Sermon for September 10, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Readings: Romans 13:8-14 & Matthew 18:15-20

The year is around 55 or 56 CE. A man named Paul, who is currently staying in Greece, is preparing to write a letter. He is writing to a group of people he has never met but who he hopes to visit. That group of people are in Rome, a bit of a ways from Greece, but not as far as they are from Jerusalem. And it is Jerusalem that Paul says he must visit first before travelling on to Rome to meet that growing community of Christians there, and then, he hopes to continue on to Spain to start Christian churches there.

As he prepares to write, Paul reflects on what he knows about the group of Christians in Rome:

The tensions between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians are growing.

The Jewish Christians in Rome have only just been allowed to return home after having been kicked out of Rome by the last emperor, and they are feeling unsettled.

On top of that, Paul has heard grumbles from Jewish Christians – criticism that in preaching to Gentiles that he is turning his back on his own people – that he is rejecting the Jews and even preaching that God has also rejected them. And while this couldn’t be further from Paul’s motivation, it is amazing how people will talk…

Paul needs support for his mission to Spain and is counting on the Roman Christians to help… but he is concerned that the fractures in their community and the Jewish Christian’s general mistrust of Paul, will impede the reception of the gospel of Jesus Christ and will prevent it being spread further abroad.

And so he dictates this letter that we read a portion of this morning – possibly his last letter as he ends up being imprisoned in Jerusalem and only able to meet this letter’s recipients when he is brought to Rome as a prisoner.

 

Lets move forward about 30 years to roughly 80 or 85 CE.

A man probably living in Antioch in Syria, the third largest city in the Roman Empire yet located far from the centre of power in Rome, sits down to write an account of the life of Jesus of Nazareth to share with his community of believers. The community is made up of primarily Jewish Christians and they’re struggling with conflicts between the religion they were taught and grew up with and the teachings of Jesus.

They’re struggling in part because the Temple, the centre of Jewish worship of God and the visible manifestation of God’s presence with them and God’s favour of them, has been destroyed within the last decade or so. Not only that, but they kind of expected that Jesus would have returned by now. But he hasn’t and that is causing some problems for some people. So there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of questions: Does God still like us? Who is this Jesus of Nazareth and how does that fit into things? What on earth are we supposed to do now??

So this man we know as Matthew sets out to write an account of the life of Jesus that extends back into the lives and proclamations of the prophets and looks forward to the expansion of a new reality that is bigger than any one people group.

 

There are so many things going on here:

A community at odds with each other because of not insignificant differences in heritage, or religion…

A community struggling to know how to live in the aftermath of their entire way of life being destroyed or the things they have always known and found comforting being turned upside down.

 

It isn’t only something that happens in the communities of the first century. It isn’t only something that happens in the past.

It has happened throughout history and it is happening now in big ways and in small ways. In newsworthy ways and in ways that sometimes go unnoticed:

 

Communities being torn apart by racial violence and hate.

Communities dealing with every building on their Island being destroyed by 300km/hr winds.

A church struggling to come to grips with how it responds to and repents from atrocities like sexual abuse or cultural genocide.

A church mourning the “church that was” when they were younger and there were dozens of children running around and every pew was full every day.

Christians grappling with how to respond to an opioid crisis that has spilled out onto every street and into our garden.

Christians continually relearning how to live with each other with all of our humanity – our individual quirks and mannerisms that both delight and annoy.

It is so difficult!

And into those situations speak words written by two different men, to two different communities, two millennia ago.

Not that we can take each and every word as the definitive roadmap for how things must be right now: Matthew was speaking into a very specific situation where the rhetoric against Judaism made sense in the context of the tensions that existed in his day but have since been used as justification for attempted genocide.

And the letter to the Romans as a whole is not meant as a systematic presentation of the theology of the gospel, but a selective and contextual argument rooted in the good news for the purpose of encouragement to live a life that reflects the reconciliation effected by the incarnate God in Christ.

 

This is important. The scriptures were contextual 2000 years ago, and are still contextual now.

The proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ has to land in real space and time.[1]

 

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another, says Paul.

Owe nothing to anyone, except love.

Here Paul isn’t talking about some sort of divine balance sheet of “love in / love out” where we can account for the love given and received.

In the Roman cultural narrative, “owing” or obligation was the system by which all interpersonal interactions were conducted. Obligation was related to position, status, authority and so on. It defined the livelihood of life and citizenship in first century Rome:

  • One “owed” honour and allegiance to the Emperor
  • Money, possessions, and honour were owed to benefactors and patrons – a common relationship in this context
  • Slaves owed service and their lives to their owners
  • And wives owed submission to their husbands.

The language of “owing” or obligation was incredibly common and the way every interaction was conducted in the first century.

Hear then the utterly counter cultural and revolutionary words of Paul: Owe no one anything, except to love one another. Owe NOTHING except love. Those culturally derived conceptions of obligation are being dismissed in light of the obligation to love one another.[2]

Paul is busting up all of those oppressive or divisive relationships and re-centering everything on one thing and one thing only: the action of love.

The one who loves another has fulfilled the law, says Paul. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

 

Isn’t that also what we are seeing in our gospel reading this morning? The community of Christians for whom Matthew was writing his gospel account were coming to grips with a new reality. Not only was there the lingering shock of the destruction of the temple and a way of life they’d known their whole lives, but they were slowly realizing that Jesus might not return before they died and they might need to set up a community for the long haul.

We often read Matthew 18 as an instruction in church discipline: how do we resolve conflicts and figure out who is in and who is out of our community. But if we think about the underlying context of what was going on when this was written, it becomes so much more.

It is about building the kind of relationships that make community possible.[3] It is about how we relate to each other and to God. Not building barriers to being in or out of relationship, but understanding that our actions on earth have broader consequences and how we treat each other matters.

And if we look deeper than the steps laid out, doesn’t it come down to the same thing as Romans? That we love and care for each other?

Last week, in his sermon, Bill landed on love. He talked about Jesus’ words in the gospel, challenging us to daily take up our cross and follow him. Bill suggested to us that daily taking up our cross is not a call to self-flagellation, but a call for us to daily take up the work of love.

Daily take up the work of love.

Not to make another entry on the balance sheet, but that love is our ultimate reaction to the gospel.

To owe nothing to one another except love forces us to own the reality that we are entirely dependant on God’s grace – on Jesus’ love for us – for our very existence, and that this love completely reframes how we relate to each other and makes us able to continue to relate to each other for the long haul.

Love as understood through the lens of the cross means giving up our claim to ourselves and each other, especially the claims that are based on our own cultural narratives of “right” and “just”

It forces us to consider how we daily take up the work of love when we experience communities being torn apart by racial violence and hate.

How we daily take up the work of love when we see communities dealing with every building on their Island being destroyed by 300km/hr winds.

How we daily take up the work of love when we are part of a church that is struggling to come to grips with how it responds to and repents following Residential Schools.

How we daily take up the work of love when we are mourning the “church that was” when we were younger.

How we daily take up the work of love when we are grappling with how to respond to the opioid crisis that has spilled even into our gardens.

How we daily take up the work of love when we are continually having to relearn how to live with each other with all of our humanity – our individual quirks and mannerisms that both delight and annoy.

Because in doing this, we have, in the words of Paul, “put on Christ”, living in the light, and living with genuine love.

Amen.

 

[1] This is quoted and paraphrased from Kyle Fever, “Commentary on Romans 13:8-14” from Working Preacher – Preaching this Week (RCL).

[2] Drawn from the same as #1.

[3] Herb O’Driscoll’s Year A Commentary

 

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Sermon for August 27, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20

North of the Lake of Galilee, in the foothills near the Lebanese border, is the headwaters of the Jordan River. This lush area with rivers and waterfalls is a National Park that is a popular weekend destination for families and hikers.

The Romans called the area Caesarea Philippi. The Roman army used the area for R&R and it was a centre for worship of the god Pan. Shrines to Roman gods, especially Pan, dot the hillsides.

It is likely that Caesarea Philippi was about as far away from “normal” for the disciples as was possible. Miles away from their homes and comfortable surroundings, and in the middle of a Roman army centre and hub for the worship of Roman gods, being here might well have blown the disciples minds. I wonder if that was what Jesus intended?

Isn’t it interesting how Jesus brings the disciples to this secular and foreign area before pausing and posing a question that forces them to stop and examine their very being. He turns to them and says, Who do you say that I am? The first time that Jesus asks it, it’s the easy version of the question: Who do people say that the Son of Man is? What are people saying about me?

Here, the disciples are the eager students in the classroom:
Some say John the Baptist, says Philip. Others say Elijah, interjects James. Andrew jumps in with, still others are saying Jeremiah. Don’t forget all of the prophets – everyone is choosing a different prophet, shouts Bartholomew from the back.

Jesus turns to face them, slowly looking each one in the eye, one by one: But…   Who do YOU say that I am?

There is a pause.

Every single one of them swallows, shuffles their feet, looks away… This question requires something else. Something more. It requires them to stop and decide whether to stay silent, hoping someone else will answer, or to put themselves on the line. It’s a hard question. It is a direct question.

Who do YOU say that I am?

No more can we hide behind confessions or statements of faith written by others. No more can we absent-mindedly recite the Creed, even if we are crossing our fingers at the parts we aren’t sure about. No more can we simply parrot back what we learned in Sunday School or what our parents taught us.

When it is just you and Jesus, the answering the question requires vulnerability. Stepping out, despite the fact that it might feel really uncomfortable, to give our answer.

Who do YOU say that I am?

In the awkward group of disciples, Peter steps out and speaks up, presumably for all of them, but out of his own understanding and experience of who Jesus is. Yes, he has had time following Jesus to reflect and to gather information, but this is the first time he has had this question posed directly and it requires a response.

That is usually how it is. There is no perfect timing. The question cannot be put off or ignored until it is the “right moment,” the politically opportune moment, the moment that best suits our needs. There is no more time to gather facts, weigh consequences, or check all possible outcomes.

Having heard the question, there must be a decision to courageously answer or to stay silent and let the moment pass by. Martin Luther King Jr. in Letter from a Birmingham Jail warns, “All too many have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows”

When face-to-face with Jesus, with this question hanging in the space between us, what is our response?

Who do YOU say that I am?

Peter speaks boldly. To declare that Jesus is Messiah in the centre of a Roman army, a militant crowd, is a courageous action. It is an answer grounded in his identity and, had he stopped to answer only when it was safe, it is an answer that probably would have tucked remained inside of him.

Jesus responds, Blessed are you. You know who I am. God has given you this understanding and you have been courageous in speaking it. In this is the key of the kingdom and the heavens.
Whatever you imprison on the earth will be bound in the heavens
Whatever you set free on earth will be released in the heavens

Whatever we do, say, and confess in our lives has consequences. Like the concept of the Butterfly Effect, whereby one small thing in one place can have greater effects elsewhere, our response affects more than just ourselves – it affects the very heavens. I’m not talking about some place in the sky where people go after they die; I’m talking about all of humanity, our planet, the vast expanse of interstellar space, and time.

Who do YOU say that I am?

There can be no silence. What we confess on earth matters. What we do on earth matters.

How you treat the most vulnerable is how you are treating me, says Jesus. How you treat the stranger, the foreigner, those who are imprisoned, those with no homes, those who are hungry, those without clean and affordable water – how you treat these is how you treat me. If you see them and respond to them, so you are doing to me. If you do not see them and do not respond to them, you do not see me and you have stayed silent.

And on THIS rock will the church be built: on this visible statement of the truth of the identity of the Christ, the living God

On THIS rock will the church be built: a church that demonstrates belief in a living, speaking, incarnating God

On THIS rock will the church be built: a church that courageously steps out and lives its statement of belief in a God of freedom, justice, love and peace.

On THIS rock will I build my church and nothing will prevail against it.

Sermon for March 27, 2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, in other words:

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

 

Look instead for what God can do.

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

Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

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

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

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

Living water that cleanses us before God.

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

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

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

All we know is that he went

And washed

And could see

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

But our excitement-filled walk is not yet over.

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

Do you believe in the Son of Man?

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

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

          Lord. I believe!

 

Lord, I believe.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Surely we are not blind, are we?

Look for what God can do…

Amen.

 

Timothy and Titus, Companions of Paul

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

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

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

Imagine being Timothy or Titus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sermon for January 15, 2017

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

 

This week we re-entered the ordinary.

I love this season – the season after Epiphany – not because it is a season of Ordinary Time in our church’s calendar – but because it is an ordinary that isn’t ordinary. It is the ordinal-ed time, the numbered season where we count the weeks from Epiphany – that wonderful feast where we see Jesus made manifest as the Saviour for all – to Lent – where we travel with Jesus towards his death and then his glorious resurrection.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, where are you staying?

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

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

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

Jesus, where are you staying? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just:

What are you looking for?

Where are you staying?

Come and see…

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

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

Come and see.

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

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

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

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

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

You are seen. You are chosen.

And we say to all the world –

Come and see

 

 

St Andrew’s Day

Today is the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Anglican Church of Canada and the 30th anniversary of the same in the Diocese of British Columbia, where I serve. As someone pointed out yesterday, women have been ordained in this church for longer than I have been alive … though again, not in this diocese.

I am grateful for those first six women who pushed through that particular stained glass ceiling and began to forge a way for many of the rest of us to follow. I am grateful for many women in leadership in the church, both lay and ordained, who have shown me what it means to be a strong woman of faith.

And while I have been fortunate to know many of these women and follow in the footsteps of these women, I cannot help but think of other women in other parts of the church who do not worship in a place where they get to see a woman holding the bread and say, “this is my body, broken for you…”

I think of my teenaged self in the year 2000, sitting in the general assembly of an evangelical Christian denomination where it was decided not to decide whether or not women would be allowed in positions of leadership in the church. And then five or six years later in a congregation of that same denomination (yes, I stayed for six more years) where I was asked to be on the elder search committee. Because while they recognized I had what they were looking for to be an elder, I was a woman so all I could do was choose the men who might serve in that role.

I think of my godmother who is more qualified than I am to be a deacon but cannot be (yet?), who faces opposition when she even sets foot behind the altar to serve priests, deacons, and bishops. But yet who persists so that her granddaughter will know that women can also serve Jesus in church.

I think of some of my classmates from seminary who so obviously have a call on their lives but who, as of yet, have to content themselves with lay leadership while they push for a change in the church that they love.

So today I am thankful for the women who have gone before me. And I know that I cannot take where I am for granted and must keep striving for equality for all of us while celebrating those who have gone before.

Sermon for November 13, 2016

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria

Text: Isaiah 65:17-25, Isaiah 12 (Canticle 9), Luke 21:5-19 – Proper C28

For an audio recording: here

 

You will hear of wars and insurrections …

Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom

There will be great earthquakes and, in various places, famines and plagues

 

Our readings have a common apocalyptic rumble this week.

Hearing the gospel this morning, it almost sounds like Luke was anticipating our current reality.

These excerpts from our scriptures, written centuries ago but assigned for today in our lectionary, have the uncanny ability to speak truth in all ages and to us again here this morning.

This portion of Luke and our Hebrew Scripture reading from Isaiah are “apocalyptic” or “protoapocalyptic” texts. Unlike Hollywood’s depiction of “the apocalypse,” they are not foreshadowing alien invasions or meteors striking the earth. Neither are they prophecies or predictions of specific events (though we can see the echoes of specific events). Rather they are an attempt by their writers to reconcile their understanding of the righteousness of God with the destruction of land and the suffering of the righteous that they see on earth.

In Luke, the gospel writer has Jesus speaking a future that is an awful lot like the current reality of both the writer and the first Century Christian readers of the gospel. As Luke is writing, the Roman siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple have already happened. The daily life of the Judean people has been decimated and the dwelling place of Yahweh on earth has been destroyed.

Likewise, in our reading from Isaiah, we come upon the Hebrew people re-entering a decimated land. The Babylonians have come and absolutely demolished the temple and taken many of the people away into exile. And only now, as these words are being penned some six or seven decades later, the Hebrew people are finally beginning to return and survey the destruction of their home.

Destruction is a common thread that winds through these readings this morning. Destruction of homes. Destruction of the temple. And, more broadly, destruction of ways of life that have sustained people spiritually and physically for centuries…

 

Which brings us to our present day.

Today we are remembering and giving thanks for those who have served in the many wars and conflicts of this past century, and for those still serving today – these wars and rumours of wars that have wrought devastation on the land, on society, on lives and families around the globe. [This year, like years past, we have heard some incredibly personal stories of how war has touched the lives of people within this community, and acknowledging that it has touched all of us in some way.]

And, with the political shifts of the past week, we must acknowledge that many of us fear that war will come closer to home, that racial and sexual violence, and religious discrimination will only increase – and for some, that fear is personal.

And at the same time we look around our continent at the ongoing destruction of the land and traditional way of life – the tug sinking off of Bella Bella a few weeks ago and the resulting decimation of livelihood being wrecked upon the Heiltsuk First Nation.

– the ongoing violence against the First People’s at Standing Rock as they seek to protect their sacred sites and treaty rights.

If there ever was a time for an apocalyptic word to help us to make sense of the righteousness of God in the face of the suffering of the righteous, this might be it.

 

In many ways, it seems like our readings from Luke and Isaiah portray different parts of the time continuum. Luke’s gospel is much closer in time to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans than are the words of Isaiah to those surveying the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.

Perhaps at the time Luke was written, they were still reeling, while Isaiah is more in the rebuilding phase – they’ve begun to return to the land and they are given the freedom and the space to imagine a long life there… Yet even that freedom and imagination is not without its bitterness:

Immediately before the our reading picks up this morning, there is a graphic reminder of how they got there and where the people had come from – in the language of the Hebrew Scriptures – Isaiah is holding out both the blessings and the curses.

This juxtaposition in some ways, gives more hope for us today than simply isolating the promises in the text we heard proclaimed this morning – that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth… Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight – where no more shall the sound of weeping be heard, or the cry of distress…

Because we see that as Isaiah addresses his people, the triumph of God – the Reign of Christ that we will proclaim next weekend – is not yet self-evident. In the “now” of Isaiah, it is not entirely clear when the blessing would come…

Even as they planted the vines for the vineyards, they would not see the fruit of their labours for many years. They were still waiting to experience the joy of the new creation with peace and economic justice proclaimed by Isaiah…

But they were building houses

Planting fields

Labouring in vineyards

Having children

Living with expectation

….all in the hope and anticipation of a Messiah they had not yet seen

 

In other words, it is a situation much like our own.

We live in hope that the world’s moral compass will shift towards love, inclusion, respect, and peace. And while we wait, Isaiah offers a strain of hope in that tension – while the former troubles are neither forgotten nor hidden from God’s sight, and while the future reality has not fully taken hold WE ARE DWELLING – EVEN PARTICIPATING IN – ITS ADVENT.

Because while we wait we are not idle.  We look around us and see that God is in our midst.

Isaiah helps us reorient towards our future: a shining image of what is possible. A call to build enthusiastically and confidently. A vision of reconciliation between the endless warring forces around us.

 

Are we there yet? Probably not.

But, as Herb O’Driscoll writes, “In every society or institution there comes a time when someone must risk singing a song that other people cannot yet sing. Perhaps dark times still threaten, a sense of imprisonment continues to oppress, evidence is not yet sufficient to ignite a general hope. At such times, some voice needs to be raised in a song that no one else dares to sing.”

Our Canticle this morning gives us that song:

You will sing in that day:
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength and my might;
God has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will sing in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

 

Or, in the words of another well, known song:

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the real though far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear that music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul;
How can I keep from singing?

What though the tempest round me roar,
I hear the truth it liveth.
What though the darkness round me close?
Songs in the night he giveth.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

And as those melodies echo around us this morning, let us remain confident that while we do not always see it, we are assured that we WILL see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

So let us keep on singing…