Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Cross, St. Mark's Orangeville

Chapel Cross, St. Mark’s Orangeville

Love keeps changing! For me, it has gone from dependency to fusion to sacrifice. The underlying feelings have also made a journey from fear to fire to delight. As a child, love was all about someone else. All my love was towards my parents because I depended on them completely. Then it was all about me and my need to receive everyone else’s love. Eventually, I matured into some equilibrium where love was about both me and the other.

How would you describe love? Would you use words that talk about feelings, an activity, a concept? Could you describe it without experiencing it first? Certainly my experience has shown that love keeps changing and deepening as I mature and grow.

This is Trinity Sunday, and many of us will struggle with the philosophical rigour of the theological concept of the Trinity. What is John trying to say, anyway, with all this “mine and thine” discourse? Maybe it doesn’t need to be so convoluted and complex. As with spirituality, the difference between intellectual knowledge and actual experience can be compared to the difference between reading a menu and eating the meal. I wonder if that is why Adam and Eve ate the apple. But that is for another day…

What if the Trinity is simply a relationship of love? Not a childish love where we try to appease God. Not a youthful love where we voraciously consume God. Maybe the Trinity is more about the deepening love that respects distinctiveness while yearning for fulfilment through tenderness, courage, empathy, quiet, vigilance, suffering and delight. I am not sure we understand this until we have experienced it. What is your experience of love? And how is this part of your relationship with God?

May you know God’s self-giving love. And may it shape you into a lover.

JOHN 16:12-15 Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

ROMANS 5:1-5 Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

PSALM 8 O Lord our governor, how exalted is your name in all the world! Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens. You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, to quell the enemy and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out? You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honour; You give him mastery over the works of your hands; you put all things under his feet; All sheep and oxen, even the wild beasts of the field, The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea. O Lord our governor, how exalted is your name in all the world!

PROVERBS 8:1-4, 22-31 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth – when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” 

Easter 7, June 2, 2019

Spring Carpet

Spring Carpet, Hamilton ON, by Yohanna Harris

Could there be a more maligned phrase today than, “I’ll pray for you.”?

I remember it served as a threat once after a heated discussion about the ordination of women. (This feels like a long-ago topic now.) I was in seminary and my theological sparing partner, in desperation, was throwing in the towel. It was obvious to him that I was a lost cause and so I was commended to God, the final arbiter. “I’ll pray for you” meant “God, I did my best. You fix her!” It was dislocating to know that someone was petitioning God to alter the very thing I was being told by God to trust.

The latest misuse of this phrase is it’s use by conservative politicians in both Canada and the United States as a foil to avoid addressing divisive political issues. Instead of allowing a tragedy to help galvanize positive initiative, the phrase is used to divert attention and dismantle the impetus for change. “I’ll pray for you” in this case means “Look away. Nothing to see here.” Once again, it is dislocating to know someone is petitioning God to maintain the very thing people are being called by God to change.

Compare this with Jesus saying “I’ll pray for you.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples and offers a prayer. This is a prayer not just for them but for those who will come to believe—for us! His prayer was that we may be one with God and with each other. Ironic isn’t it that prayer can be used as an instrument of division for us but with Jesus it empowers unity.

How does prayer—true prayer—breakdown the barriers between us? When we set our self-righteousness aside, how does prayer help us see the enemy? How does prayer challenge us to realize we need each other, even the one who is not sure of my calling, worth or activity?

O Lord, I come to you in prayer. Help me understand my enemy. Help me humbly appreciate divergent perspectives and the blind spots of my own. Help me trust in your call and have the courage to see those who are on the margins and to speak out for those who do not have a voice. Help me love across all barriers. Amen.

Who is your enemy? What truth do they hold? What truth do you hold?

JOHN 17:20-26 Jesus said, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” 

REVELATION 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21  “See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. “It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen. 

PSALM 97 The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad. Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne. A fire goes before him and burns up his enemies on every side. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees it and is afraid. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory. Confounded be all who worship carved images and delight in false gods! Bow down before him, all you gods. Zion hears and is glad, and the cities of Judah rejoice, because of your judgements, O Lord. For you are the Lord, most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. The Lord loves those who hate evil; he preserves the lives of his saints and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light has sprung up for the righteous, and joyful gladness for those who are truehearted. Rejoice in the Lord, you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name.  

ACTS 16:16-34 One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. 

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.