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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.

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Preached at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 16th, 2015.

Summer Ephesians Series: Ephesians 5:15-20

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“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:15).

I want us to reflect this morning on wisdom and what it means to walk wisely. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise,” writes Paul. What is this wisdom that Paul refers to? And, moreover, how do we attain it? Well, allow me to give you the answer upfront: “You can’t get the wisdom you need simply by digging up more facts. You get it by worshipping the God whose facts they are,” (NT Wright).

To Paul’s Jewish readers, talk of wisdom would have rung familiar, for it is a theme that runs through the Old Testament. Essentially, wisdom in early Judaism can be summed up as a longing to know the will of God which gives life its true orientation and thus results in blessing. Recall our Old Testament reading moments ago wherein Solomon asks the LORD for, “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil,” (1 Kings 3:5, 9). To which the LORD responds, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind…If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life,” (1 Kings 2:14). Wisdom is this desire to know God’s will, to discern what is good in all areas of life.

One other thing we should know about wisdom in the Old Testament is that it was later personified. From Proverbs: “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” (8:1). In fact, Lady Wisdom speaks: “And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways…For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death,” (8:32, 35-6). Love of wisdom is life; hatred of wisdom is death.

Now let’s fast forward a wee bit to the early Church. Listen to how Paul and the earliest Christians spoke about the risen Jesus: “I want you to have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Col 2:2-3). Listen also, how they spoke of the gospel of Jesus: “But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory,” (1 Cor 2:7). And here again, more explicitly: “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God,” (1 Cor 1:24). Here’s the point:

As the early Christians drew together all of these threads of wisdom from the treasure-house of the Old Testament they found, and we with them, that the rich tapestry they form takes the shape of the Crucified One.

Christ is the wisdom of God. We walk in wisdom, then, by becoming like Christ. Or, as Paul put it at the beginning of Ephesians 5, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us,” (1-2). This of course begs the question, how do we become like Christ? Is this a decision we make? Be it resolved: today I am going to be like Christ. I want to suggest rather, to quote St. Clare of Assisi, that we become what we love; who we love shapes what we become. If we’re still tracking together, we can see that the logic works like this then: wisdom begins with worship.

Of course, worship is the primary task of the church. Above all else, we are first-and-foremost a community which worships Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth. But how do we come to know the risen Jesus Christ, that we might love and worship him? I want to suggest that it is primarily through the Bible that we come to know Jesus in this way. And yes, no doubt, we read the Bible communally every Sunday when we gather for worship—our whole liturgy is steeped in Scripture. But what I want to leave us with this morning is the importance of individually immersing ourselves in the Scriptures as a way of nurturing our faith and love of Christ, and thus as the primary way in which we learn to walk in wisdom.

As it happens, this is one area where Western Anglicans have been traditionally weak in modern times—Biblical literacy. I sometimes wonder why this is? Do we shy away from a life devoted to the Bible because we think that’s reserved for the crazy uncle of the Christian family—fundamentalists? Or, perhaps it’s because we think, rightly, that the Bible is a challenging book to read. Boring, even! Whatever the case, here is the great irony: at the very heart of the Anglican tradition is a desire for people all over the world to have access to the Bible in a language that they can understand. The Anglican church is all about this!

At one point in Ephesians when Paul is talking about the mystery of Christ he says, “In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit,” (3:5). The gospel of Jesus Christ has been revealed to Christ’s holy apostles and prophets. This is another way of talking about the Bible—the teaching of the holy apostles and prophets as handed down to us. And while Paul likely didn’t have the New Testament in mind the point certainly applies: we come to know—and love and worship—Jesus Christ as we read the Bible with the help of the Holy Spirit and the whole Church. This is why, about 300 years after Paul, Saint Jerome can say, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

We cannot know Jesus Christ apart from the deposit of faith that we have in the Bible.

Moreover, the only way to make sense of the Christian life is to be ever more deeply rooted and grounded in Jesus. And we become just so deeply rooted as we immerse ourselves in a prayerful reading of the Bible, both communally and individually. Those of you who know the Book of Common Prayer will be familiar with Cramner’s exhortation to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures. We simply cannot attempt to inhabit the divine wisdom which overcomes the world apart from this.

A friend of mine wrote recently, “Your responsibility to your own faith, your own cultivation of it, your own openness to its vigour and truth, your life with God, is your greatest gift of love to another person, to any person, to all those around you,” (Ephraim Radner). Here we see that our own cultivation of our own faith is not just for our own good but for the good of our neighbour, for the good of our child or our spouse, for the good of the world. That is to say, our life as a people immersed in the Scriptures is always for the sake of mission.

“Look carefully then how you walk,” writes Paul, “not as unwise people but as wise.” Wherever you are and whatever it is that you put your hand to, when it comes to walking in wisdom, when it comes to understanding the will of the Lord and discerning what is good and beautiful and true, we cannot do this as Christians apart from discovering Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture. Would you consider committing yourself, in whatever capacity you are able, to the reading of the Bible consistently over time? With the help of the Holy Spirit you will be challenged, prodded, made uncomfortable and at other times comforted and encouraged. You will know that from birth to death your life is in the hands of God and thus every single aspect of your life is filled with His presence and divine purpose—and you will learn what to do. You will discover that your faith is actually part of a much larger story, beginning with Israel and culminating in Christ Jesus and his Church. Most of all, I hope, you will come to see Christ in new and fresh ways as his light and love penetrate your heart and mind.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” writes the Psalmist. Indeed, may the light of God’s word lighten our path as we learn to daily walk in wisdom with Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Preached at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 19th, 2015.

Summer Ephesians Series: Ephesians 2:11-22

TheEmbraceofElizabethandtheVirginMary

“So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near,” (2:17).

Every Sunday there comes a time in the liturgy when the priest standing with arms outstretched proclaims to the people, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” To which we all respond, “And also with you.” And then what happens? We all move about and greet one another with the peace of Christ. We pass the peace, as it were: “The peace of Christ,” “Christ’s peace,” “peace be with you.” Why do we do this? Why bother to pass the peace at all? What underlying condition do we suffer from that the peace of Christ is the remedy?

In his book Mere Christianity the great Anglican saint, Clive Staples Lewis, wrote that “fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.” An interesting image, isn’t it? Human beings as rebels who have taken up arms against God. And this rebellion it alienates, creates hostility and division between human creatures and God and at the same time creates a hostility and division between and amongst human creatures. See for example the opening chapters of Genesis. The sin of Adam, the basic human sin, is to try to set up on our own, to act as if we belong to ourselves, as if we are our own masters, writers of our own destiny. And as a result of this sin of Adam his relationship with God is cut through with enmity and they are exiled from Eden. How quickly the enmity spreads for in the very next chapter of Genesis what do we witness but Eve’s eldest son Cain kill his younger brother Abel. Division is murder. Hostility arises even between the human and the non-human creation: “cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.”

My point is simply that these divisions and hostilities are all caught up with each other. Hostility between human creatures because hostility characterizes our relationship with God apart from Christ. We rarely see this connection, though. I mean, we know well the hostility and divisions between human creatures and even between human creatures and the non-human creation. Turn on the news, the examples they are legion. Charleston; Sarah Bland; Tina Fontaine and the thousands of other missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. But rarely do we see this hostility as a sign which points towards a greater hostility yet, that which sin creates between human creatures and the God whose love creates and sustains us.

Interestingly, though, Pope Francis made just such a connection in his recent Encyclical, Laudato Si, about the divine mandate to care for creation. Quoting Benedict XVI, Francis writes, “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” For Francis, the reason for the hostility between humans and the rest of the created order is the hostility between human creatures and God. We might say, in a similar fashion, that the hostility and divisions are so great between human creatures because we persist in rejecting God’s way in favour of forging our own path.

We lack peace, we long for peace, we need peace. What then is the remedy for the division and hostility that cuts to the heart of the universe? It is Christ and his church. First, it is Jesus Christ. Just prior to our reading from Ephesians Paul wrote, “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived,” (2:1). That is, sin brings not only division and hostility, but also death. “But,” Paul continues, “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ,” (2:4-5).

The way of the world is not the only way, there is another way to live that has been opened up to us in Jesus Christ. And this way begins as we are brought near to God: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” We are not called to set ourselves free from the division and sin that so ensnares. We cannot. This reconciling work is Christ’s, who in the mystery of his cross and his passion put to death the hostility which marks us so deeply.

Behold, in the vertical and the horizontal axis’ of the cross, the extent of Christ’s reconciling love—which at once overcomes the hostility between humans and God and the hostility amongst and between human creatures. These are not separate acts, they are the one act of the reconciling God, accomplished in the flesh of Jesus Christ. Remove one or the other axis and you do not have the cross.

And in the shadow of the cross the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead gathers us, begins to work in us, creates in us and through us that which we cannot become on our own—a community reconciled, to God, and to one another, liberated from the old way of sin and death and set on a new course with Jesus, where we, together by the power of the Spirit, begin to live into this new reality in which we are no longer divided, but one.

Life in Christ, then, means two inseparable things: it means coming into a new relationship with God and it means coming into a new relationship with others, a relationship characterized by, among other things, peace. “For he is our peace,” writes Paul, “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

I said earlier that the remedy for the division and hostility that cuts to the heart of the universe is Christ and his church. If Jesus is the obvious answer then I hope by now that it is becoming apparent how the Church factors into this. If it’s true that you can’t be reconciled to God in Christ apart from being reconciled to one another in Christ, then it’s true that you can’t ever meet Christ in all of his glory without also having to meet the common, everyday, not-always-particularly glorious Church. Christ is the head of the body, after all. Paul gives us a visual image for this at the end of our passage this morning. Christ is the cornerstone of the holy temple which is being built up out of those who are in Christ, a dwelling place for God (2:19-22).

Part of what Paul is saying in Ephesians, I think, is that the Church is a community which, by God’s grace, has been set apart, called to order our lives in a distinct sort of way around the risen Jesus. To be in Christ then, is to be in the Church, for it is just here in this community of imperfect people that the love of the reconciling God is poured out in a tangible way in the sacraments and witnessed to as we are reconciled one to another and joined to those whom we previously would have been alienated from. When we think of what we do here at St. Cuthbert’s, all of the groups and various meetings that take place, all of the money and other resources that we spend—is this all ordered towards the mission of the reconciling God?

Of course, the church itself is imperfect and marked by all sorts of division and hostility (that’s a whole other sermon), and so we need to always be confessing our sin as we live into this unity which is a gift to the Church in Christ, for the sake of the world.

And on that note, it’s worth returning to where we began, with the passing of the peace. If we are to be a community that passes the peace of Christ to one another and further extends this peace out into the world then let us note just where the peace comes in the liturgy. In both the BCP and the BAS the peace comes after we confess our sin and receive absolution and before we share the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. In other words, the passing of the peace is situated in just such a way that our gaze is drawn to the cross, where in Christ’s own self-giving we see the fullness of grace: the result of our sin but also the means of forgiveness; the result of our hostility but also the means of our peace; Christ’s body given and blood shed for us, through which the Spirit gathers us into one body that we might be a community of God’s reconciling love in the world. Amen.

Preached at St. Cuthbert’s Leaside on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 5th, 2015.

Lections: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

And they took offense at him.”

There’s a great scene in the 1999 film ‘Dogma’ where, as part of a campaign (“Catholicism Wow!”) to renew the image of and interest in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Glick—played by George Carlin—retires the “wholly depressing” image of the crucifix in favour of a more uplifting image of Jesus—Buddy Christ. Buddy Christ is a statue of Jesus, smiling and winking while pointing at onlookers with one hand and giving them a thumbs-up with the other. This is the image, essentially, of an impotent Christ, a Christ who comes to be our cheerleader—a Christ who is on our side and agrees with us on pretty much everything. Not a Christ who is very likely to cause offense.

Come with me now into our gospel text where just prior Jesus had been bouncing around the Sea of Galilee doing all sorts of miracles. He calmed the storm, he liberated a man possessed by demons, he healed the woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for 12 years, and he raised up a young girl from death. And now he has come to his hometown, to the people who would have known him from childhood and he begins to teach in the synagogue on the sabbath. And Mark tells us that those who heard him were astounded: “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!”

These are good questions, questions having to do with the source and authority of Jesus’ deeds and teaching. Earlier in the gospel some of the teachers of the law from Jerusalem suggested that Jesus must be getting his power and authority from Beelzebub (3:22). Mark, however, tipped his hand in the very first words of the gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” (1:1).

The Son of God. And yet, the hometown crowd could see only the son of Mary: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.” These questions are set up to be answered with a yes—yes this is Mary’s boy, the carpenter, and yes these are his friends and family here with us. But the answer is more complicated than that for Jesus has already made it clear that only those who do the will of his Father are his mother and brothers and sisters (3:34-35).

And they took offense at him. The Greek word here translated “took offense” is the word from which we get our English word “scandalized”. It means, literally, to place a stumbling block or impediment in the way. The hometown crowd perceived the powerful words and deeds of Jesus but refused to admit the source of his wisdom and power. They tripped up upon him.

I wonder if there isn’t a double offense going on here? From one angle, is part of the offense not that God would appear in someone so common as a carpenter’s son? That in the Incarnation—that is, the Son of God’s assumption of our flesh—God leaves absolutely no part of our humanity unclaimed. On the landscape of our human experience, there is no stone which God leaves unturned. He takes all of it, every last cell, every last desire, every last thought, he takes our beginning and our ending and every second of our human life therein and claims it as his own. As some early Christians put it, “that which he has not assumed he has not healed.” And so, in his very flesh Jesus takes all that it means to be human and heals it, fulfills it, perfects it, brings it to its proper end in God. And so Christians understand life, not as something which we can claim ownership of, but as a gift given to us by God in Christ Jesus, to be lived unto God.

So then, this is what is finally determinative of who we are. What matters, ultimately, is not who your mother is or who your father is, who your family is, where you came from or wherever you think you’re going. What matters, first-and-foremost, is that you are a creature of God and in Christ Jesus you have been reconciled to God and made God’s own, forever. If we want to talk about our identity, or the orientation of our life, let us begin here—Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son, Mary’s boy.

From another angle, is part of the offense not that God would appear in someone so common as a carpenter’s son? That in the familiarity of human flesh we find something most unfamiliar—the very fullness of God. Who would have thought that the strength and wisdom of God would be made known in the life of one man, born of Mary, a life marked by humility and self-giving love, especially unto those who would reject him? Who would have thought that no where do we come closer to the face of God than in the face of Christ on the cross? Just here we find the great paradox of the Christian faith, for the strength and wisdom of God appear here, to the world, as weak and foolish: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Here, in Jesus Christ, God makes a particular claim on us—that we are, you and I, loved of God and thus creatures of His own fashioning. Creatures who sinned and who suffer the pain of our self-inflicted isolation from God, but creatures for whom Christ took this very suffering upon himself because this particular act, the self-giving of the Son for the life of the world, this is what God’s love looks like, and thus He proves it on the cross (Romans 5:8).

The God of the gospel, who we come to know in Jesus, is no Buddy Christ. Rather, he disrupts our lives, turns them upside down, and asks us to trust him in the process. Is it any wonder then that we might trip up, just here, upon Jesus himself? And so, in an effort to mitigate the discomfort, to soften the blow, what do we do? We domesticate Jesus, we shrink him down so that he fits nicely into whatever little vacant cubbyhole we want to place him in. We polish him up so that he’ll be more reasonable, more palatable, to the logic and tastes of the world. And I think when we do this Jesus is amazed at our unbelief.

If you are here this morning and you feel yourself drawn towards Jesus in some fashion, for one reason or another, but you are hesitant because there’s just something about the gospel that makes you feel uncomfortable, well then, thanks be to God. This may just be a sign that the Jesus you find yourself attracted to isn’t merely a Jesus that you’ve made in your own image. Take that sense of awe, that holy curiosity, and ask the Holy Spirit to nurture it. For Jesus says, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me,” (Matthew 11:6). Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! Even if right now all you can do is cry out like the father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Trust him! And let us see what God will do. Amen.

Third Sunday after Pentecost—June 14, 2015. 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” 2 Cor. 5:16

Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, began a talk on evangelism with these words: “I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration.” I want us to dwell on this for a moment.

I submit that the Apostle Paul is saying something very similar in our New Testament reading this morning: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Let us first concentrate on the latter part of that sentence: once we knew Christ from a human point of view but we know him no longer in that way. We might then say that there are two ways of knowing Christ—according to the flesh and according to the Spirit.

Islam, for example, has a rather high view of Jesus as a prophet of Allah but no more than that. Others look at Jesus and see a revolutionary who attempted to overturn the social order and was thus executed by the State. Others still see Jesus as a peaceful and loving fellow who perhaps we ought to try and emulate so the world turns out just a wee bit of a better place. And, of course, there is truth in all of this but taken alone these views of Jesus remain, simply, according to the flesh. For Jesus is a prophet, he speaks the word of God, yet he is also the Word of God. Not only is he a revolutionary, but he is also Israel’s Messiah and will usher in God’s kingdom in rather unexpected ways. And he is someone we will become like but only because he first became like us. And so the journey to Christian faith begins as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to behold the beauty and mystery of Jesus Christ and in-so-doing illumines our hearts and minds to his true identity. And the journey of Christian faith continues as we are drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Christ and our whole lives start to be transformed in the process.

Just what is the beauty and mystery of Christ? That hidden in the agonizing death of Christ on the cross, there is life, resurrection life. And, furthermore, that our life with Christ is bound up in our willingness to suffer with him. Listen to how the Apostle Paul put it: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

Those who come to know the love of God in Christ in this way, they are changed. This is why we gather in worship, to sing and to pray, to hear the gospel proclaimed through the Old and New Testaments, to receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. All of this shows forth the risen and reigning Christ who takes away the sin of the world that we might live. And the Spirit takes all of our doing, all of our singing and praying, and joins our offering to Christ’s own self-offering, and works in us that which we cannot work in ourselves—the transformation of our hearts and minds to know and love God more fully—that he might work through us to accomplish that which we cannot accomplish on our own—the transformation of the whole wide world in Jesus Christ.

Let us now turn to examine the first part of the verse we began with. “From now on, therefore,” writes Paul, “we regard no one from a human point of view.” Just as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to behold the beauty and mystery of the risen Christ, so too this same Spirit opens our eyes that we might see all others from God’s perspective—that is, people for whom Jesus died. Every single person you know or can imagine, family, estranged family, friends, strangers, enemies, colleagues, neighbours and on and on, every single person is one for whom Christ gave his life so that they might live anew in him. And so, as those who have received the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, it becomes a priority for us as his Church to let others know of what God has done for them.

This is the other main task of the Church which Archbishop Justin mentioned in his talk: the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ—inviting people to change their minds (repent) and believe in Christ, to know and trust that he died for all so that all might live for him and with him in newness of life. “Everything old has passed away,” writes Paul. “See, everything has become new!” This is the joy of the gospel, a joy which cannot be contained! In Jesus Christ, God has summoned every single person He has made. And the Church is called to extend this invitation to all, excluding no one. However, before we can go about joyfully proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and calling everyone to follow him, you and I must be those who have heard the call. We can only share the love of God if we have first received this gracious gift.

This requires our daily conversion. Or, as Saint Cyprian put it, we are to receive daily “one great gulp of grace.” To be a disciple is, literally, to be a learner. We could say then that the Christian life is ultimately about being a student of Jesus. So then, calling people to follow Jesus isn’t the finish line, it is really the beginning. Being a Christian is about becoming Christian. In other words, Christians are those who are learning what it means to say that Jesus is Lord. A friend of mine recently put it this way: “Your responsibility to your own faith, your own cultivation of it, your own openness to its vigour and truth, your life with God, is your greatest gift of love to another person, to any person, to all those around you,” (Radner).

And so we come to see others not from a human point of view but from God’s point of view, as those for whom, like us, Christ has died and calls to follow him. In his same talk on evangelism the Archbishop went on to say, “The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.” Christ died for all, and there is no one, absolutely no one, that wouldn’t be better off knowing Jesus.

And on this note, let me finish by saying that I have such great hope for us here at St. Cuthbert’s, that God will use all of us, in one way or another, to invite people to follow Jesus. Just one of the reasons I am so hopeful is because of some of the wonderful conversations that are currently taking place thanks to Joanne and those of you who have been participating in the Invited! series over the last few weeks, dreaming and praying about how we might share the joy of the gospel of Christ with others. We’re all called to this wonderful work—it isn’t just the job of the outreach committee and it certainly isn’t left up to the clergy! If you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you in this direction, however uncomfortable it may feel, do not resist! In fact, come and talk to Joanne or Beth or myself. Or, better yet, during coffee hour this morning forget about the usual conversation points and strike up a conversation about sharing the joy of our faith with others. This is kingdom work, and we’re all invited to be co-workers with Christ.

May God’s Spirit ever open our eyes to behold the beauty and majesty of Christ. And may the love of Jesus continue to transform the way we see others, as those whom he has called unto himself. And may the Spirit embolden us to extend the invitation. Amen.

ascension

Ascension Day—Sunday, May 17, 2015. Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

“God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.” Psalm 47:8

On occasion I like to try and get away for a personal retreat at Mount Savior Monastery in Pine City, New York. Nestled away in the hills the brothers of Mount Savior follow the Benedictine rule of prayer and work. One of the things that has struck me in my time with the brothers is the monastic virtue of obedience, especially as it is related to the abbot. As superior of the monastery all of the other monks subject themselves in obedience to this man who stands in the place of Christ, as St. Benedict said, and obey him “as if the order came from God himself.”

Likewise, two weeks ago when I was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Colin he asked myself and my fellow ordinands: “Will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?” To which we all made our vow in the affirmative.

I want to preach this morning on the good of obedience and how the gift and virtue of Christlike obedience might serve to make us one and thus enable us to faithfully bear the gospel into the world. There is a classic text on this from the early 20th century called Christ the Ideal of the Monk.[1] In it the author describes this virtue of obedience, or mutual subjection, in terms of becoming like Christ. The monk is to follow in the footsteps of Christ himself whose “whole existence is summed up in love for the Father.” And what form does Christ’s love of the Father take? “The form of subjection [obedience]: Lo, I have come to do your will.”

The monk is obedient because Christ is obedient. Remember, for example, how moments before he was arrested Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” And then immediately Jesus submits himself to those who have come to arrest him and a little bit later to Pilate and to the religious leaders who would have him killed. Jesus’ love for and obedience to the Father took the form of submission to and obedience to others, deeply trusting the Father, even unto death.

For the monk, it is this exercise of mutual subjection that joins him to Christ in this way. Here then is the point—obedient submission is a figure of Christ. It reveals the gospel in some way.

Today we celebrate the ascension of the risen Jesus. Moments ago we heard the very last words of Luke’s account of the gospel: “Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” This is curious, is it not? Why must Christ ascend? Was the resurrection not enough? Well, we get a glimpse of the answer in Ephesians. God the Father, writes Paul, “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

The ascension reminds us that the heart of the gospel is not simply that—contrary to all reasonable expectations—Jesus came back to life after being dead for a few days. But that in doing so he defeated that last great enemy, death, and thus God the Father raised him up, seated him at his right hand, and placed all things under his authority. Paul uses no uncertain terms here: “He has put all things in submission under his feet.” Jesus is Lord over all things. This is not just a personal opinion, for Paul this corresponds to the reality of what God has done in Christ Jesus—the gospel.

The gospel is the truest thing in the world and the sole reason for the Church’s existence is to proclaim and embody this gospel—that God, to use Paul’s language, has adopted us into His family making us sons and daughters, inheritors with all the saints of his glorious riches. That God has given us His very life. And that all of this has happened in Jesus Christ who was obedient to the Father’s will and has now been raised up to have dominion over all things.

Thus, Christianity begins not with what we must do but with what God has done in His Son Jesus Christ. Christianity is the religion of grace. Rejoice! Be glad! This is what the word gospel means, after all—joyful news; glad tidings. This is why the disciples upon witnessing the ascension of their friend and Lord, Jesus, are filled with great joy (Luke 24:52). Hear again the words of the Psalmist: “Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth,” (Psalm 47:1-2).

“And [God the Father] has put all things in submission under [Jesus’] feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Jesus has authority over the whole world, yet this authority and rule begins in the Church from whence he is working to draw all people to himself. That is why the centre of Paul’s prayer for the church is that we will come to realize that the immeasurably great power of God which raised Jesus from the dead is available to us who believe and is in fact at work in us (Ephesians 2:17-19). How different would our life at St. Cuthbert’s be if we daily sought to walk and pray in this power? Where do you see this power at work already? Where might we see it moving forward?

The Church, then, is a community of folks, dampened by the waters of baptism, who are learning what it means to say that Jesus is Lord. We are a people who are living into the kingdom of God. And this life, our common life, has a shape to it.

Let us return now to the monastic virtue of obedience. The monk is obedient to the abbot because Christ lived a life of obedient submission himself and because the abbot is as Christ to the monk. In light of our salvation then, Paul argues that our life of obedient mutual submission is precisely how we faithfully embody the gospel in a broken and divided world. Being the church isn’t about being nicer people, it isn’t even about making the world a better place, it is about becoming like Christ by living lives of obedient submission as he did. As Paul writes towards the end of this same letter: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” (5:21). We obey Christ, and are made like Christ, as we submit to one another. So then, our common life of obedient submission, one to another, is a figure of the gospel itself—it reveals something of Christ himself and the way in which God has given Himself to us in Christ. Oh that we daily would open our lives up to his reordering, and there find joy, hope, and true freedom.

But this is a hard thing and if you’re anything like me you don’t like the sound of this. Is this really what we’ve gotten ourselves into? Does my love for Christ really demand that I subject myself to you? Indeed, this is the shape of Christian duty, because as I have said in a few different ways already, mutual subjection offers us the means of our conformance to Christ. A conformance that is given especially when we suffer the burdens of these relations unjustly. Jesus suffered patiently and our submission one to another provides fertile ground for us to suffer patiently as well and in-so-doing to be conformed to Christ by joyfully sharing in his suffering. For faith discovers Christ hidden beneath the imperfections and weaknesses of the human creature, to whom we offer ourselves in self-giving love.

This is why division in the church is so tragic, because our refusal to humbly, gently, and patiently bear with one another in love, distorts the unity of the gospel—“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the 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,” (Eph 4:1-6). Division obscures the truth of the gospel itself.

And so this is our challenge and, I believe, our hope here on Ascension Day. That the world has forever changed in Christ Jesus—all things have been subject to him, and he rules over all. So then, “Sleeper, awake!” writes Paul. “Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” (Ephesians 5:14). And again elsewhere he writes, “When [Jesus] ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people,” (Ephesians 4:7-8). Wake up! Christ is risen—he lives! Christ is ascended to the right hand of the Father—he rules over all! May the light of Christ shine upon us, may the Spirit of God awaken us to this new reality, and may we live into the kingdom of God as we submit one to another, that we may be one. For he has given us grace to do so. Come, and let us together find true freedom in submission to Christ Jesus who is head over all things for the church, and who blesses us and sends us out for the good of the world. Amen.

[1] For a more in-depth engagement with this work by Dom Columba Marmion see the chapter titled ‘Bad Bishops’ in Ephraim Radner’s, Hope Among the Fragments.

Crucifixion.andreas.pavias

Good Friday, 2014 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30

Living God, we thank you that in your Son Christ Jesus you accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. Thank you that our whole lives are taken up into the sacrificial offering of your Son’s own life on the cross, and that in his death, we live. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

As he hung there on the cross, that torturous Roman instrument of death, the weight of his body bearing down on those nails that pierced his hands and feet, beaten and bloodied, he inhaled and with his final breath said, “It is finished.” I tell you, this small phrase is so vast and so deep that its treasures will never be exhausted. More was said in this one breath than has been said since and could ever be said. For in this phrase we get a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the gospel, that is, of God’s sacrificial and holy love for the whole wide world, and for you and I. Behold, Christ Jesus nailed to the cross! Behold the servant of the Lord in all his glory, exalted and lifted up (Is. 52:13)! Hear the broken cry of victory from his lips: “It is finished.”

Here we are, at the end of the long journey of Lent that culminates in this most Holy of weeks. This whole journey has been a set-up. That is John, the author of the gospel, has set us up to see what he has seen and thus, like him, to be witnesses equipped and ready to testify to the truth before the world. And that truth is not a concept or an idea, not a bumper sticker or an argument, that truth is Jesus the Christ, the one who at the end of our gospel reading, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” and died. Behold the Light! The Life! The Truth!

It is imperative that we hear these final words of Jesus from the cross in light of the very first words of John’s gospel: “In the beginning,” says John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” (1:1-5). Even now – even here on the cross – the darkness did not overcome it.

During the whole fiasco of a trial that immediately preceded Jesus’ death, that “perversion of justice” (Isaiah 53:8) by which the Son of man was rejected by man, the Roman governor Pilate had Jesus flogged, dressed up like a king though his crown was made of thorns, mocked him, and struck him on the face (19:1-3). Pilate then brought him out in front of the crowds (“to let you know that I find no case against him,” v4), stood him there, and proclaimed, “Behold the man!” (v5). The man. Now, if we’re hearing all of this in light of, “In the beginning…” then we can’t not think of the man that was in the beginning, Adam. Indeed, some of the earliest Christians identified the place of Jesus’ crucifixion with the burial place of Adam. Thus, portrayals of the crucifixion quite often feature a skull at the base of the cross.

The new Adam, Jesus, brings salvation to the old Adam through his sacrificial love poured out on the cross.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,” (Genesis 1:26). God makes man (the Hebrew word there is adam from which we get Adam) and sets them in the garden. Why? To take it, all of it, and offer it back to God in praise and thanksgiving. That is, Adam was a priest and the whole earth was his offering. The gift received in love was to be offered back in reciprocal love, the glorious unity of God and man. Only, that didn’t happen. The sin of the first Adam, the old Adam, was to reject the giver of the gift, it was to take the gift and seek it for itself, quite apart from the giver. No giving thanks. No offering it back. No union of love. But this gift was nothing less than the very life of man, the rejection of which meant death. The words that we opened with this morning describe the sin of Adam: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.” The union between God and man, the union of sacrificial love, was up-ended and exchanged for the dis-union of enmity and strife. The old Adam was unable to finish the priestly work that he was made to do and thus unable to grow up into and attain to that perfect unity of sacrificial love, of giving and receiving, of laying down ones will for the will of the other.

And so, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned,” (5:12). The prideful self-assertion of the old Adam’s will over the will of the God who loved him and who he was made to love in return was a cancer that left no corner of creation untouched: “and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” We are, slaves, slaves to sin and death. Victim and perpetrator — this is us. We are the old Adam and he is us.

The new Adam, that is Christ Jesus, comes into the midst of our enslavement to sin and death and he too comes as priest to take all of creation, every last mangled and death-kissed bit of it, up into his own obedient offering to the Father. In his own flesh, Jesus assumes and takes on our humanness and identifies with us fully in the decay of our sin, though he himself is without sin, because he does this in perfect unity with the Father. The prophet Isaiah writes that, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain,” (Is. 53:10). And Jesus was crushed as Isaiah continues: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth,” (Is. 53).

And Jesus did this not reluctantly but joyfully, as Jeff preached about last evening. Indeed, Jesus thirsts to do this. “I am thirsty,” he says from the cross. Thirsty for what? Thirsty to drink the cup that his Father had given him to drink (18:11). And notice also, Jesus does not passively die, the victim. No, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (19:30). He gave it up, his final priestly offering that brought all other offerings to an end. What we see here, is the priestly offering of the new Adam, the offering of himself and of the whole cosmos in himself back to the Father. The obedient offering of reciprocal love. The gift given, and received, and returned, eternally. And this love, unites God and man forever in an inseparable union. The new Adam brings to fulfillment what the old Adam was unable to. And so, at the beginning of our gospel reading this morning, Jesus willingly, joyfully, enters into the garden that holds for him certain death (18:1), in order to deliver us from Adam’s death in the first garden of paradise (Cyril of Alexandria).

Why? Love. “He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). His wounds – our healing. His death – our life: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,” (Is. 53:11). “Therefore,” writes St. Paul, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:18-19). And this, like all things we receive from the hand of God, is a gift: “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many,” (Rom. 5:15). This is why the death of Christ on the cross is a victory rather than a defeat, because in his death he subverts death and turns it on its head, trampling down death by his own death so that life and freedom might come bursting in. And so it was, the blood of Christ, the new Adam, as it dropped from the cross, washed away the sins of the buried one, the first Adam (Jerome). Thus, the words of St. Paul were fulfilled: “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light,” (Eph. 5:14).

If it is true that the life of God is hidden in the death of Jesus, then it is true that our life is hidden there also. What is required of you and I, then? Is it some effort, some further sacrifice? No! What is required of us is not something that we can do — salvation is not a matter of self-improvement. What is required of us is, in a sense, the end of our doing, the end of self-improvement—what is required of us is nothing less and nothing more than our own death, more specifically, our own death in Christ’s own death.

When Christ’s side is pierced two things flow out, water and blood. The water is the water of baptism. The Crucifixion is Christ’s glorious baptism and when we are baptized it is into Christ’s death on the cross, and our whole life is taken up into God’s whole life so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20) This is a matter of fact. Indeed, many early baptismals were in the shape of a cross. The blood that spills out is the blood of the New Covenant which was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins”. This is the cup of wine which we share in the Eucharist. Christ’s blood, shed for us. And in consuming Christ’s broken body in the Eucharist we in all of our brokenness are taken up into Christ and become his body, broken and poured out for the world. And so, in baptism and the Eucharist Christ’s death is made present to us in a very real way, in such a way that you and I are gathered around the risen Jesus to form a community that is in the shape of the cross.

As we behold Christ lifted up on the cross here this morning, as we approach the cross shortly, would you come and die here with Christ, die here in Christ? Would we, like Jesus, lay down our wills and pick up the Cross and follow him? Would we give ourselves in sacrificial love for one another that we may be one? For this is the glory that the Father gave the Son and that the Son has shared with us, the glory of the Cross, the glory of total and utter unity of will between the Father and Son has been opened up to us that we too may lay down our wills and take up Christ’s.

May our common life increasingly be a testimony to the reality that in Jesus the old humanity, ruled as it was by sin and sin itself was taken and killed and buried in and with Jesus on the cross.

One person, Jesus Christ, has made an end of us as sinners and therefore has made an end of sin itself by going to death as the One who took our place. Let us live out of this new reality, and thus bear witness to Christ in the midst of a watching world. Amen.

***

Sermon was preached by Jonathan Turtle at St. Matthew’s Riverdale
on Good Friday, April 18th, 2014.