Feast Day: The First Sunday in Lent
Readings: Mark 1:9-15

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

In our gospel reading this morning we are confronted with that most unscrupulous figure Satan and the temptation of our Lord in the wilderness. The devil and temptation. Both of which are worth attention for different reasons. It is worth paying attention to the devil because he is the one who seeks to undermine, disrupt, and distort the good work and good plans of God. As such he is the enemy of human creatures. However, it is worth paying attention to him only to the extent that we understand that we shouldn’t pay him too much attention. As my Professor of Systematic Theology would say, we should remember that the devil is a character in God’s story and not the other way around.[1] And it is worth paying attention to temptation because we all face it and yet it tends to function in a much more subtle and cunning manner than we might expect.

This morning then, I want us to consider both the devil and temptation as Christ himself encounters them in the wilderness. And my hope is that we find there in Christ’s weakness—in our weakness—God’s power to save.

As we read Mark’s account of this event surely one of the most striking aspects is its brevity. Matthew and Luke’s accounts are significantly longer. It is there that the we hear of the content of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and his discourse with the devil. By contrast, Mark’s account is two short verses and he tells us nothing of the content of the temptation just that it happened.

In Mark the temptation of Christ in the wilderness comes immediately on the heels of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and precedes the beginning of his ministry in Galilee. When he steps into the waters of the Jordan the Spirit descends upon him and we hear those words of affirmation from the Father in heaven. Here Christ is disclosed to us as the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

Immediately,” Mark tells us, “the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.” The same Spirit who descended upon Christ at his baptism immediately expelled him further into the wilderness. Mark wants us to know that these two events are connected. That is to say, Christ’s temptation in the wilderness is the necessary consequence of his baptism.

Indeed, for Mark, the temptation of Christ in the wilderness is not just restricted to this moment but is rather definitive of Christ’s entire life and ministry from this point onwards. In both Matthew and Luke the temptation of Christ ends and he is victorious over the devil who departs. But that is not the case in Mark. Here there is no end to the temptation that Christ faces. Rather, these forty days of testing in the wilderness following his baptism anticipate the struggle that Christ will endure every step of the way to the cross.

There is something really important for us here and it is the sober reminder that our life in Christ necessarily includes testing and temptation. Christ himself, who is revealed as God’s Son in baptism, enters into a journey that is going to end with the outpouring of God’s love on the cross. Yet every step of the way he is faced with the subtle but demonic temptation to take a slightly different direction that will not need to have the cross as its end goal.[2]

That’s part of the cunning nature of the devil and the subtly of temptation. We might expect a devil who is obviously godless or dangerous and who tempts people to do spectacularly wicked things. However, in the temptation of Christ as Matthew and Luke tell it the devil is a figure who even quotes Scripture all in an effort to divert Christ from the will of the Father.

The very same thing is true of your life in Christ. When Jesus took you and made you a child of God in baptism and set you on the narrow road with him, demonic forces took note. And every single step that you take with Christ in accordance with the will of God is accompanied by the demonic temptation to go in a slightly different direction. What is that next step that you sense Christ is calling you to take with him but that you have been resisting or ignoring?

Let me give you an example. The Screwtape Letters is a novel by C.S. Lewis that is a series of letters from a senior demon named Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a less experienced tempter. And so his uncle Screwtape is mentoring him, teaching him how to more successfully tempt a character that we know only as “the Patient,” thus securing his damnation.

In one letter Screwtape counsels Wormwood not to discount more cunning efforts: “You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all junior tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

“It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.” Temptation is the devil’s way of trying to drive even the slightest wedge in-between God and man. Most of the time that is as simple as convincing us that our way is better than God’s way and that to live in a world of our own fashioning is infinitely more interesting than life with God in the world that he has fashioned.

It is into this reality that Christ entered upon his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. He enters into solidarity with us and becomes like us in every respect, even facing temptations and trials at every step. Yet where we so often yield to temptation he obeys in order to lift us up with him. He enters into our weakness in order to show forth God’s power to save. He steps into the space that the devil attempts to create between God and man and he closes it up and seals it in his own flesh.

As the Scriptures say elsewhere, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb 4:15). Whatever temptation you might face Jesus Christ knows it fully and, “he is able to help those who are being tested,” (Heb 2:18). Therefore, you are never alone.

Lent is a season when the Church is invited to enter more profoundly into the way of Jesus Christ, a way that ends with the cross where we encounter most fully the mystery of God’s love. And we are invited, as we journey with him and with one another, to feel more deeply the agony of his temptation wherein Christ learned to submit himself entirely to the will of the Father, because that is the way of love.

And as we journey with Christ towards the cross we are invited likewise to empty ourselves and give ourselves over entirely to the will of God as we prepare to celebrate the joy of Christ’s resurrection. Therefore Lent begins with that great exhortation that we heard on Ash Wednesday part of which I recall for us again on this The First Sunday in Lent: “I invite you therefore, in the name of the Lord, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.”

In all of these practices we learn the virtues of self-denial and obedience. We learn of our own weakness, that we are prone to wander. We learn of the power and love of God in Christ and the beauty of life with him. And we also learn that it is possible to grow-up in our life with Christ if we are willing to stick with him and obey him.

This is a difficult way. It is almost always easier to give into temptation than it is to resist it. In another one of his letters Screwtape tells his nephew about a previous patient of his who, upon arriving in hell came to a sudden realization: “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.”

Sin is not actually all that it is cracked up to be, in fact, we do not truly like it at all. Perhaps you have had moments in your life when you were overwhelmed with the beauty and goodness of Christ. No one, in those moments, ever thinks to themselves, “I really wish I chose to go my own way more often.” You were made for God and the life of freedom and beauty that you long for can only be found in obedience to his will, in going in the way that he has set for you with Jesus Christ.

This Lenten season, may you find strength in Christ who by obedience, fasting, and prayer withstood temptation. May he give you grace to discipline yourself in submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit. And may you find that your closeness with God deepens and matures as his will works itself out in you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Joseph Mangina, homily for the First Sunday in Lent 2017, The Church of St. Mary and St. Martha.
[2] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Index, 348.


Feast Day: Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Readings: Mark 1:40-45; 2 Kings 5:1-14

“Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I do will; be made clean.”

In our readings this morning we meet two lepers who receive healing from the Lord. I want us to behold the compassion of Jesus Christ who reaches out to touch us, cleansing from every sin those who are penitent, and thereby makes us whole by restoring our relationship with God and with one another.

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Straightaway Mark tells us that this man is a leper. In Ancient Israel lepers were an isolated and desperate people reduced to a pitiful state of existence on account of their being pronounced ceremonially unclean according to the law of Moses.[1]

Listen to this passage from Leviticus that describes the daily life a leper in Ancient Israel: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp,” (13:45-46). Not only did lepers experience terrible physical suffering but emotional and mental suffering as well, cut off and isolated from their own families and communities. What a pitiful existence.

Lepers were ceremonially marked off like this, easily distinguished from the rest of the community, to enable others to avoid them at all costs so as not to become unclean themselves. Even a passing encounter with a leper was enough to render one unclean. For example, there is a Rabbinic teaching that says, “If an unclean man [afflicted with leprosy] stood under a tree and a clean man passed by, the latter becomes unclean.”[2] Lepers were avoidable, forgettable people.

Now, in this story you and I are the leper and though we may be physically well our contagion is sin. Even more than leprosy in Ancient Israel, sin isolates us and separates us from God and from one another. We have a need at our very core to be healed and restored to life with God and each other, to have the work of sin undone in us. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we cannot cure ourselves.

The next thing I want us to notice is what Mark tells us about the leper’s posture. How does he come to Christ? Begging him and kneeling before him. Begging is very much a last resort. We know that this man would have been cut off from his family and community supports. Probably he had burned through whatever resources remained and exhausted all other possibilities. Now he has come to the end of himself and must resort to his last play—beg. Throw himself utterly and completely at the mercy of Christ.

It is interesting to contrast this with the story of Naaman that we heard in our first reading this morning. Naaman was not an Israelite and therefore the same ceremonial laws pertaining to cleanliness were not applied to him. In fact, we learn that Naaman was doing well for himself. Commander of the king of Aram’s army. A man of some power and wealth. Though he was feared in battle there was one enemy he could not defeat: “The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy,” (2 Kings 5:1).

As we heard, when Naaman got wind of a prophet in Israel who could cure him of his affliction he set off with vast amounts of silver and gold, a caravan of horses and chariots, and even an endorsement from the king of Aram himself. In other words, unlike the leper in our gospel reading Naaman rolled up to Elisha’s house with a show of strength and wealth. A show of strength that masked his weakness. A show of wealth that masked his poverty.

And so Naaman had to leave his horses and chariots, silver and gold, there at the entrance to Elisha’s house. He was not permitted to bring them in. Because the healing that the Lord had for him was not for sale. He would have to learn that all of his strength and all of his wealth were not going to get him any closer to the healing and wholeness that he so desperately desired.

Are we so different from Naaman, you and I? How manifold are the ways that we attempt to cover up our weakness and our poverty! The ways we try to minimize our sin, try to conceal it from God and even from ourselves. Yet, whatever our accomplishments may be, and they may be many and they may be great, they amount to little when we are faced with our brokenness. An outstanding career contributes jack to the remission of your sins.

Every time we enter this house of worship—perhaps because like Naaman we have heard that there may be healing here for us (2 Kings 5:3-4)—Jesus Christ invites each one of us to let down our guard, to lay down our showy displays of self-sufficiency, so that our hands are empty and able to receive the gift of his healing love. Because when we approach Christ in our poverty and weakness, exposed and vulnerable yet truly ourselves, he does not delay in having compassion upon us.

So then, we needn’t fear knowing ourselves as sinners. We needn’t conceal or cloke our sins before God and ourselves but can rather acknowledge and confess them humbly before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father and know the infinite joy of his forgiveness.

Think, for example, of when we come to the altar rail for communion. Laying aside all pretense of our own worthiness and instead falling on our knees in adoration of Christ, stretching out our empty hands before him in the hopes that we will stretch out his hand toward us. And what do we find but that he gives us himself, touching our deepest wound, and filling us with his love and mercy.

From his knees in adoration the leper says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” He knows that Jesus is able to heal him. Maybe he’s heard the reports that have begun to spread throughout the region about what Jesus has done for people. How he delivered a man possessed by a demon of how he took Simon’s ill mother-in-law by the hand and at once the fever left her. The question for this leper is not can Jesus but will he? Maybe you’ve wondered this yourself. You know that he is quick to have mercy and forgive and that he has done so for others, but would he do the same for you? Does he want to?

I love what happens next. Mark tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion.” Everything about Jesus is shot through with compassion and love. Even the judgement of Christ, that we see throughout the gospels and that can seem to us so counter to love, is itself a manifestation of the compassion of Christ that burns away all that opposes God’s good will.

Jesus here was moved with compassion. “He stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do will. Be made clean!” He stretched out his hand and touched him. Recall what we learned about leprosy earlier. To even come near a leper was to risk being made unclean yourself, cut off and isolated from your people, pitiful, accursed, damned. Yet Jesus Christ reaches out his hand and touches him.

Now the word “touch” here literally means, “to fasten to.” Jesus clings to this leper, becoming unclean himself, becoming accursed himself, becoming damned himself, because he was moved with compassion. He did not fear the man’s contagion but only desired to heal him and restore him to life with God and with his community.

I was reminded this week of the story of St. Damien of Molokai. In the 19th century there was an epidemic of leprosy (later called Hansen’s Disease) in Hawaii. It was so bad that in 1865 the king passed the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy which resulted in those with the worst cases of leprosy being required to live under a medical quarantine on the island of Moloka’i.

Initially the Kingdom of Hawai’i intended to provided resources and support to this leper colony but soon they became overwhelmed with the need. At that time the Bishop believed that the lepers needed a priest. Despite the high-risk, eventually four priests volunteered to go including Father Damien, a Belgian priest.

On May 10, 1873 Father Damien arrived to be a priest to the approximately 800 lepers that had been exiled to the island. On his arrival he spoke to those gathered as, “one who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you.”[3]

In his time with the people of Molokai he helped build homes, a church, he dressed ulcers and wounds, made coffins, dug graves. Six months after his arrival he wrote to his brother in Europe saying, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”[4] Finally, after eleven years living amongst the lepers of Molokai Father Damien contracted the disease himself and died shortly thereafter.

In a similar way Jesus Christ does not fear our contagion. He does not walk past you or avoid you, but rather fastens himself to you, taking all of your sin upon himself, becoming unclean, becoming accursed, becoming damned, and he bears the full weight of it all the way to the cross. Because he is full of compassion and he wills to forgive you your sin and make you whole. He wills to heal the wounds of division and separation. He wills to step into the isolation that sin creates and reconcile us to God and to one another. “I do will. Be made clean!”


[1] Leviticus 13:3, 15

[2] Lane 85, fn145

[3] Wikipedia

[4] Wikipedia

Feast Day: The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Texts: Mark 1:21-28; Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Mark 1:22)

When was the last time that the Bible caught you off guard? When was the last time you were confronted with the word of God and it disturbed you or made you uncomfortable? I realize this is a bit of a funny question and maybe for different reasons. Maybe you’ve been reading the Bible for so long now that you think you’ve heard it all? In this case, our familiarity with the Bible can actually dull some of it’s edges. Or, maybe you simply assume that anything God could have to say would obviously affirm what you already believe or know to be true? In this case, we may simply discard or ignore any bits that we feel pose a challenge to us personally. Or, maybe you don’t actually read the Bible. Biblical literacy among Canadian Anglicans is not what it could be.

Let me give you an example of this latter phenomenon. Recently, I was at a gathering of Anglicans and at one point in our conversation we were sharing our images of God. How do we understand who God is and what he is like? As people chimed in I was struck by one thing: a lack of appeal to Scripture. People were happy to suggest that we can come to know God as we hug our grandchildren or take a walk down by the lake. No one seemed to think it was particularly important that if we’re going to talk about God we had better begin with the Bible—God’s own self-revelation.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that if we begin to talk about God by talking about ourselves then the God we end up with looks an awful lot like, well, us. You can imagine my surprise when in that gathering I learned that obviously Jesus himself shared the moral and political leanings of white, liberally-minded baby boomers!

Now, I hope you know I’m having a bit of fun here, but it is an important matter because actually in the gospels, and in Mark especially, the presence of Jesus disturbs people. For example, in the portion of Mark that we heard read this morning we are confronted with the astonishing power and authority of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus and his newly minted disciples enter the synagogue in Capernaum on the sabbath and Jesus began to teach and Mark tells us that the people gathered there, “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” At the same time Jesus encounters a man possessed by a demon and casts the demon out. Again, Mark tells us that the crowds, “were all amazed,” at the authority of Christ’s teaching. Even the demons obey him!

All throughout Mark’s account of the gospel, wherever Jesus goes his presence and teaching elicit this sense of astonishment. Now, the word Mark uses here means to be struck with panic or shock. If you’ve ever read the Bible and felt a twinge of panic then that means you might be doing it right.

Let me give you an example from later on in Mark’s gospel. It’s the story of the rich man who comes to Jesus wanting to know how to inherit eternal life (10:17). To which Jesus responds, “go and sell all you have, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” Then Jesus turns to his disciples and explains how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. At this point Mark tells us that the disciples, “were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” (10:26). The disciples upon hearing the teaching of Christ were shocked, struck with panic, and wondered if it was even possible for anyone to be saved at all. Sidebar: the good news is, with God all things are possible (10:27).

Why is this? Why does the teaching of Jesus have the ability to catch us off guard, make us uncomfortable, disturb us even? And, why is this a good thing to be embraced and not something to flee from or gloss over? I want to give just one reason this morning: because the teaching of Jesus comes from God not from man. Our reading from Deuteronomy this morning is illuminating. The Lord said to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command,” (18:18). Jesus is that one who Moses foreshadowed, the one who speaks only the words of God. As Jesus himself says elsewhere: “for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak,” (John 12:49). Therefore, to know Jesus Christ is to know God. 

So, Jesus’ teaching has authority because it is God’s word. And because it is God’s word it challenges us. For example, think of that encounter with the rich man I mentioned earlier. The word of Christ to that man challenged him to be converted, to trade in his perishable worldly wealth for the imperishable wealth of the kingdom. It was a difficult word and, in fact, when the man heard it, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions,” (10:22).

This gives us insight into why the teaching of Christ is so challenging—because it is infinitely demanding. The scribes were concerned with simply obeying the law. But Jesus goes further. He wants more than our obedience, he wants our undivided love. Isn’t that what Paul was getting at in 1 Corinthians? “Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him,” (8:2). What Jesus asks of you is both infinitely simple and infinitely demanding: love God above all else and love your neighbour as yourself.

So, let me ask again, when was the last time you felt personally challenged by the word of God? When was the last time the presence of Christ disturbed you or called you out of your comfort zone? As a preacher, if I am going to faithfully preach the word of God, and not just my own opinion, then I can only hope that sometimes, maybe, on occasion, you are disturbed by a sermon or two. And if you hear me preach a sermon that does disturb you, great. Let’s put on the kettle, or crack a beer, and explore that.

Jesus’ teaching has authoritative because it is God’s word. And as such it challenges us. But it can also transform us. The rich man walked away grieving, but for all those who hear Christ’s word, who allow it to disturb them and make them uncomfortable yet who receive it, who follow him and learn to love and adore him, to them is given the gift of eternal life. Think of Simon, Andrew, James, and John last week. All of whom were transformed from ordinary fishermen into messengers of the gospel and joyfully shared in the suffering of Christ.

When Mark describes Christ’s teaching as having authority what he means is that Jesus’ words are not only informative but performative. In other words, the Gospel is not just the communication of things that can be known. The Gospel actually makes things happen and is life-changing.[1] The Gospel is not good advice, it is good news and that changes things.

This is evident in our gospel reading, is it not? The man in the synagogue, possessed by a demon, is liberated and set free by a simple word from Christ. Because the word of Christ has an authority that human teaching does not. Authority to destroy evil. Authority to heal the sick. Authority to forgive sin (Mark 2:10). Authority to liberate men and women from all that ensnares and binds them, and raise them up to new life.

All of this begs a question. Does Jesus Christ still speak today? Does he address us? Indeed, he does and one of the chief ways he does this is in the words of Holy Scripture. The Bible is not chiefly a dusty old history book. The Bible is not chiefly a guide for how to live a moral life. The Bible is chiefly God’s word, living and active. It is God’s disclosure of himself to humankind. It is how we know him and grow in friendship with him. When we hear and meditate on the words of Holy Scripture we are hearing and meditating on the words of Jesus Christ.

In and through the Bible Jesus Christ offers you and I eternal life, he offers us himself.[2]  That is why the absolute best method for nourishing your faith is to silently and diligently read the Bible. For as you read the Bible, Jesus Christ confronts you, is close to you, does not leave you. As you read the Bible you come to know him and love him more fully. And he forms you, over time, by the authority of his word.

This Lent everyone here will receive a booklet to help you pray the daily office, morning and evening prayer, and that same booklet will contain daily readings from Scripture. After Easter we will begin a parish Bible study, the goal of which will simply be to read through the Bible together, bringing all of our questions, and allowing the word of Christ to wash over us. In 2018, I want to invite you to drink deeply from the well of holy Scripture, to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these words. That we might be both comforted and made uncomfortable by them. That by them we might come to know and love God more fully and be transformed into the likeness of his Son, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, world without end. Amen.


[1] BXVI, quoted in God or Nothing, 202.

[2] Article VII: “…for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Karl Barth, Index, 313

[2] Pope Benedict XVI


Eli and the boy Samuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Feast Day: Advent IV
Readings: Luke 1:26-28; Romans 16:25-27

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

Most Christians have always held the Blessed Virgin Mary in high regard, loving and reverencing her, because as we heard in the words of Saint Luke this morning, Holy Scripture witnesses to the fact that she is “highly favoured” and “blessed amongst women.”

From the earliest times Christians have loved Mary not only as the mother of our Lord but also as our own mother. For example, consider the words of Jesus himself from the cross in John’s gospel: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home,” (19:26-27).

Setting aside some of the dogmatic statements about Mary that came much later on, which Protestants, sometimes reasonably, are nervous about, I want to say that we ignore Mary to the detriment of our own faith and witness.

Protestants can and should love and reverence Mary because to do so is to grow in our love of Christ. And we should love Mary not only because Jesus himself certainly loved her, and not only because she is our mother too, and not only because it is clearly Biblical to do so, and not only because she had a pivotal role in the Incarnation, but because she is the model for what a human response to God looks like: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” If we want to know what a life of faith looks like, we might contemplate Mary, the Mother of our Lord, and her bold proclamation of faith.

Yet, significantly, our lesson from Saint Luke that ends with Mary’s great proclamation of faith begins with God: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” This is an important thread that will run throughout this sermon: faith begins with God. It is a gift of God that the Holy Spirit generates within us until it becomes, truly, our own response.

Mary’s response of faith to God’s word is just that, a response of faith to the word of God. In other words, God always initiates, always takes the first step, always condescends to us first in order that we might be raised up to him by faith. Wherever you are, God does not leave you there, he does not leave you alone but sends forth his word that it might generate in you a new life of faith, hope, and love. We’ll revisit this point shortly.

So then, Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” The word translated here “greetings” is literally, “rejoice.” Rejoice! Because the coming of God’s word to Mary and to you and I is always ultimately cause for rejoicing. That God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible should address us, draw near and make himself known to us in an intimate and personal way is cause for rejoicing. This exclamation—rejoice!—marks the beginning of our new life in Christ.

Indeed, God’s word to Mary generates new life in her, literally: “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” And for the second time in this brief conversation Mary is perplexed. She wants to know just how this is going to happen since she has never had relations with a man. She does not doubt God’s word, but rather asks how God’s promise will be fulfilled.

The conception of this child, says Gabriel, will be a work of the Holy Spirit who will overshadow her womb and create something out of nothing. Evoking, of course, the imagery and language of the Creation account in Genesis where the Spirit of God hovers over the formless void and brings forth life. The new life that will be generated in Mary will have a divine, not a natural, cause.

I think that what Jesus wants us to know here is that God’s power can overcome human incapacity. Our nature as human creatures is stained by sin which means that whatever capacity you have in yourself to love and trust God is severely limited. And yet, for God all things are possible. He is able even to overcome the barrenness of your heart and mind; able to generate faith and love in you where previously there was none.

That’s our story. Once we were alienated from God but now in Christ Jesus he has made us sons and daughters. Once we could not love God but now God has liberated us from the sin that ensnares us and has planted the seed of his love within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that seed is watered and grows up by the word of God.

Who do you know that does not yet know the love and mercy of Christ? What friend or family member? Picture just one person in your mind now. What if you committed to praying for that one person every day in 2018? What if you simply prayed that God would send his word to them and that the Holy Spirit would birth faith and love in them? What if you prayed for the power of God to overcome their incapacity, their anger, their apathy?

Or, perhaps you yourself long to grow in faith this coming year. That is my own prayer for you, for us. If you feel that your faith and love for Christ has reached capacity then let us pray that the Holy Spirit would lead us ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus.

In Saint Luke’s telling, it is only then, after we hear the word of God that we arrive at Mary’s response of faith, her consent to God’s will: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The Church Fathers said that Mary conceived through her ear, via her hearing and obeying God’s word, because it was through such obedience that the word of God became fruitful in her.

The faith of Mary is an example of the sort of faith and obedience you and I are called to as well. Here is what a perfect human response to God looks like. Not rational certainty or the absence of any questions (“How can this be?”) but rather pure trust: “Let it be with me according to thy word.” When you hear the word of God ponder it, meditate upon it, digest it, and give yourself over to it that you yourself might be fashioned into the likeness of the word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

From early on Mary came to be seen as a figure for the Church. So, let me ask a related question. Are we not in a time of need in our parishes, in our diocese, and in our church? Have we not experienced a crisis of faith and are we not facing ongoing moral crises that together have eroded the very fabric of the Anglican Church of Canada resulting in the narrative of church decline that we are all too familiar with? Indeed we are in a time of particular need and I believe that the Virgin Mary points us in the right direction.

If we long to see our churches turn around then that work will begin right here with you. I am absolutely convinced that you can and will lead the way for us. The revolution is not going to happen down at 135 Adelaide Street. Rather, it will happen right here in churches like this one, on the edges of the diocese both actually and metaphorically.

Moreover, the revolution will not come about thanks to a high-gloss Strategic Plan or many millions of dollars pumped into programming, though that all has its place. Here’s how it will happen. It will happen as you yourselves hear and receive God’s word, meditate on it in your hearts and minds, so that it generates faith within you, enabling you, like Mary, to embrace your vocation to be a “servant of the Lord.” This year, more than last, may we grow in our love and obedience to the word of God.

Now may God who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, bring about in you the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.