Thursday, 28 January 2016
The Gospel we just heard presents an inspiring picture of Jesus. He is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He has just returned from his time in the wilderness and his encounter with Satan. He has been tempted three times by Satan and rejected the three temptations of food for his starving body, power over the kingdoms of the earth, and perhaps the greatest—putting his heavenly Father to the test of his love. Now he is ready to being his public ministry of proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. He does this in familiar territory. He brings the Good News for those closest to him—the people in his home of Galilee. Everything is set for his triumphant homecoming.
The stage is indeed set for a triumphant return in which he will be recognized for who he is by those who probably mean the most to him. Well, that is just what happens. He teaches in the synagogues and he receives praise from all quarters. He is now ready to truly come home. He come home to home town of Nazareth where he was raised—the triumphal return of a local boy who has made good. It is surprizing that they don’t throw a parade for him? In fact they go one better. He is invited to read in his home synagogue. The stage is set. What could go wrong?
I had an experience that was a bit like that. My home parish where I became an Anglican and where I worshipped for many years and where I served in many different functions is St. John the Evangelist in London. When I started on my journey to ordination and was enrolled in the M.Div. Program at Huron, I was invited to preach at the Sunday service. Well I preached what I thought was a pretty good sermon—pretty good from a first sermon anyway. I put a lot effort into it and said a lot of things I wanted to say.
The only problem was that it was far, far too long—for Anglicans in any case—at least twenty minutes in length. I did not have enough presence to know that despite the brilliance and eloquence of it (just kidding) people started to get restless probably at the fifteen minute mark. Things can go wrong when you come home in a new role.
Well, that is nothing compared to what happened to Jesus. If we read on in Luke we find that he begins to give not good news but what the people receive as bad news. He tells them that those foundational prophets Elijah and Elisha did not bring God’s message and salvation to the people like them; they brought it is widows and foreigners. Well, if you don’t know, you can probably guess their reaction, “They were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way”. In effect, they ran him out of town on a rail.
As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown”. This would not be the last time that Jesus got people—particularly the religious and civil leaders—angry. He was continually criticizing the religious leaders and doing things like healing people of the Sabbath that they objected to. In fact, they eventually managed to succeed at what they failed to do this time—they murdered him—or at least they thought they had.
We have a situation in the Anglican Church today that seems to resonate with what happened to Jesus. The leaders of the World-wide Anglican Church, The Primate have decided to punish the Episcopal Church in the USA for their decision to allow the blessing of Same-sex Relationships. They have suspended the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion for a period of three years.
In effect, the Episcopal Church has decided that they are called by God to go to a place that is not acceptable to other parts of the Anglican church. Indeed the Canadian Church may be in a similar position when we vote on changing the marriage canon at General Synod later this year in July. As we see in the Gospels, religious leaders can be wrong. Jesus certainly did not hesitate to criticize them when he knew they were wrong. Unfortunately, we do not have Jesus with us on earth to tell us which position is right. We cannot know with certainty which position is right and which wrong in the eyes of God. The position of the primates was and is influenced by the Anglican Churches in the third world, many of whom support laws in their countries which would jail gays and lesbians or even put them to death. And yet they are not sanctioned for these unchristian attitudes.
To be open about where I stand, I support the position of the Episcopal Church and hope and pray that the Canadian Church will follow their lead and change the marriage canon to embrace same-sex marriage. I have come to this position after many years of considering the situation and knowing LGBT people as friends and associates. In some cases the church must lead and take a position which is opposed by other parts of the church as the Canadian Church did with the ordination of women. We are called to try and discern God’s will and to go where it takes us even if it is not the commonly held understanding of God’s will.
I will close with and excerpt from the statement by our Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz:
Our conversations reflected the truth that, while the Anglican Communion is a family of autonomous Churches in communion with the see of Canterbury, we live by the long-held principle of ‘mutual responsibility and inter dependence in the Body of Christ’. While our relationships are most often characterized by mutual support and encouragement, there are times when we experience stress and strain and we know our need for the grace of God to be patient with each other. Such was the experience of the primates this week. We struggled with the fragility of our relations in response to the actions taken by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in changing its canon on marriage, making provision for the blessing of same sex marriages. We talked, prayed and wrestled with the consequences considered by the meeting. Some of us wept. For now I ask for your prayers for all of the primates as they make their way home. I know some are returning to very challenging situations beset with extreme poverty, civil war, religiously motivated violence and the devastating effects of climate change.
This week reminded me once again of the servant style of leadership required of the primates of the Churches of The Anglican Communion. As Jean Vanier reminded us in his reflections at our closing Eucharist, we are called to be the face of Jesus in this world. Pray with me that all of us be faithful in this calling. Amen
Thursday, 14 January 2016
It is always a bit of a surprize to me when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus following so closely on Epiphany—the visit of the Wise Men. How did Jesus get to be a mature man/God about to begin his public ministry so soon after we celebrate his birth? Of course we have very little information in scripture about his early life, other than his visit to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was twelve years old. So perhaps the people that put together the church calendar were on the right track.
The day of the Epiphany was only last Wednesday so we are celebrating both the visit of the Wise Men and Jesus Baptism this morning. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between the two events other than both being events in Jesus life that are recorded in Holy Scripture. However, if we explore both events I believe there is a connection between them that should be explored. Both events deal with Jesus’ identity.
The Epiphany in which the three wise men or Magi come to pay homage to the infant Jesus reveals to the world who Jesus is. The Magi are astrologers—the scientists of their day. They have seen the evidence that a king of the Jews has been born and have come to worship him. They are Gentiles; representatives from the non-Jewish world who have come to acknowledge him as king. They bring him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Now these are not the gifts you would usually bring to a child but they know this is not a usual baby. These gifts are portentous; there reveal the path that Jesus will follow.
The gift of gold is appropriate for honouring a king. It was valuable in Jesus’ time as it is in our time. Gold is used in the crown of a king and signifies him as the king of the Jews. The frankincense or incense was traditionally used in worship dating back to the Tabernacle in the exodus. It is given by the Wise Men who acknowledge Jesus’ holy/priestly nature. Finally we have Myrrh. This is an essential ingredient in Holy anointing oil which is used in the anointing of both kings and priests. It was also used to anoint and embalm the dead and so it foretells that he will be a willing sacrifice for us and for the world. Here we have the Gentile world coming to acknowledge Jesus and proclaim that he is and will be king, prophet, priest and the Pascal Lamb. The Magi—the representatives of the Gentile world have identified who he is for the world.
The baptism is another time when there is identification. In the account of the baptism we hear of the voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus is identified as the Beloved son of God the Father. Therefore in the baptism and the Epiphany we have Jesus identified by earth and heaven. He is the Beloved son of the most high God; the king of the Jews and the high priest who will be the willing sacrifice who will redeem the world.
Baptism can be understood as that entrance into the body of Christ. It identifies us as Christians, members of the body of Christ when we are baptised in the name of the Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That identifies us as people who are in relationship with other members of Christ’s Church. But is also identifies us as people who are in relationship with God.
David J. Lose, the president of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia addresses the idea of baptism as identification for each of us:
Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children – and confers upon us the promise of God’s unconditional regard. In an era when so many of the traditional elements of identity-construction have been diminished – we change jobs and careers with frequency, most of us have multiple residences rather than grown up and live in a single community, fewer families remain intact – there is a craving to figure out just who we are. In response to this craving and need, baptism reminds us that we discover who we are in relation to whose we are, God’s beloved children. We belong to God’s family, and baptism is a tangible sign of that.
Baptism, then, is wholly God’s work that we may have confidence that no matter how often we fall short or fail, nothing that we do, or fail to do, can remove the identity that God conveys as a gift. Our relationship with God, that is, is the one relationship in life we can’t screw up precisely because we did not establish it. We can neglect this relationship, we can deny it, run away from it, ignore it, but we cannot destroy it, for God loves us too deeply and completely to ever let us go. Again, in an age when so many relationships are fragile or tattered, it may come as good news that this primary relationship remains solid and intact no matter what. In fact, trusting that this relationship is in God’s hands, we are freed to give ourselves wholly and completely to the other important relationships in our lives.
All that is reassuring as well as challenging. It is reassuring because we know that God is always there for us whether we realize or acknowledge it. It is challenging because of the responsibility that each of us has to respond to God and maintain our part of that relationship with God just as it is a responsibility to maintain any relationship we have. We have to hold up our part of the relationship and not neglect it. We do that by doing just what you are doing today; gathering as the body of Christ in Christ’s name to worship God. But that alone is not enough. We need to do our part daily to strengthen and deepen that relationship through prayer and reading of scripture. We also are called to be the people God and the body of Christ in the world—to let them know that we are Christians by our love. To give back to God a part of what is God’s in our care for all of God’s creation. We are called to love the world; to love our neighbours as God has loved us and continues to love us. Amen