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.

 

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria

Texts: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; 2 Corinthians 5:17-6:10; Matthew 6:1-2,16-21

 

Sometimes I wonder if Lent is the Christian equivalent of New Year’s resolutions…

I mean, think about it for a minute – we talk about giving up things like chocolate or coffee or bread as a way of having a Lenten fast but is it sometimes really just an excuse to stick to that weight loss plan … ?

Or the Lenten Spring Cleaning that is more about making the house look good for visitors than about decluttering our spiritual lives to clear a path to better relationship with God.

Motives matter.

 

Our readings today clearly outline this with some pretty graphic imagery. Joel reminds the people of Israel to rend their hearts and not their clothing, suggesting that it is the internal state that matters more than the outfit we do it in or the way we show it off to the world.

Matthew’s gospel echoes this, encouraging the left hand to keep its actions secret from the right hand – not because there is something to hide or be ashamed of, but because if we are concentrated on everyone around us seeing how great we are for the things we are doing, we miss the true point of doing them for our own spiritual practice and for God.

 

Paul, in 2 Corinthians, reminds us of the importance of the state of our spiritual selves and our relationship to God:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation … so we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God

You might be thinking, I don’t know that I was ever not reconciled to God? And in part, says Paul, that is true: God through Jesus did all of the hard work of reconciling God to humanity in all of our mess. But Paul still urges us to be reconciled to God so that we might become God’s righteousness.

 

Which, you might also be thinking, is a monumentous task! Where do we even begin??

 

Well, that is the good news. Today, Ash Wednesday, the first day of these great 40 days of Lent, is where we can decide the starting point this journey.

Will it be a starting point of coasting through Lent and doing the same old same old?

Will it be a starting point of putting on piety so that others can obviously see how well we are participating? – A starting point of doing the cleaning for appearances sake only?

Or will it be a starting point of gathering to acknowledge our humanity and committing to reconciliation: with God, with those around us who we love and those we have hurt, and with ourselves?

 

The reading from Joel reminds us of the importance of journeying together. God called for the trumpet to be sounded and everyone – the aged, the children and infants, the newly married – everyone to gather together to be set apart for the work of God.

We are in this Lenten journey together. We may have slightly different paths at times, with different kinds of reconciliations needed, but we are in it together.

The cross of ash on our foreheads reminds us of who we are, of where we have come from, and of where we are going:

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return

But also remember the cross on your forehead at baptism where you were signed with the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever.

And remember the cross that these 40 days of Lent is leading us towards …

 

Yes, we know where we have come from and in one sense we know where we are going this Lenten journey: we know about Good Friday – and we know what happened and what will happen on Easter morning!

In another sense, though, we don’t know where we are going because we don’t know exactly what path this Lenten journey will take. We don’t know where God will ask us to shine a light in our lives. We don’t know what will change, what may shift, and what might emerge – or not – on the other side of Lent.

All we really know is where we are standing and whom we are journeying with. Where we are right now, today, on Ash Wednesday, when we are reminded of our humanity and the solemnity of the Lenten journey we are about to embark on.

And in receiving the cross of ash we commit to travelling the Lenten journey of reconciliation in whatever shape God makes it for us, knowing that we are all walking together with God these 40 days.

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.

Spring (?!)

1982333_10153966181325311_1595311846_nSigns of spring are all around.

New life emerges as snow slowly melts and creates puddles of dirty slush on roads and sidewalks. But birds are singing, warmth is seeping into the world.

I have traded my warmest jacket and boots for lighter ones and colourful ones. Because these are the days when colour is also coming back into the world.

New things are afoot. I have been working with our theological students council to make things new and try new ways of working together that will, hopefully, make us more effective as a council. I have a new job – a short, part-time contract with the mental health organization I’ve been working with for a couple of years on a relief basis.

And so, in this changing and warming environment, we continue the lenten journey towards Easter when, once again, we celebrate life made new.

Good Friday Recollections and Reflections

Good Friday 2008 I found myself walking in the way of the geishas, Buddhist priests and ascetics rather than the Way of the Cross.

Good Friday 2008 was my day off between legs 5 and 6 of the Pacific Odyssey Offshore: three months remained until I laid eyes on home for the first time in over a year. It had been a long and trying, yet rewarding and fulfilling voyage to date and, unbeknownst to me, the most trying was yet to come.

Good Friday 2008 also fell on the first day of spring. Everyone, it seemed, in Kyoto was out and enjoying the sunshine and cherry blossoms. Many people were wearing their kimonos to visit temples, as tradition dictates. I decided to join them.

Down the street and up a few flights of stairs from my hostel in Higashiyama was Kiyomizu Temple. Perched high in the hills for which the area is named, there is a stunning view of the city from its balconies. More importantly are the areas of the shrine where devotees have the opportunity to have wishes for health, wealth, and long life fulfilled or where the promise of finding true love is revealed.

What a contrast with walking in the Way of the Cross. No promises for health, wealth, and long life are given… instead, we are told to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. Follow Christ? On comfortable Vancouver Island, perhaps not to the point of being killed, but we can still follow the way…

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…