A Pride Sermon: Sunday, July 10, 2016

Preached at St John the Divine, Victoria on Pride Sunday.

Texts: Psalm 82, Colossians 1:1-14, Luke 10:25-37

Audio here

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Patrick, Matthew, and I marching in Pride

I was nervous about preaching this sermon on this Sunday. It has been a week of increased violence against black men and police officers in the United States. It has been Pride Week here in Victoria. And, at the same time, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has been meeting in Richmond Hill ON where, amongst other things, a vote on changing the Marriage Canon to include marriage for gay and lesbian people has been on the table. The vote is happening as I write this note.

There was a lot to cover this week, and I felt woefully under-equipped to do so as I am quite privileged and free of oppression in so many ways: I am white, not black; straight, not gay. And somehow I ended up trying to bring a word of God in spite of me. While I received a lot of wonderful feedback from my amazing parish, I still feel uncertain about it. In part, I am sure, because of the uncertainty we all feel about how the vote will go at General Synod today.

UPDATE: The motion to change the marriage canon did not pass, and then it did due to a vote count error. It was a tumultuous week. The second reading will happen at General Synod 2019.

***

How long O Lord? 
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long O Lord?

Psalm after psalm, including our psalm this morning, sound lament after lament: How long O Lord?

It seems that by the time we come to terms with one shooting in the United States, there have been five more. And no matter how much we decry it from our pulpits and on social media, the racial violence continues with little action from those who have the authority to make change.

And then there is the lament that many of us feel even more keenly in our bones this morning, on Pride Sunday.    — A Pride Sunday that is happening in the midst of a General Synod where a question of inclusion and identity that so many of us hold as self-evident is being contentiously discussed: the debate on changing the Anglican Church of Canada’s marriage canon to allow for the sacrament of marriage to be extended to gay and lesbian couples.

How long O Lord?
How long must your children wait?

And then we hear Paul’s words to the church in Colossae this morning:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father...

I’m sorry Paul, come again?

Be prepared to endure everything with patience? It feels like we have been patient for long enough, Paul.

And while we have been patient, lesbian and gay Christians have had to look elsewhere to be married.

And while we have been patient, religion has been used as an excuse to marginalize and exclude, and even kill lesbian, gay, and transgender people around the world.

And while we have been patient, a man opens fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 of our sisters and brothers.

Oh Paul, enduring with patience is painful.

 

Endure.

The word has that feeling of “hold on folks, this will probably hurt.”

And it has hurt. Some of us have left the church once, twice, multiple times. Some of us have stayed but have strained relationships with the church, with God, with each other. Some of us distrust the conversations that are ongoing at places like our General Synod. Because for some of us gathered here this morning, it is your very being – or the being of those whom we love deeply – that feels like it is being dissected and put on trial by the church.

And that is real and it is painful.

 

There is also another kind of endure that I think we can hold onto without denying the pain of the first: the endure that seeks to remain in existence, that lasts through time.

Because without every single person here, each and every person lovingly created by God: lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, and queer; the Body of Christ is incomplete. Parts are missing. Like a rainbow without all of the colours, so is the Body of Christ without all of its members.

It is incomplete because, as we heard from Alastair a few weeks back, the fullness of the church is no less than the inclusion of all of the Body of Christ. Every single part of that beautiful, multi-gendered Body of Christ.

 

But, with everything we see around us, it is no wonder we may question Paul’s words to endure with patience.

It is no wonder that we may feel daunted by the enormity of the grief in the world.

It is no wonder we have heavy hearts.

 

And so let us zoom back from Paul’s words about enduring with patience.

Because in the same breath he prays that we may be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power

Strength alongside endurance. God’s power alongside God’s patience.

Because, says Paul, you are faithful saints and what you are doing is working!

Because Paul, who is writing from Rome, has heard about the faith of this community of Christians all the way over in Asia Minor – modern day Turkey. In a time before Facebook Live video, Paul has heard about the faith of these Colossian Christians all the way from Rome.

He has heard and taken note of their faith in the gospel and how it has been bearing fruit in them and in their whole world!

And what is that gospel that bears fruit? We need to look no further than the gospel reading this morning.

 

Jesus is approached by a scholar of the law: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus’ response is, “How do you interpret what is written in the law?”

The scholar summarizes the law in the words of the Shema, or words we might recognize from our prayer book as Hear, O Israel:

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and the great commandment. The second is like is: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

 

But Jesus, who is my neighbour? Who do I have to love?

I mean, if we construe it too broadly, you are saying that there are a whole lot of people that I have to love. Like – everyone!

So Jesus does what Jesus does so well: he tells a story.

To understand this story for what it is to us in 2016 Victoria, we need to hear this story in the context of over 700 years of racial violence between Judeans and Samaritans. 700 years of Judeans marginalizing Samaritans because they didn’t worship God “in the right way” or in the right place.

Or have the right understanding of the Bible. Or marry the “right people.”

And so Jesus tells a story where the Judean is beaten and left bloodied on the side of the road and the Samaritan who he has marginalized and oppressed comes and saves him when his own people do not.

In our context, it might be a story of a straight man or woman lying on the side of the road, beaten and unseen by other straight people walking by, and the gay man they have actively hated, sees them and stops to care for them.

When we do nothing or say nothing to bring attention to and challenge injustice, we are also those who do not see, those who walk on by.

Because before it is about doing, Jesus makes it a story about seeing.

In Jesus’ parable, the priest and the Levite do not see the man lying beaten. They see a burden. They see someone not their problem. They see a hassle.

So they act – but they act to cross over to the other side of the road and pretend not to see anything.

But the Samaritan sees a person. A person in need. A person loved by God. A neighbour.

Love God with all that you have, with every part of your being, and love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Who is my neighbour, Jesus?

Who warrants my attention? Who counts?

It turns out that everyone counts. That everyone is our neighbour.

But, in particular, our neighbour is the one in need. And in the face of injustice, it means #BlackLivesMatter and #LGBTQLivesMatter.

In Jesus’ story, the Samaritan isn’t the one in the ditch so that we can say a cute, moralistic, “love your enemies.” The Samaritan is the one who sees the person in need and loves them. Because all are vital members of the beautiful multi-gendered Body of Christ and for all to be included, we must see and act upon inclusion of those who are in need.

So we return to Paul: this love of our neighbour in need is the gospel that bears fruit. This is the gospel that we live and endure in faith and patience each day.

We endure because we are not a whole body without each and every member. We need the faithful witness of each part of the body remaining with the Body. In his request for prayers for our delegates to General Synod, Bishop Logan wrote, “It is my belief that the most important question before us is: ‘How can we witness to the greater [Anglican] Communion that we CAN live together while holding diverse opinions?’” Because each member of the Body of Christ counts.

 

But being a faithful witness does not have to mean a quiet witness. Because after we see the person and see the need, we speak up and act out of the belief that each one of us is as important in God’s eyes as any other.

In one way of acting on the need to witness that we see LGBTQ persons as being vital and important members of the Body of Christ, today after the 10am service many of us will march in the Victoria Pride Parade.

We march because we celebrate all members of the Body of Christ, and today we especially celebrate the LGBTQ members.

We march in the spirit of Stonewall and all of the protests that have happened before and since in pursuit of equality for LGBTQ persons in society.

We march in memory of those who have been forced to flee their homes because of hate crimes or those who have died in places like an Orlando nightclub.

We march because we are all neighbours: lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, queer…  and we ALL belong.

 

Lest you think that action needs to always to be as radical as marching in a parade, it doesn’t. Not all of us can or feel comfortable doing that.

It might mean looking carefully around us to see each person and identify the need.

It might mean doing, as Archbishop Rowan Williams invited the bishops at Lambeth Conference 2008, finding the courage to speak with and pray with someone with whom conversation might be difficult.

It might mean seeing a friend or neighbour in need and asking, “how can I support you? How can I love you as God loves you and love you as I love myself?”

 

It might mean coming to God’s table, as we will in a few minutes,  coming to God’s table where we are all equal, kneeling or standing before God, vulnerably stretching out our hands to receive a piece of what we all are:

a vital and life-giving part of the broken Body of Christ.

Amen.

Sermon for June 5, 2016

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria.
Main text: Luke 7:11-17

Referenced: 1 Kings 17:8-24

For the audio recording, please see here.

Jesus is on the move. I mean – every time we hear a story about Jesus, he is somewhere else, talking to someone new, doing something different. He seems to be on the road a lot in this part of Luke’s gospel and its amazing that anyone could keep track of him, let alone follow what he was up to or know who he was in a time before texting, Facebook, or twitter.

The best bet seems to be to keep close, to follow Jesus wherever he goes to see what he might do next. And in our gospel reading this morning, they’re following him pretty closely – Jesus walked 35 kilometres down the road into the town of Nain with his disciples, we read, and a really committed “large crowd went with him”

The large crowd jostling around, pushing each other to try and get closer to Jesus…, kicking up dust from the road…, kids running in and out of legs…

Who is this man? We aren’t quite sure, but he is doing some neat things, so lets follow him… Maybe we’ll be able to find out!

But as we approach the town of Nain, Jesus comes to a stop – and all of us in the crowd have to do so as well… bumping into each other as we all try to look and see why Jesus has stopped.

Our crowd walking into town has met another procession head on, just outside the gates of the city…

Instead of the cheerful chatter and sounds of laughter that have been resonating out of our group, the large crowd we have encountered from town is wailing and crying.

It’s a funeral procession. Death is marching through the town gates and leaving a path of hardship behind.

Someone in our group recognizes the woman at the head of the procession … she is a widow, they say. A single mother with only one son. And this body being carried into the cemetery is that son.

Death. Not only has it robbed the life of a young man but also robbed the life of those who he leaves behind. As many of us know, the social structures at place here meant that with the death of her only son, this widow, this single mother, is now shuffled off to the margins of society where she is like nothing and has nothing.

 

Not something that we do today, now is it? Or is it?

With the loss of a family member, those left behind struggle to find their place in a world that has undeniably shifted.

With the loss of a job, there is struggle for rediscovery of identity and reformation of relationships – let alone struggle for survival.

With the loss of a home comes shame and blame and guilt and all of the struggles of finding a new place in a hot housing market.

We don’t have to look any further than our parking lot or the once-empty grassy space six blocks down Quadra Street [reference: see this or this, amongst other things] to see what happens to those our society shuffles to the side when they cannot fit within the artificially created social structures that govern things.

It is too easy to think that we have nothing in common with each other: with those who live in tents or with the widow in Nain who has just lost her only son.

 

Loss. Change. It is all around and can bring us to tears. We wonder where God is in the midst of it all. We might even wonder if we are forgotten.

And then we encounter Jesus on the road out of town to the cemetery. I am not sure that those in the funeral procession knew it was Jesus. Or if they did know him, if they knew who he really was.

But that did not matter – Because Jesus sees them.

He SAW the widow – knew her situation – and was moved with compassion.

I’m not talking the kind of compassion that is tinged with pity or with some sort of patronizing “poor you” sentiment.

I’m talking about the kind of compassion that reaches down into your gut and stirs things up so that it is uncomfortable. The kind of compassion that compels you to do something.

Jesus is stirred so deeply by the brokenness of this widow and her unjust banishment to the sidelines of society that he moves towards her to act on his compassion.

 

As he moves towards the funeral procession and stretches his hand out towards the bier that the body lay on, I wonder if those in either of the crowds recollected a story they’d heard before about the prophet of God who’d lived generations earlier. The prophet of God we heard about this morning who brought a boy, the only son of a widow, back to life by laying on him three times and breathing the life-giving breath of God back into the boy’s lungs.

I wonder if they remembered that story and looked with hope at Jesus.

If they were expecting to see something similar where Jesus stopped the procession and laid himself out overtop of the dead boy, then I’m sure that they were disappointed.

All Jesus did was reach out and touch the funeral bier and spoke to the young man.

 

A simple action: reaching out and acknowledging him and the situation of those around him.

And with Jesus’ simple action, the young man’s breath, his life, came back into him and he sat up.

No, if the crowds were looking for fireworks and the supernatural like they had seen with Elijah, then I am sure they were disappointed. However if they were looking for resurrection, they experienced it.

Yes there was the resurrection of the boy, the only son of the widow, that that was in and of itself a spectacular event.

But there was also another, perhaps more subtle resurrection.

If resurrection is revitalization, bringing life back into something, or causing something that had been sidelined and forgotten to exist again, then surely the widow was resurrected as well.

With Jesus’ action and acknowledgement, she was restored into community – brought back from the margins and given new life. And perhaps the community was resurrected as well as they saw the injustice of their structures challenged and they found a model for how they ought to react: seeing, being moved by compassion, and acting.

 

Perhaps that is the biggest miracle here: that God is alive and active in and through us. God has compassion for each and every one of us and is the one who is moving in the world around us. God is living and God is active.

Because resurrection is not some one-time event that happened on Easter Sunday some two thousand years ago for us to commemorate each year. It is not a means of escape whereby we can leave this world behind and go some place where it is all sorted out.

Resurrection is ongoing in our lives as God is abiding in and through us. We are invited to practice and bring resurrection into each corner of our lives through following the model of Jesus: seeing, being moved by compassion, and acting.

And it is an ongoing practice because, in reality, it is a lot easier to deny the resurrection than it is to affirm it.

Every time I participate in systems of injustice, I am denying the resurrection.

Every time I walk by a person on the street who is experiencing homelessness and ignore their humanity, I am denying the resurrection.

Every time I let my white privilege get me one step ahead of everyone else, I am denying the resurrection.

Once and awhile I actually affirm the resurrection by living it.

By actually seeing the people that God brings across my path.

By allowing myself to see and feel and be moved with compassion.

By loving those around me and acting out of my compassion.

 

And so I’m not asking you to believe or not believe in people rising from the dead – I am asking you to believe and live the greater miracle: the life-giving resurrection power of God. I am asking you to consider whether wholeness is being restored around and through us, whether resurrection is affirmed, and whether Jesus is proclaimed.

Wholeness is restored, resurrection is affirmed, and Jesus is proclaimed.

Let it be, amen.

Sermon for April 10, 2016

A sermon preached at Grace United Church, Sarnia, Ontario

Text: John 21:1-19 

 

 

 

Two weeks later, here we are, back at the seashore… Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others have returned to the Sea. Here they are, all together sitting around a fire on the seaside. They’re just hanging out. Ever the impetuous one of the group, Peter suddenly looks up: “Guys, I’m going fishing.” One by one they join him and soon all of the boats are back out on the water.

Follow me, said Jesus, and I will make you fish for people. But now our fishermen have returned to their fish.

***

Easter. Two weeks ago we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead with what was likely a lot more faith and hope than did Mary, Simon Peter, and the other disciple when they encountered the empty tomb early that morning. It was empty of Jesus’ body and, in the words of Mary when she unknowingly encountered Jesus in the garden, “they have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.”

The inclination that something had happened doesn’t seem to have fully sunk in, however. The evening of the day Jesus rose, the disciples were hiding away behind a locked door. A locked door?! So much for believing in the power of the resurrection!

To their surprise, and very likely ours had we been in their shoes, Jesus appeared among them, speaking to them before breathing his spirit upon them as he sent them out.

But… one week later, there we are, still in the same room with the same locked door, clearly not entirely sure of what has happened. Jesus appears again in our midst and we are able to see and touch him.

Another week passes and the disciples are no longer locked up in the room. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanial, James, John, and two others have walked some 170 kilometres north of Jerusalem to the Sea of Tiberias – the Sea of Galilee. That’s not too far off the distance between here and, say, Kitchener. First century roads, however, are far cry from our highways and it took them a little longer to plod the dusty tracks of Israel than the couple of hours it might take us to drive that distance today.

It is a familiar road.

I wonder if they were recalling the last time they had all walked it: on the way to Jerusalem and the way to Jesus’ death on the cross, though they did not know it at the time.

This time, though, we’re headed north instead of south. Perhaps they feel as we sometimes do when travelling: the return road seems to pass by faster than the leaving did. Despite the hills and the dust as we walk along, maybe our pace begins to pick up as we get closer to the Sea.

They’re going home.

Did the painful and confusing memories of the previous few weeks in Jerusalem begin to fade as they put some distance between themselves and the city? Were they talking about what had happened? Were they trying to forget? Or were they still struggling to make sense of what had happened?

Despite having seen Jesus, seen him twice for some of those in our travelling group, there seems to be some confusion about what to do now. Jesus sent them out, but maybe they don’t know what that means.

So we are gathered together beside the Sea, their familiar place, the place where they had fished every day up until Jesus called each one, one-by-one.

Two weeks after the resurrection and that first Easter morning, two weeks after Jesus’ appearance to the disciples and his sending them out… Three years of hearing Jesus’ teachings day-in-day-out and seeing his miraculous actions, and we are back where we started: at the sea, fishing.

I don’t know about you, but Easter Sunday wasn’t even over before I was back to my regular routine: papers to write, textbooks to read…

We have work to do. Activities to plan. People to see. Daily life catches up with us and it is easy to forget.

 

The writer of the gospel of John doesn’t tell us the motives behind Peter’s return to fishing fish, so we are left to fill in some of those blanks. Thinking about human nature, though, I think that I get it: Life has been pretty uncertain for awhile. They haven’t had a stable place to stay for anything more than a few nights at a time. Their leader has just died and then strangely reappeared.

 

The economy is uncertain. Unemployment has been dragging on and on. Too many good people have died for what seems like no reason. Food prices keep fluctuating.

It is pretty natural to want to stay in the security and certainty of things that are known, even if it does mean going back.

 

But can we go back? Can we remain unchanged?

 

Easter has happened and is happening whether we feel certain about it or not.

Today we call the third Sunday of Easter – so our feet are still firmly planted in the season of Easter.

With the cross and resurrection, time shifted and what was then is now. Rather than Easter being that day we look forward to once a year, it is every single day.

The sun rises every morning and we are reminded that early in the morning today, yesterday, and tomorrow, Jesus rose.

 

So it is for the disciples, whether they knew it or not: the things they witnessed and participated in over the previous three years have changed them irrevocably. There really is no going back for any of us.

 

As if as a reminder of that, Jesus suddenly appears to us for the third time since he rose.

But, we don’t know it is him at first. We’re still out fishing – well, trying to fish. It has been a bad night and we have caught nothing.

Maybe they had been about to give up anyway. Thomas, leaning over to Peter, reminding him that he had thought this was a bad idea in the first place: they hadn’t fished in three years! What made us think we could just pick it back up?

And a figure appears on the beach, shouting out: Have you caught anything?

I’m not much of a fisherman. Two summers on the lake with my husband and his family haven’t increased my skill at all, so I have some understanding of what it feels like to have to respond to that question with a sigh and a Nope. Still haven’t even caught one fish

But I have enough of an understanding of how fishing works to realize that when you’re out in the middle of the sea, throwing your net or your rod over the other side of a small boat isn’t going to make a huge difference.

Believe me, I’ve tried everything.

 

But that is what Jesus tells them to do: Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.

So they do it and have an epic haul of fish. The gospel writer tells us that there were so many fish that they were not able to haul in the net, fearful that it might break.

 

Such abundance.

Such abundant grace from Jesus: these people he had invested so much time and energy into over the last three years seem to have abandoned everything to go back to how life was before they met him. Rather than pout or get angry, Jesus extends so much grace that it strains our capacity.

It overflows.

Because that is what grace does.

When you least expect it. When all hope is gone. When you wonder what you are doing. When there are no fish. When you think there is no future.

There is overflowing abundant grace.

Not blame for having failed. Not guilt for feeling like there is no hope. Not shame for feeling lost.

Only overflowing abundant grace.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness, in your doubt, in your confusion…

 

And then, as if to settle it, Jesus invites them to share a meal.

They came, Jesus took bread, broke it, and passed it to his disciples.

Then he did the same thing with the fish.

Eat with me, he said.

Remember what happens when we eat?

Where two or three are gathered,

Whenever you break bread and eat, you do this in memory of me.

Food.

It is so simple, isn’t it?

In the midst of our doubts, in the midst of our uncertainties, Jesus shows up on the shore and invites them to share a meal once again. We sit down together and eat: whether it be around the Table of the Lord on a Sunday morning as the church community breaks bread together, around the kitchen table at home with the familiar laughter of family or friends, or around tables in a church hall smelling and tasting rich and fragrant soup prepared by your church family, Jesus is with us on the shore this morning, inviting us to share life and eat with him.

The Last Supper and resurrection meals fold into one with the changing of time and we find community and fellowship with each other.

Not only that, but we remember that today is Easter. And tomorrow when we wake up and eat breakfast, it is still Easter. And the next day, and the day after that.

Shortly after Jesus rose, two disciples, in their fear and uncertainty, went for a walk and found themselves at the table, eating with Jesus.

As the bread was broken and shared, their eyes were opened and they realized that Jesus had been amongst them the entire time, overflowing with such grace that their hearts had been burning with the joy of his presence.

May it be for us as it was for them: as we eat, as we drink, may we find and know the abundance of God’s grace in our lives and in our lives together.

Amen.

Sermon for the Reign of Christ, November 22, 2015

Preached at St Mark’s by-the-Lake, Tecumseh Ontario, November 22, 2015.

Text: [Revelation 1:4b-8], John 18:33-37

I was invited to preach at St Mark’s because I was awarded the St Mark’s by-the-Lake award for Christian Leadership last year and they have a tradition of inviting those who receive the award to preach in the church and meet the community. I had a wonderful morning with St Mark’s and was able to speak with many people in the community over coffee (post-8am) and soup (post-10:30). They are a warm and welcoming community just outside of Windsor. Many thanks to Rev. Robert Lemon and his congregation for the invitation.

I would like to invite you to take a walk with me if you will.

It might not be an easy walk. The streets are crowded. Its that Holiday rush – the tight pack of people all headed in the same direction with far too little space to accommodate them all. And yet the crowd is growing – where they are all coming from and how many more will fit is anyone’s guess.

The air is full of voices – but there are so many voices that it is hard to pick out what anyone is saying. From the tone, there are some who are overcome with excitement for the Holiday. And there are others who are muttering about this inconvenience or that annoyance.

The sounds and smells of animals – horses, donkeys, sheep – provide that smellscape that you sometimes get when the petting zoo or live nativity scene sets up in the town centre. But that isn’t too surprising: we are headed towards the Temple. It is Passover. We are in Jerusalem.

You look around, taking in the sights, and start to notice that there are soldiers strategically placed along the roadside and even more around the Roman government building up ahead. An extra show of force – and security? – at Holiday time. They are instructed to keep the peace at all costs.

The crowd begins to shift, bunching in closer together and you start to hear the clinking of armour. Looking back, you can just see through the mass of people a group of fully armed soldiers pushing through the crowd. You can tell they are soldiers because of the sun glinting off of their drawn weapons. No wonder the crowd is surging away to give them space. And the soldiers have with them a group of men wearing the long robes of religious leaders and a man who looks like he is their prisoner.

They are heading towards the headquarters of the Roman Governor in Jerusalem, a brutal man who would have only have come to the city if he anticipated civil unrest and the need for soldiers to squash it.

The Roman Empire. A vast empire won and held by force.

There is no way that anyone can take over most of the known world without some sort of violence: violence of the sword, of executing political prisoners by crucifixion, of brutal suppression of dissent.

Or, perhaps there are other ways of taking over or spreading dis-ease that are more familiar to us sitting here in our pews today: The violence of systems that enslave people and keep them in poverty. The violence that strips culture by stifling the speaking of native languages or religious expression. The violence of having to work long hours in a sweatshop for only pennies a day to produce clothing you can’t afford to wear. The violence when children are removed from loving families. The violence that forces families to flee from their homes and risk everything in small boats on an open sea to get to safety. The violence of intolerance and hate.

If the Reign of Christ, Jesus’ kingdom, if Jesus and his followers – if he and they were of this world, then they and we would use the primary tool of this world for establishing and keeping power: violence.

Pilate turns to Jesus and asks him, Are you the King?

My kingdom is not from this world. Responds Jesus. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to you … But my kingdom is not from here …

Imagine an alternate reality with me, and let us think back to last night, when we were gathered with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying. Suddenly soldiers appeared with lanterns and weapons – maybe even the same soldiers we saw earlier today pushing him through the crowd.

These soldiers want to arrest Jesus and take him away! But Peter, that faithful follower, will have none of that. Before anyone else can even wrap their head around what is going on, Peter has pulled his sword out and cut off someone’s ear. The next thing we know, everyone is pulling out swords and fighting the soldiers off. Then it is a run down the hill into the city to catch them unawares – fighting into the palace and installing Jesus as King.

For the next few decades, people like Paul will sail around the Mediterranean spreading the good news of a kingdom of violence to the world.

While we know this is not what actually happened with Jesus and his followers, it is what eventually happened with the Crusades, with the colonization of North America, Africa, and many other parts of the world, and is what happens today when good people spread of messages of hate and intolerance in places like Facebook…

This is what happens when kingdoms are spread through the ways this world knows.

But My kingdom is not from this world. Said Jesus.

My kingdom is not a kingdom of violence. Put your sword back into its place, Peter. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

We can imagine Jesus saying, Those who live for violence – for hate, intolerance, distrust – will only bring more of the same into their lives.

Jesus is not of this world and so Jesus will not defend himself by violence, nor will he establish his claim by violence. Jesus doesn’t usher in God’s kingdom using violence. And Jesus will not make any followers by violence.

Nevertheless, Pilate asks, So you are a king?

Jesus answers; You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

Instead of coming to establish his reign through violence, Jesus has come to witness to the truth. The truth that God is love and that God so loved the world that God sent God’s only son to the world. The truth of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us so that we might see his glory, his glory full of grace and truth.

But, as the writer of the gospel of John reminds us, the world did not recognize him. Because no one has ever seen God. (John 1)

Because we have not seen God, we have a hard time imagining God. And when we try to imagine things we have not seen or known, our imagination becomes dominated by our experience. Rather than imagining a God of love, often we imagine God to be angry or violent because we live in a world of violence. The headlines we read, the images we see, and the sounds we hear daily on the news and in social media are frequently ones of violence.

Rather than recognizing the cross as a symbol of sacrificial love, we assume that it is the legal ways of punishing Jesus in our place – because we have way too much experience with punitive relationships.

Rather than believing that God’s grace and acceptance and love are entirely unconditional, we assume that God offers love, power, and status only on the condition that we fear, obey, and praise God – and despise those who do not – because so much of our life is about “tit for tat.”

But Jesus is not of this world. And so his followers do not fight to bring about his reign because to use violence is to violate the very principles of his kingdom and will only cause its destruction.

No, the way to bring about the Reign of Christ is through love.

That radical love that, in the words of our baptismal covenant, calls us to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Because while the Reign of Christ on one hand reveals Christ in his glory, coming in with the clouds so that every eye might see him, the Reign of Christ is also about the glory of Christ hidden beneath rags so that when we see him, we might love him by giving him clothing,

or find Christ thirsty that we might lovingly hand him something to drink,

or discover Christ the stranger or refugee who we might welcome into our homes or communities.

The Reign of Christ – the reign of the Christ who is calling us to transform the unjust structures of society that cause people to have to flee from their homes,

or that force people to work in dehumanizing conditions for insufficient funds,

or that calls us as a national Anglican church to grapple with a legacy of violence stemming from systematic abuse in Residential Schools –

The Reign of Christ is here on earth so that we might challenge violence of every kind to pursue peace and reconciliation.

Because here is another difference between the kingdom that Pilate was looking for and Jesus’ kingdom that is not from here: Jesus’ kingdom is not limited to a particular place or time like the Roman empire was or like the empires of today are.

Jesus’ kingdom is a state of being. A way of life. A commitment to view the world through Jesus’ eyes of love and to love fiercely even in the face of these violences in the world we see all around us every day.

In a few moments we will gather together around a table. A table where we proclaim the power of the sacrificial love of Christ. And then together we will pray, praying with believers all around the world, “Your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

Today we proclaim that the Reign of Christ is here on earth. That Christ is among us, enthroned in glory and leading a kingdom not spread through the means of this world, but spread through love.

Welcome to the Reign of Christ, to the Reign of God’s love.

Amen.

Sermon for June 28, 2015 (Feast of St Peter & St Paul)

Speaking about the work of the Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund at St Paul’s Cathedral, London ON.

Text: John 21:15-19

*Listen to the audio recording from St Paul’s Cathedral here*

After worshipping with this community of St Paul’s Cathedral with some regularity over the last few months it is an honour to be invited to share with you this morning as we break open the Bread of Life together both through the Holy Scriptures and, a little later, at the Table.

A couple of weekends ago, Matthew and I were at a gathering in Ottawa and, when we were just sitting down to dinner, one member of the group was asked to offer a word of thanks for the meal. I was both surprised and touched to hear him pray with words that are likely familiar to many of you since I believe they were penned here in this diocese in support of the Huron Hunger Fund: “For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks, O Lord.

I should not have been surprised to hear them: I have heard these words prayed from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island at church gatherings in support of the Huron Hunger Fund’s national body: the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, or PWRDF.

These words capture what is at the heart of all that PWRDF is about: Food, Faith, and Friendship.

It seems appropriate, then, for our gospel this morning as we commemorate the feast of St Peter and St Paul, that we hear this exchange between Jesus and Peter.

Picture it with me, if you will.

Just before our gospel reading picks up this morning, Peter and some of the other disciples have been up all night fishing. Its been somewhat of a return to how life was before Jesus came and called them a few years ago – they’re up in the northern region of Galilee, on the lake, fishing. Except this night, its been bad fishing and they’ve caught nothing. Apparently fishing isn’t like riding a bike: they’ve lost their touch!

Then, just as they’ve given up for the night and the sun is beginning to rise, a figure appears on the beach. Just as he has many times since his resurrection, Jesus suddenly appears amongst his disciples and this time he tells Peter and the disciples to try fishing again. So they do and have an epic haul of fish. They bring the fish ashore, and have a fish-fry with Jesus on the beach. It is a communion meal of sorts, breaking fish instead of bread, drinking water instead of wine, but Eucharistic feast with the risen Jesus nonetheless.

Immediately following the meal is where the reading picked up this morning.

In a series of repetitive questions, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.

Yes Lord, you know that I love you.

Feed my sheep. Is Jesus’ response.

Almost echoes of James: Show me your faith without doing anything, says James, and I, through what I do, will show you my faith.

Feed my sheep. It means so much more than just giving people food. And, indeed, there is much that is broken with a charity model of simply handing out food. On one level, though, Jesus’ command to feed his sheep IS about food – about food security and justice: about ensuring that all people, everywhere, have access to enough nutritious food to eat.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger…

Walking in hunger is, unfortunately, a daily reality for far too many people in this world. You know this, and you live the reality of this out in London each and every week. Some of you have been busy planting a pollination garden to provide for the bees that allow for us to grow food. Still others of you grow food that you bring here to the Daily Bread Food Bank and Fellowship Centre. Others again serve in the Fellowship Centre on a weekly basis.

Food is vital. We cannot live without it, yet sometimes it is hard to come by both here in London and around our world. That is why one of the main priorities of PWRDF is Food Security. The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

In a world where many walk in hunger, this is a tall order. We cannot do it on our own. God has called us into partnership as we also partner with each other and bring food to the world.

***

Southern coastal Tanzania is a long way from Southwestern Ontario. But here, in the Anglican Diocese of Masasi is one of PWRDF’s longest-standing partnerships. This region is largely rural with dirt tracks being the best roads on offer. Most people subsist through agriculture, however they have not been able to grow food for more than four to eight months of the year, leaving the remaining months as months of hunger. PWRDF has been working with the Diocese and farmers to provide them with seeds, train them in agricultural practices, and increase the capacity of the land to produce food for ten to twelve months instead. To date, over 2100 farmers have been helped and food production has increased dramatically. Farmers tithe their harvest by returning 20% of their harvested seeds to local seed banks at the end of the season and the cycle begins again, helping even more farmers. Seed by seed, row by row, PWRDF is working to increase food capacity and reduce hunger. Feed my sheep.

***

A refugee camp in southern India inhabited by Tamil refugees who have escaped the long conflict on their home island of Sri Lanka may seem an unlikely place to have a community that is a world leader in anything. Here, however, is OfERR, a PWRDF partner organization started by refugees for refugees. They are a world leader in cultivating a green algae called spirulina. Unless you frequent health food stores, you can be forgiven for never having heard of spirulina before. Spirulina is grown in large tanks, dried and powdered and then used as a nutritional supplement. Some of what is produced by this refugee community is given to children and nursing mothers in their midst in order to promote their health. The rest is sold to make an income to further support themselves, their community, and their dream of one day returning home to Sri Lanka. Feed my sheep.

***

Facing epidemic-levels of HIV/AIDS in their community, the people of the Keiskamma Trust, PWRDF partners who I had an opportunity to visit in the Eastern Cape of South Africa a few years ago, began an organic garden. Working alongside villagers in the garden high up on the windswept grassy hills overlooking the Indian Ocean, not only were members of the Keiskamma Trust able to teach sustainable gardening practices to members of the community, but it has ensured a steady supply of nutritious food for those taking medications to counter HIV/AIDS. For those seeking to live a normal, healthy life and fight HIV/AIDS, food alongside their medications is a must – the medications are not effective without food. Because of the education around gardening and the bounty of the ensuing harvest, I saw, first hand, the life that is given back to people who thought they had a death sentence. Feed my sheep.

These stories are just a small sampling of the more than fifty projects we have been involved in just in the last year both in Canada and around the world.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear…

Why does PWRDF do what we do?

Our mission statement begins with, As an instrument of faith, PWRDF connects Anglicans in Canada to communities around the world.

An instrument of faith: this is part of the response of Canadian Anglicans – of me and of you – in faith, to Jesus’ words, Feed my sheep.

Jesus’ words to Peter are Peter’s renewal. Remember, after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter returned to Galilee and took up fishing all over again, without much luck, and then he has this encounter on the beach. This is Peter’s re-commissioning by Jesus: Peter, I know you’ve messed up in the past, I know you haven’t always gotten it right, but I love you and I trust you: give it another go and partner with me to feed my sheep. Church, I know you haven’t always gotten missions right. I know you haven’t always gotten food relief right or development right. But I love you and you are still my hands and my feet in this world. Give it another go and partner with me on my mission. Feed my sheep.

Then Jesus sends Peter out much like we are sent out from church each week: Go forth to love and serve the Lord. Jesus’ words here are slightly different but their meaning similar: Peter, in faith, partner with me to go feed my sheep and love my people.

***

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone…

Friendship is probably the most unique part of how PWRDF operates. We call it partnership; perhaps you are familiar with this model through this church’s partnership with PWRDF and the Cristosal Foundation in El Salvador.

Friendship and partnership. Our work is not a dictatorial charity model. We don’t send people around the world to tell locals how to best work in their communities. We partner with exceptional organizations to support them in doing what they do best the way that they have identified they need help or support. That takes so many different forms – something different in each community. And through these partnerships we form friendships where we learn as much from our partners as they might learn from us. Some of these partnerships are longstanding, with as much as 15 or 20 years of history between us.

Do you love me? asks Jesus to us. Feed my sheep. Love my people.

Food. Faith. Friendship.

For FOOD in a world where many walk in hunger, for FAITH in a world where many walk in fear, for FRIENDS in a world where many walk alone, we give you humble thanks, O Lord.

Amen.

Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

Preached at St Andrew Memorial Church, London, Ontario.
Text: Mark 16:1-8

Well, here we are at the end.

Lent is over.

The eight short verses contained in our gospel reading this morning are, as determined by biblical scholars, the final original verses of the gospel of Mark: The gospel of Mark is over. We have reached the end of this too.

The end of the gospel of Mark begins with the equivalent of a Biblical all-nighter: The Sabbath has ended with the going-down of the sun on Saturday, but it is too late to do anything about Jesus’ body tonight. So, the women conclude, we may as well just try and sleep a little.

It has been an emotional and heavy week – Jesus: friend, leader, and hope, has been killed.

The women – Mary, Mary, and Salome – these faithful women who have followed Jesus from a distance all through his ministry and then, even when none of the other disciples remained, followed him right up until his death.

They watched while their friend Joseph from Arimathea collected Jesus’ body from the cross, wrapped it in linen cloths, and then laid it in a stone cold tomb. The stone door was rolled in front and that was the end.

The Sabbath began and everyone rested. Though I imagine it was more restless than it was rest: All of Jesus’ ministry has been building, working towards this point, culminating in Jerusalem where it would be launched and recognized by everyone around them, the oppressive government would be overthrown, social injustices would be righted and our nation would finally be restored to God’s favour.

And then it failed. Jesus is killed so dishonourably that nearly everyone fled and went into hiding, and those who did stick around, like the women, did so from a distance.

I can imagine the women deciding that though Jesus did not fulfil their hopes for their nation, they still loved him and he was their friend and leader and they aren’t about to leave him, even in death.

So they wait until the sun goes down and the day of restless rest ends. Then, they head out to the market to find spices. They’re not prepared with all of the ointments and spices that you would anoint a body with at death: In their mind, Jesus wasn’t supposed to die so why would they have them on hand?

Since this rest is so restless, they probably don’t sleep much that night. Up all night pacing, waiting to finish their duty to their friend and then fade back into obscurity when they return to “normal” life. Then tossing in their beds, watching time tick by:

3:48 am: I should really get some sleep

3:49 am: I can’t believe Jesus is dead!

3:50 am: It must be time for the sun to rise soon; I want to get this done with.

How much, in a time before battery operated flashlights or iphone flashes, we depended on the sunlight of day to get us through.

5:10 am: Never mind sleep. I’ll just get up. The sun will be rising soon anyway.

5:11 am: Oh no! I forgot about the stone door. Who will roll away the stone for us?

For some reason, the women set off anyway, without any plan about how to actually get to Jesus’ body in the rock tomb on the other side of the stone door.

Perhaps it is some unconscious remembrance of Jesus speaking to the disciples while he was alive: three times the gospel of Mark has Jesus tell his disciples that he will go to Jerusalem, be condemned to death, be mocked and beaten, be killed, and then that he would rise again in three days. But I don’t know if the women actually heard, understood, or remembered this, after all, in the gospel of Mark everyone who knows Jesus and should know what is going on, don’t get it. Jesus keeps telling them and they keep not understanding, so it isn’t too surprising that the women would be debating about how they would roll the stone away from the door of the tomb to get to a body.

And so the women arrive at the tomb, expecting to find death, even though they have been promised life, in order that they might anoint Jesus’ body.

However when you are looking to find death and you find life instead, amazement and surprise are pretty natural responses.

Not only is the stone door moved and no longer covering up the opening to the rock tomb, but there is, what is described as a young man dressed in a white robe, just sitting to the right of the opening.

Sounding a little bit like the office administrator for a busy CEO, he says: “Oh, you’re looking for Jesus? Sorry, you just missed him.”

Perhaps realizing that the women are, understandably, a little freaked out, the young man, who scholars think is an angel, says what all angels tend to say when they encounter a human: Do not be alarmed.

Then: He has been raised; he is not here.

These two phrases pack some pretty major punches:

First the angel says, He has been raised, like this is the obvious one that the women should know and understand.

He has been raised.

I am told that it was normal for people from that time period to speak of resurrection like it was a more common event. The Caesars were, in popular lore, apparently resurrected to be gods when they died.

The women lived during this time, they heard Jesus speak about being raised after three days, and they’re still surprised. But then again, this isn’t popular folklore that we’re talking about.

Either way, when you’re expecting death and you find life, amazement is a pretty natural response.

I mean, if any of us were to go to the cemetery and find graves open and bodies gone, we’d be, at the very least, surprised.

He has been raised: We can say with the apostle Paul, Death has been swallowed up in victory!

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Jesus is alive and with that resurrection he has broken any of the power that death might have held on us. Death is not the final answer. In the ultimate inversion, the final answer is not death, but life.

The women went to the tomb expecting to find death when they had been promised life. How often do we go through life expecting to find death when we, too, have been promised life? In the liturgy of baptism, [which we will all participate in this morning with Kathy as she is baptised,] we thank God for the water of baptism, because through baptism we are buried with Christ in his death and then also share in his resurrection, being reborn by the Holy Spirit.

Do not be alarmed, you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified, the angel tells the women, He has been raised: he is not here.

He is not here.

This second phrase is just as terrifying as the first. At least with He has been raised we can talk about resurrection.

But He is not here? If Jesus is not in the cold, dark box where we left him, where is he?

It might have been simpler to have a safe, contained, and predicable God who stays put, right where we left him.

If we have learned anything these last weeks of Lent, it is that Jesus does not stay put. That following God is not simple or safe – and certainly not predictable.

After all, we are talking about the one who whipped corrupt moneychangers out of the temple, who spoke back to unclean spirits before casting them out, who healed a disciple’s mother-in-law, and who challenged us to take up our crosses and follow him.

Take up our cross and follow him. That is so much more poignant this side of Good Friday. Suffering, death, resurrection, life.

Follow him to life.

So when the angel says He is not here do we stop and peer into the empty tomb and wonder where God is?

It is certainly understandable that we might do that, with violence in Kenyan universities, discriminatory legislation being passed in the United States, and financial injustice and extreme economic disparity on display in our own city.

But then we might remember what else the angel said to the women: He is going ahead of you to Galilee there you will see him, just as he told you.

And if we decided to go back to Galilee, we might leave the end of the gospel of Mark and turn back to the beginning. Going full circle to read, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God … In those days, Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee …

So it isn’t the end: this story is not over.

It is only the beginning and we have a part to play.

It is only the beginning and, if you wonder why there is still so much pain and distress in the world, it is because God isn’t finished with it yet.

It is only the beginning. Mark is inviting us to get off the bench and get into the game, sharing, with everyone we meet, the good news of Jesus’ complete identification with those who are suffering and his triumph over injustice and death.

It is only the beginning and we are empowered and equipped to work for good in all situations because we can trust God’s promises that all will, in time, come to a good end, even when the only evidence of that we can see in the moment is a cold, dark tomb.

Death has been swallowed up in victory! Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O death, is your victory?

Well, here we are at the beginning…

Amen.

Sermon for March 22, 2015 (Lent 5)

The fifth Sunday of Lent, Preached at St. Andrew Memorial Anglican, London, Ontario.

Text: John 12:20-36

I have never been much of a gardener. I have joked that the only plants I ever want are succulents – cacti and the like – because they seem to be the only thing that can take the neglect I would put them through. I have certainly never lived on a farm. I have always been a city kid – a city kid who loves the outdoors, but at home in the big city none the less.

My grandparent’s retirement project was a farm in the county. To seven-year-old eyes, it seemed like a big farm, but was really not more than an acreage with a turn-of-the-century limestone farmhouse, wooden board barn, and an apple orchard.

But it was the farm fields back behind their property – fields that stretched way back to the tree line, which is a long way when you’re a kid – that captivated us as grandkids. Many summer afternoons were spent hiding in the fields, creating forts, and hoping that the tall grasses and grains would hide us from the watchful eyes of parents and grandparents – wandering as far away down the back field as we dared.

As we plucked the grain from the stalks, I never, in any of those long summer days, stopped to think about what happened to the grain when we were done playing.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, Jesus says in today’s gospel reading, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Until the seed becomes buried in the ground, it has no hope of bringing forth new life.

We have spent these last weeks of Lent participating in just that: contemplating the wheat that falls to the ground and dies and then is buried in the tomb.

It seems like just yesterday that we had ashes placed on our foreheads in the shape of a cross: “remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Death. It has been ever present with us this Lent, in more ways than one.

And while it is difficult to imagine getting closer to the cross than the intimate placement of it on our foreheads, our readings, our meditations, and our worship together over these last weeks have been doing just that. They have been gradually bringing us closer and closer to that cross. Closer to the reality of death: Jesus keeps predicting his own death and now, in today’s reading, he is meditating on it with his disciples:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Strong words: Those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that hate is a stronger word than I should ever use.

And the words “hate their life”?

As a society we spent so much time and money on bettering ourselves, on loving ourselves, on teaching our children to have positive self-esteem and to love themselves too. That clearly jars with what Jesus is saying here. Or does it?

We heard Pastor Marty preach on Mark’s version of those words a few weeks ago when they came up in our Sunday readings: For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. And he challenged us to take up our cross with us every day.

I like Luke’s version of the same phrase: Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

Trying to make their life secure. That sounds a lot like playing it safe, being fearful of sticking our necks out, excessive caution, a reluctance to identify with Jesus and the way of the cross.

Today we are also commemorating the life of a martyr:

Oscar Romero, the Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador who was assassinated, while celebrating the Eucharist, 35 years ago this Tuesday.

He dared to speak up against injustice. He dared to speak up when people were being mistreated. He dared to speak up and ask for basic human rights for his people.

He challenged people to feed the poor, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to love their enemies and seek to make them enemies no longer.

He dared to live the gospel – and lost his life.

Today we also commission a new leader to a new ministry and position of leadership in the church – in this Church of St Andrew Memorial and in the whole church. Leadership in a ministry that we – all of us here at St Andrew, whether we have fancy robes and special chairs or not – share together as a family.

And as we continue this path towards the cross together, we will come to Mandy Thursday where, following in the footsteps of Jesus when he wrapped a towel around his waist and knelt in front of his disciples to lead by serving, we wash each other’s feet in loving service…

From today’s gospel: Whoever serves me must follow me … Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Maybe that is what Jesus is asking. It isn’t an ask for us hate who we are in order to gain eternal life in heaven. It is about now, because daily decisions that we make about following Jesus in the way of the cross are simple and are before us every day.

It is the questions of:

Can you keep loving me and serving me, even in the midst of the pain of the valley of the shadow of death?

Even on the day when the gloom clouds will not clear?

Even when your co-workers are talking about you behind your back?

Even when nothing is going right and everything is getting up in your face and discouraging you?

What about when things are going so well that the temptation is to think that you don’t need Jesus? Can you keep loving and serving me then, says Jesus?

And, Jesus adds, God honours and glorifies those who follow.

            Not those who are successful followers.

            Not those who always make the right decisions.

            Not those who never have anything go wrong or never been discouraged.

But those who follow.

Luckily for me and my brown thumbs, I don’t actually have to do the work of making the seed bring forth new life. The seed already has that new life inside of it – I just have to make sure it gets into the ground and water it now and then, when I can.

We are the Church that is the wheat which bears its fruit in dying.

And so, we now prepare to go to the table, where we recognize that because we have died with Christ, we live with him, and, as we holding firm and following him, we shall reign with him.

Amen.

Sermon for February 8, 2015

Text: Mark 1:29-39, preached at St Andrew Memorial Anglican Church, London Ontario.

I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether or not to post this one. It is a little bit more personal than usual, but it was a story that wanted to be told in light the readings of the day and in light of life in my placement parish. In addition, people have asked to read it and, ultimately it has already been offered to a community and this is another, albeit more public, community of mine. The story wanting to be told came out of a conversation with my Homiletics professor about how challenging the idea of healing is for so many people, especially those of us who have grown up with the stories of Jesus healing people throughout the gospels. What does that even look like? So, with some help that is noted at the bottom, I wrote a sermon.

Perched on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, the town of Capernaum is today in ruins. Visitors can wind between the ancient stone walls and palm trees while enjoying the sunshine as they stroll out the walkway over the Sea. For the Romans, Capernaum was the town that supplied their fish: upwards of 200 boats set out from here daily to ply the waters of the largest freshwater lake in Israel, catching boatloads of fish and making their living. Capernaum, in the region of Galilee, is just down the road from Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. It is likely that Jesus visited here with his father, Joseph, to ply their trade as carpenters. And it is in this region, in this town, that Jesus begins his ministry. He launches it from the synagogue, the town centre of worship, justice, and community life.

Jesus has come to the synagogue to teach. And teach he does. We heard in last week’s readings how he taught with authority, even more authority than the local teachers. Then he amazed everyone present by casting an unclean spirit out of a man.

Perhaps it was this event, the healing of a man with an unclean spirit, that prompted Simon to look over and catch the eye of his brother, Andrew. The nod in return settled it. And there we pick up the story this morning.

There is an urgency where this morning’s reading from Mark begins: “As soon as they left the synagogue they went to the house of Simon and Andrew…”

Simon must have been tripping over himself to catch Jesus on the way out of the door: Teacher you have to come with me, come back to my house – right now!

And, immediately, back to Simon and Andrew’s house they go.

Simon: the impetuous first-called disciple of Jesus. The fisherman who Jesus called to fish for people instead.

We don’t know what his wife’s name was. We probably wouldn’t have even known he was married if it wasn’t for this story. But he must have been married, because now we are face to face with his mother-in-law.

I imagine her a strong woman, a capable woman who manages the household well. Goodness knows, with Simon, the rash decision-maker, and his brother Andrew in the house, she must have a strong personality in order to compete with theirs. I’m guessing that she has a strong handle on the dealings of the place, probably does a lot of the work of making the food that they eat and caring for the affairs of the house.

But she is sick. Not just any kind of sick – she has a fever. If they’ve had good times with the fishing, they’ve had the money to bring in a doctor to look at her. But whether the doctor has been or not, it is clear: there is not much they can do. A fever is pretty dangerous – there is not much that anyone can do to lessen its hold.

So Simon and Andrew drag Jesus home from the synagogue. After all, he has just demonstrated his authority to teach and cast out unclean spirits with a word. Maybe he will speak a word for Simon’s mother-in-law.

But Jesus does more than that. He walks over to her bedside, looks at her flushed and sweating face, stares into her feverish eyes, takes her by the hand and lifts her up.

And here is where I get stuck in today’s reading: She is healed.

The fever is gone and Simon’s Mother-in-Law is healed.

So what does Simon’s mother-in-law do? She goes back to life-as-normal. She gets up and begins to serve Jesus, Simon, Andrew, and the whole crew.

That’s normal, right?

Except it isn’t.

Healing hardly ever comes like that, at least not in my experience. You’re not sick and dying one day and carrying on as if it never happened the next. Even a minor cough or cold can put you out of commission for weeks. And for those who have been laid low by serious illness or a traumatic injury, it is hard to say if the healing will ever be complete. Indeed, all of those of us who have broken bones in the last year can attest to that: we are still doing the therapy needed to regain full use of our broken fingers, wrists, and arms. It is unheard of that someone as ill as Simon’s mother-in-law could get up and go about the task of feeding a full house so soon after her fever left her. In this world, in this life, it just doesn’t work like that.

Which is probably the point.

It is no wonder that the news of Simon’s mother-in-law’s healing spread so quickly – seeping out of the house and down alleyways, drawing everyone in the city to gather around their front door, bringing with them all of their sicknesses and troubles.

It is no wonder, really. Because who doesn’t yearn for that time before: Before I fell. Before the terrible car accident. Before the diagnosis was given. Before my relationship fell apart. Before my loved one died.

Before.   Before.    Before.

Before and as full of the old life as Simon’s mother-in-law now appears to be.

But could she really have returned to “before” – been fully returned to how she was before she was sick?

She has experienced something that, though it didn’t take her life, has still taken something out of her and replaced it with something entirely new, something different. If nothing more, she has an awareness that she did not possess before.

For her, and for all of those crowded outside of Simon and Andrew’s front door seeking healing, life will never be the same as it was before: they have experienced the depths of despair, the heights of hope, and the wonder of life renewed in a way they likely haven’t felt before.

At least that is how it was for me.

I have to go back many many years now to get to that place, to the autumn when my mum died. To those long weeks, months, and years while we watched her health decline, watched her get weaker and weaker, and then struggle just to breathe – all of the while yearning and praying – to go back to before. Back to a time when she was healthy and we could just be a normal family. And while our prayers for her to be restored to health increased in frequency, our awareness that this was not likely to be also increased. At least it would not a return to health in this life.

Of course, this is not a perfect example, because we did not get that miraculous healing – at least not in the conventional sense.

But I will not forget the awareness that came to me one night as I was sitting in my friend’s van, while we talked and cried together. I realized that while I would do anything to have her back, for things to go back to how they had been before, I would be hard-pressed to give up anything I now knew:

About the preciousness of human life and the gifts of the laughter and music as friends gathered around mum’s bed to talk and sing songs.

About the wonder of community who showed up in a thousand and one ways to love us and care for us.

About the bond of family and friends who will drop everything just to come and be present.

About my own resilience and the profound, inexplicable, but so very real presence of God.

And about how faith did not die when it came up against some of the worst of what life can deal, but was mysteriously strengthened.

I wonder if Simon’s Mother-in-Law and all those gathered around their door, those who encountered the healing touch of Jesus experienced something of that as well in the aftermath of their respective miracles and their return to their ‘old lives.’

Of course, even the stories of healing we hear now are just a glimpse of what will be one day. Jesus knows this, which is probably why he didn’t stay in Capernaum in the house of Simon, of Andrew, and of Simon’s mother-in-law.

Before today’s reading is done, we’ve followed him, in the wee early hours of the morning, to a deserted place where he rests while he prays.

Perhaps he, too, is trying to make sense of everything that he has seen, heard, and experienced. Maybe Jesus is trying to put things into perspective as well, and the only way he knows how to is in the presence of God.

And then his disciples track him down – everyone is searching for you, Lord. And so are we… and Jesus recognizes that there is more to be done, because the work of God is so much broader, wider, and deeper than any of us can ask or imagine. His preaching, and his healing, throughout the region of Galilee is a taste of everything that God will one day do.

It could not be contained by the four walls of one family home. It could not be contained by one small fishing town. It couldn’t even be contained by the whole region of Galilee.

It is meant for all of the world.

Amen.

While this story is completely mine, the inspiration for the second half of the sermon came from Rev Dr Janet Hunt, whose words and story so clearly articulated what I was trying to say that I borrowed many of her ideas and some of her words and phrases. She has graciously posted on her website that those of us who preach may use her posts in whatever ways we feel called in our sermons. I am so grateful for them because they gave voice to what I was trying to say. Thank you for those words and allowing them to be shared even further. She posts weekly, generally on the lectionary, and I always find inspiration in what she writes, even if I am not preaching.

Sermon for January 18, 2015 (Epiphany 2)

Text: Psalm 139 and John 1:43-51, preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario.

 

I want to start by telling you a story.

It may be a familiar story, it may be not.

It is a story that I grew up with – my Sunday School had it on flannel graph.

It wasn’t directly in our readings this morning, but it was there, hovering in the background.

It’s a story that all of the individuals in today’s gospel would have been very aware of. Jesus would have known it, educated as he was in the stories of the history of his people. Philip and Nathaniel surely would have known it. It is likely one they grew up with on cold evenings around the fire before bed.

It is a story everyone in Israel would have known because, even though it had taken place centuries earlier, it was a significant story of the founding and establishing of their nation, of their people.

The setting of this story is centuries earlier than where we are with Jesus, Philip, and Nathaniel. To get to its location, we must go a little ways south of where the gospel is set in Bethsaida, south past Samaria and towards Jerusalem, but not quite that far.

It is mountainous country here, rocky and cold; the kind of barren land that makes it an unlikely place to stop and spend the night. But when you are fleeing for your life, anywhere that seems safe will do.

Fleeing for your life.

Jacob, the younger twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, is fleeing from his brother Esau. Esau the hunter, whose hunger for lentil stew was more important than his birthright. Jacob the deceiver, who tricked Father Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn, and thus earning the hatred of his elder brother. To escape being killed by Esau, Jacob runs.

The Psalmist (139) says, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night.”

Jacob runs until he can run no more, until he is covered by the night – both a night of darkness and a night of despair. At night it is cold – as cold as the angry brother left behind – and having nothing soft to lie on, Jacob takes a stone and makes it his pillow.

But, again, as the Psalmist says, “You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways … You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me … Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast … For even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Jacob may be able to flee from his angry brother, but he cannot flee from God.

So Jacob sleeps using a stone for a pillow. With an uneasy resting place like that, it is no wonder that Jacob has a vivid dream:

He dreams of a ladder set up on the earth. It must have been a ladder without end for its bottom rested on earth and its top rungs reached all the way to heaven. If that were not enough to make it an unusual ladder, the angels of God were ascending and descending on the ladder: crossing between heaven and earth. Heaven’s gate, where the earth becomes heaven’s door.

God has found Jacob – he cannot flee from God – and now God is standing right beside Jacob:

He speaks: You may be called the deceiver, Jacob, but I am the God of your father and your grandfather, and I know you. I know you and now I want you to know that I bless you. I promised to Abraham, I promised to Isaac, and now I promise to you: I am with you always. I am with you and your descendents – even when it seems all hope is lost and I’m not there, I am. And from your descendents will come the one who will end all of our exile…

Jacob awakens and takes the stone that was his pillow and makes it into a pillar and calls the place Beth-El – the house of the Lord. And it is at this place, Beth-El, that God changes Jacob’s name from Jacob – deceiver – to Isra-El – God is triumphant.

Centuries later, where we began with our gospel, this is the vision that Jesus presents to Nathaniel:

“Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

You are no Jacob, the deceiver; you are Israel – you speak your mind and you speak the truth.

“Where did you get to know me, Jesus?”

“I formed your inward parts and knit you together in your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made – your frame was not hidden from me when you were being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Ps. 139)

“I saw you under the fig tree,” says Jesus. I saw you… sitting, enjoying figs, philosophizing with the best of them … I saw you scoff in disbelief when Philip told you that they’d found me in Nazareth; that they’d found the one about whom Moses and all of the prophets spoke – the Messiah, the Anointed.

And as Nathaniel glances around, trying to remember if he’d seen someone hiding, eavesdropping, in the fig tree while he and Philip had been speaking, he has an epiphany – his sudden and striking realization:

“Teacher, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” It is YOU!

Jesus, in turn, offers him a further vision: “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Remember the dream of your ancestor, centuries ago? I am the ladder, says Jesus. Come and see, heaven is open. The kingdom of heaven is upon us.

Come and see.

And that is how we got here, in Bethsaida, with Jesus and Philip and Nathaniel:

Philip sought Nathaniel and told him they’d found Jesus.

Nathaniel scoffed.

Philip’s only reply:

“Come and see.”

Come and see

That is all that is asked of us, and it is especially relevant that we get reminded of that in the gospel this morning, during the season of Epiphany.

Nathaniel came and saw and found Jesus and, in finding Jesus, found himself as a disciple.

The shepherds came and saw and found a baby, lying in cloths in a manger and, in finding Jesus, found themselves his messengers proclaiming what they had seen.

The magi came and saw and found an infant king and, in finding Jesus, found themselves the bearers of extraordinary gifts for a king.

God sees us – where we are, who we are, what we are.

God knows us – every single intricate part and all of the thoughts we daren’t even voice aloud.

God calls us – calls us by name. Our deepest names. Because of, and in spite of, knowing us, God calls each one of us.

All we need to do is come.

Because it is in answering the “come and see” that we have our own epiphany – our sudden realization: we find Jesus and Jesus finds us. In that finding, we realize who we are – who we are as Jesus’s followers and we learn what it means to believe.

Come all you who are faithful, and all who would like to be faithful.

Come all you who walk in darkness and hunger for the light.

Come –

Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, disbelief enough to draw near and see for yourself.

Come.

Come and see.

Come and be found.

Sermon for December 21, 2014 (Advent 4)

Text Luke 1:26-38 (The Annunciation); Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario

Middle of the night phone calls or knocks on the door are always unsettling. First there is that sudden ascent into consciousness. Then there is the noise. Loud and shrill: the ring of a phone. Strong thuds: the pounding on the door in the wee hours of the morning. Noises that are destined to set the heart racing.

Blood pounds through the veins, each beat of the heart a prayer on behalf of the one who has no words.

Hello?

An unfamiliar voice, a uniformed person, “I am just calling with a message…”

***

She knows it’s a tough place to raise a kid. Especially one who can be opinionated and outspoken like this one. It just isn’t safe to stick your neck out like that here, and she has told him that more times than she can count. Last week, the priest’s dog disappeared … and everyone knows it is because the priest was too outspoken against the government, but no one has any hard evidence.

That is always the way it is. Things happen but there is never any way to assign blame.

It is just a matter of time.

She lifts her eyes up, sighing out her frequent prayer, “How long, O Lord, must your people wait in suffering and in silence.”

As if to prove her fears true, she sees a familiar figure limping down the long dirt road that runs through the village. Soon, his swollen and bloodied face comes into focus through her tears: “They said they were sending a message, mom.”

***

That time lag between the doctor’s call and the doctor appointment is always nerve-wracking. Every single scenario known to humankind – or the Internet – has flashed before the eyes and given that sinking feeling inside, all before a foot is even set inside the doctor’s door. And then you wait – wait with little to cling onto save that reassurance of “I will never leave you or forsake you” that is both comforting and hollow at a time like this.

Finally the impassive doctor comes into the room wearing a sterile white coat, clipboard in hand. You’ve never seen this doctor before and it is a little intimidating. The doctor clears his throat, pauses, and then opens his mouth to deliver the message.

***

She is probably minding her own business, going about her day as usual. She lives in a small, out of the way, unimportant village in a small, out of the way province, in a big empire. In this village over 2000 miles away from the centre of the empire, there aren’t many strangers that wander through town save maybe the odd soldier stationed at the garrison 30 miles down the road.

And it is probably a good thing that there aren’t many strangers. Those that run the empire aren’t always friendly to the locals. If a solider tells you to pick up and carry his gear for a mile, there really isn’t any safe way of refusing. The political government and the religious leadership don’t always get along. When they do, it is often to unite against young, vocal activists – anarchists you might call them – or martyrs – or zealots – activists who are disrupting the uneasy peace that the community has settled into.

Mind your own business, keep your head down; don’t look for trouble and trouble likely won’t look for you. That is the best way to live when it seems like God has forgotten you and your country.

***

Imagine if you will – or maybe you don’t have to imagine because it is all too real – the idea of God being silent. God hasn’t spoken to you or noticeably acted around you for years.

Decades.

Generations.

You don’t hear from God. You as a people thought you were “the chosen ones” – the ones upon whom God’s favour rested, and you had God’s king whose kingdom was going to last forever. You had God’s temple, where God lived and where you could worship God freely.

And then it all fell apart – literally. The kings were killed or deported and that line ended, the temple was destroyed and it seemed that God left the land, the people were exiled and you did not know if or where God is anymore.

Life goes on, but it is certainly not the same life that you knew before, when you had tangible evidence that you were God’s chosen people.

Songs of Lament are a regular prayer, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!” (Ps. 13)

***

And so we return to the young woman in the small, unimportant village, in the out of the way province, in the big empire. She is going about her day as a normal day. Yes, the Temple has been rebuilt in Jerusalem, but God still seems absent. There haven’t been prophets speaking God’s message the way her ancestors would have heard it. Foreigners occupy and rule the land. The wealthy landowners have gotten their wealth off of the backs of the regular person who is often forced into working as a tenant farmer while the owners head off to live the good life in the city.

Then the stranger appears in town – a stranger that the woman has never seen the like of before – not even in her dreams. Or nightmares.

“Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

The Lord is with you.

With five simple words everything changes.

The Lord is with you.

What sort of greeting is this?

The Lord is with you:

“You, Mary, will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”

Mary pauses: I’m from a small town – I know how babies are made. I’ve got to tell you – that’s not happening here!

The Lord is with you, the messenger said.

The Lord is with you:

With five simple words the Word that once hovered over the waters when darkness covered the face of the deep broke its silence and announced its intention to become flesh and dwell among us.

The Lord is with you: nothing will be impossible with God.

The Lord is with me: Here I am, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.

The Lord is with you.

These five simple words we say each week as we gather together around the table: The Lord be with you.

Maybe they are not so simple words, after all.

What does it mean, what does it look like to say that the Lord is with us?

The Lord who was born in a manger in Bethlehem, who walked on dusty roads, who healed the sick, and fed the hungry, The Lord who walked on water and died on a cross. The Lord who, on the third day, rose from the dead: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who holds your beating heart in love when your phone rings in the middle of the night or when you awake to pounding on the door: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who is there when you wipe away tears and wash bruised and bloodied faces of those persecuted for standing up for justice – or when you simply stand in solidarity with them: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who is there, laughing when you laugh and crying when you cry: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who, as Mary sang in her joy, brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts the lowly; who fills the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who sits with you in those times of uncertainty, who accompanies you when there is news from the doctor: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who welcomes children, who calls rough-around-the-edges working class folks, and who breaks bread with outcasts and sinners: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who walks beside you as you feed the hungry, give clothing to the naked, sit with the hurting: The Lord is with you.

The Lord who journeys beside you in the joys or in the mundane of daily life: The Lord is with you.

The Lord is with you: Not only is this our anticipation in Advent, this is our Reality every day.

The Lord is with us.

Amen.

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Photo from Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria. Taken from their Facebook page.