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.

Passing Peace

Each time we, as a Christian community, gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we have a tradition of passing the peace. How we pass that peace can be summed up in a thread started by a friend of mine of Facebook: “Informal poll for Episcopalians (or anyone who worships in a “liturgical church”): When passing the peace, are you a hand shaker or a hugger?”

With over fifty comments on the post, it is safe to say that we are all a little divided on it and many have strong opinions. I know people who will only attend services using the Book of Common Prayer, the older prayer book, so that they do not have to even think about touching anyone. I know people who have it as their mission to hug every single person in the building before they will conclude that they have sufficiently passed peace. My own response? Well, if I know you well, I’ll give you a hug. If I’ve only just met you or I don’t know you very well, it is a hand shake.

But what about if that has to change and you can’t shake hands for some reason and you do not want to hug? Then what?

I spent July and August in El Salvador with a group of youth leaders from Saskatchewan. We were visiting a PWRDF partner there, and spent the majority of our time in a small, isolated, rural community in the highlands close to the border with Honduras. While I am always really careful about ensuring I have all of my travel vaccinations before I go anywhere, there are some things you cannot plan for and cannot do anything to prevent.

Shortly before leaving to return home, I had a bit of a fever and felt achy all over. The local doctor looked me over and decided that I didn’t need to worry about anything with regards to flying, and to visit a doctor at home if anything changed after I arrived home. For some time, nothing changed. However a few weeks after returning home I started to get really achy joints: toes, ankles, knees, hips, elbows, and fingers. Not all at once, but definitely a lot of them for a lot of the time.

After a series of blood tests (and a whole lot of blood removed from my body), we have determined that I got the chikungunya virus when I was in El Salvador. It is transmitted by mosquitoes, which is interesting since I rarely get bitten by mosquitoes. It won’t cause any permanent damage and the joint pain will subside over time – and indeed it already has a lot: walking is no longer extremely painful and I have been able to type these words – but I will be dealing with joint pain off and on for a while longer still.

What does this have to do with passing the peace, you might ask? Simply this: my hands and feet remain the most affected parts of my body. I have difficulty holding our heavy hymn books some mornings in chapel. It also means that when well-meaning people give me a nice, firm handshake of peace, my hand aches for hours afterwards.

How does one pass peace when a handshake isn’t a viable option? I have tried a number of different things, most recently putting my hands together in prayer position and slightly bowing to people when I pass the peace of God. More often than not, however, this becomes awkward for both myself and the other person. So what is one to do? While for me, the pain will soon go away, I am mindful that is not the reality for many.

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.

Episcopal Preaching Foundation

PEP 2015 Group Picture

PEP 2015 Group Picture

Last week I attended “Preaching Camp’

PEP Canadians

“The Canadians” – the first from a Canadian seminary to attend PEP!

Matthew and I, along with Todd, our Dean of Theology at Huron, were honoured to be included in the Episcopal Preaching Foundation’s Preaching Excellent Program (PEP) for Seminarians. While Todd was faculty and facilitated both small group workshops and teaching, Matthew and I were grouped into different preaching groups with six or seven other Episcopal seminarians from across the United States. Within our groups we preached sermons we had previously prepared for school or church placement contexts and then workshopped them together. These sessions were interspersed with plenary sessions from the likes of renowned preacher Tom Long and smaller group sessions on practical preaching tools taught by PEP faculty.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience. Not only was the retreat centre, the Roslyn Center of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, a beautiful facility with heartfelt hospitality, but our fellow preachers were amazing. Huron University College is a wonderful school and I enjoy studying there, however we rarely have the opportunity to dialogue with other Anglican/Episcopal seminarians. Here, we had dozens with whom we could toss around ideas about preaching and about the future of the church, with whom we could pray and sing, and with whom we could celebrate birthdays (that’s right – I celebrated my birthday in Virginia alongside a new friend from Yale Divinity).

A great big thank you to the Episcopal Preaching Foundation for including us in PEP this year – the first of what will hopefully be many to come for Canadian seminarians!

Thank You

It has been a long school year and a lot has happened. I got engaged. We had some health stuff. We both had a full course load, and then some, each term. I have been working part time. And then there was the church field placement.

Twelve to fifteen hours per week. In a church. Doing stuff.

What that “stuff” was varied each week: preaching, proclaiming the word, leading parts of the liturgy, searching around for my supervisor’s reading glasses (where the heck did he leave them this week?!?), home and hospital visiting, assisting at a funeral, drinking beer at the pub while leading a bible study… the list goes on.

What did not vary each week was the love and support of that church community. St Andrew Memorial Anglican Church: Thank you.

Thank you for being a welcoming community.

Thank you for opening yourselves to me and letting me be myself amongst you.

Thank you for welcoming my partner as warmly as you welcomed me, even though he worships at another church as a part of his field placement.

Thank you for letting me learn without judgement.

Thank you for being a community where it has been okay for me to try and not be perfect.

Thank you for your encouragement, your laughter, your enthusiasm, your chocolate, and your joy.

Thank you for being a community that loves fellowship and food.

Thank you for your heart for worshipping God.

Thank you for loving me.

I have learned a lot from you, with you, and because of you. As Pastor Marty said at my last service with you, a piece of your community will come back to BC with me and will always be a part of my ministry.

Multitude

I was honoured to be invited to contribute to a Lenten reflection booklet curated by a friend and fellow postulant in the Diocese of British Columbia. My reflection was for today and is based on the Hebrew Bible lectionary reading for the day, Genesis 17:3-9.

 

Your name shall be Abraham for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 

Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.

I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all the tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.

Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Before he even reproduced, God had made Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. It still seemed impossible – there was not even one child, let alone a multitude of nations.

And before Abraham was even conceived of, Jesus is.

In the beginning was the Word…

Time and space. What is time to God? A thousand years is like a day to God, we are told. Yesterday is last year, tomorrow is 2019. Or 2130. Or 1875.

God was, God is, God will be.

That multitude of nations? God knew them then. God knows them now. God sees and knows those that will be. Each and every one.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again:

And yesterday, today, and tomorrow we all join together; with Abraham, with the angels who heralded Christ’s birth, and with the multitude from every nation envisioned by John, praising God.

Making Space

A beautiful thing happened last Sunday morning.

Our server was sick and opted out of serving for fear of infecting everyone. As he was telling the priest, his six-year-old son piped up, “Can I?!?”

Without missing a beat the priest accepted his offer and my newest assistant was created.

Come communion, I invited him up to help me set the table. As I readied the table, he waited patiently. Then we painstakingly counted out the host together, lapsing into his mother tongue as he counted: “five. ten. fifteen. vente. vente cinqo. thirty. …”

Then the wine. I brought the chalices down from the table, crouched down on the step beside him, and asked him if he thought he could pour the wine in. “Which one is the wine?” “The red one” Slowly, painstakingly, ever so carefully, he poured the wine into one chalice, then the other. The hymn ended. We were still pouring. Then, while all looked on in silence, we added the water – slightly more than our usual splash.

The table was set. We passed it over to the priest who continued the service. Our newest server sat and squirmed for a minute, all the solemnity of setting the table for Eucharist gone, then bounced back down to sit beside his dad, running shoe heels lighting up as he went.

Come to the table, where space is made for all.

Sermon for October 19, 2014

Text: Matthew 22:15-22; Preached at St Andrew Memorial Anglican, London, Ontario.

I wonder when the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians in today’s gospel reading began to realize that their question was not going to yield their desired outcome. Here they are, with Jesus cornered in the Temple, days after his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem with all of the fanfare – and then his subsequent clearing of all of the money changers and vendors in the Temple. After a scene like that, no one is going to forget this man very quickly.

So they have Jesus pinned, hemmed in by questioners in the Temple – much like reporters at a press conference – and they ask him a question – one they have cleverly designed with the specific purpose of trapping him by what he said and getting him in trouble with either the Political Leadership or the Religious Leadership.

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  (vs 16&17)

A well-crafted question that can only leave Jesus in a predicament.

Or so they thought…

The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians must have known that something was up when Jesus accused them of putting him to the test and called them hypocrites. Surely they must have felt a note of concern when he asked them to bring him the coin used for the tax. All bets should have been off when he started asking the questions – “Whose head is this? And whose title?” After all, as we have seen in the gospel readings over the last few weeks, Jesus has been specializing in making the Religious Establishment look pretty foolish.

Image is an interesting thing. It used to annoy me to no end when complete strangers would come up to me and tell me how much I resembled my mother. I knew it was a tight resemblance when a friend of the family asked why there was a portrait of me up at my mother’s memorial service: it was actually a picture of mum in her early twenties. Even a few weeks ago when we visited the parish I grew up in for the first time in over ten years, half of the church came up to say hi to me, knowing instantly to which family I belonged because of the closeness of my image to my mother’s.

Image.

Whose image?

Jesus’ answer is so simple – so simple that the religious folk trying to trap him probably wish they’d thought through all possible scenarios before asking their initial question.

Jesus holds up the coin and asks, “Whose head is this? Whose title?” Whose name and whose image is on this coin that you carry?

Then he answers – “Give to the emperor those things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus doesn’t say what belongs to God but leaves that wide open for us to realize the gift that we are handed.

In leaving it wide open, Jesus is making no demands upon us. It would have been really easy for him to launch into a long and detailed explanation of what is and what is not God’s. But he doesn’t do that. He merely says, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”

The things that are God’s.

The things that belong to God?

Despite the close resemblance between my mother and I, it isn’t as easy to see that family resemblance between me and others in my family. Unlike a coin, I haven’t got a family name or a family image stamped onto me. It just isn’t that obvious.

But I, like each one of us, am a child of God. Made with love and care, in God’s image. And each day has been left wide open for us to decide how each one of us will show the world whose image we bear. Not our earthly family, though that can be a lovely thing. But that we bear God’s image. That we are a part of God’s family, carrying God’s name.

It is a question to ask, maybe while lying in bed before feet hit the floor, maybe while getting dressed and ready for the day each morning: how close of a family resemblance do I have? Do you have? What can I, what can you, do to give to God that which is God’s? How will anyone know?

Because in making no demands but simply stating, “Give to God that which is God’s,” Jesus is allowing us the choice to decide for ourselves. And I, like each one of us, get to respond each and every day and decide what to do with that which bears God’s image.

Amen.

Sermon for October 5th, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 5, Matthew 21:33-45; Preached at St Andrew Memorial, London Ontario.

You have maybe had that moment where someone starts to tell a story and you realize you’ve heard it before – so you know that it is a good one… there is that eager expectation for the highlights of the story – you might even prompt the story teller if you think they’ve forgotten one of the key lines.

I kind of think that is how the listeners must have felt when Jesus started to tell the parable in today’s Gospel reading: They know the story about the vineyard. They’ve heard it before from Isaiah and they are pretty sure that they know exactly what is going on:

Israel the unfaithful.

Israel the untrue.

God’s unrequited love for Israel.

Unrequited love that results in Israel being cast away – exiled, and her temple destroyed because of her bad behaviour.

So when Jesus started to tell the story about the vineyard with wicked tenants, I picture some of those listening taking a step back, maybe folding their arms or raising an eyebrow and saying, ”I know how this one goes! Lets see how he does”

Jesus describes the care the landowner goes to in order to set up his vineyard. He describes the way the landowner leaves the vineyard with tenants to tend it and harvest its produce.

Then Jesus describes the cycle of violence that ensues when the landowner seeks to recover the crop from the vineyard:

The tenants kill the first set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

Then the tenants kills the second set of slaves sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard.

The landowner, perhaps in a temporary loss of sanity, thinks they won’t dare do anything to his son and his heir. So the son is sent to collect the fruits of the vineyard and the tenants seize him, toss him out, and kill him too.

So it isn’t really too surprising that when Jesus finally asks the question: “When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” that everyone listening is like “Oh, I’ve got this one, I know the answer”: after all, in the vineyard story from Isaiah that they all know, God destroys the vineyard entirely, trampling down its walls, lets it become overgrown, casts out the people, and speaks of bloodshed from the pruning that Israel will experience.

So the listeners answer, kindly sparing the vineyard itself, but damning the tenants: “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.”

If they won’t comply, kill them and get new people who will do a better job.

I find myself asking “Why” when I read this gospel parable. Why are the tenants killing the slaves and trying to keep the harvest and the land? I wonder what drove them to do that?

Are they really wicked?

What if they are desperate?

The landowner, we are told, lives at a distance. An absentee landowner. He bought the property and probably invested a lot of money into setting up this vineyard, came to some sort of arrangement with his tenants, and then took off to live in another land. So this guy probably has some money. Judging from the way he takes such time and care to set up his vineyard, we can guess that this was a brand new vineyard: a brand new vineyard carved out from land that may once have been common land for the peasants to harvest crops for their food on. This was a common practice in Palestine in Jesus’ day.

It is also, unfortunately, a common practice today.

Canada is home to 75 per cent of the world’s mining companies and mineral exploration companies. The Canadian stock exchange raises 40% of all mineral exploration capital worldwide. (Statistics from Kairos)

Canadian mining companies have been known for taking advantage of, worsening, or even provoking conflict in countries with weak democracies. Exploiting the conflict to their own financial and material gain.

I travelled to El Salvador at the beginning of this year. In El Salvador we sat with and listened to the stories of people affected by Canadian mining operations in that country. We heard about agreements made to deliver the resources from the land at the expense of the workers and those trying to live on the land. Wealthy company executives who live in another country who pressure – and even trick – those working the land to sign away the rights for and turn over a product beyond what they and what their land can sustainably produce. To give up a return that will not enrich the workers and will not provide for their livelihood – instead it will kill their livelihoods and poison their water. A return that will only line the pocket of the mining company executives and shareholders. And when the people of the country put their foot down and say “No more exploitation,” violence – intimidation and death – against those who protest, follows.

Would we blame these workers if they decided to revolt? Wanted to seek better working conditions? Wanted to protect their children and livelihoods?

I’m all for justice in the world, and I’m all about fairness – and killing messengers sent to collect produce probably needs to be dealt with, but all of this – the destruction of the land, the exploitation of vulnerable workers and retribution for non-compliance – this just seems like a lot of violence that needs to be stopped. The people listening to Jesus’ story, however seem to encourage it to continue: “put those miserable wretches to death and find someone else to do the dirty work.”

I don’t know about you, but that kind of response doesn’t seem like the Jesus that speaks elsewhere in the gospels – the Jesus who challenges the status quo and asks us to stand up for the poor and the vulnerable. Not with violence, but with love.

Jesus, shocking his listeners, and perhaps challenging us, doesn’t agree with that response either. Jesus flips it around. “Haven’t you read the scriptures?” he asks. As if to say – is this really what you think God is like? Do you really want a violent God? A God who is represented by the landowner that goes in and kills everyone – a God who is just going to be violent in response to any violence that happens?

No, says Jesus, “the stone that has been rejected will be the cornerstone.” Instead of telling a story of a violent and retributive landowner, I am telling the story of what could be: Those who you reject I have lifted up. The least among you is the greatest. The voiceless will be listened to. Those who exploit will be overturned and we will have grace and justice.

We believe in a God who asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit those in prison, shelter those who are homeless. A God whose son Jesus Christ said, “whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me.”

I am challenged to ask, what I, what we, have done and what I, what we, have left undone to the least of these.

Amen.

Second Year

Second year of seminary started this week and did it ever start with a bang!

As a part of the executive of the theological students society (Bishop Hallam Theological Society, or BHTS, to be exact), I was involved in running the student orientation this year. On Tuesday and Wednesday we welcomed at least a dozen new students from across the country into our MDiv and MTS programs, helped orient them to the program, to the campus, to the courses, and to the city. It was capped by a social event on Wednesday before diving right back into Morning Prayer services and courses on Thursday.

Unlike last year when I had a slow welcome to school and chapel life, I was right back into it this year with designing and leading morning prayer on Wednesday, singing a canticle at morning prayer on Thursday, and reading the lessons for morning prayer on Friday. It is weird to be right back into it, but with half of the cantors graduating last year, I’ll be involved a fair bit until first year students join the roster, I think.

I’ve only experienced two of five courses for the term thus far: “Theology and Religious Pluralism” and “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible II.” Next week sees the first class of Homiletics, Field Education, and Congregational Development. It seems an interesting mix of theological and practical courses. Just in time too: I will be spending 10-12 hours each week at St Andrew Memorial Anglican Church here in London. I’ll be working with the priest, Marty Levesque, to learn and practice some of the practical parts of being a priest – preaching, leading on Sunday morning, taking part in some of the various weekday activities of the parish.

This year will be incredibly different from last year. It will be a good year with its share of challenges, but it will be a year of learning, of laughter, of love, and of life.