Meeting Jesus

I had an interesting encounter after church on Sunday.

We were in the middle of a visioning session with the congregation following the service when a church member came into the meeting to speak to me. There is a man, she said, ringing the office doorbell non-stop and demanding to speak to the priest. I told him that there was a meeting going on and no one was available. He said he was going to sit and wait and wanted to come inside.

This church member, understandably, felt uncomfortable having an unknown man sit outside the offices to wait while she was alone down the hall in the kitchen. So I and another member of our staff went to speak with him.

He seemed to recognize my collar right away and was happy to speak with me.

The second coming of Jesus has happened! he said without any hesitation after I said hello.
Oh? That’s exciting! I replied.
He looked me straight in the eye and said, I am he.
Oh! I said again. I wasn’t expecting the conversation to go there…
Very seriously he told me, I was told to deliver this special message to all of the churches.
Good for you! That is a lot of work.
He looked at me kind of accusatorily: I received this message in September. But you have very good bouncers and I have not been able to tell you until now. All of the true churches need to believe in Jesus and be saved.
Thank you for making sure that we heard.
Now, I have told you. And with that he turned around got his bicycle and cycled away.

It was an interesting interaction. My first response was that I wanted to share about it in one of my Facebook clergy groups, but then I stopped to think about that.

Why did I feel the need to share something seemingly so personal to this man? Was it because I wanted to mock him? Or because I wanted to demonstrate how good I am at interacting with people with mental illness? Or should I even be assuming it was a mental illness that was compelling him to share this message with us?

I am preparing to preach on Matthew 25:31-46 this coming weekend and in this passage the question is repeatedly asked, Lord when did we see you? A man walked up to me and told me he is Jesus. Why couldn’t he be?

So I haven’t posted anything other than this. And posting it here allows me to ponder different contexts for what might be going on. It means that I have to place it in the wider story rather than just sharing the dialogue for a laugh. Because even if it was mental illness that compelled his message, he is a beautiful human being made in God’s image who should not be mocked but should be loved and cared for.

Maybe I did meet Jesus after all.

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PWRDF November 2017

I spent the first twelve days of November in Ontario/Quebec this year. The Board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund had our annual Fall meeting followed by, a few days later, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod meeting. With them only being a few days apart this year, I decided to stay in the East rather than fly back and forth across the country twice in twelve days, confusing my biorhythms and exposing myself to double the germs.

Each time the Board meets, we conclude our time together around the Table with a short Eucharist service. Usually, the Primate presides at the service and offers a few short reflections. This meeting, I was honoured to be asked to preside in the Primate’s absence. It is, however, a little intimidating to offer a few reflections in the presence of so many amazing colleagues and friends, including a retired archbishop, a bishop, an archdeacon, a canon, and a few folks who have been ordained much longer than I, not to mention the lay people who have had long careers in the Anglican Church.

I had the interesting challenge of reflecting on the readings for the commemoration of Richard Hooker, whose day in the church calendar it was, while also reflecting on the work of a relief and development agency. It felt like an odd juxtaposition.

The gospel for the day was a selection from John 17 – 17:18-23 – so I focused on that as I reflected on the work of the previous days of meeting and the work ahead of us as we left our meeting…

+++

Some reflections offered on November 3, 2017 offered in a Toronto Airport Hotel conference room with the gathered Board of Directors and management staff of PWRDF:

One of the things that I have come to appreciate in my travels is prayer. That sounds a little cliché … but what I mean is, that I have come to appreciate our shared global language of prayer: It is this thing that has so many layers of meaning and importance even above the actual words that are said or unsaid. 

I remember being in Ephesus. It was the day after Matthew and I had gotten engaged and we were standing in the middle of the ruins of the church dedicated to Mary the Theotokos. Another group of pilgrims were gathered in a circle around where the altar would have been, praying together in unison. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood what they were saying and the power of the moment gave me goosebumps. 

Or there was worship in the Cathedral in Grahamstown, South Africa where, for the first time, I worshipped with the people who wrote the mass setting that I’d heard bits and pieces of here in Canada, but there we sung the prayers as they were written – in Xhosa accompanied by marimbas, swaying back and forth to the music. 

And just the other night, as Bishop David led us in Compline, we came to the Lord’s Prayer and I looked up across the table and saw [our partner visiting from Guatemala] Gregoria praying along with us in her own language. 

Prayer transcends time. It transcends language. It unites us across time and space. 

 Think of Jesus. We have this huge chunk in the gospel of John where Jesus is praying and we get to learn a whole lot about the things that were and are important by what Jesus prays. 

On the night before he died, after sharing a meal with friends, we find Jesus, praying in the garden: 

I pray that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… 

I love to think about non-linear time and how those things that Jesus was praying, he was praying about us here today gathered in a hotel conference room after a few solid days of meeting and deliberating and holding up the mission of God through work in policy, and volunteer management, and institutional evaluations.  

That Jesus was praying back and forward across time, across national and continental lines, and encompassing all of the saints from all times and places. And as we have gathered this week in prayer and to share in God’s mission, so we are preparing to go out in prayer and live into God’s mission around us. 

Jesus prayed, As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…  

We will soon be sent out to go and return to our daily lives. But we do that surrounded by prayer. Jesus was praying for us then, to accomplish that for which we have been sent. And is praying for us now, alongside that whole communion of saints that the church also celebrated this week. 

That prayer carries us forward in our work as we strive to participate in God’s mission on earth by working to create a truly just, healthy, and peaceful world. And considering that participation in the mission of God is, in itself, an act of prayer – an act of “Your kingdom come God, as it is in heaven.” 

And so as we prayerfully gather together around this table, may we be aware of those who have gone before us and those who will come after us in this mission. Of those who have been praying for us since the beginning of time, and those who continue to hold us in prayer day in and day out … so thatas Jesus prayed, the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… 

Names and Faces

SleepI see your face
I know it
I remember your name
and all the meetings we had across the desk in the back office
or over Tim Hortons
and the walks we took into town to do things like
renew your service card
and the walks back
Back to what?
You’re still here, on the street

I run into you on the sidewalk one day
You have a job!
You once told me that you had only two emotions:
happy
and
angry
But right now you seem joyous
even exuberant
You have your child back and a safe apartment to live in
I’m so glad you stopped me to tell me

I don’t remember your name
But I do remember your face
and I remember your story
How could I forget?
You trusted me with your trauma
and I hope that I was able to hold it for you
even for a little while
You’ve had a rough life
I pray that things have gotten better
but when I see you on the street I fear they haven’t

You popped into my new office
at the church
I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in a church before
and I am really sorry that I wasn’t there that day
I love catching up every time I run into you

I remember your name –
oh do I ever. We spent a lot of time talking –
and I remember your child’s name
I have seen the two of you walking downtown
(he has grown a lot!)
and so I wonder
how things are going now…
Are you back together?
Have you gotten clean like you wanted to?
How is school going?
But your eyes slide across my face without recognition
so I don’t stop you to ask

I see your faces
all of them
I wish I could remember all of your names –
though maybe that is more about me wishing I could do more
than remember
and pray
and hope

 

Sermon for October 15, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Text: Matthew 22:1–14
Audio available here.

So is anyone else feeling a little uncomfortable after hearing that reading from the gospel this morning?? That stuff about burning cities and kicking people out into darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…  

Yeah…. That doesn’t sit very well does it? 

 I don’t know what you do, but one of the first things I do when I come across an uncomfortable reading like this one – a reading that I can’t avoid because I’m assigned to preach – one of the first things I do is step back and read what comes before and what comes after the selection assigned for the day, because sometimes putting it in context can help. 

And because it is worth reminding ourselves that the small selections we hear read aloud each week are a part of a bigger story – not only within the narrative of each book within the Bible, but within the entire Biblical narrative as well.  

 So where are we here, this morning? 

This is the part of the gospel of Matthew that happens after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is a part of the series of events that the writer of Matthew places between the Triumphal Entry, what we call Palm Sunday, and Good Friday and Easter morning. 

When we get to this parable, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and gone straight to the temple, overturned some tables, and cleared it of people taking financial advantage of worshippers at the temple. Jesus then does a few things that embarrass the authorities and tells some stories that make them out to be the bad guys. So at this point, his level of endearment of himself to the authorities in Jerusalem is pretty low. 

We know he hasn’t endeared himself to the authorities because pretty much the next thing that happens is opposing factions within the religious authorities come together to plot together to entrap Jesus.  

 So what happened in this parable that upset the authorities so much that the next thing we see is these opposing factions working together to bring Jesus down? I think that it has to do with entitlement and God’s grace. 

 Lets unpack what I mean with that by going through the parable again… 

 Jesus is standing in the temple with the chief priests, the Pharisees, the elders of the people, and a huge crowd of random temple-goers. Presumably the disciples are there too, since they seem to be around all of the time. 

The chief priests and elders ask Jesus a question and, as he usually does in the gospels, Jesus responds with a question of his own before launching into a series of parables that basically accuse the religious leaders and authorities of getting their priorities wrong. This is the third in that series and it expands on the previous two. 

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 

A wedding banquet – this is like Christmas, Easter, and an invitation to the swankiest party you’ve ever imagined all rolled into one. It is a big deal. 

He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited 

Everyone who got the “Save the Date” and the “Invitation” is now being summoned: the party is ready! 

But they would not come… 

So the king tries again. He sends another round of people to everyone who has already been invited. Look! The feast is ready! The decorations are up! The fairy lights are on! Come to the wedding banquet! 

But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the king’s slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 

So the king responds to this violence with violence and burns the city of the folks who killed his slaves. 

This is where, if you are trying to identify God with the king, things get tough. Is the God we worship a God of retribution and violence? No. Is there judgement? Yes… but maybe not in the way you are thinking. 

So far this parable is following the narrative and worldview of the Hebrew people to whom Matthew was writing. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we read story after story of God sending prophets to call the people back to God and story after story of those prophets being mistreated or killed. The result of this, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, is that the people of Israel are conquered by foreigners, scattered, exiled, and in some cases killed. So in one sense, Jesus is playing into that narrative and worldview: the first round of invitations has gone out, and people refused. 

So what does the king do? He sends his people out into the main streets, saying invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet … both good and bad … so that the wedding hall will be filled with guests. Invite EVERYONE. The bad and the good.  

This is such a hallmark of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. The bad stuff isn’t a problem for the kingdom of heaven – everyone is invited. Judgement isn’t about keeping people out. 

Invite everyone to the wedding banquet because we are going to have a PARTY and it isn’t a party without everyone there, is what the king is saying. So that is what happens. The hall is filled. Everyone is invited and this time everyone shows up. 

And because it is such a mix of people and the king wants things to be festive and for no one to feel left out, everyone who comes in is given a wedding robe. A special outfit to wear so that everyone knows they belong at the party.  

And then the king comes in to survey his party… 

But when he came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.
Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen… 

Hang on there… doesn’t this fly in the face of “everyone being invited” and bringing in the good and the bad?? Why, then, is Jesus making such a big deal about this guy’s clothes?? 

Remember what I said at the beginning about how I thought this parable was all about entitlement versus God’s grace? I think that is what this is saying. 

God’s throwing a party, the best party and the biggest party – and every single person is invited. In fact, every single person is already there, in the door, at the party. It is a gift – the free gift of God’s grace to every single person. 

But this one guy decides to come in his own clothes, to cast off the gift of grace. Because what he already has is good enough for the party.  

My clothes, that I bought and paid for and put on all by myself, are special and I deserve to be recognized for that.  I don’t need the wedding clothes because I am already good enough AND there is no way I want to be associated with the riff raff who NEED the special wedding clothes.  

“Nope” says Jesus. 

Go into the main streets and invite EVERYONE to the wedding banquet, both good and bad. 

God’s grace is that everyone is called to the wedding banquet. Everyone is invited, and everyone is given the “right clothes” to wear.  

There is none of that “my clothes are nicer than your clothes” or “my behaviour is better than your behaviour” or “I lived a holier life” stuff. 

We don’t like the idea of judgement. But Jesus isn’t telling a parable where judgement is “who is out versus who is in” – Jesus is telling an expansive story of everyone being in… and the only ones who end up out are the ones who think they’re good enough refuse to put on the clothes that God has gifted them. 

Even that last line, For many are called, but few are chosen is infused with God’s grace. Don’t think of “chosen” as the means by which we are invited in to the wedding banquet. Think of “chosen” as referring to the end result, a state of being – the simple fact of being present at the wedding banquet. 

One scholar translates the last line of the parable God calls all peoples, but the weakest God loves above all. (Schotroff)  

If we remove the value judgement often associated with the word “weak,” I wonder if we can instead read that sentence as God calls all peoples, but the weakest, who understand that they have to take on God’s grace rather than their own “good works,” are the ones who can actually experience God’s love. 

Our state of being is at the wedding feast, dwelling in God’s grace and and God’s love. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace and may we have the courage to put on that garment every day. 

Amen. 

Sermon for October 1, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Text: Exodus 17:1-7
Audio available here.

Is the Lord among us or not?

These words ended our reading from the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures this morning.

Is the Lord among us or not?

It is pretty hard to see the presence of God when you are literally dying of thirst on a long march through the desert at temperatures upwards of 30 degrees Celsius. Did I mention doing this while carrying tents? Other belongings? Small children and livestock?

No water. Again.  Last week it was no food. Before that it was no water. When will it end?

Is the Lord among us or not?

I mean, at least we had water in Egypt! Water is a basic human need and now we don’t have it.

Is the Lord among us or not?

The people of Israel were pretty right to complain to, contend with, and test their God. We would be doing it too.

Is the Lord among us or not?

If God was with me, why did I get sick? If God was with us, why did our friend die? If God were with us, why is work so hard right now? Why can’t I be happy with my courses at school? Is God with us or not?

How do we cope when God is absent, or at least seems to be absent? And how do we sit with others when they are – or when a community is – going through that pain?

Is the Lord among us or not?

Sometimes it is really hard to tell, and there is no easy answer.

I don’t have the answers, either, to that question of why it sometimes seems like God is absent. I’ve felt it too. What I can do is look at what Moses did in our reading today.

Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with these people?” … The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.”

Take some people with you, Moses. Take the elders because of the stories and wisdom they carry … and take a group because you can’t do it alone.

We aren’t meant to walk this journey alone – whether it be through the wilderness without water when we wonder if God is among us or not – or whether it be in the Promised Land when things are going well. We are meant to journey with others.

Look around you –  There are some here who carry stories and wisdom of times when God has been abundantly present and stories and wisdom from times when they have been able to carry on even when God seemed absent. And there are some who have energy to carry those who cannot walk on their own. And there are some who can sit beside us and just be present when sitting is all we can do. Any journey is never about the actions of one single person. It is about God working in and through us as we hold and carry the hope of us all… We journey with others.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.”

Moses, see that staff in your hand? Yes, the same staff that you use to keep your footing as you trek through the desert, that same, ordinary staff that you used so many times when you were working as a shepherd. Yes, that same staff that you had in your hand the last time you were at Horeb, when you saw a burning bush and knew you were in the presence of God. That same staff you had in your hand when I used you to work wonders in Egypt… That same staff that you had in your hand when the seas were parted…

Take THAT staff and go to Horeb. I am there. Return to that place where you found me before. Use that ordinary staff that you have in your hand. Strike the rock, and there will be water. There will be life.

Look at your hands …. Feel your feet on the ground … If we are the hands and feet of God, what is in our hands and where can our feet take us that seems ordinary but is so much more? That pen that we pick up in our hands to use to write notes of encouragement to people on a weekly basis. The dough that our hands lovingly knead into loaves to bake for nourishment for this community as we gather around the table here on a Sunday morning. The keys to our car in our hand as we visit a friend across town or take someone in for a doctor’s appointment. Our hands, folded on our lap or holding the hand of another person as God uses our very selves as we are present with someone in silence, in laughter, to play games, to read books, to pray

Is the Lord among us or not? 

Sometimes God is abundantly visible, like in a burning bush. Sometimes God is hidden, like standing on a rock that has not yet brought forth living water. Sometimes, I cannot see God but you can, and you can make God known to me. Sometimes you cannot see God, but the person beside you can, and they can make God known to you.

That is why we are here. A community of people. Ordinary people who gather together each week to say together, on behalf of those amongst us right now who cannot: We believe in God. And we believe that God is among us now.

Amen.

PWRDF Sermon for September 17, 2017

Photo by Catherine Allen

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.

Feline Updates

This is your periodic reminder that we basically have the cutest cat on the planet.

Clockwise from top left: Cricket trying to help with sermon writing, exhausted from a particularly good play time, quiet time together reading on the comfy chair, and calm assurances that I probably did okay on my first Sunday as a priest.

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.