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.

 

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.

Easter Day

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

………………

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

This question has always rankled me a bit.

These poor women

Having followed Jesus

From the very beginning of his ministry

All the way back in Galilee

100 kilometers away

And three years ago,

Have faithfully followed him to the end.

They have come

In the pre-dawn light,

To honour their Messiah, their leader,

The one whom they believed would set their people free.

They have come to mourn him,

To weep over him,

To take care of him one last time

Before his body is laid in the ground

Forever.

And this angel has the gall

To ask them this sassy question!

Excuse me, mister, I don’t care how dazzling your clothes are,

But nobody talks to my girls that way.

How could they possibly have known to look anywhere else for him?

What else could these angels have expected them to do?

But as I contemplated this question

And wrote more corny angel jokes to spice up this sermon,

I realized:

All too often, we look for life

Among the dead.

We, and here I mean human beings,

Are a people with a constant desire for

More.

Every year, every week, every hour

We keep striving after more.

More prestige, more fame, more money.

Better job, better car, better behaved, smarter, more accomplished children.

We say things like, “I’ll be happy if I can just get

That new house, that promotion, that vacation, that pension level”

And then as soon as we reach it, we’re dissatisfied again

As we aim higher.

We are taught to do this from our earliest days.

Now, I’m American, so I don’t know if y’all hang posters

In elementary school classrooms that say,

“Shoot for the moon.

Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars,”

But we did.

Advertisers tell us that if we can just get

More thin,

More tanned,

Better groomed,

Better dressed,

Then we might finally be happy.

Even in churches, all over Christendom,

You’ll hear sermons extolling people

To give more,

To volunteer more,

All this more, more, more

Because we are all desperately searching for life abundant

And these folks promise that they have it.

But they don’t.

Because it will never be

Enough.

“Why do you look for the living

Among the dead?”

Here is the deal, friends:

Jesus Christ

Rose from the dead.

He did it!

It’s done!

It is accomplished,

As he said on the cross on Friday.

The life abundant we seek

No longer is something to strive after

But something that has been bestowed

By a Saviour.

A theologian has said,

“The attempt to engineer your own salvation

Is doomed to fail.”

In other words,

It is look for life

Among the dead.

All these self-help systems,

All these political philosophies

And new and improved products

And our old pal capitalism

Which would have us work and shop,

Work and shop ‘til we drop

They cannot produce life

Because they are dead things.

But Jesus Christ can.

We know that he can,

Because 2,000 years ago,

When they put him in a tomb

And said that he was finished

He got up from that grave

And said,

“I have come to bring you life

And have it abundantly.”

Quit looking for the living among the dead.

Quit trying to make your life mean something

Through your own efforts.

They are doomed to fail.

Because the enemy you are striving so hard against

Has already been defeated!

In Jesus Christ,

We are promised:

Death will be no more!

Mourning and crying and pain will be no more!

It is accomplished –

Not just for his own time and place

But for this and every future age.

And so this question,

So snarkily asked of these first followers

Who could not possibly have known the Good News that we share,

Calls we who should know better to account.

Because we keep looking for life

Among the dead.

Even now.

But Jesus Christ is risen.

And we too will rise.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not here.”

Look for him in the place he may be found

Where live everlasting

Is bestowed upon all.

Amen.

 

 

 

Good Friday

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

…………….

When I was a kid,

My church really loved to sing some of those revival hymns

From the 19thcentury tent meetings.

Since I’ve become Anglican I don’t get that experience as much anymore,

But when you grow up

Singing those hymns,

Those catchy, upbeat hymns

Often intentionally set to drinking tunes,

They never really leave you.

And this week,

For some reason,

I’ve found myself whistling to Victory in Jesus.

I heard an old, old story,

How a Saviour came from glory

How he gave his life on Calvary

To save a wretch like me.

O victory in Jesus!

My Saviour forever

He sought me

And bought me

With his redeeming blood.

He loved me ere I knew him

And all my love is due him

He plunged me to victory

Beneath the cleansing flood.

The upbeat, triumphal tune to this song

Doesn’t at all match

The somber reflections we engage in today.

A dying man on a cross

Doesn’t at all match

What we think of

As victory.

……………………….

From our earliest days,

Christians have struggled to articulate

What exactly Jesus’s death on the cross means for us.

It has always been a source of mockery –

Archeologists have discovered ancient Roman graffiti

Featuring a man with a donkey’s head on a cross

With stick figures worshipping him,

Basically saying “Look at these dum-dums.

They worship an ass on a cross.”

Jesus’s death doesn’t look much like victory.

It looks like defeat.

Human beings have always been captivated by the power of story,

We look to narrative to shape our understanding of events,

And this is not what the story of a winner looks like.

Jesus breaks the cycle

Of revenge and violence

By refusing to conform to our expectations of what winning should be.

He declines to kick butt and take names,

He refuses to hit back,

He stands silent when condemned.

And he wins.

He holds firm to his relationships,

Even when it appears that everyone he loves has abandoned him.

With his final breaths, he gives the disciple whom he loves and his mother to one another, making sure that she is taken care of, inaugurating a new family even as he is dying.

This is what victory looks like.

Not an eye for an eye

Not turning our hearts to stone

For the sake of some imagined prosperous future

That can only be gained by shutting out

Those who are a drain on our resources

Not making sure we get ours

And too bad everybody else who’s left behind.

Victory looks like reaching out

From within suffering

To knit together

Rather than to tear apart.

To look out,

Even at those who have hurt us

And call them brother.

Victory looks like rewriting the narrative

That has driven human society for millennia

And declaring that all our criteria for what counts as winning are worthless

For Christ alone

Has plunged us into victory

That we had previously believed to be loss.

As a great theologian has said,

“In the cross,

Jesus transvalues our values.

He turns them upside down.”

In other words, he tells us that we have been looking for victory

In the wrong direction.

The cross stands in judgment

Of all the achievements for which human beings strive

Of our continual quest for power over

Rather than power with.

The same theologian writes,

“The Christian knows that the cross is the truth.

In that standard he sees the ultimate success of what the world calls failure

And failure of what the world calls success.”

And so today, we acknowledge our failure.

We lay down our arms.

We give up on the idea

Of trying to be a success.

We stop trying to achieve a perfection

A victory

That the world defines

That we can never quite reach.

And in letting go

Of what the world calls success

We are plunged into Christ’s victory

Over death itself.

Amen.

 

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.