Monday, June 30, 2008

Vacation

I am off on vacation for the month of July. I will not be posting a sermon. I am heading up to the cottage on Lake Simcoe for some R & R.

Have a wonderful summer!

Ann

Saturday, June 28, 2008

St. Peter and St. Paul

St. Peter and St. Paul

June 29

“Do You Love Me?”

Readings: Ez 34:11-16; Ps 87; 2 Tim 4:1-8; Jn 21:15-19

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of two great icons of the church, St. Peter and St. Paul. There is an irony to this joint celebration, for they were very different people. Peter was poor and unlearned; Paul was a scholar. They came to know the risen Christ in very different ways. Most of all, these are two people whose ministries constantly clashed. They headed two distinct Christian missions, one to the Jews, one to the Gentiles. Both came at ministry in very different ways.

In their humanity, they give us insight into our own inadequacies when it comes to the faith. Peter is remembered as the one who denied Christ. Paul is known for his persecution of Christians. They were brought to their knees by Christ’s redemptive love. Their faith in the grace of God brought them face to face with the risen Christ. They answered the call of God and preached the word faithfully. Their faith ultimately led to their deaths. These two great leaders, literally founders of the Christian faith, give us a dynamic picture of the Christian Church in its infancy.

In the reading from Timothy Paul is reflecting on his life of faith. He sees it as a race which he has won well, not so much by his success, but by keeping faith through all the trials and difficulties of his life. He knows that through it all the risen Christ has been there beside him sustaining him so that he can continue to spread the Good News of the Gospel.

Paul underwent many trials. His safety was assured not by the Christian community or even the Jewish community but ironically by the Roman authorities. They respected Paul’s birthright as a Roman citizen. That gave him the right to a fair trial. Though he languished in prison for many years while the Roman officials tried to keep peace with the Jewish authorities, he was able to reach many through his letters to the fledgling Christians. One writer describes Paul’s prison cell as the “first Christian seminary”[i], an apt description if you think about it. It was certainly the central hub of Christianity as the Gentile world was brought into the fold.

Then there is Peter, one of the twelve chosen by Jesus, the rock on which Christ would build the church. Under Peter’s leadership thousands of Jews were converted to the Christian faith.

The dialogue between Jesus and Peter in the Gospel is a turning point in Peter’s life. A conversation that began between them before the crucifixion needs to be completed. Peter had denied Jesus. The shame and guilt remained a barrier for him in their relationship and in his ministry.

“Do you love me?” Jesus says to Peter. The question must have startled him. When the question comes again he wonders, "Is it all a nightmare? Is there something I should say?” He sees himself as a traitor. All he can think of is how guilty he feels. For the third time Jesus questions Peter. He continues to call him back into a loving relationship. He knows that going through failure and coming out on the other side strengthens us.

Peter finally gets it. "You know that I love you. I love you with all my heart." It is a turning point in Peter's life, a moment of conversion for him. And Jesus calls him to ministry. This is not a prize for getting the right answer. This is an affirmation, his ordination if you will. "Feed my sheep!" Jesus says to him. It is the beginning for him of a lifelong ministry of literally building the Christian Church from the ground up.

Paul’s experience on the Damascus road although a very different experience from that of Peter, is a turning point as well. His conversion is sudden and dramatic, seemingly coming out of nowhere. As that light from heaven flashes around him he realizes that Christian faith means much more than he could ever have expected. He realizes the life-bond that exists between Jesus and his followers. It is a moment of transformation that is reflected in everything he does from that moment on. There in the dust of the road, blinded by the brilliance of the light, he realizes how Jesus identifies with him. “Do you love me,” Jesus is saying to him. He realizes that God is calling him to build up the Church he has set out to destroy.

When has Jesus said to you, “Do you love me?” More importantly, what was your answer? Perhaps there was a time when your faith was challenged and some almost inexplicable experience brought you closer to God than you could imagine. And you found yourself saying, “Yes Lord! I love you.”

Perhaps it was a time of denial, of floundering and then you finally found the words to articulate your faith clearly. The words that came out of your mouth were, “You know that I love you.”

Perhaps there was a time when you felt utterly alone and abandoned by God and then somehow you discovered that you were not alone, that you were not abandoned, but that you were beloved. And you found yourself filled with joy as you cried out, “I love you, Lord!”

Perhaps there was a time when you felt such a burden of guilt that you thought that you would never be able to face God again, and then you experienced an amazing sense of forgiveness washing over you. The only words you could possibly utter were, “I love you Lord!”

Perhaps there has been a time in your life when you felt such grief that you never expected to be happy again, and then that sense of calm, of peace, of joy, came into your heart like a ray of sunshine. And with a sense of relief you said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Such experiences of turning to Christ are uniquely our own. Often it is difficult to even articulate such times in our lives. Whatever the experience, the heart of the matter lies in our response to Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?” That has always been the question when coming into relationship with another.

In a real sense this celebration is about us, about you and me, about our call to ministry. Like Peter and Paul, we are all called to build up the church. As we preach the gospel in our daily lives, as we live our life in Christ, as live out our faith, as we form community, we willingly lay down our lives for the faith. We respond to the great love of God. Amen



[i] “Daysprings” Sam Portaro

Friday, June 20, 2008

Proper 12, Year A

I am not preaching this Sunday. We have our parish picnic, and our deacon is preaching. I am publishing a sermon today that I preached in 2005. I think it still holds good.

Peace or Violence?

Readings: Genesis 21:8-21; Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39

The consistent theme throughout the past few weeks has been our relationship to a loving God. We have explored what it means to be called by God. We have been warned about the great cost of discipleship. Nowhere in Scripture does that great cost become more evident than in the readings for today!

“I come to bring not peace but a sword,” Jesus reminds us. It is a hard and chilling statement. Conflict at some level and in some circumstances is inevitable. Isn’t this the same Jesus who promised peace? What happened to ‘blessed are the peace makers’? What happened to ‘peace I leave with you’?

We spend much of our lives picturing Jesus as the gentle, meek peacemaker. Jesus spoke such words of comfort to the poor, the ill, and the sinner. But it does not take much reading to find this same Jesus speaking words of challenge to the hypocritical establishment of his day. He speaks as a revolutionary. His words are like a sharp sword slicing into the oppressive and self-centred.

I would remind you that a sword is two-edged. We cannot avoid or ignore the violent events that transpire around us any more than Jesus did in the face of Israel’s legalism or Rome’s paganism. Our responsibility is to put our reputations, jobs, incomes and even our lives on the line to confront violence with courage and hatred with love.

Along with the good – the commitment to a strong relationship with a loving and caring God – comes the bad, the possible alienation and loss of family and friends. Even life in a church community can be a two-edged sword. What purports to be a loving and caring community can sometimes wound and alienate. Christian allegiance is sometimes costly in terms of family relationships. Sometimes children disappoint parents by refusing Christian commitment. Sometimes spouses find the faith of one coming into conflict with the refusal to Christian commitment by the other. In places where social ferment and religious loyalties are intertwined families can find themselves torn apart politically when the understanding of Christian responsibility differs radically between the generations.

The story of Hagar and Ishmael is certainly such a story. We have been following the life journey of Abraham and Sarah. Part of that journey was a deviation from God’s plan. They got impatient with waiting for God to make good on the promise that they would become a great nation. At Sarah’s urging, Abraham took his servant girl, Hagar, as his second wife. By Judaic law Sarah could have raised their offspring, Ishmael as her own. But with the fulfillment of God’s promise in the birth of Isaac, Sarah became jealous and turned against both the mother and the child. Ultimately they were sent away into the wilderness to fend for themselves.

What follows is a beautiful story of God’s faithfulness in the face of adversity. How alone Hagar must have felt! This homeless mother wandering in the wilderness with her young child! How hopeless! God hears her cry for mercy. God has compassion on her and on her child. God gives her a special promise. She too will be the mother of many descendants. From Abraham, Sarah and Hagar come not one but two great nations. God opens Hagar’s eyes to the possibilities. As she comforts her child she sees a well of water. They survive. And God is with them as Ishmael grows up.

There are many modern parallels to the story in contemporary society. Wherever people must become refugees fleeing from the safety of their homes because of war, wherever women must leave their homes because of domestic violence, wherever past injustice needs to be redressed, such stories may be heard.

It is the story of Arab/Israeli conflict. Every week we shudder to hear of yet another bombing of innocent people in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. We wonder what kind of a world we live in where terrorists will willingly give up their lives to maim and to kill. What we don't tend to hear is the utter frustration and hopelessness of the Palestinian people. We don't hear of the struggle for justice.

It is the story of the ongoing civil war in the Sudan. An African woman told me that after forty years of civil unrest there are no young men left to raise families in her country. She pleaded for us to pray for an end to violence.

It is the story is of our indigenous people and their persistence in adversity, their struggle against injustice and violence. It is only through the quiet persistence of our native people that the Canadian church is beginning to redress the wrong of a school system that abused and degraded many generations of children. Even more widespread has been the devaluing of a group of people by ignoring their customs, spirituality and language. God’s compassion and concern for Hagar and Ishmael cannot help but remind us of God’s loving concern for all people, a love that transcends boundaries of nationality, of race, of colour and of creed.

Jesus calls us as he called the disciples to create an inclusive community that is to take precedence even over family. “Whoever does not take up the cross,” Jesus says, “and follow me is not worthy of me.” Christian commitment supersedes everything – ties to family, fear, even the natural desire to avoid death.

In all of today’s readings we encounter stories of adversity – Abraham and Sarah, Hagar, the disciples, and Paul. Nationally and globally we encounter stories of adversity – the struggle of our indigenous people, the continuing struggle for freedom and a just society in South Africa, the struggle of the people of the Sudan, the war against terrorism. We hear personal stories of adversity – people wrongly accused of violent crime, a small child gunned down in the street, health and education programs cut, welfare recipients devalued. Even in the church we encounter stories of adversity – people excluded because of sexual orientation, people abused by power.

The good news that transcends all such stories comes with the reminder that when we are faced with adversity God is always there. God is there in the struggle. God is there helping us to find ourselves. God is there helping us to confront adversity with courage and hatred with love. Thanks be to God.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Proper 11, Year A


The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Our Apostolic Calling

Readings: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8

We live in improbable times. So many improbable things happen that we simply accept. Consider for example that at the 2000 Olympics in Australia, the Olympic torch was taken underwater. What is more, it stayed alight! But I suspect that we have always lived with a sense that improbable things can and will occur.

Scripture is filled with improbable stories, stories which call us to suspend our doubt and risk newness in the ways that we live out our faith. The story of Abraham and Sarah is just such a story. God has promised to make of them a great nation. Yet Sarah remains childless. Then she overhears a conversation between Abraham and a visitor who accepts their hospitality. “Your wife Sarah will have a son,” the stranger tells Abraham. And the eavesdropping Sarah, knowing that she is beyond child bearing age, begins to laugh. We share in that laughter, and we share too in her happy laughter as she plays with her infant son. After all, nothing is impossible with God. Isaac, child of laughter, symbolizes hope and possibility against improbable odds.

The gospel is one of improbability. Consider the people that Jesus called as disciples. I discovered this tongue in cheek letter written by Tim Hansell which expresses these thoughts beautifully.

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter's Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee. It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants[i]

Well, not withstanding their foibles, Jesus chose twelve people. These are not disciples who are to sit at the feet of the master to learn. These are apostles sent out on a mission. Jesus not only chose them; he also commissioned them. He sent them out on a mission to do his work, to be Christ in the world. Their mission is an extension of that of Jesus. The healing activity of Jesus and his disciples is about more than kindness. It is part of the proclamation of the kingdom. Jesus sends them out to be in places and roles with which they have no familiarity. They are to stick to their priorities. There is no point in complaining about those who do not listen. They are to bless them, leave them and move on. They are to travel light. Forget the baggage!

And you know, it is really good advice when it comes to ministry. But it is very difficult to take. During my theological studies I spent a summer doing a course in chaplaincy. During our orientation our supervisor called us Chaplains. One person protested vehemently. “We are not Chaplains,” he said. “We have come here to learn how to be Chaplains.” Our supervisor continued. “If you don’t believe me, look at your name tag. You are Chaplains. What is more, you know what to do. You know how to be a Chaplain. It is in you to minister to people.”

I remember my first visit. I stood outside the door for some time praying that I would know what to do. I felt totally inadequate. But when I entered that room I was a Chaplain. I knew that the Holy Spirit was there to guide. I trusted my instincts. I trusted God.

As improbable as it seems God is calling each one of us. We are an apostolic church. God calls us to apostolic ministry. We are not called to sit and learn about God. We are called to action. What is more, it is needed. People are searching for God.

Jesus looked out at the crowds and had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless. I have to say, life has not changed. People today feel harassed and helpless. They see the price of gas going up and up. They see the economy floundering. They see people losing their jobs. They see sickness and suffering. They hunger for answers to all that life brings. And we have the answers, you and I.

But so often we think that there is nothing that we can do. But Matthew says that the call of Jesus is exactly that, and what is more, he says that the authority to do something about it has been given.

What holds us back? Is it unwillingness? Is it lack of imagination? Is it lack of resources?

On the street I saw a small girl, cold and shivering in a thin dress with little hope of a decent meal. You must have met her now and then too. I became angry and said to God: “Why do you permit this? Why don’t you do something about it?” For a while God said nothing, but that night God replied, quite suddenly, “I certainly did something about it. I made you! Now you go and do something about it.”



[i] Tim Hansel, Eating Problems for Breakfast, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Proper 10, Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Journeying By Stages

Readings: Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13

My grandmother was enrapt by the history of her family. She shared that passion with us as we grew up. On her side of the family, we go back in this area to 1803 and on my grandfather’s side to 1797. Both families were pioneers in Muddy York. One family came from Ireland looking for free land and a better life. The other family were United Empire Loyalists. They had already moved once from their homeland to settle in Pennsylvania, and then were uprooted by war and came to Canada looking for freedom. The stories of their hardships are part of our family lore. It reminds me that the glory of human history is in its pioneers.

Many motives cause people to uproot their lives and move to a new country. Millions in our world are on the move because they are refugees, people without a home. They move in search of work or to avoid famine or drought. Even in our own country people move because of labour conditions. Many of you in this congregation will have an understanding of what it means to leave your homeland and make a new home. What prompted you? Was it inner restlessness, ambition, thirst for a new way of life? Were you looking for opportunities for yourself or your children? Can you see the hand of God in making such a move?

Abraham was on the move. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God said to him. Then, sweetening the pot, God promised him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And so at the age of seventy-five he faithfully responded to God’s call. It opened up new possibilities in his life. He moved by stages, stopping and waiting for God to lead him on to the next place. That seems to me a good way to travel on our life’s journey, a good way to view our own journey through life. As I look back on my own life, I see stages. I see where God has been leading, even when I was not certain of where my life should be going. At every stage of my life I see God’s plan for me opening up the way, making it plain.

This past week I participated in a clergy conference. The theme was “From Beleaguered to Beloved”. It was about our call to move faithfully from stage to stage as God works in our lives. We heard stories of peoples’ journeys, the pain, the suffering, the feelings of being beleaguered, of being overwhelmed by life. We heard too how their relationship to God carried them through, helping them to realize that they were beloved. It caused me to once again reflect on the stages of my own journey.

I knew that I was beloved of God when I was very young. I knew too that I was called by God to be a priest. Of course, when I was six years old it was not even a remote possibility. And yet I knew at that early age that I would be a priest. I knew that God was leading me in that direction. I made my choices based on that knowledge. I studied music, not only because I had a gift for it, but also so that I could do meaningful work in the church. In my high school year book I wrote that I planned to go to Teacher’s College and then later to study theology.

I did go to Teacher’s College, and then up north to teach in a Residential School. That brings me to the second stage of my life. Just weeks before I was to leave, my younger brother died in an accident. That tragedy was a defining moment in my young life. That time in Fort George up on James Bay was painful. I was dealing with grief, loss and loneliness. I dealt not only with my own grief, but with the pain of the children I taught. At the age of five or six, they were taken away from their families and villages and flown into a strange community where they lived in dormitories with children they did not know, eating strange food and being forced to speak a language they did not understand.

I came back home to go to university and was coerced into a cultic group that had grown up around my father. It was charismatic, centred on the healing ministry, and that can be fine, but to say the least, it was not a well balanced view of the faith. The views on healing and exorcism were extreme. It was judgemental. It was abusive. It became more so as the years went on. A young woman, a member of the group, died tragically and without medical attention. The group became even more extreme and separated themselves from the Church. The leaders of the group including my father controlled the lives of its members who lived in community, practicing shunning and some other very disturbing practices.

I left the group, but not without serious scars. For a long time I wondered if I was right to leave. I blamed myself for not being holy enough or good enough. It was a stage of my life when I struggled constantly with thoughts of suicide.

Through all that period of my life, I never lost my faith. There were, of course, times when I wondered if God had forgotten about me. But God was there, gently calling me back into wholeness. I began to teach music and became a church organist. Music fed my soul. The church became a place of solace and healing.

I began to hear about the ordination of women. My feelings of inadequacy held me back from considering my call. But God kept calling. When I could no longer say no I responded to God. I remember the wonderful conversation I had with my parish priest. I made an appointment with him. He was sure that I was going to quit as organist, and so as soon as I entered the room, he offered me a raise. I explained why I was there. Leaning back in his chair he said to me, “To be avoided if at all possible!” I spent the next hour telling him all the things in my heart, all the reasons why I needed to respond to God’s call. He leaned back again. He repeated what he had said before. “To be avoided if at all possible!” I almost screamed at him. “I have to do this!” “Well, then,” he said, “That’s wonderful!”

And it has been! This next stage of the journey! There are still days when I feel totally inadequate, when I struggle with anger and grief and pain. But I know the joy that comes from answering God’s call. I know as Abraham knew the joy of living as if God’s promises are true. I know the joy of faithfully following God’s lead. I know the joy of living passionately. I know the joy of sharing my faith with others. I know that I am beloved of God.

Whatever stage you are at in your faith journey, I pray that you will listen to God’s call. Listen to God’s call to be, no matter what it is that God is calling you to. Listen to God’s call to be beloved.

The Second Sunday of Easter, Year C

Opening Locked Doors Readings: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 2; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31 It is evening on the first day of the week. The d...