Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6 2017)

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.

Readings: 2 Peter 1:16–19 and Luke 9:28–36

(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.

Amen.

 

Sermon for May 28, 2017

Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria
Readings: Acts 1:6-14 & John 17:1-11

Audio available here.

 

There is something very human about the opening words in our reading from the Book of Acts today.

Jesus is gathered together again with his friends and disciples. They have come together at the Mount of Olives – that hill overlooking Jerusalem: the place where Jesus shed tears over the city, that place that holds the garden in which Jesus prayed on the night when he was betrayed, that place from which he was arrested.

But all of those things are passed now: the men and women gathered here have seen the crucifixion of Jesus and even in their doubt and confusion about whether or if it could happen, they have all been witnesses to his rising.

They’ve spent the last 40 days with Jesus but I am sure that they still had thousands of questions to ask of him – and here, on the Mount of Olives, at the very beginning of our reading from Acts we hear one of them:

Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?

It is a question that gives voice to a very human confusion, and maybe even disappointment, that continues to plague them even when looking into the face of the risen Christ. After all that they have been through, they are still seeking to have a political revolution when Jesus has patiently time and time again talked about a different sort of kingdom.

It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set…. begins Jesus – probably with a sigh, and probably leaving those gathered feeling a little bit chastened….

It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set… BUT … and here it shifts… but YOU will receive power. YOU will be my witnesses!

This is not a dismissal but an expansive empowering. They are the ones who will be bringing about this kingdom!

And then, suddenly, before they have had a chance to process the words and formulate a second question, Jesus is lifted up and disappears.

 

In one of the only recorded instance of his followers actually doing what Jesus says, his followers return to Jerusalem to wait. The way the writer of Acts phrases it, it sounds like they have returned to that same upper room where they are accustomed to waiting: except this time instead of cowering behind locked doors, they have gathered together – disciples, Jesus’ family, many of the women who have been following Jesus – all gathered together to pray.

Acts says they were constantly devoting themselves to prayer.

I wonder if they had any inclination as to what was coming 10 days later on the day we now know as Pentecost?

I wonder if knowing would have changed how they prayed?

 

We, like those followers who were constantly devoting themselves to prayer while waiting in Jerusalem between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit in tongues of fire, are living in-between.

On Thursday we celebrated Ascension Day. Next Sunday will be Pentecost.

This Sunday, we are in-between.

Between Ascension and Pentecost.

Between Jesus leaving and the birth of the church.

Between now and not yet.

Between belief and understanding.

 

In-between is an uncomfortable place to be; it is full of uncertainty and sometimes apprehension.

If we are honest, I suspect we’d agree that the disciple’s decision to hide away in a locked room between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection sometimes seems more appealing than their coming together to pray between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost.

 

But prayer is what Jesus has modelled for them to do.

In John, we don’t get an account of the disciples asking to be taught to pray and then having Jesus give them what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Instead, the gospel of John is full of examples of Jesus praying in public, in front of his disciples and in front of anyone who would listen.

 

Think about today’s gospel from John 17.

This prayer, part of what we call the “Farewell Discourse”, comes immediately after Jesus tells his disciples that he will return to his Father and that the grief they have will eventually turn to joy. Then, while still sitting at the Last Supper table with his friends, he launches into this intimate prayer we that read this morning.

I don’t know what that would have been like, I imagine it feeling like a super awkward eavesdropping session on Jesus. But, maybe the disciples were used to it by now and took it as a glimpse into Jesus’ relationship with God and the importance of relationship in our faith journey.

Still, it is too easy to pass by this prayer thinking it just another conversation with God and not worthy of any theological consideration.

It is too easy to convince ourselves that prayer is much to personal for it to contain anything to shape what we know about God.

Prayer is incredibly intimate, and yes it is a conversation, a dialogue. But it is more than that. Think of the global Anglican church – there is no statement of faith or set of doctrines that unites us. Rather it is our prayers – the words we say and pray together in our liturgy week in and week out. That is why the words of our liturgy matter so much! It is our theology! It reveals a lot about what we think about God and what our expectations might be.

This prayer in the gospel of John is a moment for us to see what we can learn from how Jesus’ prayed for us.

Reading it that way, we might find some things that surprise us.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

It isn’t often that we get a straightforward definition of eternal life, especially one that doesn’t involve clouds or heaven or things like that. But here we have one: and THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ who you have sent… (v3)

 

Is eternal life really that simple: to know God and know Jesus?

I wonder how that could change what we imagine in this life?

I wonder how it would affect our picture of God?

I wonder how that changes living in-between?

 

Suddenly living in-between isn’t very between, it simply is!

It is relationship with God: John’s gospel assumes that people were created by God for relationship with God, and all of our lives – the now and the not yet, the waiting and the uncertainty, the belief and understanding – flows out of that.

And we see that in the way that the gospel writer describes Jesus’ earthly ministry:

  • The Word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us, as a human subject to human relationships and hurts but also as one bringing the glory of God into humanity
  • His care for human relationship that has Jesus turn water into wine at the wedding feast of his friends
  • That intimacy of conversation between Jesus and an isolated Samaritan woman at a well who describes Jesus as one who truly knows her, down to the details of her personal life with her succession of husbands, and then who discovers what it means to have living water through Jesus
  • Jesus bringing wholeness and restoration of relationship with others in their community to those who are separated by blindness or lameness
  • Vulnerably weeping at the death of his good friend Lazarus
  • Calling himself the shepherd that knows each one of his sheep so well that he can call us all by name.

 

It is no wonder that the disciples returned to prayer. Jesus had just been taken away from them and this was the way they had learned from him to continue to be in relationship while apart.

It is the way that we come together as a communion of people around the world and declare our belief and trust in God.

It is the way we are in relationship with each other and with God.

It is the way we are in eternal life, here and now, in the in-between and in the here.

All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Amen.

Sermon for April 30, 2017

Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35 (The Road to Emmaus)

Audio file is available here.

 

“But we had hoped…”

There are some walks that are longer than others.

The length isn’t necessarily because of the distance, or even the landscape. Sometimes it is a long walk because of what is being carried…

It had been a long day already. A long weekend, really. Huddled with friends in an upstairs room – all together since sometime on Thursday or Friday. Our hopes have been growing cold along with the body that we laid in the tomb just before the sun set and the Sabbath began.

The Sabbath came and went and finally it was Sunday and we had a little more freedom to move around. Some of the women were up at the crack of dawn to head over to the part of the garden where the graves are. The rest of us stayed put in the room, still sitting in that stunned silence that often accompanies grave disappointment. And then the women returned with the news that his body was no longer there and a story of a vision of angels who said he was alive.

But … still, no one saw him and we’ve been beginning to suspect that the whole thing has been a mistake.

So, with the disappointment still clinging like an anvil to their shoulders, two of them left to head to Emmaus, a village about seven miles away.

Not a terribly long walk – it is only slightly further than the Times Colonist 10K that hundreds of people are walking or running this morning in Victoria… yet from the sounds of it, it was a really long walk.

Carrying a heavy burden will make even the shortest distance seem like an eternity.

 

As they were walking, a solitary walker came near and joined their party and their conversation, and he walked the seven miles with them, sharing in their conversation and discussion.

The gospel writer uses three words to describe the conversation – the first is the word from which we derive our word “homily” (but don’t worry, I don’t intend to have a seven mile walk length sermon this morning!), the second describes a rhetoric-full exchange of words, and the third, an emotional dialogue.

As drenched in disappointment as the two walkers, Cleopas and his friend, were, I imagine that it really was an incredibly emotion-full conversation for them: their despair is encapsulated in the phrase, “But we had hoped that he was the one…”

But we had hoped.

 

But we had hoped … to bring our baby home from the ICU.

But we had hoped … that the cancer was gone.

But we had hoped … that our relationship would work out.

But we had hoped … that this would have been a good job.

But we had hoped … that they had truly beaten their addiction this time.

But we had hoped…

All of the theology of Easter joy and hope and a dawning future cannot stop us from getting caught in that moment of deep disappointment – where the only thing that actually expresses how we feel is a painfully imperfect verb tense. But we had hoped…

 

This is one of the things that I love about the gospels, though: they know and express the things that we sometimes dare not say. Crucial hopes have collapsed and we are feeling overwhelmed with disappointment because of it.

It isn’t easy.

It hurts.

It blinds.

 

I do take some comfort in realizing that even Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t recognize him after his crucifixion and resurrection – some comfort in realizing that belief in Jesus as the risen Lord wasn’t self-evident even to them.

Because Jesus walked with the two followers for nearly seven miles – walked and unpacked the scriptures with them, starting with recent events and unfolding history all the way back to Moses and the prophets – and they still didn’t recognize him.

Jesus entered into their despair and disappointment and walked alongside them, talking with them and being present with them, and they still didn’t know him.

And I don’t blame them for that – in the depths of depression, in deep disappointment, when all of our hopes are dashed, I think it is pretty normal not to recognize Jesus or know how he might – how he could possibly – be with us.

And in those moments, the grace of this story is that that our inability to see or recognize Jesus is okay. Jesus is still there, walking alongside us.

 

As the window in our chapel reminds us, it is in the simple things that Jesus might become known – it isn’t when he first appears on the road, it isn’t when he is walking alongside them, it isn’t even when he is expounding the scriptures and reasoning with them.

It is when he sits down at the table with his friends, takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them.

And they knew Jesus.

Jesus enters our lives, not in the miraculous, but in the ordinary things: the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving.

In the hug of a friend we haven’t seen in some time.

In the joy of a new flower poking out of the garden.

In blessing a meal together.

We recognize God and know her presence with us.

 

But we had hoped…

What does Jesus do with dashed expectations? He enters into them and, in the breaking of the bread he reminds us that he who was himself broken lives in them too.

The body of Christ, broken for us…

 

Sermon for March 27, 2017

Preached at St Mary the Virgin, Oak Bay
Gospel: John 9. All of it.

 

I’d like to invite you to go for a walk with me …

I’m not going to ask you to get up and follow me down to Oak Bay Avenue or anything, but lets go for a walk together in our imaginations…

It is a wonderful day to be outside. Spring is in the air!

Today is a day of rest so no one is working – in fact working today is actively discouraged – and this means that the streets are full, but not overcrowded, with people outside and there is that quiet hubbub of voices filling, but not overpowering, the air around us.

You’re walking with a group of friends and one of them is the group leader. He is wise and you’ve enjoyed getting to know him these last three years. He has done some pretty incredible things over the time you’ve been walking the around countryside with him, and it always seems like there is more to learn.

As you walk along, you see a familiar-looking man up ahead. You’ve seen him around town a lot. He is memorable because he is blind, and you’ve heard that he was born that way.

Because he is blind, the man is not invited to participate in anything in society – and we see this in how the people walking down the street part so as to avoid him, being careful not to touch him lest they become contaminated by him. As if blindness is catching.

 

Thinking this might be another opportunity to learn something from the wise group leader, you and your friends pause, point to the blind man, and ask,

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

It is obvious – someone must have sinned, or else why would the man be blind? Blindness or any other kind of illness or unpleasantness is the result of sin, right?

As far as society is concerned, it is. This man needed to be kept on the margins because he must have sinned. His blindness would be secondary – the fact that he was blind was evidence of sin and therefore of a ruptured relationship between him and God which CANNOT BE HEALED

Our group leader looks at the man who is blind, and then looks back at his group of followers, saying,

Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

Or, in other words:

         Don’t look for a cause and effect between sin and sickness. There isn’t one. Look instead for what God can do here…

 

Look instead for what God can do.

And as if in demonstration of that statement, our group leader and teacher, our Rabbi, Jesus, turns and stops the man. Then he bends down and spits into the dust on the ground, stirs it around, and makes a muddy paste. He takes the paste and puts it on the man’s unseeing eyes and says,

Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

The pool of Siloam is over in the area of the temple and so the man leaves to makes his way over there.

I wonder if he had ever been near the pool before?

Some scholars think that the pool of Siloam might have been a mikveh, a pool used for ritual cleaning before going into the temple for prayer so that one might be washed clean before entering the presence of God. It would qualify for being such a pool because it was constantly refilled with naturally flowing spring water that was always moving, always circulating. It was living water.

Living water that cleanses us before God.

But as a blind man, a man considered to be unclean and perpetually in a state of fractured relationship because of his blindness, would he have been allowed to come near the pool?

It must have taken a lot of courage to believe in a man he could not see who told him to go and wash in a place he might get in trouble for being at.

Perhaps he had a well-developed sense of hearing to compensate for his blindness, perhaps he heard something in Jesus’ voice that others did not always hear.

All we know is that he went

And washed

And could see

And in doing so he demonstrates that the relationship between him and God, between him and his neighbours, is not broken but is dramatically and visually reconciled and that he should be included in society.

Can you imagine?! Imagine the ruckus that this must have caused! Everyone all around stopping to say – Hey! I know that man! But… isn’t he blind?!?

 

Naturally, all of the commotion draws the attention of some of the religious authorities.

I mean, a blind man who can now see is noteworthy – is extraordinary. They need to find out who did it. And they need to find out NOW, because whoever it was did an unlawful action on the Sabbath and THAT is the ultimate no-no. No joy for the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see, no remarks at his wholeness. Just anger about it happening on the Sabbath.

So they call the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see and question him.

And they immediately start from the premise that whoever healed him is a sinner. Because obviously only sinners do things like this on the Sabbath. In a train of thought directly opposite to what Jesus has earlier said to his disciples, these religious leaders have found a cause and presumed the effect and never stopped to think about what God could do.

Not only that but they don’t believe that the man had been blind in the first place. SO they send for his parents.

His parents, understandably, are reluctant to get involved. But they do confirm that yes, he is their son and yes, he was born blind.

 

So the authorities haul back the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see and what he sees is a group of authorities trying to back him into a corner, trying to keep him out of society…

He has found himself in a place that is uncomfortable: he is right with God but is at odds with the powerful, with the status quo, and he has the courage to say again and again that which he knows to be true.

         I was blind and now I can see. He opened my eyes. He reconciled me to my community. You say he is a sinner, but how could he do this if he was! No, this man is from God and he has brought the grace of God into my life. I believed his words and washed in living water and I am whole.

The authorities, not liking his statement, throw him out.

 

But our excitement-filled walk is not yet over.

Filled with compassion for the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see, Jesus seeks him out to talk with him.

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

          Who is that? I want to know who he is so that I can believe!

You have heard him and you have now seen him. He is the one speaking to you.

          Lord. I believe!

 

Lord, I believe.

Believe is perhaps not quite the right word to be translated here. It needs to encompass a little more strength and a little more relationship.

The man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see doesn’t just believe in Jesus. He trusts him. He commits to Jesus. He joins his life to Jesus.

 

If that phrase “I believe” sounds a little familiar, consider the Creeds we say:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty … and in one Lord Jesus Christ … and in the Holy Ghost …

We believe in God: we trust in God. We commit to God. In saying these words we join our lives to the one whom the words are about.

And, in the manner of our gospel reading, we are making a statement about having sight and our commitment to seeing.

 

Our gospel this morning closes with a conversation between Jesus and the religious authorities that encapsulates the irony that is underlying this entire story:

The man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see started off with unseeing eyes but with a sight that sees who Jesus really is and understands faith.

The religious leaders are proud of their seeing eyes but fail to see and understand who Jesus is and what he is doing.

The one who is blind has sight. Those who can see are blind.

 

Surely we are not blind, are we?

Look for what God can do…

Amen.

 

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria

Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:10; Matthew 6:1-2,16-21

 

Sometimes I wonder if Lent is the Christian equivalent of New Year’s resolutions…

I mean, think about it for a minute – we talk about giving up things like chocolate or coffee or bread as a way of having a Lenten fast but is it sometimes really just an excuse to stick to that weight loss plan … ?

Or the Lenten Spring Cleaning that is more about making the house look good for visitors than about decluttering our spiritual lives to clear a path to better relationship with God.

Motives matter.

 

Our readings today clearly outline this with some pretty graphic imagery. Joel reminds the people of Israel to rend their hearts and not their clothing, suggesting that it is the internal state that matters more than the outfit we do it in or the way we show it off to the world.

Matthew’s gospel echoes this, encouraging the left hand to keep its actions secret from the right hand – not because there is something to hide or be ashamed of, but because if we are concentrated on everyone around us seeing how great we are for the things we are doing, we miss the true point of doing them for our own spiritual practice and for God.

 

Paul, in 2 Corinthians, reminds us of the importance of the state of our spiritual selves and our relationship to God:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation … so we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God

You might be thinking, I don’t know that I was ever not reconciled to God? And in part, says Paul, that is true: God through Jesus did all of the hard work of reconciling God to humanity in all of our mess. But Paul still urges us to be reconciled to God so that we might become God’s righteousness.

 

Which, you might also be thinking, is a monumentous task! Where do we even begin??

 

Well, that is the good news. Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of these great 40 days of Lent, is where we can decide the starting point this journey.

Will it be a starting point of coasting through Lent and doing the same old same old?

Will it be a starting point of putting on piety so that others can obviously see how well we are participating? – A starting point of doing the cleaning for appearances sake only?

Or will it be a starting point of gathering to acknowledge our humanity and committing to reconciliation: with God, with those around us who we love and those we have hurt, and with ourselves?

 

The reading from Joel reminds us of the importance of journeying together. God called for the trumpet to be sounded and everyone – the aged, the children and infants, the newly married – everyone to gather together to be set apart for the work of God.

We are in this Lenten journey together. We may have slightly different paths at times, with different kinds of reconciliations needed, but we are in it together.

The cross of ash on our foreheads reminds us of who we are, of where we have come from, and of where we are going:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return

But also remember the cross on your forehead at baptism where you were signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever.

And remember the cross that these 40 days of Lent is leading us towards …

 

Yes, we know where we have come from and in one sense we know where we are going this Lenten journey: we know about Good Friday – and we know what happened and what will happen on Easter morning!

In another sense, though, we don’t know where we are going because we don’t know exactly what path this Lenten journey will take. We don’t know where God will ask us to shine a light in our lives. We don’t know what will change, what may shift, and what might emerge – or not – on the other side of Lent.

All we really know is where we are standing and whom we are journeying with. Where we are right now, today, on Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our humanity and the solemnity of the Lenten journey we are about to embark on.

And in receiving the cross of ash we commit to travelling the Lenten journey of reconciliation in whatever shape God makes it for us, knowing that we are all walking together with God these 40 days.

Timothy and Titus, Companions of Paul

Sermon given at Clergy Day for the Diocese of BC, January 26, 2017 at St John the Baptist, Cobble Hill. 

Texts: 2 Corinthians 8:16-19, 23-24 and John 10:14-18

In attendance: all of the clergy of the Diocese of British Columbia, the BC House Sisters of St John the Divine, BC Synod Office staff, and former TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. No pressure…
The Eucharistic liturgy this day was entirely prepared and led by those of us who had been ordained last year: everything from presiding at the table to leading prayers to playing music to preaching.

Imagine being Timothy or Titus.

Young converts to Christianity and in ministry, mentored by the Apostle Paul, able to follow their passion into an exciting and adventurous life of ministry – the sailing voyages, over-land treks, different people to meet and places to explore… shipwrecks, poisonous snakes, being chased out of town…the excitement of it all! And they also must have felt all to keenly the insecurities, the fears, and uncertainties that also come with this life – at any age.

But – even with all of those different adventures and the emotions that most certainly would have gone along with them, what the church remembers Timothy and Titus for is what we commemorate today: being companions of Paul.

Paul clearly states the importance of their ministry to him in the letter to the church at Corinth that we heard read this morning: “Titus is my partner and co-worker in your service…” and we know much the same about Timothy from the book of Acts – Paul wanted to have Timothy accompany him on his mission trips. Both Timothy and Titus were considered friends, partners, and companions of Paul and were an integral part of the work that God was doing in their world.

Partner. Companion. Associate. One who shares in in anything and everything. Paul could count on these two – one a Greek and the other of both Greek and Jewish descent – to not only provide companionship while travelling together but also he could count on them to continue the work when Paul was not there, sending them into places on his behalf. Such trust. Such love. Such partnership.

It is appropriate, then, that these two who were so important to Paul in his life and ministry are commemorated on the day following our commemoration of Paul. Yesterday was the Feast of the Conversion of Paul and, in many of our communities here on the Islands and around the world, it is the feast that draws to a close the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Christian Unity –  The week when churches and denominations that might never gather together at any other time, set aside some of those differences to find common ground in prayer.

Granted, some of you live that reality every week as you minister in Anglican-Lutheran or Anglican-United shared ministries. Or as you minister in contexts that work very closely with neighbouring congregations, leaders of different traditions, or the Elders in your communities.  Yet, each year we intentionally set aside a week to pray, as Jesus did, that we might be one as God is one.

These words that Jesus prayed as he approached the cross hold up for us the ultimate model of partnership… And that call to unity is echoed throughout the scriptures, including in our gospel this morning.

We are used to hearing this gospel in the season of Easter. On Good Shepherd Sunday. It is a gospel reading that many of you who have been in ministry a lot longer than me have probably preached on dozens of times. So with that in mind, I found myself asking, why is this the gospel appointed for our memorial of Timothy and Titus, the Companions of Paul, and what does that say to us, as gathered clergy and ministry leaders of the Diocese of BC?

Setting aside the familiar imagery of the “Good Shepherd” who lays down their life for their sheep, I became caught by the line:  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Yes, there are definite challenges to us in reading this passage immediately on the heels of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity –  But no matter how much we might want to get into a “who is in and who is out” debate, we are reminded that there is one flock and one shepherd.

That matters ecumenically. It also matters here, in this place, right now.

Stop and look around you. Here in this room is a small part of that one flock.  In all of our diversity, our peculiarities, our histories, our dreams and passions. We are all a part of the one flock that belongs to the one Shepherd. And each one of us in this room is a representative of others – equally diverse and equally varied – who are also a part of that flock.

We all have our local places where we minister in different and varied ways, but ultimately: we are all a part of one flock that belongs to one Shepherd. And we partner with God in the mission of God, in acts of reconciliation, in ministering to the gospel. We are partners in God’s mission.

The Eucharist that we are celebrating together this morning is an intentional representation of that. All of those who are sharing in the leadership of the liturgy this morning were ordained – either to the priesthood or to the diaconate – last year. Twelve people! Craig, Selinde, Tanya, Meagan, Rob, Christopher, Alastair, Matthew, Gillian, Patrick, Marg, and Bill.

–And this morning’s liturgy comes from our commitment to each other and to each other’s ministries: that we will partner with each other, that we will be companions and support, uphold, and encourage each other. That we are all a part of one flock. That we all belong to one Shepherd.

So not only does this gospel remind us that all Christians are called to unity, but that all of us together in this room are called to unity. That “One Flock” does not mean parish or diocese, but it means church. When I build up one part of the flock, I build up the whole flock – whether that part that I build is my immediate ministry context or another context. When I build up the local church, I build up the diocese and I build up the church national and international. That these parish, diocesan, and national, and provincial divisions are administrative in nature and are not divisions in the flock.

That ultimately it doesn’t matter which parish, deanery, diocese, or province we are ministering in: we are one Church.

Isn’t that what Paul was working for? No longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, no longer male and female… And also Paul’s companions, Timothy and Titus – both Jew and Greek, working together as partners in the gospel.

What a privilege it is for us to partner with God, the one Shepherd, as we all journey as companions in building up the one flock.

Amen.

Sermon for January 15, 2017

Preached at The Abbey, Victoria
Texts: John 1:29-42, Isaiah 49:1-7

 

This week we re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a 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.

We visibly show it through changing our church colours to a life-giving green … but the green might be best thought of as a translucent green mixed with white: ordinary time mixed with holy days. And that is a good summary of what this season is all about: looking for the holy, for Jesus made manifest in the midst of the mundane, in the midst of our daily life. All the while looking for little epiphanies where we might see Jesus and find ourselves found over and over again.

***

Perhaps the most frequently used word in our gospel today is some variation on the word for seeing: see, look, watch, seek …

The first major event commemorated by the church in this season after Epiphany is the Baptism of the Lord: Jesus goes down from Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. All four of the gospels recount the event  —  Sort of.

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke give a play-by-play, all that is said about Jesus’ baptism in the gospel of John is what we heard read today: John the Baptist’s account of SEEING the Spirit descend on Jesus at his baptism:

I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him … I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.

John the Baptist is so convinced of this that he becomes like that guy on the corner with the sign who needs to tell everyone: Look, here is the Lamb of God! As if to say – I saw the Messiah – he is over there! Do you see him walking by? That is him! Go!
And two of John’s followers turn and follow Jesus.

It obviously wasn’t a very covert follow – there is no way that these two would have passed spy school because Jesus saw them right away: Jesus turns, lifts his eyes into their eyes, and SEES them.

What are you looking for?

Jesus’ first words in the gospel of John aren’t a command to silence a demon, a sermon about the Kingdom of God while sitting on a mountainside, or a proclamation of the year of God’s favour, but a simple question: What are you looking for? 
What are you seeking? What do you need?

It is a question that is simple in its complexity. Because as soon as you have an answer, another, deeper level of question will become apparent.

What are you seeking?
What is motivating you?
What is it that you really need?  — Not just on the surface, but deep down into the very core of your being.
Why are you here? – not here on earth, though that is a valid question, but why did you interrupt your Sunday afternoon to be right here now?
What are you looking for?

Those poor disciples of John. Things get awkward. Quickly. Likely what they wanted to say was something like,  “Um. Hi – we were following you because that other guy said you were the Lamb of God so we thought we’d come take a look…”
What they come out with is Where are you staying?

We can poke fun … But maybe there is more to it than that . Maybe what they really wanted to know was, Where are you dwelling?

Where do you abide?
What lets you put down deep roots into this world and be stable? What is it that allows you to endure life?
What makes you different?
How can we get what you have?

Because there is something different about him. John the Baptist has named it: He is the one on whom I saw the Spirit descend and REMAIN. And in a little while, Jesus will mention this word again: Remain in me and I will remain in you

Jesus, where are you staying?

Jesus’ only response is Come and See.
Come and see.
There is no judgement here. No negative evaluation of a hurried response when being caught following. No criticism.
Only:  Come and see.

We, and likely those two disciples, tend to expect that what results from responding to the invitation to “Come and See” is that we find Jesus – that we learn more about Jesus as we witness him in all of the different moments of daily life – the ordinary and the holy. And it is. But John’s gospel invites us to see more. It invites us to see and to be changed by seeing.

Jesus said to [the two disciples of John] “Come and see” … so they came and saw where he was staying … and REMAINED with him that day.

Jesus, where are you staying? 

Come and see…Remain with me and I will remain with you…

In remaining, these two disciples are found and they are changed.  How do we know this? How do we know that a change took place in their lives?

For those of you who have children, when were they born? I don’t mean the day – but what time was it?
For those of you who have lost a loved one, what time did they die or what time did you receive the phone call telling you of their death?
For those of you who are married, what time was it when you made that decision to spend the rest of your lives together?

Pivotal, life-changing moments have a time attached to them.

They came and saw where Jesus was staying and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon…

About four o’clock. Someone, one of them at least, took note of the time that their lives were changed.

And then they went and told their friends who came and saw and had their lives changed too … and then they went and told their friends who came and saw … and on and on and on for two thousand years.

That, my friends, is evangelism: Come and see.

John the Baptist does it: he sees the Spirit descend as a dove and he tells his followers. They go and see Jesus, have their lives changed and then go and tell their friends… There are no complex steps to take. There is no complicated theological argument to construct in order to carefully counter any potential resistance.

Just:

What are you looking for?

Where are you staying?

Come and see…

Two thousand years of people asking, people pointing, and people coming to see.

I remember one of my instructors in Bible College saying that the one thing he wanted people to say about him after he died, what he wanted to have written on his tombstone, was, “They saw John and followed Jesus…”

Come and see.

Not “you should go check out that church” or “Here go read this book and then we’ll talk about it…”  But Come and see
Come and see Jesus made manifest in my life – the holy mixed in with the ordinary…

If that sounds too much, remember what God says to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah :

“You are my servant in whom I will be glorified.”

But I said, “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, … for I am honoured in the sight of the Lord and my God has become my strength – He says,
“…I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth…
Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you…”

You are seen. You are chosen.

And we say to all the world –

Come and see