are we going to do in the present to pass things along to the next generation of Christians? Let me give you an example of what I mean. When I was little, my father would sit on the edge of my bed at bedtime and teach me to pray this way: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” I would make my list of people I wanted God to bless mommy, daddy, sister, grandmas and grandpas, aunts, and uncles, and so on. I mention this because when I was older and away from home, jet lagged and all that I was late going to bed one night while visiting with my parents. As I pasted their room on my way to bed, I could hear my father beside the bed, pray the same prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep … God bless…”

It was for me as an ordained person, the beginning of the immersion of my life into the life of Christ. And while I have learned how to pray extemporaneously, What I remember most is the light and the deep sincerity of those moments of shared prayer and what it would have meant in the lives of those who were remembered.

Moreover, Christian discipleship and leadership are not about this like titles and positions, except that they announce who a person serves and who a person is meant to lead. So for example, I am a Rector and a parish priest. I serve the people of my parish. I am also a Dean and I serve and care for the clergy and people around me in the Diocese as an experienced priest and pastor, providing leadership in concert with my Bishop and fellow clergy through teaching, preaching, and proclaiming Christ. It is not about being good or saying and doing the right things to get into heaven. We proclaim good news and we do go deeds because the Light and the Truth are already in us, leading us to the life and the land that God is preparing for us. Remember that salvation is a gift to be received and not a prize to be sought and won.


Friday, June 12, 2020

On Being Disciples and Making Disciples

Have you ever considered what it is that draws people to become followers of Jesus? Was it is style of dressing? Was it his appearance? Was it his preaching and the way he lead liturgy? Was it his teaching and doctrine? What was it about Jesus that drew people to him? Maybe we need to closely consider what it is that the Gospel this week (Matthew 9.35-10.23) is saying to us in the light of everything that we have been through in the past three months and consider again what it is that God is calling us to. Remember too, that we are chosen, called, blessed, and sent just as the early apostles were. Who did Jesus send anyway? Simon called Peter, who denied him, fishermen, a tax collector, a government rebel, those who are really not all that well known and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him to death. He gave them all authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness, just has Jesus had been doing all over the North of Israel. People were coming to be relieved of evil. People were coming to be healed. People were coming to be made whole. People were coming to hear what God was saying and what God wanted of them.

And there is something that needs to be pointed out here: the message was anything but milk toast. I was taught (by a Baptist pastor) that you make them mad or make them glad that they came to church, but never bore your congregation. Jesus message was simple enough, “Repent and believe for the kingdom of heaven has come near you.” But there is a reality about the Gospel that many North American Christians miss. The Gospel has a nasty but important way of getting in the way of what people want and what people think is good and right because the Gospel is calling us to what is best in Christ. It is the struggle that Saint Paul describes in Galatians 5 where he makes it clear that those who live according to the flesh will not inherit life with the blessed and that those who live in the Spirit have crucified the flesh will all of its demands and desires so that they are no longer controlled by the flesh. This is good news for the Church because it means that the community will be empowered to overcome the obstacles that are in the way, so that those who needs to come into the fellowship of the Church will come because Christ will make his Church victorious.

We must not only be followers of the Lord Jesus, we need to also be makers of disciples, and together we baptize them and together we teach them everything that Jesus has commanded us knowing that he is one among us. Others will define how we believe out of how we live and what we teach. AND! Jesus will be with us in the going and the doing of it. He will be with us and he will participate – even to the end of the world and of time. Freely Christ has given to us all that we need. Freely we must give in return because our hands were empty, and the Father has filled them. We go and in the going we received the hospitality of those who believe the message we preach. And we go because of the eschatological urgency because there is a time and an end of grace, to invite those who would come to do so and follow us as we follow him.

We must also remember that not everyone is going to like us, appreciate our message; want to come and join us. There will be struggles. There will be opposition to us because of the message will proclaim. People will want to stop that; to silence us and “deal” with us. If that sounds scary then remember that wherever we go and whatever we do, we are the Lord’s own chosen people, his priesthood, his holy nation. That where he sends, we go and what he asks of us we will do to glorify his name and make his deeds known to the people of this earth.

What is the Spirit saying to you? What is God giving to you that you might give and serve another? You are his chosen and Christ is blessing you and sending you to where you need to be. The next step is up to you. 


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Getting turned inside out

This is normally the Sunday you let the junior member of the Clergy preach. Why? Because they will note that it is Trinity Sunday. In noting that it is Trinity Sunday they will take on the monumental task of trying (in one sermon no less!) to explain God and how God is God, being three beings and yet one God. What I have come to discover is something simple: God has revealed himself as Father, Son and Spirit and that they are indeed 3 persons, one God. As such, we need to recognize that the commission that we undertake is from God, with God and for God’s sake. We need to see how we as individuals and as a community fit into this mission and how we are chosen, called, blessed, and sent by Christ, in Christ and for Christ and his kingdom.

The Godhead works together in community to make redemption and salvation possible and available to all those who will come in the response to God’s call upon them and their lives. “For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined He also called; those He called He also justified; those He justified He also glorified. What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:29-31 ESV) 

What I believe is important in look at and considering God is not the mental math we try to wind ourselves in because we have to figure God out. Rather God wants us to God as a community of mission working out the redemption and salvation of the creation that God loves and created, that he might be with them and enjoy them forever.

The feasts of Ascension and of Pentecost (and of Easter as well) that the work of the Church is to multiply the efforts that Jesus himself was making. The Church is to reach out into the world and draw into its fellowship, those who are called and bring them in. So in a real sense, this is the day that the Church gets turned inside out so that we can work at turning the world right side up again. Maybe you think that I might have slipped there. I did not. You see, the world when it fell from its original grace into the sin with the ensuing chaos, destruction, and death, it fell like a piece of bread you have just buttered on to the floor, butter side down. God has reached down to pick us up and there is still the need to clean up the floor. That is where the Church comes in.

We are the Body of Christ and we are called to participate in the drawing of people into relationship with Christ through the life of Christ at work in all of us as the Church. As Bonhoefffer once said, ““The Church is the Church only when it exists for others... not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  Letters and Papers from Prison. And I think it needs to be said that trying to be rational, or philosophical is not going to do the job we are asked to do. We need to be a part of the revelation and the experience of living for God and with Christ through the Spirit.

In this moment, we go from being inside, in the upper room, hiding in the dark, fearful what happens next and praying we are not found out. Now we go from being in that room to be outdoors knowing and understanding that we live in perilous times and in a wound and broken Church. How do I know that? We live in a world where we see 20-25 seconds of a 9 minute video and suddenly the world is a fire for all of the injustices in the world. Have you noticed? What about the store owner or manager that called the police to come for Floyd George and the cashier that was handed a potentially fake bill? Why have they not been considered for anything? What about the person who took the 9 minute (8 minutes and 46 seconds) of video and stood there while another human being dies and no one is offended by that. How come? And lastly the wife of the police officer who immediately filed for divorce: did she do it to avoid the media glower? Did she do it to protect the property she has in case things go badly to protect the lives of their children?

Not that long ago, we remember that Good Day when Jesus died of asphyxiation. We recalled the pain, the darkness, and the suffering on that hill, not just of Jesus but of others as well. We can evoke the silence and the fear of the Saturday that leads into the joy, wonder and amazement of Easter morning. The questions remain before us though: what is our next move? We are called. We are chosen. We are blessed and we are sent. And as Archbishop Rowan Williams would point out, “The hardest place to be is where we are.” Are we staying in or getting out there?