Thursday, 29 December 2011

Ministry of Another Kind


The esteemed editor of theSt, John's  Banner suggested I write an article reflecting on what led me to my calling to the demanding ministry of Anglican priest after “so many years in a secure non-controversial Government position” as he so succinctly put it.   Now I wouldn’t necessarily describe my time with the Ontario Civil Service that way but let’s put that aside for another discussion.

In that statement there is an assumption that the life of a civil servant is very different from that of an ordained minister, in this case a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.  To start, if I was to compare the two careers (or callings), I would have to say it is more of a contrast than a comparison.  In describing it I have noted that I went from the Ministry of Transportation to a ministry of a very different kind.  Beyond that there wouldn’t seem to be much in common for the two occupations or in the case of ordained ministry, vocation.  

However, on reflection I have also noted in the past – and not so distant past – that one of the aspect about being a priest in the Diocese of Huron is that the Diocese is every bit as much a bureaucracy as the provincial government.  This came as something of a surprize to me being somewhat na├»ve about Anglican churchland when I was ordained even at my at my advance years.  Now this is of course should not have been that much of a surprize.  The two organizations are after all large institutions and as such need structure and rules, cannon laws and regulations, procedures and policies and under which to operate in the world – at least until God’s Kingdom is established in this world.

Be that as it may, the question I was asked to address is how did I come to be a priest after a life working in a very different situation?  Reflecting on this the first thing that came to mind was the Laurel and Hardey quote, in this case addressed to God, “Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into.”   Sometimes I do wonder what God had in mind when I responded to the call which had been with me lurking somewhere in the background for much of my adult life.  When I was growing up physically (I hope I’m still growing up emotionally and spiritually), I always resisted the idea of God calling people.  I didn’t believe that God did that any more – if he ever did.  The voice in the burning bush or on the road to Damascus didn’t seem to be realistic in today’s world.  I certainly had never heard God talking to me that way.  And He (or She) has not that I am aware of since.  Now this may be a case of selective hearing which is a fault that my wife Lorna accuses me of from time to time.  However, in any case the Road to Damascus experience never came. 
In my case God seemed to be speaking to me in the mode of nagging rather than proclamation from on high.  Now this is not nearly as dramatic or he stuff of legend but who I am to question God’s ways.   And as some people in my life may attest it does work with me.  I have been involved in church all my life in many different ways and many different forms.  However, church has always been a constant regardless of any other things that were going on in my life.  I had felt the pull towards ordained ministry earlier in my life many, many years ago when I was in my thirties.  However, I eventually resisted that pull as life got in the way, as it sometimes does, with what God intends for us.  

However, God did not give up on me and seemed to know what S/He was doing after all.  Another line of communication for God opened up when I became aware of an opportunity to take an introductory course in Biblical Studies at Huron University College.  I had been thinking for a while of taking some religious studies courses, only for interest of course.  The introductory Biblical Studies course was offered on Saturday morning so it appeared to be a perfect opportunity.  It is interesting to note that I believe this was the first and last time that it was ever offered at that time slot (very sneaky of you God).

I registered for the course as a ‘Special Student’ (I always enjoyed being designated as such because after all I was, in my mind at least, very special).   Well, that hooked me or perhaps I should say that God hooked me again.  Perhaps God can be seen as a fisher of men and women and children as well as making disciples who are to do fulfill that role.  I spent the next few years leading up to my retirement from that first ministry (of Transportation) taking courses when my schedule allowed.   At this point I was seriously playing with the idea of leaving my beloved ‘special student” category and becoming a full-fledged M. Div. student with the intent to be ordained.   However, I was in part waiting for that ‘Road to Damascus’ experience where God would speak to me from high and tell me that I was being called and better answer positively this time.  However, as I noted above there did not appear to be any chance of that happening.  After some reflection I decided that the only way to tell if I should be on the journey to ordination was to take the first – or perhaps I should say - the next step along that road.  

Once I was on that road I discovered the many interesting and sometimes challenging stops along the way such as biblical Greek and  ACPO and CPE and Diocesan rules and regulations (reminiscent of that other Ministry in some ways but in others very different).  In all that I have concluded that God did know what he was doing and I’m certainly glad S/He didn’t give up on me and did not stop nagging until I capitulated. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Home for Christmas

The idea and ideal of coming home for Christmas is one of our warmest images. After all, who wouldn’t want to be home with our loving families on Christmas morning (after going to church of course) gathered round the Christmas tree opening presents. Then later in the day everyone would gather round the dining room table for Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings. Home for the holidays; it doesn’t get better than that. Or if it doesn’t quite live up to our hopes and expectations it certainly should.

My parish undertook a study series this fall entitled ‘The Prodigal God’ which was based on the Prodigal Son Parable in the Gospel of Luke. The theme of the study was the idea of returning home to God and the central image of the banquet.. In the parable the father who represents God, throws a banquet to celebrate the return of the prodigal son who left home after claiming his inheritance from the father and lived a dissolute life of wine, women and song. The father declares that, “we had to celebrate.” He had no choice. Unfortunately the elder son – the dutiful one remains outside the feast refusing to come in despite the father’s pleading. Unlike the younger prodigal son who has repented his life and returned home, the elder brother is in a self-imposed exile. In his deluded self-righteousness he cannot accept that invitation.
Unfortunately this is sometimes how our family relationships and Christmas gatherings turn out – less than we had hoped and longed for. We may hope that Christmas will bring peace and goodwill on this occasion if not on the whole earth. Families do not always live in peace and harmony as God intends. In addition many people live in circumstances that do not make this ideal Christmas possible. However, as Jesus shows us in the Parable, the feast is open to each of us. The family table at Christmas dinner is a wonderful image of the feast that God offers to each and every one of His children. God’s feast is offered to us through the love of God. That love came down to earth and was born on Christmas.

The poet Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” That may not necessarily be true but it should be. However, God’s banquet that is represented so well by the Christmas Dinner table is a place where you are always welcome. God’s love is there for each of us. The door is open and Jesus Christ is there to welcome you.

It is my hope that your Christmas may be a reflection and a fulfillment of the love which God offers to all of us through the symbol of that tiny baby in a manger in Bethlehem. May all of you have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year.





Monday, 7 November 2011

Reflections on Remembrane Week

Yesterday we celebrated the beginning of Remembrance Week with Remembrance Services in the Parish.   I have grown to be more appreciative of the importance of Remembrance Day and Remembrance in general during my time in the parish. My role as chaplain to the Parkhill Branch of the Legion has certainly helped inform my views on the military tradition of Canada and the history of Canada’s involvement in armed conflict. Remembrance week is quite a busy one for me as the Chaplain. In addition to the services yesterday members of the Legion placed poppies on the graces of veterans in the Parkhill cemetery. We are holding a family Service of Remembrance at St. James tomorrow night which is the latest edition of monthly family services that we started last month. That is followed by a pot luck dinner at the Legion which Scouts are hosting for veterans. Remembrance Day, Friday will have a full day starting at the High School for their Remembrance Day service. This is followed by the service at the Cenotaph in Parkhill with lunch at the Legion. After lunch we have the service at the Cenotaph at Lieury and then the Dinner at the Legion. All in all a full day but one that is very worthwhile.

 I must admit that I have been somewhat conflicted about Remembrance Day but I think that is part of what it means to be a Christian today – being conflicted about our role in society. Christians follow the Prince of Peace and as such we should do all in our power to bring about peace on Earth. That is after all the central message of Christmas when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace in Bethlehem. I believe that whenever there is war it is sign that the kingdom is not yet here on earth. But of course it is only one sign of many that God’s Kingdom has not yet been established. War does seem inevitable in our current fallen estate and we do not declare the current war to be the war to end all wars. Given the current state of the world where men and women are asked to serve their country in armed conflict it is incumbent on us to honour those who have served their country in the armed forces. In the service Sunday we used the following prayers for the Book of Alternative Services which I believe reflects this reality.

Prayer For the Armed Forces

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping
all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace;  strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through
Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 Prayer For Peace

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 
I hope you all will take time out on Friday to honour those who served and died for Canada in wars. Consider attending a service at the local cenotaph if you are able to or if not pause for two minutes of remembrance at 11:00 a.m.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Occupy Wall Street Carnival

I am currently reading ‘A Secular Age’ by Charles Taylor.  The author distinguishes between the modern self as ‘buffered’ and the earlier mode of existence as that of a ‘porous self’.  The earlier society – before the secular age, society was in an equilibrium which was maintained by specific release mechanisms which allowed those in the lower ranks of society to release the tension i.e. blow off steam that resulted from the controlled life imposed by the church and state.  Such things as Carnival, the feasts of misrule or boy bishops allowed for the existing world to be turned upside down for a brief period and in that way maintained the equilibrium of the exiting universe.

Taylor holds that all structure needs anti-structure.  By structure he emphasizes the code of behaviour of a society which is defined by the different roles and statuses and the associated rights and duties, powers and powerlessness.  These structures of course exist in a secular society comprised of many ‘buffered’ selfs. 
It occurred to me that in totalitarian regimes as the Taliban that maintain control using harsh measures  the equilibrium is maintained through equally harsh public spectacles such as stoning of adulterers and other sinners.  These events take the place of Carnival of past eras in the only way that is acceptable to the regimes. 

Likewise in our secular culture of the Western world the anti-structure is maintained through public events such as football matches or other sporting events with accompanying hooliganism or riots such as the recent Vancouver post Stanley Cup events.  I believe the ‘Occupy Movement’ is a manifestation of the need for modern anti-structure where people become aware of the increasing economic inequities for which there do not seem to be established anti-structure ceremonies built into society.  Governments seem less willing to provide the means to address inequalities therefore the Occupy Movement Carnival has sprung up in response.  It remains to be seen if the movement will peter out naturally and the equilibrium will be re-established basically unchanged or it will lead to structural changes that will mitigate the need for spontaneous economic Carnivals.  Perhaps the masters of Wall Street should consider setting up organized feasts of misrule on a regular basis which will satisfy the needs of the 99% underclass.  Or perhaps government officials will throw a few symbolic representatives of the 1% to the lions of the legal system and give us a release of a mandatory perp-walk with the accompanying prison time instead of time in the public stocks. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Name of All Things

In the beginning was the Word according to John but according to Genesis God said ‘Let there be light’.   The name - that is where it all begins.  So it was a word – or words - a declaration

But where do I really begin this story?  With the power? With the secret? With the name?
I guess after all I must begin at the beginning.  Names have always been at the beginning.  After all the name is just a word and in the beginning was The Word – at least according to John.  Was the word a name and a name the word?  Of course it was a word but was it the word?  The beginning in the Beginning was not a word - it was only the beginning.  From the beginning began the many beginnings according to the Book or at least one particular book which would not be a book until much later: the formless void that was the earth, the darkness that covered the face of the deep, the wind that swept over the face of the water.  The water?  Where did that come from?  It too was one of the beginnings.  And then another word – light – let there be light - another beginning.  The dome, that also was there at the beginning.  God made the dome.  Did he do that also by the word?  The Book does not say that He did.  But does that mean that it was not so?    In any case there was the dome that was declared (another word) to be the sky.  And apparently so it was – for so the book declared.

After all these beginnings there were many more.  God made the light separate into the greater and lesser; the land from the water; the day from the night; the days and season and the years.  In the sea were the fishes.  On the land was the vegetation, and the swarms of living creatures – the birds of the air, the animals creeping and wild of every kind.  Finally there was man and then inevitably man’s helpmeet – woman.  All these were beginning and if John is to be believed there was the Word and the words for each of these beginnings. 
It was not until the second creation that we are told things were named.  The man and the woman were named – Adam and Eve they were named.  The man Adam was given the authority to name all living things.  “The man gave names to all cattle, and every bird of the air and every animal of the field” (Gen 2: 20).  This is the first time the power to name was passed on – name became what – a co-creator – for to name is to create.

Later we have another beginning with the beginning of the covenant between YHWH and a man, Abraham.  I know there was an earlier one signified by a rainbow but that was with all creation.  This one was with one man – at least in the beginning.  His name in the beginning was not Abraham.  It was Abram, “No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; For I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.”  The name now signified the relationship that now existed between God and man. 

So here is the beginning of beginnings – at least in the version we know and many believe in.  It began with a word that was a name and beginning followed the beginning with names for everything.  Yet the beginning is not the only beginning.  In each one a name - the name was the power and in some the name was secret.  Let us look at another Beginning and the role that name held in that beginning.
In that land in which the chosen people were enslaved and that sheltered the Holy Family, Egypt, there is another account of another beginning.  In that beginning all was darkness.  There must have been darkness in story of our beginning recorded in Genesis as we are told darkness covered the face of the earth which was a formless void until God had to declare that there would be light.  But I digress somewhat.  In this beginning rather than a formless void there was only a great waste of water called Nun.  Out of this water and darkness arose a great shining egg Re.  I will not ask how it could be shining in the darkness that must be left to the Gods.

We are told that Re was all-powerful and that power and the secret of it lay in his name.  That name we are told was hidden and the power lay in its secret.  Further all things could come into being merely or not so merely by Re speaking the name of that thing.  An so things were named; Shu the first winds, Tefnut the spitter of rain, Nut the sky, Hapi the river Nile the source of fruitfulness.  Re named all things on the earth and last (and some might say not least - but I would not say that) he named mankind.  Thus there were men and women and of course children in Egypt.
Re then took the shape of a man (sounds vaguely familiar) and more than just a shape as after becoming the first Pharaoh and ruling for a millennium or more became old.  OR could it be it is our shape that requires us to grow and grow old?  As a consequence men no longer feared (obeyed?) his laws.  It ever was thus.  Re became angry at the disobedience - the ... shall I dare say sin?  And they no longer feared him and thus were no longer (if they ever had been) wise. 

What then did Re do?  Did he send a flood as some other deity might have?  No, he did what seems to my mind a more thoughtful reaction; he called together all the gods and goddesses in council.  In his wisdom he asked Nun the eldest of the gods what he should do.  The response was not unexpected, “send them a glance of your eye in the form of Sekmet and destroy them” Not quite a flood but still destruction.  Sekhmet was one like a lion whose chief delight was slaughter; whose pleasure was in blood.  All whom she saw she slaughtered and tasted their blood to her pleasure and delight.
The Nile now ran red with blood as in the other plague from another tradition.  And yet Sekhmet was not satisfied and continued to slaughter the inhabitants of that sad land.  Why you might ask did Re not insist that she stop the slaughter?  Well it turns out that once she was on the rampage nothing - not even Re could stop her blood lust. 

Re’s heart softened as the sight of all the slaughter.  In his anguish a plan arose.  He bade the women of Heliopolis brew the sacred drink beer coloured with the red of ochre which was brought from the isle of Elephantine.  The tainted ochre was poured onto the ground to a height and depth of nine inches.  Sekhmet believing the red tinted beer was blood drank her fill and more than her fill until she could drink no more.  From that day it has been told that Sekhmet could kill no more.  And indeed from that day she never slayed another man.
Once more Re ruled over all the lands of Egypt.  He ruled until the time came in which it was ordained that he should withdraw to the heavens and in his place a younger god should rule.  Yet Re refused to yield his power.  In growing old he no longer grew and as a result had lost his wisdom.  Re continued to reign and none could challenge him.  None could remove him from the earth as long as his power remained.  This would happen only when his secret could be revealed – the secret that was his name.

Re continued with the gift of the gods which was mortality.  He became old and older still.  He became very old in the way of old men.  He stumbled as he walked and drooled as he spoke.  His spittle fell on the earth.  Isis, one of the younger gods whose time it was to rule the earth, took the spittle and made mud where the spittle fell.  She kneaded it and formed it into clay.  This spittle was not used to make the blind see or to form humankind – it was too late for that. 
Instead of a human being she formed Uraeus, the first cobra.  Isis placed uraeus in the way of Re, on the path which Re trod each day.  Uraeus bit him in his most vulnerable place, his heel.  The venom like the poison which coursed through Achilles veins, flowed through Re.  Unlike Achilles, Re did not die but did cry out a great cry which rang out across the earth and sky.  This cry was so great that the gods hearing it came to investigate its source.  Re, finding his voice, pleaded to the gods for help.  He had been stung despite the secret power of his secret name which protects him.  As they could not help him the god called all the others of their kind who had powers to heal.  With them came Isis who held the power to revive the dying.

This time it was a god who was betrayed by the serpent and was threatened with expulsion from the earthly paradise.  The goddess Isis offered to heal Re if he would reveal his secret name to her.  Re in his stubbornness revealed all his names; maker of heaven and earth, builder of mountains, source of waters, light and darkness, creator of great Nile, Khepera in the morning, Re at noontide and Turn in the evening.  But he would not reveal his Secret Name the Name of Power which still lay hidden in his heart.
Isis bided her time until the time was ripe, for she was the source of all patience, until she enticed Re with promises of release from his torment.  At last Re responded with a great cry, “let the Name of Power, my Secret Name pass from my heart to the heart of Isis.  However, swear that you will reveal it to no one save the son which you will bear so that the name will remain with him.”

And so the Name passed from Re to Isis and so too Re passed from his earthly paradise and ascended to the heavens.  There he passes across the sky by day and crosses the underworld of Amenti by night.  With him he takes the souls of the dead.
Here our tale must end as it began with a name named at the beginning and named at the end of all things.  So my children remember and learn the power that the name holds and do not use yours carelessly lest you name reveal more than you know (particularly in this age of social networking and identity theft). 








Friday, 14 October 2011

Poem 'The Heart Hears'

The Heart Hears

Be still my heart
And be in awe
Of the eternal presence.

Be still my heart
And know the mercy
Of God

Be still my heart
And receive the grace
That is freely given

Be still my heart
And hear
The heart of God

Be still my heart
And hear the silence
In the restless grass

That moves within
The eternal restlessness
Of Your eternal heart

How can you know
That God is within
Unless you hear
The silence
That is God?

Meditation on Victims of Goderich Tornado

Psalm 77

1 I will cry aloud to God; *
I will cry aloud, and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; *
my hands were stretched out by night and did not tire;
I refused to be comforted.
3 I think of God, I am restless, *
I ponder, and my spirit faints.
4 You will not let my eyelids close; *
I am troubled and I cannot speak.
5 I consider the days of old; *
I remember the years long past;
6 I commune with my heart in the night; *
I ponder and search my mind.
7 Will the Lord cast me off for ever? *
will he no more show his favour?
8 Has his loving-kindness come to an end for ever? *
has his promise failed for evermore?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? *
has he, in his anger, withheld his compassion?
10 And I said, ”My grief is this: *
the right hand of the Most High has lost its power.”
11 I will remember the works of the Lord, *
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12 I will meditate on all your acts *
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy; *
who is so great a god as our God?
14 You are the God who works wonders *
and have declared your power among the peoples.

When I heard of the destruction in Goderich I was on vacation in the eastern Canada.  I checked information on line and saw pictures of the destruction and devastation that had been caused by the Tornado.  I was shaken by the might of nature which can be released with little or no warning and how fragile are the works of human hands in the face of such power.  It is always humbling when I experience this and I am always thankful that such events are rare in my experience.

My next thoughts were of the wonderful old church which had been severely damaged by the tornado and I was afraid that it was the Anglican Church that I had a connect to.  St. George’s Goderich is the Parish of a classmate and I had attended his ordination at that church and had been a guest preacher there on another occasion.  I wondered how I would deal with St. James Parkhill being destroyed and could not imagine all that would be required to deal with such an event.  

I had a great sense of relief when I heard that it was not the St. George’s but the United Church.  This reaction was mixed with a sense of guilt at feeling relief at the expense of others.  Perhaps this is a small experience of survivors guilt that people who have survived when those around them have perished or been severely injured. 

It is also a reflection of human nature in which it is much easier to respond to a request for help for someone or something which we have a connection to.  If we see and recognize the face of the one in distress we are more ready to respond with compassion and generosity than if it is some faceless person in some land we have hardly even heard of.

And yet we are called as Christians to respond to those in need – not just those who are friends and neighbours but to those who we do not see as our neighbours.  This of course if the challenge that Jesus gave to the lawyer who asked who is my neighbour?  The response was the example shown by not the priest or the Levite but the example shown by the despised Samaritan. 
Our neighbours are not just the Anglicans in Goderich or Roman Catholics or Presbyterians or United Church members or even Christians but all who are affected by disasters and other afflictions.  They are not just whose in Goderich  - although today they are particularly our neighbours - but all who are in need whether they show us a face that reflects ours and is cute and sympathetic or looks strange and unappealing.  Jesus has shown us that all the world is our neighbour and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Let us pray


Oh, God Heavenly Father and Lover of All

In faith we acknowledge your care for all you creation; your sons, daughters and children. In hope we trust in your divine providence of giving us wisdom and courage as we face the challenges in life. In love we invoke your help and guidance during these difficult days of death and destruction in Goderich and all places where natural disasters wreaked havoc.

Our is a prayer of thanksgiving for once again reminding us that ours is an imperfect world, that heaven is not on earth and that nature tells us once again that we are not in control.  Ours too is a prayer of repentance for calling upon you when we are in need and desperation but forgetting you in favourable times and pleasing occasions. Ours as well is a prayer of petition as we say:

Grant eternal peace to those who lost their lives. Help those who are injured and heal those who are sick in body mind or soul.

Encourage those who suffer the destruction of their homes and properties, and to once again arise and rebuild their future.

Bless all those who extend their helping hands to those in need of food, shelter and clothing, who share their time, talents and resources with others.

Inspire more people to be neighbours to all in need, convinced that the more they are for others, the more they are for you.

Spare us from other natural disasters and devastations if this be according to Your will and for our own spiritual good.

Amen

Monday, 3 October 2011

Blessing the Animals

We had the blessings of the animals yesterday. It was a case of where two or three four footed creatures are gathered together Christ was in our midst. I have attached some pictures of the events. This morning I have been reflecting on the our animal companions and how they part of modern life and the Christian attitude to them. I must admit that I am neither a dog nor a cat person although the cats who have been in my life seemed to instinctively believe that they had a spiritual bond with them that I was often not aware of. At times I have had uncharitable thought about the resources that are spent in our society on pets (or animal companions as they are now referred to in full political correctness). As someone who on occasion spent small fortunes on pet care I have wondered could that money not have been better spent on the poor and underprivileged. Of course I also hear the echo of Judas’ words when Mary was so extravagant in her anointing of Jesus' feet with expensive oil? And on reflection that is the key. Are we on Judas’ side or Jesus’ side? There are aspects of lives that cannot be measured in dollars and cents but rather in sense and sensibility. If that was not true probably no one would be a Christian as there is little monetary payoff in belonging to an organization that in which the collection plate is passed around every Sunday.
I was reminded yesterday that animals provide much comfort and companionship in people’s lives. I believe they are so pervasive in society because they are earthly example of what God offers us – unconditional forgiveness and grace and mercy. This was well expressed in a reflection on St. Francis’ life by Father Patrick Tuttle: “His contemplation led him to consider the delicate nature of humanity’s freedom. As he did so, he noticed that the creatures around him were less free than he was. They seemed to obey the will of the creator perfectly. While he sensed periodic inhumanity in himself, he never sensed that same betrayal of nature within creatures. His fascination inspired him to understand his own nature that he might obey it as the animals obeyed their nature. He blessed them for their beauty and obedience. They taught him, and led him to seek God’s will for his own life.” Let us remember to give thanks for the blessings which people receive from their non-human companions in all shapes and sizes and species.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Back to Church Sunday

Yesterday was Back to Church Sunday. We engaged in the occasion at St. James with some success. The idea behind the occasion is that everyone in the congregation should invite someone to church who was not currently involved in church. If everyone did that it would of course double the size of the congregation – at least for that service. This has been practiced in quite a few Anglican Dioceses in that past few years. I heard on priest refer to it as one more occasion in addition to Christmas and Easter where you have a larger than usual number of people in attendance. Would that make the people C & E & B Christians rather than C & E Christians i.e. those that appear for the Christmas and Easter services?
 
The question that arises is”what is church?” Some people think of it as the building i.e the church roof needs to be replaced so we better get a building campaign going. The church of course is the community of believers and perhaps even non-believers to gather to worship God and to carry out the business of the church which sometimes or often involves the property of the church.

As the beginning of the Eucharist in the Book of Alternative Services we have the gathering of the community. The service opens with these words:

Celebrant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.

People: And also with you.

This is exactly what church is – we are the community which gathers in the name of Jesus Christ. We are blessing each other with the hope and expectation that Jesus Christ is with us as he promised that where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be there. We are expressing the hope that the grace of Jesus Christ will be with each of us. In my sermon I spoke of the the grace and mercy of God. The week before I noted the definition of grace and mercy which is worth repeating, Grace is about receiving what you don’t deserve and mercy is about not receiving what you do deserve. If it is about grace and mercy it can’t be fair. Being fair is about the law. Let us know and remember that God’s grace and mercy is freely available to each of us and live in response to that.

Monday, 19 September 2011

It's Not Fair It's Grace

There is a commercial which has been on TV recently.  It presents two cute little girls about four years old – one with brunette and one with blond hair sitting in a children’s play area - at a child sized round table with a pleasant looking middle aged man in a suit.  The man asks the brown haired little girl if she would like a pony.  The girl looks surprized and pleased and eagerly nods her head enthusiastically.  The man puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a toy pony and gives it to the girl.  She accepts it quite happily and begins to play with it.  The man then turns to the blond haired little girl and asks her if she would like a pony.  The girl of course answers in the affirmative as well after all what little girl or boy for that matter not want a pony – even a toy one. 

Well the man signals and what come into the room but a real live pony.  Well this little girl is ecstatic and begins to pat the pony and talk to it.  The camera shifts to the first little girl who is now chest fallen.  With a puzzled and disappointed look on her face she looks longingly at the real pony the other girl has just received.  She says to the man in a pained voice, “you didn’t say I could have a real pony.  The man responds in an offhand way, “Well, you didn’t ask”.  A voiceover then says, even little kids know it’s wrong to hold out on somebody.  Why don’t banks?” 

Have your children ever said to you, “It isn’t fair!”  The commercial is playing on the idea that children have an innate – perhaps even God-given sense of fair play.  They do seem to have a radar-like sense of what they believe is fair and what isn’t.  Of course their sense of what is and isn’t fair is not always accurate because they have a very limited understanding of the world.  But what parents often respond is, “Life isn’t”

As we grow up and experience the world we come to realize that life is often not fair.  However, we still have that belief deep down that it should be.  We believe that if God is just, God will make bring fairness and justice to and unfair and unjust world. 

This desire and belief in fairness is what is being addressed in the Gospel.  Some labourers have been working the whole day – which would be dawn to dusk.  Others have been hired at various different times throughout the day.   At the end of the day that last hired were paid first.  To the surprize of all the workers they were given a full day’s wage regardless of how long they worked - half a day or a quarter of a day or even one hour.  This seems very generous on the part of the landowner.  Then it was the turn of those who had been hired at the beginning of the day.  They had great hopes that this generous landowner would give them a bonus because after all they had worked longer that those who had been hired later. 



To their surprize and dismay they find they are given the same wage as all the others who had only been working part time – some only an hour  - you can hear the cry, “It’s not fair!”

Well can you blame them?  If I was in their situation I probably would have reacted the same way.  It’s very easy in this world regardless of what you have in life to look around and cry, “it’s not fair”.  Some people seem to be have everything in life.  They seem to be people who can fall into a manure pile and come out smelling like a rose.  There seem to be people who have everything in life and everything comes easy to them.  Other people struggle all their lives and never seem to get ahead.  We have the eternal cry of’ “It’s not fair”.  Why does God allow the world that God has created to be like this?  Why is there unfairness in the world – which is bad enough?  But what is worse, why does God allow injustice in the world.  Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?  We hear the cry of God’s people in exile. 

Why have you forsaken us Lord?  The words of the psalmist resonates with us, “By the waters of Babylon we lay down and wept for thee Zion.”

Last May I spoke about an approach to understanding the Gospel which was presented to us at Synod.  The approach proposes three rules. First, the Gospel is always astonishing. The second rule is -  in the Gospel God always acts first.  The third rule is - the Gospel is not fair.

Well there certainly isn’t a problem identifying where the Gospel is not fair.  Why would Jesus be holding up this apparently obvious act of unfairness as the right thing for the landowner – supposedly God – to be doing?  Jesus gives us his apparent justification for this action.  He says to the labourers, who were unsatisfied, “didn’t you get what we agreed upon?”  Why are you begrudging those other workers the benefit of my generosity?  Well that still doesn’t sit right with them or us – it does go against our natural sense of fairness and justice.  However, the issue is not about what is fair and what is not.

When we look at the world through the lens of fairness we are looking at it as a child would.  We look at it though our human perspective.  However, God does not see the world that way.  The Gospel is not about fairness – it is about grace and mercy – God’s grace and God’s mercy.  Grace is about receiving what you don’t deserve and mercy is about not receiving what you do deserve.  If it is about grace and mercy it can’t be fair.  Being fair is about the law.  Under the law we get what is fair.  If we break the law we are given what we deserve – that is fairness.  God’s people tried living under the law - the covenant - they found it was impossible to fulfill the law.  It didn’t work.  If those labourers had all received what was owed them that would be absolutely correct according to the law. 

God responded by sending his only begotten Son to redeem us.  He did this not because we deserve it.  He did it as the supreme act of grace and mercy.  We are no longer under the law.  We have been redeemed by God mercy. We no longer are saved because of our merit – thank God. 

We are not saved by piling up brownie points and hope our gold stars outweigh our black marks at the end.  In terms of salvation it doesn’t matter if we turn to God’s grace at the beginning of the work day of our lives or at the twilight of the work day of our lives.  It matters in terms of other things but not salvation, God’s salvation is for all of us.  Jesus Christ redeemed the whole world.  That act of grace is offered to each of us regardless of our state – which is the sinful state of humankind – we are all sinners.  All we have to do is to respond and accept that grace that is freely offered to each and every one of us.  Thanks be to God.  To that we can all respond.  Hallelujah

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hawking for God


I saw a documentary on TVO last week that dealt with Stephen Hawking's 'proof' that there was no God. His argument, as I was able to understand it is based on the physics of black holes and the origin of the universe. Very simply put (I hope not simplistically), according to the theory of black holes, as you approach them time slows down. At the beginning of the universe, all matter was compressed into an unimaginably dense black hole which was infinitesimally small.

In this ultimate black hole time has stopped completely i.e. there is no time. Therefore God could not have operated before the creation of the universe by the big bang. What is surprising to me is that Hawking who is incredibly intelligent and sophisticated in respect to physics can have such a simplistic view of God. Why would Hawking restrict his concept of God in such a way that God could not operate outside of time. God as the creator of the universe must also create time. God's time is not the time that operates in the universe. God operates in eternity which is not a 'long time' but is outside time as we know it.

Hawking who contends he does not intend to upset people with his proof of the non-existance of God need not be worried as his proof is no proof.








Friday, 5 August 2011

An Eye for Life

I have just experienced a wonderful juxtaposition of art expressing life. On Wednesday evening Lorna and I saw the production of Titus Andronicus at Stratford. Then last night (Thursday) we took in Terrance Mallick's film 'The Tree of Life'. This happenstance - perhaps a bit of synchronicity at work - was an exploration of the ways in which grace and redemption that are possible but by no means guaranteed in life.

Titus is an exploration of revenge and the complete destruction that can occur when the god of revenge is unleashed. The destruction is almost complete with all the characters except one falling to the god by the time the violence and mayhem end in the closing scene.

It reminded me of the fact that 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' is found in the bible (Matt 5: 38) as part of the beatitudes . Jesus is telling us to move beyond that form of Justice. However, we need to be reminded that originally the concept of an eye for an eye (Deuteronomy 19:21) was part of the Mosaic Law and was a step forward in justice. Before that vengeance was the norm in which there were no constraints on actions in response to a wrong. These consequences of this are so well demonstrated in Titus.

The Tree of Life shows us the other way. In the movie Mallick gives us a picture of creation from Genesis to Revelation. He gives us the vision of how the ruling principle of life - God's love can bring redemption and reconciliation for the wrongs and missteps that we humans are heir to. It is a wonderfully comedy in the Shakespearean sense in which all is restored to its proper relationship as God intended it.

That is the true mystery and grace of God’s world. Thanks be to Blog and God.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

A World Out of Joint

A week before Christmas I was visiting a parishioner.  In the process I slipped on some ice and fell and dislocated my shoulder.  There is no good time for that to happen by for a priest or pastor but Christmas time is one of the least convenient times to be inconvenienced in this manner.  I must give accolades to the medical system which receives less than stellar reviews at times as well as others involved.  The assistance of the tow truck driver (yes I also got stuck in the parishioner’s laneway), the ambulance personnel, the emergency staff at Strathroy Hospital and the Clinic at St. Joe’s in London all did a great job.   

Well I did manage to get through all the Christmas activities without it being an insurmountable task.  To say that I was experiencing the troubles of Job would be an outrageous exaggeration.  However, I found that many of the things which I did naturally and took for granted were no longer easy for me to do.  Of course it would have to by my right shoulder which made it all the more difficult being right handed.  Being the Christmas season assisted me in reflecting on my situation and how there was a relationship between having my arm out of joint and the season we were celebrating.  Actually this was pointed out to me by my wife and I was skeptical when she first mentioned it but on reflection realized the truth of what she was saying. 

You may be wondering what could be the relationship between a shoulder dislocation and Christmas.  Well I believe that Christmas was necessary because the world was out of joint.  God had created the world and all that was in it and declared it good.  However, it didn’t take too long until things were not going the way they were intended to go.  The world was out of joint.  The way the world was working was like dealing with a dislocated shoulder.  You can no longer do things the way you naturally would do them.  Things no longer worked that way so you had to find other ways to do them which are unnatural, more difficult and awkward. 

For the world, the Old Covenant was not working.  God gave the covenant with the law and people could not live up to it.  God’s intention was not being fulfilled by His people.  A new way was needed.  God decided that what was required was for God to become one of us – still fully divine but also fully human.  God was born as a small helpless baby in a stable in Bethlehem.  Well you know the rest of the story which we have just finished reliving for the 2010th time.

We are now in the in-between time of the new covenant in which God’s Kingdom has not yet come to fruition.  We Christians are still in this world as a covenantal people.  The world still is not working as God intended just as my shoulder is still feeling the after effects of that dislocation.   Both those things will happen in God’s good time.  My shoulder will hopefully be back to normal before too long.  I have no doubt that it will take longer for the world to come fully to the state where it is working as God intended it.  However, I have faith that it will one day – in God’s time.