Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Civic Duty and Christian Duty

Last Tuesday I had to report for jury selection at the court house in London, Ontario.  I had received a summons about six weeks earlier while we were at our cottage in P.E.I.  The timing was fortunate because we had planned to return to our home here in Parkhill on Thanksgiving weekend and the summons was to appear on the Tuesday after the Thanksgiving Monday―perhaps fate or the gods were at work in that. 

This was my first experience being called for jury duty and I had mixed feelings about it.  I am very aware that serving on a jury is very important in our civil system of justice.  So, I did not resent being called. However, it did cause some disruption because, as usual, I had scheduled a lot of appointments for the first weeks back.  The information I received advised that I could be involved for two weeks so I cancelled some things and rescheduled other.  It was an inconvenience but not a serious one.  It was not as if I had to serve on a jury and lose wages which some people could find to be a serious problem as it seems more and more people live paycheque to paycheque these day.  The compensation offered by the justice system is limited and no compensation is offered for the first 10 days and then a limited amount after that.

The process itself was quite interesting and enlightening.  When I arrived, and found parking near the court house―which wasn’t compensated for―I made my way to the designated court house.  I did receive mileage (kilometrage?) as I lived over 40 km away.  I sat in the court house with all the other prospective jurors and we had the opportunity to watch an informative video about the jury system and the importance of serving on a jury as a civic duty.  It was all very positive―rather too much so―with (presumably) actors playing people who had served and found it was the most significant experience in the lives.  It was also very informative about the process of jury selection.  After that we were given a live edition of how the system works by the court administrator followed by the judge who was quite informal and who actually had a sense of humor which went against my stereotype of judges. 

We went through a very formal taking of attendance by juror number, which was on the summons along with occupation―Anglican priest in my case.  We had to declare if we were retired or not.  I was somewhat undecided as clergy don’t ever truly retire―but as I decided I was receiving a pension from the Anglican Church I was officially retired.  The jury pool had 160 people and about 140 were in attendance.  As one other members of the pool said sotto voce, I wonder what’s going to happen to the ones who didn’t show.  I imagine there would be some follow up. 

We were then advised that there was only one trial scheduled that day―a civil trial which only requires six jurors―so the odds of being selected were quite small.  There were two jurors who were selected and were peremptorily dismissed without cause and one who tried to beg off for a what seemed to be a somewhat flimsy excuse.  The judge, to his credit, did not let him off without some hard questioning and then not until after the selection process was complete.   I was not selected in the lottery which used an actual bin with the juror numbers which was spun before each ticket was drawn.  I was not selected and had clarified earlier that if we were not selected on that day I did not have to return the next day.  It was unclear if I would be part of the pool for the two-week pteroid indicated.  However, that was not the case, so I and the others were set free.  I was tempted to break out into, “free at last, free at last, thank God I am free at last,” which, of course, would have been a drastic over reaction.  I felt somewhat ambivalent but, on balance, relieved I did not have to serve on the jury of the trial which involved the London Transit System being sued by an individual.  We were not made aware of any of the other details. We were told however, that we should declare if we knew personally any of the individuals involved in the case including the witnesses. 

The process raised for me the principle of what the duty of a Christian is to the civil system.  What do we owe to Caesar and what to God?  In this case there was no conflict of course.  However, that issue has arisen many times in the past and will in the future.   Where are we called to not render unto Caesar the duty of a citizen.  What is the role of the conscientious objector?  What do we do when our duty to God conflicts with our duty to the state?  Jesus was executed by the civil authorities who were administering Roman justice which was brutal an yet was very advanced for its time.  It was done with the cooperation of the Jewish authorities.  He submitted and did not call upon the armies of angels to defeat those authorities―but that is a whole other topic or many topics for another day. 
It was an interesting experience which I am glad I had.  I am not sure I would welcome a repeat with open arms but I perhaps I shall see.




Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Be Careful for Nothing

Saturday, we arrived home from our trip back from the cottage in P.E.I.  We arrived fairly late Saturday night but were able to make it to church at St. John’s by the Lake in Grand Bend (thanks be that it was not a 9:00 a.m. service).  The epistle appointed for the day was Philippians 4: 4-9 which begins “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”  Whenever I hear that passage I cannot help but hear the beautiful aria from Handle’s Messiah play in my head.  I do restrain myself from breaking into an attempt to sing it out loud, at least in public.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Messiah is that the text is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.  In the NRSV the next verse is ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’.  The words that come to me however, are from the KJV, ‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’.
For me, "Be careful for nothing" resonate much differently than “Do not worry about anything.”  Putting aside the beauty and poetry of the phase” Be careful for nothing”, the phrase has a deeper and more profound resonance and meaning.  It is interesting that Word prompted ‘be careful’ and suggested I might use ‘careful about’, or carful with, or careful of’.  None of those are appropriate which is not surprizing but then either is ‘do not worry about anything’. 
‘Be careful for nothing’ does not mean that I should not take care or be careless―even though I’m sure Lorna would agree, if asked, that I can be carless about some things at times.  I understand it to mean that I should not let anything interfere with my giving thanks to God in all things.  I do not say that I give thanks to God for all things.  I am not able to go that far but, rather, I try and give thanks to God in all things.  The trial and tribulation and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life presents to me are not necessarily sent by God in my theology.  They can be a challenge and sometimes overwhelming, but I give thanks that God is with me on my journey in the good times and the not so good times and even when times are downright bad. 
Therefore, on this (Canadian) Thanksgiving Monday, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Monday, 2 October 2017

Where's Your Home

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot

Tomorrow, we are heading back to our other home in Parkhill, Ontario.  I am not sure whether my home is in Parkhill or here at our cottage in Prince Edward Island.  It does seem that I do have a home in both places; a foot or a heart in both camps.  This has its advantages and its disadvantages of course.  To reflect on the statement by Eliot, it does give me a great deal in my ongoing exploration of myself and my discovering who God’s created me to be which will enable me to know the place where I started. 

Whenever I think of “home” I am reminded of my visit to L’Arche Daybreak in Newmarket one reading week while I was studying theology at Huron University College.  One of the residents met me and asked the question that, as I later found out, he asks everyone he meets, “where’s your home.”   This made me stop in my tracks, figuratively and literally.  Of course, asking someone where they are from or where they live is a common why of making conversation when you meet someone.  However, “where’s your home” is an entirely different matter. 

So where is my home?  My answer to this question contains a rather big dose of irony.  Perhaps that is to be expected because questions like this and others dealing with the soul seem to always have irony in the soul.  It seems that finding that place where we started, as Eliot proposes, is really the answer to where your true home is.  You started at your true home and your exploration will involve finding out where that place is.  Therefore, you will not know where your true home is until you reach it at the end of your journey.  You have to make that exploration and after all that, you discover that it was where you left.  Your true home is with God, or the divine, or whatever name you want to give it.

Looking at my exploration so far, it did not often seem that I was travelling on a journey of exploration that would lead to my true home.  There were times when it seemed that perhaps I was on a path that would lead me there.  However, other times I seemed to be completely lost and had no idea what my destination was or even that there was one.  It had more of a feeling of a maze with many dead ends and wrong turns than a labyrinth that had a definite path to follow.  Admittedly, walking the labyrinth seems to take you away from the centre just as you approach it.  But you always know where the centre is. 

Ironically, looking back I can see a definite path my life has taken although it has been anything but a straight and narrow journey.  I do seem to be getting closer to the place where I started and can see glimpses of my true home.  I am also beginning to know in my heart that I will see it again for the first time.  That is what sustains me in those days when it does seem as if the destination or my home is receding into the distance as it does on the labyrinth walk when you approach the centre and then turn a very sharp corner and travel away from it.  However, I am beginning to realize that this too is part of the exploration. 

Blessings on your journey,


Greg 

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Caught in Sin

I have been reading and rereading an excellent essay by Dr. Timothy Keller on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.  It was brought to my attention by Lorna and can be found at http://www.thrivingpastor.com/serving-each-other-through-forgiveness-and-reconciliation/index.htmlIt is the best exploration I have read on these topics. 

There is much in this essay I would like to reflect on in the coming weeks but today I would like to focus on one phrase that Keller explores, ‘caught in sin’.   In his exploration of forgiveness Keller looks at Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”   When you first read this you may understand this statement of St. Paul to mean a gotcha, you have been watching the behaviour of someone and caught him or her in a sin or what you consider a sin.  Perhaps you were hoping that you would be able to catch that person in some misstep or mistake and be able to condemn them as a sinner and lord it over them. 

On reflection you will probably realize quite quickly that this is not the way that St. Paul approaches others.  Although he can be quite critical of the behaviour of others, as in his epistles to the church in Corinth, he is not out to lord it over others.  Indeed he is very quick to condemn himself; as Keller notes, “When Paul says he is the worst among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), he is not exaggerating. He is saying that he is as capable of sin as the worst criminals are. The gospel has equipped him with emotional humility.”  Keller clarifies that this is “the image is of being trapped in a pattern of behavior that will be harmful to the person and to others.”

Being caught in a pattern of behaviour is putting into sound psychological language what a person may be doing with their life.  There is a danger of psychologizing behaviour these days and not treating the behaviour as sinful i.e. being out of relationship with God and not living the life God intends for us.  However, two thousand years ago Paul addressed a human condition that people struggle with just as much today as when Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. 

Being caught in sin has the essence of what people struggle with in their lives.  It can encompass both conscious and unconscious behaviour (to use more psychological language).  We can be caught in an addiction which of beyond our ability to control by our willpower.  It can also encompass decision we make because of the desire to be in control or to win in a situation which happens when our egos run our lives. 

In all these cases, whether knowingly or unknowingly; whether these things that we do are done consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, we are in a sinful state.  As it says in the confession in the Book of Common Prayer, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done”.  I have deliberately left out the next phrase, "And there is no health in us," because that raises a whole different can of worms that I don't want to address at this time.

Often there is a moral judgement which is made in the context of sin and declaring that someone has sinned.  However, that is the beauty of the phrase ‘caught in sin’.  It puts the emphasis on being in a state of sin and not in the act.  We are caught in a condition or circumstance that leads us to be and do something God does not want for us.  We are called to amend our foolish ways and to repent i.e. turn around and aim once more at living the lives God calls us to.  The wonderful thing is that we are offered and assured of God’s forgiveness. 

Thanks be to God. 


A Life Well LIved

Last Friday Lorna and I attended the funeral of Rev. Dr. Eldon Hay.  Eldon was a cousinyou could say a double cousin as he was a cousin to both my father and mother.  The exact relationship was not that easy to classify.    The funeral was held in the Mt. Allison University Chapel.  Eldon was professor of religious studies at Mt. Allison for many years.  The chapel was a beautiful setting for the celebration of the life of a wonderful man. 
I was aware of Eldon being part of the family for a long time but our paths did not cross until a few years ago.  We connected though this venue i.e. the News and Views that I send out.   Since then, Lorna and I had the joy of getting to know Eldon and his wife Anne Pirie.   We visited with them in their home in Sackville New Brunswick on our way back to Ontario from the cottage.  They also visited us at the cottage when we had an open house to celebrate the beginning of our cottage life on P.E.I.
To do justice to Eldon’s life would take many more words than I can manage here by people that knew him better than I did.  He was much more than a professor of Religious studies; although that would have been enough by itself.  For me, the best indication of who he was, was in the care and support he showed me by always reading and replying to my News and Views without fail—I could say religiously—and always provided a comment on what I had written as well as the sermons I sometimes included with the message (as I am doing today).  I must admit that this was always a bit of a boost to my ego but more, it was an indication of the love and care he held for those in his life.  Indeed, when I hadn’t received a response for a couple of weeks I thought something might be wrong and discovered, sadly, that he was dealing with terminal pancreatic cancer.
In addition to being professor emeritus, Eldon was an ordained United Church minister as was my father.  He was also the author of many article, books and letters.  His letters were, apparently, the source of some consternation to those who didn’t always agree with the position he took.  He was a strong advocate for many causes including PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) begin the founder of the PFLAG support groups locally and was the first national president of PFLAG Canada.  He received many awards in recognition for his committed work in support of justice issues including the Order of Canada.
As it was noted in his obituary, “He made a lasting impression on the lives of many students, parishioners, and persons in the community at large.”  This was very evident in the celebration of his life that we attended. In all that he did, I believe that Anne and his family were most important to him.  The love, warmth, and respect that his family had for him was evident in the eulogies given by two of his children and the music provided by another. 
Two anecdotes that were shared captured the essence of Eldon for meI will give the essence of them to the best of my recollection.  Once he was asked by one of his children why he went to meetings of groups who were opposed to the justice positions he supported.  He replied that once he was able to talk with them they began to be more open to hear what he was saying; and beside they might like him more.  Another time one of his children shared that they could not understand how someone could hold a particular belief or position on an issue.  Eldon replied, “Well, you can try.”  
Eldon was a true gentle-man in every sense of the word.  However, he was also passionate about what he believed and was not shy in sharing that with others.  For me he was a reflection of who we are called to be as Christians.
Rest eternal grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him; well done good and faithful servant.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Who’s in and Who’s Out

King Lear Act 5 Scene 3: Lear to Cordelia

Who’s in and who’s outthat is the question (with apologies to Prince Hamlet).   That question has been resonating with me recently.   I have had three encounters with that question in the past couple of weeks.  The first, and most timely for today, was in an interview with American theologian and Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass on the CBC program Tapestry.  The subject of the talk was Religion and Spirituality.  Bass noted that she first truly realized why people were turning their backs on organized religion was on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 which fell on a Sunday.  She was hesitant to attend church as she was fearful it might turn into a celebration of nationalistic triumphalism.  She was assured by the priest that the service would have very quiet, reflective liturgy.  She decided to attend and was reassured when the liturgy was all the priest had promised and quite appropriate to the solemn occasion.  The preacher, who was not clergy, but rather someone, who had been working at the White House that day spoke in his sermon of the four thousand people who had lost their lives in the decade following that event.  She was at first incredulous and thought, it is fifty thousand; it is a hundred thousand!  Then she realized he was referring to the American lives lost in Iraq.  (Note: a Google search puts the actual count has the loss of life at of up to 190,000 people including 134,000 civilians).  Bass walked out of that service and when her husband texted her and asked if she was coming back to church, she replied, “I don’t know.”

Another example of who’s in and who’s out was in an article in the Globe and Mail on September 2nd which was entitled, Hell and High Water.  It was addressing the seeming resistance to actually preparing for the ever increasing ‘floods of the century’ which are occurring with increasing frequency.  The article noted the example of the Mississippi River’s Great Flood of 1927.  The article noted the official death toll was 246.  However, that was only the people that officially mattered.  It didn’t include the lives of African AmericansNegros as they would have been classifiedwhich brought the death toll to over one thousand.  Who’s in and who’d out; who’s counted and who doesn’t; who’s lives matter and who’s lives don’t.

The last example was inspired when I read the article and I recalled the passage in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children”.   Oh by the way there were women and children but we don’t need to mention how many.  That is a recurring situation in the bible where women are often not named e.g. the Syrophoenician woman or the woman at the well.  People in the bible are often not named in the bible even when they are central the story.  This is true for men as well as women e.g. the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal son.  However, perhaps we should be thankful for all the people who are named and bring life to the stories.

However, the question I place before you today is, when does a person count and when do they fade into the background of the story of our lives?  We have made progress in recent years to address this question.  The response of Black Lives Matter is addressing the frequent impunity with which the police treat people of colour non-people who don’t count.  This is not restricted to the United States. In Canada deaths by police action is much rarer, thank God.   However, we still have police insisting that ‘carding’ is necessary for them to do their job.  People carded just happen to be mostly non-whites.  In Canada we have the hopeful move of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reviewed the institutionalize mistreatment of aboriginal Canadians.  The institutions of the people who were ‘in’ treated aboriginal people as objects rather than as people.

Of course it is easy to sit back and point fingers and judge events and attitudes of actions of the past by today’s standards and values.  How do we examine culture, our governments, and our institutions including the churches, and above all ourselves, in how we view others?  Who do we hold as being in and who is out. Who counts and who doesn’t?   Some years ago I attended a conference on a group of mostly white men who were trying to deal with white middle class male privilege in ourselves and in our society.  Unfortunately the group tended to look mostly at society and not at ourselves.  The conference was attended by two Inuit men from northern Canada.  One of them noted that in their culture they believed that, “no one was bigger than anyone else.”   At resonated with me then and it still does. 

How do we treat no one as bigger than anyone else; everyone as the same importance as everyone else?  As a Christian, how do I treat each person as a child of God?  How do I relate to each person as someone who is “in” and not as someone who is “out”?  If I do not I truly am in the prison that Lear and Cordelia are going tohowever they are aware of their prison walls unlike the rest of us.   I know I am going to fail; in a state if sin; I am going to miss the mark.  Fortunately I am offered forgiveness and can start again.  That is the mystery of things indeed. 


Thank be to God. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sermon August 27, 2017 11th Sunday after Trinity

My sermon today is based on something I don’t normally do.  Now don’t get nervous and worry I am going to preach on some heresy or far out idea.  No, rather than base my sermon on the scripture passage – either the Gospel or the epistle, I want to explore the collect.  I will read it again to bring it once more to your attention:
O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is much packed into a relatively short prayer.  We have concepts of grace, mercy and heavenly treasures, not to mention the commandments.  So, there is much to unpack.  Let’s begin by looking at grace and mercy.  What actually is grace and what is mercy?

One simple way of looking at them is that grace is receiving what we do not deserve.  Mercy is, you could say the opposite, not receiving what we deserve.  When I think of grace I think of the opening of the service of Holy Eucharist; the Gathering of the Community in the Book of Alternative Services; “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all”. The response is, “And also with you”.  Let’s try it…

The grace is the Grace of the Lord.  It does not say that if you have been good Christians and done certain things you have the right to wish for God’s Grace on the gathered community.  God’s Grace is offered to each of us; it is offered freely and without condition.  Think of that; we do not need to earn it or be someone we are not; it is there for the taking.  However, that is the rub.  We must be willing to receive it.  We must be open to it and not throw up barriers to that Grace working in us and in the world.  So how do we do that?  Well I did touch on that last Sunday.  We need to be open to God’s gifts in the Holy Spirit.  We can certainly not receive the Grace if we do not pay attention to what God is offering us.  We need to learn and practice understanding God’s Forgotten Language in the Gifts of God.  That is another part of the B.A.S. which I appreciate.  At the Eucharistic prayer after the concretion the bread and wine, now the body and blood are presented to the congregation as, “The gifts of God for the people of God”.  The response is, “Thanks be to God”.  That is the proper response to all of God’s giftsthanks. 

It is important to understand in our hearts as well as our minds that these gifts are freely offered and given to us.  We do not need to earn them or do the right thing; isn’t that wonderful.  Think about it for a moment…We do not need to earn it.  We are the people of God as so it is offered to us without precondition.

However, that does not give us a free pass.  The Grace of God is freely offered.  However, it doesn’t mean that we have no part in it.  This is where God’s mercy comes in.  I noted that we are to receive Grace there are no preconditions, however, we have to be open to it.  I’m sure it is not a surprize to you that we are not always open to it. 

We live lives that are often not in relationship with God.  We do not live the lives that God intends us to live.  This is where the commandments come in.  Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength; the second it like it, to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Well, I certainly struggle to do that one.  I am taking a wild guess but probably you do as well. 

This is where we give thanks to God that we have the mercy of God.  We do not receive what we deserve.  If we were to be judge on our actions and even our thoughts there would be no hope for us.  However, we do have the mercy of God.  God’s mercy is also freely given.  It is given to us in the forgiveness which was offered to us in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross when he forgave those who had murdered him.  We have the mercy that is offered to us in the confession and absolution in both our prayer book and the B.A.S.  We confess that we have not lived as God has intended us to live.  We are in a state of sin.  We ask for God’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness is granted to us in the absolution.  Again this is freely offered to usit is ours for the asking.
 
There is another part of the B.A.S. which I find helpful.  The baptismal covenant asks all present, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord”?  Note it states when and not if for being imperfect we will fall again into sin.  However, we will again be offered forgiveness.  The answer is, “I will, with God’s help”.  It could state, I will with God’s Grace. 


In the collect we ask to partake in God’s heavenly treasures.  That is what we are offered through God’s Grace and Mercy.  Let us be open to receive them.  Amen.