First – a Person

Sunday was my very first Sunday as curate at St John the Divine. After the service ended, I stood by the pulpit and shook hands with what seemed like thousands of people. Though in reality, it was maybe only a hundred and twenty or so…

In the midst of all of the “thank you” and “great sermon” comments, one person stopped and made a point of thanking my very specifically for something in the sermon that had caught their notice. They thanked me for how I referred to people.

I hadn’t thought much of it when writing – it has become second nature for me to talk about a person who has or is dealing with something in their lives, rather than make the identity of the person entirely wrapped up in that one “feature.” For example, I will talk about a person experiencing homelessness rather than a homeless person. It is a small shift in language, but for this person, it made a difference.

This afternoon I was doing clean up and updating work on this site and I came across a post that I wrote a number of years ago while working at the shelter. It reminded me of that after-church conversation and thought it worthwhile to bring it to the front again.

So, here it is: There is Always a Story.

Ordination

I have no words to describe last weekend. Instead, I will direct you to my Dad and his photos of our ordination.

This week we each had our first full days of work at the church. I have an office and keys and have begun to find my way around the parish. I am preaching this Sunday, my first Sunday in the parish, and I don’t know whether to tell people to come or to stay away!

God has called us on a marvellous adventure and day-by-day we seek to discover how we serve God and God’s people

Green

This Sunday is Palm Sunday. We read through and studied the gospel reading for this Sunday in class this week. From the gospel of Luke (19:28-40), we read the story of the procession into Jerusalem:

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” he answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

One of my classmates asked us to draw an image that came to us from this passage, one that speaks to where this passage is going. I have always been captivated by the closing line spoken by Jesus, “I tell you, if these [people] were silent, the stones would shout out.” It is such a powerful image of creation crying out praises to God even if we human fail to keep it up all the time. So I drew a pile of rocks with a speech bubble and the word LIFE! proclaimed loudly in the speech bubble. Because ultimately that is where the procession of palms ends a week later: rock tombs opening up and shouting life as Jesus is risen.

I don’t know about where you are, but in this little corner of the world we are starting to see spring. It has been raining and the smells of spring are in the air. Green is beginning to sprout and I will not be surprised if trees start to bud soon. Seeing green pop everywhere always brings to mind the song “The Color Green” by Rich Mullins.

And the moon is a sliver of silver
Like a shaving that fell on the floor of a Carpenter’s shop
And every house must have it’s builder
And I awoke in the house of God
Where the windows are mornings and evenings
Stretched from the sun
Across the sky north to south
And on my way to early meeting
I heard the rocks crying out
I heard the rocks crying out

Be praised for all Your tenderness by these works of Your hands
Suns that rise and rains that fall to bless and bring to life Your land
Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise

The rocks cry out, the colour green cries out, sun rise and rain fall bless the name of God.

We’re headed to the celebration of Palm Sunday and then on to Holy Week and the great Tridiuum services. But at the end of the day, the rocks cry out along with us: Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Life!

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.

Preaching Camp

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!