Friday, 15 September 2017

Who’s in and Who’s Out

King Lear Act 5 Scene 3: Lear to Cordelia

Who’s in and who’s outthat is the question (with apologies to Prince Hamlet).   That question has been resonating with me recently.   I have had three encounters with that question in the past couple of weeks.  The first, and most timely for today, was in an interview with American theologian and Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass on the CBC program Tapestry.  The subject of the talk was Religion and Spirituality.  Bass noted that she first truly realized why people were turning their backs on organized religion was on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 which fell on a Sunday.  She was hesitant to attend church as she was fearful it might turn into a celebration of nationalistic triumphalism.  She was assured by the priest that the service would have very quiet, reflective liturgy.  She decided to attend and was reassured when the liturgy was all the priest had promised and quite appropriate to the solemn occasion.  The preacher, who was not clergy, but rather someone, who had been working at the White House that day spoke in his sermon of the four thousand people who had lost their lives in the decade following that event.  She was at first incredulous and thought, it is fifty thousand; it is a hundred thousand!  Then she realized he was referring to the American lives lost in Iraq.  (Note: a Google search puts the actual count has the loss of life at of up to 190,000 people including 134,000 civilians).  Bass walked out of that service and when her husband texted her and asked if she was coming back to church, she replied, “I don’t know.”

Another example of who’s in and who’s out was in an article in the Globe and Mail on September 2nd which was entitled, Hell and High Water.  It was addressing the seeming resistance to actually preparing for the ever increasing ‘floods of the century’ which are occurring with increasing frequency.  The article noted the example of the Mississippi River’s Great Flood of 1927.  The article noted the official death toll was 246.  However, that was only the people that officially mattered.  It didn’t include the lives of African AmericansNegros as they would have been classifiedwhich brought the death toll to over one thousand.  Who’s in and who’d out; who’s counted and who doesn’t; who’s lives matter and who’s lives don’t.

The last example was inspired when I read the article and I recalled the passage in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children”.   Oh by the way there were women and children but we don’t need to mention how many.  That is a recurring situation in the bible where women are often not named e.g. the Syrophoenician woman or the woman at the well.  People in the bible are often not named in the bible even when they are central the story.  This is true for men as well as women e.g. the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal son.  However, perhaps we should be thankful for all the people who are named and bring life to the stories.

However, the question I place before you today is, when does a person count and when do they fade into the background of the story of our lives?  We have made progress in recent years to address this question.  The response of Black Lives Matter is addressing the frequent impunity with which the police treat people of colour non-people who don’t count.  This is not restricted to the United States. In Canada deaths by police action is much rarer, thank God.   However, we still have police insisting that ‘carding’ is necessary for them to do their job.  People carded just happen to be mostly non-whites.  In Canada we have the hopeful move of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reviewed the institutionalize mistreatment of aboriginal Canadians.  The institutions of the people who were ‘in’ treated aboriginal people as objects rather than as people.

Of course it is easy to sit back and point fingers and judge events and attitudes of actions of the past by today’s standards and values.  How do we examine culture, our governments, and our institutions including the churches, and above all ourselves, in how we view others?  Who do we hold as being in and who is out. Who counts and who doesn’t?   Some years ago I attended a conference on a group of mostly white men who were trying to deal with white middle class male privilege in ourselves and in our society.  Unfortunately the group tended to look mostly at society and not at ourselves.  The conference was attended by two Inuit men from northern Canada.  One of them noted that in their culture they believed that, “no one was bigger than anyone else.”   At resonated with me then and it still does. 

How do we treat no one as bigger than anyone else; everyone as the same importance as everyone else?  As a Christian, how do I treat each person as a child of God?  How do I relate to each person as someone who is “in” and not as someone who is “out”?  If I do not I truly am in the prison that Lear and Cordelia are going tohowever they are aware of their prison walls unlike the rest of us.   I know I am going to fail; in a state if sin; I am going to miss the mark.  Fortunately I am offered forgiveness and can start again.  That is the mystery of things indeed. 


Thank be to God. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sermon August 27, 2017 11th Sunday after Trinity

My sermon today is based on something I don’t normally do.  Now don’t get nervous and worry I am going to preach on some heresy or far out idea.  No, rather than base my sermon on the scripture passage – either the Gospel or the epistle, I want to explore the collect.  I will read it again to bring it once more to your attention:
O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There is much packed into a relatively short prayer.  We have concepts of grace, mercy and heavenly treasures, not to mention the commandments.  So, there is much to unpack.  Let’s begin by looking at grace and mercy.  What actually is grace and what is mercy?

One simple way of looking at them is that grace is receiving what we do not deserve.  Mercy is, you could say the opposite, not receiving what we deserve.  When I think of grace I think of the opening of the service of Holy Eucharist; the Gathering of the Community in the Book of Alternative Services; “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all”. The response is, “And also with you”.  Let’s try it…

The grace is the Grace of the Lord.  It does not say that if you have been good Christians and done certain things you have the right to wish for God’s Grace on the gathered community.  God’s Grace is offered to each of us; it is offered freely and without condition.  Think of that; we do not need to earn it or be someone we are not; it is there for the taking.  However, that is the rub.  We must be willing to receive it.  We must be open to it and not throw up barriers to that Grace working in us and in the world.  So how do we do that?  Well I did touch on that last Sunday.  We need to be open to God’s gifts in the Holy Spirit.  We can certainly not receive the Grace if we do not pay attention to what God is offering us.  We need to learn and practice understanding God’s Forgotten Language in the Gifts of God.  That is another part of the B.A.S. which I appreciate.  At the Eucharistic prayer after the concretion the bread and wine, now the body and blood are presented to the congregation as, “The gifts of God for the people of God”.  The response is, “Thanks be to God”.  That is the proper response to all of God’s giftsthanks. 

It is important to understand in our hearts as well as our minds that these gifts are freely offered and given to us.  We do not need to earn them or do the right thing; isn’t that wonderful.  Think about it for a moment…We do not need to earn it.  We are the people of God as so it is offered to us without precondition.

However, that does not give us a free pass.  The Grace of God is freely offered.  However, it doesn’t mean that we have no part in it.  This is where God’s mercy comes in.  I noted that we are to receive Grace there are no preconditions, however, we have to be open to it.  I’m sure it is not a surprize to you that we are not always open to it. 

We live lives that are often not in relationship with God.  We do not live the lives that God intends us to live.  This is where the commandments come in.  Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength; the second it like it, to love our neighbours as ourselves.  Well, I certainly struggle to do that one.  I am taking a wild guess but probably you do as well. 

This is where we give thanks to God that we have the mercy of God.  We do not receive what we deserve.  If we were to be judge on our actions and even our thoughts there would be no hope for us.  However, we do have the mercy of God.  God’s mercy is also freely given.  It is given to us in the forgiveness which was offered to us in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross when he forgave those who had murdered him.  We have the mercy that is offered to us in the confession and absolution in both our prayer book and the B.A.S.  We confess that we have not lived as God has intended us to live.  We are in a state of sin.  We ask for God’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness is granted to us in the absolution.  Again this is freely offered to usit is ours for the asking.
 
There is another part of the B.A.S. which I find helpful.  The baptismal covenant asks all present, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord”?  Note it states when and not if for being imperfect we will fall again into sin.  However, we will again be offered forgiveness.  The answer is, “I will, with God’s help”.  It could state, I will with God’s Grace. 


In the collect we ask to partake in God’s heavenly treasures.  That is what we are offered through God’s Grace and Mercy.  Let us be open to receive them.  Amen.    

Grace and Mercy

Sunday I was doing something I usually don’t do; nothing radical or heretical.  Rather than preaching on the epistle or Gospel appointed for the day, I based my sermon on the collect. We were celebrating the 11th Sunday after Trinity and the collect for the day addressed the themes of grace and mercy.  I believe that these concepts are important so I want to reiterate and expand a bit on my sermon.  Not because anything I said is radical or new but grace and mercy is key to our relationship with God and each other.  For those of you who do not follow the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, here is the collect:
O God, who declarest thy almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandments, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 As I noted in my sermon there is much to unpack in that short prayer.  First, let’s look at what grace and mercy mean.  One simple way of looking at them is that grace is receiving what we do not deserve.  Mercy is, you could say the opposite, not receiving what we deserve.   This is not original to me, I heard it some years ago and I’m sure it has been around longer than that. 

That needs some clarification.  When I say “deserve”, I mean they are not something which we earn or is based on our efforts or actions either good or bad.  Grace and mercy are offered to us by God unconditionally because we are God’s children and they are expressions of God’s love for us.  Growing up in the fifties and sixties there was a lot in the ether and culture about unconditional love.  It was something that everyone was supposed to desire in their heart of hearts.  It, unfortunately, became something of a cliché in part because I believe people realized it seemed to be impossible.  It is unfortunate because I believe it is true.  We do desire it; we want to be accepted and loved for who we truly are and not on the basis of having to earn it.

It is indeed hard to truly believe in our heart of hearts—or I could say souls—that we can be loved unconditionally.  Our experience does not generally support this idea.  We believe that we need to earn the love of others.  As I write this a song came up on the media player on my computer (which is set on shuffle).  The song is “Outrageous” by Paul Simon.  The chorus is, “who’s going to love you when your looks are gone”?   After that chorus is repeated a number of times the answer is, “God will”; thank you Paul and thank you synchronicity.  That is exactly the message and meaning of grace and mercy.  God does love us unconditionally no matter if our looks are gone or what kind of a life we live. 

That does not mean we have a free pass.  It does not mean that it doesn’t matter to God what kind of a life we live.  Grace and mercy are freely offered but it is up to us to accept them.  We need to be in relationship with God.  Often our lives can be out of relationship with God.  The grace of God is freely offered.  This is the love of God.  There are many things in our lives which prevent us from being open to the love of God and sharing it with others; past experience of being hurt by others and receiving conditional love to name a two.  We learn to put up walls to protect ourselves and those walls can seem to be almost impenetrable.   
That is where God’s mercy comes in (thank God).  God' mercy is also offered unconditionally as it is also God’s love in action.  When we are not in relationship with God we are in a state of sin.  However, God’s mercy offers us forgiveness.  We can come to God and seek to re-establish our relationship with God; it is two sided—God and each of us.  We have the assurance of God’s forgiveness when we do that.  As I noted in the sermon, we have the mercy that is offered to us in the confession and absolution in both the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services.  We confess that we have not lived as God has intended us to live.  We are in a state of sin.  We ask for God’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness is granted to us in the absolution.  Again this is freely offered to us—it is ours for the asking. 

If we were to truly believe in our hearts and souls that we are unconditionally loved by God think how different our lives and the world would be.  It is hard to imagine but it is worthwhile imagining it.  That is the first step to living it.  I will close with a quote from Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediation (more synchronicity) for today which speaks of the mystery of forgiveness and the possibility of an infinite ocean of grace: 
The Spirit within us creates an unrelenting desire toward forgiveness and reconciliation. The entire Gospel reveals the unfolding mystery of forgiveness; it is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the Gospel’s transformative message. The energy of being forgiven—in our unworthiness of it—first breaks us out of our merit-badge mentality. The ongoing experience of being forgiven (when we don’t even think we need it) is necessary to renew our flagging spirit and keep us in the infinite ocean of grace. Toward the end of life a universal forgiveness of everything for being what it is becomes the only way we can see and understand reality and finally live at peace. 

Blessings and love on your journey.
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11
Which Spiritual Gift have you been given?  We are told in the Epistle today that there are diversities of Spiritual gifts which are given to every manand I would add every woman in today’s inclusive language. 

We are also told the form in which these gifts can take:  the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues.  That is quite a list.  Do any of them resonate with you?  Surly you have one of them.  After all the scripture does say the Spirit is given to everyone.  You may be saying to yourself, well I certainly don’t think I have received any of those gifts despite what the scripture says. 

Here is what I believe.  I believe that each of us is given the gifts of the Spirit.  However, we have not been taught how to recognize them.  Let me tell you a secret.  I believe that we are given gifts of the Spirit every night.  We are given the gifts in our dreams.  You might say that I don’t dream.  Well, what if I told you that science has confirmed that we all dream every night and if we don’t dream, due to disruption of sleep patterns, for a while we will become mentally disturbed.   You could reply, well I don’t dream very often and anyway when I do, I they don’t seem to be about anything that makes sense.

That is true for many people but the problem is that our culture have for a long time not believed that dreams are important or meaningful and we have believed what our culture has taught us.  Here’s the thing, we often do not remember our dream because we do not believe they are important.  When we start to pay attention to them you will be surprized that you will remember many more of them.  And when we ever work with them by writing them down and considering them we remember even more. 

I believe that dreams are God’s forgotten language.  We have consequently never learned the language of dreams.  Dreams will usually occur in the native language of the dreamerEnglish for us.  Not always as in the case of King Nebuchadnezzar.  You may remember the story in the bible where he had a dream of a hand writing a message on the wall in the plaster; mene, mene, tekel, parsin.  Daniel was able to interpret the meaning for himhe translated the language of the dream:
Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

With a few exceptions, dreams are usually in the language of the dreamer. However, that doesn’t mean that we will naturally understand them any more than King Nebuchadnezzar.  We need to learn how to interpret and understand what the message is in the dream.  Dreams speak to us in the language of symbols and we need to learn how to discern the meaning of symbols which is often not easy. 

Dreams can tell us if our lives are on the path that God intends for us or if we have gone astray.  In the same way I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways.  I work as a Spiritual Director primarily with theological students at Huron University College back in Ontario in London.  My goal with my directees is to help them identify how God is working in their lives—speaking to them. 

Here are a few other examples of how God speaks to us.   One way is through what we are naturally drawn to, for instance are there ways in which you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?  It may be when you are in nature, I must admit that is not a big one with me but I know many people that feel that connection.

God speaks to us in prayer.  I find it works better if it is a two way conversation and not just talking to God; although that can also be effective. 
One way that I’m sure all of you are aware of is through scripture.  The regular reading of the bible is a way many people connect with how God is speaking to them.  There are ways in which it can be even more meaningful.  Reading a passage out loud is more effective that reading it silently.  Also there are methods such as Lectio Divina (which is just a fancy of saying Holy Reading) which help us to find the meaning for us in our lives at the present moment.
I believe that we have generally forgotten how to understand the Language of God.  We need to learn and relearn how to listen to those many different ways and to learn how to understand them as we would a foreign language. 

I invite you to pay attention to where you find God connecting with you.  The most important first step is to be open to the possibility of God in any and all aspects of your life.  St. Paul tells us that the manifestations of the Spirit are given to all of us.  Try it out and see what happens.

I will close with the prayer that I use at the beginning of my Spiritual Direction sessions.  Let us pray:
Bless this time, in the name of the Three who are over us.
Bless this time, in the name of the One who guides us.
Open our eyes to see how our lives
Can reflect something of You.
Aid us in understanding Your will
With our hearts as well as our minds
Give us the wisdom to discern Your intention for us;
The strength to follow the path You prepare for us;
And Your comfort on the journey You offer to us.

Amen  

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Discerning the Work of the Holy Spirit

Yesterday I preached on spiritual gifts based on the Epistle reading of 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.  A copy of my sermon posted as usual.  St. Paul declares to the church in Corinth that everyone has spiritual gifts.  The question I posed to my captive audience (actually the two congregations) is what spiritual gift they have received. 

I believe that Paul was correct (no surprize) and each of us is given spiritual gifts.  He lists a variety of gifts that are possible;
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
However, we often do not recognize them as gifts in ourselves and others.  I believe we have problems with recognizing them because we do not recognize them as spiritual gifts and perhaps if we do, we do not know what to do with them.  I would add that there are other gifts not listed by Paul—he didn’t say the list was comprehensive.  One I find particularly helpful is the gift of dreams.  The challenge we have with all these gifts is to learn the language of the gifts; they are God’s Forgotten Language.  We need to learn the language that God is speaking to us in these gifts.

These spiritual gifts are by definition the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  However, one of the challenges with such gifts is to know when it is actually the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and not other forces whatever they may be.  They can be the power of suggestion or emotions which can overwhelm us or other forces, some of which can be negative and led us astray.  Just because it ‘feels’ right doesn’t mean it is the right path to follow.  The question is, then how do we know if it is the Holy Spirit working in our lives?
As Paul notes in his letter, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  So that is a primary key to knowing if it is the Holy Spirit; it needs to be ultimately for our good and the common good.  However, it is still often hard to know if a particular action is for the common good.  The religious authorities who wanted Jesus done away with certainly believed they were doing the right thing, “You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” 

What we ultimately must turn to is the another gift; the gift of discernment.  Before we rush to embrace something we believe we are being directed or encourage to do by a divine source of any kind, we need to stop and consider carefully what the consequences are.  It is helpful in this process to have some guidelines which we aid us in discernment.  Some work has been done in this area in understanding dreams.  There can be many messages we receive in our dreams.  However, the language of dreams is in symbols which can often be challenging to understand.  Below are some guidelines which have been developed for working with dreams.  They can be helpful in discerning is what you believe is the Spirit actually for your good and the common good:
How are we to be sure that we know what God is telling us in our dreams?  The following questions can provide guidance in discerning if our dreams are guiding us to follow the will of God[1].
·         Is the course of action legal?
·         Is it in any way harmful?
·         How will it affect those I love?
·         Can I live with the repercussions?
·         Is the action impulsive?
·         Is the message persistent, presenting itself in other aspects of life?
·         Will the action lead me closer to God?
·         Will the action benefit others?
·         Will this make me a better person?
·         What does my spiritual tradition say about this?

Anglicans do have the three pillars of our faith to guide us which points us in the same direction on our journey; scripture, tradition, and reason.  I hope and pray that we all will be guided by the Holy Spirit on our journey.  Blessings,
Greg



[1] Svob, Connie Dreaming for Christians in ‘The Rose’ Summer Fall 2006

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Sermon: August 13, 2017 9th Sunday after Trinity

Luke 16: 1-13

The Gospel passage for today has probably given preachers headaches since people have been delivering sermons.  It certainly is not one of the more straight forward Gospel passages – like the lesson of the lost coin and the lost sheep.  That is a parable that makes sense and all the preacher has to do is make it come alive and meaningful for the congregation. Those who hear the sermon only need to be given a perspective on the lesson which will be meaningful for them.  Of course I shouldn’t say ‘only’ because that is not such an easy thing.  However it is a lot easier that finding meaning in today’s Gospel lesson that makes sense. 

Here we have what seems to be a lesson that teaches that it is all right — actually commendable to cheat.  It is entitled in some versions of the bible “The Parable of the Dishonest Manager” which is quite apropos.  The manager, on finding out that he is being dismissed, decides to swindle his master and colludes with some clients — who have accounts payable to the master’s business — to discount their bills and have them pay less than the master is owed.  We are told his motive for doing this, “I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses”.  He wants those people — the co-conspirators — to be in his debt so he can call on them for help his after he is shown the door.  Seems like a good plan on his part and pretty straight forward; probably not that unusual even today. 

However the surprize — the twist — comes next.  Rather than calling the police and having the dishonest manager thrown in jail and perhaps suing his co-conspirators — the master commends him, “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” 
Not only that but the narrative changes and we have Jesus seeming to agree with the Master, “for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.”  Rather a shocking statement from Jesus. 

Does this mean that everyone is free to swindle and steal from their employers because money is after all the root of all evil so there is no sense in trying to be honest about something that is evil – just go out and be shrewd and get whatever you can? 

However, there are a couple of parts of the statement that can put a different light on this.  First we are told that the Children of Light are not as shrewd as the children of this age.   What Jesus is saying here is that the Children of Light i.e. Christians are not intended to place our priority into worldly things.  Our focus and goal in life is not to be on the financial and the material success of this world.  We are to put our focus on following Jesus, in loving one another as Jesus loves us. 

Jesus also tells us to look to the worldly as examples:
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.  If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?
Jesus is telling us that the worldly are exemplary in the devotion they give to worldly things.  They focus their energy on being successful in making money and accumulating possessions.  They do it well; as we should - only giving our devotion to God and not mammon.

The punch line of the lesson really says it all and brings it into focus.  Who are we going to serve, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon”.  Are we going to be like the children of this age and serve mammon—make money and material possessions our god —or are we going to be children of light and follow Jesus? 
As I addressed in last Sunday’s sermon, which wolf of our nature will we feed; the good one or the evil one?  This question is based on a Legend of the Cherokee people; in effect, we have two wolves inside us; a good one and an evil one.  The question posed is which wolf will win?  The answer is the one we feed. 
Which master, God or mammon, will you follow – which wolf will you feed? 

Amen 

The Meaning of the Cross

This week I want to continue my exploration/musings on theological issues.  I know it is the dog days of summer and my mind should be on a murder mystery or other cottage reading rather than a theological mystery.  However, that seems to be where I am there days.  Perhaps it is because I am writing a sermon regularly as I help out in the parish here.

In any case rather than a murder mystery by Sue Grafton or Agatha Christie, I would like to explore the ultimate murder mystery of the cross i.e. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  One of the principle ways of understanding this event is “substitutionary atonement” i.e. Jesus died for our sins.  In effect, God required ‘His’ only begotten son to be sacrificed on the cross as a way of redemption for humankind.  God’s greatest creation, made in ‘His’ own image could only be redeemed by sacrificing ‘His’ son in the most horrible way imaginable. 

This has not been the only way of understanding the events of Good Friday as noted by Richard Rohr recently drawing on Marcus Borg:

Theologian Marcus Borg (1942-2015) points out that the substitutionary understanding of Jesus’ death “was not central in the first thousand years of Christianity.”  Borg explains:
[The] first systematic articulation of the cross as “payment for sin” happened just over nine hundred years ago in 1098 in St. Anselm’s treatise Cur Deus Homo? [Why Did God Become Human?] Anselm’s purpose was to provide a rational argument for the necessity of the incarnation and death of Jesus.
Unfortunately, this became the primary lens through which the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament were read. The substitutionary atonement “theory” (and that’s all it is) implies that the Eternal Christ’s epiphany in Jesus is a mere afterthought when the first plan did not work out.
The “substitutionary atonement” understudying of the cross is not one that I can accept.  It makes no sense on so many different levels and one I cannot resolve with my belief in a Loving God.  I must concede that I have no assurance that my particular belief is the absolute truth any more that we can know that the “substitutionary atonement” theory is correct.  It is one in which makes sense within my overall understanding of God and my relationship to God, who in case you didn’t pick up on the earlier hints I do not understand to be solely a masculine father figure. 
So I’m sure you are now eager to know what my understanding of the crucifixion is.  First, I believe that it was a willing sacrifice by Jesus as shown in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Jesus did ask his Heavenly Father (which admittedly the way he primarily thought of God) to remove this cup from him.  However, that was not a question of God demanding the sacrifice.  Jesus throughout his life became aware of who he was created by God to be.  He was for us a model of a person, indeed the Third Person of the Trinity, who showed us what it means to live fully and completely the life he was created to live. 
For Jesus to fully realize who he was and is i.e. the person he was created to be meant that he would inevitably be murdered by the authorities of this world.  To be true to who he was meant that he could not do anything else.  As he told his disciples he must go to Jerusalem that knowing that meant he would be executed by the Roman authorities with the collusion of the religions authorities.  He did this willingly knowing he could do nothing else if he was to be true to who he was—the unique person fully human and fully divine. 
That is my challenge and calling i.e. to discover and be as fully as possible the person God created me to be.  That is something I know I will never fully succeed in doing or being but it is my lifelong quest of my journey; Blessings on your journey.




Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Sermon August 6, 2017 8th after Trinity

One evening a wise old grandfather told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, "My son, the battle is between two "wolves" inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: "Which wolf wins?"
The wise grandfather simply replied, "The one you feed."
From this old story, which comes from the Cherokee people, the evil wolf can appear in sheep’s clothing. There are at least two aspects of ourselves which can seem to be a war within us.  We have devices and desires which encourage us to go places that we know we should not go and do things that we should not do.  St. Paul was very aware of this battle.  He complains to God in a prayer of desperation, which is unusual for him, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”. 
The collect for today sums it up:
O God, whose never-failing providence ordereth all things both in heaven and earth; We humbly beseech thee to put away from us all hurtful things, and to give us those things which be profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Do we always know what is profitable for us today?  Do we always know which wolf we are feeding?  I don’t think it is.  Perhaps it has never been as two thousand years ago St. Paul was struggling with this challenge.  I don’t know the origin of the Cherokee Legend but it legends are usually ancient.
But what of profit; is it always a good thing?  Today the world certainly looks at profit as a good thing.  A company which has its bottom line in the black is looked on as a good investment.  However, making a profit can be good whether it is personal or corporate or for government.  Profit is considered to be an admirable thing.  However, it depends on what you do to make that profit.  We can live lives that are profitable when we look at the bottom line of our bank accounts, but how we are spending our resources. 

Which wolf will we feed?

The quest for corporate profits can be ruthless when it seeks to put share value and the bottom line over proper treatment of workers.  It can seek to break unions and seek the lowest wage jurisdiction without regard for what happens to workers.  It can encourage corporate managers to line their own pockets with stock options rather than the long term health of the company. 

Which wolf will we feed?

The same can be true for us as individuals.  How are we giving back from our bounty?  For many years I have been a follower of a column in the Saturday Globe and Mail; the Financial Facelift.  This column takes a look people’s financial situation—there assets and liabilities and how they spend their money and recommend what changes they should make to reach their goals—often it is having a secure retirement or owning a house or enough money to live comfortably.  There is nothing wrong with that.  However, I have been saddened by the small amount that people often give to charity in their spending.  These are usually people who are relatively well off—comfortably middle class.  Sometimes they are in poor financial shape—usually because their spending is in excess of their income—sometimes radically.  However, their spending often doesn’t include much in charitable donations.   There was one column recently that illustrates this.  A letter to the editor commented on it which I will quote from:
Last Saturday’s couple in their 50’s with total assets of $2.5 million took the prize for self-indulgence.  Buried among the expenditures of a net monthly income $13,975 were vacation spending ($500), discretionary ($1,131), dining, drinks and entertainment ($775) and charity ($10).  What? Did they buy some Girl Guide cookies?
Which wolf will we feed?

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Jesus lays it on the line for us.  We can have a debt free financial bottom line.  We can spend our money on vacations and cottages and all sorts of luxury items.  Can we gain our worldly security and lose our souls?  
That is true for us and it is true for individuals and our corporations and our governments.  How are those who are on the fringes of society treated by our governments who represent us?  How are treated by us personally?  How much support do out governments give to refugees and aid to third world countries? 

Which wolf will we feed?

Jesus tells us, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  Are our lives going to produce good fruit or will it produce grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?  A good tree bringeth forth good fruit and a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. 

Which wolf will we feed?

We do have two wolves within us; an evil one and a good one—an evil tree and a good tree.  It is not always easy to recognize which is which.  And when we do recognize it, it is often not easy to feed the good one as St. Paul tells us. 
All we can do is to make the effort to recognize which is which.  When we do recognize it we can strive to feed the right one.  When we fail, when we fall into sin as we inevitably will, we can repent and turn around.  We have the assurance of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. 

Let us feed the wolf of our better nature.  Amen.


Free Will or Not Free Will; That is the Question part 2

Last week I went where perhaps fools rush in and began to delve into the question of free will.  I want to continue to explore that further this week.
As I noted last week the mathematics which is used to develop Quantum Mechanics apparently leaves no room for free will.  All in the universe is apparently predetermined if you have all the variables.  At least that is my understanding of what the theoretical physicists are saying.  However, the physicists whom I quoted last week, Leonard Mlodinow, did concede that that the universe and human beings are so complex that in effect it appears to us that we do have free will.
The other factor conceded, if not believed by physicists, is that the math does not account for an intervention from God or a god-like force interceding from outside of the structure of the universe.  However, as Mlodinow states:
If you believe that there are no exceptions, whether they be big miracles or minor deviations from the laws of physics, whether you look at the quantum laws that are fundamental or Newton’s laws, whichever laws you look at, neither set of laws has room for deviations or choice — let’s say, conscious choice. So if you believe that the brain follows those laws, as everything in the laboratory that we’ve ever looked at does, then it’s not a question for scientists.
So the question is directly in the court of those who believe in a higher power.  If God has given us free, will which I believe God has, what does that mean for us as Christians and other believers in a higher power? 
As I addressed in this Sunday’s sermon (attached), which wolf of our nature will we feed; the good one or the evil one?  This question is based on a Legend of the Cherokee people which is provided at the beginning of my sermon.  In effect, we have two wolves inside us; a good one and an evil one.  The question posed is which wolf will win?  The answer is the one we feed. 
Even if we do know which is which we do not always choose good one as St. Paul notes, I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”.  If, St. Paul is correct, and I believe anyone who has any level of self-awareness will agree, do we then have free will?  The reality is that we have less free will that we like to admit or even than we realize.
There are forces within us, symbolized by those two wolves, that seem to be at war and that at least influence if not control our decisions and our actions.  Carl Jung was the great explorer of these forces and developed/discovered the concept of archetypes which are the way that the energy within us is organized and operates to influence us.  These are unconscious forces we usually are not even aware which are influencing/controlling us; ergo the cry of St. Paul. 
The great gift of Carl Jung was to not only present a psychology which explains a great deal of how we have been created but to understand it in terms of how we can develop and mature into the people that God intends us to be.  Jung called it individuation. 
The challenge for me as a Christian is to become the person that God intended me to be when God created me.  There are many aspects of myself which I do not hold to be admirable and which I struggle to acknowledge; the evil wolf in the legend.  Jung has named these forces The Shadow.  However, these are a part of who I am and unless I acknowledge them and learn how to relate to them, they will prevent my better wolf from being fed. 

Let us feed the wolf of our better nature.  Blessings on your journey,

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Free Will or Not Free Will; That is the Question

Last night Lorna and I were returning from a concert at St. George’s Anglican Church in Montague.  It was a wonderful concert by Coro Dulce (Sweet Singing), a choir from Charlottetown.  They lived up to their name with a very interesting program to celebrate Canada 150 with music that was written in or around 1867.  It included, among other things, Joy to the World and The Canticle de Jean Racine (which is one of my all-time favourite choral piece). 
In any case, we were driving home along hwy 310 to our cottage and came to a construction traffic light which had been set up as one lane was closed.  We sat there at the red light.  First, I pondered why in the six or seven times we had encountered this light it had always been red?  But more to the point this morning as we sat there with the light red in both directions and a car stopped on the other side.  There was the delay to clear the construction area.  I asked myself  why I didn’t just drive ahead and I knew it would be perfectly safe.  Of course, I decided it was because I was Canadian and usually obeyed things like traffic signals believing in peace, order and good government as opposed to, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  However, I wondered if I truly had free will why I didn’t decide to drive on and ignore the red light?
I had been thinking about free will recently after listening to interviews with a couple of physicists who revealed that according the mathematics of Quantum Physics there is no room for free will.  They maintain that this proves that free will does not exist.  I am still having trouble following the intricacies of the math involved being anything but a mathematician.  However, the bottom line is that mathematics used in quantum physics predicts things such as string theory and dark matter which are beginning to be verified.  It also has no room in the equations for free will.  All is determined/predetermined by the forces of the universe.   
One of the physicists being interviewed, Leonard Mlodinow,  did concede that the universe and human beings are so complex that in effect it appears to us that we do have free will:
DR. MLODINOW: And the idea that we have no free will is an interesting philosophical question. In reality, we do have free will. Because in reality, a system as complex as the brain with 100 billion neurons, and I think 1,000 to 10,000 connections between each of them on average, is so complex that, not only could one say that one can’t, in principle, model it or predict exactly what it’s going to do next, but almost in principle you can’t. Because in very complex systems, small changes in the state of the system produce large changes in the output. That’s called chaos. But that’s typical of very complicated, non-linear systems.
So, in effect, it may seem to us that we have free will but it is only because of our limited perspective.  Of course, I think that Dr. Mlodinow, if he conceded that there was a God, would agree that God with unlimited perspective would be able to calculate everything that is at work behind the universe of God’s creation; ergo no free will.  Of course the scientific belief is that humans will able to figure everything out eventually.
If the mathematics of Quantum Physics is correct and we do not have free will what does it mean for human beings?  All would be determined/predetermined and there would be no point in anything and everything from prayer to following the commandment of Jesus that we love one another as he loves us.  Or would there?  The humanists would certainly say there is because if we lead an ethical life it will be a better world and they believe that people do not need God to threaten or bribe us into living in ways that follow the golden rule which does not depend on the existence of a higher power. 
Dr. Mlodinow does leave room for miracles or at least the effect of exceptions to the rules of nature in which case the laws of physics by definition do not apply:
If you believe that there are no exceptions, whether they be big miracles or minor deviations from the laws of physics, whether you look at the quantum laws that are fundamental or Newton’s laws, whichever laws you look at, neither set of laws has room for deviations or choice — let’s say, conscious choice. So if you believe that the brain follows those laws, as everything in the laboratory that we’ve ever looked at does, then it’s not a question for scientists.
Is it all then a matter of faith?  There is nothing wrong with that.  Faith is after all “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  That is certainly true.  However, I also like to look for assurance for my faith in God and all that flows from God, including free will, in places that physics does not look or at least identify as God at work in the world of God’s creation. 
I have probably raised more questions than I attempted to answer.  There is much more I would like to explore about this but I will leave the discussion for this week with one more point; can the universe that is so complex that merely one part, the human brain with 100 billion neurons and 1,000 to 10,000 connections between each, not have been created.  If it has been created; by Whom? 
Blessings on your journey whether or not you have decided freely which road to take. 

Greg

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Sermon July 23, 2017 6th Sunday after Trinity

Being baptized in to death is not a very appealing idea.  I don’t know about you but the idea of dying is not something I embrace and welcome.

We do not normally embrace death.  Indeed, I was listening to a program on CBC radio this week an episode of Ideas, that wonderful program that explores exactly as it is named ideas for our world today.  This episode was an interview with Yuval Harari.  He is an historian who speculates about where humankind is heading.  A lot of his speculation is hopeful but a lot of it is troubling.
Harari proposes that the next great technological breakthrough is going to be the development of immortalityor at least the quest for it.  He proposes that no one would want to have a pill that would guarantee you a life span of a million years.  However, he says that everyone (he does qualify by saying almost everyone) would agree to living ten years longer in good health.  Harari proposes that technological breakthroughs will offer extended life and extended mental capacity to people.  However, as with all technology it will be at a priceone that is going to be very expensive.  What will then develop is a Brave New World with biologically separated classesa cast system which will be based on biological inequality.

This is a very frightening possibility.  But if you look at the premise, who wouldn’t want to extend their lives by ten years of good health,  Then when the ten years is over you can be offered another ten years and so on and so one – ad infinitum.  It would be a renewable contract.  I certainly would like a longer life in good health.  But opening that Pandora’s Box of eternal life is another matter entirely.  I don’t know how many times I would want to renew that contract.

What would it mean if we did not have the reality of our mortality informing our lives?  We would certainly be tempted to believe that we were like God’s and live our lives accordingly.  Out mythological first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden as God feared they would eat of the tree of life and become gods.  The danger of that temptation has been a reality since we began to walk this earth. 

How, then, does this relate to being baptized into death to being buried with Jesus by baptism into death?  It is exactly this desire to be immortal that the story of the Garden of Eden was warning against.  When we are baptized into death with Christ it is exactly what we are dying to.  We are dying to the old life in which we can have the temptation that we can be like god and have life eternal and all the power that goes with it.

When we are baptised we die to the old life of desiring to be in control of our live and trying to maintain that control of ourselves and our world.  Jesus came into the world to show us that this way of being was wrong.  The old way of being was a way that wanted to control our lives to the extent that we try to ensure that God would give us what we want.  The old way of the covenant was to live in a way that God would give us what we want.  The Israelites believed that if they lived according to the commandments not just ten but all 900 or so of them—God would grant them a favoured existence.  In effect, God would give them what they wanted.  God sent his son into the world to show us that there is another way. 

It is a way that is based on love.  He tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and mind and soul and mind and strength; and to love your neighbour—including your enemies—as yourself.

He also came to give us the grace of forgiveness.  When we do not follow this commandment—when we do not try or when we try and do not succeed—we will be forgiven and we are given the opportunity to try again.  That is the new life that we are born to when we rise out of the waters of baptism.

How then are we to live in a life of love; loving God and loving our neighbours?  Well the Gospel hymn gives us a pretty sound picture of what it would look like. 

O Master, let me walk with thee
in lowly paths of service free;
tell me thy secret; help me bear
the strain of toil, the fret of care.

Help me the slow of heart to move
by some clear, winning word of love;
teach me the wayward feet to stay,
and guide them in the homeward way.

Teach me thy patience; still with thee
in closer, dearer company,
in work that keeps faith sweet and strong,
in trust that triumphs over wrong;

In hope that sends a shining ray
far down the future's broadening way,
in peace that only thou canst give,
with thee, O Master, let me live. Amen