Palm Sunday

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

………….

And so it begins.

Our Holy Week journey

Where we walk with Jesus

Through the last week of his life.

Holy Week is a special time of year.

The rest of the year,

Our worship is primarily that: worship.

We praise God,

And thank God for all that God has done for us.

We might change emphasis

From Christmas to Lent,

From Advent to Ordinary Time,

But our purpose is to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.

Holy Week is a little bit different.

We’re still worshipping, of course,

But there is something a little more powerful

About this season

In which we remember the stories

Of Jesus’s last week on earth

As he walked toward the Cross and Grave.

Because we don’t just remember them

In the sense that we are reminded of them.

In walking with Jesus in Holy Week,

We re-member the stories.

We reconstitute them,

Reincorporate them.

We take out the dusty, dry bones,

And breath new flesh onto them.

We re-enact them.

We live them

Again.

When our Jewish neighbours celebrate Passover, as they will on Friday,

They say a prayer in which parents tell their children

“Because of what the Lord did for me

When I came out of Egypt.”

They say this prayer

Because the story is personal.

It happened to them.

It doesn’t matter that the people Israel actually came out of Egypt

More than 3500 years ago.

It is still the story

Of what the Lord did

For each and every person

Today.

Which is why it is so important

That today, Palm Sunday,

As we read the Passion Gospel

And relive Jesus’s trial, sentencing, and death,

We play the part of the crowd.

Because honestly?

That is the likeliest position

We each would have occupied

Back in the day

As this story was first being lived through.

Just like that ancient crowd,

We welcome Jesus in

With palms and processions

With hosannas

And proclamations of his kingship.

Like them,

We are so excited to see Jesus

Give us everything we long for:

Freedom from Rome,

Whoever Rome is in our hearts,

Peace and security,

The restoration of a long-lost glory.

Maybe the assurance that we’re the ones

Who’ve gotten it right all along – ha ha! Now they’ll see.

And, like that crowd,

We are so ready to turn on Jesus

The moment that following him seems dangerous,

Or even just

Inconvenient.

The moment he fails to meet

Our expectations.

Palm Sunday is one of my favourite days in Holy Week,

Precisely because this quick change is so important.

This lightning fast shift

From Hosanna

To Crucify.

It is crucial that we remember

How quickly we would

How quickly we have

Betrayed Jesus.

It is essential that we remember this story

With ourselves as part of the crowd.

Not least, of course, because historically,

Blaming “the Jews” for Jesus’s death

Has been a misreading of history

Anti-Semitic,

And violently wrong.

Not least, of course, because in our own history,

We too have crucified

Lynched

And executed

Many innocents

Because they failed to meet our expectations.

But especially

Because as we sink in

To the story of what the Lord has done for us

When we came out of our metaphorical Egypt,

Our slavery to Sin and Death,

We allow ourselves to reckon with the weight

Of how much, exactly, God has done for us.

Of his gift of salvation

Offered to all,

Even those

Who called for him

To be crucified.

I invite you, then,

To the observance of Holy Week.

Join us in the Upper Room on Thursday,

At Jesus’s final meal with his friends,

When he washed their feet

And commanded them to love one another.

Sign up to wait

In the Garden of Gethsemane

As he prays through the night

Before his arrest.

On Friday, venerate the wood of the Cross

On which hung the Saviour of the world.

Walk behind him as he goes to Golgotha,

As we introduce children to the Way of the Cross.

And on Saturday night,

Come and wait at his Tomb.

Hear the ancient stories of God working out our salvation

Throughout recorded time and history.

Renew your baptismal vows

As we welcome a new member to join us

In walking through the Red Sea

And into the new light of the resurrection.

If you have never observed the full Holy Week before,

Make the time this year.

I promise,

You will not complete it unchanged.

For as we welcome Easter morning,

We who have remembered the stories

Emerge from the Tomb with Jesus

Proclaiming new life

For all

Even us

Who once called out

Crucify!

Amen.

1st Sunday in Lent

Let us pray.

Lord, our adversary prowls like a lion.

But you are a God who steps into the arena.

Who does not leave us on our own.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

……………….

On Ash Wednesday, we gathered to mark our heads

With ashes and with dust.

We remembered that we are going to die.

It’s a weird thing to do

With one’s Wednesday night, isn’t it?

“What’d you do last night?”

“Oh, nothing special.

Just put dirt on my head

And remembered I’m going to die one day, you?”

There’s something powerful about it as a ritual, though.

It’s so compelling that strangers at bus stations and on thoroughfares

Find themselves drawn to participate,

Even when they don’t know exactly what it means

Or why they’re doing it.

It’s visceral.

You can feel the dirt spreading on your forehead

As surely as dirt will be dropped on your casket one day.

We don’t talk like that very often,

Perhaps because we’d rather not imagine that unthinkable future.

That, as Sarah Condon writes,

Devastating impossibility that always happens.

Death gets shoved aside, often.

We are asked to die neatly in special hospice centres

Set aside for the purpose

And within 6 months our family members will be told,

“Oh gosh, surely you’ve moved on by now, right?”

When I served in the Peace Corps in a small village in northwestern Ukraine

Just 30 kilometers from the Polish border,

Death was right in the middle of things.

A whacking great war memorial made up most of the town centre

And everybody knew somebody who’d died in the war

If not in the military

Than in the famine

In the Holocaust

In the aftermath.

When my Ukrainian tutor’s husband was tragically killed,

His funeral wasn’t just open casket

It was open bier.

We set him on a platform

And after the funeral

We loaded him up on a flatbed truck

And processed behind it to the cemetery

Where he was buried

Among rainbow coloured streamers.

The Orthodox have a hymn they sing on such occasions

“Receive, O earth,

The body formed of you

By the hand of God

And again returning to you as its mother.”

Ashes to ashes.

Dust to dust.

Earth to earth.

Everyone dies.

Even Jesus.

Death seems close to Jesus in this story of the temptation in the wilderness.

He’s out in the wilderness

Away from the crowds that surrounded John

Baptizing in the Jordan River.

His humanness feels especially apparent.

He’s hungry, Luke tells us.

Our God

Feels hunger.

He’s dirty, no doubt.

He’s got sand clinging to him everywhere

As he waits for whatever insight

The Holy Spirit is trying to show him

Out there in the wilderness.

And then the devil turns up.

Isn’t that just always the way?

Always kicking you when you’re down.

And he tests Jesus

With three temptations:

First, with material comfort.

An end to his very human pains.

Second, with glory and authority,

The ability to do whatever he wants.

Third, with proof of his status

As the Son of God.

That always strikes me, every year,

That the devil begins his taunts with this insidious word “IF.”

“IF you are the Son of God.”

Which implies that maybe even Jesus

Isn’t entirely sure yet

Of who he is

And who God is calling him to be.

Down here in this very human muck

Feeling these very human feelings

It would be easy to doubt

Even if he did remember

The glory he’d set aside.

That’s the really extraordinary thing about Jesus, I think.

That, though he was in the form of God,

He did not regard equality with God as a thing to be grasped

Clung to

Taken advantage of,

But emptied himself

To come and join us down here on the earth.

With dirt on his forehead.

And even when the devil

Made him question

If he even really was the Son of God anymore

He didn’t take the bait.

He didn’t abandon us in the dirt.

We worship a God

Who gets down in the muck where we live

Even when it’s awful

Even when it’s dirty and gross and visceral and physical and tragic and heartbreaking

And who stands in the brink

When the devil comes to call

And says “Yes, I am the Son of God.

Not in spite of this but because of this.

Because I am down in the dirt with my people.”

God does not run away from us in the difficult times.

God does not ask us to suffer neatly

Away

Far from Him

So that nobody has to think about how the changes and chances of this life

Are too often a devastating impossibility

That always happens.

God joins us in the dirt.

He hungers and he thirsts.

And ultimately the earth He created

Receives his body

As a mother.

This Lent, as Jan Richardson writes,

“Let us be marked

Not for sorrow.

And let us be marked

Not for shame.

Let us be marked

Not for false humility

Or for thinking

We are less

Than we are

But for claiming

What God can do

Within the dust

Within the dirt,

Within the stuff

Of which the world

Is made.”

Our God makes beautiful things out of dust.

Our God chose to become dust

With us

And held to it even when the devil tormented him for it.

Because he loves we who are his image

That much.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

6th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Open the eyes of our heart, Lord,

That we might see your kingdom

On earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

……………

“You Are Horrible People.”

Thus proclaims a headline from Macleans Friday morning,

After the horrifically callous reaction

That rocketed around Ontario

In response to a late-night Amber Alert.

There were indeed a shocking number of complaints –

Including to 911, which means legitimate emergencies were held up –

But while it’s tempting to mock Ontarians,

It behooves us to take a moment away from the speck in our neighbour’s eye

And focus on the log in our own.

I may have never used 911 as a complaint line,

But I have definitely been pretty peeved to receive a late night Amber or Silver Alert,

To have my sleep interrupted

For Somebody Else’s Problem.

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps.

Macleans certainly thinks so.

That this is yet more evidence

Of our increasing entitlement and isolation,

Our sense that we earned what we have

And this kind of thing is Somebody Else’s Problem

Because we have forgotten what we owe to each other.

But I’m not so sure it’s that new.

After all, the crowd Jesus is addressing is like that.

I love the way that Luke describes the wild diversity of this crowd

That has come all this way

To hear Jesus.

They have come

From all Judea,

Basically the whole of modern-day Israel

And some of Palestine.

From Jerusalem,

Way to the south of the Sea of Galilee.

From Tyre and Sidon,

In modern-day Lebanon.

This was quite a crowd

That Jesus has attracted!

But why have they come?

Luke tells us that too.

They came to hear him,

And to be healed of their diseases.

They came

Because they were hurting

And they needed help.

And Jesus helps them.

He cures their diseases.

But then he does more.

Because God always does more

Than we could ask or imagine

And sometimes more than we wish he would.

Then he says, 
“You are facing the wrong direction.

You are valuing the wrong things.”
Because in Jesus’s time,

It wasn’t exactly common to hear

“Blessed are you who are poor,

For yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now,

For you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now,

For you will laugh.”

The poor weren’t blessed!

The poor were a sign of God’s disfavour.

The prevailing worldview at this time

Was that you earned whatever the universe was throwing at you,

Like The Secret,

That book from a couple decades ago?

Where you get back from the universe what you put into it.

So if something bad happens,

Well,

Maybe you should’ve been thinking more positively.

As you can see,

Our worldview hasn’t exactly changed much since that time.

Even Christians,

Who have these beatitudes

Who’ve heard Jesus’s words of blessing spoken over us

When we are at our poorest,

Our hungriest,

Our most tear-filled,

Have a tendency to make judgments based on outward appearances.

When good fortune or wealth comes to us,

We say that we are blessed,

Or “hashtag blessed”, as the kids say on Twitter.

There are Christian authors and pastors out there right now

Arguing that riches and fame

Promotions at work

The partner you want in life

All come to you as signs of God’s blessing and favour.

His approval on your life.

And folks who aren’t so fortunate?

Well, maybe they should buy a book about financial peace

Tighten their belts

Give up even more of life’s more frivolous pleasures.

That sounds like Somebody Else’s Problem.

These authors and pastors,

I am ashamed to say it,

Are liars.

Because Jesus doesn’t look upon those

Who are suffering

With judgment.

Jesus looks at those who are poor

Those who are hungry

Those who weep

Those who are persecuted

And hounded

And bullied for who they are and what they believe

And says that in His eyes

They are blessed.

And just in case we didn’t get the message,

He turns to those who have money,

Those who have good fortune,

Those whom the world would call blessed,

And he says that they have got it wrong too.

What counts as blessed is the exact opposite

Of that which we have deemed worthy.

The last shall be first

And the first shall be last.

And that can be hard listening

For those of us who might count as rich.

It’s a universal human tendency to start counting what’s rich

As exactly one tax bracket above your own,

But it’s safe to say that many of us in this room fit in that category,

At least, from a global perspective.

Lord knows there were many in the crowd

That fit that definition,

And I’ve always wondered what they felt

When they were hearing this.

I’ve always wondered if they translated his “Woe to you who are rich”

As “You Are Horrible People.”

I’ve always wondered

If any of them wandered away

If any of them wished there were a complaint department

For the kingdom of heaven,

“Um, excuse me, waiter?

I just ordered a healing,

I didn’t ask for the side order of a haranguing

About how rich and happy I am

While my neighbours suffer.”

But it’s important for us who fear

This loss of status

To remember

That to be last

Is not to be left out.

To be last

Is not to be denied.

To be last

When chosen voluntarily

Can be an extraordinary gift

That not only changes our perspective

But makes a whole new way of living possible.

There’s a folk tale

Found in many cultures.

In this folk tale,

We hear of a great banquet table set

With large dishes

Family style

In the centre of the table.

At each place are set

Comically large forks,

Far too unwieldy to be used

To feed yourself.

In hell, the story goes,

The diners are angry to discover the large forks,

And eventually starve

As they sit with their arms crossed

And scowls on their faces,

Ready to complain

That they have no way to partake

Of this sumptuous feast.

In heaven,

The same table is set.

The same comically large forks,

The same impossible task to feed yourself

But we find the diners happily feeding their neighbours across the table,

Because they have discovered that the table

Was set with the intention

That the diners would share.

The proper response to Jesus’s harsh words to the rich,

Isn’t to get defensive

About how we’re not really rich,

Or to feel guilty or ashamed of what we have received,

But to share it with our neighbours.

For then we will no longer be rich,

And the poor will no longer be poor.

The full ones will share their bread with the hungry,

So that no one will hunger and thirst in God’s kingdom.

The well off will cease their judgment

Of those who have less

Because they will recognize that in God’s eyes,

What we have,

What we have earned,

What we have accomplished,

Adds nothing

To the infinite love God already has for us.

Every week we pray

“Thy kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On earth

As it is in heaven.”

In that prayer,

We are asking God

To change our perspective

To match His own

That we might see God’s kingdom

Not far away,

Off in the clouds,

But right here,

Among us.

As Jesus often said,

“The kingdom of heaven

Has come near to you.”

This is what it entails.

This is what we are praying for.

That God would open our eyes

To change the way we look at the world

That we might see with His eyes,

And value what He values.

That we might witness a world

Designed for a community

That has a duty to care for our neighbours.

So that when we see a table set

With forks too long for us to use,

We might realize God’s holy invitation to share

So that everyone

May be blessed.

Amen.

 

5th Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead

And defeated the power of death,

Free us from its fear

And give us life forevermore.

Amen.

……………………………….

 

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life.

Everybody!

That’s why The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Makes a joke about it being 42.

That’s why we started a class

Called God and The Good Place.

Because everybody – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Agnostics,

Watchers of television –

Everybody wants to know the meaning of life

So that they can live a meaningful life.

We may disagree, though,

About what makes life

Meaningful.

Philosophers have argued about it for millennia.

Since Aristotle first considered the question of eudaimonia,

The good life.

 But it’s a hard question,

Which is why those philosophers are still arguing about it.

Todd May writes about meaning in life,

As having a narrative quality,

Like a story.

Meaning is created by the values we live over time,

By the story of our life

That can be described by those values.

It’s not a what, like 42,

It’s a how.

How we go about our lives.

It can’t be measured by any one moment,

Like that one time we held the door open for somebody

Or dropped some change in the Salvation Army bucket.

Its primary characteristic is steadfastness,

Faithfulness,

What theologian Eugene Peterson has called

“A long obedience in the same direction.”

So the question to be asked

If we want to live a meaningful life,

We should ask, “In what direction

Should I be obedient?”

The Corinthian community asked that question.

They’ve got trouble in River City, my friends.

They are at each other’s throats

About the right way to worship.

Some people think they shouldn’t eat meat

That’s been offered to pagan idols,

Others think that’s baloney.

Some people observe special days,

Others say that’s stupid.

One guy’s sleeping with his stepmother!

We’ve been following their story in pieces for a month now,

And Paul keeps reminding them

That God makes them one.

That God has knit them together

Into one body

So could they cut out the arguing already?

But that doesn’t seem to be enough.

It’s not enough to just tell them to love each other.

Y’all who’ve parented children could’ve told him that, I bet.

I imagine that screaming at feuding toddlers to,

“Love each other, gosh darn it!”

Would go super well.

So Paul takes the time to remind them of the point.

He takes the time to remind them

Of the meaning of life.

Of why they are bothering to be the Church

In the first place.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Don’t believe him?

Think that sounds too wild, too out there,

Too good to be true?

Too wonderful to be believed?

If you don’t believe Paul, ask Cephas.

(That’s Peter, by the way.

The same Peter Jesus called first

Looking out from the crowd that surrounded him

At a guy who wasn’t even paying attention

Because he was busy washing his nets

To find the rock

Upon which he would build his Church.)

If you don’t believe Cephas, well the Twelve were there too.

If you don’t believe them,

Here’s five hundred other witnesses,

Yes, some of them have died,

But most of them are still around.

Available for questioning.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

That’s the point.

That’s the meaning.

That’s the direction we’re walking,

That’s why we are bothering

To do this whole thing called Church

In the first place.

That’s why Jesus told Peter

To cast his nets in the deep water.

That’s why he told him those nets which were empty of fish

Would be filled to bursting with people.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Death is defeated.

Sorrow will be no more.

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

Where, O Death, is thy victory?

Because God has swallowed you up forever.

That’s it.

That’s the whole point.

While there’s other good stuff about the Church,

It is all useless

If Jesus Christ didn’t rise from the dead.

Now, we at Good Shepherd are fortunate

Not to be at each other’s throats.

We do a pretty good job of not arguing

About the petty stuff.

But many Christians today, I think,

Wonder a bit about the point of the Church.

I mean, why bother?

With all of the scandals and the sins of the past,

With all of the time and effort it requires?

With all of the other groups out there

That seem more hip and with it and fun,

That don’t have the baggage that the Church does.

Let’s just stay in our PJs and make life easy.

Church is too

Inconvenient.

And faced with that attitude

Of indifference,

Those of us who have been faithful

May begin to wonder

About the point of our long obedience.

Will it matter

If there is no one to keep the flame

When we are gone?

There’s a narrative out there

That the Church is dying.

And it’s a scary narrative

For those of us who’ve given our life to this institution,

This place,

This people,

That’s provided meaning and value for us

For which we have sacrificed and laboured

In long obedience to the God we worship.

This narrative is all around us,

As budgets tighten,

As churches shrink and close,

As fear extinguishes hope.

A seminary classmate of mine has described his work as a youth minister

As that of an obstetrician

Whose only colleagues are hospice doctors.

“Yes, yes,” he says, “I’m sure that death indeed is taking place,

It’s just that I am so very occupied

With all this new life I’m seeing.”

I know how he feels.

I discerned God’s call to the priesthood

And served my first parish

In the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

When I showed up in 2009,

That diocese wasn’t dying.

It had just been through a terrible schism.

And there were many who had laboured long to avert that schism,

Because they feared that schism would mean death.

And in a way it did.

Certainly, it meant extraordinary change.

But wouldn’t you know it,

The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead

Is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

That diocese had been through

The absolute worst thing we could imagine.

The worst.

Everything had broken to pieces.

But the Jesus Christ whose body was broken on the cross

Cradled our brokenness

And put it back together.

Because Jesus is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

And that’s the tradition I was ordained into.

That’s the spirit that my hometown gave me.

That we serve a God

Who is in the business of resurrecting dead things.

So I am not afraid!

When people tell me that the Church might die.

What have I to fear from death?

I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That my long obedience

Has been to no purpose

Because I serve a God

Who resurrects dead things.

I am not afraid

That the meaning of life might just be 42

And I have no idea what in the heck that means

Because the meaning of my life

Cannot be contained

Into just this mortal existence alone.

Our life is bigger.

Our God is bigger.

It cannot be threatened by death

Because our God resurrects dead things.

That is the point.

That is the meaning.

That is why we continue our long obedience in the same direction

Even when it looks like all hope is lost.

And that is why we keep looking past the crowd

For the unlikely folks who are washing their nets

To call them to come fish with us in the deep water.

It’s not easy.

It’s not convenient.

And sometimes it does seem like our efforts are wasted,

Like the end is nigh.

Like we’ve been fishing all night

And we’re too exhausted for another try.

But even in those times,

When even death itself clings so closely,

Don’t be afraid.

Our God is in the business

Of resurrecting dead things.

Amen.

3rd Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Pour your Spirit upon us, O Lord,

That we might preach good news to the poor.

Amen.

……………

You gotta have a good opening line.

Back when I was trying to become a blogger,

Websites who advised up-and-coming bloggers

Used to tell us to spend about 50% of the time

Coming up with a post title,

25% of our time on the first line,

And 25% on the whole rest of the blog post.

Because that was about in line with the amount of attention

Your readers would pay to each part.

At preaching camp,

They told us the same thing.

“Never start your sermon with

‘Today, we celebrate the Feast of Circumcision of Our Lord’”

They would tell us.

You gotta have a good opening line.

It draws people in

Captures their attention

Convinces them that the rest of what you’ve got to say

Is worth listening to.

Today, we hear Jesus’s opening line.

As I mentioned last week,

The gospels differ slightly on order of events,

But according to Luke,

Jesus’s adult ministry so far has been to

Get baptized

Immediately head out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan

Then go home to Galilee

To be a good Jewish boy and go to synagogue.

He hasn’t even called his disciples yet!

Because before he asks people to follow him,

Jesus has to give them this thesis statement

This encapsulation of what he is all about

To convince them

That the rest of what he’s got to say

Is worth their time,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus just lays it all out there.

This is the point.

When we look at all future teachings he offers,

All actions he makes,

Every healing,

Every miracle,

Every dinner at a tax collector’s house,

Even as he walks to the cross,

Jesus declares that

This is his mission statement,

Through which everything else he does

Should be viewed.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he says,

So he has been anointed by God

To share a message beyond human origin.

A message connected to history,

Because this is a quotation of the book of Isaiah.

And it’s the part of Isaiah,

Where God appoints the prophet to tell Israelites in exile

That they get to go home.

The Israelites who were living in Babylon

Believed that their exile was divine punishment

For their idolatry,

But Isaiah turns up to tell them they’re up for parole.

It’s good news, this message,

And specifically, it’s good news for the poor.

Not the poor in spirit.

Not the slightly disadvantaged.

Not the less than billionaires.

The gospel that Jesus preaches is good news

For the poor.

It’s also good news

For captives, who are now released from their bondage.

For the blind, who receive recovery of sight.

For the oppressed,

Who hear that freedom’s coming,

The Year of the Lord’s Favour.

Now, the Year of the Lord’s Favour

Doesn’t mean God is just smiling down on people,

Happy about them.

It doesn’t mean God is going to bless the crops

And make everyone rich.

The Year of the Lord’s Favour is something outlined in the Law.

It is a divine economic reset,

Intended to be carried out

Every fifty years.

All debts are forgiven.

All land that had been sold

Had to be returned

To its original owners.

Good news for the poor, indeed,

But not necessarily super great news for the rich,

Many of whom had bought up this land

And now had to return it

With no hope of a refund.

I haven’t been able to find any evidence

That the Israelites ever actually practiced this Law,

Which makes it kind of amazing that it never got dropped from the Scriptures

Over the years.

But it didn’t,

So everyone knew they were supposed to respond

To Jesus’s proclamation

With a radical reordering of society

That would leave many much poorer than their current state

For the sake of others.

It’s no wonder the crowd responds by trying to throw him off a cliff!

Now, we might be surprised to hear

That this is Jesus’s mission statement.

The Church,

As full of sinners as any other collection of people,

Seems to have forgotten our marching orders rather quickly.

While the Church in Acts is recorded as holding all things in common,

We can see from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians

That remembering we are all in this together

Was a struggle even from early days.

And nowadays,

People are shocked when I share with them

Christ’s love for the poor

His call to radical freedom

And total reordering of society

To render justice for the oppressed.

That’s not something they associate with Jesus at all.

Over the past 17 months I have served as your rector,

I’ve been running all over the city,

Having coffee with various non-profit leaders,

Trying to figure out how we can contribute

To the service they are offering our neighbours.

At some point,

In nearly every conversation,

The other person says,

“Don’t you …. worry you’ll get in trouble

For saying things like Jesus loves the poor?

For encouraging Christians to let those they’ve oppressed go free?

Shouldn’t you keep some of these opinions to yourself?”

At first, I didn’t know how to answer them,

So completely was I taken aback.

I didn’t realize just how terrible the Christian reputation was,

That people thought it would be controversial

For me to proclaim the very statement

That inaugurates Jesus’s ministry.

It’s been sobering

To learn just how few people

Associate the gospel of Jesus

With good news.

But we can change that.

We have to change that.

Because the body of which we are members

Is not just our human collective.

It is the body of Christ Himself.

It is not just that we all suffer

When even one member does,

Jesus suffers too.

And when we proclaim a gospel

That offers judgment upon the poor,

Slammed doors in the faces of prisoners,

“God helps those who helps themselves” to the blind,

And “get over it! That was so long ago” to the oppressed,

Then it’s Jesus

Who people hear making those claims.

So it’s our job

To live into his mission statement

As individual members of his body in the world

So that it’s no longer considered controversial

To proclaim that what motivates us

Is the same word that he lived, and died,

And rose again to declare.

As we gather today

For our annual meeting,

We will have some business to discuss.

Now, it may seem boring to talk about budgets and vestry members

And Robert’s Rules of Order,

But I want us to keep this mission statement in mind.

Because we are not a business.

We’re not even just a non-profit.

We’re a church,

Part of the body of Christ whom we worship.

Everything we do – everything!

From what we say to what we buy to who leads us

Should reflect the mission Jesus proclaimed.

Because if we won’t live into Jesus’s opening line,

How the heck are we going to follow

The rest of the example he showed us?

This is our mission.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon us.

Will we proclaim

Good News?

Amen.

 

 

 

2nd Sunday After Epiphany

Let us pray.

Fill us up, O Lord,

That the water of our lives

Might overflow with the wine of your love

For us, and for the world.

Amen.

……………………

I gotta tell y’all:

Jesus’s first miracle is weird.

As Anglicans, we have always placed an outsized importance on it.

It features in that exquisite opening prayer offered at weddings,

“Which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence,

And first miracle that he wrought,

In Cana of Galilee.”

But it’s weird, right?

As I was serving as author-in-residence

For the daily devotional website d365 this week,

I really struggled with what to say about this miracle –

Especially on a site intended for teens!

What could I say to teenagers

About God’s abundance

Expressed through the miraculous creation of wine out of water

That would be appropriate for them?

But that’s not the only element of Christ’s first miracle

According to John at least, he’s the only one who tells us this story,

That’s a bit odd.

Consider:

Jesus, his mom, and his disciples,

Whom he has just called,

It just happened,

Are at a wedding.

Whose wedding?

We don’t know, it’s not important.

Why is it Jesus’s mom’s job

To make sure they have enough wine?

Why is Mary making this her problem?

And Jesus actually declines to perform the miracle at first!

He agrees: this isn’t his (or Mary’s) problem.

But nevertheless, Mary persisted,

And Jesus, like most of us, ends up taking his mom’s advice.

He looks around and sees large jars standing nearby.

Now, the purpose of these jars is to hold water

To be used for the Jewish rites of purification,

But what I didn’t notice until reading it again this week,

Is that the jars were empty

At the time Jesus noticed them.

Jesus didn’t look around and find water that was to hand;

Jesus called for jars that were empty

To be filled.

He invited human beings,

Human beings who might not often be noticed,

Ie. servants,

Into participation in this first miracle.

And then, Jesus tells them to take the water from the jars

Out to the steward,

So that he could see the results.

There’s no hand-waving or magic words.

Jesus doesn’t even use spit,

Like he so often does,

Or lay his hands on anything.

He tells them to go out,

And in faith,

They do.

…………………

It is a great sadness to many Christians, I think,

That it appears we no longer live in an age of miracles.

While some, including me,

Would dispute the assertion that no miracles occur

In this modern age,

They certainly seem to be thinner on the ground

Than they were in Bible days.

And so I think there is a great deal of comfort to draw

From this story of Jesus’s first,

And strangest,

Miracle.

From Jesus’s reluctance to perform it

Perhaps we can learn that miracles

Are not his preferred way to work.

From Mary’s insistence

Perhaps we can learn that

Love, and relationship,

Are the ingredients that make miracles possible.

And I think there’s something to be learned from those empty stone jars as well.

Jesus doesn’t choose just any water for this miracle.

He chooses water

To be used for the rites of purification,

Rites that he decries in other gospels.

Seriously! He tells the Pharisees to quit worrying

About the ritual washing of hands

And focus on making sure that their deeds are actuallypure.

But here, he embraces those rites.

He makes use of water that prepares hearts and minds,

And honestly, bodies

For worship

To show forth his abundance.

And he makes use of people, too.

It’s not that Jesus couldn’t make the necessary wine

Without these servants’ help,

It’s that so often

In the Gospels,

Jesus chooses not to act alone.

Jesus chooses to build a community of disciples around him.

Jesus chooses to ask those who come to him

If they wish to be healed.

Jesus chooses to ask these servants

To bring him the supplies he will use

To manifest his glory.

And it seems to me that Jesus still chooses

To make miracles

Through that which is brought to him

By human beings.

My friends: it is our turn to act.

We are the ones

Whom Jesus is calling

To bring forth the water.

That water can look like the donations we offer

To the food bank every month.

That water can look like supporting our Green, Growing Sundays

By inviting children and youth you know to participate,

And by serving as an adult mentor.

It can look like opening our building to our neighbours.

It can look like serving on the cemetery team.

There are a lot of different ways to bring forth the water

Jesus will turn into wine,

But they all involve effort.

And time.

And while I can’t speak for everyone,

I think many of us would say that we’re a bit pressed for time,

And a bit exhausted by the idea of effort.

It’s tempting to ask Jesus

To not only turn the water into wine

But to get the water himself.

I wish I could tell you it worked that way, guys,

I really do.

But the biblical witness is that it doesn’t.

If we want to receive the Spirit’s gifts,

If we want to see the miracle,

Then we have got to show up.

Our efforts may appear paltry,

As water does to wine,

But it’s not about how good our offering is.

God will transform it into that which is needed,

For the sake of his kingdom.

We still have to offer it, though.

It is Jesus’s time.

He is ready to perform the miracle.

All that remains in the water.

Will we provide it?

Will we make possible

God’s mighty power

To serve the banquet?

May it be so.

Amen.

 

Baptism of Our Lord (1st Sunday After Epiphany)

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus,

At your baptism you demonstrated there was nowhere you would not go

To show your faithfulness to us.

Grant that all who have been baptized in your name

May remain faithful to you.

Amen.

……………..

Over the holidays I went to see the movie Aquaman.

It is a supremely dumb film,

But it’s a lot of fun,

So if you go in with the right expectations,

It’ll be a good time.

As you might expect,

It’s a movie about the sea,

And the creatures that live therein.

Early on, a teacher tells Aquaman’s grade school class

That we have better maps of the surface of Mars

Than we do of the ocean floor.

That’s true, by the way, NASA confirms it,

And the main characters in the movie are kingdoms and tribes of beings

Who live undetected by people like us,

Whom they call surface-dwellers.

The ocean is an unknown place,

Filled with hidden dangers,

Perhaps not the fish monsters put forward by blockbuster movies,

But dangers all the same.

In Jesus’s time,

The ocean was thought to be a symbol of chaos,

And the abode of evil spirits.

I mentioned last summer that in the Enuma Elish,

A Babylonian creation story,

Creation itself is conquest of Tiamat, the goddess of chaos

And the sea,

And the Psalmist uses these images

As he sings of God’s victory over the great sea creature Leviathan.

The depths of the ocean are unknown,

And frightening to us even now,

How much more so to our ancestors

Who had told and retold these ancient stories

Of the monsters hiding in the deep?

And so today we celebrate the feast

Of the Baptism of Our Lord.

The Baptism of Our Lord is something of a surprising feast.

The story of Jesus’s baptism is told in all four gospels,

Even those gospels that do not tell the story of his birth.

It’s Jesus’s first public act as an adult.

It’s remarkable that these gospels,

Who so rarely agree on the order in which events

In Jesus’s life happen,

Sometimes even where or how they happened

Agree on this.

And yet it makes no sense theologically.

Because the baptism that John was offering

Was for the remission of sin.

The book of Acts makes clear the distinction between Christian baptism

Commanded by Jesus

After his resurrection

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

And the baptism of John,

Which is a ritual washing away of sin.

But the Scriptures are also clear

That Jesus,

Our Saviour,

Did not sin.

Jesus did not need his sins to be washed away in baptism

As we do,

Because he was without sin.

So why was he baptized?

There are many reasons, I think,

But one of them, surely, was because of water.

Jesus begins his ministry

By being submerged in water.

He has entered the home of the evil spirits.

He has completed God’s victory over Leviathan,

By entering Leviathan’s abode.

Scott Sharman, a priest in this diocese,

Posted an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting Jesus’s baptism this week.

“See how the monsters hiding in the deep

Scramble to flee as his body touches the water,”

He says.

The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus

Is a continuation of the sign of the Incarnation

Began at Christmas:

That there is nowhere God will not go

For the love of his Creation.

All those places of our lives

That we keep hidden,

The places where evil loves to dwell,

The secret corners of our mind that torment us

With worry, fear, anger, despair

Those places are not closed off to God,

And God will conquer them too,

For our sake.

No matter what monsters of the deep

Threaten our peace of mind,

God is there.

No matter what unknown futures

Send us into spasms of worry,

God is there.

No matter how often we feel crushed by the pressure of the waters around us,

God is there.

We who are baptized

Can journey through the deepest waters

Because our God went there first.

And so today we come to baptize Malik.

In so doing,

His parents and godparents,

And all of us, really,

Will make some pretty big promises.

Promises that sometimes feel too overwhelming to keep.

At our rehearsal,

I mentioned to the family that when we promise to

“Respect the dignity of every human being,”

It really does mean EVERY human being,

Not just those who respect our dignity in return.

That’s a hard promise.

We promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ,

Which means we can’t prioritize our own wealth or safety

Over that of our neighbours.

That’s a hard promise.

We make these promises

Not because we are confident in our own ability to keep them,

24/7/365

All the days of our lives,

But because we are confident

That the Lord who is faithful

Who came among us as one of us

Because he did not choose to be God without us

Who went down unto the abode of evil and chaos itself

To show us the safe way through

Will not let the rivers overwhelm us.

Whatever waters are rising in your life,

Know that the God who has stretched to fill the deepest depths,

Beyond what we even still know,

Thousands of years later,

Will never forsake you or abandon you.

We who have been sealed in baptism

And marked as Christ’s own forever

Can be confident

That even in the deepest waters

We will fear no evil

For God is with us.

Amen.