Easter 6, May 26, 2019

St. Barnabas

St. Barnabas nave window, St. Catharines

I am stuck! I admit it. I seem unable to move.

In the past month I have watched three of my daughter’s wonderful young teachers cut from next year’s provincial budget by a reckless, ignorant government. I have listened to escalating threats by two world superpowers elbowing their way to supremacy. I have heard about the mounting tensions in the Middle East, the continued cruelty along the Mexican-US border and restrictive legislation on women’s reproductive rights. And all the while I ignore the climate emergency siren call that continues to drone on.

And what have I done about any of this? Nothing! I am soothed by a market that keeps asking me if I want to be attractive, popular and admired. By current politics that asks me if I want to be secure. And by the church that keeps asking me if I want to be comforted.

It is as if I am paralyzed, lying alongside the pool. Agency is just beyond my reach and so I have convinced myself that I must wait for someone else to come along and move me into action.

Do I want to be well? Do WE want to be well? This is a sobering question and one where the answer is not as obvious as you might first think. I know that this kind of wellness comes from an encounter with Jesus, an abiding with God. Am I up for that kind of transformative spiritual commitment? Am I aware of the change that would be required? Would I even know how to take my first steps?

I am not sure, but I do know that I am getting sick and tired of this inertia, of the waiting.

Some questions to ponder: How is this current political moment surprising you? How are you numbed by the life you live? Where do you feel like you are sleeping through your passion, your call?

JOHN 5:1-9 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids -blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. 

ACTS 16:9-15 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. 

PSALM 67 May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us. Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. The earth has brought forth her increase; may God, our own God, give us his blessing. May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

REVELATION 21:10, 22-22:5 And in the spirit, an angel carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. 

 

Easter 5, May 19, 2019

Animals St. Pauls

The Garden Window, St. Paul’s Westdale

“Love!” Even though Jesus had just been betrayed and was about to be crucified, that was his final command. “Love one another” was an imperative that became the hallmark of the new Jesus followers. Tertullian said that Romans noted this and said, “See how those Christians love one another.”

I have found that in today’s church, the most challenging places to live out this Jesus imperative is at a church meeting. We may be towers of benevolent goodness in outreach and service, but ask the faithful to change a paint colour or increase the bazaar ticket price and it’s hard to see how anyone would know we were disciples with a mandate to love.

By the way, I don’t think it’s all our fault, necessarily. We haven’t been trained very effectively in how to behave as disciples in church meetings. Here enters Acts!

Acts provides great insight into how we might conduct ourselves as loving disciples. For example, the early church had to make a tough decision about the inclusion of non-Jews in the Jesus movement. Our reading this Sunday helps show us how the early leaders went about making a faith-filled, discipled decision in their meetings. Here are some principles we might consider incorporating into our meetings.

  1. Peter was influenced by a vision and a sense of the Holy Spirit. Acts 11: 5, 12 Be open to the possibility of the spiritual experience to help guide your decision-making. In other words, take the Pentecost promise seriously. If you are anything like me, you program the meeting so tightly nothing can derail the agenda, including the Holy Spirit! Overzealous management competence and Robert’s Rule of Order will get you a decision but it will not always get you faithful discernment.
  2. The apostles and other believers questioned Peter. Acts 11:1-3 Never let one person interpret the spiritual experience. The meaning and impact of the spiritual experience for the group must be discerned within the community.
  3. Peter tested his assumptions with an experience from the vision. Acts 11:15-17 Make “experience” the fourth leg of our Anglican stool along with scripture, tradition and reason. If you are voting on an outreach initiative for migrant workers, go meet a migrant worker or someone who knows about migrant ministry or at least read up on the issues. If you need to decide on the price of a new roof, explore current pricing and products. Pooled ignorance and relying on the way it used to be done, do not foster discipleship.
  4. Before they made a decision, the leaders listened, reflected on scripture and praised God. Acts 11:16-18 Make spiritual practices such as prayer and scripture meditation an integral part of the voting or decision-making process of a church meeting.

Some questions to ponder: How might we make our church meetings less business decision-making and more spiritual discerning? How might Jesus’ command to “Love one another” be more evident in our gatherings? Could the world around us say of us today: “See how those Christian love one another.”

JOHN 13:31-35 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

ACTS 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” 

PSALM 148 Hallelujah! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights. Praise him, all you angels of his; praise him, all his host. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, heaven of heavens, and you waters above the heavens. Let them praise the Name of the Lord; for he commanded, and they were created. He made them stand fast for ever and ever; he gave them a law which shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea-monsters and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, doing his will; Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars; Wild beasts and all cattle, creeping things and winged birds; Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the world; Young men and maidens, old and young together. Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for his Name only is exalted, his splendour is over earth and heaven. He has raised up strength for his people and praise for all his loyal servants, the children of Israel, a people who are near him. 

REVELATION 21:1-6 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” 

Easter 4, May 12, 2019

Good Shepherd2

The Good Shepherd, Geri Adams

My apologies to those who regularly follow Love Letters. This month of fallow has been a time of restoration, consultation and discernment. Over the next weeks and months there will be a number of new formation initiatives that will complement this weekly blog that I hope you find helpful. Thank you and stay tuned!

I have the privilege of being in a different church every Sunday. Every one of them is filled with beauty, colour and love. Every one of them has its own distinct features and a few oddities, but all of them have one thing in common…a Good Shepherd window! As a matter of fact, these stained glass windows are so common I rarely photograph them.

Why is the Jesus shepherd image so popular? What does it say about Jesus, and ourselves? And why does it speak so profoundly to our soul?

I wonder if it is because of what it says about intimacy and belonging. If we were honest, we would admit that we often feel a little lost and distant—out of step. We gaze from the outside in at the happy, sparkling lives of others and wonder what’s wrong with us. This is never so acute as when we are in times of suffering and change. Of course, it takes a while to realize that others are looking back at us wondering the same thing about themselves.

“I know them and …they will never perish.” Jesus’ ultimate message was that we belong, we are claimed, we are cherished and we are loved. Take a look at the picture above, painted by artist Geri Adams. Notice the confident care of the shepherd. Take note of the trust that comes from the ewe who leans into the shepherd with familiar fondness.

“My sheep hear my voice.” But do we? Do we know this voice and the kind of intimacy we are invited into? Following Jesus is only possible if we hear and know his voice. Otherwise, our spiritual certainties begin to sound suspiciously like our own vain imaginings.

Here are some questions to ponder this Good Shepherd Sunday: Do we want to be known? What stands in the way of an intimate relationship with God? If you are not following Jesus, who or what are you following?

JOHN 10:22-30 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” 

ACTS 9:36-43 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner. 

PSALM 23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake.Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

REVELATION 7:9-17 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” 

Lent 5, April 7, 2019

 

Mary hair

Nave Window, Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton

Yet more reckless lavish extravagance! As we studiously simplify and abstain in this season of Lent, all manner of wine, oil and food is aflowing! A small, indignant torture in the face of disciplined self-restraint. I have been fasting and plastic-free shopping and find these past weeks’ gospel readings less than encouraging. Or are they?

At the beginning of this journey I was emboldened by a desire to get control over my consumption and to establish some measure of order and calm. I felt manipulated and seduced by the turbulence of compulsion and need. And to a large degree these two Lenten practices have helped me find focus, balance and quiet.

Our curbside garbage has decreased to a fraction of what it used to be. Before, we were putting out a couple of big bags a week, but that has petered out to a couple of big bags a month…maybe.

The internal shame and grief I felt as I peeled back layers and layers of polyethylene has lessened to tolerable levels.

The compelling ache for more and more has quieted with an assurance that I will not faint or die from not having It. Whatever It is.

But what is really remarkable is how utterly freeing it is to reposition materialism. I am sure I knew this at a rational level, but feeling it is so awesome! Almost all the things we crave aren’t essential, necessary and indispensable after all! The biggest fear I had with both of my Lenten practices was the grief of losing things I treasure. But the gift of these practices has been the realization that there is a different kind of bounty when we are prepared to loosen our white-knuckle grip on our latest, greatest claims.

I now get Mary’s reckless offering of the costly perfume. The shift of values she must have experienced through her life with Jesus made it possible for her to lovingly give away something that was really valuable but not at all essential.

As we draw closer to Holy Week, what spiritual insights have you gained from your Lenten practice (your One Thing, perhaps)? Are you sensing your spiritual practice has helped shift your values in any way? If you take a moment to reflect, you might come to see that making changes in behaviour—even those that are subtle and small—can make a deeper impact than we first realize.

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18

JOHN 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 

PHILIPPIANS 3:4B-14 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

PSALM 126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev. Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

ISAIAH 43:16-21 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 4, March 31, 2019

St. John Locke window 2

Narthex window, St. John the Evangelist, Locke St., Hamilton

Jesus tells a story about a reckless man. This man leaves the safety of his home and runs straight toward trouble. He wastes his money on the least deserving. He shows disrespect for important values such as hard work, reliability and loyalty, and instead favours relationship and celebration. Most importantly, he disregards all conventional wisdom and rewards bad behaviour with, none other than a hasty, extravagant party!

This is the story of a prodigal parent: an over-the-top, lavish and excessive lover. And this, Jesus says, describes God!

Wait a minute. Where is the restitution?! Where is the mighty vindication?! Where is my day of just comeuppance? Let me be clear, I don’t mean “my” day, but that day when God will settle the score and evil will finally pay for its selfish and destructive ways.

“Sure, but let me worry about that. Just make sure you don’t miss the party,” whispers Jesus.

Who is this prodigal parent? Who is this God Jesus is describing? Do we know this God? Have we experienced, first-hand, this kind of mercy, forgiveness, redemption? Both sons squander their father’s love: one with recklessness and irresponsibility and the other with duty and self-righteousness. Which tends to be our go-to path?

Today, I will spend some time reflecting on my experience of God’s mercy and the deep delight of being invited to the party. Will I let my warrior guard down long enough to step in and mix with the motley crowd? Will I get to know this prodigal God with this crazy love?

LUKE 15:1-3, 11B-32 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”‘ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthyto be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe – the best one – and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him! ‘Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” 

2 CORINTHIANS 5:16-21From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

PSALM 32Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. Therefore all the faithful will make theirprayers to you in time of trouble; when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

JOSHUA 5:9-12 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Lent 3, March 24, 2019

As we learn more about the Christchurch, New Zealand, shooting, we struggle with the contrast between the vulnerability of the worshippers and the armament of the shooter who murdered so many. One can’t help ask the age-old question: Where is God? It is a question even Jesus asked on the cross.

Many churches around the world will read the gospel passage from Luke 13:1-9 this Sunday which puzzles over this same question. Where is God in the middle of pain and suffering? Are the sufferings we endure retribution for our bad deeds, our sins? If not, what kind of God lets the innocent suffer or be slaughtered at the hands of Pilate or gunned down in a mosque?

Jesus answers the first question. He says, no, tribulations and suffering are not God’s way of punishing us. Frustratingly, we have no answer for the second question. However, Jesus does point out that when we make choices that separate us from God, suffering is an inevitable consequence. As a Pulpit Fiction podcast puts it: “Suffering is not evidence of sinfulness but sinfulness will lead to suffering.” (Pulpit Fiction 3:16; Lent 3C)

In fact, the little story of the fig tree reveals that God is far more merciful than we can ever imagine. Many of us, if we are truthful, are uncomfortable with how recklessly forgiving God is, at least when it is offered to anyone other than ourselves.

This is a day to lament fear:

  • for young men who get lured into greater degrees of hate because of the fear of seeing the dark hollowness of their souls;
  • for leaders who use these moments of fear for political gain to feed mindless populism;
  • for Muslim children and all children of persecuted peoples, who wake at night in fear and wonder why they and their families are hated;
  • for families that fear an empty future without those they love;
  • for people of faith who fight back wave after wave of fear with persistent and reckless love.

“Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise.” Psalm 63

LUKE 13:1-9 At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam – fell on them – do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’” 

ISAIAH 55:1-9 Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

PSALM 63:1-8 O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water. Therefore I have gazed upon you in your holy place, that I might behold your power and your glory. For your loving-kindness is better than life itself; my lips shall give you praise. So will I bless you as long as I live and lift up my hands in your name. My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips, When I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the night watches. For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice. My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast.

1 CORINTHIANS 10:1-13I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it. 

 

 

Lent 2, March 17, 2019

Thorold window.2jpg

Stained glass window, St. John the Evangelist, Thorold

Temple Grandin is a movie about the insurmountable courage and perseverance of a young woman and her family in overcoming many limitations of autism. Early in the movie, Temple’s mother attempts to give her daughter a goodnight hug only to be met with a fierce recoil: “I don’t want you to do that,” says Temple. The viewer sinks into the mother’s feelings as she stammers out her apology: “I’m sorry. I forgot. No hugs.”

This is a powerful moment of longing and unmet need for both women as we discover later in the story that Temple builds a squeeze machine for the express purpose of being hugged. “I have always wanted to understand the gentleness other people feel by being hugged by their mothers,” she says. “Because of my machine,” she explains, “I am able to know the kindness and love that have been given to me to reach this point in my life.”

This is a particular, and maybe uncontrollable dynamic of autism, but it reflects something about the larger human condition. How often do we find ourselves pushing away from the very thing we need because of a fear of being overwhelmed by it? Affection, kindness and community involve varying degrees of intimacy which, if many of us were honest, we would also admit we fear. Are self-sufficiency, perfectionism and self-assurance the masks we wear to hide our vulnerability and need? I wonder in my own life how many family arguments might have been better resolved with a bit of human touch like a hug or by being more open, less protective and right.

In this gospel reading, I think Jesus is lamenting this human dilemma. He looks at Jerusalem, the city of his people, and sees both their need for love and resulting destruction that comes from rejecting love. He yearns to reach out with compassion to protect them as a mother hen would her chicks, all the while anticipating their ultimate betrayal.

We learn early in life how to protect our feelings, but this occasionally helpful childhood strategy can do more harm than good when it impedes and distorts the very love and intimacy we crave and require as adults.

I wonder if these same defensive and protective behaviours get applied to our relationship with God. Otherwise, why do we keep God at such a distance? Why do we feel ourselves recoiling from God’s unconditional love? What would we have to face and let go of to respond to the invitation of this kind of love? And how would we have to retell our own story of hurt, pain and need?

Using the Ignatius Imaginative practice, I will place myself in this reading and imagine Jesus saying—to me, my family, my city, my country—“How often have I desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” I ask myself, am I be willing to be gathered in?

LUKE 13:31-35  At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” 

PHILIPPIANS 3:17-4:1  Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. 

PSALM 27 The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid? When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell. Though an army should encamp against me, yet my heart shall not be afraid; And though war should rise up against me, yet will I put my trust in him. One thing have I asked of the Lord; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock. Even now he lifts up my head above my enemies round about me. Therefore I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hearken to my voice, O Lord, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.” Your face, Lord, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure. You have been my helper; cast me not away; do not forsake me, O God of my salvation. Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will sustain me. Show me your way, O Lord; lead me on a level path, because of my enemies. Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen up against me, and also those who speak malice. What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! O tarry and await the Lord’s pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart; wait patiently for the 
Lord.

GENESIS 15:1-12, 17-18 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”