Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Sermon June 26, 2016 Fifth Sunday after Trinity

One of the rules for reading the Gospel which I try to employ is, ‘Gospel is always astonishing’.  The idea of the rule is that when you read a Gospel passage it should be with fresh eyes and not make assumptions.  I don’t always succeed in this approach—often with a passage that I know well.  However, it came to mind when I read today’s Gospel again for the first time. 
Was there a part of the Gospel that you found astonishing?... Can you guess which part I found astonishing?...Well. it was the part was where Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”.  My reaction on reading this was one of astonishment.  It also says that Peter was astonished so I guess I was in good company.  Peter was astonished as were those others with him at the large number of fish they had caught.  This was after they had fished all night and had caught nothing. It is easy to see why they would have been astonished at what they were able to do when they followed Jesus direction.

My astonishment was not due to the miraculous results of following Jesus’s command.  Rather, it was Peter’s wish that Jesus should get away from him because Peter was a sinful man.  That seems completely counter intuitive to me.  Here we have Peter receiving the benefit of Jesus’s seemingly miraculous intervention and not wanting more.  His instinct is to not have anything to do with this miracle worker.  Does that make any sense? 

Now we know from the other accounts of Peter in the Gospels that he operates to a great extent on instinct.  Sometimes this works out well for him and sometimes it doesn’t.  Peter is the one who responds to Jesus question to the disciples, “who do people say I am?”  The others respond, 28and they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’
Then He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’”   It is Peter, who answers without hesitation, You are the Messiah.’

Right after that, true to form when Jesus tells them that he must go to Jerusalem and be crucified Peter responds immediately from his heart that he must not do that Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
It is also Peter who, a t the Last Supper, declares, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, ‘‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’   And we know what happens while the trial was going onl.  The cock does crow twice and Peter does betray him three times. 

So Peter does have rather mixed results in following his instincts.  Sometimes they work well for him and sometimes not so well.  But that still doesn’t answer the question as to why he reacts to the miracle in today’s Gospel in such a fashion.  Why would Peter not want to be with someone who could perform such deeds?  The obvous possibility is that Peter felt he was not worthy to be in the presence of such a miracle worker who was obviously a holy man of God.  He does declare that he is a sinful man.  Someone certainly can feel in awe of a holy person and not worthy to be in their presence. 

I think this is another example of Peter’s instinct being just the opposite of what it should be.  Of course Peter did not know Jesus yet and so he could not be aware that Jesus message is above all for the sinners and those who are not held in high esteem in society. The Gospel of Matthew reports Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinner and when he is criticized for doing this he says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” 

That certainly makes sense.  Peter could not have expected this message from Jesus.  It certainly was not part of his culture and religion.  The Holy was separate from the people. God resided in the Holy of Holy in the Temple and only those made righteous through the proper sacrifice could worship.  He did not know that Jesus came to make the forgiveness of our sins possible. 

Another possibility for Peter’s reaction is that he instinctively knew that following Jesus would mean that his life would never be the same.  His peaceful life as a fisherman would be over.  He would become a fisher of people.  It would mean trials and tribulations and it would mean that he could never go back to his old familiar life once this holy man entered it.  His instinct which ruled his life told him that this miracle worker who he didn’t know would completely transform his life.
The fact is that Jesus did come to all of us.  He came to embrace all people.  He came for the tax collectors and the publicans.  He came for the prostitutes and the robbers who would be crucified on either side of him.  As I noted last week he did not come for those who are perfect.  He does not expect perfection from us despite what it says elsewhere.  A better way of understanding that is all-embracing.  Jesus does expect us to be all-embracing just as he was and is.  He expects us to embrace the whole of God’s creation and to be in relationship with those we good Anglicans find unacceptable. 

Jesus came for us and calls us to be his disciples with all our imperfections and flaws.  Indeed he calls us because we are sinner and not perfect.  Jesus knows that we are sinners and knows that we will sin.  Jesus offers us the forgiveness of sins to enable us to repent and turn around and try again.  Thanks be to God.  

Lord Give Me Patience

I was planning to write about the concepts of ‘thin places’ which is one particularly in Celtic Spirituality.  However, I ran into a challenge this morning with my computer and spent most of the morning trying to figure out how to get my computer display back to normal.  All of a sudden completely spontaneously various apps in the internet were displayed in what I can call a manner which were not to my liking  (taking out the expletives from my reaction).  My gmail appeared in tiny text as did other displays on the internet.  The more I tried to correct it and reset my computer back to the original settings the worse it go.  At one point Huffington Post which is one of my main sources for news appeared on the only half of the screen (it was the right half which was ironic form a site that is generally not right wing in its perspective.  I tried various things like restarting my electronic companion which didn’t help and googling for help was of limited help as the print was too small to read easily.  I finally got a helpful hint to zoom the screen display by using control +.  This worked and everything seems to be fine—until next time when things happen seemingly spontaneously (of course it could never be my fault). 

I any case, once things seemed to be back to normal I then checked out the recent Daily Meditations from Richard Rohr to get caught up thinking this would be a least something productive I could do.  The first one I looked at dealt with patience.  Well not being one to pass up an occurrence of synchronicity I decided to pass on the message on practicing patience.  For those of you not familiar with the concept of synchronicity, it is a concept which was explored and developed by Carl Jung which simply put is a significant coincidence.  If two or more things happen that seem to have no direct connection but are related in a meaningful way they may have happened for a reason.  In any case I was, to put it mildly, impatient with the events around the behaviour of my computer and I received a message about practicing patience.  Below is the message about practicing patience: 
Brother Joseph Schmidt writes of a time when Thérèse of Lisieux counseled someone who was impatient with her own impatience:
 Thérèse was asking the sister . . . Can you be willing to be patient with yourself until God gives you the grace to be patient with the sisters? Can you accept and love yourself and not become your own adversary? Can you bear serenely the distress and personal trial of knowing that you have the weakness of impatience? Success in virtue is not the point. Love--love of the sisters in their weakness and love of yourself in your inadequacy--that, Thérèse was trying to say, is the point.
 So I invite you to practice patience. It surely does take practice, and God will no doubt allow you many opportunities to learn. When you are in a hurry or impatient for some particular outcome, first observe the sensation in your body. Notice what this impatience feels like, where it shows up--for example, your jaw, neck, chest, or gut. Be present to the feeling. Slowly expand your awareness to include what your senses are taking in from the outside world--what you see, touch, smell, or taste. Be present to this moment. Let the reality of both your impatience and the outer reality be as they are, without your attachment to them. It is what it is. And all is grace.

My God give me the patience to practice patience.  Blessings 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sermon June 19, 2016 Fourth Sunday after Trinity

The Gospel certainly puts it on the line.  Jesus tells us in no uncertain term what we are required to do if we are going to be his disciples and follow him.  Now you might say, “I never signed up to be one of his disciples; I only want to be a Christian.”  Well, unfortunately or rather fortunately for us, it is the same thing.    If Jesus is the one who we claim as our saviour and redeemer; the one who died for our sins, then were are called to follow him and follow him teachings.  That is what a Christian promises to do.

So let’s look at what he is calling us to do and be.  It is quite a list that he lays out: be merciful to others, do not judge others, do not condemn others, forgive others, give to others.  There is more of course but let’s leave it at that—at least for this Sunday.
Jesus is asking a lot of us.  However, perhaps these things are within the realm of possibility.  Let’s look at them more closely as see what is really required. 

Be merciful.  Well that’s not too hard.  I think I can certainly show mercy to others.  I’m a good guy and I like to think that I show mercy when it is necessary.  In fact I give quite a bit of money to charity; I tithe-giving a tenth of my income—more or less.  Isn’t that showing mercy?     Well I’m afraid that doesn’t quite do it.  Do I really show mercy to someone who had wronged me?  If I have the chance to seek revenge—I hope not in really serious ways—do I do it?  A little righteous anger and just deserts is actually good for someone isn’t it.  After all it teaches them a lesson doesn’t it.  Well it may do that but it’s not mercy.

Do not judge others.  Well, that’s some order.  How can I encounter someone and not judge them?  After all, some people act in ways that I don’t approve of.  Realistically there are some people who act in bad ways, in despicable ways like that politician in the United Sates.  Does Jesus really expect me not to judge them?  So what if it say elsewhere ‘judge not lest you be judged’ it is inevitable that we will judge people—isn’t it?

Do not condemn others.  Well to be truthful there are lots of people that deserve condemnation.  It follows from judging those people who don’t meet my standards regarding the way I believe people should live.  They get judged by me and then I, at least figuratively condemn them to the outer darkness of people who are not worthy of my mercy or love.
Forgiveness; well that’s one I have a pretty good handle on.  I forgive people quite easily.  After all I want people to think well of me and probably wouldn’t if I carried a grudge.  But actually if I am honest I can say that I forgive someone but the things they have done to me still annoy and bug me and even make me angry a long time later.  I guess if I have that reaction I haven’t really forgiven them.

Give to others; well as I said already I do really well on that one anyway.  I give generously to charity—I tithe as we are told we should to be a good Christian.  Well, I must admit I give to selected ones.  I give to the deserving charities that help deserving people.  If I am asked on the street for a handout I immediately assess the person.  Is she really in need?    Is he trying to rip me off? Will he just go and spend the money I give him on cheap wine?  I really wish Jesus had said give to those who deserve it.  But he didn’t.

So Jesus does seem to be telling us to do things that are really hard.  It does put us in a bad position if we want to follow him doesn’t it?  Surely this passage must be taken out of context or perhaps it is a mistranslation or perhaps Jesus didn’t mean it the way we understand it.  After all he did say “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.  Anyway, he didn’t always practice what he is preaching here.  He did throw the money changers out of the temple.  He certainly judged the scribes and the Pharisees and others who were deserved to be judged.  So what can we make of this?
Perhaps he was saying that these are things we should strive to do and how we should attempt to be, knowing that we will not always or even often succeed?  But then he says a bit later, “everyone that is perfect shall be as his master.”  How can Jesus expect us do all these things that he commands and do them perfectly.  Perfection is certainly something that I know I will achieve.  I have tried to be realistic and to acknowledge to myself that I can never be.  Indeed, I don’t believe that Jesus intends us to be perfect—at least the way we understand it.   

There is a different way of looking at perfection than how we usually look at it.  We believe that to be perfect is to be without a flaw and to never make a mistake.  Augustine the great church father and saint stated, that not only that man is properly termed perfect and without blemish who is already perfect, but also he who strives unreservedly after perfection.  So we can be on the road to perfection.  We can be making an effort to be perfect.  This is helpful in others time that Jesus tells us this such as in Matthew chapter 5: 48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 
That may help but I know that I will never be perfect.  I also believe that it can be harmful for people to strive for perfection. It will often not allow them to acknowledge how they are and that we are all sinner who have been redeemed by Jesus.  If you try to be perfect you are going to fail but you will have even more trouble acknowledging those aspects of yourself that don’t live up to the standard of perfection.  

I noted that the word perfection may have a different meaning than we normally understand.  Another way of understanding the original meaning of what Jesus means by perfection is all-embracing.  This is used in a translation of Aramaic which was the native language of Jesus.    So the translation of Matthew would be “Be all-embracing, as your heavenly Father is all-embracing.” 
This understanding certainly puts Jesus’s commands into a different light.  If we are to embrace God’s world and the people in it with mercy, forgiveness and charity that is something which I can strive for.  It is something which I doubt I will completely succeed in doing.  But I can strive to do it and when I do not succeed I can repent and try again.  We have the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus Christ, thank God. 

I believe Jesus gives us the key to this approach in our passage.  He asks us, “And why beholdest thou the mote in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that in in thine own eye”? 

Let us look at those things in ourselves that are separating us from the love of God through Jesus Christ.  We are not going to be perfect but we can work at being all-embracing.  Thanks be to God . 

All Embracing Perfection

Yesterday’s Gospel reading for the 4th Sunday after Trinity was Luke 6: 36-41.  It contains the wonderful message of Jesus:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s* eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42Or how can you say to your neighbour,* “Friend,* let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s* eye.
In the Anglican churches in the neighbouring communities here in P.E.I. that Lorna and I attend they use the King James Version.  The KJV uses “mote” rather than “speck”.  As with much of the KJV language mote is more poetic but I must admit that the NRSV version of speck is more descriptive and makes the point more expressively.  It is hard to imagine a log or beam in your eye that you can’t see.  However, Jesus tells us that we can concentrate on the speck in another’s eye and ignore or be ignorant of the log in our own.
One of the points my sermon addresses is Jesus’s command to be perfect.  He states the Gospel passage, “everyone that is perfect shall be as his master.”  Jesus states this command more clearly in Matthew chapter 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  I have problems with the idea that we are called by Jesus to be perfect.  This, in my mind, is a barrier to the idea of seeing the log in your own eye rather than the speck in your neighbour’s eye. 

Jesus’s invocation about not seeing the log in your own eye and focussing on the log in another’s expresses a very important concept in modern psychological.  What Jesus is describing has been identified as projection. You see in others what is actually within you.  Often people will react strongly—actually overreact to another person or what that person does.  In doing so they are responding to something that is a characteristic that they are not conscious of within themselves which they do not find acceptable.  Carl Jung has named this as the Shadow archetype.

In effect the command by Jesus to be perfect will support the resistance that people have to acknowledging those parts of themselves which they consider do not measure up to their idea of what perfection is.  Therefore the Christian idea of perfection and the possibility of achieving that ideal can be a barrier to what is is proclaimed.

As I note in my sermon another way of understanding what Jesus desires for us is based on a different translation of the word ‘perfection’ in the Aramaic which is understood by scholars to be Jesus’s native language.  Neil Douglas-Klotz, in his book A Prayer for the Cosmos translates the word as “all embracing”.  This is an important understanding when considering the Shadow and projection.  If we do not accept i.e. embrace those parts of ourselves that we do not find acceptable we will never fully understand the person that God created us to be.  We will continue to see the speck in another person’s eye rather than the log in our own eye. 

The next time that you react overly strongly i.e. overreact to someone I invite you to consider that it may a part of yourself that you are actually reacting to.  The aphorism to ‘know thyself’ is not biblical but it is applicable and valuable.  Peace

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Sermon June 12, 2016 3rd after Trinity

When I read the Gospel appointed for today I immediately thought of the hymn ‘The Ninety and Nine were Safely Laid”.  When I looked for it in the hymn book I could not find it.  I thought that was quite strange because it was an old popular hymn in my childhood.  However, as I was raised in the United Church I thought it might have been a United Church hymn and not an Anglican one.   With a bit of perseverance the lost was found which is quite appropriate for the Gospel this morning.  It turned out I was looking for it with the wrong words.  I looked in the index under ‘The Ninety and Nine Were Safely Laid”.  Well I eventually discovered the correct first line, ‘There Were Ninety and Nine That Safely Lay’ and behold a miracle—well perhaps only a minor one—it is in the hymn book #764.

Another hymn which is also quite appropriate for today is ‘Seek and You Shall Find’.  That one was made popular by the Kingston Trio in the 1960’s.  It is based on Matthew 7 verse 7.  I didn’t expect to find it in the hymn book and I wasn’t surprised when it wasn’t—at least in my seeking.    So perhaps a lesson for us from this is you need to seek in the right place and in the right way.
If we take the example from the parable in the Gospel passage the seeking by the shepherd and the woman were both successful.  They first had to be aware that they were missing something.   The shepherd knew his flock and realized that one was missing.  Now for all of us who are not that familiar with sheep this seems to be something of a miracle.  After all sheep all look pretty much the same to me.  We can also assume that the shepherd, being uneducated in those days, did not know how to count. 

He (I don’t know if there were women shepherds in those days) must have known each member of his flock intimately as an individual.   Now the woman with the coin is a much more obvious situation to our minds.  We can’t be sure if the woman was well off.  She may have been poor—one commentary noted that the coins could have been her dowry.  She has ten pieces of silver which would be quite a bit of money in those days.  She would have valued each coin as being worth a lot.  It is understandable that she would realize when one of the coins was missing.  This would seem to be a more serious issue than with the shepherd who had 99 more sheep.  He had lost 1% of his wealth rather than 10% and presumably would have beee used to losing some sheep regularly to wolves and other predators.  And yet both searched for what was lost and their search was rewarded. 

What can these examples say to us today?  First we must know when something important is missing in our lives.  Just as the shepherd and the woman knew they missed something of importance, we have to know what is missing.  What is it that our lives are lacking?   It is very easy to live day to day and assume that everything is how it should be or at least that it is the only way it can be.  I believe that is one reason why people who were once regular church goers stop attending.  They get out of the habit and don’t realize what they are missing.  However, we can also come to church regularly and realize something is missing or perhaps feel that something is missing but not be aware what it is.  There can be people that we enjoy being with.  We can enjoy parts of the service—perhaps the music or the prayers or the parts of the liturgy.  However, we may feel that there is something missing but they can’t really put their finger on what it is.

Beyond church our lives may go on and we may have everything that should make them satisfied.  We have sufficient money like the woman in the Gospel.  We have a comfortable place to live. 
We can even have friends and acquaintances and activities to fill our days.  And yet; we know something is missing.  Unlike the shepherd and the woman with the coins we don’t know what it is that is missing. 

So what is the answer?  The key is to know—just as the shepherd and woman knew what they had.  The shepherd knew his flock and the woman knew the thing she possessed.  They knew what was valuable to them.  How, then do we then know what is of true value to us?  If we have never experienced it then it will be difficult.  So how then do we search for something when we don’t know what it is?  As I discovered in looking for the hymn you have to look in the right place and in the right way. 

I also reflected last week in an email that when I first truly experience the Anglican worship I discovered I had come home.  When I experienced it I knew it in my heart.  I had realized I was missing something in worship but didn’t really know what it was until I experienced it.  I believe that we all are seeking to find that sense of homecoming—of coming to that place where we are intended to be.  We all want to return to our home with the divine—with a relationship with God that we know in our hearts is our true home. We have glimpses and hints of what that can be in some things we experience in our lives.  We can have a hint of what that will be like in aspects of worship.  We can experience that when we have companionship and close friendship.   I believe the closest that most people get to what it will be like is when we fall in love. When we are in love we are living beyond ourselves; we are living totally for and with the other person.  We know in our hearts what that relationship we are seeking can be like. 

But it is truly seeing through a glass darkly as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”.

Once we know—at least have a glimpse—of what it is we are seeking then we can know where to look.  We will have the right name of what it is that we are trying to find in our lives.  We know that we are seeking our true home with our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ.  We can now seek to have a deeper relationship with God in all that God is and does.  This may mean seeking God through scripture and prayer and meditation.  It will, I hope, mean seeking it when we gather to worship in the name of Jesus Christ.  It can also be in serving others as Jesus showed us.  It can also mean being open to experiences of God that we find in the day to day aspects of life in all of God’s creation.  It does mean that we have to have all of ourselves open to God—with our minds and bodies and spirit.  If we are open to what is happening in life we will find the lost sheep or the lost coin and we will find our true home.  Seek and ye shall find; Knock and the door will be opened; Ask and it shall be given.  Amen

Where's Your Home 2

Last week I wrote about home and asked where your home is.  My sermon this week built on that theme.  The Gospel reading for the 3rd Sunday after Trinity has the Gospel reading from Luke 15 on the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep (note at churches here in P.E.I. we are following the Book of Common Praise and not the Revised Common Lectionary). 

In my sermon I propose that we are all searching for our true home which is reclaiming our relationship with God or as it is stated in the principles of A.A. a power greater than ourselves.  We often don’t know what it is that we are missing in our lives until we experience it or at least get a hint of what is possible.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known”. We are truly only glimpsing through a glass darkly what that relationship will be like. 

As I noted last week when I first truly experienced Anglican worship for the first time I knew I had come home.  There have been experiences of Anglican worship since then which haven’t always lived up to the promise of that first experience.  However, I know without a doubt that the Anglican Church is my religious home. 

What that first experience and subsequent ones have given me is a glimpse of what my faith enables me to know that ultimate relationship will be like.  In my book, The Ego and the Bible, I interpret the myth of the biblical creation story which as a mythopoeic effort to understand our separation from God.  We no longer walk with God in the cool of the evening.  We have been expelled from or as I like to say strongly encouraged by God to leave our earthly paradise.  We were in a preconscious state of union with God.  However, God gave us the gift of consciousness represented by the apple from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

The journey into consciousness and to wholeness one in which we travel towards that re-union with God which will, I believe, occur when our time on this earth has run its course.  In in meantime I hope that the glimpse through the glass that we each experience may become a little less dark.  Blessings.    

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Where’s Your Home

When I was studying theology at Huron University College I spent a few days one reading week at L’Arche Daybreak in Richmond Hill Ontario.  This was a great introduction to the L’Arche Communities.  L’Arche was founded by Jean Vanier, a Canadian, as a community for people who are developmentally challenged.  The first community was established in 1964 when Jean Vanier welcomed two men with disabilities into his home in the town of Trosly-Breuil, France.  Since then communities have been established in 147 communities in 35 countries, on all five continents.

When I arrived at L’Arche I was greeted by one of the residents with the question, “where’s your home”?  I was rather taken back by this as I was expecting the usual questions, “where do you live” or “where are you from”.  I later learned that the resident (unfortunately I have forgotten his name) asked this question of everyone he met.

On reflection I realized that this was a very insightful question and a very good way of getting to know someone.  Your home is very different from where you live.  Now it might be the same place but often it can enlist a very different answer.  There is the old saying, “home is where the heart is”.  This may be a bit of a cliché but I believe it gets at the essence of the difference.  You can actually live in many places in your life or the same place but you may never live in a place that is you home. 

Your home is not necessarily a place of residence. You can have a home in different aspects of your life.  I discovered my church home when I first worshiped at St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in London, Ontario.  I was searching for a new church home at that time.  I was raised in the United Church but in the early thirties I realized that it was not my religious home.  The experience of worshiping in an Anglican church resonated with me immediately and I knew without a second or even a first thought that this was my home.  I went on to have thoughts about it and analyzed why I felt that way.  However, it was an experience of the heart.

I am reflecting on where my home in this morning as we are now at our cottage in P.E.I.  This raises the question or me whether my home is here in P.E.I. or back in Parkhill Ontario.  I do feel at home in both places.  We attended the worship service at St. George’s Montague yesterday and it felt like a homecoming.  I am sure when we return to Parkhill and to St John’s by the Lake, Grand Bend that will feel like a homecoming as well.  My heart seems to be in both places.  I guess it is possible to have more than one home.  I believe and know that I will find my heavenly home when my time on this earth has run its course but until then it can be at home here and back in Ontario. 

So my question for you is, “where‘s your home”?  Blessings,