One Year…

One Year

I don’t post a lot of sermons here anymore. In fact, I haven’t posted any since we moved to Ontario and I began to work as a part of the team in the Parish of the Valley. All (many) of my sermons in the last are posted as audio recordings here on the Parish website. I’ve taken to not putting text online much anymore.

But this week seemed a good exception. It was the 1 year anniversary of the big Celebration of New Ministry that we held as a parish, the date that we all kind of look to as the big launch of this new endeavour we’re up to in the Ottawa Valley.

The feast day of our 1-year anniversary fell on the day of our midweek service at Holy Trinity, Pembroke, and so I offered some reflections on the day and the year that had been.

Our Celebration of New Ministry happened on the day of James of Jerusalem, and the readings for the day are Matthew 13:54-58 and Acts 15:12-22.

 

One year ago today, on October 23, 2018, there were about 225 people crammed into Holy Trinity at 7 o’clock in the evening. These pews up here in the choir were full of people wearing the choir robes of Holy Trinity, the choir robes of St Paul’s Cobden and Stafford, the choir robes of Ascension Killaloe and St John’s Eganville.

One year ago today we held the Celebration of New Ministry for the Parish of the Valley.

We chose this day, the day we remember James of Jerusalem, James the brother of Jesus, not because it was an auspicious day to hold the service, but because it was literally the only day that we could get Bishop John and Archbishop Fred in the room at the same time!

But… I think that the Lord was working it out for us, because, one year later and looking back, I think the memorial of James of Jerusalem was appropriate for us as a parish.

James was the brother of Jesus.

He isn’t mentioned very much in the gospels, other than readings like the one we just heard from the gospel of Matthew. His mentions are pretty much limited to naming him as Jesus’ brother.

It is in the book of Acts where we get a sense of who James was.

The early church, in those first couple of years and decades following the death and resurrection of Jesus, was a little bit fractured. Primarily, the conflict was between Judean followers of Jesus – those who kept all of the laws of the Torah and considered themselves devout Jews who followed Jesus, and Gentile followers of Jesus – those who were Greek or Roman or Syrian or some other nationality.

The conflict was over whether or not all of these Gentile believers first needed to convert to Judaism in order to properly follow Jesus. Namely – did they need to get circumcised in order to follow Jesus.

Some were adamantly for circumcision – James and many of Jesus’ disciples amongst them.

Others, namely the apostle Paul, were adamantly against making Gentiles adhere to this and other Judean laws in order to follow Jesus.

It all came to a head when Paul and his helpers came to Jerusalem to ask for help for their mission to the gentiles in Asia.

James was the leader of the church in Jerusalem and he held a meeting where all of the “sides” were able to put their case.

In the end, James accepted Paul’s argument, acknowledging that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was God’s mission. Part of his speech, which we read from the book of Acts, acknowledges that God has been doing this work of bringing them together since before Paul even came on the scene. He references Peter’s vision and encounter with Gentiles who became strong followers of Jesus and says that he realizes that “God has been making these things known from long ago.”

Because of this, as is noted in “For All The Saints,” James is honoured for his “reconciling wisdom” as one who overcame his own prejudices – overcame those barriers that I talked about on Sunday, the ones that we put up in the way, not the ones that God puts in the way – overcame his own barriers that prevented unity in the church in order to create a united early Christian church that went on to spread and endure all the way up until today.

So why do I think that James of Jerusalem is a good saint for us to have here in the Parish of the Valley?

Simply for the way that he worked to keep God at the centre of things and sought to remain open to different people, different ways of doing things, different parts of the church coming together in a unified mission and purpose.

See where I’m going with this?

Eighteen months, one year ago, many of us were still sceptical that this thing called the Parish of the Valley would work. We weren’t sure what we were getting into. We didn’t know each other, we hadn’t done things with folks from other Anglican Churches in the Valley.

One year later, we still haven’t got it all figured out, but we’ve realized that we’re stronger together. That we like hanging out with each other in worship and in fellowship. That we can accomplish so much more for the kingdom of God if we stick together than if we get worked up over slight differences in how we worship (because each of our churches across the Parish does things slightly differently!) or slight differences in who makes up our congregations.

So as we remember James of Jerusalem today, I give thanks for the reconciling work done by James 2000 years ago, and the reconciling work that brings us all together across the Parish of the Valley each.

Thanks be to God for this community and this parish.

Amen.

Algonquin Park

Mother’s Day is an interesting day. For whatever reason, some churches make a big deal of it … which is all fine and dandy until there are those in your midst who have complicated relationships with motherhood. I never really encountered / registered church going overboard with Mother’s Day until I was in my 20s and attending the Anglican Cathedral in Victoria, and just stopped going to church that day altogether.

It wasn’t until we were driving two hours up to the church of St Alban the Martyr in Mattawa, Ontario to take the service yesterday morning that I realized a possible reason why I hadn’t ever registered churches making a big deal for Mother’s Day: we didn’t go to church on Mother’s Day growing up. We went to Algonquin Park.

So, Sunday afternoon Matthew and I revisited that long Hoyer family tradition, something like 23 years later.

Algonquin Park is literally in our backyard here in Petawawa, so we drove the 45min into the Park, bought an annual pass, and went for a walk at Grand Lake. In another week everything will be green instead of brown. It was a still afternoon inland, with no bugs to be seen (the black flies will also be out in the next few weeks…). The wind was up on Grand Lake and while the water was still cool, it wasn’t cold like the Pacific Ocean. What a grand day. 

The Valley

A lot has change for Matthew and I in the last month: We packed up everything and moved 4600km across the country to Petawawa, Ontario where we have begun ministry at a new area parish in the Ottawa Valley.

An “area parish” is something relatively new being employed in the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa where there are a handful of clergy working together with a collection of churches. The idea is to share strengths and build capacity by putting together churches and clergy who may not have been working closely together in the past but who are in a similar geographic area. We will share resources and people, we will work together on areas of shared ministry, and we will all have the opportunity to play to our strengths in order to benefit the whole.

The Geography of our Valley Parish. The blue markers are all churches in the parish – some have services every Sunday, some are seasonal, some have services once or twice a month, and some are chapels and have services once or twice a year.

Some of the churches in our parish. Missing are the two I will have primary responsibility for, along with one chapel.

Matthew and I have spent the last few days driving all over our new parish to get to know the places and see the towns and villages (and corners of farm roads) where the churches are located. While we are both from relatively nearby – Matthew is from three hours east of our new parish and I am from three hours south – all of the driving has helped us to get a better feel for the parish and the people we will be ministering with. It has also been a lot of fun!

All of the churches are beautiful buildings and in the most beautiful of countrysides. All of them are also incredibly different – stone, brick, wood, siding … and most have a cemetery right beside the church.

We have driven about 450km around the area finding all of the churches. It has taken us within minutes of Algonquin Park, along three different river valleys (Bonnechere, Madawaska, and Ottawa), and out to corners of farmer’s fields on secondary Ontario highways.

There will be lots of things for us to learn amongst these people, but we know that we’re in a good place and off to a great start!

(For more on each of the churches pictured in the montage above, see my Instagram account)

Happy Birthday Cricket

We have had Cricket for about two and a half years now. When we got her, they estimated that she was born in February. Therefore, we usually mark the first week of February as Cricket’s birthday.

Happy Birthday Cricket!

(To help you to keep up with the Adventures of Cricket more regularly, she has her own social media accounts! Find her on Instagram and on Twitter)

A Sermon for January 21, 2018

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Jonah 3:1-5,10; Mark 1:14-20 – Epiphany 2.

 

These last few weeks, we have re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a small season of Ordinary Time in our church’s calendar – but because it is an ordinary that isn’t ordinary.

It is the ordinal-ed time, the numbered season where we count the weeks from Epiphany – that wonderful feast where we see Jesus made manifest as the Saviour for all – to Lent – where we travel with Jesus towards his death and then his glorious resurrection at Easter.

We visibly show it through changing our church colours to a life-giving green … but that green might be best thought of as a translucent green mixed with white: ordinary time mixed with holy days.

I think that is a good summary of what this season is all about: watching for the holy, for Jesus made manifest in the midst of our daily life.

But what is ordinary?

Some of my psychologist friends would suggest that ordinary, like normal, is really only found as a cycle on the washing machine…

And that is very likely true. Ordinary is only ordinary in a context – my ordinary is certainly different from yours which is certainly different from that of the four men named in today’s gospel reading.

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, an ordinary day seems to include fishing. For they are fishermen.

They live along the Sea of Galilee – a large freshwater lake about 7miles across and 13 miles long – large enough that it really can feel like the Sea…

The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is dotted with villages that exist mainly because of the fishing industry. This fishing industry is one of the primary sources of income in the area and it is largely operated through family-run cooperatives that have somehow been able to obtain a fishing licence from the authorities.

From the overseeing Roman Empire that has decided that they can make more money if they take every last fish caught by these fisherfolk and salt and dry them or turn them into fish sauce and export it all for a huge profit to drive the wheel of the ever-expanding empire and provide immense wealth for those at the top.

For these poor, colonized fishing families, having a fish leftover to eat for dinner is a rarity and their once staple is now gone to feed the belly of an Empire.

It sounds a lot like their ordinary is a struggle.

Against institution. Against an oppressive system. A disheartening existence. One day at a time.

Struggling to make a go of it. And probably also afraid to dream that there might be something different, something better.

Which is both like and unlike our ordinary, I suspect.

It is like our ordinary because I am sure that every single one of us has felt disheartened or alone or like things are a constant struggle – at some point or another. Or have wondered where God is or why the things that are happening are happening.

And are some of us struggling against different institutions that seek to oppress us? Absolutely. Though at the same time, most of us have at least some degree of privilege that makes it hard for us to fully locate ourselves in the sandals of the colonized fishermen of the gospel reading.

And while we often find ourselves caught up in the story from their perspective, as those who are struggling or disheartened and longing for God to call us into something else – and rightly so, we also would do well to remind ourselves that those of us here who are white, educated, North Americans might more readily align with the Roman citizens than with the Jewish fishermen in this story.

But that is the neat thing about the gospels. Today we have the story of call of four Jewish fishermen.

Later on, we’ll read the call of a man who is known to us a tax collector, a man who is overtly complicit with the colonizers oppressing these fishermen, and yet he will coexist and be a valued part of Jesus’ followers in the same way Simon, Andrew, James, John are.

Because it doesn’t matter what your ordinary is… Jesus is there. Not only is Jesus there, but Jesus breaks into and transforms ordinary.

I think that is one of the reasons we have this season of Epiphany – yes, I know we need to somehow fill the space between Christmas and Lent —

But we go from that magnificent celebration of Christmas where we rejoice at God entering into Creation, becoming incarnate and dwelling amongst us …

and then we get this season of Epiphany where we can be reminded that God also comes to us in little ways. In more subtle ways. In ways that don’t always get heralded by angels or celebrated by distant kings bearing gifts.

This season of ordinary time where God breaks in and makes the ordinary holy

For Simon, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus breaks into their ordinary day fishing and offers a different way: A way that subverts the political structures and offers them a new way of being

A way that creates instability in the empire by declaring that the oppressive status quo is not okay while simultaneously creating some stability in their lives – someone, something to hold onto

No, it is not without risk. But they go with Jesus anyway

We heard the same thing in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning in the story of Jonah. In the brief section of the story we read today, Jonah finally answers God’s call to go to Nineveh and bring God’s message. I love that this passage opens with us hearing that Jonah hears from God a couple of times before he responds because I believe that it is important to hear that it is okay to struggle with following God.

Both Jonah and the four fisherfolk have something in common: They all have to give something up to answer the call and they have to get prepared to experience the unexpected – the small epiphanies, or in-breakings of the power of God into their lives

Jonah has to leave behind his prejudice – as Alastair talked about last week when talking about an “us and them” mentality of the calling of Nathaniel – Jonah is also being called to understand that all are God’s children and none is left out because of where they are from or because we think we might be better than they are.

Jonah has to leave behind that prejudice and in doing so, is surprised to find that God is actually there, at work in Nineveh.

Simon, Andrew, James, and John are called to leave behind the secure insecurity of their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Ultimately, they are leaving the things they are doing that prop up empire to follow Jesus into unknown territory…

Holding these two stories together, I think that we can safely say that there are times where we will see it immediately like, Simon, Andrew, James, and John – even if we don’t understand it immediately – and there are times where we’ll need to see it a few times to get it, like Jonah.

And that both are okay.

Both will involve these moments of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways and bringing holy moments into the ordinary.

But all the time, seen or unseen, God is here. God is at work. And God is proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is among us.

My prayer for each of us this week is that we may catch glimpses of that kingdom of God – catch sight of God breaking into our lives in unexpected ways. Showing holiness in the ordinary. Amen.

A Sermon for Advent 4: Mary

The author sporting her Magnificat t-shirt

It was one of those years where the Sunday of Advent also happened to be Christmas Eve and so we had a mere 5 services at St John’s. Fortunately, I was only required to be at three of them: preaching in the morning at 10am and presiding in the evening at 7 and 11pm. I had the great idea of re-using a sermon I preached on these same readings on this same Sunday three years ago, thus giving me a little bit more brain space for all of the other things that needed to happen before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. It was a really good sermon too, one that I was really proud of and quite happy with and was actually excited about using again. However, the Spirit had other ideas, as I alluded in my previous post. I began to feel really strongly that I needed to preach something different, something that addressed #metoo and the stories in the news of strong men being brought down by the world finally listening to the voices of vulnerable women and something that acknowledged that St John’s has had a complicated relationship with some of these issues as well. So, in a matter of hours, I sat down and this is the sermon that the Spirit gave.

Preached December 24, 2017 at St John the Divine, Victoria

Find the audio recording here:

“Yes”

The gospel of Luke tells the story of the Annunciation – the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary to ask her to bear God’s son into the world. Mary knows that this is a dangerous and subversive call, yet still says yes, giving her consent to bear God. In doing so, she is proclaiming the greatness of the Mighty One who turns the world upside down and reminding us that listening to and believing women has always been a foundational part of our our faith.

Gentle Mary?

Gentle Mary, meek and mild. We like to sing about it every Christmas. We look at pictures of meek and retiring Mary. She always looks to pure, so innocent.

I call bullshit.

Image by Ben Wildflower. It is one of my favourite depictions of the Magnificat. I have the tshirt.

Where on earth did we get the idea that a woman who sings about God scattering the proud, who calls on God to bring down the powerful from their thrones and lift up the oppressed, who demands that God fill the hungry with good things and send the rich away with empty hands – where on earth did we get the idea that this woman is anything but a strong, feisty, courageous woman with agency?

When I read the gospel accounts of Mary the mother of Jesus, I do not see some mild-mannered girl quietly acquiescing to God’s demand of her to carry his son.

Rather I read about a woman who joins a long line of people throughout Scriptures and throughout history who question God. What if her “How can this be?” in Luke’s story of the Annunciation is less about doubt and more about wrestling with what God is asking of her? And what if in wrestling with it, she decides to agree to the vocation of being the mother of Christ? “Here am I.”

Just as Moses said “But suppose they do not believe me… O my Lord, I have never been eloquent” but went with God’s words.

Just as Isaiah said “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips” and then said “Here am I; send me.” And God sent him.

Just as Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak!” but then went and prophesied the message God gave him.

Just as Esther hesitated because of the strong possibility of death, but then spoke out at great risk and saved the Jewish people.

Just as “ordinary” folks like you and I wrestle with the tasks – big and small – and vocations that God sets before us; wondering if we are really being called, debating whether we actually want to do that, and eventually finding that God really is with us and we want to say yes.

Mary’s agency is at the heart of this story, and it is this strong and courageous woman who answered God’s call and brought God into the world.

Amen.

 

With thanks to my Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) sisters for some inspiration, and who, through our conversations on Mary and consent, provided more links for thought:

The Mary Who Said No

Mary’s Choice: What the Annunciation Story Tells Us About Moral Agency

Did Mary Say “Me Too”?