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).

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, 2015 – Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37

christ-children

Yeah, yeah. I know this technically goes with another passage but you get the idea.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37).

Brothers and sisters, it is hard to believe that I’m standing here before you this morning preaching my last sermon at St. Cuthbert’s. Five months hardly seems like a sufficient amount of time to be together. And yet, I am deeply thankful. I know not why, but God in His providence saw fit to have our paths cross if only for a short time. You all, all of you, have been a gift to me, and to my family, and I can only hope and pray that I have been the same to you. And so I thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of your friendship. In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes: “There is one body and one Spirit…one hope of your calling…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all,” (4:4-6). Indeed, we are one in Christ if we hold firm to him. Be assured that I will remember you in my prayers and I ask that you would pray for me as well.

I’ve heard it said that every preacher really only has one sermon and for the most part that’s probably true. Reflecting back on my time with you, I think that today’s gospel reading from Mark nicely sums up the one sermon that I think I have been given to share with you all.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37). Christians pride themselves on being a welcoming bunch. If you don’t believe me just pay a visit to most any church website and I’ll bet that one of the first words you come across is “welcome”. And what would a Sunday morning be without coffee hour? This is good, we should practice hospitality and welcome both friend and stranger. But where does this welcome come from? And into what are we welcoming others?

Last week we looked at a passage from earlier in Mark’s gospel and discovered that we find life, not when we try to secure it for ourselves, but when we lose our life for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. This week we have a similar scene a little bit later in Mark. Jesus foretells of his death for the second time, in response to which the disciples grow increasingly confused and fearful.

They then come to rest in the home of a friend and Jesus sits down and begins to teach them, fully aware of what it was they were discussing on the way: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” (9:35). Last of all? Servant of all? Perhaps we, like the disciples, feel that this is a hard teaching. Perhaps we are likewise confused and fearful—if we are honest with Jesus about our questions along the way, will his response fit nicely into our life, or will he turn our life on its head?

In the next chapter we witness a similar scene, only the disciples are more brazen this time: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” (10:35-37). We then hear Jesus’ refrain again: “whoever wishes to be first among you must be a slave of all,” (10:44). “For,” he continues, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many,” (10:45).

Last week we heard the command, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This week we hear, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” The lives we are called into as apprentices of Jesus are lives that are conformed to our master.

But how does any of this happen? How do we become a people so marked by humility and charity? Well, we have the gospel accounts of Jesus’ earthly ministry. We could, perhaps study them, see what Jesus is like, and try our best to do what he does. Or, we could look to Paul’s letters and try to practice all of the virtues he talks about and avoid all of the vices. But if living in God’s new world were as simple as following Jesus’ example then the crucifixion would seem a bit over-the-top, no? “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again,” (9:31). Our problem isn’t that we don’t try hard enough, it is that apart from Christ we are dead in our sin. And what sinful human creatures need is not motivation but resurrection.

“Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (9:36-37). In this picture, we are confronted with a great mystery, that God has given Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. As the very fullness of God with us, Jesus Christ is our life.

There’s something significant about Jesus’ identification of himself with the child. Children, at this time, were of low esteem, the lowest order in the social scale, oftentimes abandoned to the elements and whatever else may come. Into this context, God gives himself to us in the form of an infant. As it is put so beautifully in a 4th century Christian hymn: “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ. Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father. When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb,” (Te Deum). God with us, in the very weakness of human flesh; in the lowly infant born in a stable, in the lowly man hung on a cross. “And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

As the child is placed in the midst of the disciples so too we receive the crucified Christ into our midst in many ways, concrete and yet surprising. In baptism, where the Spirit joins us to him and his mystical Body, and we enter into the way. In the Eucharist, where we feed on his flesh and blood, nourishment for the journey. In Holy Scripture, where we hear and see the story of our salvation which culminates in Christ, where we have come from and where God is leading us. In the presence of one another, fellow pilgrims along the way, that we might together grow up into the full stature of Christ. And in all of these ways, God opens our eyes to behold the beauty of the risen Christ.

This is the beginning of the whole of the Christian life—not our own effort or ingenuity, but our reception of the God who took on flesh in the form of an infant and entered into the midst of us, giving himself wholly over to us in Jesus Christ. And I thank you for your gracious welcome of me into this faithful community. We have walked along the way some distance now, and together I pray that our eyes have been opened to see, and our hearts open to daily receive Christ into the midst of our common life. What a gift. It is said that Martin Luther’s dying words were, “We are beggars; this is true.” A fitting image of what it means to be an apprentice of Jesus—hands outstretched, seeking, open to receive that which only God can give in the form of his Son, His very self, our very life. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 20th, 2015.

adamandeve

“Honey, is that buck checking out my ass?”

Robert Farrar Capon’s Bed and Board: Plain Talk About Marriage is a real gem of a book. The fourth chapter, ‘Roles’, can be no less jarring (offensive?) today than when it was originally published in 1965. In it Capon addresses the distinct and different roles of men and women in marriage. He says, for example, that while men and women are equal husbands and wives are not (and, we can presume, neither are fathers and mothers). The difference between husbands and wives, “is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional not organic,” (53). In a lengthy passage he compares marriage and the distinction between husband and wife to a dance, rather than a march:

“[The difference] is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgment as to talent. In the ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows. Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think that equality and diversity are unreconcilable. The common notion of equality is based on the image of the march. In a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade; nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image of fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the Trinity. Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the Dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching.”

Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Marriage involves not spouses, but husbands and wives. To tinker with that distinction is to turn the freedom of the Dance into the bore of a march.

This distinction isn’t an end in itself. In the eschaton there will be no marriage, after all. It is, rather, for the purposes of being united in love. Husband and wife, “are set in a dance in order that their separateness might become membership in each other,” (58).

It seems to me that we live in a culture where to press the distinction between male and female too hard is to put you in the uncomfortable position of being looked at as something of a backwoods ass. In an age of gender fluidity, where “male” and “female” name nothing other than genitalia (and sometimes not even that) to proclaim the (natural and obvious) truth that men and women are different creatures[1] is something rather radical, I think. (And I mean “radical” literally, as a return to the root). What say you? Does Fr. Capon’s image resonate with you? Disturb you? Make you want to give him a post-mortem high-five?

Fr. Capon has a lot of beautiful things to say about being husbands and wives and fathers and mothers, some of which I’ll try to share over the next few days.

Peace.

[1] “It was not enough for the Creator to make us human. Absurdly, he went further. Male and Female created he them. The truth of our being is that we are one species, but just barely. Even without counting porpoises, this planet houses two different sorts of rationality, two different kinds of freedom, and two different brands of love: men’s and women’s,” (48).

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, 2015 – Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 116:1-8; James 3:1-12; Mark 8:27-38

Crucifixion.andreas.pavias

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Mark 8:35

It seems a truism that people generally want to live happy and full lives. In fact, we might take it one step further and say, at least in the late-Modern West, that if we take all of the right steps we deserve to have happy and full lives. Furthermore, even if we haven’t done anything in particular that makes us feel as if we deserve just such a life, we feel entitled to a happy and full life anyways—it is our right, we might say. Documents like The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or The Declaration of Independence uphold this right in various ways. In the depth of our being we all want to feel fully alive. In the second century St. Irenaeus wrote that, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” “Yes!” comes our response. “Indeed!”

We all have a picture of what the good life is and the ambitions that we have and the goals that we set for ourselves tend to follow from that picture. I recently reconnected with a childhood friend online. He comes from a wealthy family and after graduating from university was given a job in the family business. The photographs that he shares on social media are really something. He drives an expensive car, he just bought a home in a wealthy part of the city, he is fit and athletic, all of his friends seem to be beautiful and young, he is constantly traveling to places like New York and Los Angeles. And all of this in his early 30s. The good life!

OK, perhaps I’m being uncharitable. Maybe I ought to examine myself. What are my own ambitions in life? Obviously to have a family, a large one. If it were up to me we might well have 6 or 7 children. I hope to be ordained a priest one day soon, maybe be involved in some sort of exciting ministry. I don’t aspire to much in the way of financial gain, but I do want my family and I to be comfortable, to be able to pay the bills and have some left over for savings, or a trip to somewhere warm or the occasional wardrobe update, to own a house—though in Toronto that seems like an increasingly fleeting ambition. But why all of this? Why any of it? I want to be loved by my family and friends, respected and admired by my colleagues and parishioners, remembered after I am gone and so on. I think we could all agree that these are good things. But even the pursuit of good things can become twisted if they become an end in themselves.

“While there is much in the world to love,” wrote one of the early Christians, “it is best loved in relation to the One who made it. The world is beautiful, but much fairer is the One who fashioned it,” (Caesarius of Arles). Therein lies the problem. We have been given all things as a way of ordering our love towards God, the One in whom all things have their being. However, when we love the good things of this world in themselves, then this love becomes the way of death rather than the way of life which we suppose it to be. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” asks Jesus (8:36).

Perhaps then, the various ambitions and plans and desires that we have for ourselves function in some way as an attempt to save our life, if you will. However, we often fail to realize the ways in which our attempts to save our life spell death not only for ourselves but for others as well. Then when their lifeless little bodies wash up on our shores, or their lifeless black bodies wind up in our streets, we are shocked and appalled. Yet these stark images with which we are confronted are a revelation from which we must not avert our eyes: life is abundant, yet we fill it with death.

This is a great mystery, is it not? The mystery of iniquity. Yet, when it comes to the matter of life and death there is a greater mystery still. The mystery of Christ—life in death. That the place we come to discover life in all of its fullness, is in the figure on the cross. In our gospel reading, as soon as the disciples began to grasp that Jesus was the Messiah, they came face to face with something most unexpected, the great paradox of the Christian faith and life which pushed back on all of their, and our, expectations of who Jesus is and what he would do and how he would do it: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” (8:31).

On the basis of what we think we know about the divine, who of us would ever think to look for the truth of God in the man Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross? “God forbid it!” cried Peter in his rebuke of Jesus, and the disciples and we along with them are similarly confounded. And yet, indeed, it is just here where we come to find life in all of its fullness, on the cross where Christ Jesus gives himself wholly for the life of the world. And this same Jesus gives himself to us still—in the presence of his Holy Spirit, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the word preached and received, in the face of the neighbour.

Furthermore, if it is through the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we enter into the fullness of God’s life and love then it is only when our own lives are transformed and marked by a similar sort of self-giving love that we truly begin to taste life in all of its abundance. “If any want to become my followers,” says Jesus, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” (8:34).

At the beginning of this sermon I quoted Irenaeus saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” As I said, this saying resonates with us because we all desire to live a full and happy life. The great irony, however, is that when Irenaeus was talking about being “fully alive” he was talking about martyrdom—that we are most fully alive when we lose our life for the sake of Christ and for the gospel. If you want to see an image of human creatures set ablaze with the fire of life recall the image of 21 of our Egyptian Christian brothers as they knelt on a beach somewhere in the Middle East this past year moments before they were beheaded by the Islamic State.

People of the cross, indeed.

People of the cross, indeed.

Or, perhaps you know the story of Henri Nouwen, who after nearly two decades of teaching at places like Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard left the comfort of academia behind to live in community with the mentally and physically handicapped people of L’Arche Daybreak just north of Toronto. As he gave himself to his friends and received the gift of their presence, Nouwen experienced a conversion that brought him closer to Jesus Christ. And I’m sure his friends there experienced the same.

And what about us, here at St. Cuthbert’s? The Greek word from which we get the English word “martyr” means, literally, “to bear witness.” So, while we must be open to the possibility of actual martyrdom, in the absence of death there are other ways in which we might bear witness to Christ by losing our lives. And where we cannot give our lives we can give our money. I won’t give a whole list of examples, save one: I am very pleased that we are considering sponsoring a Syrian refugee or refugee family and I would urge us all to take this step together and do so. More generally though, what if the sort of friendships that were nurtured in this place were formed by the same sort of self-giving fidelity and longevity as marriage? And what if we looked outwards, inviting others to follow Jesus along with us? If we committed to being a community so marked, bearing with one another through time, till death do us part, we might soon discover very practical ways in which we would be called to give ourselves sacrificially to one another, for the sake of the gospel.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it,” (8:35). To cling to the things of this life, the things which we naturally desire and value most, is the way to forfeit true life. On the other hand, Jesus is clear—when are we most fully alive? Not when we accomplish all of our goals; not when we are surrounded by all that we could possibly desire; but when we give ourselves away in love. Do you want to find your life? Then lose your life for the sake of the gospel. Do you want to be fulfilled? Then empty yourself. This isn’t about “doing more.” This isn’t even primarily about us. It is about having our eyes opened to the mystery of Jesus Christ, and to hear his call to deny ourself, pick up our cross, and follow him. This is not an easy way, to be sure, but the one who calls us to follow him in this way will help us in carrying it out and along the way we may just discover life in all of its fullness. Amen.

Sermon was preached by the Rev’d Jonathan R. Turtle at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 13th, 2015.