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.

Timothy and Titus, Companions of Paul

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

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

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

Imagine being Timothy or Titus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sermon for January 15, 2017

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

 

This week we re-entered the ordinary.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you looking for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus, where are you staying?

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

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

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

Jesus, where are you staying? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just:

What are you looking for?

Where are you staying?

Come and see…

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

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

Come and see.

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

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

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

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

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

You are seen. You are chosen.

And we say to all the world –

Come and see

 

 

Sermon for January 8, 2017: The Baptism of the Lord

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria.
Texts: Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17

Listen to it here.

 

In his speech at our wedding, my Dad asked a question.

Looking around the church hall at the 150-or-so friends and family members who had just witnessed our wedding vows, Dad asked who amongst those gathered had also been present at and witnessed my or Matthew’s baptisms. About 20 people raised their hands – parents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, and godparents.

Like many Anglicans who have been baptized, I don’t remember my baptism. I was three months old when it happened. But I have heard stories of it – there was even a write up in the diocesan newspaper about the six of us who were baptized that August morning.

But my Dad’s recollection of it at my wedding, and all of those raised hands, was a reminder of the community that was around me then and remains around me now, and it was a window into a bigger story.

 

Which brings us to our readings this morning. In this first story that the writer of gospel of Matthew tells of adult Jesus, Jesus has traveled a bit of a ways south from his home in Galilee. South to the Jordan River.

The Jordan River is one of those places that immediately evokes memories for the people to whom Matthew would have been writing. Perhaps you have a place or places like that – someone mentions “The Lake” and you immediately think of learning how to swim one summer when you were at the cabin on the lake. And then your mind goes back to stories you’d heard of your grandfather fishing on the same lake … Memories and stories and decades – even centuries – of connection and relationship.

Not only is the Jordan River THE River that flows through the land where Jesus lives, but it is a river that has been a part of the stories of his people for centuries. The river that is the site of miracles like a man cured of leprosy or an ax head that floats … and the River that was crossed by his ancestors as they came to The Promised Land out of the wilderness …

And here is Jesus, going down to this River to be baptized by his cousin, John. He has left his immediate family and the place he is familiar with. He has traveled south from Galilee to the Jordan River.  And when he arrives, there is a crowd; John has drawn quite a lot of curious people out to the Jordan River to see what is going on there.

And in this first adult story of Jesus, he asks John to baptize him. That is why John was at the river, after all: he was baptizing there. But John adds a twist to the story – he says no to Jesus.

No – I am not the one to baptize you. In fact, you should be baptizing me!

I am not going to get into a technical discussion about the why and how of baptism and possible theologies for why Jesus should or should not be baptized. Jesus himself doesn’t really get into it other than to say to John – “Let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” For Matthew, this language is code for “this is what God wants”

John consents and baptizes Jesus. Jesus goes down under the water. While more familiar baptism scenes for us likely involve fonts in church with a safe splattering of water, I suspect many of us can picture the scene.

Jesus and John, standing up to their waists in the flowing water of the Jordan River. John is already wet from head to toe because he has been baptizing people all morning. Jesus has just waded in to join him. We don’t hear the discussion that went on between them, we just see the scene when John helps Jesus through the simple, familiar actions of baptism.

And for all of us watching the scene, it is done.

But for Jesus, it is just the beginning…

The dove descends and the voice speaks… “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased…”

And with those words, Jesus’ identity is confirmed and his ministry is launched. This is my Son, the Beloved…

God is announcing, once again, that God is become flesh and is dwelling among us. And God is doing it with words meant to evoke a particular ministry. For just as the scene of baptism, the Jordan River, would evoke a set of memories, so would the words…

They bring us back to the prophet Isaiah in our first reading this morning:

Here is my servant, my chosen in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him … I have given you as … a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon … to faithfully bring forth justice …

This song of Isaiah is generally considered to be one of the so-called “servant songs.” Scholars are not in consensus as to whom the servant songs refer. Many of the New Testament writers use them in reference to the Messiah, to Jesus. Others suggest that they may be referring to the nation of Israel.

Likely, there is truth in both: ministry is both individual and communal.

Jesus’ ministry is launched at his baptism – he is publicly acknowledged as God’s son and then he goes – first to the wilderness and then to pull together a group of people to journey in ministry with him.

 

In a few moments we will together walk through the liturgy for the renewal of baptismal vows. For some of us, they will be familiar words that we have spoken many times. For some of us, they are less familiar words that others may have spoken on our behalf and we are only just learning how we might live into them. For some of us, we are struggling to connect them to our lives.

And all of that is okay.

In saying these words, whether baptized or not, whether we remember our baptisms or not, we commit to this ministry that Jesus launched and that we heard outlined in Isaiah:

A ministry that commits to continuing in community – in fellowship, prayer, and breaking bread together,

A ministry that proclaims the good news of God in Christ,

That seeks and serves Christ in all persons,

That strives to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, respects, sustains, and renews the life of the earth,

And that strives for justice and peace among all people and respects the dignity of every human being.

 

And it recognizes that we cannot do it on our own – not only do we need God’s help, but we need each other. We need each other to walk with, to hold us accountable, to encourage us along the way … And it places us all – as individuals and as a community – as an integral part of a bigger story, a story that holds us and sustains us and a story that connects us across time and place, not only to believers everywhere, but to Jesus, the one who felt and lived our full humanity and who calls us, like he called the disciples, to “come and follow”

As we journey that calling together, remember the words spoken by God at that baptism: You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.

 

 

Sermon for November 13, 2016

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria

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

For an audio recording: here

 

You will hear of wars and insurrections …

Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom

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

 

Our readings have a common apocalyptic rumble this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Which brings us to our present day.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

But they were building houses

Planting fields

Labouring in vineyards

Having children

Living with expectation

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Are we there yet? Probably not.

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

Our Canticle this morning gives us that song:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let us keep on singing…

Sermon for October 2, 2016

Preached at St Peter’s, Lakehill – part of the Two Saints Ministry

Text:2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the Lounge at St John’s for Parish Council.

We were at every parish’s favourite part of the meeting: discussing the financial reports. As I was glancing through the balance sheets, I mistakenly read “Ministry of Music” as “Ministry of Magic” …

Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, that spawned a lot of interesting conversations both online and in person.  It also has me wondering if the “Ministry of Magic” is more along the lines of that Jesus’ disciples are asking for in this morning’s gospel.

 

Lets take a look:

We are in Luke chapter 17. In Luke’s narrative, we are nearing the end of Jesus’ travelling ministry. He and the disciples have left the area around Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth for the last time are walking the difficult road into Jerusalem. Jesus knows exactly where they are headed: to Jerusalem and to the cross. The disciples, well, they really only know about the Jerusalem part.

So when I hear this dialogue between the disciples and Jesus in our gospel reading this morning, I have “sarcastic Jesus” in my head:

Jesus, increase our faith!

Increase your faith?! What do you want, a magic wand to wave to instantly give you faith the size of a mustard seed? Would you prefer the size of a peach pit? Or an avocado seed? Those are bigger than a mustard seed…

It seems like another one of those moments where Jesus has to refrain from saying, “I’m right here…! You’re asking to increase your faith and I’m still here…!”

They haven’t even hit the “bad stuff” yet – the disciples are still blissfully ignorant of what is to come. Yes, there have been hints of what will happen in Jerusalem, though fewer in number in Luke’s narrative than in the other gospels, but there is very little indication that the disciples truly understand the road of suffering that they are walking on with Jesus.

But they’ve been told that there will be suffering. They’ve been given indications of the fact that this is a hard road they’re walking on. Asking Jesus to “increase their faith” strikes me as a way of asking to get to the Olympic gold medal without actually having to run the race – getting the result without having to do the work.

 

But that is usually the way we want it, isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we would wave a magic wand and our faith would be topped up to the max? Our churches would be full, our Sunday School teaming with kids, our offering plate overflowing…

If only there was a quick fix where we could bypass all of the hard work and just get to the prize.

If only we could skip the suffering altogether.

That is what we are told we should want by society: Turn on the TV, open a magazine and look at all of the advertising for things that offer the quick fix – whether it is a miracle pill or the new workout regime that YOU SIMPLY WON’T BELIEVE or an amazing new cream you can spread on and defy aging – we live in a society that wants results without having to do the work.

It is easier to just throw money at something than put in hard work and time in to something that may or may not work.

Because the mindset we all-too-frequently buy into says that suffering is something that is not okay, in fact, it is something shameful we must hide – and pain is something we have to pop a pill to avoid.

Or – better yet – we can pass it all off to the leader of our group. Isn’t that what the disciples want? Jesus is Jesus, so he can just increase our faith for us with a snap of his fingers.

The rector is the leader, so they can make our church grow, do all of the hard work and have all of the faith on behalf of all of the rest of us … right?

 

But that is not the faith that we are called to live into.

We are called to live into a faith where Jesus invites us to take up our cross – to embrace suffering – and follow alongside.

In the letter we read this morning, the writer named as Paul says, DO NOT BE ASHAMED, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but JOIN WITH ME in suffering for the gospel …

Paul is clear: Our faith is NOT disgraced by suffering. Despite the fact that he was in prison for proclaiming the gospel, Paul says, I am not in prison because we have any reason to be ashamed of what we are doing. No, says Paul, I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith

And then Paul proceeds to remind Timothy of what the disciples needed to hear, of what we need to hear:

You already have faith.

To Timothy, Paul says, I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to REKINDLE the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands…

To all of us, we can imagine him saying: Rekindle that faith that I know is within you and that was confirmed through the laying on of hands. Remember that hand that was laid on your head when you were washed in the waters of baptism. Maybe you don’t remember the exact moment – but that is why we renew our baptismal vows throughout our lives, so that we will remember that we have faith.

We already have what we need. HOLD ON to that, says Paul.

 

Instead of complaining about the size of faith, what would happen if faith were not thought of as a commodity to gain – a metaphorical carrot on a stick to be chased after – and not as a feeling that we need to have – but as a way of being.

Many have suggested that a more appropriate translation of the word “faith” is actually “faithfulness.”

 

Jesus, increase our faithfulness.

Now, it ceases to be something we need to find or obtain – but a way to live.

What does it mean to live with faithfulness?

It means we continue despite not feeling like it.

It means we struggle through hard conversations.

It means we make hard choices – and even sacrifices – so that the gospel might be proclaimed not only to the people who sit here in these pews with us on Sunday mornings, but so that it might be proclaimed to those who are not here – to our children and grandchildren, to our neighbours, to the people in the community around this building here at St Peter’s and in the Village around St David’s, to our coworkers and friends …

It means we do not get weary of doing what is right, knowing that we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.

 

And, for our encouragement, Paul reminds Timothy – and reminds us – that we are part of a legacy of faithfulness.

Like Timothy, who is reminded of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, who from childhood instructed him for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, we have a legacy of over 150 years of Anglicans worshiping in this region.

And the church has been around for 2 thousand years – has faced much more suffering than we could even imagine facing here in our corner of the world – and it has continued to exist and will continue to exist long after all of us are gone.

 

But that isn’t to say that Paul is telling us to look back to what was and seek to recreate it again now. Rather, Paul is encouraging us to remember the amazing heritage we are a part of, and allow it to rekindle the faithfulness that is planted and rooted within us, and use that as a resting foundation to inspire and propel us in our future.

Because if we just wave a magic wand and skip the suffering, we lose the history and the heritage that have made us who we are and that ground us for moving into the new and exciting – though difficult – future.

 

Faithfulness, it turns out, is what enables us to vulnerably have the difficult conversations

To make the hard decisions

To work through the conflict

 

Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is scary. Yes, it is difficult.

But, says Paul, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice – in some translations that reads “fear” – the fear that keeps us from being faithful to our calling – God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

The power and self-discipline needed to remain faithful and engaged in our community  – and the love of God and love for each other that keeps us together in community as we go.

Jesus, rekindle our faithfulness.

Amen

Sermon for September 4, 2016

Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria BC

Text: Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Psalm 139

Audio here

 

Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words…

But before we go: Put down whatever you are working on – the dishes can wait until later, and that TV show is already on Netflix.  Put down whatever you are thinking about, whatever is distracting you – the shopping list can be put together later, and there will be plenty of time after church to plan the rest of the long-weekend. Because together we have been asked to step out of our home, step out of our office, step out of our comfortable pew, and go for a short walk.

We are going down to the potter’s house – perhaps it is an unfamiliar place, because we’re more likely to pick up a new piece of pottery at the mall or at the market than we are to visit the potter’s home studio… But maybe in this unfamiliar place we might be better able to hear and see and smell the words of God.

The potter’s house is just over there – around that corner. Watch out for the step and mind your head as we duck through the door. It feels a little close inside, but don’t worry, there is plenty of room for us all. God has invited us here to hear her words.

As we listen for the word of God, look around you, see and smell and hear the sights and smells and sounds of the potter at work – the whirr of the wheel, the smell of fresh clay, the cool splashes of water used to work the clay, and the bright colours of already glazed and fired vessels on the shelf on the far side of the room. There is such a difference between the two: this malleable clay being moved around on the wheel by the potter’s firm but gentle hands – compared with the brightly painted, gleaming, hard vessels lining the shelf, waiting to be sold and used.

As we watch, the potter pulls the clay off of the wheel, reshapes it, and begins again. And as we see the new vessel emerge out of the hands of the potter from the lump of clay on the wheel, it occurs to you that this transformation would no longer be possible with those brightly glazed vessels over on the shelf.  This clay held lovingly in the potter’s hands has not yet been fired. And unlike fired clay that has dried and shrunk, hardened into a permanent structure and shape, and become rigid and brittle; this unfired clay is plastic and moldable. It can be shaped and reshaped over and over again. It is flexible and responsive. It is a material of possibility.

Not moldable so that the potter can do whatever they desire with the clay, but left unfired so that it can constantly be worked and reworked – as flaws are found in the clay, they can be removed. As strengths are found, they can be built on. The hands of the potter are so sensitive that they can feel all of these strong points and weak points in the clay with the tenderest of touches…

 

Lord, you have searched me out and known me, you know my sitting down and my rising up, you discern my thoughts from afar.
You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
Where can I go from your spirit? 
For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made; your works are wonderful and I know it well.
My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth…

And then you remember those creation stories: God scooped up clay, scooped up dust from the earth and formed it to become a person. As the Creator leaned over the clay, shaping it, the air and water that makes up breath was breathed into the clay, giving it life.  Not to become dry, rigid, brittle vessels, but flexible, responsive vessels – every pore of the unfired clay still filled with the Living Water that continues to give life day after day after day

And those individually formed, intricately knit, wonderful human bodies come together to create an even bigger living vessel that we see here today: the church. Not a hard or rigid structure – beautiful and shiny, but only good for one or two things and certainly not flexible – though some days our physical plant may feel hard and inflexible – but a living, breathing, flexible, responsive vessel that is continually being shaped and reshaped as strong points and weak points are found: building on the strong and reshaping to shore up the weak. Changing and responsively reshaping over and over as more living water is added to the clay.

Not so that the potter can have their way with the clay, arbitrarily making it into whatever they desire – plucking up, breaking down, building, or planting at will, but a mutual responsiveness : as the clay responds to the potter and the potter to the clay, so we respond to God and God to us.

Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words

Rather the words we hear is this analogy we see in the potter’s house:  God did not shape us – as individuals, as a community – once and for all: we have not been fired in the kiln and set on the shelf waiting our one single, specialized purpose. We are clay that has not yet been fired. God’s plans for our community, this church, as we hear from Jeremiah, are not fixed or hardened in clay.  God says to Jeremiah that God’s plan to build up a people may be thwarted by their choice not to go along with that.  On the other hand, we hear that God’s plan to pull down a kingdom that has become strong by taking advantage of the poor and marginalized may not happen if the people turn from that behaviour. God responds to us responding to God…

God cannot and will not make us do anything. We have gifts here in this place – oh so many gifts and talents – but God will not make us use them if we do not choose to.  The shape of our lives and the shape of our life together in this community is not fixed. Like unfired clay, we remain supple. We become formed into our particular shape through living and worshipping together… Because unfired clay has endless possibilities… Education, common practices, the gifts we have and choose to use and share – they shape us and form us into what we are.

But in it all, God announces her desire for us to return to communion with each other and with God – that we might be formed into the image and likeness of God as we respond to the potter’s tender hand.