17th Sunday After Trinity

I love this story.

The healing of Naaman the Syrian.

It is such a wild story.

I’m kind of astonished it has been preserved in our Scriptures.

The whole sweep of this section of the Bible

Is all about wars and rumors of wars,

Evil kings upon evil kings upon evil kings.

And here we have a story

About the commander of the army

Of one of these evil kings.

Naaman is a mighty warrior,

But for the wrong side.

In our context,

It would be like praising Osama Bin Laden

For his skill in pulling off his attacks against the United States,

As though skill at violence in service of a wrong cause were praiseworthy.

He is also a leper.

He is unclean,

Not only according to Jewish Law,

But according to the customs of communities all over the region.

The narrator is giving us all kinds of clues

That this is not a sympathetic character.

And yet this servant girl,

This unnamed young woman,

So young as to be called a girl,

A captive who’d been carried away from her homeland,

Who had lost her family,

Who were probably killed in the same raids that took her,

Who had probably been forced to do what countless servant girls in her position

Were forced to do,

Has sympathy for him.

She offers hope.

She offers a cure

For his incurable disease.

Incredibly,

Literally: unbelievably,

This mighty warrior listens to her,

Or at least his wife does and he listens to his wife.

He writes a letter

Not to the prophet.

Not to Elisha himself,

But to the king of Israel.

Speaking to the highest authority he can see.

Demanding all the pomp and circumstance

His position can afford.

This guy,

This mighty warrior

For the bad guys,

Who is unclean by every standard

Has the nerve

To write to his enemy and demand,

Not request,

Demand,

That he be healed.

I mean, this is just bananas.

But Elisha looks past his bluster.

Elisha looks at this man

Past all his horses

And his chariots

And his highhandedness

And sees

A beloved child of God

Who is hurting.

And in need.

And what does God do

When His beloved children are hurting?

He heals them.

But not always in the way we expect Him to!

Elisha may see through all the bluster

But he is not about to be disrespected.

Two can play at this game.

He doesn’t bother

To speak to Naaman himself.

He sends a messenger

To tell Naaman to go and wash himself

In the Jordan river

Seven times.

This response enrages Naaman.

He expected better.

He expected to be treated with the deference due his position.

He expected to get what he’d paid for.

This response is too easy,

Too commonplace,

Too like what anyone could get.

It’s not special.

It doesn’t mark him as superior,

Worthy of individual attention.

And yet it works.

Naaman’s servants call him in from his foolishness,

And remind him that if the prophet had commanded him to do something difficult,

He would have done it.

Why not do something easy?

He, (again, incredibly)

Listens to them,

And as he bathes in the Jordan river

His flesh is restored

Like as a newborn babe.

God gives generously to this man

Who has done absolutely nothing to deserve it.

To this enemy of Israel.

God doesn’t command this man to do anything difficult,

But rather something easy.

Because God’s deals are always too good to be true.

We don’t like that.

We want to earn our spot with God.

We don’t want to gently bathe in the river

To wash away our sins,

We want to scrub at them,

Obsess over them,

Like Lady Macbeth crying

“Out, damned spot!”

And we think that our self-flagellation is praiseworthy.

That it’s humble.

It’s self-aware.

“I know my transgressions,

And my sin is ever before me,”

As the Psalm says.

But I’m not so sure.

I think we are waiting for God

To command us to do something difficult.

Something that feels like

We are really earning our salvation.

That we are special.

That we are superior

To all the other shlubs

Asking God for help.

But God’s yoke is easy,

And his burden is light.

I hear there is a fear about

That to proclaim this grace,

Offered generously to all,

To is encourage a cheap grace

Rather than a costly discipleship.

But here’s the real scandal:

Grace isn’t cheap.

It’s free.

It is a gift

Offered to us

From the Almighty.

We don’t get what we’ve paid for.

What God is offering we could never afford.

There is nothing we can do to make God love us less.

There is nothing we can do to make God love us more.

Because even when we are on the wrong side,

God offers to heal us.

But God does so

Through the voice of the captured slave girl,

To whom we’d rather not listen.

God does so

Through the messenger of the prophet

Who can’t be bothered to observe all the dignities of our station.

God does so

Through the waters of the Jordan river,

The waters of baptism,

Which is open to everybody

Even the losers and the lost and the lonely

Because those are the only kind of people there are.

While grace may be free,

A theologian has said

That you can hardly give it away

Because it only works for losers

And no one wants to stand in their line up.

I saw a photo yesterday

Of a bench in a subway station.

It’s not a real bench.

It’s a leaning bench.

You can lean up against it

But you can’t sit on it.

Because the folks who made the bench

Don’t want homeless people to be able to sleep on it.

We give up being able to sit down

While we wait for a train

Because we cannot allow

Those who have nowhere else to sleep

To have somewhere to lie down

For free.

God gives generously.

God gives freely.

More than we could ask or imagine,

More than we could desire or deserve.

To those who are far off,

And to those who are near.

And so the question for us now is,

Will we turn our backs on this grace

Because it is too easy?

Will we turn our backs on this grace

Because it is too inclusive?

Will we turn our eyes

Not to the power of God

But to the power of money

Which we hoard up in our barns

Like the rich fool in the parable

Because we are afraid

That the God who has come with us so far

Will abandon us now?

Imagine

Trusting that God’s generosity will prevail.

Imagine

A future in which God continues to provide.

Imagine

A God who heals even those who are on the wrong side

And who asks nothing in return but a simple thank you.

This is the God we serve.

This is the God who sets us free

From all our worries and anxieties

About pleasing Him.

Because His Son,

With whom He is well-pleased,

Has accomplished all that is necessary.

It really is that easy.

Don’t turn your back on it,

Just because it is available

To everyone.

Amen.

14th Sunday After Trinity

I’m gonna be honest with y’all:

I have no clue what’s going on in this parable.

It is baffling.

This is a story

About a wealthy man

Whose accountant is embezzling from him.

He decides to fire this accountant,

And rightly so,

But gives him advance warning, I guess?

So during his notice period,

This accountant goes around to all the guys

Who owe the rich man money,

And tells them to rewrite their contracts

With lies

Saying they will pay back to the rich man

Less than they actually borrowed.

And then,

When the rich man finds out,

He says to this thief,

“Good job! You have done well.”

And then Jesus says to his disciples,

“Good job! Do like this manager.”

I mean, what?

I always start my sermon preparation with a series of questions about the section I plan to preach.

One of these is “what function is this text designed to serve?”

Last Monday, I wrote in my notes,

“To be honest, I have no idea.”

Commentaries were no help.

One footnote read,

“The parable defies any fully satisfactory explanation.”

Gee, thanks.

I guess we can just opt out

Of wrestling with the hard passages

In a published commentary

That costs hundreds of dollars.

I guess we can just skip the sections

That are hard to make sense of.

That don’t match our pre-conceived notions

About what God might be teaching.

I mean, if you think preparing this sermon was hard,

Just wait until you hear the Kids’ Talk!

“Lying is good, kids! Jesus said so!”

I mean …….

But here’s the thing: we can’t skip the hard passages.

We can’t ignore the parables that go against the grain.

We can’t smooth out

What the Scripture has left rough

Because it conflicts with what we imagine we know about Jesus.

So I started thinking.

If we assume, as we usually do,

That the rich man represents God,

What if the dishonest manager is the people who work for God?

The Church, basically.

If we look at it that way,

What might this parable be saying?

Assuming that Jesus doesn’t actually think that lying is good,

What might he be trying to tell us,

In our work for God,

In this story that defies a fully satisfactory explanation?

I think he might be telling us that

God’s wealth is meant

To be squandered.

We talked about this back in Lent

When we heard the story we skipped over between last week and this week.

The story of the Prodigal Son.

The son who took his father’s money

And squandered it.

The Greek word that we translate as “squandered”

Literally means “living without saving.”

Not putting anything by for a rainy day.

Giving absolutely everything away.

And when I think about who God is

And how God works,

That is exactly what I picture.

A God who holds nothing back.

A God who spends every penny he has

In order to be in relationship with us.

He’s not a prudent saver.

He’s not hedging his bets.

He is betting the farm

On us.

God squanders the riches of heaven and earth

For our sake.

But we

(The dishonest manager, remember?)

Do not.

The Church

Is not a place

Where wealth is squandered.

Not that we’ve got any wealth, to speak of.

But by and large,

Christians, in 2019,

Are extremely careful with our money.

We work hard to be honest managers.

Good stewards.

Accountable to God,

And more importantly,

Or at least more immediately,

To our donors.

We make sure that not one penny is wasted.

And we set aside funds for a rainy day.

But when that rainy day arrives,

(That’d be about now, if you look at church decline figures),

We remain hesitant.

What if an even rainier day

Comes along?

Better not risk it.

My friends, this is not the Gospel!

Jesus did not come that we may have a careful, frugal, orderly future!

Jesus came that we might have life,

And have it abundantly.

And he squandered the riches of heaven itself,

Giving even his very own life away

As he bet big

On us.

So it’s time to start following his example.

It’s time to go out into the highways and byways,

To tell everybody

That the bill they thought was one hundred

Is now fifty.

That the hammer they’ve been living under

Is gone

Because Jesus gave everything he had

In order to make it so.

And we do this not only by word,

But also by example.

Because the Jesus who bet big on us,

Is counting on us

To pay it forward.

What could we do, Good Shepherd,

If we bet big

If we squandered it all

If we took a risk

For the sake of God’s kingdom?

What abundant life

Could we offer our neighbours

If we lived without saving

And gave everything we had

To get them out from under the hammer

Even at the risk of our jobs

Even at the risk of our reputations

Even at the risk of our very own lives?

What if that’s what it means to be faithful?

To be a good steward

Of the gifts God has given us?

Not to prudently set it up in a bank account

And live off the interest,

But to spend our time, talent,

And yes, treasure,

Wildly,

Riskily,

Holding nothing back

So that others may know the God

Who holds nothing back from them.

After all,

That’s what Jesus teaches in the parable of the sower!

A sower went out to sow some seed.

He didn’t set up a committee to do a needs assessment.

He didn’t analyze the land to find the best soil.

He scattered the seed wildly.

Some of it went really poorly.

Could be considered an utter failure.

Eaten up by the birds

Or choked off at the root

Before it even had a chance.

Some of it went really fantastically well!

It produced one hundredfold

What the sower expected it would.

God’s seeds are not meant to be prudently sowed.

They are meant to be scattered wildly,

With extravagant optimism

That this squandering,

This living without saving,

This betting the farm

On an uncertain future

May produce the wealth of the eternal homes.

And so today I invite you to dream big.

To consider what God might be asking us to risk

For the sake of the wealth

That can only come

When we give it all away.

Because the God who squandered the riches of heaven itself

To come find you

Gives abundant life

Beyond measure.

Amen.

13th Sunday After Trinity

“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

What an indictment!

What a sick burn

That these scribes and Pharisees

Level against Jesus.

That he welcomes sinners

And eats with them.

It’s like that scene from Mean Girls

Where the most popular clique of girls

Have a dress code required to sit with them.

“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.”

And when the Queen Bee herself breaks that rule,

The rest of the clique shrieks at her,

“You can’t sit with us!”

But lest we get too high on our horse

While we chuckle at high school bullies

And self-righteous prigs,

It behooves us to remember

That the world is full of girls at tables

Screaming “you can’t sit with us!”

We might even be some of them.

There is a loneliness afoot in the world.

So many people

Of all ages and generations

Every race and nationality

Singles and families

It doesn’t matter who we are.

We all long to be invited to sit at the table.

We all yearn to belong.

That’s why a song from the hit musical Dear Evan Hansen

Has struck such a chord with Broadway audiences around the world.

“Have you ever felt like nobody was there?

Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?

Have you ever felt like you could disappear?

Like you could fall and no one would hear?”

This song is sung after Evan Hansen’s friend Connor has died by suicide.

Connor is from a wealthy family

And is popular at school,

Though he has been struggling with his marks.

No matter who we are,

No matter how pretty,

No matter how smart,

No matter how wealthy or successful,

We all fear that one day the world will turn on us.

That even if we’re the Queen Bee,

One day the clique will turn to us and say,

“You can’t sit with us!”

And if we never got a seat at the table to begin with,

Then our worst fears have only been confirmed.

But in a world full of mean girls

Policing who’s invited to sit at the table,

Jesus says,

“Come sit by me.”

After the scribes and the Pharisees

Grumble at Jesus

For offering too generous a welcome,

He tells them a parable.

In this parable,

He asks what shepherd would not leave behind

His 99 sheep

To search for the one

Who has wandered away.

Modern day readers just accept this,

But I’m not actually sure most shepherds would.

Those of y’all who come from farming and ranching backgrounds

Have some idea of acceptable losses, right?

Sure, you’re sad about it,

But it happens.

Just like it’s too bad

That the geeky kid

Who doesn’t smell super great

Has to eat lunch alone again

But really.

If he wanted an invitation to sit with us

Then he had better enter the right way.

He should know the rules and follow them.

He should wear pink.

But Jesus isn’t willing to write anyone off.

Not a sheep.

Not a coin.

Not a prodigal son.

When we feel like nobody is there,

Like no one will hear when we fall,

Jesus comes out looking for us.

Jesus

Leaves behind the 99 sheep

Who are jealously guarding their own seat at the table

And comes out to seek the lost.

Dear Evan Hansengoes on,

“Even when the dark comes crashing through

When you need a friend to carry you

And when you’re broken on the ground

You will be found.”

No matter how long it takes to find you.

No matter how hard he has to look.

No matter who grumbles when he offers you the seat next to him.

You will be found.

This is who we are at Good Shepherd.

Not a clique of people who wear the right clothes.

Not a collection of righteous people

Who sneer at those asking if there’s room at the table

Because they haven’t followed the rules.

But a flock of sheep

Who have been found.

This is what I love about our reading from Timothy today.

The author proclaims this,

That Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, not the righteous.

He came into the world

To find those who were missing from his table

And invite them to come in.

But not only that, he says,

Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners,

“Of whom I am the foremost!”

Whenever I am tempted

To level the sick burn of the scribes and Pharisees,

Whenever I am tempted to edge away

From the smelly kid,

Whenever I am tempted

To shriek “You can’t sit with us!”

I remember that I am not the finder.

God’s invitation is not mine to grant or withhold.

I have been found.

This community does not belong to me.

It does not belong to the people who’ve been here

Since the beginning of time.

It does not belong to the Altar Guild

Or to the Vestry

Or to whoever you think is the in-crowd.

It belongs to God.

Who left his heavenly throne

Who died on a cross

To come and find

You.

And so today,

As we welcome particularly

Three new members

Who have come to be baptized.

Today,

As we celebrate the beginning of another year together,

We call all the heavens to rejoice.

Because we have been found.

And the God who came so far to look for us,

Is not done

Seeking out the lost and lonely in the world.

Amen.

9th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Lord, you have faithfully tended this vine.

Give us the courage to trust

That you will faithfully tend it still

Through good times and bad.

Amen.

……………..

One of my favourite books as a child

Was The Secret Garden.

It’s the story of poor Mary Lennox,

An unhappy child who loses her parents,

So she moves in with her sad uncle Archibald

And his sick son, Colin.

Uncle Archibald is grieving the loss of his wife, Lily,

Who died giving birth to Colin.

Colin is confined to his room,

Unable to walk,

Neglected and kept secret,

Just like his mother’s garden.

Uncle Archibald is so stricken by his grief,

That he fears to ever love a living thing again,

In case it might die.

Even a garden.

Even his own son.

With the help of a friend called Dickon,

Mary discovers her aunt Lily’s secret garden,

And through their tender care,

The garden revives.

It grows and thrives,

It awakens light and life and joy

Throughout the whole family,

Not just Mary,

But Uncle Archibald and Colin, too.

Colin is so nourished by it,

That he becomes able to walk,

And develop a relationship with his father,

And with his cousin Mary.

I’m not much of a gardener, I’m afraid,

The green thumb seems to have skipped my generation.

But I know that many of you grew up on farms,

And practice gardening yourselves,

So you probably know better than I do

The power of loving the living things that grow

In a garden.

You probably know better than I do

What it means when God tends the vine of His people

And sings a song to His vineyard.

Our readings today speak to the faithfulness of God

In times when it appears as though He is unfaithful.

The vine God has planted is having some struggles, you might say.

It appears to have been neglected,

Just as the secret garden had been neglected.

It wasn’t always like that.

When God brought this vine out of Egypt,

He planted it in good soil.

God took the time

And made the effort to prepare the ground to receive

This precious vine

For which He cared so much.

Under his tender loving care,

The vine grew and flourished.

It became so tall it overshadowed mountains,

It was taller than cedar trees.

Its branches reached from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,

A distance of nearly 100 kilometers

The same as from here to Vegreville.

That’s a big honkin’ tree!

But now it’s experiencing some times of trial.

It’s suffering the ravages of wild animals

And arsonists.

It appears to the Psalmist that God has abandoned this vine

That He has heretofore tended so lovingly.

That the hedge of protection around it has been taken away

Leaving it at the mercy of those wild creatures

Who have pillaged its land

And torn at its banches.

It appears to be dead.

To have no spark of life left.

It’s common to view such trials as the Psalmist does.

We often speak of lands as being Godforsaken,

Literally, forsaken by the God who created them,

As though such a thing were possible.

It’s common to wonder, as he does,

If we have lost God’s love in some way.

If we have been wrong to trust Him.

And yet, when we look at the Creation He made

And has lovingly tended

For generation upon generation,

We see that what appears to be lost

May yet be found.

What appears to have been neglected

May only be at rest

What even appears to have been destroyed

May be undergoing renewal.

We rightly fear wildfires here, in Alberta,

But scientists tell us that, when not threatening human life,

Fires are good for the earth.

They renew the soil,

They revitalize the watershed.

There are some forests in the world where the trees have adapted

Only to produce seeds

Following a major fire event.

This is not to say that fires don’t destroy,

Of course they do.

It is not to say that we aren’t right to fear we might be caught up in that destruction.

When we say that God is faithful

To the vine he has planted

That does not mean that times of trial will not come,

That they will not be painful,

That we should just get over that pain

Because renewal is coming.

Death hurts,

For plants as well as any human animal.

And we rightly lament the losses we bear.

But it does mean that God has not abandoned us.

It does mean

That the same God who was faithful

To Abraham

And Moses

And Rahab

And those whom time would fail me to tell,

Like the author of Hebrews

Of Gideon and Barack and Samson and Jephthah

And David and Samuel and all the prophets

That same God who tenderly planted the vine

That nourishes the whole earth,

That stretches from the Sea to the River,

That same God who is our Lord Jesus Christ,

Who met his disciples on a mountaintop

And promised to be with us to the end of the age.

That same God the Holy Spirit

Who has never stopped creating

Who renews the face of the earth

That same God

Who has come this far with us

Will never fail us yet.

Therefore.

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,

Who testify to God’s great faithfulness

Through the very hardest of times

We shall not fear

That we have been forgotten.

God watches each and every sparrow fall.

He laments the loss of even a single bloom.

But He does not allow His grief

To shut Himself away,

Like Uncle Archibald did.

He does not turn His face away from us,

No matter how hard things seem.

As Dickon says,

“Some of the strongest roses will fair thrive on being neglected

If the soil is rich enough.”

And so do not despair.

For the times are hard indeed,

And we cry out to the God of hosts

To look down from heaven;

Behold and tend this vine;

Preserve what your right hand has planted.

But we are planted in rich soil.

And we trust that He will hear us

For God loves the vine He has planted

To which He has been faithful

Generation upon generation

And will give every living thing

A little chance to grow.

Amen.

 

8th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Oh God, may we seek justice

That your will may be done on earth

As it is in heaven. Amen.

………….

I love lists.

Lists are the best.

I love making them,

I love looking at them,

I love revising and updating them,

And I particularly love

Crossing them off.

The satisfaction that comes

When I get to click the box

On my To Do List app

Is immense.

I have been known to add already completed tasks

To the list

Just to get that thrill

When I get to check it off

Just minutes after it went on.

The problem is that I am also a profoundly lazy person.

So I will often seek cheaper and cheaper thrills,

Prioritize the quicker of the tasks,

Not the most important,

Because important projects generally take time and effort.

Checking off “sermon prep”

Offers the same amount of thrill as

“Check voicemail,”

But one of those sure takes longer.

You can see why I might check off the quick and easy boxes

Before putting in the hours it takes

To really do something like “sermon prep” well.

It would be easy for some of the most crucial tasks

To fall by the wayside

Because they were crowded out

By those more conducive

To instant gratification.

So I understand how the Israelites

Have let their priorities get out of whack

In our Old Testament readings today.

Both the prophet Isaiah

And the Psalmist

Have got some words of judgment for us this morning.

They both describe

In exquisite detail

God laying out his case against his people

As though he were prosecuting them in a court of law.

God’s not just offering a quick word of correction.

God calls for witnesses

To observe his judgment,

Rendered by the one who calls the morning

And bids the night,

Robed in consuming flame

Wreathed by raging storm.

God’s judgment is not against the Israelite’s worship practices.

They are doing a great job

Of offering the animal sacrifices he has prescribed.

The problem is not that they are neglecting church attendance.

The problem is that they have spent all their time on the easy tasks

And neglected the important ones.

As Jesus will later tell the scribes and Pharisees,

The problem is that they tithe mint, dill, and cumin,

And have neglected the weightier matters of the law.

It’s an understandable mistake to make.

It is easier

To focus on getting our worship right.

It is easier

To follow the rules about which bull to sacrifice when

And how many birds ought to be offered.

It is easier

To go to church on Sunday.

To see our friends,

Sing songs we love,

Hear a word of encouragement.

Yes, it is easier to do these things

Than it is

To do the justice God calls for.

The world we live in

Is an unjust world.

It is a world that exploits workers

And oppresses people of colour.

A world that sacrifices human beings

Who get in the way of the almighty dollar.

A world that engages in short-term thinking

About the next quarter’s report

Without regard for the cost that will be levied in the long term

For our plunder

Of this fragile earth.

And Christians,

God’s chosen people,

Too often make not a peep

In the face of such injustice.

Whether it’s because we’re afraid

Or because we have succumbed

To the world’s way of thinking,

I’m not sure.

But we continue to gather to pray

Without having upheld the weightier matters of the Law

Because we get a thrill of checking that item off our list.

And it is an easier thing to do

Than face the overwhelming task

Of doing justice in an unjust world.

I think,

I hope,

We want to see justice done in the world.

But we are daunted by the enormity of the challenge,

And ready to accept the cheap thrill of right worship instead.

Let me be clear:

The rites that God decries through the prophet Isaiah

Are the same ones that he decreed in the Law of Moses.

New moons and Sabbaths

And the burning of incense

Are not what’s wrong here.

Neither do I, or, I think, the prophets seek to discourage church attendance!

These quick tasks

That are easily accomplished

Still need to be done, after all.

(I do, in fact, need to make sure I check the voicemail).

But God

Does not sort his priority list

By degree of difficulty.

God

Does not consider the hazard of the predicament

When addressing its remedy

At all.

After all,

It’s not as if God’s work among us could be called easy

Or quick.

In world consumed with efficiency and ease

With invincibility

And a sure thing

God came among us

As a tiny baby.

His mother, Mary,

Went through all the labour and difficulty

Of a normal pregnancy.

She suffered all the pains

Of a regular childbirth.

And her son,

Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Was just as vulnerable

To all the assaults and snares

Of a regular childhood

In a community with a high infant mortality rate.

He waited 30 years, at least,

Before beginning his ministry,

And then,

When pressured to resort to violence

In order to achieve the specific goal

Of Rome’s overthrow,

He went and died on a cross.

A condemned criminal,

Cursed according to the very same law he had written

And had come to fulfill.

God does this

Precisely because God does not share our same love for efficiency.

God does not share our desire

For the cheap and easy thrill

Of crossing the easiest item off the list

So we can get it out of the way.

God, robed in consuming fire

And wreathed by raging storm

Reminds us

That that which is easy

Is not always the same

As that which is important

And if we are going to follow him,

We have got to get our priorities in order.

“Cease to do evil,

learn to do good;

seek justice,

rescue the oppressed,

defend the orphan,

plead for the widow.”

These are God’s priorities.

To care for those who fall through the cracks

Demanded by systems that care more for their own gain

Than for individual human dignity.

These are the people God loved so much

That he came among us as one of us

And let himself die

Rather than crush them beneath the wheel

Of violent insurrection,

Even for a just cause.

We who follow after him

Must not allow ourselves to become complacent,

Complicit

In the injustice of the world,

For to do so is to accept as acceptable loss

The children of God for whom Christ died.

As a collection of Jewish teachings says,

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly, now.

Love mercy, now.

Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

But neither are you free to abandon it.”

It is not too late to make a change.

It is not too late to embrace God’s priorities.

God is always ready to wash away our sins

That the blood on our hands

May become white as snow.

Even now,

God calls the heavens and the earth to witness

That we might heed his judgment

And turn around

To follow after his way.

To do the work he has given us to do.

For where our treasure is,

There our heart will be also.

Amen.

6th Sunday After Trinity

When I was growing up,

The go-to church nursery movie was

The Princess Bride.

My parents volunteered a lot,

So I watched The Princess Bride

At least once a week

From around age 6 or so.

It’s a quotable movie,

And one of my favourite scenes

Is when Vizzini, the kidnapper,

Keeps using the word

“Inconceivable!”

Vizzini and his gang have kidnapped Princess Buttercup

And are being pursued by the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Despite their efforts to shake him off,

The Dread Pirate Roberts persists.

“Inconceivable!”

Vizzini says each and every time.

Finally, Inigo, one of his minions, replies,

“You keep using that word.

I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

In our faith, there are a whole lotta things that seem inconceivable

But then they happen.

An old woman, long past menopause,

Gives birth to the child of the promise.

The Red Sea is parted

And the Israelites walk through on dry ground.

A virgin becomes pregnant,

And her Son

Is fully human

And fully divine.

That Son, although God Himself,

Dies on a cross

And then rises to new life

On the third day.

Inconceivable!

There are a lot of beliefs Christians hold

That seem inconceivable,

But the one I think that we have the most trouble with

Is the reconciliation of Law and Grace.

…………….

In my experience with church people,

I have discovered

That you’re either a Law person

Or you’re a Grace person.

And the caricature of the extreme on both sides is intense,

Especially if you’re on the other side.

Law people are mean, judgmental.

They want everybody to sit down and shut up

To button their collars all the way

And act right.

Sometimes, Law people have really, really good motives!

The Law, as a theologian has said,

Exists to protect my neighbour from me.

So for people who fiercely love their neighbours

It makes a whole lotta sense

To insist that people follow the Law.

Grace people, now,

Nobody knows what they believe.

They’re all loosey-goosey.

It’s all about love

And freedom,

And nobody needs to do anything or change anything at all about themselves

Because God is too nice

To ever do anything so gauche

As criticize your lifestyle.

Sometimes, Grace people have really, really good motives!

God really is all about love.

If you don’t believe me, take the 1stletter of John out for a spin.

And the Church has, in the past,

Been awfully quick to condemn

And raaaaather slow on the uptake

To show compassion

And mercy.

So for people who’ve been studying their Church history,

It makes a whole lotta sense

To set your hope on Grace.

But what if we didn’t have to choose?

What if we could have them both?

What if God

Really did care

About our following the commandment

To love the Lord our God

With all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,

And to love our neighbour

As ourselves

AND that same God

Was able to make things right

When we failed to do that?

Inconceivable!

And yet.

We see the Psalmist hint at this idea in Psalm 85 today.

“Mercy and truth have met together;

Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Mercy and truth

Don’t always seem to go together.

Sometimes I think we reject the stories

That come out of places like

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Or the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Or the #MeToo movement

Because the bad guys in those stories seem so cartoonishly evil

That we who are not

Cannot fathom anyone would ever behave in such a way.

And yet the volume of those stories

Provide an avalanche of evidence

That yes: real people have done these terrible things.

For the victims of these terrible crimes,

The survivors who bravely tell their stories,

It feels dismissive of their truth

To hear of God’s mercy.

It feels dismissive of their truth

To hear that God forgives the ones who hurt them.

When we hear these terrible, terrible truths

It is inconceivable

That God would show mercy.

And yet.

God is able.

God is able to forgive the iniquity of God’s people,

And blot out all their sins.

This does not erase the truth.

This does not negate the fact that these sinners

Have failed to follow the Law.

But God has the power

To take what is wrong

And make it right.

The Greek word for this

And here I am indebted to the work

Of the Rev. Fleming Rutledge

The Greek word for this is logizomai.

It’s the verb tense of word.

God words, and transformation happens.

God words, and that which cannot be reconciled, suddenly is.

God words, and wounds are healed

Sins are forgiven but not forgotten

Righteousness and peace

Kiss each other

God words and the new creation God is calling into being

Is made manifest

In our midst.

Inconceivable!

This does not mean there’s not a cost

To the kind of reconciliation

God words into being.

Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin

Said this of Martin Luther King:

“He had this ability to communicate victory,

And to let everybody know he was prepared to pay

For victory.”

He had the ability

To communicate

Victory.

Victory, in Dr. King’s mind,

Was already won.

It was assured.

It was never in question

That it would one day be.

The fact that such a future

Was out of step with the world

The Freedom Riders

And Marchers on Washington saw around them

Made no difference.

He had the ability to communicate victory

To world mired in defeat.

And.

Dr. King also had the ability to let everybody know he was prepared to pay

For victory.

We have seen the price Dr. King paid for victory.

When he was 39 years old,

Just five years older than I am now,

Younger than my husband is,

He was killed

As the price

Of victory.

He wasn’t the only one.

Others of his cohort were beaten, jailed, killed.

They paid a price

And they won victory.

We who follow a God

Who died on a cross

To pay the price

To accomplish the ultimate victory

Over sin and death

Ought to have no illusions

About the price that will be paid

To word into being

God’s new creation.

And so yes,

It seems inconceivable

That truth and mercy can meet together,

That righteousness, perhaps we should say justice,

And peace

Can kiss one another.

If human beings are in charge,

Such a project is probably indeed doomed to fail.

But when we look at God,

We can never say that anything is inconceivable

Without looking as big a fool as Vizzini.

Because God is able.

Able to rectify all that is wrong in this weary world

And make it right.

We can’t always see how.

We can’t always see a way around the fact

That Jesus is dead and in the tomb

That Martin Luther King is dead and in the tomb

And a whole lotta folks working on his mission

Are on the chain gang

And there doesn’t ever seem to be an end

To the hatred and violence

And denigration

And humiliation

And violation

Of God’s precious and holy people.

No, we can’t always see a way.

We live in a Holy Saturday time

And sometimes Easter Day looks far off.

But the God who has won the victory before,

I should say,

Has won the victory already

Is able

To word the inconceivable

Into reality.

Amen.

5th Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

May our loving, liberating, lifegiving God

Give us ears to hear

His message today. Amen.

…………………

The God of the Old Testament

Is a liberating God.

The whole project that God is embarked upon

Throughout the entire First Testament

Of the Bible

Is one of liberation.

The authors return to this theme

Over and over,

In particular the story of Exodus,

The story of how God freed God’s people

And led them through the Red Sea

To the Promised Land.

If you’ve never heard the story,

It goes like this:

The Israelites had become enslaved in Egypt.

They had journeyed down there

To escape a famine in their own land.

And when they became numerous,

When they had so many children

That the inhabitants of Egypt began to fear they would take over

Those Israelites found themselves enslaved.

Sentenced to hard labour

Their children tossed into the river Nile.

But God heard their cries.

God sent Moses

To tell ol’ Pharoah

To let my people go.

There were some plagues in there,

But the result was, finally,

That Pharoah did let God’s people go.

Until he didn’t.

And pursued them

To the shores of the Red Sea.

The Israelites needed a miracle.

So God gave them one.

God parted the waters of the Red Sea

And led the Israelites through on dry ground

Before sending the waves crashing down

On the Egyptians behind.

If you read the Old Testament,

You’ll see that this story

Is referred to again and again.

The Psalmist, in particular,

References it constantly.

To remind the Israelites

That their God is about liberation.

Now, I know that’s not something many Christians are used to hearing.

I often hear from folks that they don’t like the God they encounter

In the pages of the Old Testament.

He’s angry,

They say.

He’s mean.

I want to worship the God of the New Testament.

That God’s about love

And kindness

And mercy.

But here’s the thing:

They are the same God.

Because God,

The same God who’s about love

And kindness

And mercy

Is the God who is also about the project

Of liberation.

And while that is good news

For the Israelites who walk through the Red Sea

On dry ground

It might sound kinda angry and mean

To Pharoah.

…………………..

In our Psalm today,

We hear a story about a tyrant.

The Psalmist addresses the tyrant directly,

Asking why he boasts of wickedness

And plots ruin.

He accuses this tyrant of loving evil more than good

And lying more than speaking the truth.

And then he prays this angry, shocking prayer:

“Oh, that God would demolish you utterly,

Topple you, and snatch you from your dwelling

And root you out of the land of the living.”

Yikes.

I hope that nobody who says they’re praying for me

Is praying that prayer.

But I accept it’s a possibility.

It’s a tough thing

To do the examination of conscience we need to do

To consider the fact that we might

Actually

Be Pharoah to somebody.

We all want to be Moses.

But what if we’re Pharoah?

The Israelites thought that they couldn’t possibly act like Pharoah.

They were the good guys, right?

But then the prophet Amos comes along

And tells of God’s judgment.

Just like the tyrant,

They practice deceit with false balances.

They oppress the poor,

Buying and selling them

For hideously low prices,

Exploiting their hunger and poverty

To enrich themselves.

God sees this behaviour and judges it.

Not because God is mean.

Because God is about liberation.

What does this prophecy sound like

To the poor and needy who are being sold?

Pretty good news,

I would think!

To hear that while human beings may assault and oppress you,

That human beings may harm you

May insult your dignity

May smother your smudges

Forbid your pipes,

Stop your drums,

Hide your masks,

Destroy your totem poles,

Silence your songs,

Still your dances

And ban your potlaches

But God

God hears your cries.

God sees your pain.

God judges the people

Who are hurting you.

Because it is not loving

To allow God’s beloved

To become enslaved.

It is not kind

To ignore the cries

Of those who are being sold for a pair sandals.

It is not merciful

To pretend that pain and anguish

Are somehow okay with God almighty.

And so what are we

Who are Christians,

Who worship the God of the whole Bible

The Old Testament and the New Testament

The God who is about liberation

And love

And kindness

And mercy

To do with these passages?

With these pronouncements of judgment

That anyone –

Even those whom God previously liberated

From their own oppressors –

Can become a tyrant?

Even those who had once fled Pharoah

Can become

Pharoah.

We who follow after the way of Jesus

Are no more exempt than anyone else

From God’s judgment

Upon our tyrannical impulses,

And we would do well

To see and tremble

Lest we be toppled

And rooted out of the land of the living.

Because there is more than one way to demolish a tyrant.

There’s the obvious way, right?

The way we’re all thinking of.

Where God strikes down the one

Who trusted in great wealth

And relied upon wickedness

With a lightning bolt,

Fire from heaven.

But there’s another way.

What if the tyrants

Toppled themselves?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t had a hardened heart?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t needed 10 plagues

To convince him that he was on the wrong path?

What if Pharoah

Hadn’t chased after the Israelites

Into the Red Sea?

What if Pharoah

Had recognized the error of his ways

And repented,

And returned to the Lord?

That’s what we promise in baptism,

Isn’t it?

That when we fall into sin,

We will repent,

And return to the Lord.

We don’t say if

In that promise.

Because there is no doubt we will fall into sin.

And since there is no doubt about it,

There needn’t be any shame about it, either.

We are sinners,

Every last one of us!

We have all been tyrants

In our own way

In our own time

To somebody

That God loves

At least as much

As God loves us.

The important part is

That we repent

And we return to the Lord.

That we not make excuses for our behaviour,

And get defensive,

And say stuff like, “Well, that’s just how I was raised,”

To excuse the way we treat

God’s beloved children.

We may all be tyrants,

One way or another,

But we have a chance

To topple ourselves

Before it’s too late.

Before God sends a famine on the land

Of hearing the words of the Lord.

We have a chance

To take a step back.

To get off our high horse.

To listen to the cries

Our neighbour is offering to God

Because of the persecution

We are inflicting upon them

And to demolish utterly our tyrannical ways

With repentance,

With gentle and humble hearts

Willing to change our ways

To follow after God’s way.

So we all may be liberated

Not only from the clutches of earthly tyrants,

But from the greatest tyrant of them all: sin.

Because the great project of God

The God of the whole Bible

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

The God of Moses, and Miriam,

Of Deborah and David,

The God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Is one of liberation.

May the God who made us

Make us all free.

Amen.

That They All May Be One

This sermon was offered at Christ Church, Edmonton, in prayer for General Synod.

……………………

There are a whole lotta ways 

You could describe the Church these days,

But “one” ain’t one of ‘em.

“Of the same mind,”

Ain’t it either y’all,

And don’t even try to tell me that

We look not to our own interests,

But to the interests of others.

These two passages we heard tonight

Might just be my two

Favourite passages in the whole dang Bible

But neither one of them

Describes the world I live in

Or the Church I love so much.

And it’s not exactly a recent phenomenon,

As much as certain parties like to pretend it is.

I mean, have they read about the Jerusalem Council?

Or the book of Galatians?

How about the Council of Nicea?

Or the Reformation?

Basically the second Jesus ascended into heaven

And left us to sort out how to follow Him

Without Him literally holding our hand through it

We quit being the kind of Church he prayed for

On the night before He died.

We have spent centuries –

Millennia –

Shouting at each other

About what communion means

And who Jesus even is, man,

And how to read the Bible

And who’s allowed to be ordained.

At least we’re not literally murdering each other anymore, I guess.

Because we did.

Literally.

Murder each other.

Over our disagreements

About how best to follow Jesus.

The same Jesus

Who prayed that we may be one

The night before He died

To save us all.

It’s almost as if He knew.

We hear today

The conclusion of what scholars call Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.

I’m sure it didn’t sound quite as lofty at the time,

But all the same:

If we’re looking at John’s Gospel, anyway,

It sure seems like the Last Supper was an awfully big deal.

Jesus makes some pretty grand pronouncements

And issues some pretty hefty commandments.

Commandments like:

Just as I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,

So too you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled;

Believe in God, believe also in me.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Greater love has no one than this:

To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends;

I no longer call you servants.

And in the section we heard today:

The glory that you have given me I have given them,

So that they may be one, as we are one,

So that the world may knowthat you have sent me

And have loved them

Even as you have loved me.

And that’s the part that convicts me,

Every time.

Because you see,

Our lack of unity isn’t a problem

Onlybecause sometimes we end up hurting one another

When we put our need to be right,

Our need to have found

The onlyright way to read the Bible,

The only right way to worship,

Theonlyright way to ethically live in the world

Above the needs of others,

Though that is pretty bad.

Our lack of unity is a problem

Because Jesus prays that we might be one

So thatthe world may know

That God has sent Jesus

And loves the world

Even as he loves Jesus.

When we are not one,

The world doesn’t see,

Doesn’t know

Doesn’t recognize that good news

That God loves us

All of us

The whole world

Just as much as God loves Jesus.

The world looks at us,

A divided Church,

And doesn’t see a lot of love.

They don’t see a community that

Has the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God and had equality with God,

Humbled himself,

Emptied himself,

Because he did not regard actual, literal equality with God

As a thing to be grasped.

A thing to be exploited.

Jesus

Was and is co-equal with God

In authority,

In glory,

In every imaginable way.

He was and is one with God the Father,

Completely unified and inseparable.

And when God decided

To include us

In that relationship.

When God decided

To come to earth

To really cement His relationship with a sinful human race

That had rejected him

Over and over again,

Jesus didn’t say,

“Hold up, you know what sounds like no fun at all?

Living among those stinky humans for 30 years

And then getting crucified.

Oh, y’all need me in order to get eternal salvation?

Sounds like a you problem.”

Jesus humbled himself,

Even to the point of death

Even death on a cross.

And in so doing,

He united us –

Our sinful, stinky selves

Who have been dragged kicking and screaming

Into goodness –

With himself

And with God the Father.

And now we,

Who have been given this free gift of grace

For which we ought to be thanking God on our knees

Every single day

For this extraordinary gift

That we donot deserve

That we could not deserve

In any imaginable universe

Have the audacity

To turn around and try to shut the door behind us.

To try to grasp

The teeny, tiny bit of authority and glory that has been granted to us

As a gift from God

Not because we’re actually equal with Him

But because He made us part of His body

And we exploit it

To say to people

You can’t sit with us

Because we’re right with God

And you’re not.

I mean, do we hear ourselves?

Now, look:

The problem here is not disagreement.

God

The same God who created the whole wide universe

Who painstakingly handcrafted

Over 1.3 million species on this planet alone,

That God is not one who requires us to come to perfect agreement

In order to achieve unity.

I mean, God is, within Godself,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Two dudes and bird,

That God is not about sameness.

When Jesus prays that we may be one,

He’s not asking us all to agree.

He’s not saying that we have

To come to one unified position

About what certain passages in the Bible mean

Or how we ought to worship

Or what in the heck marriage is even for anyway.

Unity

Is not the same thing

As uniformity.

Unity

Does not require one, single, agreed-upon point of view.

In fact,

Unity

Isn’t something that we make happen

At all.

Unity

Is a gift

From God Himself.

In just a few minutes,

As we gather in Eucharist,

In communion,

Union with

The God who made us, redeemed us, sustains us,

Who incorporated us into His very own Body,

We will pray for the Church.

And when we pray for its unity,

We don’t ask for God to make us one.

No, no.

We pray,

“Reveal its unity

Guard its faith

And preserve it in peace.”

Revealits unity.

The Church doesn’t need our help

In order to be one,

It already is one!

The unity of the Church

Isn’t a state that we achieve

By bullying everyone into agreement

And forcing out those who feel differently.

The unity of the Church

Is a gift from our Creator.

A gift that He gives

So that the world he loves

May know how muchhe loves.

And that unity is revealed

When we lay down our pride.

When we lay down our lives.

When we sit next to those

Who most offend us.

When we walk together

With those who disagree.

Because being kind is more important than being right.

Because the world must know

Just how much God loves us all.

That is the only reason the Church exists.

So that the world may know

How much God loves them. And us.

And so tonight, let us pray for the Church.

Reveal its unity, Lord,

That your love may be made known

To a desperately hurting world

That needs to hear

How deeply you love them.

Amen.

3rd Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

O God, you have turned our wailing into dancing.

Clothe us with joy,

No matter what we face.

Amen.

………………….

The 42ndGeneral Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada

Begins with worship on Wednesday night.

Now, some of y’all may not know what General Synod is,

Or why we’re having one,

So I thought I’d take just a moment

To explain the purpose of General Synod.

Every three years,

Representatives elected from each diocese

Gather together to listen for God’s voice

And discern the calling He is giving

For the future of His Church.

Because the actual processes of a synod

Closely resemble those of a political body

Like Parliament,

It would be easy for us to confuse this as a democratic exercise.

We elected representatives from the Diocese of Edmonton,

We are their constituents,

They represent us and our concerns

And are accountable to us in some way.

But that’s not actually how it works in the Church.

Yes, we do elect clergy and lay representatives

Whom we trust,

Who we believe are in some way representative of the whole people of God

Gathered in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton,

But we didn’t elect them to advocate for us

In some contentious, adversarial process

Of argument with Anglicans from other dioceses.

We elected them to listen.

We elected them

Because we believe

That they are best equipped to join with Anglicans from coast to coast to coast

To listen for the God who is calling us by name

And to look for the way forward

God is showing us.

As the then-Archbishop of Canterbury offered to the Anglican bishops

Gathered at Lambeth 10 years ago,

That’s the only way forward for Christians,

To go where Christ has gone before

To clear the way.

“The only way Christians lead,” he says,

“Is by following – following Jesus’ way.”

Now, some synods do better at this than others,

Bishop Jane reminded us this week in her letter to the diocese.

It is the official position of the Anglican Church

That the Councils of the Church – even the famous, historic ones

That decided important, central doctrinal things –

Can and have erred,

And I have no doubt that the imperfect sinners who will gather in Vancouver

Are likely to err in some way.

Because human beings aren’t great at listening for God.

Often, God’s voice is drowned out

By the rush of words that surround us

Words of advertising,

Words of politicians,

Eager to persuade,

To capture our attention,

Even our own desires crowd in,

Shouting “Me, me, me!”

Over a God

Whose native language

Is silence.

We hear in today’s Psalm

That the Psalmist felt pretty confident he could discern God’s voice.

Everything was going great for him,

So he said, “I shall never be shaken.”

Nothing bad enough to test his faith in God

Would ever happen to him.

Y’all can see where this is going, right?

God hid God’s face,

And the Psalmist was filled with fear.

God hides God’s face

Rather more often in Scripture than we are comfortable with.

The book of Job is only one example

Of a time when God is silent in the face of Job’s contention

That all the calamity which has befallen him

Is unfair.

Job’s friends attempt to fill the silence

With justifications for God,

With interpretations for what God’s actions might mean,

But when God Himself appears on the scene,

He shushes those friends

And praises Job

For recognizing the profound unfairness

Of all that he has experienced.

Even then, God gives no answer,

No explanation as to why.

Why Job had to suffer.

Why Job’s children had to die.

Why Job’s wife had to scrape her skin with potsherds

Until she was moved to curse God and die.

Terrible things happen in the world.

And sometimes the Church acts in the place of Job’s friends.

We attempt to explain, to interpret,

To fill God’s silence with our words,

As though that will somehow make

The suffering of children

The evil, racist violence of the world

The callous indifference of the people

All better.

I don’t know about y’all,

But I am praying hard for these synod delegates

Whose job is to seek God’s face,

Because it sure appears hidden right about now

And that fills me with fear.

And yet.

And yet.

Weeping may spend the night,

But joy comes in the morning.

This Psalm is often read

As part of our Easter liturgy.

Because God is able

To turn even death,

Even the death of God Himself,

Into joy that comes in the morning.

Whatever happens,

Even something so terrible as death,

We are promised,

God is able

To clothe with joy.

Now, this isn’t to say that “it’ll all be okay,”

Or that there might not be pain involved in the process.

We often look to butterflies

As a metaphor for our belief in resurrection.

But caterpillars don’t turn into butterflies

Just by taking an afternoon snooze in a cocoon.

The caterpillar’s stomach enzymes

Literally dissolve it

From the inside out –

Basically, it eats itself with its own stomach acid.

I don’t know that they’ve done studies

On caterpillar pain,

Though Derek tells me that they have discovered

That caterpillars scream at a pitch too high for human ears to catch,

But, regardless, it sounds awful to me.

Death hurts,

Even when there’s life on the other side.

The Psalmist wails

Before he begins to dance.

Job rails against God’s silence

Before listening to God’s response.

It’s not that death isn’t terrible.

It’s that it’s not the end.

Death does not have the last word.

Mourning

And crying

And pain

Do not have the last word.

No matter what terrible things

We see in the world around us,

We trust God’s promise

That God will bring joy in the morning.

And we commit ourselves

Not to explaining God’s silence to suffering people

As though God need our help with His PR,

But becoming bringers of joy

And hope

To those who have been burned so often in the past

That they can’t yet trust that promise themselves.

We commit ourselves

To going out into the Lord’s harvest

To share the Good News

That the Kingdom of God has come near

That help is on the way

That whatever terrible thing is happening

Is real

But it’s not the end.

So: if we trust that God can bring life out of death

And dancing out of wailing

Then why can’t we trust

That whether we’re happy or unhappy

With the results of one synod

God can bring joy?

If we trust

That God has triumphed over death itself

Why can’t we believe

That God is so far beyond our arguments

About circumcision or uncircumcision,

As they were in Paul’s time,

Or whatever we’re arguing about this time

As to make a new creation

That is everything

No matter what we do?

I know it’s scary when God hides God’s face.

I know the temptation to fill God’s silence with words.

To prefer our certainty

To God’s openness.

To prefer the paths we have trod before

To the new way that Christ is clearing before us.

But I ask you in the weeks ahead

To trust.

That God is able.

God is able to turn death into life

And wailing into dancing.

No matter what.

Amen.

 

1st Sunday After Trinity

Let us pray.

Our souls are athirst for you.

Pour your goodness over us

As a rapid and a flood.

Amen.

……………………

The Psalms are a really underrated book of the Bible.

We generally read them together in worship.

Sometimes, we even sing them!

But too often, we’re not really paying attention to what we’re saying.

Preachers rarely choose the Psalm as the preaching text of the day.

There’s always something more interesting to be found in the

Journeys of Elijah

Or something Jesus says in the Gospel,

Or a tricky doctrine Paul’s expounding his one of his letters.

The Psalms are expressed so beautifully,

So poetically,

That we run the risk of over-explaining them

And destroying that poetry.

“As the deer longs for the water brooks

So longs my soul for you God”

Can become

“God, I’m thirsty.”

But the Psalms are the Prayerbook of the Bible.

They express the deepest longings

Lodged deep in the most secret corners of our heart.

They offer words when our prayers

Are sighs too deep for words.

Martin Hattersley,

A priest in this diocese,

Whose daughter was tragically murdered,

Has said that his greatest source of comfort in grief

Has been the Psalms.

The anger they often express,

The challenging, controversial imprecatory Psalms,

Which call for the destruction of our enemies,

Give us permission to cast every care upon God,

Even those cares we would never dare to say aloud.

Psalm 42 lays out some of those cares.

The Psalmist expresses a longing for God

As fervent as a wild animal’s longing for water

In a dry and weary land.

Imagine: you are lost in the desert.

Have been lost, for several days.

You’re out of supplies,

And you haven’t seen anyone who can help.

You can see the oasis ahead,

And you fear it’s a mirage –

In your mind, all your friends are mocking you,

They say it’s a mirage,

You’re a fool for trusting the image –

But your longing continues.

You can’t help but remember

Better times,

When you were surrounded by those who shared your feelings,

When you were able to go into the house of God

And celebrate festivals with all the pomp and circumstance

Of a Royal Wedding.

And so you chastise yourself.

You ask your soul why it is so full of heaviness and disquieted.

You remind yourself that God’s love

Isn’t just a still pool

In the middle of the desert.

It overwhelms you,

Like a rushing cataract.

If you open yourself up to God,

You will find the rapids and floods

Overflow.

Now that’s a Psalm worth taking a look at.

I think that for many of us,

There are times when we feel lost in that desert.

We imagine that we are being mocked and jeered

For daring to have hope in a cynical age.

It’s hard to imagine earnest desire

For a God who hasn’t unambiguously shown himself in ages

Ever being considered cool.

We thirst.

Like as the deer.

But God is always there.

Not always in the way we expect him to show up.

Elijah expected God to show up with power and might.

Elijah expected that God would punish those who had mocked him,

Would prevent Jezebel from having the power

To murder God’s prophets.

He expected to meet God in a wind so strong

It split mountains

And broke rocks into pieces,

But the Lord was not in the wind.

He expected to meet God in an earthquake

That overturns the world,

Like the earthquake at Christ’s resurrection,

But the Lord was not in the earthquake.

He expected to meet God in a fire,

But the Lord was not in the fire.

The Lord appeared to Elijah

In a sound of sheer silence.

A sound of sheer silence.

God almighty

Has the whole world in his hands

And can bend the whole universe to his will

And yet chooses to appear

In a sound of sheer silence.

It’s no wonder that that same God

Chooses to defeat death

By dying.

And so when we are lost in the desert,

When we are surrounded by mockers

And those who think we are fools

For remembering the rushing cataracts of God’s love

In an age where the world shows so little love,

We remember that God is always with us,

Ready to be seen,

As soon as we know how to look.

Not in the place of perfect power

But in the sound of sheer silence.

I invite you to join me in praying through the Psalms this summer.

You could follow the lectionary for the Daily Office,

Found in the green BAS.

If you want to start with Evening Prayer tonight,

You’ll find the Psalms appointed on page 478,

Psalms 19 and 46.

You could look at the Weekly Round Up,

And pray the Psalm for the coming Sunday over and over.

Next week’s will be Psalm 77.

You could listen to musical settings –

YouTube has a whole lot of them!

I invite you to join me in seeking after God

With a thirst as fierce

As a deer

Who longs for water.

Consider the power of the Psalms

As an aid to prayer.

How do they speak to our prayers and longings today?

How do they put our sighs too deep for words

Into poetry so powerful,

It has been prayed daily by Christians

For two millennia.

The Lord is waiting.

Come and seek his face.

Not to be found where we expect,

But in the sound of sheer silence,

In the delight of poetry

That calls his name.

Amen.

Trinity

Let us pray.

O God, may your delight in us

Teach us to delight in you

And in the world you have created.

Amen.

…………..

Jerry Seinfeld once joked that

In every movie or television show

With characters from the future,

They’re always wearing the same thing.

They’ve got one outfit,

To represent the earth,

It’s the earth outfit,

Like in Star Trek, where they’ll all got colour-coded shirts for their jobs.

Seinfeld says he looks forward to this day,

And he’s not alone.

There is a deep-rooted desire

In a whole lotta people

For sameness.

For uniformity.

At clergy conference this week,

Archdeacon Travis talked about ways that European settlements

Were set up

With walls around the outside

And one entry point.

It was considered a safety measure, by those Europeans,

In contrast to the communities of the First Nations,

Unwalled,

With many and various ways to enter.

But there’s something deep inside some of us,

I’m not sure if it’s an evolutionary adaptation or what,

But something within us

Finds safety in sameness.

In folks who are just like us.

Who dress like us

And talk like us.

We’ve got one outfit

So that we all know

That we’re on the same team

And a wall around us

To keep the opposing team

Out.

But, as we have been witnessing,

For the last several weeks,

God doesn’t work like that!

God does not share our delight

In sameness.

God delights

In diversity.

We saw this three weeks ago in our lesson from Acts,

As we heard the story of the conversion of Cornelius.

The Holy Spirit fell upon him and blessed him,

Before Peter could explain to him the rules,

The ways that he would need to change,

The single, solitary entry point

That absolutely everyone would need to go through

In order to join the team.

Two weeks ago,

We heard Jesus pray

That we all may be one,

Not the same,

But together,

Because we don’t all need to wear the same thing

To be on the same team.

And then last week,

On Pentecost,

We heard the story of the miracle

Of the speaking in tongues.

And here’s the tell,

The real tell

Of God’s desire for diversity,

Not sameness.

The miracle of Pentecost

Isn’t that suddenly everyone could understand Greek or Aramaic

Or whatever language the disciples were

Proclaiming the Good News in.

The miracle of Pentecost is that

The disciples began to speak in other languages,

Different languages,

Because God’s goal isn’t to erase difference,

It’s to bridge it.

And today,

On Trinity Sunday,

We see this truth

Is at the very heart

Of God’s own being.

…………

In order to understand this a little better,

I want us to take a look at our reading from Proverbs today.

It’s a reading about Lady Wisdom.

Wisdom, in Proverbs and in a few other books of the Old Testament,

Is personified as a woman.

And in the passage we heard today,

She gets pretty loud.

I want to read some of it again,

Using a translation, well not really a translation,

More a paraphrase of the Bible

Called The Message.

Hear what it says:
“Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?

Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?

She’s taken her stand at First and Main,

at the busiest intersection.

Right in the city square

where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,

“You – I’m talking to all of you,

everyone out here on the streets!

Don’t miss a word of this – I’m telling you how to live well.

God sovereignly made me – the first, the basic –

before he did anything else.

I was brought into being a long time ago,

well before Earth got its start.

I arrived on the scene before Ocean,

yes, even before Springs and Rivers and Lakes.

Long before God stretched out Earth’s Horizons,

and tended to the minute details of Soil and Weather,

And set Sky firmly in place,

I was there.

Day after day I was there, with my joyful applause,

always enjoying his company,

Delighted with the world of things and creatures,

happily celebrating the human family.”

You see, the author of Proverbs is concerned.

That people are not listening to Wisdom.

That they aren’t sure how to live well.

And so she takes up her spot

At First and Main,

Or 100thand 100th, here in Edmonton,

To share her insights

In the midst of the community.

The insight that she shares

Sure doesn’t sound like the advice we often hear.

It sure doesn’t sound like tips and tricks

Or life hacks

To get ahead

And live better than our neighbours.

No, the wisdom Madame Insight offers

Is one of delight.

Delight in God,

In all God has created,

Happily celebrating the human family.

Lady Wisdom might be better known to us

As the Holy Spirit,

Since that is how she came to be known

In the Christian community.

And we see here the extraordinary beauty of diversity

Even within God, Godself.

For God is one.

But God is not the same.

God is united.

But God is not uniform.

God does not delight in sameness.

God is, in Godself,

Diversity.

Father AND Son.

Son AND Holy Spirit.

Eternally united,

Locked in relationship,

All differences bridged

But not erased.

Another thing Archdeacon Travis said at clergy conference,

Is that in Cree, the word for God,

Creator,

Isn’t a noun.

It’s a verb.

Because God is always active.

God is on the move.

And when you think about it,

It makes sense.

C.S. Lewis pointed out that when we say God is love,

How could God be love,

The noun,

Without first loving.

And to love,

God needs someone to be loved.

The very heart of God is a relationship,

Active, on the move,

Made up of love.

God is not static,

Frozen in time.

God is on the move.

And in fact,

God’s movement is a particular one.

It’s not just an eternal dance,

As some Trinitarian preachers proclaim.

God moves

With purpose.

And that purpose is one of invitation.

It’s taking up a spot

Right in the city square

At the busiest intersection.

God invites us

Into this eternal relationship.

God the Word

Became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth

And dwelt among us.

This was the ultimate bridging of difference.

God and sinners reconciled,

As the Christmas carol says.

And after his death and resurrection,

When he ascended into heaven,

That flesh,

That humanity,

That us-ness

That was in the image of God

But had been divided from God,

Became united with all of Godself. /

The eternal relationship,

The eternal dance,

The very reality of love

Now includes us.

Our humanity.

Wisdom’s delight in the human family

Is made complete,

As humanity itself

Is invited further up and farther in.

God didn’t build a wall to shut us out.

God didn’t even wait for us

To stumble around it

To find the one way in.

God came out

To find us,

Her delight,

And invite us to join the team.

Not because we are the same as God

But because we are different.

And because God delights

In bridging that difference

To bring together

That which had been kept apart,

Happily celebrating the human family.

The future we seek,

Christians seek,

Isn’t one of sameness.

There isn’t one earth outfit

We should all get ready to wear.

Because our God delights not in sameness

But in diversity.

And God is on the move

Inviting more and more different kinds of people in.

Amen.

 

7th Sunday of Easter

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, may we be one

As you and the Father are one

So that the world may know

How much you love us.

Amen.

………..

This Gospel is a convicting Gospel.

Every time I read it,

And I read it pretty often,

I am convicted by the fact

That we,

The descendents of Jesus’s disciples

Are not one.

It’s just a fact!

You don’t have to look far to see it.

It’s rampant throughout our history.

We have spent centuries

Not only shouting at each other

About what communion means

And how to read the Bible

And who’s allowed to be ordained

But we have also literally murdered one another

In increasingly horrible ways

Because we disagree

About how best to respond to Jesus.

It’s almost as if He knew.

We hear today

The conclusion of what scholars call Jesus’s Farewell Discourse.

I’m sure it didn’t sound quite as lofty at the time,

But all the same:

If we’re looking at John’s Gospel, anyway,

It sure seems like the Last Supper was an awfully big deal.

Jesus makes some pretty grand pronouncements

And issues some pretty hefty commandments.

Just as I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet,

So too you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Do not let your hearts be troubled;

Believe in God, believe also in me.

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

Greater love has no one than this:

To lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

You are my friends;

I no longer call you servants.

And in the section we heard today:

The glory that you have given me I have given them,

So that they may be one, as we are one,

So that the world may know that you have sent me

And have loved them

Even as you have loved me.

And that’s the part that convicts me,

Every time.

Because you see,

Our lack of unity isn’t a problem

Only because sometimes we end up hurting one another

When we put our need to be right,

To have found the only right way to read the Bible,

The only right way to worship,

Theonlyright way to ethically live in the world

Above the needs of others,

Though that is pretty bad.

Our lack of unity is a problem

Because Jesus prays that we might be one

So that the world may know

That God has sent Jesus

And loves the world

Even as he loves Jesus.

When we are not one,

The world doesn’t see,

Doesn’t know

Doesn’t recognize that good news

That God loves us

All of us

The whole world

Just as much as God loves Jesus.

The world looks at us,

A divided Church,

And doesn’t see a lot of love.

They don’t see a community that,

As it says elsewhere in Scripture

Has the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus,

Who, though he was in the form of God and had equality with God,

Humbled himself,

Emptied himself,

Because he did not regard actual, literal equality with God

As a thing to be grasped.

A thing to be exploited.

Jesus

Was and is co-equal with God

In authority,

In glory,

In every imaginable way.

He was and is one with God the Father,

Completely unified and inseparable.

And when it was necessary

For God to come to earth

To initiate a relationship with a sinful human race

That had rejected him

Over and over again,

Jesus didn’t say,

“Hold up, you know what sounds like no fun at all?

Living among those stinky humans for 30 years

And then getting crucified.

Sounds like a you problem.”

Jesus humbled himself,

Even to the point of death

On the cross.

And in so doing,

He united us –

Our sinful, stinky selves

Who have been dragged kicking and screaming

Into goodness –

With himself

And with God.

And now we,

Who have been given this free gift of grace

For which we ought to be thanking God on our knees

Every single day

For this extraordinary gift

That we do not deserve

That we could not deserve

In any imaginable universe

Have the audacity

To turn around and try to shut the door behind us.

To try to grasp

The little, tiny authority and glory that has been granted to us

As a gift from God

To which we are not entiled.

To say to people

“You’re not an actual pastor,”

Because they’re a girl.

“You’re not an actual Christian,”

Because they’re gay.

You can’t sit with us

Because we’re right with God

And you’re not.

I mean, do we hear ourselves?

Now, I know some folks disagree in good faith,

But here’s the thing:

When Jesus prays that we may be one,

He’s not asking us all to agree.

He’s not saying that we have

To come to one unified position

About what certain passages in the Bible mean

Or how we ought to worship.

If we look at the world around us,

We can see that the God who creates

The spectacular diversity of creation,

Purple mountain’s majesty

And amber waves of grain

Pines and maples

Great prairies spread

And lordly rivers flowing

From coast to coast to coast

And the whole world round

To every single continent and island

Does not shy away from difference.

Unity

Is not the same thing

As uniformity.

Unity

Does not require one, single, agreed-upon point of view.

I had a meeting last week

With Archdeacon Travis,

And he taught me something

About the way that the Cree view the idea of consensus.

I have always thought of consensus as agreement.

Everybody is on board.

But Archdeacon Travis said that the Cree have a different way of seeing it.

That in their culture consensus means

“I can live with it.

I might not like it.

But I can live with it.”

The unity of the Church

Isn’t a state that we achieve

By bullying everyone into agreement

And forcing out those who feel differently.

The unity of the Church

Is a gift from our Creator

So that the world he loves

May know how much he loves.

And so we need not feel guilty

For failing to reach the oneness he prays for,

Since it was never our job to make it happen anyway.

But I hope you will join me in feeling convicted

Into working for unity.

Wrestling with it.

Laying down our pride for it.

Laying down our lives for it.

Because being kind is more important than being right.

And the world getting to see

Just how much God loves us all

Is the only reason the Church exists.

Amen.

 

 

6th Sunday of Easter

One of my favourite things

About Edmonton in summer

Is the light.

I’ve been here nearly two years

And I still can’t get over

Driving home after an evening of playing softball

With the sun just beginning to set

Over the horizon.

I know we pay for it in wintertime,

But there is something magical

About the extraordinary light

That fills the evenings

And the mornings

With God’s glorious day.

I remember the first time

I travelled far enough north

To witness this glorious light

I was on the border between Scotland and England,

On pilgrimage to Holy Isle.

I remember the first time I sat on the beach

Under the light of the dying rays of the midnight sun,

And being woken by its glimmer

In time to pray Matins with the monks

At 4am.

There is power in light.

The power of a new heaven

And a new earth.

In this penultimate chapter of Revelation,

John, the author,

Just can’t stop talking about the light.

He is dazzled by it.

As the kids say, he “can’t even.”

John has been granted a vision

Of all that God has done, is doing, and will do

For God’s people.

And in this, the grand conclusion of that vision,

He sees a city.

A city so full of light,

It needs no sun or moon.

A city so full of light,

It shines forth,

To enlighten the nations

And allow them to walk by it.

A city so full of light,

Its citizens feel safe enough to leave the gates of their city open

That the kings of the nations may bring their glory into it

For there is no night

No danger

No enemy formed against it

Who should be shut out.

In this city,

Everyone will sit under their own vine

And fig tree,

And no one will make them afraid.

Because it is the darkness

That frightens.

We do not yet live in such a city.

We do not yet see such a world.

The nations of the world seem to be closing their gates

Not only by night

But by day, also.

Not everyone can sit under their own vine and fig tree,

For those who have much

Will not be content until they have more

And snatch away what they can

Making many afraid.

If there were ever a time when we needed

The leaves of the tree

For the healing of the nations

It would be now.

It is tempting,

In the face of such a world,

To put our armor on.

It is tempting

To find a way to make ourselves invulnerable,

Invincible.

To lock the gates

Around our vine and our fig tree

And give no one the power to hurt us.

And yet.

When we build up walls around us

To keep out that which makes us afraid,

We keep out not only that which might hurt

But that which can heal.

We keep out not only that which could wound

But that which binds up.

Because you see,

The tree which is fed

By the water of life

Whose leaves are for the healing of the nations

Shows us

That God’s desire

Is not for a perfect world,

In which nothing has ever been broken.

God’s desire is to put back together

What has been torn apart.

There is a Japanese art form with which you may be familiar.

Artisans take ceramic pottery which has been broken

And bind it together

With gold, silver, or platinum.

Because that which has been wounded

Is not worthless.

That which has been damaged

Need not be discarded.

Because beauty is not lost when blemished,

When love binds up

That which has been broken.

After all,

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Accomplished our salvation

Not through victory in battle.

Not through violence and pain and power.

Our Lord Jesus Christ

Defeated the power of sin and death

Through his death

On the cross.

It is through the breaking in his body

That the world is made whole.

It is through the wounds of Christ

That our wounds are healed.

In the words of the great poet Rumi,

“The wound is where the light enters you.”

And the wounds of Christ

Brought the light of the heavenly city

Into our world.

And so we who follow this same Jesus

Cannot lock our treasures away

For fear that others may break them.

We cannot hide ourselves in fear

Of ever becoming wounded.

The world is in desperate need

Of the light of Christ.

And it will only enter

When we have made ourselves vulnerable

When we have left ourselves entirely open

When we have said to the nations of the world

“Come and feast at our table

Where there is plenty for all.”

It can be a frightening thing

To follow the way of Jesus

This side of heaven.

It can be a frightening thing

To offer our vine and our fig tree to those who have none.

It can be a frightening thing

When we have been broken

To trust

That the gold with which Our Lord binds us together again

Will allow his light to shine into the world

More brightly than we could ever imagine.

Such that we, like John

Can’t even,

We are so awestruck at God’s glory.

A glory which is not diminished

By the glory the kings of the nations of the world

Bring to it,

For it binds all things to itself.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Entered the world

Through the broken body

Of Our Saviour on the cross.

The light of God

That heals the nations

Cannot be diminished

By any weapon the world tries to throw at it.

And so we lay down our arms.

We beat our swords into plowshares

And our spears into pruning hooks.

We stop trying to protect ourselves

And our God

From harm

And start binding up that which has been broken

For no one shall make us afraid.

We are safe in this city God has made.

Where he is our light

And night is no longer.

To Jesus Christ be the honour

And glory

And power

And blessing

For ever and ever.

Amen.

5th Sunday of Easter

Let us pray.

Lord, what you have called clean,

We must not call profane.

Lead us in your way,

That we may never try to limit your love.

Amen.

……………..

When I was in seminary,

A professor told us that the book of Acts

Was the most important book in the Bible.

I was pretty taken aback.

Because I don’t particularly enjoy reading the book of Acts,

Especially the latter half.

It’s a big travelogue

With lots of names and places

That don’t make a ton of sense unless you’ve been there –

And shouldn’t our focus be on the Gospels?

You know, the books that tell the story of Jesus?

The Saviour?

So I went back and re-read it.

And while I still hold out for the Gospels

As the most important books of the Bible,

I do think the book of Acts

Is criminally underrated.

Because we get so lost in the travelogue

Of the names and places

We aren’t familiar with,

We miss the important themes God is trying to show us

Through the acts of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Like in our story today,

About the fallout from Peter’s recent dinner with the Gentiles.

I encourage you to go back and read it in context.

Because it represents the truly reckless abandon

With which God is widening the circle

Of who’s included

Far beyond what the original disciples are comfortable with.

It starts in the very beginning of the book,

As the Holy Spirit falls upon the disciples,

And enables them to speak in other languages.

Did you know a recent study of my countryfolk down south

Revealed that over 30% are uncomfortable

Hearing languages other than English?

I know that we prize linguistic diversity

More highly than our American cousins,

And inhabitants of Jerusalem,

The crossroads of the ancient world,

Host to Israelites,

Greeks,

Romans,

Parthians, Medes, Elamites,

And residents of Mesopotamia,

Would have been quite used to the babble of many languages,

But it’s worth noticing how the ripples outward begin,

And, perhaps, how we have taken a step backward

From the place our forebears started.

Peter addresses a crowd filled with Jews

Who have traveled to Jerusalem for the festival.

They live in many places

And speak many languages,

But they are still Jews.

Fellow Israelites.

Religious types

Who are included in Abraham’s covenant

By virtue of their birth,

And who are pious enough

To journey to the Temple in Jerusalem

For worship.

But God’s not done yet.

Just a short time later,

An angel of the Lord sends Philip

To the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.

There, he meets a eunuch,

A servant of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians.

This man is not ethnically Jewish.

He is from a different race and people entirely.

While he has gone up to Jerusalem to worship,

And we find him reading the Scriptures,

His body has been modified in such a way

That prevents him from being circumcised.

He is not able, physically,

To be a part of the covenant of Abraham.

Such a one cannot participate in the Temple rites,

Or even approach the altar,

According the Law given in Leviticus

And Deuteronomy.

But God sends Philip to him.

And when the Ethiopian eunuch hears the good news

About Jesus Christ, he asks,

“Look! here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

The answer is: nothing.

There is nothing to prevent him from being baptized.

And the circle grows wider.

But now we get to the really scandalous bit.

The part that Peter gets super defensive about

When questioned on it in our story today.

God speaks to a Gentile named Cornelius.

We hear that he is a devout and generous man,

But he is also a Roman;

Indeed, a Roman soldier,

Not unlike those who have really pretty recently crucified Jesus.

But God tells Cornelius to send for Peter.

Meanwhile, Peter is on a roof praying when is struck with a vision.

A huge sheet filled with animals and reptiles and birds of the air.

A voice says to Peter, “Get up, Peter! Kill and eat.”

Peter hasn’t quite cottoned on to what God is doing yet,

So he protests by appealing to The Rules.

The Rules say not to eat

These unclean animals

As explicitly named in the Law,

And not to share a meal

With anyone who does.

Peter, even after all his time following Jesus,

Thinks that what’s important here

Is following The Rules.

But the voice tells him,

“What God has made clean,

You must not call profane.”

What God has made clean,

You must not call profane.

How often

Has the Church

Called what God has made clean

Profane?

How often

Have religious people

Focused on following The Rules

Instead of following the example of Jesus?

How often

Have we attempted to keep the circle small

Contained

Full of the people

Who are exactly like us

Who speak our language

Who belong in the Temple.

Peter encounters folks just like that

In today’s story.

They have heard that Peter went to eat dinner

With these unclean Gentiles

And they are just furious about it.

“Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

They ask.

But Peter tells them the story.

He tells them what he has heard and seen.

He tells them

That the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household

Before Peter even gets a chance

To explain to them what they have to do to get saved.

Because God is drawing the circle

Wider than we could ever imagine.

I wonder who

The Holy Spirit might be falling upon now

Before we even get a chance

To explain to them what they “have” to do to get saved.

I wonder who

Might be on the road to Gaza

Seeking answers from the Scriptures

And needing to hear that there is nothing

To hinder them from being baptized.

I wonder who God has made clean

That we are still calling profane.

In this Easter season,

As we rejoice in the Good News

That Christ has won victory over death and the grave,

Trampling down death by death

And giving life

Even to those already in the tomb,

We remember

That God has drawn the circle wide enough

To include even us,

For whom he died

While we were yet sinners.

Who are we, then,

To call others too profane

To receive God’s extraordinary gift?

Who are we

To seek to limit the reach

Of God’s almighty love?

Rather than work against the Holy Spirit

To try to turn God’s Church –

Not our Church, God’s Church –

Into an exclusive club

Of likeminded folks,

Our calling is to get on board with God’s mission

To draw the circle ever wider.

To include more and more kinds of folks.

Even the ones who will make us uncomfortable.

Even the ones who will change who we are, fundamentally.

The Church is awfully different from those few believers

Huddled in an Upper Room with the doors locked

In the days immediately after Jesus’s crucifixion.

Including more folks will change us yet again.

But that’s what God is about.

Drawing the circle wide.

Baptizing the folks we’d never expect.

And sending us as messengers of his good news

That God’s love

Really is for all.

And all

Means all.

Amen.