Feast Day: Advent I
Readings: Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37)

Well today is the first Sunday of Advent. You can walk into just about any store and find that they are in Christmas mode. It’s the one month when Mariah Carey and Michael Bublé get more airtime than they do in the eleven other months combined. And if you’re like our family, regrettably, you may even have your Christmas decorations up at home already.

But this is Advent. You’re not going to get Advent in the shops but hopefully we can have Advent in our homes and churches. Because Advent is really important. Christmas is all about fulfillment, the promise of God to be with his people fulfilled in the flesh of that newborn babe. The wrapping paper on the presents under the tree finally torn open so that we can possess what we have been given.

That’s Christmas. But this is Advent. Advent is about promise not fulfillment. It’s not about ripping the paper off the gift but about the promise that one day a gift will be given. And so Advent, fittingly, is a season of expectation and anticipation for what is coming. Indeed, the word “Advent” means coming.

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.”

Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world. Now, granted, that may sound strange. Certainly it is difficult to get our heads around just what that might look like. But we needn’t worry about the particularities we simply need concern ourselves with the fact of the matter that he is indeed coming.

It’s a central claim of the gospel. We prayed it together moments ago in the Collect of the Day: “…that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead…” We confess it weekly in the Creed: “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” And it forms our Eucharistic sensibilities as well, as we pray in the Great Thanksgiving: “…we thy humble servants, with all thy holy Church, remembering the precious death of thy beloved Son, his mighty resurrection, and glorious ascension, and looking for his coming again in glory…” And, as should always be the case, this faith is based on the words of Holy Scripture. Remember at the beginning of The Acts of The Apostles when Jesus Christ ascends into heaven leaving the disciples with strained necks, to which the angelic messengers responded, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven,” (1:11).

Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world, and the Church believes this. As such we are an Advent people. He will come and decisively appear and decisively act and decisively gather His people unto Himself. Holy Scripture has different names for this day: the Day of the Lord, the Last Day, the eschaton. So, when you find yourself crying out along with the prophet Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” (64:1) know that He will do so.

The Church lives and exists in the time between Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension and his coming again. We live in that space. We are a people who know Jesus primarily as the One who is coming to us. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world. This is certain. But there is more, we have no idea when.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nothing you or I or anyone can do can hasten that day or delay that day. That day will spring up suddenly and unexpectedly like a thief in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:2). That day is conditioned by nothing other than the sovereign decision of the Father in heaven. He alone knows. He alone will act and send His Son.

Jesus Christ is coming again in glory to judge the world, and we do not know when. This is the witness of Holy Scripture and of the Church. So, while that day will come about suddenly and unexpectedly it will not come as a surprise. Because we know the Scriptures and we know that God’s word to us in Jesus Christ is faithful and true.

So then, because we know this, because Jesus Christ has said he is coming again suddenly and unexpectedly our life as Christians ought to be characterized by what? Vigilance. Look at how many times in those few verses in Mark Jesus councils his followers to be vigilant: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come,” (13:32-33). “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly,” (13:34-36). “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake,” (13:37).

Jesus Christ is coming again. We do not know when. Therefore, keep awake. Watch. Be vigilant. Be alert. Be sober-minded. Be ready. Be expectant. I want you to really catch this. Here we are on the first day of the Christian year, the First Sunday in Advent, and what is the command? Keep awake! Some of you may have been drifting for a while now. Perhaps you’re getting a little bit drowsy and slowly drifting off to sleep. I want you to hear the words of Jesus Christ to you this morning: Keep awake.

Now there are lots of different examples I could give about what this vigilance looks like on the ground in realtime but I’m going to pick just one: confessing your sin. This is a good example because maybe at some point in your life, like me, you have thought that you have the time to play around with sin. Maybe that’s you now. But if the sort of vigilance that Jesus calls us to is going to characterize your own life then you need to be done with that. You cannot mess around with sin thinking that you have the time and can turn it around later on.

So then, when we confess our sin—when we acknowledge that we have sinned against God and feel sorrow for our sins—we are practicing the sort of vigilance, the sort of awakeness, that Jesus wants us to practice as we await his coming. Now, it is true that the General Confession is a part of our liturgy and we say it together every time we gather. However, you and I are not general sinners. You and I are particular sinners and so, from time to time, it is desirable that we might confess our particular sins particularly.

Every single Thursday/Wednesday for the next three weeks this church will be open from 2:00pm-4:00pm for Confession. If that time does not work for you please speak to me and we can make an appointment for some other time. Now the general wisdom in Anglicanism when it comes to the Sacrament of Reconciliation—where you confess your particular sins to a priest and receive absolution—is that all may, none must, but some should. This Advent I am inviting you to practice vigilance by naming your particular sins particularly and to know the joy of forgiveness. All may avail themselves of this sacrament of great joy and indeed some should.

If this sounds difficult or overwhelming to you know that you need not rely on your own strength to practice this sort of vigilance. As St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth: “[God] will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 1:8). Christ Jesus himself equips us to practice the sort of vigilance that he has called us to.

In your bulletin you will find a pamphlet that I put together with more information about this. Please read it. In it I walk you through the very brief liturgy so that you know what to expect. And if you feel the Lord calling you to confess your sins in this way then pay special attention to the section entitled “Preparing for Confession.”

This Advent, let us prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus Christ who is coming again as judge. “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Amen.

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


“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.

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

Summer Ephesians Series: Ephesians 5:15-20


“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


“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 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.


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.

Lent 5A – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” Psalm 130:1

Heavenly Father, I thank you that in your Son Christ Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, you have come bursting into the depths of our sin and death. Pour out your Spirit upon us, that we might live. Amen.

We know of no other life than one marked by pain and suffering. We are born, we live, we strive after things that we can never quite attain, we hurt others, we’re hurt by others, our loved ones fall sick, the economy crashes, we lose our money, our health, and in the end we die. All of us. Our life is but a breath. We began our Lenten journey on this note on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Ashes smudged on our foreheads, a visible reminder of our creatureliness. We were made, our lives are finite and hemmed in. The Christian life is no escape from this suffering. The hope of the Christian faith is not that we would get through life unscathed.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” We are acquainted you and I, as is the Psalmist, with the depths. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” We know full-well the weight of sin and death even if our Modern ears sometimes have a hard time with the language of sin. Consider the prophet Ezekiel, brought out by the Spirit of the Lord and set down in the middle of a valley: “It was full of bones”. “He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.” “Mortal, can these bones live?” “O Lord God, you know.” Consider Mary and Martha and their ill brother Lazarus. The sisters send a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They were convinced that Jesus is not one who loves and then abandons those he loves. Yet, Jesus did not mention this request to his disciples nor did he send a message back to say, “We’re on our way.” For Christ, it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. So, he stayed there, and Mary and Martha, in Bethany, watched their beloved brother die.

What was Jesus doing during those two days he waited? Perhaps he was praying, not only for Lazarus but for himself and the journey that lay ahead of him which was being prefigured in Lazarus’ own death. Perhaps, as some of the Church Fathers said, he was granting free reign to the grave, allowing the realm of darkness to seize his friend, drag him down to the underworld, and take possession of him (Peter Chrysologus).

Perhaps Jesus permits this so that human hope may perish entirely and human despair reach its lowest depths so that the deed he is about to accomplish may then clearly be seen to be the work of God, not of man.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” And when their hope was exhausted and their dead brother wrapped in burial clothes and laid in the tomb, the sisters again cried out to Jesus from the depths of their despair. When Martha heard that Jesus was on his way she ran out to meet him: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” It is interesting to hear Martha’s words and observe her interaction with Jesus. At first glance, Martha’s proclamation of faith in light of her deep sense of grief and loss seems admirable. However, I can’t help but wonder if Martha was short-circuiting or denying the pain of losing her brother, the pain of human life. She mentions the loss but then refuses to stay there. It seems as if her proclamation of faith is an attempt to climb out of the depths herself. Contrast this with Mary who later runs out to meet Jesus. Her words are the same as Martha’s except Mary does not include the assertion of v22: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she cries as she falls at the feet of Jesus and weeps. Mary’s words to Jesus do not include Martha’s assertion because Mary’s words are exhausted with the grief of, “If only…”. “If only you had been here…”.

As Mary falls at Christ’s feet weeping, she illustrates what it is like to truly cry out to God from the depths: “Lord hear my voice!” I was overwhelmed this week by Jesus’ response to Mary. Does he try to fix the pain of her loss? Does he remove the pain with words of comfort and encouragement? He does not. Rather, when he saw her weeping, and saw those with her weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” and he himself began to weep. I love N.T. Wright’s translation: “Jesus burst into tears.”

I suspect that you and I both are acquainted with the pain of, “If only…”. It’s a kind of nostalgia, not for the past as it was, but for the present that could have been, if only the past had been just a little bit different (N.T. Wright). If only my father hadn’t of left when I was so young; if only I hadn’t of lost my job when I did; if only I had of been able to carry my child to term; if only my wife’s health wasn’t so fragile; if only I hadn’t of spent so many hours at work when the kids were young. May we cry out to Christ Jesus from the depth of our pain and loss, from within the midst of the chaos and confusion and, when all of our striving and our grieving is drawn out and we come to the end of ourselves, may we know somehow the mystery that in Christ God is right there in the pain, in the darkness of the depths.

There is another, “If only…” perhaps more fundamental to our human experience. That is, the mystery of iniquity, the “If only…” of sin. This was Israel’s idolatry, their abandonment of God that left them cut off from God’s Spirit to become a valley of dry bones, void of life. This is what Paul in his letter to the Roman’s calls “the flesh”, which is hostile to God and when we set our minds on it is death (8:6, 7). And like Lazarus, this is the tomb in which we are trapped, death has come over us and the stench has filled the air. Yet just here Christ met Lazarus, and he has met us here also.

“Mortal, can these bones live?” Jesus weeps, he pours out his tears and in-so-doing pours out the Spirit of life. The tears of Jesus are the living water we heard about two weeks ago that the woman at the well was thirsting after. He takes the tears of Mary and Martha, and our tears, up into himself and pours them out with his own tears. His tears are like the rain, and Lazarus like a grain of wheat, and the tomb like the earth. Jesus gave forth a cry like that of thunder, and death trembled at his voice. Lazarus burst forth like a grain of wheat (Ephrem the Syrian). And Jesus wept out of compassion not just for Lazarus but for all humanity which is subject to sin and death (Cyril of Alexandria). And his weeping is active, it means that he is fighting for them, for us. On the way to the grave of Lazarus, as he wept with those who wept in the face of the undeniable reality of death, Jesus’ tears were themselves a resolute “No” to this reality. Looking death in the face, he is already on the way to banish it from the world (Karl Barth).

“He has borne our griefs,” said Isaiah, “and carried our sorrows,” (53:4, N.T. Wright’s translation). Jesus doesn’t sweep onto the scene and declare that tears are beside the point, that Lazarus is not dead, only asleep. Even though he has no doubt what he will do, and what his Father will do through him, there is no sense of triumphalism. There is, rather, the man of sorrows, acquainted with our grief and pain, sharing and bearing it to the point of tears (Wright). It is true also, that Jesus shed tears as he felt the weight of the journey that was to come, his own fate upon the cross. In telling the story of Lazarus John no doubt means to point us towards Jesus’ own death and resurrection, and in him our own.

I began by saying that we know of no other life than one marked by pain and suffering. This is true but it is incomplete for what we have witnessed this morning, and what we witness each and every time we gather around the Eucharist, or witness a baptism, is that Jesus, the storehouse that is full of life, enters into the midst of the tomb in which we find ourselves and calls us out. The sweet odour of his words cast out the stench of death.

In the words of the Psalmist, the Lord indeed hears our cry from the depths and in him there is forgiveness. And so we put our hope in the Lord for, “It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus is he that breathes upon the slain, that they may live. Or, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” I say again, the hope of the Christian faith is not that we would get through life unscathed. Rather, the hope of the Christian life is that all of our wounds, all of our pain, all of the ways in which we are both victims of and perpetrators of sin and death, all of this is taken up into Christ’s own death and just there we find life.

Christ’s own death. In John’s gospel, when Jesus announces to his disciples that it is time for them to go and see Lazarus and his sisters, the disciples are initially taken aback: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (11:8). When they cannot dissuade him from going, Thomas reluctantly says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (11:16). Perhaps Thomas knew that it would not be possible to live with Jesus except by having died with him (Origen). Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will die and on the way he demonstrates, in a very particular instance with the raising of Lazarus, the depth of God’s grace and love which is about to be opened to the whole world in Christ’s own death and resurrection. During this Lenten season we have been journeying with Jesus and the disciples along the way, knowing full-well where this journey ends: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There is a great deal that we do not understand, and our hopes and plans often get thwarted. But if we go with Jesus, even if it’s into the jaws of death, we will be walking in the light, whereas if we press ahead with our own plans and ambitions we are bound to trip up (Wright).

Traditionally, Lent serves as a time of preparation for those who will be baptized during Easter. Perhaps you have been journeying with us here at St. Matthew’s for some time, or maybe you’re new, and have never been baptized. Hear the voice of Jesus, the resurrection and the life, who has entered into the depths of your despair and who stands now at the entrance of your tomb and calls you to come out! For those of us who are baptized, may this season call to memory what our baptism means: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again: death no longer has dominion over him…So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:3-9, 11). Let us therefore set our mind on the Spirit who is life and peace, the same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead and who dwells in us that we, like Lazarus, might be resurrected also. Amen.


Sermon was preached by Jonathan Turtle at St. Matthew’s Riverdale
on the fifth Sunday in Lent, April 6th, 2014.

This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at St. Matthew’s Anglican church in Riverdale. Here is a link to the readings for the day.



“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Living God, in John’s baptism you reveal Jesus of Nazareth to be your beloved Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! May we like sheep who have gone astray follow the Lamb who has led us once and for all out of slavery to sin and death and into the new country which you have prepared for us in advance. Amen.

During my first semester of seminary a friend of mine, a graduate student in the philosophy department, called me up and wanted to get together for lunch. He had some questions about the atonement, that is, Christ’s work on the cross. I was rather chuffed with myself that he had thought to call. As a first year seminary student, clearly I had something to say about the atonement. The brief synopsis of our conversation over burritos is this: He was hung up on the notion of sacrifice that is attached to the death of Jesus. Why the sacrifice? Why the blood? Why not some other means? As it happened, I was ill-equipped at the time to answer these questions. My friend did not say as much, but in hindsight I am curious if it was really the notion of sacrifice that he could not get around, so much as what Jesus’ sacrificial death might mean for him, a sinful human creature, dependent entirely on God for life and for freedom from sin and death.

I suspect this is at one time or another a problem for many of us. Indeed, atonement theories, following in the wake of St. Anselm for example, that highlight the penal nature of the cross, that is, the punishment of sin that is laid upon Christ in our place, are out of fashion these days. I wonder if this way of thinking about the cross makes us uncomfortable, at least on some level, because we don’t like to think that the overcoming of sin would require the shedding of blood. We don’t like to think that it was our sin that led Jesus to the cross. This brings to mind notions of guilt, and guilt means that something is expected of us, and we do not take kindly to the sort of expectations that might hinder the self-directed expression of our own wills and desires. To be fair, these theories are not without their problems, but my point here this morning is that John, in fact, draws a clear connection between Christ’s death and our sin, and he does so by holding up Jesus as the Lamb of God: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The very heart of Christ’s sacrifice, said Karl Barth, is the overcoming of sin, both in its character as our rebellion against God, and in its character as the ground of our hopeless destiny in death. In pointing to Jesus as “God’s Lamb” John is indicating, right here at the start of the gospel story, how things are going to end, and why. Jesus is going to die a sacrificial death for the sin of the world, to judge sin and to free us from it and its power which is manifest in all forms of death, including eternal death. Indeed, by the end of the story the meaning has been made clear. John has the death of Jesus take place on the afternoon when the Passover lambs were being killed in the Temple (19:14). Let us now look towards the Old Testament that we might better understand what John is trying to tell us.

The Passover is a Jewish feast that celebrates the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and their being spared from death by smearing the blood from a spotless lamb on the frames of their doors. This event developed into a ritualized meal providing the occasion for celebration, reflection, and the formation of community identity. The lamb, once slaughtered, was then roasted and shared by the family with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:8-11). This shared household meal provides the context for the head of the family to explain the nature of the observance to the children (12:25-27). Gathered together, the youngest would ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” To which the oldest member of the community, seated before the sacrificed lamb, responds by telling of the exodus of the Jewish people, of their departure in the middle of the night under the guidance of the Lord God Himself, present in the pillar of cloud and of fire. He would tell of Moses stretching out his staff over the Red Sea, the waters splitting in two, and of the great passage of Israel between the walls of water. He would tell of the waters coming crashing down on Pharaoh and his armies as the Lord delivered the Hebrews once and for all from their Egyptian oppressors. The “remembrance” of Passover is combined with the “retelling” of the story in such a way that the events of the past are actualized  for every Israelite in the context of the meal. Each family member is caught up in the story, it is their story. As such, Passover came to celebrate not only what God had done in the past but also what God is doing in the present.

After the Hebrews are brought out of Egypt they wander through the desert for 40 years before finally entering the promised land. There, Joshua leads the Hebrews across the Jordan where they stop at a place called Gilgal, and do you know what they did? They celebrated the Passover (5:10-12) and, say the Scriptures, “On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain,” (5:11). Thus, Passover not only marks the exit from Egypt, but also marks the entry into the land of promise. Is this not what Isaiah in his own way signifies when he says that the glory of God is made manifest in the servant who is a light to the nations and who spreads the salvation of God to the ends of the earth? Is this not what John the Evangelist means to tell us when the Lamb of God, upon whom the Spirit descends like a dove at his baptism, immediately gathers disciples and who by the end of the gospel will breath on these disciples that they may receive that very Holy Spirit themselves? Indeed it is!


When John begins his gospel with the proclamation that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” he does so to call all of this to mind. Let me suggest to you that the reason he does so is because John wants us to understand the events concerning Jesus as a new, and better, Exodus story: “Just as God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, so God was now bringing a new people out of an even older and darker slavery,” (N.T. Wright). The new exodus moves out, wider than just Israel, to embrace all people. This is hinted at already in the Prologue to John’s gospel (1:12-13). Everybody who receives the Word, who believes in his name, can become a newborn child of God. John the Baptist came to testify to this and he did so by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out int he wilderness…” (1:23). Let us then hear the word of the Lord to the prophet Isaiah from this mornings’ reading. Speaking of the servant of the Lord who would suffer and die he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” (49:6). Who is this servant that will bring the salvation of God to the world? It is the “lamb that is led to the slaughter,” (53:7) who was “cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people,” (53:8). That Jesus is the Lamb of God means not only freedom from our slavery to sin and death, it means also that a new future opens up to us right here in the present, in which we are united to God and receive from Him the life which He gives and the light which comes from Him as we are born anew in the Spirit.

This Holy Spirit whom we have received, like the Passover, and like the Suffering Servant, gathers and forms a community. Are we not a testimony to that here this morning and in our common life? The old humanity which created enmity between human creatures and between humanity and God, 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. Should we believe this, should we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God as proclaimed by John the Baptist, and should we follow him like John’s disciples, then we are joined to him and he to us, for God has established a New Covenant, by the blood of his Son rather than by the blood of an ox. And he has given us His own Spirit, rather than the Law. “He put a new song in my mouth,” says the Psalmist (40:3). At the time of the Former Covenant, Moses alone went up into the holy mountain and his face was illumined with divine light (Exodus 34:35). But with the New Covenant, the veil of the Temple which separated the Holy of Holies from the place where the faithful were assembled is torn in two and all who believe have access to the light of the holy mountain (John 4:20-26), for the blood of the New Covenant was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins,” (The Living God vl.1).

At the end of John’s gospel in accordance with the Old Testament prophets, rather than Jesus’ legs being broken to hasten his death as he hung on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a spear and out flowed blood and water. When the Lamb of God is portrayed in artwork it is often with blood and water flowing out of a wound in the Lambs’ side and into a chalice. In the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, all of what we’ve been talking about this morning comes into focus. As we approach the table in a few moments don’t just follow the words on the page as Fr. Ajit prays. Make that prayer your own because it is the prayer of the whole church. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb,” writes John in Revelation (19:9). Who is invited? What is the bridal feast of the Lamb? Let us seek out the Lamb that comes to us from Moses, is illumined by Isaiah, indicated by John the Baptist, and recognized by John the Evangelist in the thrust of a spear. Let us seek out the Lamb of God and run to his bridal feast. Or rather, may we see that he sought us out before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Let us prepare ourselves to partake of it. As St. Paul exhorts the largely Gentile church in Corinth: “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

God has done that which is sufficient to take away sin, to restore order between the Creator and His creation, to bring us in as new creatures reconciled and therefore at peace with Him, to redeem us from our exile in death. God has done this in Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for the sin of the world. Because of this, our forgiven sin is an old thing—the essence of all that is old, something which is past and done with, which is only the past, which is not the present and has no future (Barth). This is what it means to be made a new creature: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Let us keep the feast. May we rejoice and be glad, may we continue to tell the story, and continue to live the story as our lives are caught up into the ongoing work of Jesus, the light of the nations. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and who has gone to prepare a feast. May we follow him today and may we find others and invite them to do the same. Amen.