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.

 

Easter Vigil

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

………………..

If anyone here is feeling poor in spirit,

Let them rejoice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

If anyone mourns,

Let them seek refuge in the bosom of Christ, for they shall be comforted.

If anyone hungers and thirsts after righteousness,

Let them come

Partake of this feast.

If any feels compelled to follow Jesus our Saviour

Who has opened the grave and gate of death

Into immortality

Let them come to the waters.

For Christ offers mercy upon those who come late

As on those who came first.

The door in heaven stands open

For the righteous and the unrighteous alike.

He offers to share the burdens of the weary ones of this world

Whose backs are broken

With hard and heavy labour

Who see no hope of ever finding

A vine or a fig tree

That they can sit under and call their own.

He offers living water that truly satisfies

To those who have chased after vain things

Whose hearts ache to know the joy of Christ.

He calls to repentance those who would use his name as a club

To beat others

And declare them unworthy to stand before the Lord.

For to you who have much

And to you who have little

To you who are always here

And to you who are newly come

To you who are merciful

And to you who need mercy

Christ’s victory is for you.

On this night

When heaven is wedded to earth

And we are reconciled to God;

This night

When the heavenly host and all angel choirs

Rejoice to the ends of the universe;

This night

When Death is defeated

And Hell is overthrown;

We are come

To hear the story

Of God’s plan of salvation

From our earliest days.

We are come

To hear of God’s lovingkindness made known to us

In a world tenderly made

And given into our care.

We are come

To hear of a God who demands no sacrifice of us

But offers the sacrifice of himself.

We are come

To hear of a God

Who parts the waters that threaten us

Who quenches every thirst

Who raises dry bones

And gathers together his people.

This same story

That our ancestors told

From time immemorial

Is now our story.

For we who have been united with Christ in baptism

And the one who will be united with Christ in baptism tonight,

Receive the promise

That we will also be united with Christ

In a resurrection like his.

Death has lost its sting.

The grave has lost its victory.

Shout alleluia, for Christ is risen,

And we too shall rise.

Christ is risen,

And evil is fallen.

Christ is risen,

And Death is trampled under his feet.

Christ is risen,

And “not one dead will remain in the grave.”

Therefore come.

Love Himself bids us welcome.

Let no soul draw back

Guilty of dust and sin.

Partake of Christ’s victory

For you

And for many.

Amen.

 *this sermon inspired by (and in the style of) John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily

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.