PWRDF November 2017

I spent the first twelve days of November in Ontario/Quebec this year. The Board of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund had our annual Fall meeting followed by, a few days later, the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod meeting. With them only being a few days apart this year, I decided to stay in the East rather than fly back and forth across the country twice in twelve days, confusing my biorhythms and exposing myself to double the germs.

Each time the Board meets, we conclude our time together around the Table with a short Eucharist service. Usually, the Primate presides at the service and offers a few short reflections. This meeting, I was honoured to be asked to preside in the Primate’s absence. It is, however, a little intimidating to offer a few reflections in the presence of so many amazing colleagues and friends, including a retired archbishop, a bishop, an archdeacon, a canon, and a few folks who have been ordained much longer than I, not to mention the lay people who have had long careers in the Anglican Church.

I had the interesting challenge of reflecting on the readings for the commemoration of Richard Hooker, whose day in the church calendar it was, while also reflecting on the work of a relief and development agency. It felt like an odd juxtaposition.

The gospel for the day was a selection from John 17 – 17:18-23 – so I focused on that as I reflected on the work of the previous days of meeting and the work ahead of us as we left our meeting…

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Some reflections offered on November 3, 2017 offered in a Toronto Airport Hotel conference room with the gathered Board of Directors and management staff of PWRDF:

One of the things that I have come to appreciate in my travels is prayer. That sounds a little cliché … but what I mean is, that I have come to appreciate our shared global language of prayer: It is this thing that has so many layers of meaning and importance even above the actual words that are said or unsaid. 

I remember being in Ephesus. It was the day after Matthew and I had gotten engaged and we were standing in the middle of the ruins of the church dedicated to Mary the Theotokos. Another group of pilgrims were gathered in a circle around where the altar would have been, praying together in unison. I didn’t understand the words, but I understood what they were saying and the power of the moment gave me goosebumps. 

Or there was worship in the Cathedral in Grahamstown, South Africa where, for the first time, I worshipped with the people who wrote the mass setting that I’d heard bits and pieces of here in Canada, but there we sung the prayers as they were written – in Xhosa accompanied by marimbas, swaying back and forth to the music. 

And just the other night, as Bishop David led us in Compline, we came to the Lord’s Prayer and I looked up across the table and saw [our partner visiting from Guatemala] Gregoria praying along with us in her own language. 

Prayer transcends time. It transcends language. It unites us across time and space. 

 Think of Jesus. We have this huge chunk in the gospel of John where Jesus is praying and we get to learn a whole lot about the things that were and are important by what Jesus prays. 

On the night before he died, after sharing a meal with friends, we find Jesus, praying in the garden: 

I pray that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… 

I love to think about non-linear time and how those things that Jesus was praying, he was praying about us here today gathered in a hotel conference room after a few solid days of meeting and deliberating and holding up the mission of God through work in policy, and volunteer management, and institutional evaluations.  

That Jesus was praying back and forward across time, across national and continental lines, and encompassing all of the saints from all times and places. And as we have gathered this week in prayer and to share in God’s mission, so we are preparing to go out in prayer and live into God’s mission around us. 

Jesus prayed, As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…  

We will soon be sent out to go and return to our daily lives. But we do that surrounded by prayer. Jesus was praying for us then, to accomplish that for which we have been sent. And is praying for us now, alongside that whole communion of saints that the church also celebrated this week. 

That prayer carries us forward in our work as we strive to participate in God’s mission on earth by working to create a truly just, healthy, and peaceful world. And considering that participation in the mission of God is, in itself, an act of prayer – an act of “Your kingdom come God, as it is in heaven.” 

And so as we prayerfully gather together around this table, may we be aware of those who have gone before us and those who will come after us in this mission. Of those who have been praying for us since the beginning of time, and those who continue to hold us in prayer day in and day out … so thatas Jesus prayed, the world may believe that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me… 

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Sermon for October 15, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Text: Matthew 22:1–14
Audio available here.

So is anyone else feeling a little uncomfortable after hearing that reading from the gospel this morning?? That stuff about burning cities and kicking people out into darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…  

Yeah…. That doesn’t sit very well does it? 

 I don’t know what you do, but one of the first things I do when I come across an uncomfortable reading like this one – a reading that I can’t avoid because I’m assigned to preach – one of the first things I do is step back and read what comes before and what comes after the selection assigned for the day, because sometimes putting it in context can help. 

And because it is worth reminding ourselves that the small selections we hear read aloud each week are a part of a bigger story – not only within the narrative of each book within the Bible, but within the entire Biblical narrative as well.  

 So where are we here, this morning? 

This is the part of the gospel of Matthew that happens after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It is a part of the series of events that the writer of Matthew places between the Triumphal Entry, what we call Palm Sunday, and Good Friday and Easter morning. 

When we get to this parable, Jesus has entered Jerusalem and gone straight to the temple, overturned some tables, and cleared it of people taking financial advantage of worshippers at the temple. Jesus then does a few things that embarrass the authorities and tells some stories that make them out to be the bad guys. So at this point, his level of endearment of himself to the authorities in Jerusalem is pretty low. 

We know he hasn’t endeared himself to the authorities because pretty much the next thing that happens is opposing factions within the religious authorities come together to plot together to entrap Jesus.  

 So what happened in this parable that upset the authorities so much that the next thing we see is these opposing factions working together to bring Jesus down? I think that it has to do with entitlement and God’s grace. 

 Lets unpack what I mean with that by going through the parable again… 

 Jesus is standing in the temple with the chief priests, the Pharisees, the elders of the people, and a huge crowd of random temple-goers. Presumably the disciples are there too, since they seem to be around all of the time. 

The chief priests and elders ask Jesus a question and, as he usually does in the gospels, Jesus responds with a question of his own before launching into a series of parables that basically accuse the religious leaders and authorities of getting their priorities wrong. This is the third in that series and it expands on the previous two. 

The kingdom of heaven is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 

A wedding banquet – this is like Christmas, Easter, and an invitation to the swankiest party you’ve ever imagined all rolled into one. It is a big deal. 

He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited 

Everyone who got the “Save the Date” and the “Invitation” is now being summoned: the party is ready! 

But they would not come… 

So the king tries again. He sends another round of people to everyone who has already been invited. Look! The feast is ready! The decorations are up! The fairy lights are on! Come to the wedding banquet! 

But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized the king’s slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 

So the king responds to this violence with violence and burns the city of the folks who killed his slaves. 

This is where, if you are trying to identify God with the king, things get tough. Is the God we worship a God of retribution and violence? No. Is there judgement? Yes… but maybe not in the way you are thinking. 

So far this parable is following the narrative and worldview of the Hebrew people to whom Matthew was writing. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures we read story after story of God sending prophets to call the people back to God and story after story of those prophets being mistreated or killed. The result of this, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, is that the people of Israel are conquered by foreigners, scattered, exiled, and in some cases killed. So in one sense, Jesus is playing into that narrative and worldview: the first round of invitations has gone out, and people refused. 

So what does the king do? He sends his people out into the main streets, saying invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet … both good and bad … so that the wedding hall will be filled with guests. Invite EVERYONE. The bad and the good.  

This is such a hallmark of Jesus’ parables of the kingdom. The bad stuff isn’t a problem for the kingdom of heaven – everyone is invited. Judgement isn’t about keeping people out. 

Invite everyone to the wedding banquet because we are going to have a PARTY and it isn’t a party without everyone there, is what the king is saying. So that is what happens. The hall is filled. Everyone is invited and this time everyone shows up. 

And because it is such a mix of people and the king wants things to be festive and for no one to feel left out, everyone who comes in is given a wedding robe. A special outfit to wear so that everyone knows they belong at the party.  

And then the king comes in to survey his party… 

But when he came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.
Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen… 

Hang on there… doesn’t this fly in the face of “everyone being invited” and bringing in the good and the bad?? Why, then, is Jesus making such a big deal about this guy’s clothes?? 

Remember what I said at the beginning about how I thought this parable was all about entitlement versus God’s grace? I think that is what this is saying. 

God’s throwing a party, the best party and the biggest party – and every single person is invited. In fact, every single person is already there, in the door, at the party. It is a gift – the free gift of God’s grace to every single person. 

But this one guy decides to come in his own clothes, to cast off the gift of grace. Because what he already has is good enough for the party.  

My clothes, that I bought and paid for and put on all by myself, are special and I deserve to be recognized for that.  I don’t need the wedding clothes because I am already good enough AND there is no way I want to be associated with the riff raff who NEED the special wedding clothes.  

“Nope” says Jesus. 

Go into the main streets and invite EVERYONE to the wedding banquet, both good and bad. 

God’s grace is that everyone is called to the wedding banquet. Everyone is invited, and everyone is given the “right clothes” to wear.  

There is none of that “my clothes are nicer than your clothes” or “my behaviour is better than your behaviour” or “I lived a holier life” stuff. 

We don’t like the idea of judgement. But Jesus isn’t telling a parable where judgement is “who is out versus who is in” – Jesus is telling an expansive story of everyone being in… and the only ones who end up out are the ones who think they’re good enough refuse to put on the clothes that God has gifted them. 

Even that last line, For many are called, but few are chosen is infused with God’s grace. Don’t think of “chosen” as the means by which we are invited in to the wedding banquet. Think of “chosen” as referring to the end result, a state of being – the simple fact of being present at the wedding banquet. 

One scholar translates the last line of the parable God calls all peoples, but the weakest God loves above all. (Schotroff)  

If we remove the value judgement often associated with the word “weak,” I wonder if we can instead read that sentence as God calls all peoples, but the weakest, who understand that they have to take on God’s grace rather than their own “good works,” are the ones who can actually experience God’s love. 

Our state of being is at the wedding feast, dwelling in God’s grace and and God’s love. Thanks be to God for the gift of grace and may we have the courage to put on that garment every day. 

Amen. 

Sermon for October 1, 2017

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria
Text: Exodus 17:1-7
Audio available here.

Is the Lord among us or not?

These words ended our reading from the book of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures this morning.

Is the Lord among us or not?

It is pretty hard to see the presence of God when you are literally dying of thirst on a long march through the desert at temperatures upwards of 30 degrees Celsius. Did I mention doing this while carrying tents? Other belongings? Small children and livestock?

No water. Again.  Last week it was no food. Before that it was no water. When will it end?

Is the Lord among us or not?

I mean, at least we had water in Egypt! Water is a basic human need and now we don’t have it.

Is the Lord among us or not?

The people of Israel were pretty right to complain to, contend with, and test their God. We would be doing it too.

Is the Lord among us or not?

If God was with me, why did I get sick? If God was with us, why did our friend die? If God were with us, why is work so hard right now? Why can’t I be happy with my courses at school? Is God with us or not?

How do we cope when God is absent, or at least seems to be absent? And how do we sit with others when they are – or when a community is – going through that pain?

Is the Lord among us or not?

Sometimes it is really hard to tell, and there is no easy answer.

I don’t have the answers, either, to that question of why it sometimes seems like God is absent. I’ve felt it too. What I can do is look at what Moses did in our reading today.

Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with these people?” … The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.”

Take some people with you, Moses. Take the elders because of the stories and wisdom they carry … and take a group because you can’t do it alone.

We aren’t meant to walk this journey alone – whether it be through the wilderness without water when we wonder if God is among us or not – or whether it be in the Promised Land when things are going well. We are meant to journey with others.

Look around you –  There are some here who carry stories and wisdom of times when God has been abundantly present and stories and wisdom from times when they have been able to carry on even when God seemed absent. And there are some who have energy to carry those who cannot walk on their own. And there are some who can sit beside us and just be present when sitting is all we can do. Any journey is never about the actions of one single person. It is about God working in and through us as we hold and carry the hope of us all… We journey with others.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb.”

Moses, see that staff in your hand? Yes, the same staff that you use to keep your footing as you trek through the desert, that same, ordinary staff that you used so many times when you were working as a shepherd. Yes, that same staff that you had in your hand the last time you were at Horeb, when you saw a burning bush and knew you were in the presence of God. That same staff you had in your hand when I used you to work wonders in Egypt… That same staff that you had in your hand when the seas were parted…

Take THAT staff and go to Horeb. I am there. Return to that place where you found me before. Use that ordinary staff that you have in your hand. Strike the rock, and there will be water. There will be life.

Look at your hands …. Feel your feet on the ground … If we are the hands and feet of God, what is in our hands and where can our feet take us that seems ordinary but is so much more? That pen that we pick up in our hands to use to write notes of encouragement to people on a weekly basis. The dough that our hands lovingly knead into loaves to bake for nourishment for this community as we gather around the table here on a Sunday morning. The keys to our car in our hand as we visit a friend across town or take someone in for a doctor’s appointment. Our hands, folded on our lap or holding the hand of another person as God uses our very selves as we are present with someone in silence, in laughter, to play games, to read books, to pray

Is the Lord among us or not? 

Sometimes God is abundantly visible, like in a burning bush. Sometimes God is hidden, like standing on a rock that has not yet brought forth living water. Sometimes, I cannot see God but you can, and you can make God known to me. Sometimes you cannot see God, but the person beside you can, and they can make God known to you.

That is why we are here. A community of people. Ordinary people who gather together each week to say together, on behalf of those amongst us right now who cannot: We believe in God. And we believe that God is among us now.

Amen.

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

 

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 the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6 2017)

Preached on the Feast of the Transfiguration at St Luke’s, Ottawa. This was the first service that Matthew and I were able to do together as priests, I preached and he presided. It happened by the invitation of our friend, the Ven. David Selzer, who is currently priest-in-charge at St Luke’s.

Readings: 2 Peter 1:16–19 and Luke 9:28–36

(This one definitely makes more sense if you read the readings first…)

 

Now about eight days after these sayings…

Eight days after Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was…

After Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah of God…

After Jesus told them that he would suffer, be rejected, killed, and then be raised…

After explaining that anyone who tries to save their life will lose it and only those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel will save them…

 

About eight days after all of these sayings, Jesus takes Peter and John and James and goes up the mountain to pray.

It is remarkable how much happens with prayer.

Three of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, share this account of Jesus being transfigured on a mountain top in the presence of Moses and Elijah, Peter and John and James.

But only this one, the account written by Luke, says that Jesus went up the mountain expressly to pray.

Prayer figures prominently in the account of the life of Jesus written by Luke. It undergirds other pivotal events in the life of Jesus such as Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ selection of the twelve disciples, in the garden before Jesus is arrested, on the cross …

For Luke, prayer is the launch point for a dramatic encounter of God’s presence.

Because, while Jesus is praying, the appearance of his face is changed and his clothes become a brilliant white.

Here, again, Luke differs from Matthew and Mark… because while Matthew and Mark say that Jesus was “transfigured” or “metamorphosed” – Luke simply says that Jesus’ face was changed.

Unlike Moses, who appears with Jesus on this mountain but who, when he met God face-to-face on another mountain, reflected God’s glory in the shining of his face, here Jesus is not reflecting God’s glory because Jesus is God. Jesus is radiating God’s glory.

Jesus is God’s glory.

And while Luke says that Jesus’ face was changed, maybe it is more accurate to say the disciple’s viewing of Jesus’ face is changed. Finally, the disciples are getting a glimpse of who Jesus really is.

This is no reflected glory. This is God’s glory manifested in Jesus, shining through like a light in a dark room.

 

God is revealed in Jesus on this mountaintop. And witnessing it are Moses and Elijah – two giants of Hebrew history and mythology who have had their own encounters with God on the tops of mountains before – and Peter, John, and James – three friends of Jesus, the three who are a part of the inner circle who follow Jesus everywhere, and who have been and will be witness to God incarnate at work.

I wonder if seeing this helps these three disciples to start to realize a little bit more about the significance of those sayings eight days ago, those conversations that they have been having with Jesus about his identity and about the path that they must follow?

 

Perhaps that is part of the significance of this being the eighth day after…

Because the eighth day is the first day of the new week. In the tradition of the Early Church, the eighth day is Sunday. The day of resurrection. The day of new life. The day of new beginnings.

Here, Jesus is resetting the clock. He has just predicted his death for the first time and now he is turning his shining face towards Jerusalem and starting this journey.

Peter wants to pause here. He is on the top of the mountain in the presence of God, the Messiah. And if they stay and rest in the presence of God’s glory, then perhaps they can avoid the part about death and crucifixion.

But as Peter is still talking about resting, the cloud descends and overshadows them, terrifying them into silence.

This is no ordinary cloud and their terror is legitimate.

The only other place in Luke’s gospel where the word “overshadowed” is used is way back at the beginning, when an angel appears and says to Mary, “Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God and you will conceive a son and name him Jesus, and he will be called the Son of the Most High, and of his kingdom there will be no end…”
Mary, understandably, is confused and asks how this might happen.

The angel replies, The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…

This cloud that is overshadowing the disciples is the same Most High that overshadowed Mary at the very beginning when Jesus became incarnate on earth.

The air must have been electric with God’s power in that cloud.

And then the cloud speaks, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

The voice speaks words similar to words that marked another beginning: At the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he was baptized and the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and he heard the words, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

This time, however, the voice is for the disciples: In case there was still any doubt in your mind – this is my Son. Listen to what he says.

When he says he will suffer, he will. When he says he will die, he will. When he says he will be raised, he will.

Do Peter, John, and James leave the mountain knowing exactly what will take place in the weeks and months to come? Do they always get it right from here on in? I think we can agree that the answer is no, not really.

But we can be reminded of the fact that Jesus still revealed his full glory to them on that mountaintop when they saw his face changed and whether or not we can see it at any given time, the glory of God is here, incarnate, dwelling with us and in us – whether we are up the mountain or down.

In the words of the letter of Peter this morning, It is that lamp, shining in a dark place all night long, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts and we see it once more.

Amen.

 

Ordination

On Saturday, July 22nd, Matthew and I were ordained priests. It was a pretty special day with many of our friends and and family, as well as some of our professors from Huron in attendance. It was a lovely service, and I am so grateful to (and proud of!) the folks at St John’s for pulling out all of the stops to host our first ordination in a long time. They did a magnificent job. The Rev. Canon Dr. Martin Brokenleg let us on a retreat for the week prior to the ordination and preached at the service itself. It was an impacting sermon, which can be heard here, on St John’s website.

The feast commemorated on the day of our ordination was St Mary Magdalene. To be ordained on her feast day was an added plus for me. She is called the first woman to preach the gospel because of her witness to the resurrection of Jesus and her testifying his resurrection to the disciples. In a church where the ordination is still relatively new (only 41 years in Canada) and a world where women still face opposition to being in church leadership (or any kind of leadership), to have my priesthood forever connected to Mary Magdalene is a reminder that this isn’t new or unusual. It is ordained by God.