Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sermon December 27, 2015

Other than the stories of the nativity, the bible contains the only one account of Jesus’ life as a child.  This is the account we have just heard of the events when he visits the temple in Jerusalem when he is twelve years old. 
The typical way of looking at this episode in the life of the young Jesus is to regard it with wonder and amazement.  Here is a boy—in many ways he is still a child—and yet it is a glimpse of the potential he will show when he begins his ministry among the people of Galilee at thirty years of age.  Isn’t it wonderful how he has a realization that he is more than just a typical teenager?  He declares he must be about his Father’s business.  Of course we realize he is referring to his heavenly Father.  We know that he will later show us that his life will indeed be about his Father’s business. 

However, there is another way of looking at this.  In some ways this is the account of a typical teenager.  He doesn’t give a second thought to how his actions will affect others — particularly his parents—his earthly parents.  He is unmindful of how his parents would react to his absence.  Of course they will be worried.  They will be inconvenienced and have to make the journey back to the temple to search for him.  As with many teenagers, he is rather disdainful of their natural concern for his well being and dismissive of their authority. 
It is unfortunate that there are no other accounts in the bible of what Jesus was like as a child and as a teenager.  We might let our imagination fill in the blanks and think about what a challenge it might have been for his parents.  He was most likely a very precocious child who showed at times other glimpses of his divine nature.  There are accounts in the apocryphal, non-canonical sources which gives us a glimpse of what it might have been like.  There is one account of Jesus as a child making twelve sparrows out of clay and miraculously turning them into real live birds; a rather sweet, harmless act.  However, it was on the Sabbath and is perhaps a precursor to times when he is criticized by the Pharisees for doing miracles on the Sabbath.

 However, there is another in which the child Jesus is not so playful.   He is carelessly knocked down by a playmate and is aroused to anger and kills him with a curse.  The parents of the dead child naturally see the danger in such unbridled power and want him expelled from the town.  The account goes on, “Joseph arose and took hold upon his ear and wrung it sore”.  Jesus warns Joseph that to act that way is unwise and to “vex him not”. 

But in his developing wisdom he does not retaliate against his earthly father.  These accounts are apocryphal and should not be taken a literally true. They didn’t make it into the canon of scripture.  However, they give us some interesting possibilities of the challenges of raising such a son. 
These accounts and our Gospel reading do show us promise of the greatness which is ahead.  At this precocious age he shows great wisdom to the elders at the temple.  We are told that this at the temple outburst, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” – is the exception to his behaviour.  We are told that from this point on in his childhood, he is obedient to them.  This reflects what is proclaimed in the Gospel Luke after he is presented as an infant in the Temple, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” 

The account of Jesus’ visit to the Temple at age twelve is, I believe, important for us.  It gives us a glimpse of someone who is not only divine but is also fully human.  It shows something of Jesus’ human nature.  It shows us what it means for us to be human.  It shows us what it means for us as fallible, human beings who are children of God to follow Jesus.  We know from this experience of Jesus that he did increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  This gives us the hope and promise of what is possible for us.  We also can increase in wisdom and stature.  We also have the possibility of become more fully the people that God intends us to be
—that God intended us to be when he created each of us.  We have that possibility to grow and develop and mature as Christians and as people.  This will not happen automatically.  God gives us that potential and possibility.  However, we are called to do our parts as children of God and as Christians.  We are called to follow the commandments that Jesus has given us.  We are to love God with all our hearts and minds and souls with all our strength and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. 

This is a challenge but it is one that Jesus knows as he experienced it and knows the challenges that we have in following them.  He also knows that we will not always succeed just as he did not consider his earthly parents at the Temple.  We do know that he is with us in the times we do not succeed as well as the times that we do.  Thanks be to God.  

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Sermon Christmas Eve 2015

In my imagination the distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a long, long journey.   The Gospels are the account of the journey which Jesus makes from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  Tonight Jesus is born is a lowly stable in Bethlehem—the city of David.  He will make that journey to Jerusalem which will culminate on Palm Sunday and ultimately with the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. 
 For Jesus and for us it is a long, journey; such a long journey which will take a lifetime.  In reality the distance between that tiny insignificant village and that magic city Jerusalem is a very short one.  I discovered that some years ago when I went, with my fellow clergy in Huron to the Holy Land.  It was a wonderful, amazing, surprizing experience or I should say experiences.  One of the surprizing things was the trip by tour bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  It took only about five minutes.  Now I wanted to be sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me and I check and the distance is only 8 km.  However, it is a long journey in other ways.  Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territory and to get there we had to cross through the infamous security fence— a wall really—that Israel has erected to keep out terrorists or in Palestinian terms freedom fighters. 

There are many surprizes in our journey to the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem—the place they have officially marked as the birthplace of Jesus.   Bethlehem is no longer a small, insignificant village of Jesus’ birth.  It has a population of about 30,000.  There is the church above the site.  It is shared by three Christian groups, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic—each with a separate part of the church. 

They have very different ideas of what church is and the contrast is dramatic for the visitor.  To reach the actual place, which has been designated as the site of the stable, you have to go down into a lower level—a cave really— which contains the Grotto of the Nativity. 
The Grotto is another great surprize.  It is not that wonderful nativity scene we have in our minds—a stable with cattle lowing and the star of Bethlehem shining down like a spotlight on the star of the production; the baby Jesus with lovely young mother Mary and his dotting step father Joseph standing in the background.  There are no odious smells of a stable in the winter or noises of animals wanting to be fed or dirty, smelly shepherds with their bleating, noisy lambs with a baby lying on not very comfortable straw.   The Grotto of the Nativity has also been idealized.  It is clean and warm in a setting that is appropriate for the birth of the prince of Peace. 
 The reality of that journey to Bethlehem and of the stable was very different from our idealized vision of how it was.  The great poet T. S. Eliot caught the essence of it is his poem The Journey of the Magi which has these opening lines. 
The Journey Of The Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

How often does the image in our imagination not match the reality?  We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  And yet two thousand years later there is no peace that we can see. There seem to be conflict and war all around us.  There seems to be no possibility of peace, of real peace braking out in the world.  So was all this that we are celebrating just a fantasy, a false hope? 

I assure you it is not.  We know that with the birth of that small helpless baby in that small insignificant collection of huts in that ridiculous place meant for animals there was the truth of peace and salvation for the world.  In our darker times we can convince ourselves that there is no peace on earth and never will be.  The unbelievers can say it is only a fantasy. 
Jesus was not born in Bethlehem and if he was it was not on December the 25th.  It is all a lie and an illusion.  And yet we know in our hearts that what we celebrate tonight is true.  The details may not have happened the way they are often depicted.  We can’t know if there was an angel who brought good news to the shepherds.  We don’t know that there was a star which lit the way for the magi on their long journey.  

And yet we know where it matters—we know in our heart of hearts that the prince of peace was born that day.  The only son of God the Father came to be with us and to bring salvation to the world.  We know that the message of the angle to the shepherds was and is true—fear not I bring you tiding of great joy which will be to all people.  Peace, hope, joy and love were born in that stable in Bethlehem.

We know that peace is possible for each of us.  Our difference can be reconciled.  We have the hope of everlasting salvation which was brought to all people with the birth of that small helpless baby.  It is a long journey for us from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  And yet we have the assurance that Jesus with us each step of that journey.  We know that Jesus Christ is born to each of us and love is born in our hearts    Hallelujah.  

Sermon Christmas Day 2015

Our Gospel reading this morning is the wonderful account in the Gospel of Luke of the nativity of our Lord.  It is good to note that it is only one part of the story.   Did you notice what was missing?  It tells us of the visit by the shepherds.  But  we have to turn to the Gospel of Matthew to another part of the story—the part which includes the wise men or Magi coming from the East.  We have turned them into kings in our retelling of the story.  The Gospel of Mark, the earliest account of Jesus’ life doesn’t even have tell us of the events of the birth.  The Gospel of John takes a completely different approach.  It gives us an account which is a retelling of the creation story.  John tells us that Jesus—the Word was with God in the beginning:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In essence, John gives us the big picture—the cosmology of the creation.  I like that because I am the type of person who likes the big picture.  I don’t do that well with details as Lorna will tell you.  John does sum up for us that is important fact that with the incarnation the Light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it; Jesus is the Light of the World.
Whenever I hear that passage—that truth, I am reminded of the hymn that was one of my favourites when I was growing up—Jesus Bid Us Shine:
Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

That hymn resonated with me when I was young.  It resonated with me because it affirmed my desire to be in my small safe corner.  I was and am a strong introvert.  I found the world to be in many ways a big, mysterious place that I had trouble figuring out how to be in.  It was much better for me to be in my own small corner where I didn’t have to try to figure out what my role was in the world.  In my small corner I could let my light shine.  However, As I grew older I discovered that in my small corner my light didn’t shine that brightly and I realized I had to come out of my small corner and be in the world. 
Out of my small corner, I discovered that the light of my candle could join with other lights and become a much bigger light that will enlighten the world.  There is a movie made a long time ago—in 1940—that I saw on TV when I was young that illustrates.  

The movie, Young Tom Edison starring Mickey Rooney.  It is, as the title suggests, the story of the life of the young Thomas Edison the inventor.  In one scene Tom’s mother is very ill and needs an operation to save her.  The old country doctor says he can’t operate because there is not enough light in the home (there were no hospitals in the area and the only source of light in the home was oil lamps.  Tom, being the inventive young man he was, realizes he can solve the problem.  He breaks into the general store and steals a full length mirror.  He sets it up in the dining room and places all the oil lamps in front of it.  The mirror focuses the disparate light from all the lamps and reflects one brilliant light onto the table where the doctor is able to operate on his mother.  Of course she is saved and little Mickey—sorry Tom— is the hero. 
I don’t know if this story is a true event in the life of Thomas Edison but it contains the capital t Truth just as the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and John contain the Truth of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  We each can light our little candles in our small corners.  However, if we come together as the Church, the body of Christ our lights will join together and be reflected through the mirror of Jesus Christ.  That light will be the light of Christ and will enlighten the world. 

As it says in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid”.  Let us be the light of the world and let our lights so shine that the world knows that Jesus Christ, the Light of the World is born today.  Hallelujah.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sermon December 13, 2015 Advent 3

Today we light the Advent candle for Joy.  To me, Joy is a bit of an enigma.  When I think about it I am not sure what it actually is.  It is different from happiness but how is it different?  I did what I often do now when I have a question about meaning—I turned to that source of all knowledge—Google.  I found a website with a great number of images of joy. 
There were many different images—many different ideas and depictions of joy.  There were people jumping—this would be jumping for joy as the saying goes.  There were others who were in nature smelling the flowers; embracing nature and sunshine; there were a number of people with big smiles on their faces including one of a little baby (I especially like that one), the iconic one of Charlie Brown and Snoopy dancing their dance of joy; there were also phases such as choose joy, find joy on your journey, joy is the best makeup, awakening joy, there were even a couple of religious ones such as ‘joy comes from trusting God’, and ‘joy to the world the Lord is come’.  There were also a few surprizing ones such as one with a young woman pointing a very big gun (It’s not clear what she was aiming at) and a couple with very scantily clothed buxom young women. 
One particularly interesting one pictured a man jumping up exuberantly with the question “happiness or joy?”  What can we make of all this joy or at least these depictions of joy?  There seems to be a common thread running through many of the images.  Many were smiling with great big smiles; many more were jumping with outstretch arms; many were embracing nature exuberantly.  I’m not sure about the young scantily clothed women—perhaps they were all named Joy.  However, I think the common thread running through many, if not most, of the images was a sense of losing oneself, of reacting without constrain, of embracing life to the fullest.  There was also an underlying theme in a few of them that joy was a choice i.e. chose joy. 
It is perhaps not surprizing in today’s culture that there were so few that had a religious connecting or implication.  Here we are celebrating the anticipation of joy that was and will be born again on Christmas morning:
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,

This is the wonderful news that is proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds.  Why then is there so little association of Christianity with joy?  Shouldn’t Christians be living out the joy that was experienced with the sight of that small beautiful baby in the stable in Bethlehem?  Shouldn’t we be embracing the knowledge that Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God was born to us and walked among us and brought us salvation and embracing life to the fullest, joyfully? Unfortunately many Christians don’t seem to have gotten that message and the implications of that message.  Many Christians act as if there was no good news.  I guess they don’t understand what “Gospel” means.  Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ among us and with us.  As that one image said, “joy comes from trusting God.”   During the rest of Advent I invite you to embrace life as fully as possible.  I invite you to reflect on the joy of Jesus Christ in your life and respond in some small or some big ways.  Perhaps it is helping out the refugees we are sponsoring.  Perhaps it is serving at a community dinner at St. Paul’s.  Perhaps it is even wishing people a Merry Christmas and smiling at stranger.  Or perhaps if Christmas is not a joyful time for you because of its association with sad events and memories or loss, I invite you to participate with the Blue Christmas service at the U. C. in Grand Bend on next Sunday at 4:00 and know the comfort that Jesus can bring to people.  That too is an aspect of joy—the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with us in our sorrow as well as our joy.  We have tidings of comfort and joy.  That too is a part of the wonders of his love. 
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A World Based on Love? Get Real!

Start small. Pick one issue that speaks to you. Read about it, study it, learn from others who are involved in bringing about change. Contribute your time and money and energy to make a difference. Change will not happen unless we decide to make it happen.

Anglican and perhaps people generally, but especially Anglicans, are not good with change.  There is the old joke: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?  Change!!! We don’t change; we’re Anglicans and anyway that lightbulb is a memorial to my parents so we can’t change it. 

As Anglicans and Christians we are called to live in a way that is for most of us is not the way that is, to speak bluntly, counter cultural.  This is perhaps particularly difficult for Anglicans because the Anglican Church in Canada following on our Church of England roots, have been part of the culture and have been identified with the mainstream.  This served the Anglican Church, if not necessarily God, well in our history and we thrived in the modern era when people came to church as a matter of course and there was not much else to do on Sunday.  The church was in many ways the center of community life.  However, I believe that this did provide road blocks to living our Christian calling.  It did not require Anglicans to necessarily reflect on what it means to be a Christian in the world today. 

Today's post-modern world is a very different place and we Anglicans find ourselves in a place that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  We find ourselves out of sync with the culture. This not necessarily a bad thing and can help us find a place in the world which is not so bound up with our culture. 

Jesus called his followers to live a radical life and not a life that was joined at the hip with the culture it was located in.  For the last few weeks I have, perhaps unintentionally, been preaching on the central message of Jesus that we are to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and our neighbours as ourselves.  To do this or even to attempt to do this is truly radical and is counter cultural. 
If we are to follow this prime directive of Jesus we need to repent which means to turn around from our current way of living and go the other way which is based on love.  The opening lesson above from Br. David Vryhof is a practical approach to change and particularly this change.  

Sermon November 22, 2015; The Reign of Christ

Seven Sign of the Kingdom
What do you think of when you hear the word “sign”?  It indicates something which should have a clear meaning.   Some sign are more important than others.  There are all sorts of signs.  If you remember when you took the test for you driving licence there were signs that you had to recognize as they were important.  If you didn’t know what they meant you would probably not get your licence.  When you did begin to drive they were very important to proper driving.  Some road signs are recommendations like suggested speeds and some are cautionary like slow moving vehicle signs.  Others are requirements like speed limits which people more or less observe—rather honoured in the breech—like speed limits which you can usually fudge a bit without getting into trouble.  I usually drive 10 km over the speed limit when road and traffic and weather conditions allow and am pretty sure I won’t get a ticket.  Some are ones you should always obey like traffic lights—red means stop and a stop sign means stop. 

There are some signs which are not as clear in their meaning.  You have some figures of people which represent which is the washroom for men and which are for women.  They are useful and fairly important to recognize.  It has the potential to be embarrassing if you get them wrong.  Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between them and I find myself stopping and comparing the two figures to make sure I get the right one.  So some signs are mandatory and some are optional and some are inconvenient and some can lead to consequences that could be embarrassing but not serious.  However, there are many signs in this world and the world would be a very different place without them.

Today’s Gospel reading is from John.  Now John’s Gospel is very different from the other three.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are sometimes called the Synoptic Gospels as they are very similar and seem to be drawing water from the same well.    Indeed Mark is thought to be the earliest and Matthew and Luke drew extensively from Mark as well as other sources.  However, John’s Gospel is a different kettle of fish.  It is thought to be the latest – probably written about 90 CE.  There, I have just given you the first lesson in the introduction to the New Testament Bible study.  Don’t worry there won’t be a test at the end.
There are many significant differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels.  One of the major differences is that John speaks of signs.  These are in some cases things Jesus does that are usually considered to me miracles.  There are seven important signs that John identifies:
  1. Water to wine (2:1-12)
  2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54)
  3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (6:16-24)
  6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)
N.T. Wright describes the meaning of Signs in the gospel of John like this,
The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality. – N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.
N. T. Wright is the retired Bishop of Durham England and a world famous theologian. He will be delivering the R. T. Orr lecture at Huron College this Wednesday.  However, I don’t completely agree with him on this. 

I believe that the signs which John records are pointing to a different reality on earth and not just away from earth to a heavenly reality.  A few weeks ago I spoke about biblical miracles and noted that how to understand biblical miracles is a challenge for many modern Christians and it is a challenge that I have struggled with for many years as part of my faith journey.  My approach at this point in my journey is not to be concerned about the literal facts.  What is important for me is the truth that is contained in the event and not the truth of the events.  How are we to understand the truth of the message that is contained in the scripture passage? 
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  This world that Jesus speaks of is the way this world understand a kingdom.  This world’s kings and Emperors were absolute and used ther power to control and conquer people by means of force.  Jesus’ kingdom is ruled by love.

The seven signs of John’s Gospel point to that kingdom.  The first sign is a celebration of a marriage which has run out of wine which was central to that celebration.  The marriage is a sign of the union of two people which enables them or at least helps them to live out God’s intended purpose.  It is a beginning of what is possible in the kingdom.  The next two signs are healing; one of a man’s son and the other of a paralytic.  The man’s son was restored to life pointing to the life that is possible even though it may seem like our lives are dead and meaningless.  The paralytic man was brought out of a life in which he was not able to engage with life.  The next sign is the feeding of the five thousand.  Through Jesus we will be fed with the spiritual food that feeds our spirits and our souls.  In the next sign Jesus walks on water.  This is a somewhat different account than in the Synoptic accounts.  Here the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus approaching but when he engaged them they were no longer afraid and were willing to take him into their boat.  We need to be able to put aside all our reservations and welcome Jesus into our lives fully.  The next sign is the healing of the man born blind.  Jesus will enable us to see the truth of the kingdom which is based on love.  Love is more powerful than hate and will enable us to overcome the fear that we have and our need for absolute security.  The final sign is the raising of Lazarus.  As I noted in my sermon on this sign the key for me is the last statement of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  This is exactly what Jesus is saying to each of us.  We are to unbind ourselves from the things which bind us hand and foot and prevent us from living the full life that Jesus calls us to. 

John has given us hints of what the kingdom of God can be like.  It can point to a kingdom which is ruled by love and not power.  It point to a kingdom in which we love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and our neighbours and ourselves.  Thanks be to God.  

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Since writing last week about my ambivalence around Remembrance Day and Pacifism, we have been faced with what seems to be a world changing events in Paris.  From the perspective of the West It is actually just a continuation and intensification of events that have been ongoing since 9-11.  For people in the Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries in the region there has been, it seems,  ever increasing terror and chaos which has spilled over to the West.

There are many questions which arise from these events for us.  For Christians we have the quandary about how we react to the events and approach to whole seemingly new approach to warfare with an enemy that can appear out of the crowd without warning and fad into the background just quickly.  As I address in my sermon yesterday, how are we to love our neighbours who seem to be the manifestation of evil?  How can we possibly forgive those who trespass against us in these terrible ways and yet how can we not if we are to ask God to forgive our trespasses?  My wife Lorna led the prayers of the people at St. John by the Lake in Grand Bend yesterday.  The prayers do a very good job of express how we can pray in times like this.  I have attached a copy for you to consider and invite you to pray them.  We pray that God redeem those whose hearts have turned to stone and in whom compassion has died. We ask that by the power of your Holy Spirit, we draw back from revenge and with your help establish conditions for peace among nations and between individuals, as you draw all people to yourself in love. We ask God that it will be a step towards reconciliation.   Amen

War and Rumors of War

There certainly is no shortage of war or rumors of war these days.  The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed long ago.  The only remnant is the Western Wall—Jewish people do not want it referred to as the Wailing Wall.  Many evangelical Christians believe that we are in the end times and are looking forward with anticipation of the rebuilding of the temple as the final sign of the apocalypse.  However, Jesus does tell us that even he did not know when that would occur.
People have been predicting the end-times since the first Christians when they expected that it would occur, as Jesus also predicted in their life time.  There have been disastrous consequences throughout the subsequent centuries for the many people who believed those who preached that the end times were at hand.  One lesson that these erstwhile prophets of apocalypse have learned is never to be specific.  I googled information on end-times predictions and found no shortage of specific predictions.  Here are a few examples:
·         About 90 CE: Saint Clement 1 predicted that the world end would occur at any moment.
·         365 CE: A man by the name of Hilary of Poitiers, announced that the end would happen that year
·         375 to 400 CE: Saint Martin of Tours, a student of Hilary, was convinced that the end would happen sometime before 400 CE.
·         968 CE: An eclipse was interpreted as a prelude to the end of the world by the army of the German emperor Otto III.
·         1000-MAY: The body of Charlemagne was disinterred on Pentecost. A legend had arisen that an emperor would rise from his sleep to fight the Antichrist.
·         1179: John of Toledo predicted the end of the world during 1186. This estimate was based on the alignment of many planets.
·         1496: This was approximately 1500 years after the birth of Jesus. Some mystics in the 15th century predicted that the Apocalypse would begin during this year.
·         1689: Benjamin Keach, a 17th century Baptist, predicted the end of the world for this year.
·         1794: Charles Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, thought that Doomsday would occur in this year.
We even have non-Christian predictions:
·         1919: Meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that the conjunction of 6 planets would generate a magnetic current that would cause the sun to explode and engulf the earth on DEC-17.
·         2000:  We can all remember the Y2K prediction of the end of computing would occur and disaster would strike when computer clock turned over to 2000.
·         2012: the Mayan calendar was understood to predict the end of the world.

What, then, can we take from all this?  We can, of course, throw up our hands and believe that there is no point in trying to respond to the challenges that our current world presents to us.  I believe this is one way we can be led astray.  If the end of the world is immanent what is the point of trying to make it a better place.  We can just sit back and have a good time until that rapture take us—unless we are left behind to deal with the apocalypse.
Jesus tells us that we should not be led astray by false prophets, Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray”.   We can be led astray in many aspect of life from political leaders, to people promising easy answers to any problem.  It is human nature to want a strong leader who will give us the answers to all our problems.  There are many examples of the Israelites in the Old Testament wanting a strong leader to save them.  Moses appeared to them in Egypt as God’s messenger and they followed him but when times got tough and Moses was too long on the mountain they looked to a golden calf to save them.  In the Promised Land they wanted a King like other people around them and God gave them Saul and David and Solomon.  But still they ended up in exile.  They worshipped false God’s such as Baal when their leaders led them astray.

What exactly is a false prophet?   Basically it can be defined as one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy or divine inspiration, or who uses that gift for evil ends.  We have to remember that prophets were not people who predicted the future.  They were people who were giving God’s message to the people.  It was often the king or ruler that received the benefit of a prophetic declaration that the king and the people were not following the course God called them to.  As noted in the definition a false prophet will claim to be divinely inspired and will attempt to use that claim for wrong purposes such as personal gain. 

In modern times we have many examples of people who use false claim and personal charisma for evil ends.   Hitler and Mussolini did that in the last century.  Now we have the added challenge of false prophets who offering all kinds of easy answers and quick fixes to our problems.  We have the miracle cures to health problems; we have miracle cures to financial problems—the popularity of lotteries is a symptom of this; we have easy answers to loneliness; we have miracle cures for relationship problems from using the right deodorant to wearing the right clothes or meeting Mr. or Ms. Right on-line. 

These are all the false prophecies of facile and easy answers.  The answer may not be easy but it is there for each of us. It is contained in that ancient Jewish prayer which Jesus confirms is to be followed today—The Shema; the Hear of Israel:
Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
This is the first and the great commandment.
The second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

Love your neighbour as yourself; simple but not easy.  Actually sounds impossible if we take it seriously.  There are neighbours who are easy to love—if we are lucky.  But what about those neighbours next door and on the other side of the world who are not easy to love—the ones we might classify as our enemies?  As we have seen in the recent events in Paris How do we love them?  As we will pray in the prayers of the people, we can pray that peace may be established among the nations and between individuals as God will draw all people to God’s self in love.  That is a start.  We also must put that love into action and take even small steps to bring reconciliation to individuals and nations.   We can pray for God’s guidance for in God even the seemingly impossible is possible; all things are possible.  Today when you go home pray that God will open your heart to someone who is difficult in your life and pray that every day.  God willing it will become a step towards reconciliation.  Amen 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sermon November 8, 2015 Mark 12:38-44

Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude
Have you ever had an encounter or perhaps many encounters with people who are pan handling?  I must say that I have not had that experience since I moved to Parkhill.  You probably don’t run into many panhandlers in Grand Bend or Port Franks.  This is not to say that there aren’t people who need assistance but it doesn’t seem to be in that form.  However, when I lived in London and when I return to London or when I am in Toronto it is not uncommon to have people approach me for handouts.  It is something which I must say I do not look forward to.  I seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place of wanting to do my Christian duty of generosity and not being taken advantage of.  Do I give something and if so how much?  Is this person really in need or is it a scam?  How can I avoid this person and avoid having to deal with these requests?  There are the stop light pan handlers who approach cars stopped at a red light and ask for help.  I find myself hoping and yes even praying that the light will turn green before the person gets to my car.  So much for Christian charity and loving your neighbour.

The reality is that I consider myself to be a generous person and I try to give back to various causes part of what God has given me.  I do try to live my life as a Christian and not as the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus so often criticized and condemned.  In today’s Gospel we have Jesus doing that.  It is the scribes that get the force of Jesus’ criticism, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  That is quite a list of wrong doings and wrong attitudes.  Basically they are more concerned with doing good for appearances than doing good for the sake of the good.  There was no shortage of opportunity for Jesus to criticize them and he seemed to make use of every opportunity; making man for the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath for men; showing that we should not pray like the Pharisee giving thanks that he is not like the tax collector; and on and on. 

I think it is very clear that we should not devour widow’s houses or pray long prayers for the sake of appearances.  That should be possible to do.  However, how do we live on a day to day basis when we are faced with choices about what we support, how much we give, and how we do it?  Do we have a goal of tithing—the biblical ten percent—if so is that gross income or after tax income?  Is it the modern tithe or the biblical tithe?  

The biblical tithe is based on the passage in Genesis, “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him one tenth of everything”.  We can turn to the NT to see how the tithe should be spent.  It says in the epistle of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”. 
All in all it is not something which is simple.  Life today is more complex than in biblical times.  We have fairly significant taxes which we pay to support our various levels of Governments.  The money we give to charity is tax deductible or at least we get a tax credit.  We have the opportunity to support our church but also to support so many different possibilities and we are inundated by offers to help us contribute; health groups, arts groups, United Way, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, disaster relief, and on and on.  Of course we are currently being given the opportunity to contribute to the Syrian Refugee crisis and support the initiative of London Deanery.  It can be confusing and almost overwhelming.

I believe that the lesson we can take from Jesus today is to give with our hearts.  One commentary I read held that what Jesus is valuing in the widow who gave the mite is a “Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude”.  The widow did not give from her abundance but from everything she had.  We are called to give from a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for what God has given us.  The amount that we give and where we give is a matter between each of us and God (and perhaps our accountants).  

I have resolved some of my conflict with giving to panhandlers by deciding I am not going to try and judge whether they are worthy or are trying to scam me.  I will give a certain amount when I am asked and when I reach my limit and will say I am not supporting them today.  However, I will try to do it out of a generous heart and try to treat each person as a human being who is a child of God even though he or she may not appear to be made in the image of a God that in my heart of hearts I recognize.  Each of us as Christians is called to discern how to respond to Jesus command to love our neighbour as ourselves.  We are called to try and do that each day.  Some days it is easier than others and sometimes we will do it better than other but we are called to try.  The cultivation of a Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude can take a lifetime but it is the journey we are called to as followers of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  Thanks be to God.   

Remembrance Day, Pacifism, and Christianity

Yesterday we marked Remembrance Day at the congregations in Port Franks and Grand Bend and Wednesday is the official Remembrance Day.  Over the years I have grown to appreciate the ceremonies marking November 11th —the 11th hour or the 11th day of the 11th month when the Great War, the war to end all wars ended.   This day honours all those who have served and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.  Reciting In Flanders Field yesterday I found that my eyes teared up both times.  The poem and all it represents has become more meaningful to me over the years. 
I was raised in a home that had an ambivalent attitude towards Remembrance Day.  My father, a United Church minister, was a committed pacifist and did not have a positive attitude to military and those who served.  It is somewhat ironic that one of his grandchildren, my son and his wife, had careers in the Canadian army.  In addition I have served as the chaplain to the Parkhill branch of the Legion for some years now and I will be presiding at Remembrance Day services again this year. 
Honouring those who served their country in times of war is not in conflict with ideal of pacifism.  How do we, as Christians today live in the tension of a world in which groups of people like ISIS and other terrorist commit horrendous acts on their own population and threaten us, at least according to the leaders in the Western world?   The West has responded by bombing campaigns which are only, it seems, a temporary measure and is not in any way a solution to this crisis.  We can and should respond to the humanitarian crisis that results from this and other forces at work in Middle East.  However, should we, as Christian be supporting an ongoing bombing campaign and its resulting destruction of property and civilian lives.  The new Canadian government is withdrawing from the bombing campaign and will concentrate on training and other forms of support.  That is well and good but what should the Western countries be doing in response to this crisis?  I certainly don’t know.
Richard Rohr has written on the ideal of the warrior in society which provides a different perspective and may help cut though much of the distortion that develops around it and speaks of the positive as well as the negative aspects of it:
It takes warrior energy to see through and stand against mass illusions of our time, and be willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of "support our troops" which cleverly diverts from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to walk to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of nonviolence, civil resistance, and martyrdom--the way of the cross.
I don’t believe that pacifism is an answer to the current crisis.  It also seems that non-violence, such as that practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King will work against the likes of ISIS.  So we are left with the question of a Christian response to a world in which violence seems to be deeply embedded.  We do need to at least try to see the roots of the current situation in the injustice of the past.  The recent history of response to violence by violence did not work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It has contributed in part to the rise of ISIS et al.  Richard Rohr also speaks about this:
In the use of force, one simplifies the situation by assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: to eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of the irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure.
A military response is, it seems, the natural response to evil in all its perceived forms.  Realistically is can be both necessary and positive as the response to Hitler and Nazi Germany.  However, as Christians we can only pray that there will be other ways to respond to the current situation than all-out war with troops on the ground. 

These thought are rather convoluted and rambling.  However, that is a reflection of my ambivalence in respect to current situations.  As Christian we can respond by supporting those who fight and have fought on our behalf and encourage our Government to properly support those who sacrifice for our country.  We can respond by support for refugees who are innocent victims of the chaos that has developed.  We can also pray for new and different approaches to the terrorist and terrorism.  Thanks be to God.  

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Spirit of Largesse

I am reflecting this morning on how we unbind ourselves from the things that prevent us from following Jesus as Christians.  I believe that is the truth contained in the Gospel passage which recounts the raising of Lazarus; we need to unbind ourselves from the things in our lives that hold us back.  One of the ways I have been considering in which we can do that is the spirit of largesse that we can cultivate towards others and the world. 
The concept of largesse does not seem to be a popular one in today’s world.  Charles Williams writes of the largesse of spirit which he defines as courtesy, generosity, humility and charity.  He consider the essence of Christianity to be,  “the doctrine of largesse; the doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine of largesse; the doctrine of the Redemption is a doctrine of largesse…the doctrine of all true adoration—single or mutual—is a doctrine of largesse”. 
It is inspiring to see doctrine to be considered in this way.  I believe that Pope Francis is expressing the doctrine of largesse when he seems to want the Roman Catholic Church to move towards a pastoral approach to  remarried parishioners receiving communion and relationship to LGBT parishioners rather than the (capital D) Doctrine of the church.  This largesse of spirit is what Jesus calls us to in our relationship to others.  How can we practice and strengthen the largesse of spirit in our approach to refugees in the current crisis.  I believe, putting politics aside, that Justin Trudeau has shown he desires to govern with a spirit of largesse.  At least there seem to be intentions of that.  We shall see if that is carried through as the new Canadian government is sworn in and begins to govern.

I believe that what this world needs is a cultivation of the spirit of largesse in our relationships.  May we all strive to have that spirit grow within us.  Blessings.