Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Sermon June 25, 2017 2nd Sunday after Trinity

I am sure we have all heard this parable of Jesus many times in our lives.  Indeed the Medical Mission Sisters made it quite well known with their popular hit in the 1970’s.  Regular, life-long churchgoers have heard it many times proclaimed and many sermons preached on it.  What then can we gain from hearing it one more time?  Is there anything that we haven’t considered before in this lesson by Jesus, the great teacher?

The thing that struck me when I read it this time was not the missed opportunity by those who were invited to the banquet.  Here they have a chance to attend a wonderful banquet.  Of course we think of this as the heavenly banquet which is offered to each of us by Jesus Christ.  I’m not positive but that is probably often the focus of sermons preached on this parable. 
I want to propose another way of considering the parable.  Let us look at the ones who received the invitation when the friends and neighbours excused themselves from the opportunity to attend.

The host was not dismayed or swayed from his purpose when everyone excused themselves.  No, he decided he would invite those not normally included in a great banquet by a wealthy person in Jesus time; the poor, he maimed, the halt, and the blind.  Indeed it is no different in our day—I cannot see Donald Trump or one of Irving’s or McCain’s or anyone of their ilk inviting people like that to one of their banquets.  Of course it is easy to point the finger at them but when was the last time any of us did that?  I can say that I have never done it—not that I have banquets, but I don’t invite them to dinner. 

Lorna and I have helped out at community dinners at our former parish in London but never have we held a banquet or party for the local people on the edges of society. We may give generously to charity but doing things arm’s length is not the same as engaging the poor face to face.
This certainly is one of the messages that Jesus has given us.  He tells us that blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  If we look at the set up for this parable we see that Jesus is telling his host that these are exactly who should be invited to a banquet.
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
There is a clear message of what we are to do; of how we are to live.  We are to do all those things that don’t come naturally or easily to us.  This is the counter-cultural Jesus speaking.  We are to turn the other cheek; we are to go the second mile; we are to love our neighbours; we are to love our enemies.  This is the Jesus who is asking us to live in a way that seem impossible and do the things that seem impossible. 

Jesus does not ask us to do the impossible.  So how are we to love our enemies or even hold a banquet for the poor and the halt and the lame?   I don’t believe that Jesus expects us to do something which is impossible.  We need to learn to crawl before we can walk much less run.  So how do we take the baby steps that will get us to that seemingly impossible place of loving our enemies?
The principle that you can only change yourself is that one that guides us.  Let’s look at those in the parable who are invited after the others refuse; those less than acceptable in society.  What if we consider those people to be us?  What does it mean if we are the ones who are the blind and the halt and the poor and the lame? 

When it comes to living the lives that God intends for us that is truly who we are.  We are blind to many aspects of ourselves that God created us to be.  We want to avoid aspects of ourselves that are inconvenient or downright unacceptable.   We are halt and lame when it comes to living the life that God want us to live.  We may try to take those halting steps and find that we are lame because we have not used the muscles of charity and compassion that God has given us.

So what are we to do?  How are we to follow Jesus and live the life he calls us to live?   The way to do it is to take baby steps.  You would not expect a new born infant to walk or talk much less read or write.  We need to take small steps as we begin to live the lives that Jesus calls us to.  We must above all not expect to do those big things right away or even in the near future.  And most important we must be able to truly forgive ourselves when we do not always succeed.  Jesus is the God who forgives us our sins; he forgives us our failures. 
The message from the angels, the messengers of God is, fear not.  Do not be afraid to try and to fail.  All that Jesus expects of us is to try and when we fail try again. 

Fear not, the Kingdom of God is open to us when we try. 


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

How can I keep From Praying

I recently received the gift of a book on prayer.  It is entitled Men Pray and is a collection of prayers and reflections by many of the ‘big names’ is theology and spirituality.  I don’t mean this to be disparaging in any way.  The writers include such diverse people as modern writers C.S. Lewis, Nelson Mandala, Wendell Berry as well as ones in the classic canon such as Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, and Tagore.  There are even some surprizing entries by people not normally considered in the field such as General Douglas MacArthur.  It also introduced me to people I am not familiar with such as Ted Loder and Jay Marshall.  It also has entries by that most prolific of writers, author unknown. It is a treasure that I can delve into for a long time to come and be the source of much contemplation as each entry can be something to meditate on at length. 
However, this morning I want to reflect on the introduction to the book which is written by Brian D. McLaren.  This is something of a synchronistic event as the McLaren was one of the presenters at the Haden Dream and Spirituality Conference I attended at the end of May.  I had not been familiar with this person or his writing previously so it is, I believe, a “significant coincident” that I received this book shortly after.  I was quite impressed by McLaren from his presentations at the Conference and I bought his most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, which I am currently reading.  I have found the writing  of McLaren to be an excellent expression of many of the issues I have been exploring for many years in my personal theology  (of course I therefore think his theology is right on which needs to be balanced by some counter arguments). 

One part of the introduction by McLaren particularly spoke to me.  He was speaking of his grandfather’s approach to prayer:
My grandfather didn’t  seem  to be bothered by all those theological questions of how prayer functions, of what prayer accomplishes, of how the prayers of one person interacts with the free will of another or with “the sovereign will of God “ or “the law of nature”.  He didn’t seem to type to question why prayer should be necessary, why an all benevolent God would need to be invited or coaxed into doing the right thing. Somehow, he flew above or below the altitude at which those questions buss and bother.
This sums up eloquently in a few words the journey I have been on for many years in regard to prayer and why I should pray.  I have had many debates with myself along those lines about prayer and if and how I should pray. 

I contrast this approach to that of Gretta Vosper, a United Church of Canada minister who is a self-declared atheist.  I wrote about Vosper a while ago and my criticism of her stance.  She expounded in her writings, which are extensive, about her epiphany which brought her to her current understanding (misunderstanding in my view) about God.  The episode involved the death of the much beloved elementary school teacher of her daughter.  Her daughter had prayed fervently that the teacher would be healed of the condition that eventually killed her.  Vosper could not answer her daughter’s questions about how a loving God could allow such a beloved person to die.  In my understanding, this led her to her current belief that there is no God.  Since then Vosper has been on a crusade to convert the United Church to her form of Christianity, or rather, into an organization which is more in line with a secular service club.

My journey has brought me to a point in life in which prayer plays an important part.  It has brought me to the place where I know and believe that prayer is necessary for my salvation and the salvation of the world.  I pray because I know it is necessary for me and for the world regardless of those theological questions which can be voiced by me within or by others such as Vosper on the outside.
Blessings on your journey. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Evolution of God

Lorna and I have arrived at our cottage in P.E.I. and have settled in, hopefully for the summer.  It is a beautiful early summer day so I will have to think about actually getting out to enjoy the beauties of this corner of God’s world—which I don’t do often enough.  We had a relatively uneventful trip and were able t visit some friends on the way and almost visited a few more; unfortunately a miss communication prevented it. 

It is rather an adjustment getting to a different place and settling in for a while.  Lorna and I seem to have two somewhat different lives—one in Parkhill and one in P.E.I.   There are different church communities in each place as well as different residences.  We have different neighbours and different routines.  However, despite these differences there are many aspects of both lives that are similar.  I am still writing my News and Views on Monday morning and Lorna is out gardening—although she does a lot more of that here than in Parkhill.  She just popped in to the bunkie which is my retreat to say hello.  It says a lot that I need a retreat from the cottage.  But it is nice to have my space—don’t even suggest I should call it a “man cave”.  It is completely different. 

One question which comes to mind this morning arises from these similarities and differences.  IS there a different God in each of these places?  On one level the obvious answer is, “Of course not”.  However, we have different worship services here—we use exclusively the Book of Common Prayer with the traditional liturgy and music.  But that is really no indicator.  I think that the environment—in the broadest sense does influence how we perceive God and the image that we have of God. 
I am currently reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  He was one of the presenters at the Haden Dream and Spirituality Conference which I attended before coming to the cottage.  He presents some very thoughtful ideas about how to understand the bible.  I think they are very good ideas but then they articulate much of how I think about the bible. 

McLaren proposes that we should look at the bible as a story of God’s people which had an evolving and maturing understanding of God, “I begin to see how our ancestors’ image and understanding of God continually changed, evolved, and matured over the centuries.  God, it seemed, kept initiating this evolution” (99).  He compares the danger of freezing our understanding of God as presented in printed word i.e. books, texts and concepts with the idea of freezing our concept of God in graven images.  Books houses in seminaries, images and books but our understanding of God cannot be frozen and stop at that. 

It makes sense to me that if God intended that nature should evolve, which I believe is God’s intention, that our understanding of God will also evolve as we have evolved.  God’ revelation did not stop at the book of Revelation.  The human race along with all of God’s creation can continue to reveal what God’s intention for us is; unless we destroy ourselves in our hubris.
In closing I would hope that you will keep yourself open to what God is revealing to you of God’s intention for you. 

Blessings on your journey.  

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Inner Pharisee

Last week I was “conferring”,  I was at the Haden Institute, Dream and Spirituality Conference in Hendersonville North Carolina.  I was a tad worried about crossing the border into Trumpland.  Ironically, I had the easiest border crossing I have ever had.  There was only one car ahead of me in the line at the booth and the border guard just asked me what I was going to do in Hendersonville N.C. When I responded I was going to a Conference, he asked what I would be “conferring about”.  I advised “dreams and spirituality” he gave we a funny look (as usually happens), and sent me on my way.

Lorna and I have gone to this conference for many years.  Lorna couldn’t go this year because she had a family wedding to go to in Ottawa.  I had already committed to lead dream groups and a workshop so I  miss the event.  The workshop was entitled The Ego, The Bible, and the Spiritual Journey.  It is based on my book The Ego and the Bible which explores the role of the ego in many of the bible stories   (I would be pleased to give you information about the workshop or the book).  However, enough about the commercial.

In addition to the annual conference, the Haden Institute trains people to lead dream groups and to be spiritual directors.  I have graduated form both programs and find leading dream groups and being a spiritual director to be a very rewarding ministry.   In the approach dreams are considered God’s Forgotten Language; God speaks to us in our dreams but we have forgotten how to listen and understand the language of God in our dreams.  This is true of many ways in which God speaks to us.  My approach to spiritual direction is to help Directees understand how God is speaking to them and how to respond and deepen their relationship with God.

To give you an example God speaking to me in a dream, I awoke one mooring at the Conference and I remembered a phrase that was presented to me in a dream; “policies known and unknown”.  That was all I remembered; it may have been part of a larger dream but I didn’t remember anything else. It was an interesting message but it really caught my attention later at the Eucharist that morning (each day started with a worship service at the beautiful outdoor chapel at the Kanuga Conference Center).  The Rt. Rev. Larry Maze, retired Bishop of Arkansas was presiding and preaching. 

The Gospel for the day was John 9: 1-8; this is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind.  The Pharisees were critical of Jesus doing the miracle because it was on the Sabbath and Jesus broke the Holiness code by working on the Sabbath.  In the sermon (I am paraphrasing here and Larry was much more eloquent) Larry noted that the Pharisees were concerned with maintaining the Holiness Code because it had worked well for the Jewish people.  It had enables them to survive and continue as God’s chosen people for a long time under trying circumstances.  Some people had to suffer because of the code but it was for the greater good and was from God.  However, the Pharisees had allowed the Holiness Code to become an idol and they wanted the Jews to serve the idol rather than God. 

As Larry noted we all have rules which we learned while we were growing up.  They were necessary as we were growing up to help us and to protect us.  We know many of these rules but others are often not in our awareness.  We all have an inner Pharisee who wants us to obey these rules and keep us on the straight and narrow path.  However, for the inner Pharisee these rules are God.  Some of these rules will prevent or hinder us for living life fully as God intends.  They can prevent us from being and becoming the people that God intends us to be.  The message I received in my dream was to explore the “policies known and unknown” in my life which are preventing me from being the person God intends me to be. 

After much work reflection and trial and error and mistakes false starts I have explored many of the rules and regulations and policies which my inner Pharisee want desperately for me to follow.  The dream image is confirming I still have work to do to discover those unknown policies.  I invite you to reflect on what are the policies that your inner Pharisee holds are a god if not God.