Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Superman or Saviour?

When I was a child back in the 1970’s there was still on television the original Superman series. Superman was played by an actor named George Reeves. I loved to what those shows and laugh at the folks who knew Clark Kent and knew Superman but never seemed to put it together that they were one in the same person. People loved the fact that Superman would fly in, crash into a situation, and save the day and fly away again and then write all about it in the Daily Planet. No one every questioned him as to why he would do it. No one held him accountable for the damage and destruction that he cause and why? It’s a bird. It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman! It has occurred to me that people of authority don’t have to tell other people that they are people of authority. For Superman, it was easy as the big “S” on his chest – you know, the symbol that stands for hope? If he had a bat silhouette on his chest, then we would know him to be Batman. If he had a swimsuit and scales, more than likely he is Aquaman. For Jesus in the gospel there was a triumphant entry where many cheered and cried out things like, “Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” He came on a donkey proclaiming peace and claiming his kingship. But there was no epic contest with the archvillain being locked up or otherwise incapacitated. There was a death and a resurrection and there was a freeing of prisoners. And all that with out a cape or superpowers to make it happen. It is true that actions speak louder than words. It is also true that the words and authority we pay attention to also gives them power and legitimacy. That us why I think Jesus asked them to answer his question first. He knew that they believed in their own authority. He understood that they believed they had authority. It was tenuous though because it depended on others. The High Priests (Annas and Caiaphas) and the Elders did not accept John’s call to repentance and change. They rejected it. And at the same time they did not want the people to know this because the people would become angry with them. The leaders would lose a lot more than control if they denied John as a prophet. Hence, they said they did not know and so are no better of at the end of this confrontation. Then Jesus tells them a parable that must have enraged them about two brothers – like any of the brothers of old – Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David, and his brothers, even Moses and Aaron. One is asked if he will go and work in the Father’s vineyard. He tells his father he will not but then goes later and does as his father asked of him. The other brother tells his father he will do as he askes but never makes a move towards the vineyard. The upsetting part is that the less observant folks, the prostitutes, the beggars, the impure and the imperfect are going on ahead into the kingdom of God ahead of the religiously pious and those who love their own power and authority. This series of disagreements are key to what is going to happen to Jesus. The leaders cannot defeat Jesus verbally and so they will resort to action which means betrayal and handing him over to the Roman Government which leads to his execution on the cross. Superman has died. More than once. Jesus only once. And Jesus is raised from the dead, no more to die. The difference between Superman and the Saviour? One can save you in the moment of distress. Such a rescue can be praised. The other can make you new and ready for the life that is to come as you follow him into the kingdom and that is utterly worth a heavenly celebration. Jason+

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Watch what you are building

At an incredibly early hour this morning, my family and I were awakened by someone trying to beat down the kitchen door. I quickly got dressed and rushed down to the door to find out what was going on. Flashlights were being aimed at the door. Oddly, I felt some relief. I flicked on the front door light and was greeted by two rather tall RCMP Constables! I asked if I could help them. They wanted to know if I had called 911, they were searching for a person who had called. His name was Vince and he was in trouble. Everyone in the house had be identified so that the Constables could continue their search elsewhere. The RCMP left. I turned out the lights and followed my family back upstairs. As I tried to get back to sleep, I could help but think of a simple question: “what kind of world are we building?” There is so much for people to be afraid of: sickness and disease, unemployment, homelessness, addictions, mental disease, climate change, political scandals and our leaders lacking ethics. Oh and there is the present threat of coronavirus and death is several ways. We all at points in our lives, wish for life to become some sort of utopian state where we do not have to lock our doors at night. We want a world where everything is good and nothing disturbs us, especially late at night when we are in bed. This brings me to our Gospel for the week (Matthew 20:1-16). The workers who worked all day thought that the Vineyard owner was been unfair in not only paying a day’s wages but even more so in paying those who have worked all day done much of the heavy lifting and had to do it is the heat which is stressful, the same amount. It seemed unfair to those who had worked hard. Only thing is, they got what they agreed to. A day’s wages. It is what people who work at their religion want to get paid. God honours that desire. He pays them. And then people feel unfulfilled, and even cheated though they receive what they agreed to work for. They do not recognize that we are in a struggle against omnipresent death. So long as they have and receive the world is an okay place. Moreover, people these days, seem to think that God is like a Santa. We give him a list and he suppose to put whatever it is we want out there so that we can be happy. Worship is meant to help us remove our idols. Prayer is meant to so that our hearts, our minds and thus our lives align with the Spirit and the will of God. Even within the Church there are going to disappointments and consternation over who has what. It has often been that way in the life of the Church as much of the epistles attest to. Do we as a community of faith recognize that we are in God’s vineyard? Do we recognize that the work we do is his, to build a better community? It is time to get out there and work with and for Christ,because beloved, it is getting dark out there again! Jason+

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Freely you have received, freely give.

Why is it in this day and age, that people are unable to be merciful but, want mercy when they are in trouble? Why do people want to be rescued if they are in charge of their lives and they get to live their truth? Maybe it is because so many people have difficultly with things like sin, evil and judgement. It is things other people say, do and believe that are evil but essential we believe that we ourselves are good and therefore are not part of the problem. We are entitled to hold on to things like anger and resentment towards someone else, including God because we got hurt, we were wronged and we are going to make sure that the offender, the villain is going to get what is coming to them. So maybe our first issue is that we, even as Christians, struggle with the idea of forgiveness. The issue comes up again in terms of dealing with other Christians in the Gospel this week (Matthew 18:21-35) in the parable of the unmerciful servant. The conversation between Jesus and the Twelve continues from last week in being reminded of how to deal with someone who has offended you. Peter asks Jesus if the norm that the rabbis teach about forgiveness is to forgive the offender three times, then would Jesus agree that seven times would truly be merciful? Because after the seven time which is twice as much, you can walk away from a person and have nothing else to do with them, be they friend or even family? Jesus astonishes them with tell them, “not seven times, but 77 times.” What I believe Jesus is suggesting that there is no limit to the number of times that we should forgive a person. It is not about how many times you have to forgive another, but that you make a habit out of forgiveness for every person in your life. Our heavenly Father calls and wants you to be merciful as he is merciful to everyone, including you. This is why Jesus tells “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” to the disciples. Mercy and forgiveness must become a part of who we are and how we live. Forgiveness is like suntan lotion. You can dab it on your skin but it will not do you any good unless you rub it in so that it becomes a part of you. The Lotion can only protect when it is a part of you. Jesus tells of a servant who was called to his king’s palace and the king announced that there was going to be a settling of accounts. The servant owed an outrageous some of money 60 million denarii. One denarius was worth a day’s wages. And because he owed this much, and could not pay the some (the debt of a small country) the king directed that the servant and his family (wife and children, at least) be thrown into prison. The debt would never be paid off not even over several generations. Even so, the servant pleaded with the king to be forgiven his mismanagement and set free. The king regarded this pitiable servant and decided, through a gift of outrageous grace and mercy, to forgive the servant. He set the servant and his family free. However, the servant did not take the lesson to heart. He went and found other servants of the king who owed him money, a whole lot less money and had them thrown in jail until their debts were paid back in full. We are not told why he did this only that he did. Was it is pay back some of the debt? It is clear that very soon after he had forgotten the generosity and grace he had been shown and was a plague upon his fellow servants to make himself me secure. Servants of the king in the palace heard what this unmerciful person was doing and reported it to the king. Enraged the king had the man and family arrested and thrown in jail for the rest of their lives. Being merciful is a lot harder than needing it. There are moments when others hurt us in some fashion, and we want our pound of flesh. Christ calls on us to let go of our desire for so called justice. We are called upon to leave the hurt and the anger behind. Please understand, forgiveness is a process and not just an event. Please also remember that the forgiveness is a process. Things are going to happen. Treat people with charity. Things from your past are going to bubble to the surface and you are going to have to let them go again. In doing so, you are having mercy, not only on others but on yourself. You are not allowing the conflict within you to erupt and causing combat between you and others. And is this is of help remember what we pray when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins (our debts) as we forgive those who sin (are indebted to us) against us.” Are we ready to have God judge us as we judge one another? Are we ready to forgive as we are forgiven? After, did not Jesus say himself, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”? Jason+

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional.


It might be surprising to you but clergy these days when they are trained for ministry, one of the things that they have to learn is how to deal with and manage conflict within the life of the Church. Does that surprise you? One of the things that I have learned over the years, is that conflict, which happens within a person is inevitable. People deal with conflict within themselves all the time. Personal conflict gives rise to a number of really good pieces of music it, especially country music. The old hurting songs that talk about the wife leaving husband behind with kids to feed and crops in the fields that need to be harvested. The dog has died and the cat won’t speak to anyone anymore. “Picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille!”

If conflict is inevitable then combat is most often optional. We can choose how to act on what goes on inside us. And the way in which the Gospel calls on us to deal with conflict is interesting. It is put on the injured party to confront the other person and to try and gain satisfaction/relief from the situation. If that does not work, then try again with a couple of witnesses who may be able to help you work things out. If you cannot prevail to get a satisfactory outcome, then everyone goes before the church (local congregation and you try again to settle matters. If the offender does not listen will not act with contrition, then the offender is excommunicated and treated as a tax collector or a public sinner. Modern people at this point would think that this is where they could wash their hands of the offender. Would Jesus have? I do not think so. I believe Jesus would have continued to sort things out and draw that offender back into the life of the congregation.

I would point out to you that there are so many people, not only outside the Church who need forgiveness and thus of healing, but there are as many inside the Church who need the same thing. Are they finding it? And need and the desire for forgiveness goes well beyond the absolution of the Eucharist. Absolution is the reminder of God’s willingness to forgive, to heal and to bless as he is to remove sin and sent it as far as the East is from the West.

We need to consider God and his divine nature. The Father forgives iniquity, heals disease, redeems from the Pit. He crowns the faithful with steadfast love and mercy. God satisfies his people with Good as long as they live. The Father renews the youthful vigor of his people like that of an eagle. God is not foiled by numbers and is not stymied by our failures. In fact, he works all things to the good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. The Father by his very nature (and contrary to common thinking) leans always towards showing mercy and grace; slow to anger and swift to bless. Divine anger is swift to dissipate; bygones are bygones. God does not operate on an ‘eye for an eye’ basis, always looking to get revenge and to balance the books. He is sympathetic to our nature and our plight as people he created and that through sin, have been separated from him.

That reminds me of a parishioner, who in the middle of a Lenten sermon, got on her feet and rejected the idea that she was a sinner in a rather loud manner. She said to me, “I am just fine. God likes me just the way that I am. I am not a sinner.” Thing is, there is a misunderstanding about what a sin is. It is what everyone else does and you do not. It is more than about what we do, it is about what we do not do. It is the things that we did not do well and where we fall short of the mark. The Gospel calls us back to God, to come and be transformed into the creations he intended for each and all of us to become the marvelous creature we were meant to be. We are called to be more than right and work on rights, we are called to be righteous.

Lastly let me remind us all of what Jesus himself has said: “Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Do good to those who persecute you. If you are angry with your brother or sister, you are liable to judgement. If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. Do not resist an evil doer. (Be perfect (in mercy) as your Father in heaven is perfect (in mercy)”.

So how do we handle conflict? We have two ears and on mouth. We should listen at least twice as much as we talk. We listen so that we can ask clarifying questions to better understand what is being shared with us. We need to take care in how we speak to each other, including in social media. We listen o learn how we might serve another person and how to lead in various situations. Let us be known in this community (inside and outside this congregation) for how we genuinely love, how we genuinely love one another. Is that easy? No, but consider the alternative by looking around you.