Sermon for November 9, 2014

Text: Matthew 25:1-13; Preached at St Andrew Memorial Church, London Ontario

When you are offshore sailing, the 4 to 8 watch is possibly the worst shift to have.

Four hours. Twice a day.

It doesn’t seem like much when it is 4-8 in the afternoon: there are people milling around on deck, the sun is out and there are things to look at. The shift is broken up by the appearance of the evening meal on deck for you to eat.

But the hours from 4 to 8 in the wee hours of the morning: that is the hard part.

You are dragged from your nice warm bunk in the middle of a wonderfully deep sleep. Up onto the cold, probably wet, deck. No cover. No protection from the elements. Just you and two others responsible for steering the ship through the night until morning comes. Those hours until dawn can seem like an eternity.

And the sky is black – as far as you can see.

If it is a clear night, the only light is the millions of pinpricks of stars that cover the sky from horizon to horizon to horizon. And it is those stars that let you know when you have dozed off at the wheel and gone off course.

All are sleeping.

All is silent except for the rhythmic slap

Slap

                                                                                 Slap

                           Of the waves against the hull of the boat.

And you wait

You wait.

You wait some more.

Shift partners sometimes talk to try and keep each other awake. But in the dark of early morning, it is far too easy to be silent, lost in your own inner world, dozing off while on watch.

You wait for the sun to finally peek over the horizon – because you know it is going to eventually come – and offer some light to the brand new day.

Waiting is hard work.

It is hard to remain alert and expectant when it is dark or when there does not seem to be much hope for that which is expected.

It is even harder when you do not know the day or the hour when that for which you wait will come to pass.

The sunrise is expected: it happens every day whether we are waiting for it or not.

The Lord’s coming? Who knows?!

This is what we have in our readings this morning: We have people who have grown tired in waiting. Who could blame them?

The kingdom of heaven is like this, Jesus says:

It is like ten bridesmaids who are waiting for the bridegroom to appear.

They wait, and they wait, and they wait some more.

They wait so long that the oil in their lamps runs out.

Some – they are called the wise – are prepared to wait for a long time and have more oil. Others – they are called the foolish – are not prepared to wait that long and their lamps go out.

Then the bridegroom comes. Those who have thought to bring extra oil go with him; those who have run out of oil are left out.

What are we to make of this?

I must admit to being a little uncomfortable with the idea that being unprepared can result in getting shut out of the bridegroom’s wedding banquet. There are times in life where I have felt more than a little unprepared or ill-equipped for the task at hand and have had to rely on collaboration or cooperation with others. I am sure that you have experienced those moments as well. We all have.

The reverse is equally discomforting. The idea of being like one of the wise bridesmaids who refused to share or cooperate is also an uncomfortable one.

And then there is the bridegroom who says that he does not even know the foolish bridesmaids and shuts them out. How do we understand THAT?

What if the more important part of this parable is something else entirely?

What if it is about that one little line in the middle of the parable: “As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.”

Perhaps the point of this parable is actually about trying to remain alert in the moment – awake, aware, and keeping watch. If we keep our eyes open, keep looking around us at the community we journey with, what will we see?

If we are intentional about our relationships then we will see who amongst us might be running out of oil. What if, right from the beginning, the wise bridesmaids had said to their foolish sisters, “Hey – did you think to bring extra oil? We might be here awhile, maybe you should go and get some more so that you can be ready.” Instead of cultivating relationships with their companions, helping each other out, they all fell asleep waiting.

Life doesn’t always go as planned. The folks in the first century after Jesus’ resurrection were pretty sure that Jesus was going to come back any minute. They were so sure of this that they did not think they would die before Jesus returned.

Two thousand years later, we are still waiting. But that doesn’t mean that we can fall asleep, saying, “We’ve got all the oil we need. We are all prepared.”

Waiting for Jesus’ imminent return is difficult for many of us to understand or entertain. Life happens and we can’t just put that on hold.

But opportunities for waiting on Jesus’ presence are all around us every day if we keep watch:

Each time we work for justice, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

Each time we bear each other’s burdens, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

Each time we advocate for the poor, or reach out to the friendless, or work to make this world a better place, we reveal the presence of Jesus.

This is hard work, and we can admit that this kind of waiting, this kind of alertness, this kind of preparation can be hard to sustain. We can grow tired in our work. We can get frustrated by not seeing any outcomes or distracted by all of the obligations that fill up our days. On any given day, we can be the foolish bridesmaid who feels ill-prepared or unequipped. Or we can be either of the bridesmaids who fall asleep.

But this is why we have each other. That is why we have this community where we can find help and support in all the different kinds of waiting that we face each day.

More important than who has the oil is that we as a community have oil. We are those who wait with each other – the wise and the foolish together, helping, encouraging, and sustaining.

We are those who sit awake with and for each other at times of pain, loss or bereavement.

We are those who celebrate achievements and console after disappointment.

We are those who give hope when hope is scarce, comfort when it is needed, and courage when we are afraid.

We are those who help each other to wait, prepare, and keep the faith.

In all these ways, we encourage each other with the promises of Christ. That’s what it means to be in the wedding party – then and now.

With much appreciation for the many online commentators who helped me put this together and whose ideas I shamelessly borrowed in a few places.
Karoline LewisMatthew L. Skinner, Sharon L. Blezard, and David Lose,

Sermon for October 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Or so they thought…

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

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

Image.

Whose image?

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

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

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

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

The things that are God’s.

The things that belong to God?

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sermon for October 5th, 2014

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

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

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

Israel the unfaithful.

Israel the untrue.

God’s unrequited love for Israel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are they really wicked?

What if they are desperate?

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

It is also, unfortunately, a common practice today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Something New

Something new is happening in our college community.

We’ve all been remarking on it: the atmosphere – it has changed. There is an excitement, an anticipation, a joy that emanates from people as we walk through the halls, gather for conversation, worship and learn together.

We had 28 people at chapel yesterday morning (I counted because I was officiating and had to make note of it!). That may not seem like many to some, but to those of us returning to the college theological community this year, it is huge. We felt like we were doing well with a dozen last year.

And the singing! There are harmonies flying out all over the place as we sing Morning Prayer together. It is lovely to be a part of, to add a voice to the joyous songs we raise to heaven.

 

I never know what to say when someone comes up to me after a service and says, “Thank you.”

          You’re welcome?

          Thanks – couldn’t have done it without you?

It is not me who made that a thank-worthy experience, it is God and the collective expectation of a gathered community. All I do is say and sing the bits assigned to me, prompt the community to do their bit, and join in when it is something we all do together. But somehow, through the grace of God, out of that comes something beautiful and uplifting: the perfect way to start a day.

Morning Prayer is a simple service. However every time I get up to speak or sing (especially sing!) on my own in front of people, no matter how simple the service, there are always some nerves. Yesterday morning I faced them by pacing all four steps possible across the college chapel sacristy, praying before the service began. That gets to the heart of it, I think. Prayerful invitation and expectation. An instructor in Bible College once told us that we could never expect to lead a group of people gathered in worship anywhere we had not gone ourselves in private worship. That is, if I do not and cannot cultivate an active prayer and worship life, I will never be able to lead a community in prayer and worship. 

So I’m still not taking credit for 28 people and glorious chapel yesterday morning. I’m not going to take credit for a new atmosphere at college. I will, however, take credit for my part in prayerfully inviting God into our midst and expecting God to do great things in, among, and through each and every one of us at the college this year.

Second Year

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

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

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

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

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

One Year

One year ago this weekend I finalized the pack-up of my life in Victoria and got on a ferry for a few days in Vancouver, before flying to Ontario to start a whole new chapter.

A whole new chapter? Yes, I suppose it was, though the chapter has been just one in a journey of many that started with the first conversation I had, out loud, pondering a call to ordained ministry as a priest.

The last year has had lots of new adventures. I’ve been exploring a new city and region and re-exploring the province of my birth. I’ve been within spitting distance of extended family members who I haven’t lived near in 20 years.

I have started the seminary journey, completing first year (with top grades in the class!) and have begun to lay the foundations for my field placement for this upcoming year. Lots of new friends have joined me on this journey, some who I know I will have for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador, participating as an international elections observer and witnessing the human rights and development work done by PWRDF partner the Cristosal Foundation.

And there are more adventures to come! Later this month I will be experiencing the Stratford Festival for the first time! Then, I head to Turkey with a group from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. I continue to work with the theological society to plan orientation for this upcoming year of school. Second year classes begin in a little over a month (eeek!) and I’ll be starting my field placement at a local Anglican church.

Southwestern Ontario is a far cry from Vancouver Island,  but it is beautiful country with wonderful people, and more things to learn and places to explore.

Here is to year two in Ontario!

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Young Leaders Thrive Amidst Opposition

This was written for justgeneration and has also appeared on pwrdf.org.

IMG_2514

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young… (I Tim 4:14)

Those words were ringing through my head as I sat in a circle with a group of young people working for PWRDF partner CoCoSI (Committee Against AIDS) just outside of Santa Marta, El Salvador.

One by one we went around the circle, introducing ourselves, saying what our role was, and how old we were. “I am 24 … 31 … 29 …” As each one of the other young people told their story of working for CoCoSI I was struck by how this group of young people had all seen a need in their community and responded to it, regardless of opposition.

CoCoSI was founded in 1999 by a group of young people, some of whom still work for CoCoSI. They founded the organization to raise awareness of and promote prevention of HIV and AIDS in their community and in the local prisons. Since then, CoCoSi has also begun to work at preventing gender-based violence, particularly towards women, and promoting human rights to those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

And there was opposition: some of the young adults were as young as 15 when they founded CoCoSI. They faced opposition from those who thought they were too young to do what they were doing. They faced opposition from those who did not think HIV and AIDS should be talked about. They faced opposition from those who said they did not have enough formal education. In some cases, they faced opposition from within their own families and communities.

What was remarkable was that these were young people who should not, by all accounts, have succeeded. Most were born across the border in Honduras, in refugee camps that their parents had escaped to during the long years of the Salvadoran conflict. They had, as teenagers and young adults, returned home and begun to advocate within their community for rights of the marginalized. They also began developing HIV and AIDS education and prevention programs in their region.

Despite, or in spite of all of this, they have succeeded. After spending time with the young staff of CoCoSI, I had the opportunity to sit with two of them as they facilitated a women’s support group in a nearby community. Despite only understanding about half of the Spanish conversation, I could see the joy on the faces of the women in the group. I could see the passion and love for the women and for their job in the presentation of the two young women from CoCoSI. And I heard and understood stories of empowerment and safety echoed around the circle. Indeed, CoCoSI has been recognized internationally for their programs and I am so proud that we at PWRDF partner with them to help see that their incredible work continues.

El Salvador

IMG_2680I’ve been going full-tilt since I arrived home a little over a week ago – so much so that I haven’t even stopped to edit/review my photos. (Though you can see a few that I posted to Instagram while I was down there if you scroll back through my web feed)

This week is reading break so I’m hoping that I will have some time to catch up with myself, if only to prepare for the two papers and two midterms due next week before I head off to Victoria for Diocese of BC events.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI did do some blogging whilst in El Salvador, though the justgeneration.ca website went down so blogs have been posted since I’ve arrived home. The blogs are, wonderfully, filling two purposes: updating our justgen website with stories about what two of our PWRDF partners are up to in El Salvador and becoming the reflection paper I have to write as a part of the program requirements for school.

Notably missing from the blogs will be my concerns with the long hours while we were there and the fact that I got sick from sheer exhaustion. But evident will be the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, and the amazing work that our partners are doing down there.

In case you haven’t found them yet, I’m not going to reproduce them here, but the blogs can be found here:

Preparing to Leave for El Salvador

Reflecting on Archbishop Oscar Romero

Observing an Election

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On the same day as reported on with the Oscar Romero blog, I had another, even more moving experience related to a friend of mine from home. It is a beautiful story that I am still deciding on whether it is mine to share. Regardless, some amazing moments out of that trip.

Off and Away

I’m off on another adventure!

Today I leave, with a group of others from London-area, to spend the next nine days in El Salvador. We will be UN observers at the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador and then will have the opportunity to visit PWRDF partners there: the Cristosal Foundation and CoCoSi. I’m looking forward to learning more about the work that these two partners do.

I may have been quiet on here as of late, but I have been writing! Stay tuned to justgeneration.ca (or like it on Facebook!) to see updates from me as I am able to send them back from El Salvador. I do not expect to have regular and amazing access to the Internet there, so sending blogs and photos back to justgeneration.ca will be a priority over putting them up on this blog. A large story will come when I return, however!

In the meantime, I am anticipating warmth for the first time since…. August?! In a temperature change felt only when I moved to Australia (or on extreme chinook days in Southern Alberta!) I’ll be going from a balmy -19C (-30 with the windchill, I’m told) here in London to a gorgeous high of +32C in San Salvador today. Bring it on!