Friday, 29 April 2016

Sermon April 24, 2016

When I was on retreat last week I was at a gathering of members of the Apple Farm Community where I was retreating.  One of the people at the gathering was the treasurer who introduced himself in that role.  I responded by saying, “O, you are the Judas of the group.”  Now that could have shut down the conversation right there but he was very engaging and didn’t let my attempt at a joke put him off.  I went on to try and redeem myself and clarified that treasurers play a very important role in any organization.  Certainly our congregations are blessed to have John looking after our finances in such a sound way. 

However, John’s Gospel does not put the treasurer of the disciples’ group in a very good light.  The Gospel writer identifies Judas with the role of the treasurer.  Of course he is connected to the thirty pieces of silver that is reported to have been his price for turning traitor and identifying Jesus to the authorities and betraying him with a kiss—it was literally and figuratively a Judas kiss. 

The betrayal of Judas is recorded in all the Gospels.  John provides a reason for Judas’ act.  The culprit is the old tempter and deceiver Satan.  In the modern take by the comedian Flip Wilson ‘The devil made me do it’. 
The Gospels of Matthew and Mark put it down to pure greed—he did it for the thirty pieces of silver offered by the religious authorities who must have been particularly eager to rid themselves of the potentially dangerous and charismatic messianic figure who had been declared ‘king of the Jews’. 
One theory put forward for Judas’ action is could be called the messianic imperative.  Judas could possibly have wanted to force Jesus’ hand in bringing about the kingdom of God on earth by leading a revolt against the Roman occupiers.  In this scenario Judas would have been seeking power, albeit on behalf of Jesus.  He believed that power should be realized on earth in his time and not in God’s time.  This scenario has Judas being influenced by desire for power and control.  

I believe that this has some validity.  Judas shows remorse when he sees what happens to Jesus after he is arrested.  He gives the thirty pieces of silver back to the high priest.  Judas is so overcome by guilt that he hangs himself.  The Gospel of Matthew reports:
 3When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.   4He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.
His legacy is that his name has been a symbol of ultimate betrayal ever since.  Dante has a powerful scene in his Divine Comedy which portrays Satan at the centre of hell with three ultimate villains—betrayers—one in each of his three heads in his three mouths being gnawed by formidable fangs; two are the betrayers of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus and the third is Judas.
If we accept the theory of the messianic imperative Judas was a true example of the expression the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  We know from this that we must be very careful when we decide that we know best; we know without a doubt what is right for others as well as ourselves.  When we do this we are placing ourselves ahead of God.  We are in effect playing God.  If we take a few minutes and reflect on our lives can we think of a time when we knew what was best for another person?  Can we think of a time when we did something with the best of intentions that did not turn out for the best? … I imagine it is not hard for any of us to have something some to mind. 

Of course having good intentions should be a good thing.  How else are we to live in a way that is responsible and caring for each other?  I believe that the problem with good intentions as with many other things is when we approach them with certainty that we are doing them out motives that are pure.  We only have the best interests of the other—the other person or group or congregation or country.  When we do not consider what is in it for us; when we are not perhaps even aware that our motives are not pure we run the risk of wanting—of trying to play God.  We are in effect putting ourselves in God’s place.
All this is difficult of course.  Probably no one has pure motives in our actions.  We can do good works for the outer reward of receiving accolades from others or the inner reward of feeling virtuous—perhaps more virtuous that our neighbours.  As Jesus tells us in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This was apparently as much of a problem in Jesus time as it is today.  It seems to be part of the universal human condition.  So how can we try and not fall into the trap of believing we can control others and run the world the way we know it should be run?  We can do our best to put God first.  We can do all we can to try and know God’s will and not our will in all that we do.  We can do all we can to pray the prayer that our Saviour has taught us, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Above all pray always and remember to listen for God’s response.  Amen.

Beating the Bounds

Last Sunday, April 224th, we celebrated Rogation Day at St. John’s by-the-lake in Grand Bend.  The idea for the celebration originated with Lorna who is the gardener in the family.  Rogation Day is a celebration which is tied to the land.   Originally Rogation day was intended to mark the bounds of the parish.  As it occurs in the springtime and is connected to the land it is a natural connection to cultivating and caring for God’s earth.  As those who know me well know that I am not blessed with an interest in things of the land and especially gardening.    However, I do respond when necessary to appeals form Lorna to do the heavy lifting which gardening sometimes requires.   As Lorna notes I have an amazing ability to evaporate like the morning dew once my assigned task is completed and before she has an opportunity to think of something else for me to do.  We all have our crosses to bear and sometimes we do it gladly and at other times in a grouchy bear-like attitude.  For those of you who don’t get my obscure references think of the old hymn, “Gladly the Cross I’d Bear” which was interpreted by a young child to be about a bear named Gladly who was cross-eyed.  
The following is an introduction to Rogation Day by the Rev. Patricia Gillespie who developed the liturgy we used yesterday.
Rogation Day Processions trace their roots to the church of Fifth-Century France when special prayers were offered just before the Feast of the Ascension because of earthquake and poor harvests. The early Roman church celebrated Rogation Days with a Christian procession around the fields on the Feast of St. Mark (April 25) to suppress the ancient pagan roman celebrations honoring the god "Mildew" and the goddess "Rust".
The "Beating of the Bounds" began in medieval England. Written maps were rare and each year a procession marked the parish boundaries, which were beaten with willow rods. On occasion boys of the parish were also beaten or bumped on the ground at the boundary, which is certainly not part of the modern celebration.  The Rogation Procession moves from a recognition of the sacred earth and Christian roots, to hope for fruits of the earth and fruits of the Spirits.  + The Rev. Patricia Gillespie

We had our regularly scheduled service at St. Anne’s Port Franks yesterday and I have attached a copy of my sermon for that service.  Blessings,

Monday, 4 April 2016

Sermon April 3, 2016

This Morning’s Gospel is a marvelous, wonderful story.  It is marvelous and wonderful for the many things that are happening.  We have the disciples hiding together in fear.  We have the Holy Spirit in action and the countless possibilities that it manifests.  We have sin and the forgiveness of sin that is the inheritance of the church down through the ages since.  We have doubt manifest in the attitude of Thomas and seemingly inherent need for people to have proof in order to believe.   We also have the theme of “believe” and how we  are called to believe despite the lack proof.  There is just an embarrassment of riches in sermon material.

Indeed I had a hard time deciding what theme to use for my sermon.  When I first read it this week, the first word the resonated with me was “believe”.  It is probably the obvious one as there is the whole issue Thomas who demands proof if he is going to believe in the risen Jesus who is now the Christ.  There are, or course implications for us who are not fortunate to have this kind of proof.  We do have Jesus statement,” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”  In effect we are even more fortunate that Thomas if we are able to believe without this kind of proof. 

However, when I considered the Gospel again what resonated with me was “fear”.  We are told, “19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.”  That is something that we can all relate to.  We can appreciate why the disciples were afraid.  All their hopes and dreams and plans had come crashing down.  All their dreams that Jesus was the messiah who would bring about God’s kingdom on earth were shattered to smithereens. Their friend and teacher and beloved leader truly was not the messiah—or so it seemed to them.  He was not the only begotten son of God the Father. 
All their efforts to follow him and understand his teachings and his sometimes incomprehensible parables about prodigal sons and fathers who acted in ridiculous, surprising ways; about those outcast Samaritans being the good ones; or farmers who sow seeds indiscriminately.  Those were difficult enough but then there was the completely incomprehensible one about the dishonest manager whom Jesus seems to honour for his dishonesty.  All that effort and work and all those trials they endured seemed have turned to ashes in their mouths.  And now here they were— afraid for their lives; who knew what those temple authorities, not to mention the Roman soldiers, might do? 
They were not doing to be satisfied with just executing the leader of a possible rebellion but would want to stamp out anyone connected to that rabble rouser.  They cowered there in that room paralyzed by fear.

Where have you been overwhelmed by fear in your life?  Where have you let fear rule you and prevent you from doing the things you knew you should do?  I certainly have had times when fear has ruled my life.  I have let the fear of how people will react prevent me from speaking the truth. I feared the disapproval of others and was afraid that I would be not accepted by those from whom I wanted acceptance.  I have stood by and allowed people to bully others for fear of becoming the target of their bullying.  I have let fear rule my life in small ways and big ways.  And I have much to regret in that.  However, sometimes fear can be useful.  It has also prevented me from doing some things which would have been foolish to do and would have had serious consequences with little benefit. 

So fear is not a black and white thing.  We have the fear instinct because it is a necessary part of the survival and probably if people did not have fear as part of our being we would not have survived as a species.  The challenge for us is to discern when fear is appropriate and when it is not appropriate.  When do we pay attention to the fear/survival instinct and when do we put it aside and plunge ahead despite the possible consequences?

The disciples were cowering in fear in that room.  If they had stayed there waiting until the furor had died down and it was safe to return to their homes and their old occupations as fishers of fish instead of people it all would have ended there.  All that they had gone through could have been for not.  Fear would have triumphed and death would have won.  But it did not.  They were able to overcome their fear albeit with the help and assurance of the risen Lord.  We are gathered here today because fear did not triumph and death was not victorious.

What does that mean for us today?  How does the fact that fear and death did not triumph in that room two thousand years ago impact our lives today?  Are we going to throw fear and even caution to the wind and be the church that God intends us to be?  Are we going to be the body of Christ here on earth until he returns?  Are we going to speak the truth to power as the prophets did?  Are we going to proclaim the Good News of Christ crucified and raised from the tomb?  Are we going to love our neighbours and our enemies as ourselves?  Are we going to feed the hungry, visit the sick and the shut-ins, are we going to help the poor and demand that the poor are aided by the powers that rule this world?      We shall see.  Amen   

Are You a crucifier or the crucified?

On Easter Sunday I made my usual appeal for people to volunteer to be crucifers.  However, what I said was, “please consider being a crucifier”; which might have been more appropriate for Good Friday.  There was a lot of laughter and I immediately corrected myself.  However, on reflection I wonder if there is more to this than a slip of the tongue.

On reflection what comes to mind is the old Burt Bacharach song “What the Word Needs Now is Love Sweet Love”.  Well I never thought I would be quoting a Burt Bacharach song as he is not one of my favourite songwriters to it mildly and that song is sentimental schmaltz.   However, to paraphrase Burt, we don’t need any more crucifiers.  The world seems to have plenty of them.  The question this morning after the Second Sunday in Easter is, when are we crucifiers and when are we crucified.  Put it another way, when do we look for a scapegoat to take all the blame for what is going on in our lives and when do we acknowledge that much of what we put on others is so that we don’t have to acknowledge it in ourselves?

It is human nature to not want to “see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye”?  Carl Jung named this phenomenon the shadow which can appear I our dreams often as a person of the same sex as the dreamer who carries all the unacknowledged parts of ourselves.   These are often negative qualities—or qualities we see as negative.  However, they can be positive and be carried by what is the bright shadow.  In any case as Jesus says we need to be able to acknowledge that log in our own eye if we are not to be crucifiers of others in this life.