Archive

Uncategorized

Feast Day: 12th Sunday After Pentecost
Lections: John 6:35, 41-51

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Human beings are hungry creatures and in our gospel reading from Saint John this morning we learn that Jesus Christ comes to address humankind’s hunger. What is it that you hunger for? What is it that your body and your soul, your very being, longs for and desires? I want you to know this morning that Jesus has something to say about that and that he has come to address that deepest of needs, that deepest longing, that deepest hunger that lies beneath all human hunger.

Human beings are hungry creatures. The narrative context of John chapter six helps us see this. The chapter began with the crowd following Jesus up a mountain. They are on a pilgrimage with Christ, if you will. And they are hungry. There aren’t any shops nearby and the disciples do not have much but there is a young boy who we learn has a bit of food—five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus took this food and gave thanks for it and then had the disciples distribute it amongst the people and not only was the hunger of the crowd satisfied but there were leftovers.

When Jesus attempts to leave the crowd they track him down again the next day. Their hunger is starting to grow again, no doubt. Perhaps Jesus can feed them. “Ah,” Jesus says. “You are looking for me because yesterday you ate and had your fill. But you do not yet understand that that was a sign. There is food, you see, that does not perish but endures and God the Father wants to give you that food.” The crowd responds: “Sir, give us this bread always!” Human beings are hungry creatures.

So, the narrative context of our reading this morning places us in the midst of a hungry crowd. But there is a Scriptural context as well and it broadens the scope, placing us in the midst of a hungry Israel. Tucked away there towards the end of our reading Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”

Manna in the wilderness. This is, of course, a reference to the story of Israel. If you remember, Moses led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. They crossed over the Red Sea and began their forty year pilgrimage through the wilderness. No sooner had they been liberated from Egypt when they began to grumble and complain. “If only the Lord had of let us die in Egypt! At least we had food there. You’ve brought us out into the desert only to kill us with hunger!” So the Lord rained down bread from heaven and fed them. Manna in the wilderness. One theologian reflecting on that story commented: “For a people who often went hungry and struggled to earn their daily bread, this was the promise of promises, which somehow said everything there was to say: relief of every want—a gift that satisfied hunger for all and forever.”[1]

Human beings are hungry creatures but our hunger for bread that perishes is ultimately a hunger for bread that endures. Our hunger—that is our manifold desires and longings for food yes but also for security, for belonging, for meaning and so on—is a sign that points to that which lies behind, below, and beyond our hunger for perishable things. Human beings are hungry creatures but we are hungry for God. All desire is finally a desire for him.

All of your longing is a longing for God, all of your desire is a desire for God, all of your hunger is a hunger for God. As Saint Augustine wrote: “The thought of you stirs [man] so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”[2] Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. We are hungry until we eat heavenly bread.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus Christ comes to address humankind’s hunger. He comes to address it by fulfilling it and he comes to fulfill it by giving us God: “He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world.”[3]

When one comes to know Jesus Christ in this way their whole life changes. Indeed, when we trust in Jesus Christ—when anyone trusts in Jesus Christ—he turns their ordinary life of longing and desire and hunger into life with God, abundant life, eternal life. When you have Jesus Christ, when you know his love and his grace, you have everything and lack nothing.

How does one eat of this heavenly bread? How does one receive life that is no longer threatened by death? Listen to what Jesus himself says to us: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life… Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Whoever believes has eternal life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. In other words, faith in Jesus Christ is the way that we eat this heavenly bread and receive the life that he alone can give.

William Temple, once Archbishop of Canterbury, put it this way: “The mediator of the Father’s gift of life is the Son, and to believe on Him, to live by trust in Him, is to possess eternal Life…The life of faith does not earn eternal Life; it is eternal Life. And Christ is its vehicle.”[4] That’s really important: one does not earn or merit eternal life by their faith in Christ; faith in Christ is eternal life. For when we receive the living Lord in faith, into our soul, his life becomes our life and we “live forever,” as Jesus says.

This raises an important question: Who can come and eat of this heavenly bread and receive the life that Jesus Christ gives? Is there some sort of religious test that must first be passed? Some moral rulebook that must first be mastered? Some special qualifications that must first be met? No! It does not matter who you are, it does not matter where you are from, it does not matter what you have done. “Whoever,” says Jesus. Whoever! “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”

Are you hungry? Do you long to be filled? Then come to Jesus Christ. And do not think that because you once came to him that you no longer have any need to come. For we must never cease coming to Jesus Christ. Did you come to him as a child? Good. Do not cease to do so as an adult. Did you come to him yesterday? Good. Do not neglect coming to him today and tomorrow as well. For he calls each one of us personally to come to him each day, each moment. “Being a Christian can only take the form of becoming a Christian over and over again.”[5]

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Human beings are hungry creatures and the one that lies behind all of our hunger is God, whom Jesus Christ comes to bring. Are you hungry? Come to Jesus. Come today. Give yourself to him in faith now and always, feed on the bread of life, and you will never be hungry again.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

Endnotes.
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 265.
[2] Saint Augustine, Confessions I.1.
[3] BXVI
[4] William Temple, Readings in St John’s Gospel, 90.
[5] BXVI

Advertisements

transfiguration-header

Feast Day: Transfiguration
Readings: Luke 9:28-36

“Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

One of the final activities that our family was able to squeeze into our holidays in July was an afternoon in Midland visiting Sainte-Marie among the Hurons as well as the Martyr’s Shrine across the way both of which bear witness to the mission of French Jesuits to the Huron Wendat people.

Those of you who have been—and if you have not it is worth a visit—know that on the hill behind the Shrine is a path that takes one through the Stations of the Cross. And on the field in the middle of that pathway is a small prayer garden dedicated to the Virgin Mary at the foot of which, built into the ground, is a crucifix.

As our family drew nearer to the garden I noticed a woman lying on the ground. She was not moving and seemed to have been there for some time. At first I thought it strange and, in fact, Christina thought that perhaps she was sleeping. But as we drew nearer still I could see that she was praying, lying prostrate with her face pressed against the crucifix. Her flip-flops were off and set neatly to the side no doubt because she understood that she was on holy ground. As she got up and walked towards me our gaze connected and she smiled gently, her eyes full of joy and life. Here is a woman, I thought, who has been with Jesus in prayer. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Something like this is going on in our gospel reading this morning. Jesus takes Peter and John and James up on a mountain to pray. And while he was praying Luke tells us that the disciples had an experience with Jesus unlike anything they had experienced before. It was as if for a moment the fleshly veil was pulled back and they were granted a revelation of Jesus’ true identity: “God, of God; Light, of Light; Very God, of very God.” And they kept silent.

What does Jesus want us to know this morning? I think he wants you to know that he is calling you too up the mountain to pray with him. He wants you to know him and experience him as the disciples did that day, to witness with your own eyes the divine light shining forth from him to illumine us and the whole world, to know and be transformed by the love of God.

Let’s have a closer look at this morning’s gospel text: “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” The Transfiguration is a prayer event.[1] It is in the context of Jesus praying—and the disciples with him—that they see and hear what they do. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

The setting is also important, they have gone up a mountain. In Scripture mountains are the place of God’s particular closeness and both Moses and Elijah, who appear in our story, each had intimate experiences with God on top of their own mountains.

Therefore, mountains are a place not only of outward ascent but of inward ascent—an “inner peak” on which to stand and behold the beauty and love of Jesus Christ. Like Peter and John and James, Jesus wants you and I to ascend the mountain with him to pray. And prayer is very much an ascent—we are taken up by Jesus as it were into the heavens where with all of the saints we contemplate the mystery of God made man, the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. In prayer on that mountain Jesus gave his disciples an experience of his glory that confirmed his identity and deepened their faith.

If you want to grow up in Christian faith you have to go up on the mountain to pray. You have to ascend with Christ into the heavenly places detached from the noise and distractions of the world, and enter the silence of God’s presence. And it is from this place of silence, both exterior and interior silence, that we are able to contemplate the beauty of Christ’s face. Prayer is the incubator for the Christian life, it is the very soil in which Christians grow.

In the 14th Century an ordinary woman named Julian of Norwich was given a series of revelations of God’s love. Reflecting on one of them she wrote: “The love of God Most High for our soul is so wonderful that it surpasses all knowledge. No created being can know the greatness, the sweetness, the tenderness of the love that our Maker has for us. By his grace and help therefore let us in spirit stand and gaze, eternally marvelling at the supreme, surpassing, singleminded, incalculable love that God, who is goodness, has for us.”[2] By God’s grace and help let us in spirit stand and gaze at the love that God has for us. For Julian that is precisely what prayer is about—beholding Jesus Christ, fixing our gaze on him. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

So, Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. But from this point onwards in the gospel Jesus will go up to Jerusalem (18:31) where he will go up on the cross. Indeed, as Jesus’ appearance is transfigured who appears there with him on the mountain but Moses and Elijah. Much could be said about this but this morning I simply want to draw our attention to one aspect of what Luke tells us: “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Moses and Elijah are speaking with Jesus about his departure, his exodus, that is about his suffering and death upon the cross. As if to highlight this point, in the telling of the story Luke brackets the Transfiguration with two accounts of Jesus telling his disciples that he must suffer and die (9:21-22; 43b-45). As one theologian put it, the revelation of “Jesus’ divinity belongs with the Cross—only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly.”[3]

A moment ago I mentioned Julian of Norwich who had a profound revelation of God’s love. It is worth noting how that particular revelation came about for Julian. She was extremely ill and close to death when her priest visited her and brought her a crucifix. Julian recalled the visit saying, “He set the cross before my face and said, ‘I have brought you the image of your Maker and Saviour. Look at it, and be strengthened.”[4] It was as Julian gazed upon the face of the crucified Christ, the blood running down under that crown of thorns, that her heart was set aflame with the love of God.

This is an important point: In prayer it must be the crucified Christ that we contemplate. We must pray, as it were, from the foot of the cross like Mary and the beloved disciple (John 19:25-27). “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Anglicans, it should be said, are well equipped for this sort of prayer. After all, at the centre of Anglican spirituality is that rhythm of morning and evening prayer—the Daily Office—influenced as it is by the Benedictine habit of soaking one’s day, and life, in prayer. Praying the Office helps us enter into a living and active engagement with Holy Scripture and to better understand God’s love for each one of us in Jesus Christ.

So this fall I am going to make good on a promise that I made in my very first sermon last August on this very feast day, in fact. It is something that we have tried out during both Advent and Lent this past year but beginning this fall our parish will regularly observe a rhythm of morning and evening prayer throughout the week. Whether you yourself are able to be present or not I want you to know that our parish will be open and praying on behalf of us all.

As I mentioned, this Sunday marks the anniversary of my very first Sunday in this parish. My prayer for us as we enter our second year together is that this year, more than the last, each one of us—along with the disciples, along with Julian of Norwich, along with the anonymous woman at the Shrine—would behold the face of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and be transformed by the divine light and love that radiates out from him.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Endnotes

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 310.
[2] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (Penguin Classics, 1966), 70-71.
[3] BXVI, 305.
[4] Julian of Norwich, 65.

Feast Day: The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Readings: Luke 1:57-80

“What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1:66)

Our gospel reading this morning tells of the birth of St John the Baptist which is where our feast day today takes its name. And here is what I think Jesus is saying to us this morning: that God can do extraordinarily gracious things with those who in faith yield to his word and even with those who falter. And so we like the neighbours in the story are left wondering: “What then will this child become?” if indeed the hand of the Lord is with him?

The beginning of Luke’s gospel is unique in that it tells the birth narratives of John and Jesus side by side. It’s as if the story of John is woven into the one tapestry that shows forth the glory of God in Jesus Christ to the world. And there are a lot of similarities. The birth of both John and Jesus is announced and foretold by the angel Gabriel. When Mary visits Elizabeth John leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the drawing near of Christ in Mary’s womb. Both John and Jesus elicit songs of praise from their parents which interestingly enough have shaped Christian prayer for centuries in the Benedictus and the Magnificat.

But their development and birth also differ in certain ways. Mary receives God’s word in faith whereas John’s father Zechariah falters and as a result is made mute by the angel until the time of the birth. Then there are the births themselves. Jesus’ as you will recall from our celebrations at Christmas has hosts of angels praising God in the heavens and shepherds traveling by night. By contrast when it comes time to tell of the birth of John Luke simply recalls the fact that it happened: “Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.” Done.

It’s like right from the start Luke is telling us that even though John’s story is caught up with the story of Jesus it will be subordinate to it. The same is true for this church dedicated to St Paul/John. We have been pulled in by the gravity of Christ’s love. Our story has been caught up into the story of God’s salvation at the centre of which stands Jesus Christ. But our work is to always be pointing one another and others to him, to decrease so that he might increase in us.

After John is born Elizabeth’s relatives rejoiced with her because of God’s great mercy. Earlier in the story we learned that not only was Elizabeth well past child-bearing age (1:18) but that she was also barren and without children (1:36). Nevertheless, God promises a child and the arrival that child into the world results in joy. Because God can do extraordinarily gracious things with those who in faith yield to his word and even with those who falter.

This is a theme that we see over and over again in the gospels. Think of all of the healing accounts: He opens blind eyes, unstops deaf ears, loosens mute tongues, and here enlivens a barren womb. Because the word of God brings life wherever it is met with faith and even in some places where it is not. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of life. Which as an aside is why Christianity, unlike many other faiths and philosophies, has always cared deeply for the sanctity and dignity of human life from conception right through to death and at every point in between.

Like John’s birth we might say that the birth of faith, no matter how small, in men and women and children is a sign of the great mercy of Jesus Christ. Whenever faith comes alive in a person, rejoice! Whenever faith deepens in a person, rejoice! Wherever faith in Christ is found, rejoice! Because the mercy of Jesus Christ is always cause for deep and profound joy. And let me tell you that many-a-time these last eleven months I have rejoiced at your faith.

“What then will this child become?” The Lord opens the mouth of Zechariah and frees his tongue and he begins to praise God. His praise is the response to God fulfilling God’s promise. It’s significant that Luke tells us Zechariah was “filled with the Holy Spirit” because the Holy Spirit not only fulfills God’s promise but enables our praise. As it is written elsewhere, “no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Cor 12:3). I was thinking about that this week and it made me wonder, what difference would it make if we had a regular habit of starting each day by asking the Holy Spirit to fill us up that we might praise God not only with our lips but in our lives?

And here is the content of Zechariah’s proclamation: That God has looked favourably upon his people and that the mercy long promised has now come to pass in and through and with Jesus Christ. Blessed be God! The God of Israel, the God who spoke through the prophets, the God whose mercy extends across generations, the God who made a covenant with Abraham, the God who called John the Baptist to prepare the way, the God who took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem, the God who raised Israel from Egypt and Jesus Christ from the dead.

Blessed be God! For this same God has delivered us from sin, has gathered us together here in Midhurst/Craighurst so that we too might be caught up into this grand story, so that our lives too might be woven into the fabric of God’s salvation, so that we too might shine like a light in our communities drawing people to Jesus Christ.

“What then will this child become?” The latter part of Zechariah’s proclamation answers this question. John will become the one who is sent by God ahead of Jesus Christ to announce his coming. To prepare people to meet him by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins. John’s ministry is entirely for the sake of others. For heaven’s sake he wore camel’s hair and ate locusts he wasn’t concerned with himself just with telling other people about the salvation that is theirs in Jesus Christ.

One theologian sums up the birth, life, and ministry of John the Baptist this way: “Because he comes from God in this special way, he belongs completely to God, and hence he also lives completely for men, in order to lead them to God.”[1] Part of what I’m wanting to say this morning is that like John the Church comes entirely from God, belongs entirely to God, and lives entirely for human creatures in order to lead them to God.

At the very end of our gospel reading Luke tells us a seemingly peculiar though important piece of information: “The child,” that is John, “grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” You see, before John can carry out his ministry in public he has to be in the wilderness because it’s in the wilderness where he is going to grow and become strong in spirit. Let me say that again: John’s public ministry began long before he was ever in public. It began in the wilderness.

So often we want the public ministry without having to put in time in the wilderness. But without putting in time in the wilderness we can not grow and become strong in spirit and be ready for the public ministry. Do you think the courage and faith that led to John losing his head simply came from within? It ain’t so. So if we want to be like John and prepare hearts and minds for Jesus Christ then we have got to head into the wilderness.

Let me just say it straight, the wilderness is prayer. You can’t say what you don’t pray. I want us to be a church that prays. And not just on Sundays but a church that has a rhythm of prayer throughout the week. And not just together but apart: at home, on the drive to work, in the waiting room. I want us to be a church that prays because I want us to be a church that is growing and becoming stronger in the Holy Spirit and that has the courage to tell people about the saving love of Jesus Christ.

“What then will this child become?” What then will we become? Will we become God’s people here in Midhurst/Craighurst? Will we together become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit? Will we become the Body of Christ working together for the glory of God and the good of our neighbours? Will we become a light in the darkness? Will we become a community of reconciliation and renewal? Will we become a voice that tells out the gospel of Jesus Christ and calls people to believe in him? We will become just such a people, and indeed we are just such a people, as we open our hearts and minds to receive the word of God in faith, as we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us up, and as we give ourselves over to God in prayer. “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.”

Endnotes
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p.22.

Feast Day: The Second Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Mark 2:23-3:6; Deuteronomy 5:12-15

“The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28)

The Christian life has a certain goal—to know God in and through and with Jesus Christ. To know and love and adore the One from whom all goodness, truth, and beauty are derived. And so Christians are called daily to let go of our attempts to be our own masters so that the Holy Spirit might begin to re-order our lives in light of Christ’s love. This is why human creatures are given life at all, so that our life can be taken up into God’s life.

Yet the Christian life is challenging, difficult even. For example, there are so many things that a Christian ought to do. Consider one of my favourite portions of the Prayer Book, the Rule of Life tucked away on the bottom half of a page towards the back. It basically says that every now and then Christian men and women ought to examine their lives and consider if they are living in accordance with the gospel. Here is basically what the Prayer Book counsels: go to church, make a practice of praying, reading the Bible, and disciplining yourself, integrate the teaching of Christ into your daily life, share your faith with others, serve others both in the Church and in the community, and offer your hard-earned coin to support the work of the Church both at home and abroad. Do these things and you will live a Christian life says the Prayer Book.

Now, here’s my point. From one vantage these can seem simply like a rather long list of to-dos and quickly become burdensome and constraining, like some sort of spiritual straigh-jacket. But from another vantage, the Holy Spirit can open your eyes to see these disciplines for what they truly are, things that help you grow in your life in Christ by connecting you to the life of Christ.

It’s not that you were made for these various Christian practices and disciplines, as if you have to uncomfortably try and squeeze yourself into some mold and if you don’t then you’ve failed. Rather, these disciplines and practices were made for you that you might know the love of God in Christ and be set free and transformed by it. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”

Yesterday afternoon I took our eldest out to learn how to ride a two-wheeler. She has been wanting to learn for a while now but was always a bit timid so we didn’t press the issue. She wasn’t made for that bike, after all. But let me tell you that bike, with the handlebar streamers and all, that bike was made for her. And when it all came together and clicked yesterday she must have done one-hundred laps of the basketball court down the street. Smile ear-to-ear as she proclaimed, “I feel like I’ve been riding for years! I love the feel of the wind on my face!”

See, the goal for us was never simply to get her riding a bike. The goal was the joy and freedom that learning to ride a bike can unlock for a child. In a similar way, the goal of the Christian life is to experience the joy and freedom of knowing God. The goal isn’t simply to pray more, to read your Bible more, to be more generous with your time and money. Those are just the practices that get us there. And once you begin to get a glimpse of that let me tell you the feel of the wind on your face, it is good. “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”

This is what is at the crux of the conflict that we encounter this morning between Jesus and the Pharisees. It’s the sabbath day and what is Jesus doing but plucking grain with his disciples in one instance and performing an act of healing on the other. Doesn’t Jesus know there are six other days in the week in which he can work? Doesn’t Jesus know the Law of Moses? We heard it ourselves this morning: “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” And the Pharisees are furious. Because the Pharisees are very. serious. people. They know the rules and they’re going to hold people to them.

But the question must be asked, did Jesus break the sabbath law here by, for example, healing a crippled man’s hand? And if he did break the Law, does that mean that the Law has been done away with altogether, abolished?

It is possible, I think, in a very narrow sense to say that Jesus violated the law. After all, the Pharisees would have made the point that this was not an emergency and the man could have been healed the following day. So, say Jesus did violate the sabbath law. Was it because he simply disregarded the law? Jesus isn’t one to act quite so carelessly. One of the keys to understanding this passage lies elsewhere in the gospels and those of us who have been reading the Bible together on Tuesday nights read this a few weeks ago. Towards the beginning of Matthew’s gospel Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill,” (Mt 5:17).

Jesus does not disregard the law rather he fulfills it, perfects it, brings it to its true and proper end. Jesus reveals that to which the Law points: human life incorporated into Divine joy. That’s why the sabbath and the law of Moses is there, to remind human creatures of the grace of God’s saving love that has now appeared in Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees missed this. They had become so weighed down in the minutia of the Law that they somehow forgot about the intention of the Law. The sabbath is about life with God, the joy of eternal life. Yet the Pharisees had managed to twist it into an instrument for stifling life: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” Jesus asks. The sabbath is for life.

So here is Jesus, a man longing to be healed standing in front of him, and he looks around at the Pharisees and Mark tells us that he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts. He sees that though they are scrupulous with respect to the Law they have lost sight of the kindness of God. And now here they would actually hinder this man from knowing the healing love of God. And Jesus is angry.

Now, I know that none of this sort of thing ever happens in church anymore. And let me say, quite honestly, that I rejoice and give thanks for the last ten months since I have arrived in this parish. I love serving you as your pastor and I hope we get to do this together for a while yet. These last ten months I have been inspired by your faith and love of Christ. By your generosity and warmth. By your patience, not least of all with me! I love how you seek to serve those who are outside the walls of this church and welcome every one who walks through those doors.

But like I said, I know that a church like this one probably doesn’t suffer much from church politics. Let me tell you though that in other churches there can be a complex set of rules that build up over time, sometimes spoken but more-often-than-not unspoken. And these rules, they mark out and distinguish who is in and who is not yet in. They determine what is and what is not appropriate. They determine who has power and who doesn’t and who gets to make decisions and who gets to veto the decisions of others and so on and so forth

This is all well and good and frankly unavoidable but I think Jesus wants us to keep something in mind—this church community exists for the glory of his name and for the good of his people. The end goal is not simply to make good and respectable members of St. Paul’s/John’s. The goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us not ever get so caught up in our own little rules that we lose sight of the wideness and beauty of Christ’s love. Let us never hinder people coming to know the love of Christ here in this place. Let us never discourage anyone who comes here seeking Christ. Let us never heap burdens on others that we would not willingly help them carry. Let us not lose sight of the joy of the gospel and let us not dampen the joy of others. Let us make every effort to widen the circle and invite some of those folks that are out on the edges into the middle. Let us go out of our way and bend over backwards to extend the same hospitality to others that God has extended to each one of us in his well beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Because the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath. And when we fix our eyes on the Lord of the sabbath we begin to see what it’s all about. And the feel of that wind on your face, let me tell you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Feast Day: Trinity Sunday
Readings: Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are in debt—but not to the flesh…” (Romans 8:12)

Trinity Sunday is a wonderful, if not tricky, feast. Tricky because preachers can sometimes be lured into trying to explain or articulate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Some of you will know that we explored this in our Lenten series on the Apostles’ Creed and while it has its merits this morning I want to focus instead upon the wonder of the Holy Trinity—that God’s very own life and love is open to the world, to you and I. We see this visually depicted in the icon of the Holy Trinity by Andrei Rublev. Much could be said in contemplation of this icon but the one thing I want to note is that the circle which the three figures form is not closed, but open. There is space there at the table where the chalice sits.

“So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die…For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.”

In these words from Romans we learn that the opposite of being spiritually enslaved is to be adopted into God’s family, to find our place at the table so-to-speak. Enslaved to what? To the “flesh” or, we might say, to sin. We often think about sin in terms of personal guilt or culpability and thus there is the need for forgiveness. While this is certainly true Saint Paul famously draws out another aspect of sin. You’ll notice, for example, that Paul hardly ever frames sin in terms of guilt and he hardly ever actually mentions forgiveness. Rather, what we see in Paul’s letters, is an understanding of sin and evil in terms of that which exercises force (6:14) and thus enslaves (6:6, 15-23).

And, from evil’s power to enslave one needs to be set free. We see a figure for this in the life of Israel who were themselves enslaved in Egypt. The Lord heard their cry and liberated them from slavery, leading them through the Red Sea and through the wilderness in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night towards the promised land. And if you know the story you know how often Israel complained and wanted to give up and go back to Egypt where they had been enslaved. Nevertheless, God is faithful and at the very heart of their liberation was God’s summons near the start of the book of Exodus: “Israel is my firstborn son. Let my son go that he may worship me,” (4:22). In other words, so long as Israel is enslaved they cannot possibly live as God’s children. In order to truly live as God’s children they need to be liberated from Egypt.

As I said this is a figuration of the greater reality of what God has done in Christ. In unconditional love the Father sends the Son who assumes our enslaved human nature and in dying on the cross extinguishes this old nature entirely (Romans 6:6). And in his resurrection from the dead Jesus reconstitutes a new humanity which is set free from the powers of sin and death. Just as Israel’s liberation creates the space for them to truly live as children of God so too our liberation from sin in and with and through Christ creates the space for us to truly live as children of God. But how does this reality of what God has done in Christ for us begin to work itself out in us?

Listen to what Saint Paul has to say about baptism elsewhere in Romans: “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,” (Romans 6:3-4). In other words, just as Israel’s liberation from slavery involved their crossing of the Red Sea so too your liberation from the powers of sin and death involves a passing through water. Sin no longer has dominion over all you who have been baptized into Christ. The Holy Spirit has taken you and grafted you onto Jesus Christ. You are now in Christ and he is in you.

I love the end of that quote from Romans I just read: “so we too might walk in newness of life.” In the waters of baptism the Holy Spirit has given you a new life as a child of God! This is what Jesus means when he speaks of being born again, of being born by water and Spirit (John 3:1ff). Every human creature has a natural birth. But in order to be set free from sin for life with God we are in need of a second birth whereby we become sons and daughters of God not by nature but by grace. The grace of the Holy Spirit poured into your heart to lead you in the way of Christ unto everlasting life.

Welcomed thus into the family of God, God nourishes us with his very self. I noted at the start that in Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity the circle is not enclosed but is rather open at the spot where the chalice is placed. This is the cup of wine that we share in the Eucharist each Sunday. Or, rather, this is the cup that God shares with us. It is, of course, the faith of the Church that by the Holy Spirit the bread and wine of the Eucharist become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Therefore, when we come to the altar rail we come to receive Christ, the one who shares the very life and love of God with us and gives us a seat at the table of the Holy Trinity.

This is wonderful indeed. Yet, Saint Paul continues with these sobering words: “So then, brothers and sisters…when we cry “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

In Christ we have been liberated from slavery to sin and adopted into God’s own family, yet our deliverance and adoption also has a future tense. Only a few verses later in Romans Paul will write of our waiting for adoption and liberation (8:22-24a). That is to say, while we are indeed God’s children now we remain part of a world which still awaits its ultimate liberation at Christ’s return.

We know this well, don’t we?—the tension and pain of living in hope. The waiting, the present suffering, the creeping power of sin which seems to be ever crouching at our door. This is why Saint Paul exhorts us by the Spirit to, “put to death” the deeds of the flesh as we live as God’s children. Saying “no” to the power of sin where it shows up in our daily lives is a kind of “putting to death” by which the Spirit leads us into life. This is difficult but the life of Christian freedom as God’s children requires just such struggle.

Even still, brothers and sisters, the Triune God has begun something very wonderful in you, indeed. And I do mean begun, for having been freed from the power of sin you owe your old life nothing at all and are invited rather to live as children of God, for that is what you are. And the same God who began this good work in you will bring it to completion. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Feast Day: Rogation Sunday

Readings: Matthew 6:25-33

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

At first glance this gospel reading is difficult to understand. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.” Yet who among us can avoid being concerned with putting food on the table unless they want to starve? It is a difficult passage but the verse immediately before it provides a helpful interpretive key: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.”

“Mammon” here is wealth personified. In other words, you cannot be devoted both to God and to the pursuit of worldly wealth and comfort. You cannot have two ultimate goods, or two final goals, at the same time. To put an even finer point on it, one can serve God only whole-heartedly or not at all. The lack of wiggle-room here, the all-or-nothing, black-or-white, yes-or-no, may be a difficult and challenging word for you this morning. If it’s any consolation I’ve been hearing this text all week.

“Therefore,” says Jesus, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, in light of the fact that human creatures cannot serve two masters, cannot have two ultimate goals, give up worrying about the pursuit of wealth and worldly security. After all, doesn’t life amount to more than that?

“Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says. What does it mean to worry about your life? It means to think that you are self-sufficient and that your life has meaning only insofar as you are useful and able to decisively secure a future for yourself. I think what Jesus is doing here is exposing the frailty of this way of thinking. It is no wonder that the Church has always cared especially for those people that the world deems useless: the poor, the sick, children and the elderly.

In our culture creating a meaningful life and securing your future is generally attached to material things. We possess some things but we fear losing them so we work more to gain more, to achieve more. To have something to point at and say, “Look, my life is worth this much!” And we accept this as inevitable, as just the way things are. Yet cracks have been evident for some time now. For example, we know that modern economies are creating people that are increasingly distressed, lonely and isolated from one another.[1] But what if this isn’t inevitable? What if this is a burden that we arbitrarily inflict upon ourselves?

“Do not worry about your life…Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Jesus invites you to quit worrying about your life and to consider how God the Father provides for and sustains the life of all things. The birds of the air, the flowers of the field, the bees of the hive, they do not worry, they are not anxious, they simply are, they simply receive life as gift. 

Some of you need to take some time each day to consider. Some of you need to wake up each morning and before you complain you need to consider. Some of you need to stop for a moment and before you cave-in you need to consider. Some of you need to quit thinking that everything is just one big coincidence and consider.

Consider that life is a gift. You did not make it. You did not work for it. You simply are because God is. God the Father is the giver and sustainer of life. He cares for the flowers and the birds. How much more does your heavenly Father care for you?

I think of my own children who spend a total of zero minutes in the day worrying about their life. It is the job of the parents to concern themselves with putting food on the table and clothes on little bodies. Children, meanwhile, play and laugh and concern themselves with much more important things such as joy and wonder and exploration. Even as I wrote this sermon I watched my daughters fashion shields and swords out of old cardboard boxes!

It isn’t until we grow older that our view of the world begins to shift. It ceases to be a place of abundance and wonder and becomes a place of scarcity and anxiety. One of the things that Jesus wants to do is help us recover a sense of the giftedness of the world and a strong and lively sense of the goodness of your heavenly Father, the creator of the world. Perhaps this is in part what Jesus means when he encourages us to come to him as little children. Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness.

Rather than frantically and anxiously trying to add to or secure our lives by pursuing material wealth Jesus invites us to concern ourselves with a greater matter: “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” We might translate this, “Be seeking first,” to highlight the fact that this is an ongoing commitment, a life that is daily oriented towards God as first priority and ultimate good, for our life not only comes from God but is going to him as well.

So, it’s not as if followers of Jesus are simply to live unconcerned about anything at all. Rather, we are invited to have our lives re-oriented so that we concern ourselves daily with that which is ultimate: Do I have a sense of the giftedness of the world? Does God have my whole heart? How am I growing in holiness? Am I open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Who can I be praying for more diligently? Who is the Lord leading me to share his life-giving gospel with?

This morning Jesus is inviting you to give up worrying and share in his happiness. He is inviting you to orient your life towards God, your heavenly Father, and make him your first priority. To be thankful and generous and full of the joy of the Holy Spirit knowing that God cares for you and keeps you now and always.

Endnotes:

[1]https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/not-meant-to-be-alone/

Feast Day: The Fourth Sunday of Easter
Readings: John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Our gospel reading this morning gives us insight into the compassion of Jesus Christ and we learn that he cares for us. That’s one of those truths near the heart of the gospel that is easy to lose sight of because maybe we think first of the various duties that come with being a Christian: praying, tithing my income, feeding the hungry, and so on. Or maybe we think that because we are just one person the Lord is busy caring for others. So it is worth remembering: Jesus Christ cares for you.

This week I was visiting with someone in hospital and a short verse from the first epistle of Saint Peter came to mind. It says, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you,” (5:7). Jesus Christ is the good shepherd who cares for each one of his sheep. How does he care for them? He lays down his life to guard them and to gather them. This is what defines the good shepherd.

As we heard, Jesus contrasts the good shepherd with the hired hand. What do we learn about the hired hand? Basically, that he has no skin in the game. These sheep are not his sheep. So then, when trouble threatens, when the wolf approaches, the hired hand cuts his losses, turns tail, and is out of there. The hired hand abandons the sheep in the face of danger and leaves them vulnerable to the wolf who snatches them and scatters them.

As an aside here it is worth asking who Jesus has in mind when he speaks of the wolf that comes to wreak havoc on the flock. He does not explicitly say. It could be that he has in mind the Pharisees and religious leaders that are spiritually blind and lack compassion for the people of Israel (Jn 9:40). It could be that he has in mind false teachers that distort the gospel for their own ends (Mt 7:15).

After all, it matters greatly what the Church teaches. For example, in the book of Acts Paul is headed to Rome and he calls the leaders of the church in Ephesus together to say good-bye and to exhort them: “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them,” (Acts 20:28-30). Here, wolves are those teachers that shamelessly distort the One Faith [point upwards at St. John’s] that shepherds are tasked with guarding and passing on.

Being a good pastor is about learning the importance of both of these things: genuine compassion for God’s people and uncompromising fidelity to the Apostolic Faith.

Nevertheless, Jesus is not overly concerned with the wolf here. Rather, he wants us to know what the good shepherd is like. As we heard, when the going gets tough and the hired hand gets going but not the good shepherd. While the hired hand takes flight the good shepherd stays and fights. And what does the good shepherd do in order to protect the sheep? He lays down his life. Four times in this short passage we hear this. This is the central characteristic of the good shepherd: “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The good shepherd guards the sheep even at his own peril. Jesus does not flee at the first sign of danger. He himself does not avoid the cross but faces it head on and by his resurrection is victorious over sin and death. Jesus Christ knows what it is to suffer. He knows your suffering and he is very near to you. He has taken hold of you, do not break from his grasp. As Christ says only a few verses later: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand,” (John 10:27-29).

The good shepherd is willing to suffer for the sake of the sheep because they are exceedingly valuable to him. They belong to him therefore he is personally invested in them. If those sheep are in danger you better believe the good shepherd will put himself in harms way, even putting his own life on the line. This should tell you something about the value of the sheep in the eyes of the good shepherd. How valuable are they to him? Infinitely valuable! Of more value even than his own life!

There is a psychological phenomenon that might help us understand this, what behavioral scientists call the “sunk costs fallacy.” Basically, the sunk costs fallacy says that people are more likely to make irrational decisions on account of “sunk costs,” money already spent that you are not getting back either way.

For example, say you have a pair of Leafs’ play-off tickets valued at $200 each. The night of the game rolls around and there is a big snow storm. I know that is a terribly unlikely scenario because it is April but humour me. Studies show that you will be more likely to risk traveling through perilous conditions if you paid the $400 for the tickets yourself. On the contrary, had you received the tickets for free you would be much more likely to stay in and watch re-runs on Netflix. Objectively the value of the tickets remains the same but their worth to you personally changes. Why? Because of the cost. In the one scenario the tickets cost you nothing. In the other scenario the tickets cost you personally, perhaps greatly. Therefore you are willing to incur other costs.

Likewise, we can say that because the good shepherd owns the sheep he is willing to incur the cost of their safe-keeping. When the sheep are in danger the good shepherd goes to meet it and takes upon himself the fate that would otherwise befall them. Even laying down his life. Because, “our salvation is dearer to the Son than his own life.”[1]

So, the good shepherd guards the sheep but he also gathers the sheep: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.” Historically this refers to the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant that God had established with Israel. And of course, from the very beginning the Church included both Jew and Gentile together, one flock with one shepherd.

Yet the point remains true today. The risen Jesus continues to bring many sons and daughters into God’s family, making it bigger and richer than ever. Those who once did not know his voice now know his voice. How does Jesus accomplish this? Again, by his cross and resurrection. Saint Peter interprets this mystery for us as we heard in Acts. The stone that was rejected has become the cornerstone that holds the whole building together. The name that was wiped out from the earth has become the name by which we are saved! He was struck down yet in rising again he brings many with him.

“I must bring them also,” says Jesus. I must. Do we share Christ’s sense of urgency? Do we share his conviction that right now there are people out there who he knows and loves and wants to bring into the fellowship of his church?

You here this morning are witnesses of these things. You are here because Jesus Christ the good shepherd has brought you here. You may have been here your whole life or you may have been here but a few weeks. Regardless, the truth remains: Christ has drawn you in by the beauty of his love and mercy, by the beauty of his cross and resurrection, and he cares for you. And in the pasture of the Church he nourishes you and feeds you with his very life and love in the proclamation of the Scriptures and the breaking of bread.

I believe that Jesus is still doing this. In fact, my prayer is that he would continue to gather people into this very church community. I pray that this time next year there are people in our midst that are not here right now. I pray that this time next year we will have baptized more men and women into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Because that’s what the good shepherd is about. Therefore it had better be what we are about.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus Christ is the good shepherd. You are his. He cares for you. He lays down his life for you. He guards you and he gathers you into friendship with the living God. Let us therefore contemplate the mystery of the cross! Let us therefore contemplate the mystery of his resurrection! Let us therefore contemplate his great love for us and for those he is still gathering into the flock.

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Endnotes

[1] John Calvin.