Monday, 31 March 2014

Sermon March 30, 2014 Lent 4

During Lent we have been exploring Spiritual Renewal in our Lenten Journey and exploring different ways we can be open to how God is speaking to us and guiding us on our journey.  As we are each unique children of God we are each going to experience different ways in which we can connect with the divine so it is important that we experience different ways in which people have found helpful.
In the first three Sundays we explored Lectio Divino- Holy Reading, the Labyrinth which is a moving prayer, and Centering Prayer with is silent prayer.  Today I want to explore another way which has an long tradition of being a way in which God speaks to us - but one like the labyrinth was lost to our culture for many centuries.  This is listening to God through our dreams.

In the Old Testament lesson Isaiah gives us a vision of God’s kingdom.  This is not specifically a dream but visions can be considered a waking dream.  Many of the prophets of old received dreams and visions from God and shared those experiences with their people. 
Dreams as a way of God  speaking to the people of God  occur many times in the bible.  Can anyone give me an example of God speaking to people in dreams……..
One example that I especially like is Jacob’s dream of a ladder between heaven and earth.  Let me read it to make it fresh in your mind.  

10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place.12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.13And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.19He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

I particularly like this passage because it is about a dream and it describes the way dreams work.  We have angels – messengers from God going between heaven and earth.  It is interesting that the angels are ascending first and then descending.  My understanding of this is that Jacob was initially ready to receive a message.  He was therefore prepared for receive the messages that came to his from heaven.
Although dreams were recognized in biblical times and in the early church as a way God communicated with people it became discounted and lost to us in modern times.  This happened for many reasons.  The church hierarchy did not like the idea of people having direct communication with God.   This bypassed the authority of the church and the clergy wanted to maintain control over people’s understanding of God’s message.  In addition the enlightenment began to discount anything that could not be measured and weighed and had a material foundation.  Dreams became what can be called God’s forgotten language.  

In the modern era there began to be a recovered understanding of dreams as a way of receiving messages about ourselves.  Beginning with the founders of depth psychology – Freud and Jung - a new understanding of dreams and a rediscovery of the meaning of dreams has occurred which I want to explore with you briefly.
How many of you dream?.....  I should probably have asked how many remember their dreams.    Everyone dreams but not everyone remembers them.  Everyone can with the right conditions.   It is also important to understand how God speaks to us through dreams.  God can speak to us as God did in the bible – with direct messages – these might be called big dreams.  God also speaks to us through dreams giving us information about what we need to know about ourselves.  Dreams can help us become the people that God intends us to be.  Dreams provide information when our lives are out of balance.  They can point to how we can develop more fully the part of ourselves aspect of ourselves that we have not acknowledged even though they are part of who God creates us to be as unique individuals.

In understanding dreams a good way to begin is to be aware that all the aspects of the dream – from individuals you know and individuals you don’t know to inanimate objects such as cars or houses are usually aspects of the dreamer.  It is important to know where the energy is in the dream and where the movement is.    In remembering your dreams the most important aspect is having the intention of remembering and paying attention.  Have a pen and paper available to record your dream.   That is the next step – write it down and consider the images in the dream.  What is your associating with them?  Write down any associating with the people or the other images.  

Of course there is much more to say on the approach but I will stop there.  If you would like to find out more I would be most interested to talking to you at another time.  Finally it is important to understand that all dreams come in the assistance of health and wholeness of the dreamer – even ones that don’t seem that way.  I will close with the prayer we use in dream groups.

Holy Dream Maker, creator of all,
Be with us as we open our hearts and minds
To the divine wisdom of dreams
you have blessed us with.
We thank you and honour you
who nurture, tend, and guide us,
You show us the way to health and wholeness
not only in our waking hours
but even as we sleep. Amen

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Sermon March 23, 2014 Lent 3

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
   call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
   proclaim that his name is exalted.
During Lent we have been exploring our journey with Jesus as we travel to the Easter celebration.  IN the first two Sundays of Lent we explored ways of Spiritual Renewal .  This is the renewal which is unique to the church in a culture that looks to action and activity in how it renews itself.  Spiritual Renewal is a way which can help us navigate through those times in life in which we feel as if we are tottering on the edge of the pit as Isaiah spoke of in last Sunday’s OT lesson.  It can also help us to more closely follow our  Saviour each day – in the good times as well as the bad times. 

Today Isaiah speaks about drawing water from the well of salvation.  Spiritual Renewal calls us to different ways of draw on the water of salvation.  This is an echo of what Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well:  “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
 Jesus tells us to draw of the water which he provides that water of eternal life.  This is the goal of Spiritual Renewal.  On the first Sunday in Lent we looked at a way of reading scripture - Lectio Divino, Holy Reading .  There are four steps in Holy Reading.  The first is to read the passage – the Lectio.  The second step is meditation – meditatio. The third step is Responding – Oratatio.  Finally there is Rest – Contemplatio. 
Last Sunday we walked the Labyrinth - the moving prayer in which we follow the twists and turns of our spiritual life to the centre and back.  Sometimes it seems we are getting close to the centre and then there is a sharp turn in our lives and we seem to be moving away from our goal.  However, if we follow the path that our savour prepares for us we will reach it.  Today I invite you to experience a form of prayer which also helps us draw the water of eternal life from the well.  It is centering prayer.   Centering Prayer is a form of silent prayer in which you make space for you to be more aware of God’s presence in your life.  God is always there but we often have difficulty perceiving it.  The process is quite simple with just a few steps. 
Choose a word or phrase that resonates with you as an expression of your intent and desire - It use the word ‘return’.  Sit comfortably and upright, eyes closed, breathing naturally, and begin to repeat this sacred word silently. As your attention is focused on the desire behind the word, gradually let the word slip away. Rest in silence.  You will find that thoughts and images and feeling may come into your mind.  We are not used to quiet in our culture – our brains want to fill silence.  This has been called our monkey brains - which is very descriptive.  When these thoughts, images or sensations arise, gently return to the sacred word as a symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within you. 
The recommended period for prayer is twenty minutes each day.  However, we will begin today with five minutes to give you a taste of the experience. 

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Sermon March 16, 2014 – Lent 2

Terror, and the pit, and the snare
   are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth!
18 Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
   shall fall into the pit,
and whoever climbs out of the pit
   shall be caught in the snare.

It can feel at times in our journey on this world that we are in danger of becoming lost and disoriented and falling into a pit as the prophet Isaiah says.  On Ash Wednesday and last Sunday when we began our Lenten journey I introduced you to an exploration into the journey which has is its goal Spiritual Renewal.  That is the type of renewal in our culture which is unique to the church.  Spiritual Renewal is a way which can help us navigate through those times in life in which we feel as if we are tottering on the edge of the pit.  It can also help us to more closely follow our Saviour each day – in the good times as well as the bad times.

Last Sunday we looked at one form of prayer – Lectio Divino or Holy Reading as a way of listening to how God is speaking to us and where God is leading us through scripture.  Today I want to offer you another way which can help you navigate on that journey in life.  Today we are going to explore the Sacred Path of the Labyrinth.  The first thing that is important to know about the labyrinth is that it is not the same as a maze.  You may be more familiar with the maze which is a network of paths that are a puzzle which has to be solved to find your way out of.  In a maze you can take wrong turns and run into dead ends.  It is something that you might not actually solve. 

However, the labyrinth is different.  It is a path that if followed will lead to you on the inward journey to the centre and out again on the return journey.  There are many twists and turns but the path will never lead you astray.  The labyrinth is an ancient form which has – as far as we know – always been used as a spiritual practice.  The oldest surviving labyrinth is found in a rock carving at Luzzanas in Sardinia which dates from about 2500 B.C.E. The remains of a labyrinth can be found in Mount Knossos on the Island of Crete.  Labyrinths have been known to people for over four thousand years and have been found in almost every religious tradition around the world. 

Although it is an ancient spiritual and religious tradition it fell out of use in modern culture and was only rediscovered and moved into popular culture in the 1990’s with the work of different people including clergy and laypeople at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco.  Since then it seems to have taken the western world by storm and labyrinths have become almost common place in different cities.  There is a beautiful outdoor labyrinth at the Kanuga Conference Centre of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina where my wife Lorna and I attend dream Conferences’ and an indoor one at the Mount Carmel Retreat Centre in Niagara Fall which hosts our spiritual direction program.  We have walked the labyrinth many times and both found to to be an important part of our spiritual journeys.

Walking the labyrinth can represent different things to different people.  It can represent the journey into wholeness which is undertaken as we seek to become the people God intends us to be.  IT can be a form of walking meditation.  It can represent the twists and turns our spiritual life takes which never seems to be a straight live.  But if we follow the path which God intends for us and listen to where God is leading us it can represent the journey that God will guide us on throughout our lives until we reach our final goal- union with God when our life on this earth have run its course. 

We can’t experience a full-fledged walking of the labyrinth this morning of course but we can walk it with our fingers.  The greeters will be passing out a diagram pf the 11 course labyrinth along with a pointer and I invite you to follow the path of the labyrinth to the center and back again – as time allows.  As you follow the path notice and experience how at times you will seem to be approaching the destination on the inward journey – the centre and then there will be a sharp turn which will take you away from the centre. 

There are many ways to approach the labyrinth walk.  I am drawing the work of Rev. Lauren Artress who is a canon of Grace Cathedral.    There are many ways to walk the labyrinth.  One beneficial way is to simply quiet you mind letting go of all thoughts and cares.  As thoughts enter your mind just note them and release them.  The goal is to let a gracious sense of attention flow through you. 

Another way is to ask a question before beginning you walk and focus on it was you walk.  Keep the question in your conscious mind and you proceed and see what response you receive. 

Take you time – it is important to proceed at a slow steady pace.  We will have five minutes or so and I encourage you to continue your journey later at your leisure and experience it.  IF you have a chance to walk a full sized labyrinth I encourage you to experience it – as many times as possible. 


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Sermon March 2, 2014 Usefulness in Uselessness

Matthew 17:1-9

Can you think of a wonderful experience in your life?  It could be the first time you fell in love.  It could be your wedding day – although that is often such a whirl-wind of activity that it is hard to remember.  It could be crossing the threshold of your first house.  It could be the first day on your first job.  It could be the first day of retirement.  It could be eating a meal or other activity with people who you know truly love you and who you.  It could be the first experience of feeling completely safe after living in an abusive relationship.  It can be such a wonderful experience that you wish deep down that you could hold on to that experience forever.  Later we often hope that we can recapture that wonderful feeling and there is a sense of loss when we realize that it is just not possible to relive that particular experience again.

Given our reaction to want to hold on and claim wonderful experiences we can certainly understand Peter’s reaction to the wonderful vision before him: “3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 

Peter’s reaction is to do something – build dwellings so that they could hold on to what he was seeing.  To understand this amazing, wonderful vision we have to realize the significance of these two figures to the Jews in Jesus’ time.  Moses and Elijah were central - you could say iconic figures in Judaism.  They were the personification of the two central components of their religion – the law and the prophets.  Moses was the law Giver who had received the Law from God – the Tablets of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  Elijah was the quintessential Prophet.  In an epic battle Elijah defeated the priest of the foreign god Baal who had been introduced to Israel by King Ahab.  His end on this earth is also magnificent as we are told that when he was walking with Elisha, his successor:

11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. (2 Kings 2: 7-8)

Both are unique in Judaism.  Moses is the law giver and Elijah does not die on earth but is the taken up to heaven in heavenly chariots.  Is there any wonder that having these two people with Jesus affected Peter so strongly?  Would we not want to do just what Peter wants – to hold on to that wonderful scene for as long as he could?  He must do something – he must act on this impulse – he must build three dwellings to contain them.

Peter’s reaction to do something resonates strongly with our culture.  We are very much a world in which we are told and taught that we must act if we are to be successful and if we are to make our mark in the world.  Even the church falls into this belief.  We are told we must act to build up God’s kingdom.  We are told that we must “Renew” our Diocese if we are to survive and thrive in this world. We need to have a mission statement to have a ministry. St. Stephen’s is a Bishop Luxton Church.  Bishop Luxton responded to his times by a significant church planting in the midst of where people were – in subdivisions where the church would be part of the community.  I suspect that is why there is no parking lot with St. Stephen’s – people would walk to church.  Today we are given a new response to our situation – we are to paint the church doors a bright colour.  Churches are to be planted on busy intersection. 

There is nothing wrong with all this.  And I am not suggesting that the church doesn’t need to be in the world and respond to the perceived needs of the culture.  However the church also has a tradition of a different kind of response to where we are and where God is calling us.  It is a different kind of renewal that is very foreign to our culture today – a spiritual renewal. 

One of the great prophets of Spiritual Renewal is Henri Nouwen.  In the last part of his life he had a great connection with the L’Arch Daybreak Community in Newmarket living there in the final years of his life.  In his book entitled Out of Solitude Nouwen writes:

In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness. We can learn much in this respect from the old tree in the Tao story about a carpenter and his apprentice:

A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: "Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?"

The apprentice looked at his master and said: "No . . . why?"

"Well," the carpenter said, "because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax."

Nouwen goes on:

In solitude we can grow old freely without being preoccupied with our usefulness and we can offer a service which we had not planned on. To the degree that we have lost our dependencies on this world, whatever world means--father, mother, children, career, success or rewards--we can form a community of faith in which there is little to defend but much to share. Because as a community of faith, we take the world seriously but never too seriously. In such a community we can adopt a little of the mentality of Pope John, who could laugh at himself. When a highly decorated official asked him, "Holy father, how many people work in the Vatican?" he paused a moment then replied, "Oh, about half of them I suppose."

 We are on the cusp of the season of Lent which begins this Wednesday with our Ash Wednesday service. It is the perfect time to renew our lives in that way which is a special calling of the church in this world – spiritual renewal.  Our Gospel lesson closes with a commandment of Jesus as they descended from the mountain top experience, “Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead’.”  There is a time for action and a time for reflection and renewal.  Let take time this lent for reflection and spiritual renewal.  Amen. 

Sermon Ash Wednesday 2014: Rend Your Heart Not Your Clothes

Lent – repent - it even rhymes.  That is usually what we think of - when we happen to think about Lent. Well perhaps not repenting but of giving up something for Lent.  The idea being that we must give up - sacrifice something that we enjoy to observe a Holy Lent.  It doesn’t mean much if we give up something that we don’t enjoy anyway does it.


There is value in giving up something.  It focuses us on the important things in life that are not connected with the pleasures of life.  It focuses on the spiritual things.  Aren’t the spiritual things supposed to be serious and sombre and .. well… not really very much fun? 


If that is true, what kind of a God is it that would create in us the capacity for joy and happiness and then tell us – no you cannot enjoy life.  You must sacrifice and give up and lead a completely boring life.

I believe that is what Joel was getting at in the OT readings.  As noted by a Roman Catholic Theologian I discovered on-line, the scripture for the opening of Lent, Joel 2:12-18, takes us back to a time of great danger in Israel. The land has been ravaged by locusts, the crops are failing. The very life of the population is in question. The prophet Joel, convinced that the people have brought the disaster upon themselves by virtue of their unfaithfulness, summons the House of Israel to repent its ways. But, interestingly enough, he does not call them to attend penance services in the synagogue. He does not require them to make animal sacrifices in the temple. He does not talk about public displays of remorse, the time-honored tearing of garments to demonstrate grief. No, Joel says instead, "Rend your hearts and not your clothing."

Lent – and particularly Ash Wednesday - is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not do. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now.

I believe that what we need to look at in Lent - what we need to observe a Holy Lent is to seek and see – to identify those things which separate us from the love of God.  Another way of saying that is to see what is sinful.  That can take the form of denial – giving up something that takes our attention and energy and attraction away from God – something that encourages us to believe that the material things in life are the most important. 

However, even more it is to rend your heart - finding that place in your heart where that connection to God is most clear and is most precious.  It is to begin to peel away those things – one at a time – that separate us for the love of God.  It is to find those things that we truly cherish about ourselves and others – those things that God has created in us that are most precious and that connect us most clearly and dearly to God.  Find those things and strengthen them – cherish them.  And observe a holy Lent.