Feast: Pentecost 11
Readings: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

“Woman, great is your faith!”

In today’s gospel reading we encounter a Canaanite woman—that is, a Gentile, a non-Jewish woman—who confesses great faith in Christ. The main point of this sermon, if I could sum it up in a sentence, is this: the joy of the gospel is for everyone!

Recall with me that in last week’s gospel Jesus sent Peter and the other disciples on ahead of him across the sea. Well today’s reading takes place on the other side, specifically Matthew tells us that Jesus and his disciples came to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Now it’s important to note that this was the land of pagans, not Jews, and in light of Jesus’ own instruction earlier in the gospel to, “go nowhere among the Gentiles,” (10:5) one can imagine a certain discomfort on behalf of the disciples. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Today’s gospel reading reminds us that the Church is sent out to a world that is broken and calling out for help. To a world that does not yet know the peace and joy that Christ brings. And we’re sent into such places and to such people because the joy of the gospel is for everyone.

So, Jesus leads his disciples on into paganland and no sooner has that happened then a Canaanite woman came out to meet them and started shouting: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Now, Matthew is the only gospel writer to tell us that this was a Canaanite woman, and he does so as if to highlight the extent to which she was not part of God’s chosen. Indeed, some of the Church Fathers thought this woman to be the “mother of the Gentiles.” Here in paganland the mother of Pagans runs out to meet Jesus and she cries out for help.

And the disciples seeing this woman come to Jesus crying out for mercy rejoice and are glad and point her right-away to their Lord. Only they do not! Rather they urge Jesus to send her away because she’s a bother to them. Their desire was for their own peace and quiet. This woman here does not display that sort of decency and decorum befitting of a good Anglican. Now I’m sure none of us have ever drawn boundaries in an attempt to sort out what type of people would make good Anglicans but if we were tempted to draw such boundaries we’d learn pretty quickly that Jesus has a tendency to confound these sorts of measures.

That the woman is screaming for help is lost in the disciples’ offense that she is screaming at all. Personally, I wish I could look down upon the disciples for their response but I cannot because it is too often my own response.

Being a priest you are sometimes a magnet for needy people. In my previous parish located on the corner of a busy intersection in a very under-resourced neighbourhood in Toronto there was a fairly regular flow of people just walking in looking for help. One guy in particular, every time I saw him I prayed the prayer of Jesus’ disciples, “O Lord, do sendeth him away for he is a bother.” Ears of faith, however, hear in every cry for help what is ultimately a cry for the Lord.

In our reading from Roman’s last week we heard those wonderful words of St. Paul: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” (Romans 10:13). If you’re like me perhaps you hear those words and think, everyone? Indeed, the joy of the gospel is for everyone.

What is this woman’s cry? “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” She has come out to Jesus bearing the suffering of her daughter which is her own suffering. Part of the vocation of the Church is to bring the needs of the world before the Lord and to plead for his mercy. The liturgy helps us to do this in, for example, the prayers of the people. I hope our familiarity with these prayers which we offer each week does not dull their significance and meaning—just here we offer up prayers for the whole wide world and for others in particular. So also in the bread and wine of Holy Communion is the stuff of the whole world taken up into Christ’s own self-offering to the Father in heaven.

So the question is: Who are you bringing to the Lord in prayer? Perhaps it is a child or a neighbour or an old friend? Do not give up, do not grow weary in doing good but persevere for the Lord hears your cry. Let us be encouraged to bring others before Christ in prayer with the confidence that he can help.

Jesus’ response is curious. At first he does not say anything. His compassion prevents him from turning here away like the disciples wish and yet he is silent. Next, he expresses the reality of his mission as one sent to a particular people: to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The text does not specify who he is talking to here, is it the disciples or the woman? In fact, the text almost makes it seem as if he is speaking to himself (Bruner 99).

I think what we see here is Jesus’ commitment to Israel first. Theologians sometimes refer to this sort of thing as the scandal of particularity. Namely, that God chose to redeem the world in particular ways—through the election of Israel and chiefly through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ knew that he was sent first to Israel and awaited from them a response.

This is precisely what the Apostle Paul has been wrestling with in Romans which we have heard read, almost in the background, these last few weeks. Part of the issue at stake there is that Israel, at least in part, has rejected their Messiah. This has caused some of the Gentile Christians in the Roman church to suppose that God has cast off Israel. But Paul shuts this down in the eleventh chapter, part of which we heard read this morning: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you [Gentiles] were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their [Israel’s] disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.” In Paul’s view even Israel’s apparent rejection of their Messiah is caught up in God’s redemptive action for it was their rejection that propelled the Messiah into Gentile territory. Where he now stands. And this woman, the mother of the Gentiles, cries out to the Lord on behalf of all Gentiles (Epiphanius the Latin). Because the joy of the gospel is for everyone.

Then, in what I think is the most moving part of this encounter the woman comes and kneels before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” She knows that she is not a member of the people of Israel. She knows that she is an outsider who does not belong at the table with the children. Yet she had come to the end of her resources, every other option and possibility had been exhausted. All that remained was to throw herself at the Lord’s feet in an act of desperate adoration knowing that even but a few crumbs of Christ’s mercy is enough to sustain her and heal her daughter.

I admire the humility of her faith. We would do well to cultivate such humility ourselves and we have the prayers to help us. Consider the Prayer of Humble Access that comes just before we receive Holy Communion in the Prayer Book liturgy: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy…”

Let us not presume upon the mercy of Christ nor think that we have no need of his mercy or that we have somehow merited his mercy ourselves. Let us rather practice humility and cast ourselves each day upon Christ’s mercy: “Lord, help me.” And we will find that Christ does not give us a life time supply of mercy all at once but simply enough for this day, this moment. The crumbs that fall from the table of the heavenly banquet are enough to sustain us today. To quell every temptation, forgive every sin, and heal every wound.

Then, finally, Matthew tells us that Jesus answered her: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Great is your faith! That is, great is your trust in me. Great is your trust that even the crumbs of my mercy are sufficient for you. Great is your faith that I will turn no one away that calls upon me.

Faith is that one necessary thing, that human response to God’s loving action. Our “yes” to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our utter and complete trust and hope in him. And as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this October we should remember that great Reformational emphasis that it is by faith alone that we are saved. Not by any merit of our own but simply by trusting that who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us is sufficient to absolve us of our sin and reconcile us to God our Father.

Such faith is the fount from which a life of love and service to our Lord and to others flows. As such, the greatest gift that you can give to the world as a Christian is to take responsibility for your own faith, to nourish it and tend to it. After all, the faith of the woman extends to the benefit of her daughter. Christians are those who have received that which the world has not yet received—faith in Christ—and yet are charged with tending it not for their own sake but for the good of the world. Because no one is excluded from the joy of the gospel.

And so as we come to the table of the Lord in a few moments to receive that bread and wine which is our Lord’s Body and Blood may we like the Canaanite woman cast ourselves upon the mercy of Christ, not only for our own sake but for the good of those who are yet to trust in him, because the joy of the gospel is for everyone. And may we like her find that a crumb of Christ’s mercy is sufficient. Amen.

Feast Day: The Transfiguration
Readings: 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Pet 1:16)

On this feast day of The Transfiguration, when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain and they saw with their own eyes the unspeakable glory of Christ, we are reminded that the God Christians worship requires witnesses. Which is rather strange because Christian and non-Christian alike tend to assume that any god worth believing in should not have to depend on witnesses to be made known (Hauerwas). That any god worth his or her salt would be obviously known, either through introspection—examining ourselves—or by observing the world around us. Consequently, if the God of Israel who raised Jesus from the dead requires witnesses in order to be known then this God is viewed with suspicion.

Yet the God that Christians worship does, as I’ve said, require witnesses precisely because the God that Christians worship is not some general principle that can be deduced from the created world but is the particular Jesus Christ.

And so St. Peter, writing to a group of new Christians reminds them that the faith they have received is founded upon the testimony of Peter and the other apostles who themselves were “eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (2 Pe 1:16). “For he,” says Peter, “received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain,” (2 Pe 1:17-18).

Peter is here recalling the experience he shared with James and John when Jesus took them up the mountain and they were given a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity. Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became dazzling white—he was, transfigured. And Peter, James, and John, though they were very tired, stayed awake and thus saw his glory revealed.

This vision is then interpreted by the voice from the cloud, the voice of the Father: “This is my Son, my Beloved: listen to him!” (Lk 9:35). And this is really the climax of the whole event. The whole point of this episode is that for a moment the veil is pulled back and the disciples recognize God’s own glory hidden in the flesh of Jesus Christ. This voice of affirmation means that all we need to know about God is discovered in Jesus Christ and that we cannot know God apart from Christ. The voice means that God the Father wants us to reverence and adore His Son more than anything else in the world.

What I want to say to you this morning is that the Christian life is about beholding Jesus Christ in glory and being drawn into that mystery. As Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” To be a Christian is to be made an eyewitness of the glory of Christ and so to be given a new direction and purpose in life.

The question then is how does this happen today for those of us who are so far removed geographically and temporally from that mountain? How is it that we come to see Christ in glory so that we are transformed as individuals and as a community that is then capable of bearing witness to Christ here in the parish of Midhurst and Craighurst?

I believe that our reading from St. Luke points us to two ways in particular that the risen and living Jesus Christ reveals himself to those who seek him by faith: prayer and the reading of Scripture.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray. Everywhere in the gospels Jesus is praying: going apart from the crowds to pray, encouraging and teaching his disciples to pray, and the author of Hebrews tells us that even now Christ is at the right hand of the Father in heaven where he “lives to make intercession” for us—praying for us and praying with us.

We cannot know Christ apart from knowing him in prayer. Anglicans should know this because at the centre of our tradition stands one of the greatest written works that the English language has ever known, the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book is not simply a manual for Sunday worship but is rather a whole world of prayer that we are invited to enter into through a living and active engagement with Holy Scripture. The Prayer Book contains prayers for everything, from birth to baptism to rogation days to marriage to death and more. From Holy Communion to the rhythm of the Daily Office—Morning and Evening Prayer. And the backbone of all of this is Scripture, especially the Psalms, but also the reading of vast portions of the Old and New Testament each day. The point is that our whole life is saturated in prayer so that we might know Christ in the 166.5 hours of the week that are not Sunday morning.

My hope for us here at St. Paul’s/John’s is that prayer would more and more inform the rhythm of our daily life. Personally, I say Morning and Evening Prayer every day. It is a priest’s duty to do so but more than that I have come to delight in it. And I want you to know that I will be praying for you all on a regular basis. One of the things that I hope to establish soon in our parish is a schedule of morning and evening prayer at both St. Paul’s and St. John’s. I am not sure what it will look like just yet and attendance will not be required, of course. But I want us to be a church that is known to pray and to pray often. And more than that, to be a church that prays with the faith that in prayer we meet Jesus Christ and come to know him more fully.

I am convinced that this is critical not only for each of us individually but for our parish. I know that there has been a good deal of uncertainty around these parts in the last couple of years. I know that this uncertainty has bred anxiety and even, perhaps, some animosity. I do not know what the future holds but I do know that we have no future apart from prayer, because we have no future apart from Christ who meets us there.

Holy Scripture is another place that we meet the risen Christ and are shown his glory. As Jesus is transfigured on the mountain suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and were speaking with him about his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. That is, they were speaking about Christ’s Passion, that whole movement of his death, resurrection, and ascension whereby God would save the world from sin and death and begin to renew all things in Christ.

Moses and Elijah are representative of the Law and the Prophets, that is, they represent the Old Testament in its entirety. And here is the point that the earliest Christians knew well, the whole Old Testament speaks of the mystery of Christ’s Passion. Recall that at the end of Luke’s gospel the risen Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus and what does he do but, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the Scriptures,” (24:27).

We read the Bible for all sorts of reasons. We might approach the Bible as an interesting if not odd (and sometimes embarrassing) piece of ancient history. Or we might read the Bible as if it were a metaphor or allegory, believing that it contains a few nuggets of wisdom for living a moral life. Preachers are not immune from this either which is why so many churches have to bear with insufferable sermons each week.

Partly because we are good Modernists most of us have not been encouraged to come to Holy Scripture to find Christ there. Yet this is precisely how the the earliest Christians, and Christians for most of history came to the Scriptures. Not to learn a bit about ancient history or to hear some encouraging stories or to find a blueprint for a respectable and decent life. No, rather they came to the Scriptures to find the risen and living Christ there. To see him and to hear him. To borrow an image from last weeks’ gospel reading, Christ is the pearl of great price hidden in the field of Scripture. We read Scripture to search for and find him.

What difference would it make to our common life here at St. Paul’s/John’s if we approached prayer and the Bible with the faith that just there we encounter the risen and living Jesus Christ? To pray and to read the Bible with such a faith is what it means to “stay awake,” as Peter, James, and John did. And if we like them are able to resist the temptation to fall asleep we too will be shown Christ’s glory.

Recently Pope Francis said, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”

However long we’ve been around, however much we think we know, Christ Jesus invites us to encounter him anew personally each day. So as we pray and as we read Scripture and hear it proclaimed let us come with the faith that the risen and living Jesus Christ will encounter us there and we will behold his beauty. And let us do this together that we with Peter, James, and John may be made eyewitnesses of his majesty for the sake of a watching world. Amen.

silence

Pax Christi

I
Secular folk simply don’t understand why anyone would bother to take an old book like the Bible seriously let alone be willing to give up ones life for the faith that the Bible creates-out-of-nothing in the hearts and minds of simple folk like you and I.

Perhaps for a good man one might dare to die. But for a wretch? For a thief? For a coward? For an adulterer? Don’t be silly. Our evolutionary instinct to self-preserve puts such an act clearly outside of the bounds of self-interest. Moreover, is there anyone wretched, really?

II
One Toronto critic called the film a failure. A failure! An honest-to-God failure. Why? Because Mr. Scorsese was too thick-in-the-head to recognize that “contemporary audiences” (mind the whiff of chronological snobbery) have trouble picturing faith. Faith, obviously, is not a contemporary virtue. At least not the sort of faith that might lead one to delight in the grotesque forms of self-denial and sacrificial love that Mr. Scorsese forces his viewers to behold. Faith is old and frumpy, inauthentic and unsexy. Best leave that in the past.

I wonder though, are “contemporary audiences” so deficient or was the critics comment a window into her own soul? I’m only asking. Who am I to judge? And if “contemporary audiences” are so deficient, is that the fault of the Director? Should he have made a version of the film more palatable for modern viewers? Are transcendent things—things like Truth, Goodness, and Beauty—meant to be easily discernable and readily available to any critic with an opinion?

III
Once upon a time, Steve Jobs commented on the difficulty of designing products based on focus groups. “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them,” he said.

Perhaps “contemporary audiences” do not know what they want. Perhaps they need to be shown. Focus groups (and critics) be damned!

IV
As I was reading the reviews this morning I realized that not all newspapers were in agreement as to where to file these sorts of things. First of all, is it a “Movie” or a “Film”? And once that has been sorted, is this “Art” or “Entertainment”?

Now I don’t know much about art but I have been reading Sir Roger Scruton on beauty lately and that’s something to digest.

Likewise, I’m unsure of the difference between a “Movie” and a “Film” though I’ve heard it said that a movie is made by a director for others whereas a film is made by a director for himself. In this regard, Silence is a film. It might not be for you. Perhaps “contemporary audiences” (un)naturally expect that these sorts of things are for them, products for their consumption rather than objects to be contemplated.

V
As a priest, I found myself wondering what it would have been like to be sitting there watching this film as someone who is not a member of the Christian religion.

The critic mentioned above might help us in this regard. The portion of the film that Ms. Taylor found most interesting was the latter third in which Fr. Rodrigues finally meets Inoue (“The Inquisitor”) and has a series of conversations with him. In the same final-third Fr. Rodrigues also meets Fr. Ferreria, the Jesuit who trained and mentored Fr. Rodrigues and others but who has now himself apostatized and is living the life of a Japanese.

According to Ms. Taylor, these two characters provide a lesson in “cultural sensitivity” to Fr. Rodrigues and ought thus to be praise. (It should be noted that Fr. Rodrigues was not a member of the “contemporary audience” and thus was lacking in the sort of “cultural sensitivity” that a good modern Westerner is well versed in. Indeed, a “cultural sensitivity” that is legislated and enforced by the State—just ask Professor Peterson).

But this in an interesting way to speak of these two characters. Inoue in particular, “is crucial to the introduction of a more nuanced approach” to the colonial questions raised by Christian missionary work, we are told. “A more nuanced approach”? That’s a curious turn of phrase to attribute to a man who rained down death and a various assortment of brutal persecutions upon thousands of Japanese Christians.

“Now, Silence opens itself to the relativism of the 21st century – removing itself even further from the faith of the 17th.” Really? Does religious fervor for “the relativism of the 21st century” really look more kindly upon the persecution of members of the Christian religion than it does upon said Christians when they willingly, joyfully even, suffer for their (17th century) faith?

VI
The Christian religion has always been a source of discomfort for those who are not of it (and indeed, for those who are of it as well). There are some fair reasons for this, of course—the history of Christianity is not without blemish. However, at the heart of the Christian faith we have Jesus.

Gandhi famously quipped, what was it, “I like your Christ but not your Christians,” or something like that. Nicholas Kristof recently wondered aloud, “Am I a Christian?” “I deeply admire Jesus and his message, but am also skeptical of themes that have been integral to Christianity.”

But this is a load of rubbish.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.”
John 1:10-11

Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”
John 19:14-16

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”
1 Corinthians 1:22-23

The story of Jesus is not of his coming to a world that “deeply admires” him. But of him coming to a world that deeply despises and rejects him, even unto death. (And in cases where the world does purport to “deeply admire” Jesus, it is likely a Jesus of their own fashioning that they fancy).

Keller suggested that Kristof might not be. A Christian, that is.

VII
Perhaps it is simply easier then to strip the film of its “religious and philosophical trappings,” as some critics suggest. To rob it of it’s particularity and turn it into more of a universal tale of inclusivity, tolerance, the strength of the human spirit, or something more palatable to the “contemporary audience.”

VIII
The face of Jesus appears throughout Silence. Not only on the fumie where it is trampled upon but also as an object of contemplation for the Padres and the Japanese Christians. In one scene, moments before Fr. Rodrigues is finally apprehended by the authorities, he sees his reflection in a pool of water morph, momentarily, into the face of Christ. The theological point here is clear (too clear, perhaps): the suffering of the Christian missionaries and of the Japanese Christians themselves is a participatio Christi, a participation in the sufferings of Christ.

Onlookers might stand aghast, wondering why Japanese Christians would suffer so? Trample upon the fumie, deny your Christ, “it is only a formality.” And for the Padres who would look on who, we are told, have brought this suffering upon the people—how could they standby and watch the terrible suffering inflicted upon these dear people knowing that all it would take to release them from suffering would be for they themselves to apostatize? (Whether or not this would have actually released the Japanese from suffering is another matter)

What is missed in the assessment of critics here is the way in which the Padres and the Japanese Christians were not so much suffering for their faith in Christ as they were suffering with Christ himself. Or rather, confident that Christ himself was with them in their own (inevitable) sufferings.

IX
“We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Romans 8:17

X
I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.”
Romans 9:1-3

It is perhaps this suffering, the suffering of the Apostle, that is the interpretive key to understanding the suffering of Fr. Rodrigues himself.

God be praised.

 

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

A little bit of background info for the uninitiated: This July the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada is set to meet and the big debate/vote on the docket has to do with changing our Church Canon (i.e. Church law) on marriage.

You can read the Marriage Canon in its entirety here, but for our immediate purposes I think it sufficient simply to say that Canon XXI affirms that marriage is an indissoluble covenant (“until they are separated by death”) between one man and one woman which is ordered towards, “mutual fellowship, support, and comfort, and the procreation (if it may be) and nurture of children, and the creation of a relationship in which sexuality may serve personal fulfilment in a community of faithful love.” One could spend a good deal unpacking this and indeed we have spent a good deal of time doing so.

It’s important to note that the Anglican Church of Canada affirms this understanding of marriage, “according to our Lord’s teaching as found in Holy Scripture and expressed in the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer.” That is, the Anglican Church of Canada believes that our present teaching on marriage is not only faithful to what Anglicans have always believed and taught but is the very teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ himself as we have it in Holy Scripture.

Now, not all Anglicans believe this. So, at the General Synod of the ACoC in 2013 a resolution was passed to draft a motion, “to change Canon XXI on marriage to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples…”

A Commission was struck. They met. They prayed. They studied. They produced the report This Holy Estate. Many people rejoiced at the report. Others were disappointed. My own response was one of concern. I thought the theological and biblical reasoning was, shall we say, insufficient. Ephraim Radner, Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe College, said, “It was not a theological report. It was a report that used some theology, but for a non-theological purpose.” I think he is right. Moreover, it raised concerns for me with respect to Catholicity. What does it mean to disregard other churches who are asking us not to go forward with such a change? How can we disregard the majority of our Anglican brothers and sisters from around the world? What would it mean for me as a priest to be subject to a church with whom I disagree doctrinally?

Coinciding with all of this in the Canadian church, the Episcopal Church went ahead and voted to changed their marriage canon in the summer of 2015. In response to this and a growing tension in the Anglican Communion the Primates (leaders of the Anglican Communion) met in Canterbury in January. It was an overwhelmingly successful meeting, though not a pain-free one. Indeed, some lamented their communiqué for in it the Primates overwhelmingly agreed on the traditional Church teaching on marriage as outlined in the BCP and Canon XXI of the ACoC.

OK, back to the Canadian vote this summer. I believe the saying is, “ball in your court,” Canadians.

A quick explanation of what it would take for the motion to change the marriage canon to pass on first reading (if it passed the first time, it would have to pass a second reading in 2019). In July 2016 the motion would be debated and voted on by three different voting bodies: the laity, the clergy, and the bishops. In order for the motion to pass it would have to pass with a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses.

Well, it looks like Canon XXI isn’t going to be changing any time soon.

The Canadian House of Bishops met last week. Many Canadians were praying and fasting for this meeting. Today they released their statement. Here’s the money quote:

In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a 2/3rds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realisation.

And so we (continue to) pray.

I imagine that the motion will still be debated and voted on but barring any unforeseen circumstances or changes of heart it will not pass. That means that the Anglican Church of Canada will continue to uphold the traditional teaching of Jesus Christ and of the whole Church on marriage.

It’s been interesting to see some of the responses thus far to the Bishops. I think I’ve written enough for now but I’ll try to address one or two of them in another blog post.

Grace and peace.

JT+

“Lord, take my heart and break it:
break it not in the way I would like,
but in the way you know to be best.
And, because it is you who break it,
I will not be afraid, for in your hands all is safe and I am safe.

Lord, take my heart and give to it your joy,
not in the ways I like,
but in the ways you know are best,
that your joy may be fulfilled in me.
So, dear Lord, I am ready to be your priest.”

– Archbishop Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest Today, p.93-94

JTordination-1 copy

A Sonnet for Transfiguration
by Malcolm Guite

For that one moment, in and out of time,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings,
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face.
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar,
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

transfiguration-header

Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C – Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

CanaWedding

“Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now,” (John 2:10).

In our gospel reading this morning we have a story about water and wine but it is not really a story about water and wine. It is meant to show us something about Jesus, something that we wouldn’t know on our own, bright as we may be. It’s a story about water and wine, the very best wine we are told. Indeed, so blown away is the steward that he calls the bridegroom over and commends him on the quality of the product in what is the focal point of the story: “Everyone serves the good wine first, and the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Here we need pay attention, for here is the key to understanding what we are being shown about Jesus in and through this story. “But you have kept the good wine until now.” A true statement but it’s ironically true in the mouth of the steward because while it ought to be directed towards Jesus—the one who miraculously created this delicious wine from tasteless water—it’s actually directed to the bridegroom. So, the statement is true but not in the way that he means it, in fact, it’s true in a way which points to a much deeper truth—it is not the bridegroom but God who has “kept the best wine until now.”[1] The wine that God gives now is qualitatively better than the wine that came before it.

But this isn’t really a story about wine.

This is the language of Israel’s Messianic hope and expectation—the hope of a future that would be characterized by greater blessings than anything that had come before, and the wedding feast and the wine are a sign for the joy of this age. Consider this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever,” (25:6-8a).

Notice the connection between the finest wine and the abolition of death. The same connection is present in our reading from the wedding in Cana but it’s hidden away in Jesus’ somewhat cryptic response to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” (2:4). In other words, what’s happening here when Jesus miraculously gives them the best wine they’ve ever had is merely a foretaste of what will come into greater focus at a later hour when the glory of God is most fully revealed in Jesus, the hour of his death and resurrection (12:23, 27; 13:1). The hour in which he gave himself wholly to us and for us, for the forgiveness of sins, for our liberation from sin and death—the wine of our redemption, which would obtain life for all (Maximus of Turin).

This Messianic wedding feast with the best wine, this marriage of heaven and earth, this hoped for time of union with God, was not just for Israel but for “all peoples.”

This is the goal of the Christian life, of any life at all, of human life. For this reason alone were we created, that we might be joined to the Living God in an indissoluble union of love. To live from God and to God and with God, moving ever deeper into his love and light.

However, we only come to realize that this is the goal of life once our eyes have been opened to behold the glory of God in Jesus Christ, to see in his death and resurrection God’s very own self-giving to us and for us that our condemned marriage with sin and death might be annulled, so that we might live anew with God in fullness of life. This reality has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, the very best wine that God has to give, his own Son. And we receive this gift every time we receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.

I was filled with great joy as I read Archbishop Colin Johnson’s recent letter to all the churches in the diocese, a letter which we will hear read at our vestry in a few weeks. The letter ends with these words: “I have a continuing concern that we deepen our own understanding of our faith in Jesus Christ and our ability to speak of that faith reasonably and confidently, and to give voice “to the hope that lies within us” as St. Paul writes.” Yes! O that we might be such a people here at St. Mary and St. Martha’s this year and always, drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Christ and finding in that deep treasury hope and life and faith and love.

One of the great Biblical figures for this union with God is—you might guess from the setting of our story—marriage. Throughout the Old Testament God is depicted as the faithful Bridegroom of His oft-unfaithful people Israel. Consider, for example, this morning’s reading from Isaiah: “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you,” (62:4-5).

Later, looking back on the Old Testament in light of the risen Jesus, the apostles saw in him the figure of the Bridegroom par excellence. Thus, the gospels are full of parables about wedding feasts. Moreover, the bridegroom in the wedding at Cana a stand-in for Jesus, a fact confirmed by the words of John the Baptist in the very next chapter: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled,” (3:29). John’s joy is fulfilled because he is the friend of the Bridegroom and now, finally, the Bridegroom has come for his Bride.

Is it any wonder that he who came to Cana for a wedding came to this world for a wedding?

St. Augustine reflects on this saying: “Therefore he has a bride here whom he has redeemed by his blood and to whom he has given the Holy Spirit as a pledge. He wrested her from enslavement to the devil, he died for her sins. He arose again for her justification. Who will offer such great things to his bride?” And the Church is the Bride of Christ, to whom and for whom he has given his very life, his own blood.***

This is the best wine—life with God in Christ. That the Holy Spirit might direct our life in the Church such that we grow up into maturity and fullness of life with God in Christ. And this happens slowly, over time. Indeed, our present experience of this reality is merely a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that is to come where we will truly be one with the Bridegroom. Even so, as with the steward in the story, a foretaste is enough to elicit great joy! What joy is to come then, that even now is at work within us! When Christ, as a sign of his power, changed water into wine all the crowd rejoiced at its marvelous taste. Now we all are partakers at the banquet in the church, for Christ’s blood is changed to wine and we drink it with holy joy, praising the Bridegroom (Romanus Melodus).

My prayer for you this year, for us all, is that we might come to know ever more deeply the glory of God in Jesus Christ, who poured his very life and love out for us on the cross and then into us by the Holy Spirit. That we might be transformed in spite of our sins and failures, into the Bride of Christ. And that this union with God in Christ would generate spiritual children, new followers of Jesus. This year, more than in the past, may we be drawn ever further into this mystery. Amen.

[1] Richard Bauckham, Gospel of Glory, 180.

Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Mary and St. Martha’s, Mount Dennis, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 17th, 2016.

***At this point in the sermon there was an additional section which I included during the 8:30am service but made an editorial decision between services to exclude it from the 10:30am service. Below is the text that I cut-out.

This is one of the reasons why it matters what the Church believes about marriage. It has become increasingly clear in the late-Modern West that the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of sex and marriage—these deep issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be a human creature—are at growing odds with particular cultural orthodoxies. We live in a time and place where it is not only possible but desirable, so we are told, to separate sex from marriage and procreation from sex because sex and marriage and procreation are ultimately about realizing one’s self. Thus, in a strange inversion sex and marriage and even children are ordered to nothing greater than the pleasure and experience of the individual. We turn ever further in on ourselves and experience not abundant life. But the Church has consistently rejected this in various ways over time, insisting that sex and marriage and children are meant to go together, and that God orders them towards something greater than our own pleasure or experience, that they have the power not only to communicate to us the mystery of Christ and his Church but to form us after his likeness as we are called to lay down our lives for our spouse and children.

As the marital love that unites a man and a woman bears forth fruit, that is children, so too the marital love that unites Christ and his Church bears forth fruit, that is spiritual children: new disciples, new believers, new followers of Jesus Christ, new recipients of his abundant and life-giving grace. “And his disciples believed in him,” (2:11).