Friday, May 28, 2010

Trinity Sunday, Year C

You’ve Got the Power!

Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Life is a journey. Our Christian life is a journey of discovery of the God in whose image we are created. The most wonderful experience a human can have is to capture a glimpse of the mystery of God. That discovery comes about for the Christian by the telling and retelling of the story, of our experience of the God of love, our creator God, the God of compassion.

I know very well that when someone wants to tell me their story, they want to talk. They don't want me to talk. They have a need, as we all do, to tell the story of their particular journey, of their life experience. It is through the telling of our stories that we discover who we are. I suspect that is why teenagers spend so much time texting their friends. It is the age in which they are discovering a new self. How else can they discover it except by telling their story again and again until they are sure they know it? They need to recognize who they are. Not to tell your story relegates you to oblivion.

That is why it is so important for The Christian story to be told. We need to keep telling the story of Jesus over and over again. We need to remember who Jesus is. We need to remember who we are as well, for the gospels are stories about us. In them God interprets the events of our lives. In telling God's story we discover more about our true selves. That is why we celebrate the feast of the Holy Trinity. It is, first and foremost, about our relationship with God. It is about how we come to know God. It is about how we come to know ourselves, we who are made in God's image.

God's story is not static. It is a story in progress, for God is a mystery that keeps unfolding. Our journey through life is about the life long experience of coming to know God in all that great mystery.

The Trinity is a metaphor for how we experience God's presence. The readings are not explicit about the Trinity for the very reason that Scripture is not explicit about the Trinity. Rather the readings allow us to explore our experience of God in our lives.
In the midst of our lives they speak to us of a God who creates us with wisdom and care. In our anguish and trouble, they speak to us of a God who has an active, saving concern for the whole of humankind. In our confusion, they speak to us of a God unlimited by our understanding, totally experienced and wise.

The writer of Proverbs experiences God as Holy Wisdom. He names Wisdom as the first of God's creations. She is an expression of God's creativity, a companion who delights God and participates in the creative process. However far off God may seem to us, we know God's will and ways through the orderly beauty of creation and through holy wisdom. Consider how often in your journey through life you have been astounded by the awesome power of God as you experienced the beauty of nature! Perhaps you have stood as I have looking out across the snow capped Rockies and known God's presence. Or was it in the view of a perfect arc of colour across the sky at the end of a storm? Perhaps it was as you watched the opening of a dewy rose on a summer morning. Did you experience God in a beautiful sunset? Or was it the starry expanse of the night sky that transported you into God's very presence? If so, you were experiencing the creativity of God breathing life into the world.

For Paul even the hardships and adversities of life convince him about the love of God and God's saving grace at work in his life. He knew that the life lived in solidarity with Christ would come to look like Christ's life. He knew that would include the hardships and suffering. He experienced such love through God's grace and such peace in serving the risen Christ that the difficulties and defeats he faced did not drive him into shame. Rather they brought him more in touch with Christ's way. As his relationship with God grew, so he received encouragement in his Spiritual life that brought him even closer to God. For Paul peace and hope were not simply based on the past event of the cross, but were ongoing in his life. The love that he felt coming from God kept flowing in him. The more he allowed himself to be loved by God the more he was freed up to reach out to others in Christian love.

Perhaps you have experienced the mystery of God in the same way that Paul experienced it. Perhaps it happened as you sat by the bedside of a loved one as they lay dying. You may have experienced a closeness to God through your own suffering, through that sense of peace that comes in knowing that we do not suffer alone, that God is with us, carrying us through the most difficult times. Perhaps it was at a time of deep need when an earnest prayer was answered, and you knew that it was God’s presence in your life that made all the difference.

We can also experience the mystery of God in the great joys of life. Perhaps for you it was in the birth of a child, holding that new life in your arms. You may have experienced it in a momentous event in your life, a graduation ceremony, the day of your marriage. Such events help us to understand that God is at work in our lives, that God is present with us.

In the Gospel the disciples learn more about the promise of the Holy Spirit and its active presence in their lives. “When the Spirit of truth comes,” Jesus tells them, “he will guide you into all the truth. The Spirit will declare to you the things that are to come.” That same promise of Jesus is ours as well. It is not a matter of the Holy Spirit giving us insight into the future. That is not ours to know. It is not telling us how to live our lives. But the Holy Spirit should be part of our decision-making. We need to ask God for help and insight. The Spirit gives us the honesty and courage to see the consequences of our actions and remain clear sighted about our decisions. What a practical God we worship!

Perhaps you have found yourself pondering the right move in your life. The way has become clear as you prayed for God’s guidance. Perhaps your reflections and prayers have helped you to face adversity. Perhaps you have experienced a sense of inner joy and peace even though you were not even sure how you were going to overcome some great difficulty in your life. That is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your life.

There was an ad on television. A woman was explaining to her husband how to get the laundry clean. “You’ve got the power. Now use it,” she says to him. I am saying to you this morning, “You’ve got the power. Now use it.” The Holy Spirit has been given to us. We have the power, not as the world knows power, but as God knows it. This is not the power to destroy or put down or harm; this is the power to discover truth, to create, to heal, to bring light into darkness, to bring beauty into ugliness, goodness into evil, sweetness into bitterness, joy into grief. You’ve got the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling you to bring Christ’s gift of salvation into the world.

That is part of the wonderful mystery of our awesome God. Let us experience God in an endless variety of ways, through worship, study and interaction with all that God has created, and especially in our actions in the world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pentecost, Year C

An Eyewitness Account

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." That is what Jesus told us just before he ascended. “The Spirit of truth will be in you. It was clear to all of us. We knew even as Jesus was speaking to us that we would not be left alone. God’s Spirit would be with us, working in us, helping us in our daily lives. The same spirit that guided Jesus in everything he did would dwell in us. Jesus even thought that we, those he taught, those of us who walked with him during those wonderful days of his ministry in Galilee, he actually thought that we would be able to accomplish even more than he himself had been able to do. He healed the sick. He made the lame walk. I even saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. And he said that we would do even greater things than he himself had done!

We couldn’t even imagine it! We had been so afraid of what would happen to us in those days following his death and Resurrection. And then he would be there, filling the room with that wonderful sense of peace that we had always sensed around him. What a joy it was to see him again, to be with him. We had all hoped that he would never leave again. So when he told us that he was leaving, when we realized we were losing him all over again, it was heartbreaking. But Jesus said that we would be God filled. Even as he was saying it, my heart stirred with anticipation. I know how badly the world is in need of Jesus’ transforming grace. He did so much in the short time he was with us. To be able to continue that work would be wonderful.

Jesus told us to wait for the fulfillment of his words. While we were still grieving his departure from us, still it filled us with such excitement. Small groups of us were gathering whenever we could for prayer and to support one another. We would share the good things that were happening in our lives. We would break bread together as Jesus had taught us. It was not very long afterward, just a few days, actually on the day of Pentecost that the whole community of Christians got together. There must have been fifty of us in one small room. You will never believe what happened next. It started with a roaring sound. Like a rushing wind. It was so loud that it filled the whole house. The house shook with the power of the wind. Then I saw it. It was hovering over Thomas. A flame of fire! Then I noticed that it was not just over Thomas. It was over each one of us. And we were transformed. It was amazing to see. We knew immediately that it was exactly what Jesus had promised. The Holy Spirit had been given to us.

And that is only the beginning. The rest of the story is equally amazing. We felt empowered to leave the safety of our meeting place. We headed out into the streets of Jerusalem. You know we have been afraid to proclaim our beliefs. We have been afraid to say too much about Jesus’ Resurrection. But here we were, speaking to anyone who would listen. The look on peoples' faces as we all poured out of that little house. Then I found myself talking to a man from Mesopotamia. You know how shy I am. And yet there I was talking to a complete stranger about Jesus. And you know what? He could understand what I was saying. He kept saying to me, “You're not Mesopotamian. Where did you learn to speak my language?” I looked around me. All around the square were clusters of people listening to us talking about Jesus. There were people from all over the world. Asia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Lybia. They all understood what we were saying. They all heard the story about Jesus’ death and Resurrection. Some people actually thought we were drunk. I can certainly understand why.

Then Peter got up and preached. You should have heard him. What a powerful sermon it was! He explained that we were not drunk, but that God’s Holy Spirit had filled us, not with new wine, but with the wine of Christ. So many people turned to Christ that day.

But you know, it was not just about that day. It has made such a difference in my life. I simply cannot explain it to you. It is as if all the gifts that I have had my whole life have suddenly come to fruition. I am no longer tongue tied when it comes to sharing my faith. I see the same change in my friends and family. Our little Christian community is growing by leaps and bounds. It is a constant reminder to us that Jesus is alive and victorious. It is an affirmation that God's promises are true.

That is a fictional account of what might have taken place on Pentecost. Pentecost is an important event in the life of every Christian. We all need to find a way to express what happened at Pentecost in our lives. Jesus makes it clear that, just as the Spirit was made available to the disciples, so the Spirit would be with us working in us. We too are called to be enthused with the Spirit, to be God filled.

The experience of Pentecost is about how we begin to express that in our lives. Sometimes there are no words to express what we want to say about God. We grope for the right words. We sit in silence and soak in the beauty of a sunset. We dance. We sing. We pray. We express the Spirit in whatever way is right for us.

Do we really know that the Spirit is in us? The Spirit waits to be released and used as the greatest resource for living that we possess. Pentecost is about the energy and strength that come from being enlivened by God’s Spirit. It is about freedom from fear. It is about releasing us from being tongue tied about the faith. It is about the power to transform lives. It is about celebrating the diverse ways in which God’s Spirit works.

But most of all, it is about doing greater things than Jesus did. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Can we even comprehend that? It is not enough to simply go on thinking that what we do is enough. Jesus healed the sick. He ate and drank with outcasts and sinners. He freed people from bondage.

We all have Spiritual gifts. If we used our gifts as God would have us, they could transform the world. The mark of a gift of God is its ability to transform those it touches. Which gifts can you identify in yourself? Which gifts can you see in others in our community? Reflect for a moment about the gift that is yours. Is it your gift to bring joy or hope to others? Do you have a gift of compassion? Are you one who easily encourages others and brings out the best in them? Do you bear the prophetic word? Do you have a dream for this place? Are you a visionary?

Whatever your gift, I encourage you to name it. Write it down on the piece of paper in your bulletin and place it on the offering plate. No one will read it. It will simply be offered in thanksgiving. Our gifts are the means of transformation for God’s creation. God continues through the Spirit to teach us, to be with us, to bring peace. Amen.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension

Wait for Power from on High

Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

We read in the Acts of the Apostles that following the Resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples many times. He speaks with them about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he orders them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.

Waiting is something that we humans do not do well. We can all appreciate how difficult it can be to wait. Remember as children what it was like. “I can hardly wait for my birthday!” we would say, as we anticipated ripping the wrappings off one present after another.

Our feelings, of course, vary according to the circumstances. Fear, anticipation, excitement. There are a lot of people who do not know how to live without excitement, without stimulation. Whether it comes from pleasure or from crisis, they simply thrive on activity. They want to be doing things, solving problems, moving ahead with their plans. They love that rush of adrenalin that gets them moving.

But inevitably there come times when even the most A personality must just wait. The time that exists between one crisis or another, between one activity or another is regarded by many people as dead time, as time that is lost. Even people who are not adrenalin junkies find it difficult to face a period of time in which not much is happening, a period of time in which they must wait for a promise to be fulfilled, for an event that they are looking forward to taking place.

I suspect that is a little of what is behind the disciples’ question of Jesus. “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Isn't it strange that of all the questions they could ask the risen Lord, that is what comes springing to mind? What kind of kingdom are they hoping for? Are they looking for a detached God to suddenly transform history and society? When will they understand that it is they who are to proclaim the Gospel of salvation? They have been witnesses to the resurrection. Yet they are not prepared in any way for his response.

“It is not for you to know the time,” Jesus tells them. And then he offers them a promise, a promise of power from on high. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

It is a huge task he is leaving to them. They are to proclaim the gospel that he has been teaching them. He leaves them as well with a promise that they will be fully equipped to do the job. They simply need to await the fulfillment of the promise. And then he is gone leaving them literally holding the bag.

What must it have been like for them to have to wait? After all, they had done their share of waiting already. Following the death of their beloved leader it was all they could do. They retired to the upper room in fear, almost debilitating fear. And then he was back with them for a time. The sense of fear gave way to trust, to trust in the promises Jesus had made to them. Yet he has reappeared just long enough to say goodbye. Like a dream he leaves no trace of himself except the sense that his presence is real and his absence temporary.

Yet that is not so difficult for us as humans to understand. The stories about the ascension of our Lord say that he is taken up into heaven. While we might question exactly how this happened, nevertheless we understand it emotionally. We know about loss. Loved ones are suddenly taken away from us. Even when someone we love has been ill for a long period of time, that passage from life to death is such a fleeting moment. It fills us with awe. We can hardly believe that the person is gone. Even though we know they are in a better place, even though we express our faith that the person is with God, still it takes our breath away. We get that feeling that they will come walking into the room and everything will simply resume where it left off.

The Feast of the Ascension is very much tied in to our Christian attitude about death and dying. The disciples must face a harsh reality. Jesus is gone. He rose, not simply from the dead, but from the world. He is no longer with them. And yet what hope there is in that reality! For if Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, so too our loved ones who have died are alive in Christ.

The question is, what do we do with a time of waiting? How do we wait? Do we question God continually about the purpose of our waiting? The disciples accepted Jesus’ promise that the whole world would be theirs. “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” Jesus told them. And they accepted that promise. They trusted in what Jesus told them. And so they waited in expectation for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The waiting this time is different somehow. They head, not for the Upper Room, but for the Temple. They did what Jesus told them to do. They set out to witness knowing that from Jerusalem the gospel would be taken to the ends of the earth.

What we need to remember somehow is that times of waiting are not times of inactivity. They are times of preparing ourselves for what lies ahead. They are times in which we work at what is at hand, at what needs to be done right now, in order to forge the way ahead to the future. Our call as Christians is always to live now in the way God intends us to live. The disciples used the time as an opportunity to pray. They stayed together and they prayed. They prepared themselves for the job Jesus had told them they would do.

That is always a good thing for us as Christians to bear in mind. Prayer is of central importance to us as we seek to do God's will and to seek the fulfillment of God's promises.

Comedian David Brenner tells the story of his graduation from high school. Other classmates received expensive gifts from their parents, trips, cars, new clothes. David’s father reached into his pocket and took out a nickel. “Buy yourself a newspaper. Read every word. Then turn tot eh classified section. Get yourself a job. Get into the world. It’s all yours,” he said to him. And he was right. He gave David, not instant gratification, but the opportunity to wait and see what life had in store.

There are times both in our own lives and in the life of the church when we need to withdraw. There are times when we are in need of spiritual renewal. We need to take time to pause and reflect on our purpose as a worshipping community. We need time to wait and pray. This time in the church year can be such an opportunity. That poses difficulties for us, living as we do in a society which is geared to results. Like David's classmates, we judge the gift by its value right now. We are not ready to wait and allow God's gift to come to us in God's time. We find it impossible to fathom that God could possibly be working in us and through us even as we wait. We forget that although the Spirit came to be with the Church forever, we must still constantly pray, “Come, Holy Spirit”. The gift of the Spirit is a promise, not an assured prayer. And so we pray, “Come, Holy Spirit and renew the face of the whole earth.”

We pray it knowing that we are the disciples of Christ, authorized and commissioned to continue the ministry of the suffering, resurrected and reigning Lord Jesus Christ in our world today. We are enabled by the Spirit to do the task. God continues to carry out God’s purpose in our church in the community and in the world. Amen

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C

Removing the “Unlesses”

Readings: Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10,22-21:5; John 14:23-29

What a mess the early church really was! There was little organization and no control. Anything and everything could and did happen. As with any new sect it usually arose because of the over enthusiastic fervour of the adherents. There were those in the early history of the church whose enthusiasm for the faith had them rushing headlong into disaster. Couple that with their belief that the coming of the kingdom was imminent. That gave them a sense of urgency that made them less than diplomatic in their care and concern of others. They used the claims of truth as they perceived it to justify abuse. Paul could be as vicious in his defence of the fledgling faith as he had been in his zealotry to guard the sanctity of the Jewish faith. It is not surprising that things became totally conflicted.

The early church faced some serious difficulties. The early Christians were Jewish. To be a Jew meant more than simply religious affiliation. It involved every aspect of Jewish life. Judaism is not an evangelical faith. They do not proselytize. One is not converted to Judaism. One is born a Jew. One is a Jew, not primarily by faith, but by nationality. That was the main problem for the early Christians as they tried to maintain their allegiance to Judaism and live out the Christian faith at the same time. How could they remain faithful to their Jewish roots and still open up the faith to include the gentile world?

And so they came up with a way. "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses," they told the new converts, "you cannot be saved." Always beware of a statement that begins with "unless". Anything that begins with the word "unless" is bound to pose problems. Because what "unlesses" do, is to exclude. This particular "unless" excluded the new converts, quite emphatically. For circumcision was abhorrent to the Greek world. And as you can well imagine, the debate grew quite heated.

It took a gathering of the early Church, a kind of Synod, to deal with the mess. Paul and Barnabas were sent back to try to rectify their previous failures. It was a turning point for the Church. Had Paul not stayed with his failures he would never have lived out his vision for the Church. People like Lydia, the first convert in Macedonia would never have been converted to Christianity. He would never have had the impact on the Christian faith that he had. Had the mission of Judas and Barnabas not taken place the changes that made it a universal faith would never have happened It was a decision to make a great change, one that affected Christianity for all times. It laid out the essentials, not for the faith. Those essentials were laid out by the teachings of Jesus, but the essentials of what it meant to live the Christian life. And those were simple. The new converts were to abstain from eating idol meat and from fornication. Period.

It is difficult for us to even begin to comprehend how drastic a change that was. It went against culture, against tradition, against religion, and probably for them against all reason. I can only imagine the kinds of arguments that took place. Every aspect of life changed for them, so much so that it would ultimately cut them off from their very roots.

Yet think of the implications for us if they had not been open to such change. Their openness allowed Christianity to become a world religion, instead of a tiny sect. In all likelihood we would not be here worshipping today if they had not made such a move.

As Church, we often make a mess of things. Hopefully we have learned the lesson of the early Christians. Hopefully we go back and try to clean up after ourselves. What are the "unlesses" that we come up with in the church today? Inclusion is a lesson that we continue to learn. The church continues to clarify its role in a changing society. We certainly see the results within our own denomination. As a teenager, I had a strong sense of vocation, but I certainly did not voice any such thoughts. I didn't even voice the opinion that I ought to be allowed to be a server at the altar. When I got my first position as an organist I was told what a great achievement that was for a young woman. After all, the organ was in the sanctuary.

We can be proud as Anglicans that we have such a sense of unity through diversity. We can be proud of the inroads we have made in addressing problems of gender, of culture, of class, of race. But I am not certain that we see the importance of such issues. We are quick to argue that it does not affect us. That it does not matter. But such issues are at the root of the faith. They are issues of justice. And over and over again in Scripture, it is justice which brings about the kingdom of shalom, God's kingdom. And isn't that what we want?

That vision of shalom, that vision of peace that Jesus spoke about to the disciples, that peace not as the world gives it, but as God sees it, is almost impossible for us to comprehend. John the Divine captures it in his wonderful vision of the Holy City. His vision articulates the perfect society, a society completed by God, a society where our vision and God's vision are one and the same. A society where there is no temple. There is no need of such a place, for all places are set aside as God's. All life has become a temple of the presence of God. The glory of God lights the city. Its gates are open. There is no night there. No poverty, no hatred, no injustice, no oppression, no intolerance, no inequality. A kingdom of shalom, of perfect peace.

There is a long road ahead of us before we come even close to that vision of John's perfect society. A large part of it depends on our ability to see the injustice of our actions and to change, to remove the "unlesses". If that kingdom of shalom is to be a reality, then we must be clear about our response to God. It is through loving God, and allowing the Spirit to work through us, that we will begin to know the peace of Christ.

This year's FaithWorks campaign has a wonderful theme. We pray it at the end of every Eucharist. It comes from Paul's letter to the Ephesians. “Glory to God, whose power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine.” That prayer has a profound effect on me every time I say it. It reminds me that I am not alone on this faith journey. I am part of an amazing community of faith that reaches back throughout the history of the Christian Church and forward to the coming of God's kingdom.

We have so much uncertainty to face in our parish life during this coming year. It is a time in our life to seize that prayer, to pray it meaning every word. As we deal with the challenge of taking on new responsibilities within the Church Centre let us not forget that we are here to minister to our community. We may be tempted to let FaithWorks slide. We may be tempted to look after our own needs. Let us see the opportunities that lie ahead of us, opportunities to reach out to those around us, to offer sanctuary and a place of peace amidst the noise and bustle of the world, to give help and solace to those in need, to see Christ in those we meet.

Glory to God!

The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

Come and See Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-11; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42 Invitations come in many shapes and sizes. They ...