Sermon for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015

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

Well, here we are at the end.

Lent is over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:48 am: I should really get some sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These two phrases pack some pretty major punches:

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

He has been raised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is not here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow him to life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, here we are at the beginning…

Amen.

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Sermon for March 22, 2015 (Lent 5)

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

Text: John 12:20-36

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the words “hate their life”?

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

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

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

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

Today we are also commemorating the life of a martyr:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the questions of:

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Not those who are successful followers.

            Not those who always make the right decisions.

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

But those who follow.

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

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

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

Amen.

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.

Approved and Accepted

Spring is in the air, summer is not far away, and changes are afoot.

Some of you may know that this last year has been a year of a lot of change and transition for me. My temporary full-time position came to an end and so I took a two-month leave and ran away to Africa to hang out with my sister in South Africa for Christmas and New Years. I came home to working two jobs on a casual/on-call basis and have been working (nearly) full time hours at that for the last four months. I’m going to keep doing that for the next two months…

…and then I’m moving to London, Ontario!

Let me back up a little bit further. A little over a year ago, I embarked on a fairly intense process of intentional discernment with the idea of determining whether or not I am being called into a position of ordained ministry – that is, to be a priest. That process has entailed both one-on-one conversations with my spiritual director, the priest at my current church, and the Anglican bishop of my diocese as well as group discernment (what I have called reverse group counselling with myself as the lone ‘client’ and a whole group of people talking with me), formal interviews, and weekend-long assessments. It has been both exhausting and intensely rewarding.

Three weeks ago I had a full weekend ‘retreat’ (aka Church Big Brother) with a group of other candidates from across British Columbia where we were in conversation with assessors from all over the province. Their job was to assess our competencies, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts for ministry. The resulting report heartily recommended that I be approved for training and ordination as a priest.

Step two: school. A funny thing happens when you say you won’t do something. You frequently end up doing it. My standard response to the question of whether or not I would do a PhD when I announced I was doing my MA in Counselling was, “No, because I’d like to be done school by 30.” Well, here I am, past that, and going back to school, not for a PhD but for another Masters. Yesterday I received my offer of acceptance from Huron University College (on the campus of Western University in London – anyone else see the humour of me moving east to go to a school called Western??) to begin study towards a Master of Divinity degree, starting in September.  This is a three-year program approved by the Anglican Church of Canada for training postulants for ministry within the Anglican Church.

As much as I am loathe to leave Victoria – I love it here – I am looking forward to living back in Ontario after nearly 20 years! I’ll be closer to family and friends than I’ve been in years and am looking forward to exploring a new corner of the country. Now all I need to do is figure out how to get my stuff from here to there and collect boxes to put it all in!

Two Journeys

ImageImage

Journeys.

In the last few weeks, few months, year, I’ve been on a journey. In some ways both of these pictures are representative of that for me; one directly and the other indirectly. Both of these photos were taken this month (if you follow me on instagram, you’ll have seen these and other images from my adventures already) as I travelled around different parts of the country working towards this new adventure. To the left was a weekend trip I took to the Interior of BC, to a retreat centre in the Shushwap. To the right is train tracks in Wolfville, NS, where I went for a meeting of PWRDF‘s Youth Council.

It is exciting? You bet!

Am I a little nervous? Definitely.

I’m still waiting for some of the pieces to fall into place (really, there is only one more piece left) before I feel comfortable broadcasting to the world.

I think that this voyage of discovery is one reason I have been rather reluctant to post anything on here in the last year or so. I have been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of writing in the last twelve months. However much of it has been in aid of my own internal processing and not really for public consumption. When one is so engrossed in internal and personal discernment, there isn’t a lot of creative energy left over for generating different content for the world. When one’s head is in internal space, it is difficult to move outside of that in order to share, still in a meaningful way, thoughts in a public space. Thank you for respecting that, and I look forward to sharing more soon.

A PWRDF Sunday

I case you were wondering what I preached this morning… (I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that placemat story!)

Given at St John the Divine, Victoria. Third Sunday of Advent: March 11, 2012. Gospel: John 2:13-22.

I remember my first encounter with The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). I was young, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, and what stands out are those placemats. We’ve all seen them… from coast to coast, many Anglican church potlucks have had those placemats covering the tables where we sit and eat together. But those placemats are not what gave me a passion for the Primate’s fund, nor are they what has kept me involved in it, nearly 20 years later… Rather it was the stories told by a passionate person in my parish who knew about and believed in the stories of what the Primate’s fund is doing around the world.

But more on those stories in a minute…

First, who am I and what do I do with PWRDF? In my day-to-day life, I am a counsellor with the Cool Aid Society. In my weekend life, I worship down the street at Christ Church Cathedral where I, amongst other things, serve on Parish Council. With the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, I am the youth council representative for the ecclesiastical province of BC and the Yukon. That is a fancy way of saying that my role is to bring the voices of youth in BC and the Yukon to the national board of the Primate’s Fund and then turn around and bring the stories of PWRDF partners to people, particularly youth, in the same region. I am not on the board, rather I am part of youth council: a separate and autonomous entity composed of a dozen youth from across this country who are passionate about international relief and development, and social justice. Youth who both create programs and resources for Canadian Anglican youth and who tell the stories of PWRDF to youth.

Why PWRDF? For one thing, it is homegrown, beginning as an Anglican response to disasters within Canada and over the last fifty years spreading to have a national and international relief and development focus.

But what I love about PWRDF is the model we use to operate. We don’t import “western experts” into countries and tell locals how best to fix the problems in their regions and communities. We don’t spend precious resource monies on a large staff or on bringing products overseas. Rather, we partner with organizations who are already working on the ground in their own communities and support and resource them in continuing the work they are already doing.

And people like myself volunteer to tell their stories…

In relief efforts, our partnership might look like providing the funds for an organization to buy precious food to be distributed in drought-stricken or famine-ridden areas.

In development, it looks like translating documents into indigenous languages to help a people group re-learn the skills to grow and harvest their own crops rather than rely on corrupt corporations who will under-pay and overwork them.

Or it may look like providing the start-up money for a women’s microcredit organization, like the one we heard about this morning in Mozambique. In fact, with that organization in Mozambique, one woman who first entered with just a cow and an idea to produce and sell milk to other villagers to support her family now owns not only a herd of cattle but also the land they graze on and she is able to employ many of her neighbours.

In relief, it looks like the villages in Kenya that I visited in 2009. There the Canadian Foodgrains bank, of which PWRDF is a member, was involved in distributing food to thousands of individuals who were affected by the devastating East African drought. We travelled around regions of the country, bringing giant bags of beans and maize and jugs of oil: enough supplies of food to feed a family of eight for a month. In each village we went to, we sat down with a group of people from the village to hear their stories. In each village, the stories were heart-breakingly similar: the rains had not come. Yes, there had been sprinkles here and there, but the big rains, the rains that nourished the ground and gave life to growing crops, had not come for five, six years. Crops would not and could not grow. The livestock that had not been sold, given away, or eaten, simply sat in the shade of scraggly trees all day, as there was no grass to feed on.

We met a woman, 34 years old, the 4th wife of her husband, with eight children of her own – who could finally feed her children, including the young one still breastfeeding. In another village, a man tearfully told us of how grateful he was for the food relief for his village because, as he said it, if we had not come, some of the people in the village had found “chemicals” to use to end their problems as they could not bear the shame of being unable to feed their families.

Yet it was not all tales of woe. One village in the Mt Kenya region refused to roll over and let the drought win. They did not want to receive food relief… While we sat and talked, they spoke of the projects they wanted to do to develop their village so that they could better withstand another drought. So we talked about how to set up a “food for work” program in which we provided food and resources for irrigation and they, in return, would create an irrigation project in their village so that when the rains did come, they would be able to capture and save as much rain as possible for as long as possible.

In relief and development it looks like our partnership with the Organization of Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation or OfERR, an Indian/Sri Lankan organization that PWRDF has partnered with for 30 years. OfERR works with refugees of the Sri Lankan civil war who have taken up residence in refugee camps in South India. They not only help with getting identification documents for the refugees and skills retraining, but they provide community support to the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India. When the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit India and Sri Lanka, OfERR was able to assist in the relief and rebuilding of the communities in which they lived, giving back to a place that had accepted them as refugees. This past week, a priest of our diocese and a friend of mine left for two weeks in India and Sri Lanka. He goes with a number of other Canadians associated with PWRDF to spend time with OfERR, supporting their work and, if everything going according to plan, to bear witness to one of the first groups of the 100,000 Tamil refugees as they return to their home in Sri Lanka.

In development, it looks like the Keiskamma Trust, a PWRDF partner organization in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, an area of South Africa hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. Founded by an artist, who also happens to be a medical doctor, the Trust provides medical support to individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS. I had the opportunity to meet the founder and director of the Trust at PWRDF’s board meeting last fall. Her vision is extraordinary: knowing that health is more than just physical health, she has expanded the original medial clinic to include both a women’s arts collective and a children’s music academy. The medical centre works at providing health care and medications to a group of people so frequently shunned and stigmatized in their society. The arts collective brings women together to create masterpieces of fabric arts that have been exhibited around the world. The music academy gives the children something bigger than themselves to be a part of and has given them the opportunity to tour and play for large audiences in cathedrals and on game reserves throughout South Africa. Not only do I know the stories of these individuals through meeting the founder and director, but also my sister has been in South Africa since August teaching music at the academy.

Reflecting back to words we heard read this morning, the Gospel reading gave us quite a different picture of Jesus than we typically see on Sunday School flannel boards or pictures mounted on the wall. In this story, Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and uses a whip to drive out all of the vendors and money-changers. Wow. To put into perspective what these guys were doing… it would be like you coming to church this morning and having to pay exorbitant fees because you needed to change your Canadian dollars into American dollars in order to buy the things you need for worship: your leaflet, your hymn book, or your prayer book. Ridiculous. Completely Unjust. But that is what was going on.

If we look around us, there are injustices everywhere. We have before us a model of Jesus taking action and, to use the words of one of the Marks of Mission: “seek[ing] to transform the unjust structures of society”. In our gospel reading, Jesus is actively challenging, in a very visible and somewhat violent way, the structures of his society that were creating injustice.

Another one of the Marks of Mission is “To respond to human need by loving service.”

Human need is all around us and through PWRDF we have an amazing vehicle for acting on that need. We are called to respond and we are constantly challenged in scripture to follow the example of Jesus.

For me, a big part of that is the work that I do with PWRDF and what I would challenge you with today. I’m not saying that everyone has to go out there and start overturning tables, though sometimes that might work, but what can you do, what can I do, to follow the example of Jesus, to work against injustice and to respond to real human need with what resources we have at hand.

Because I have seen that together we do make a difference. We can make Another World Possible.

Amen.

PWRDF From the Pulpit

Actually, I think it will be from the lectern, but pulpit has alliteration going for it.

I’m preaching at the church of St John the Divine, Quadra this Sunday. I’m there as a part of their month of talking about the work of PWRDF so I will be sharing some of the stories of the Primate’s Fund and generally telling people why it is a good idea that they support it.

If you’re in town and have nothing to do Sunday morning, come on down for either the 8am or 10am service. I will likely be sticking around after each service as well, drinking coffee and answering questions.