I had the honoured of being invited back to Christ Church Cathedral Victoria, the parish that raised me up for ordained ministry, to preach for the first time since I have been ordained (actually, the first time preaching there ever). I was invited to speak about the work of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund since that is the outreach ministry that the Cathedral has been supporting this month. I was delighted to be able to be there to spend some time with some familiar faces and some new faces, to thank the Cathedral congregation for their support of PWRDF over the years, to reflect on that Sunday’s lectionary readings in light of the work we do, and to share some stories of the ongoing amazing work of PWRDF. For those who are interested, the recording of the sermon can be found here (the recording is from the 9:15am service. I rather think I preached better at the 11am, but alas, this is what there is!). Many thanks to my friend Gia, who I met at the Young Clergy Women Conference in July, for helping me out with the midrash I used in my sermon.
This is your periodic reminder that we basically have the cutest cat on the planet.
She has been a little precocious as of late, and delights in waking us up in the morning. She is always underfoot, especially when we’re in the kitchen, but is never too far away when we’re sitting down either. Sometimes she thinks we starve her, but I’ve never met a cat who thought they had enough food to eat. She periodically gets freaked out by her reflection in the fireplace or dishwasher, though she is just fine when we take pictures or look in the mirror. All in all, she has brought a lot of joy to our lives and we’re pretty happy to have her.
Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Readings: Romans 13:8-14 & Matthew 18:15-20
The year is around 55 or 56 CE. A man named Paul, who is currently staying in Greece, is preparing to write a letter. He is writing to a group of people he has never met but who he hopes to visit. That group of people are in Rome, a bit of a ways from Greece, but not as far as they are from Jerusalem. And it is Jerusalem that Paul says he must visit first before travelling on to Rome to meet that growing community of Christians there, and then, he hopes to continue on to Spain to start Christian churches there.
As he prepares to write, Paul reflects on what he knows about the group of Christians in Rome:
The tensions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians are growing.
The Jewish Christians in Rome have only just been allowed to return home after having been kicked out of Rome by the last emperor, and they are feeling unsettled.
On top of that, Paul has heard grumbles from Jewish Christians – criticism that in preaching to Gentiles that he is turning his back on his own people – that he is rejecting the Jews and even preaching that God has also rejected them. And while this couldn’t be further from Paul’s motivation, it is amazing how people will talk…
Paul needs support for his mission to Spain and is counting on the Roman Christians to help… but he is concerned that the fractures in their community and the Jewish Christian’s general mistrust of Paul, will impede the reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ and will prevent it being spread further abroad.
And so he dictates this letter that we read a portion of this morning – possibly his last letter as he ends up being imprisoned in Jerusalem and only able to meet this letter’s recipients when he is brought to Rome as a prisoner.
Lets move forward about 30 years to roughly 80 or 85 CE.
A man probably living in Antioch in Syria, the third largest city in the Roman Empire yet located far from the centre of power in Rome, sits down to write an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to share with his community of believers. The community is made up of primarily Jewish Christians and they’re struggling with conflicts between the religion they were taught and grew up with and the teachings of Jesus.
They’re struggling in part because the Temple, the centre of Jewish worship of God and the visible manifestation of God’s presence with them and God’s favour of them, has been destroyed within the last decade or so. Not only that, but they kind of expected that Jesus would have returned by now. But he hasn’t and that is causing some problems for some people. So there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions: Does God still like us? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth and how does that fit into things? What on earth are we supposed to do now??
So this man we know as Matthew sets out to write an account of the life of Jesus that extends back into the lives and proclamations of the prophets and looks forward to the expansion of a new reality that is bigger than any one people group.
There are so many things going on here:
A community at odds with each other because of not insignificant differences in heritage, or religion…
A community struggling to know how to live in the aftermath of their entire way of life being destroyed or the things they have always known and found comforting being turned upside down.
It isn’t only something that happens in the communities of the first century. It isn’t only something that happens in the past.
It has happened throughout history and it is happening now in big ways and in small ways. In newsworthy ways and in ways that sometimes go unnoticed:
Communities being torn apart by racial violence and hate.
Communities dealing with every building on their Island being destroyed by 300km/hr winds.
A church struggling to come to grips with how it responds to and repents from atrocities like sexual abuse or cultural genocide.
A church mourning the “church that was” when they were younger and there were dozens of children running around and every pew was full every day.
Christians grappling with how to respond to an opioid crisis that has spilled out onto every street and into our garden.
Christians continually relearning how to live with each other with all of our humanity – our individual quirks and mannerisms that both delight and annoy.
It is so difficult!
And into those situations speak words written by two different men, to two different communities, two millennia ago.
Not that we can take each and every word as the definitive roadmap for how things must be right now: Matthew was speaking into a very specific situation where the rhetoric against Judaism made sense in the context of the tensions that existed in his day but have since been used as justification for attempted genocide.
And the letter to the Romans as a whole is not meant as a systematic presentation of the theology of the gospel, but a selective and contextual argument rooted in the good news for the purpose of encouragement to live a life that reflects the reconciliation effected by the incarnate God in Christ.
This is important. The scriptures were contextual 2000 years ago, and are still contextual now.
The proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ has to land in real space and time.
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, says Paul.
Owe nothing to anyone, except love.
Here Paul isn’t talking about some sort of divine balance sheet of “love in / love out” where we can account for the love given and received.
In the Roman cultural narrative, “owing” or obligation was the system by which all interpersonal interactions were conducted. Obligation was related to position, status, authority and so on. It defined the livelihood of life and citizenship in first century Rome:
- One “owed” honour and allegiance to the Emperor
- Money, possessions, and honour were owed to benefactors and patrons – a common relationship in this context
- Slaves owed service and their lives to their owners
- And wives owed submission to their husbands.
The language of “owing” or obligation was incredibly common and the way every interaction was conducted in the first century.
Hear then the utterly counter cultural and revolutionary words of Paul: Owe no one anything, except to love one another. Owe NOTHING except love. Those culturally derived conceptions of obligation are being dismissed in light of the obligation to love one another.
Paul is busting up all of those oppressive or divisive relationships and re-centering everything on one thing and one thing only: the action of love.
The one who loves another has fulfilled the law, says Paul. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Isn’t that also what we are seeing in our gospel reading this morning? The community of Christians for whom Matthew was writing his gospel account were coming to grips with a new reality. Not only was there the lingering shock of the destruction of the temple and a way of life they’d known their whole lives, but they were slowly realizing that Jesus might not return before they died and they might need to set up a community for the long haul.
We often read Matthew 18 as an instruction in church discipline: how do we resolve conflicts and figure out who is in and who is out of our community. But if we think about the underlying context of what was going on when this was written, it becomes so much more.
It is about building the kind of relationships that make community possible. It is about how we relate to each other and to God. Not building barriers to being in or out of relationship, but understanding that our actions on earth have broader consequences and how we treat each other matters.
And if we look deeper than the steps laid out, doesn’t it come down to the same thing as Romans? That we love and care for each other?
Last week, in his sermon, Bill landed on love. He talked about Jesus’ words in the gospel, challenging us to daily take up our cross and follow him. Bill suggested to us that daily taking up our cross is not a call to self-flagellation, but a call for us to daily take up the work of love.
Daily take up the work of love.
Not to make another entry on the balance sheet, but that love is our ultimate reaction to the gospel.
To owe nothing to one another except love forces us to own the reality that we are entirely dependant on God’s grace – on Jesus’ love for us – for our very existence, and that this love completely reframes how we relate to each other and makes us able to continue to relate to each other for the long haul.
Love as understood through the lens of the cross means giving up our claim to ourselves and each other, especially the claims that are based on our own cultural narratives of “right” and “just”
It forces us to consider how we daily take up the work of love when we experience communities being torn apart by racial violence and hate.
How we daily take up the work of love when we see communities dealing with every building on their Island being destroyed by 300km/hr winds.
How we daily take up the work of love when we are part of a church that is struggling to come to grips with how it responds to and repents following Residential Schools.
How we daily take up the work of love when we are mourning the “church that was” when we were younger.
How we daily take up the work of love when we are grappling with how to respond to the opioid crisis that has spilled even into our gardens.
How we daily take up the work of love when we are continually having to relearn how to live with each other with all of our humanity – our individual quirks and mannerisms that both delight and annoy.
Because in doing this, we have, in the words of Paul, “put on Christ”, living in the light, and living with genuine love.
 This is quoted and paraphrased from Kyle Fever, “Commentary on Romans 13:8-14” from Working Preacher – Preaching this Week (RCL).
 Drawn from the same as #1.
 Herb O’Driscoll’s Year A Commentary
A couple of weeks ago, I presided at my first Book of Common Prayer Eucharist. Its a lovely service and, like many across the Anglican Church of Canada, our is attended by a small but faithful group of people at 8 o’clock in the morning.
In preparing for this service, there were a few “extra” details that were really important for me to have alongside that morning. The red prayer book I used belonged to my mother. In it are small handwritten notes, instructions she had no doubt penciled in to assist her in serving at the table in the parish where I grew up. I continue to use this BCP for myself, though it is a little small to consistently use for presiding at services!
The green stole I wore for the service was an ordination gift last year. It was given to me by the wife of a retired, and now sadly deceased, priest; a couple I got to know when attending the Cathedral in Victoria. The stole is a stunning piece of embroidery, but its meaning goes deeper than its beauty. The stole belonged to Archdeacon Bob MacRae, former rector of the parish I now serve and the first secretary of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, where I currently volunteer as a board member. Bob, and his wife Sue, have both been supporters of me pursuing ordained ministry and it is an honour to wear his stole.
These two items used are a reminder of two faithful people, now passed, as well as reminder of the long tradition I have been called to participate in. For me they are symbols of the timelessness of faith alongside the call to make old things new as we seek to serve God in a generation. They ground me in my past and propel me towards the future.
Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20
North of the Lake of Galilee, in the foothills near the Lebanese border, is the headwaters of the Jordan River. This lush area with rivers and waterfalls is a National Park that is a popular weekend destination for families and hikers.
The Romans called the area Caesarea Philippi. The Roman army used the area for R&R and it was a centre for worship of the god Pan. Shrines to Roman gods, especially Pan, dot the hillsides.
It is likely that Caesarea Philippi was about as far away from “normal” for the disciples as was possible. Miles away from their homes and comfortable surroundings, and in the middle of a Roman army centre and hub for the worship of Roman gods, being here might well have blown the disciples minds.
I wonder if that was what Jesus intended?
Isn’t it interesting how Jesus brings the disciples to this secular and foreign area before pausing and posing a question that forces them to stop and examine their very being. He turns to them and says, Who do you say that I am?
The first time that Jesus asks it, it’s the easy version of the question: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? What are people saying about me?
Here, the disciples are the eager students in the classroom:
Some say John the Baptist, says Philip. Others say Elijah, interjects James. Andrew jumps in with, still others are saying Jeremiah. Don’t forget all of the prophets – everyone is choosing a different prophet, shouts Bartholomew from the back.
Jesus turns to face them, slowly looking each one in the eye, one by one.
But… Who do YOU say that I am?
There is a pause.
Every single one of them swallows, shuffles their feet, looks away…
This question requires something else. Something more.
It requires them to stop and decide whether to stay silent, hoping someone else will answer, or to put themselves on the line.
It’s a hard question. It is a direct question.
Who do YOU say that I am?
No more can we hide behind confessions or statements of faith written by others.
No more can we absent-mindedly recite the Creed, even if we are crossing our fingers at the parts we aren’t sure about.
No more can we simply parrot back what we learned in Sunday School or what our parents taught us.
When it is just you and Jesus, the answering the question requires vulnerability. Stepping out, despite the fact that it might feel really uncomfortable, to give our answer.
Who do YOU say that I am?
In the awkward group of disciples, Peter steps out and speaks up, presumably for all of them, but out of his own understanding and experience of who Jesus is. Yes, he has had time following Jesus to reflect and to gather information, but this is the first time he has had this question posed directly and it requires a response.
That is usually how it is. There is no perfect timing. The question cannot be put off or ignored until it is the “right moment,” the politically opportune moment, the moment that best suits our needs.
There is no more time to gather facts, weigh consequences, or check all possible outcomes.
Having heard the question, there must be a decision to courageously answer or to stay silent and let the moment pass by. Martin Luther King Jr. in Letter from a Birmingham Jail warns, “All too many have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows”
When face-to-face with Jesus, with this question hanging in the space between us, what is our response?
Who do YOU say that I am?
Peter speaks boldly. To declare that Jesus is Messiah in the centre of a Roman army, a militant crowd, is a courageous action. It is an answer grounded in his identity and, had he stopped to answer only when it was safe, it is an answer that probably would have tucked remained inside of him.
Blessed are you. You know who I am. God has given you this understanding and you have been courageous in speaking it. In this is the key of the kingdom and the heavens.
Whatever you imprison on the earth will be bound in the heavens
Whatever you set free on earth will be released in the heavens
Whatever we do, say, and confess in our lives has consequences. Like the concept of the Butterfly Effect, whereby one small thing in one place can have greater effects elsewhere, our response affects more than just ourselves – it affects the very heavens. I’m not talking about some place in the sky where people go after they die; I’m talking about all of humanity, our planet, the vast expanse of interstellar space, and time.
Who do YOU say that I am?
There can be no silence.
What we confess on earth matters. What we do on earth matters.
How you treat the most vulnerable is how you are treating me, says Jesus. How you treat the stranger, the foreigner, those who are imprisoned, those with no homes, those who are hungry, those without clean and affordable water – how you treat these is how you treat me. If you see them and respond to them, so you are doing to me. If you do not see them and do not respond to them, you do not see me and you have stayed silent.
And on THIS rock will the church be built: on this visible statement of the truth of the identity of the Christ, the living God
On THIS rock will the church be built: a church that demonstrates belief in a living, speaking, incarnating God
On THIS rock will the church be built: a church that courageously steps out and lives its statement of belief in a God of freedom, justice, love and peace.
On THIS rock will I build my church and nothing will prevail against it.
A number of months ago, I was approached by folks at the Faculty of Theology at Huron about being interviewed for a promotional video for the Master of Divinity program. Logistics of me being in Victoria and the videographer being in London made it a challenge at first, but we managed to find a time when I was in Toronto for PWRDF meetings to sit down and talk about my experiences of that program. I said lots of things, most of which was, I’m sure, incoherent. But James, the amazing videographer, somehow took them and made me sound intelligent! Many thanks to Todd, the Dean of the Faculty, for trusting me with saying things about that great place. Honoured to be with David Giffen in his beautiful parish for this video.
Preached on the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Luke’s, Ottawa. This was the first service that Matthew and I were able to do together as priests, I preached and he presided. It happened by the invitation of our friend, the Ven. David Selzer, who is currently priest-in-charge at St Luke’s.
(This one definitely makes more sense if you read the readings first…)
Now about eight days after these sayings…
Eight days after Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was…
After Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah of God…
After Jesus told them that he would suffer, be rejected, killed, and then be raised…
After explaining that anyone who tries to save their life will lose it and only those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel will save them…
About eight days after all of these sayings, Jesus takes Peter and John and James and goes up the mountain to pray.
It is remarkable how much happens with prayer.
Three of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, share this account of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain top in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Peter and John and James.
But only this one, the account written by Luke, says that Jesus went up the mountain expressly to pray.
Prayer figures prominently in the account of the life of Jesus written by Luke. It undergirds other pivotal events in the life of Jesus such as Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ selection of the twelve disciples, in the garden before Jesus is arrested, on the cross …
For Luke, prayer is the launch point for a dramatic encounter of God’s presence.
Because, while Jesus is praying, the appearance of his face is changed and his clothes become a brilliant white.
Here, again, Luke differs from Matthew and Mark… because while Matthew and Mark say that Jesus was “transfigured” or “metamorphosed” – Luke simply says that Jesus’ face was changed.
Unlike Moses, who appears with Jesus on this mountain but who, when he met God face-to-face on another mountain, reflected God’s glory in the shining of his face, here Jesus is not reflecting God’s glory because Jesus is God. Jesus is radiating God’s glory.
Jesus is God’s glory.
And while Luke says that Jesus’ face was changed, maybe it is more accurate to say the disciple’s viewing of Jesus’ face is changed. Finally, the disciples are getting a glimpse of who Jesus really is.
This is no reflected glory. This is God’s glory manifested in Jesus, shining through like a light in a dark room.
God is revealed in Jesus on this mountaintop. And witnessing it are Moses and Elijah – two giants of Hebrew history and mythology who have had their own encounters with God on the tops of mountains before – and Peter, John, and James – three friends of Jesus, the three who are a part of the inner circle who follow Jesus everywhere, and who have been and will be witness to God incarnate at work.
I wonder if seeing this helps these three disciples to start to realize a little bit more about the significance of those sayings eight days ago, those conversations that they have been having with Jesus about his identity and about the path that they must follow?
Perhaps that is part of the significance of this being the eighth day after…
Because the eighth day is the first day of the new week. In the tradition of the Early Church, the eighth day is Sunday. The day of resurrection. The day of new life. The day of new beginnings.
Here, Jesus is resetting the clock. He has just predicted his death for the first time and now he is turning his shining face towards Jerusalem and starting this journey.
Peter wants to pause here. He is on the top of the mountain in the presence of God, the Messiah. And if they stay and rest in the presence of God’s glory, then perhaps they can avoid the part about death and crucifixion.
But as Peter is still talking about resting, the cloud descends and overshadows them, terrifying them into silence.
This is no ordinary cloud and their terror is legitimate.
The only other place in Luke’s gospel where the word “overshadowed” is used is way back at the beginning, when an angel appears and says to Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God and you will conceive a son and name him Jesus, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and of his kingdom there will be no end…”
Mary, understandably, is confused and asks how this might happen.
The angel replies, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…
This cloud that is overshadowing the disciples is the same Most High that overshadowed Mary at the very beginning when Jesus became incarnate on earth.
The air must have been electric with God’s power in that cloud.
And then the cloud speaks, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
The voice speaks words similar to words that marked another beginning: At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he was baptized and the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and he heard the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
This time, however, the voice is for the disciples: In case there was still any doubt in your mind – this is my Son. Listen to what he says.
When he says he will suffer, he will. When he says he will die, he will. When he says he will be raised, he will.
Do Peter, John, and James leave the mountain knowing exactly what will take place in the weeks and months to come? Do they always get it right from here on in? I think we can agree that the answer is no, not really.
But we can be reminded of the fact that Jesus still revealed his full glory to them on that mountaintop when they saw his face changed and whether or not we can see it at any given time, the glory of God is here, incarnate, dwelling with us and in us – whether we are up the mountain or down.
In the words of the letter of Peter this morning, It is that lamp, shining in a dark place all night long, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts and we see it once more.