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Monthly Archives: January 2018

Feast Day: The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Readings: Mark 1:14-20; Jonah 3:1-5

“Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

Here is a question for you: What comes to mind when you think of the word “evangelism”? Perhaps you think that’s not very Anglican—doesn’t that have something to do with those Evangelicals? Maybe you think of a missionary in the jungle somewhere or a man standing on a busy street corner with a bull-horn and placard.

I came across a description of evangelism this week that I think is rather good. It is from William Temple, once Archbishop of Canterbury. He said, “to evangelize is to so present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that men and women shall come to put their faith in God through Him, to accept Him as their Saviour and to serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.” Presenting Jesus. In the power of the Holy Spirit. So that people put their faith in God through him and enter into life in the church.

That’s evangelism. It is a Bible thing, it is a gospel thing, it is a Jesus thing, and it is very much an Anglican thing. For example, what we know today as Anglicanism evolved out of the practices and customs of the Church of England. A tradition that began in England and is now found on every continent. In Canada there are approximately 750,000 Anglicans. In Nigeria there are 22 million. That does not happen apart from the work of evangelism. One might say that evangelism is super Anglican. So, here’s another question for you: When was the last time, if ever, that you yourself have had the opportunity to share the gospel with someone else?

In our reading from Mark this morning we encounter Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry. He comes proclaiming the good news and inviting others to believe in it and to join him in this ministry to the world.

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee.” One of the things that is so interesting about Mark’s gospel is the quick succession of events that give the impression that Jesus is always on the move. He, “came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan,” (1:9). Immediately after that the Spirit, “drove him out into the wilderness,” (1:12). Now he came to Galilee to begin his earthly ministry. Two verses later Jesus, “passed along” the Sea of Galilee where he finds Simon and Andrew. Then he “went a little farther” and found James and John.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is not a stationary figure, like a spiritual guru that sets up shop and is sought out by travelers from near and far seeking wisdom. Of course, people do seek Jesus out, but they do so within the framework of a Jesus who is on the move, traveling about, coming and going, never stopping over for very long. Why? Because Jesus has a mission and that mission is to seek and to save the lost.

Mark tells us that Jesus came, “proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” This is more than an announcement, it is an actual irruption of the presence and reality of God into human history. The whole history of salvation has led to this moment. Everything that came before this was a pledge and a foretaste. Now, all of the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

What does this mean? “It means a complete re-appraisal of the human situation,” said one 20th century theologian.[1] Now is the time for human creatures to orientate their lives in the light of this day which has dawned. That is what it means to repent and believe the good news.

As Jesus continued along he found Simon and his brother Andrew. They were fishing, “And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. The same goes for James and John—Jesus called and straightway they left everything to follow Jesus. “So long, dad.”

First of all, what a wonderful picture of trust. An immediate response to the call of Jesus. No doubting or second guessing, no weighing the cost to see if it’s worth it, they simply get up and go. How can this be? Surely these men must have seen in Jesus’ face and heard in his voice a beauty and goodness that far surpassed all earthly beauty and goodness and they wanted in.

Second, notice that no sooner has Jesus begun his earthly mission than he invites others to participate along with him: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” You and I have been caught up in the net of God’s kingdom but there are others, other fish in the sea, that Christ wants to gather into his kingdom and he intends to bring us along with him for the ride as co-workers. That is what evangelism is: accompanying Jesus as he proclaims the nearness of God’s kingdom to men and women and invites them to follow him.

[ST. PAUL’S At our annual vestry meeting in a few weeks the leadership of this church will present us with a good budget that contains a projected deficit for 2018. Now, it’s not an insurmountable deficit by any means. In fact, if each of us gave an additional $5 per week that projected deficit would largely be covered. From one point of view then, we have an opportunity this year to grow in generosity in a tangible way: give a little bit more in 2018 than you did in 2017.]

[ST. JOHN’S At our annual vestry meeting in a few weeks the leadership of this church will present us with a good budget that contains a projected increase of $10,000 in our contribution to the joint parish budget. Now, this is not an insurmountable figure by any means. In fact, if each of us gave an additional $5 per week that projected deficit would largely be covered. From one point of view then, we have an opportunity this year to grow in generosity in a tangible way: give a little bit more in 2018 than you did in 2017. You can anticipate a letter in the coming weeks to that effect]

Of course, another way to generate more income that comes up in these discussions is to have more people. How does that happen? Well, perhaps some Anglicans will move into the area and seek us out. Perhaps, even, a resident of Midhurst/Craighurst that has never in their life set foot in a church will one day up and walk through those doors by some miraculous occurrence. But let me suggest another way, a way that has the weight of church history behind it, a way that is proven and sustainable: evangelism.

I want to challenge you this year to share your faith with someone else. Really pay attention to what is going on around you. Listen attentively to your neighbours, your colleagues, your friends. Listen and pray and wait for the Lord to open a door. And when he does, come alongside that person, full of compassion, full of the love of Christ, and take a risk—open your own mouth and tell them about the hope that you have in Jesus Christ and the love that he has for them.

So, to re-cap, Jesus Christ is on a mission to seek and to save human creatures by calling them to turn around and trust in him. And, he enlists his followers as co-workers in this. This is the work of evangelism and it is at the core of what it means to be the church. But following Jesus is costly and that means that the good news of Jesus might not always sound like good news to people, so we need to persevere.

Mark tipped his hand to this at the beginning of our reading this morning: “Now after John was arrested.” This tells us something really important about following Jesus: it is going to cost you. John the Baptizer was arrested and later beheaded. Simon-Peter and Andrew were crucified as old men, Peter upside down at his own request because he felt unworthy to die in the same fashion as his Lord. Andrew made the cross his pulpit and for two days he preached to the people before he finally died. James was the first Apostle to be martyred, beheaded by Herod Agrippa. His brother John was the only Apostle not to be martyred, though he was arrested and sentenced to death. However, he miraculously survived being boiled in oil and was subsequently exiled to the island of Patmos. And, of course, Jesus himself was rejected and crucified.

Because the good news is costly. It demands our full allegiance. When Jesus calls someone to follow him he invites them to renounce all worldly riches and power, to renounce themselves, and to follow him alone. Make no mistake about it, this is the absolute best thing anyone could ever do and yet to the untrained ear it sounds considerably worse.

One Christian leader put it this way: “God is love. But love can also be hated when it challenges us to transcend ourselves.”[2] When Jesus calls us, he takes us as we are but refuses to leave us that way. He wants to purify us by his love and that transformation can be painful. If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia you know that Aslan the lion is described as good but not tame. In a similar way, Jesus is good and desires only the good but he is not tame.

There is a saying attributed to Jesus though not found in the canonical gospels: “He who is near me is near to the fire.” The nearer we come to the fire of his love the hotter it burns and the more the chaff in our own life is consumed. And the more the chaff in our life is burned away the hotter and brighter our lives radiate with the love and light of Christ.

This is what Jesus calls us to and what we call others to with him. Let us not fear the heat of his love and the brightness of his light. Though our transformation may be painful it is shot through with the mercy and love of Christ. And let us not be discouraged if the work of evangelism takes time to bear fruit. The gospel will not be welcomed everywhere we go but if we go with the gospel then we go with Christ. Amen.

Endnotes:

[1] Karl Barth, Index, 313

[2] Pope Benedict XVI

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samuel

Eli and the boy Samuel

Feast Day: Second Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

All of our readings this morning speak of the inescapable calling of God. God seeks people out and calls them into relationship with himself, reorienting their lives and giving them a new vocation. And if you are here this morning, it is probably because God has called you in baptism and is calling you by his word even now to live out that new vocation, as a child and servant of God. This morning I want us to take a few moments to look at both Samuel and Nathanael to see how God calls those both near and far to be his followers.

First, notice how in our readings the word of God searches people out and calls them. The boy Samuel is sleeping in the temple of God when he hears his name, “Samuel! Samuel!” and off he runs to Eli. But it was not Eli that was calling Samuel. Three times this happens before Eli realizes that it is the Lord that is calling. God himself, searches out the boy Samuel and calls him into new life.

Likewise with Philip and Nathanael in our Gospel reading. There was Philip, minding his own business, and we are told that Jesus, “found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” This passage in John’s gospel always gives me a bit of a chuckle because it is clear that Jesus found Philip. However, when Philip runs off to find Nathanael what does he say? We have found him about whom the Scriptures are written. But the truth of the gospel is that God does the finding. He searches out, he finds, and he calls us into new life.

Who does God call? He calls those who are very near as well as those who are far off. That’s what we see here with Samuel and Nathanael. Let’s look at Samuel first. Samuel was the son of a woman named Hannah who was the second wife of a man named Elkanah. Now, Hannah was barren and unable to bear children but she cried out to the Lord in her distress. She made a vow to God. If God looked upon her misery and gave her a son then she would offer the son back to God to be his servant forever.

Now Hannah did bear a son and after the child was weened she brought him to the temple and prayed to the Lord: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” And then she went home and left her son Samuel there in the temple (1:27-28).

My reason for recalling this episode at the beginning of Samuel’s life is to tell you that Samuel literally grew up in the temple of the Lord. And yet, when the Lord called him Samuel did not recognize his voice for, “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”

There is an important point for us just here. It is possible to be very near to God and yet have difficulty recognizing the voice of God. Don’t get me wrong, going to church is extremely good and you should go to church. But simply showing up does not mean that you are growing in your faith as God wants you to be. In order to grow in your faith, in order to grow in your knowledge of God and your love of him, you have to tune your ears to be able to distinguish his voice.

This is difficult because as the Roman Catholic Cardinal Robert Sarah says, “God does not speak, but his voice is quite clear.” His point is that it is only in silence that we can hear God’s voice. Do we not see this with Samuel as well? Where is Samuel when he hears God calling? “Lying down in the temple of the Lord.” Alone. Asleep. Silent.

I have been reading a provocative and challenging book by Cardinal Sarah, who I just mentioned called, The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. In the first chapter he argues a few things that are relevant for us. First, he distinguishes between quiet and silence. Quiet is an absence but silence is not an absence. “On the contrary,” he writes, “it is the manifestation of a presence, the most intense of all presences.” Silence is the presence of God and we cannot know God apart from encountering him in silence. Every great Christian spiritual writer, from Bernard of Clairvaux to Thomas Merton, knows this truth.

And yet, writes Cardinal Sarah, we live in a time and place where silence is an increasingly rare commodity. Externally we are assaulted with noise and we take this in through our eyes and our ears until we are faced with an inescapable internal noise in our hearts and minds. This stifles our ability to hear God and to grow in our knowledge and love of him.

So, what to do? That great spiritual writer Thomas Merton encourages Christians to preserve or create times of silence in our homes and our lives in which God can be found. Throw out the television if necessary, he says! Bring up our children not to yell so much. Create actual places dedicated to silent contemplation: a corner of your bedroom, a retreat house, a church. “For many it would mean great renunciation and discipline to give up these sources of noise,” writes Merton. “But they know that is what they need.”[1]

Silence is difficult, but let me encourage you to resist the dictatorship of noise. Develop a taste for prayer. Read the Bible silently and diligently, daily if you can. And as you practice these spiritual disciplines, say along with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” This Lent, as in Advent, we will be providing opportunities for you to be still and enter into the silence of God. More information will be made available in the coming weeks.

As we have seen with Samuel, God calls those who are near and he calls them in silence. The Latin word for “to call” is voceo from which we get the word vocation. That is to say, when God calls you he gives you a vocation. He gives your life a new orientation of love and service.

The Collect that we prayed together at the beginning of the liturgy sheds light on this for us: “May your people, illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” In other words, the new life into which God has called us is a life into which God is calling everyone, and he uses us to accomplish this.

Our gospel reading provides insight here. As we heard, Jesus found Philip and said to him, “follow me.” Then Philip went out and found Nathanael and invited him to “come and see” Jesus Christ. When Philip was called he was given a new vocation. Jesus enlisted him in his mission. Because here’s the thing: Jesus did not seek you out and find you just so that you can sit back content in being found. He found you so that you can go out and find someone else in his name. Indeed, I am sure that some of you are here this morning because one day someone invited you to, “come and see.”

What happens next in the gospel is wonderful. So, Nathanael says, “Alright, I’ll come and see what the fuss is about.” Then, as he and Philip approach Jesus, Jesus himself looks up and sees Nathanael coming and says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Taken aback, Nathanael asks him, “Where did you get to know me?” To which Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Jesus wants us to know something extremely important here. When he gives us a new vocation and uses us in his mission he is already out there ahead of us, tilling the soil, whispering to people in the stillness of their hearts and minds, though they know not who speaks. The work of evangelism begins with Jesus Christ seeking people out and “getting to know” them long before one of Jesus’ followers shows up and invites them to come and see. In the words of Saint Augustine: “My God, you had mercy on me even before I had confessed to you.”

This parish has been here as long as it has because ordinary people have met God in the silence of prayer and been enlisted in God’s mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to all people. If we’re going to be here in another 50 years it will not be apart from these practices. God knows you and he wants you to know him. Spend time with him in silence. Listen to him. And know that there are others out there that he is getting to know and that he may use you to reach. Amen.

Endnotes

[1] Sarah, The Power of Silence, 32.

Feast Day: Christmas (at Midnight)
Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

On Tuesday, May 8th, 1945 the headline on the front cover of The Daily Mail read: “VE-DAY—IT’S ALL OVER.” The subheading was, “All quiet till 9 p.m.—then the London crowds went mad in the West End.” It was Victory in Europe Day, marking the unconditional surrender of all German troops in Europe to the Allies. Winston Churchill made the announcement to the people of England that morning: “Our hostilities will end officially at one minute after mid-night tonight, Tuesday the 8th of May…We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. Today is Victory in Europe Day…Long live the cause of freedom.” Celebrations promptly erupted throughout the world from Moscow to Los Angeles. In London more than one million people took to the streets for celebrations that lasted nearly two days.

Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m on about and what exactly this has to do with Christmas. Here is the point: Just as V-Day marks the announcement of an event that changed the course of world history and brought great joy to a great many people, so Christmas marks the announcement of a person and an event that changed the course of world history and brought great joy to a great many people. The person that is at the centre of Christmas is of course Jesus Christ and the event is God’s coming among us in the flesh of this newborn babe. This evening I want us, like the shepherds tending their flock, to make haste and gather around the Holy Family, to behold the child lying in the manger, to hear the announcement of his birth, and to contemplate and treasure these words in our hearts that a new life of faith, hope, and love might be born in us.

All of the readings from the Bible that we heard this evening help to illuminate the reality of Christmas. Saint Luke as we heard, situates the story in human history: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” Odd details perhaps, except for the fact that they are not. Saint Luke is believed to have been a physician by trade and Biblical scholars note that his level of education is evident even in the eloquence and mastery of his writing. Luke begins his account of the gospel by telling the reader that, after carefully examining all of the facts for a long time, he is sitting down to write an “orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us,” based upon information that was handed on to him and others by those who “from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” And what is the purpose of his writing? “So that you may know the truth concerning these things.”

Let me just pause at this moment and say that if you are here this evening and you are not really sure what you believe about all of this, Luke is writing to you. He is writing for those that are not entirely sure but are open to and hungry for the truth. If that’s you, I am so glad you’re here and I pray that the word of God would continue to illumine your heart and mind to the beauty and uniqueness of Jesus Christ.

So, after setting the context for us Luke then very quickly tells us the facts. A man named Joseph returned to his hometown of Bethlehem with the woman to whom he was engaged, Mary. Now Mary was expecting a child, a child that was not Joseph’s and Luke tells us that, “While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for him in the inn.”

All seemingly pretty ordinary. Except that it is not. For the next thing that Luke tells us is that there were some poor shepherds living in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flock. And in the middle of the night they get a message from God via an angel, the appearance of which terrifies them.

However, the message that the angel bears is anything but terrifying. The headline on the front cover reads, if you will: “Fear not! Good news of great joy for all people! To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” And just what is the sign of this event, what is the sign of God’s coming to rescue all people? A child, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

The subheading read: “All quiet till 2 a.m.—then a crowd of angels went mad in the fields west of Bethlehem.” Or, as Luke tells it: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

Glory to God and peace on earth. Peace. The message of Christmas is that God himself has come to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ to touch this broken world and to touch our broken lives and to heal them with his love and mercy. All of the misery and pain we feel when we look at a bent-out-of-shape world, will somehow turn to joy as this One straightens it out. The disorder we feel in our own lives, as we examine ourselves and realize our disappointments, our unfulfilled longings and desires, our own failures even, our sin—that this child will somehow bring all of that back into order. That all those who have been bound and terrorized by enemy forces will be liberated and set free. Long live the cause of freedom, indeed!

All of that and more is what Christmas announces. Saint Paul put it this way in one of the other readings we heard: “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all,” (Titus 2:11). Christmas announces that the grace of God has appeared to all people. I love the image that the prophet Isaiah gave us that we heard as well: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined,” (9:2).

This is what Christmas announces, and it announces it as a matter of fact. None of this depends in any way on you or I. It does not matter if you believe it. It does not matter if you accept it. It does not matter if you are even aware of it. The proclamation is the same: God has been gracious to all. The sun has risen, light has shone, it is a new day.

And Luke wants us to know that all of this has happened in Jesus Christ. In the flesh of Jesus Christ, God has come to be with us. In the flesh of Jesus Christ, God has taken everything about what it means to be human and joined it to himself, infused it with his light and love. In the flesh of Jesus Christ, God has taken all of your pain, all of your sorrow, all of your weakness, all of your sin, and not yours only but that of the whole world, and he has entered into it and suffered it so that he might heal it. In the flesh of Jesus Christ God has, if you will, gone deep into enemy territory and made peace for every one of us and for you.

At the end of our reading from Saint Luke, he gives us another important detail. The shepherds indeed found Joseph and Mary and told them everything that the angel had made known to them. Everyone was filled with wonder. “But Mary,” Luke tells us, “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

Christmas is the announcement of a person and an event, of Jesus Christ and his coming to us. And the witness of Holy Scripture is that in this person and event God himself is with us, setting us free from everything that ensnares us so that we might live anew with him and come to know him as our Father. That God has done just this and done it for you, is good news. Whoever you are, wherever you are, in Jesus Christ the light has dawned.

But it does not stop there. God does not just write a few headlines for us to read and then move on from the next day. What God has done for you he wants to do in you. Christmas beckons us to respond in faith. Christmas invites us to receive God’s love for us and to offer it back to him in loving obedience.

So my prayer for you as you leave this place shortly, is that you keep these words in your heart and think about them, as did Mary. And that just as God generated new life in Mary’s womb, he would begin to generate a new life of faith, hope, and love in you as you come to know the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth…Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad,” (Psalm 96:1, 11). Amen.