Sermon Lent 3, March 4, 2018- the Rev. Stephanie Shepard

John 2:13-22

St. John the Apostle

“Turning Tables”

I speak as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God, through the mercy of God. Amen.

It started out as just a regular day.  The doors opened, the members entered and began browsing the goods on display.  The sales people stood by, ready to help with the financial transactions for purchase.  Just business as usual.  And then someone came in and started turning the tables.  And the institution changed.

In Jerusalem, it was a young rabbi from Nazareth named Jesus.  We hear the story this morning from the second chapter of John’s gospel.

In Edmonton, it was a young mother named Sarah.  We heard the story on the news this week.  Sarah was deeply disturbed by recent events in the United States, especially mass shootings involving semi-automatic weapons. She started an online petition calling on Mountain Equipment Co-op, an organization to which she belongs, to immediately stop the sale of all Vista Outdoor Brands.  She had discovered that Vista is the owner of Savage Arms, one of the leading providers of semi-automatic weapons in the U.S., derives 40% of the company’s profits from the sale of weapons, and has deep financial ties to the National Rifle Association.   The petition quickly gained signatures from across Canada.  M.E.C. had to decide how to respond.

On one hand, an institution has a responsibility to its shareholders.  Some welcomed the opportunity to take a political stance on this issue of gun control.  Others were concerned that certain members, especially those who hunted or shot for sport, would react negatively and take their business elsewhere.  The more astute commented that other major corporations with ties to armaments were not being targeted, and Vista Outdoors was being singled out by this move.  The tendency is for an institution to try and placate all its members with small changes without having to overhaul its corporate model.

On the other hand, an institution espouses certain values.  If its members, and those beyond its membership, do not see that it is in fact sticking to them, then trust decreases.  Members may be less committed.  Or they may leave.  If there is an alternate, people might seek it out.  Or they may decide they don’t need what the institution was offering at all.  An ethical decision to change business practices has far-reaching consequences.  It’s a risky move, and few are willing to take the chance.

When Jesus comes to the Temple in Jerusalem, he is coming face to face with the institution of the Jewish faith.  What he walked into in the Temple courtyard was completely normal business practice for the time.  The Torah sets out rules for all faithful Jews to come to the Temple at the time of the major festivals, like Passover, and offer up sacrifices to God as their thanksgiving.  Depending on your social position, you would need to bring a dove, a lamb, a goat, or a cow, as well as grain, drink, and herbal tithes.  Most people didn’t want to lug those along from their home villages, so they brought money instead to buy them in the outer courts of the Temple.  There was one big problem.  The coins of the realm had Caesar’s face printed on them.  But graven images were forbidden in God’s house.  So people had to trade their everyday money into special temple coins, and then they used these to buy their offering.  That’s why there were moneychangers in the Temple.  That’s why there were sheep and cattle.  The Jewish institution had figured out a way to make it all work under the Roman occupation.  Normal business practice.

But imagine what it must have been like to walk into that holy space!  If you’ve ever been to one of the great cathedrals in Europe, you know how disconcerting it can be to try and pray while tour guides and cameras are going off all around you.  There’s constant noise and movement, all these transactions going on just to support what was meant to be a house of prayer.  Somehow the Temple had turned into just another marketplace, like countless others across Jerusalem.   How could people find God in all this?

This is one of the few times in the gospel when Jesus gets truly angry.  And he doesn’t just preach a sermon about what has gone wrong.  He acts!  He makes himself a whip of cords- a herdsman’s goad.  Out go the sheep and the cattle, over go the tables.  “Take these things out of here,” he yells.  Now be careful to notice that he doesn’t actually chase out the people.    It’s the animals that he evicts, not those who have come to worship.   The Jewish authorities look around at all the mess he had caused and demand to know by whose say-so he is doing all this.  What authority does he have to try and change the way things are done?   Jesus’ response is they can destroy the temple, but that he can raise it up in three days.   The religious leaders are still stuck on the physical and on the institution.  “We’ve been working on this for 46 years and we still haven’t finished,” they reply.   But for Jesus, the Temple isn’t just the building or even the practices that go on inside its walls.  They just don’t get there is more to faith than keeping the business running.  It is about God’s will being alive and operational in humanity.  Its about the body of Christ.

If Jesus is to alive and operational in us, we have to be agents of real change.  Both as individuals and as an organization, we need to keep adapting to our environment while staying true to Christian values.  And that means having good hard look at how and why we are doing things.  Every part of life comes under God’s scrutiny, not just what we bring on a Sunday morning.  So how do our banking practices reflect our faith?  Our purchasing power?  Our environmental disciplines?  Our political choices?  The ways we act in the world reveal whether we are in alignment with Jesus’ mission; they are signs of God’s authority in our lives.  It takes time and thoughtfulness to work through the ethics of everyday choices.  But in doing so, we too have the opportunity to turn the tables on institutions that would rather stay the same than risk changing.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time were understandable cynical about how long it takes change to happen.  They preferred to follow the safe route of individual piety and working around the dominant systems of political and military might in the Roman empire.  Jesus broke through all of that by daring to call attention to himself and to what the institution had evolved into for its own protection.  His call for reform and a return to zeal for God comes to us as we struggle with the powers and principalities of our age.  With God’s help, change can come, sometimes in a surprisingly short time.  All it takes is a little table-tipping.  Amen.

Sermon for Epiphany 3, January 14, 2017- the rev. Stephanie Shepard

1 Samuel 3:1-10

St. John the Apostle, Port Moody

“God in Dialogue”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Cats have selective attention.  You can stand at the door and call their name for hours before they deign to come inside.  (Cats actually don’t seem to care very much for what name another species refers to them; they probably have their own names).  But crinkle the smallest bit of paper in the kitchen and they come running to see what interesting food you are about to share.  We humans choose what we pay attention to as well.  There is so much going on around us, we have to filter out what we think is not important, or rely on technology to do it for us.   We can get distracted by the shiny bits of information that are dangled in front of us to get our attention, and lose the deeper messages embedded in the noise. Too often we can overlook or misinterpret what is going on unless we have reliable ways to make meaning.

The story of Samuel and Eli from the Hebrew Scriptures is all about being ready to listen.  Listening to God, but also listening to each other.  It takes both the young boy and the old man to make sense of their experience in the darkness of the Temple.  One hears.  The other understands.  And this intergenerational exchange takes courage, humility, and love.  It is a model for dialogue, in our families, in our Church, and in our world.

In the Scriptures, the boy Samuel has been dedicated by his parents to serve at the Hebrew shrine at Shiloh. There Eli is the elderly priest, along with his own two sons.  Things were not going well at the Temple- there was corruption and contempt for the holy things and the sacrifices, and Eli was disheartened that his own children were so disobedient.  They wouldn’t listen to him or to God.  So in the middle of the night, God tries another way.  God calls out to Samuel.

We have this wonderful little comedy of errors where Samuel keeps mistaking God’s voice for that of the old priest, and goes running to wake up Eli.  By the third time, Eli realizes that this is the voice of the Creator speaking to the boy, a voice he and his sons had not been able to hear for some time.  It was the passion, vision and faithful innocence of Samuel that allowed him to be woken up to the revelation.  But it took courage and humility on Eli’s part to instruct the boy to respond.  No longer was the elder the conduit for the holy.  Instead, he accepts that his role is to mentor and encourage the younger servant as he grows to know God.

The name “Samu-el” means “God heard” in Hebrew.  It refers to the prayer that his mother Hannah made, pleading with God to overcome her barrenness.  But Samuel is also the one God heard, when he is guided to reply to the voice speaking in the darkness.  Rabbi Rashi writes a commentary on 1 Samuel 3 that contemplates the breath, or spirit of God residing in the Holiest of Holies in the shrine at Shiloh.  When God speaks, His breath jumps over Eli, who is within the shrine, to Samuel, who is in the outer room.  So God’s word can jump over those who consider themselves more knowledgeable or wise to the one who is open to hearing.

But neither the young nor the old alone was sufficient for this call.  Samuel didn’t have the experience or the context to make sense of what was happening to him.  And Eli had look beyond his own offspring and past practice to find a new way to meet God’s plan.  They needed each other.  And so do we.  That is one of the reasons why we keep reading this great story we call the Bible when we gather.   Together we listen, we hear, and we respond.

The experiences the Bible relates are relevant to our own struggles to find meaning.  The original settting may be a long time ago, but the motivations and feelings of people haven’t changed all that much.  Through their weaknesses, greed, despair, joy, and pain, we find ourselves.  If we ignore them, we do not learn.  We end up making the same mistakes.  And once we think that we have it all figured out and don’t need another perspective, we will miss new information that can change our view.  The generations have to work together to listen to our stories and make meaning.

So how good are we at listening to each other?  For our children, the stories of our tradition communicate what is important to living good and caring lives.  Our job is to help make the connections so young and old can see the relevance of God’s call.  The Church community is the place we make meaning.  Mature followers of Jesus lead by example, through faithfulness and stewardship, through engagement in their baptismal ministries and through the courage to share how God intersects with daily life.  Our willingness to accept, to explain, and to encourage the development of their listening skills helps the whole community to stay open to where God is calling us next.

It goes both ways, of course.  We can learn from the young how to let go of prejudices and stereotypes from our own upbringing.  And we can learn from them how to see and hear the world from a stance of wonder and curiosity.  When a child asks, “What’s that?” and “Why?” we are reminded to keep questioning what God is doing and how we can be a part.  And when a question stumps us, we have to examine more deeply what we thought we believed and why.  “Because I said so” shuts down the conversation.  “I don’t know” opens it up so we can both hear.  Children can make the simplest statements and ask the hardest questions.

8 year old Autumn Peltier asked why she could only drink bottled water on her First Nations reserve in Ontario.  Her aunt Josephine Mandamin explained about the pollution in their watershed and the importance of clean and sacred water for all people.  Autumn took up a campaign to speak up on behalf of Anishinaabe and non-indigenous peoples.  With support from her family and community, she will be presenting her concerns to the United Nations General Assembly this spring, a body that has the moral and persuasive authority to promote change in its member countries.  2018-2028 is going to be declared the International Decade for Action on Water for Sustainable Development.  And it will happen if we listen to God speaking through young people like Autumn and have the wisdom and courage to act.

We want to know God has spoken.  Here we are, living in a modern world- a literalist, historical and scientific paradigm that wants proof.  How are we called to make heart meaning, moral meaning, together?  I believe that the Church has to do more than theo-logy:  talking about God.  I believe we need to do more theo-audicy:  listening to God together.   And that starts with doing more listening to each other, especially across the generations.   Because God does speak through God’s servants.  I have an invitation for you.  Today after worship find someone in the congregation that comes from a different generation than you.  Talk to that individual.  And most importantly, be ready to listen.  Where is God in their story?  How is God calling you to work with them?

Let’s widen our attention so that we are not just noticing what we expect to see and hear.  Through our Scriptures, through our stories, through our neighbours:  God is speaking.  Are we ready to listen?  Amen.

Advent 4, December 24, 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Luke 1:26-38

St. John the Apostle

“Praying with our spirits”

In this season of Advent, we have been exploring the meaning of prayer.  Over the last three Sundays, Father Michael and I have spoken about praying with our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.  Today we look at praying with our spirits.  But as has already been expressed, we cannot neatly subdivide our human nature into one part or another.  What we do to our bodies affects our feelings, influences our thoughts, feeds our spirits.  They are not separate.  Each is part of a larger reality.  The greenery of the Advent wreath represents the eternal and encompassing Creator who joins hope and peace and joy and love together.  We too are on a wellness wheel in life, and as we strengthen one aspect of ourselves, we move deeper towards wholeness and the centre of our being.

In the centre of who we are is not a vacuum or an empty space or a dirty black blot.  There is a hidden core of holiness, a seed of what might be, if we allow it to swell and gestate.  This lovely, precious, unstained soul is protected and folded deep within.  We may feel stagnant or sullied or despairing, but there is a latency here waiting to be released when we are ready.  The moment comes when we invite the Holy Spirit to indwell.  And quietly, slowly, powerfully, things happen.

This is what praying with our spirits is all about.  Not about doing something on our own, but allowing God to work from within.  We are incapable of healing ourselves or doing God’s will apart from this partnership.  We need the Holy Spirit power to pray with and in us, to intercede and become incarnate.  God helps us grow and realize and set free what is already there.

This morning we hear the story of Mary saying “yes” to God within her.  It wasn’t an easy “yes”.

With the emergence of the #metoo campaign around a woman’s right to be treated respectfully and without fear of sexual harassment, the Biblical story of the annunciation is potentially problematic.  The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her, “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).  Where is the consent here?  And how do we interpret this story with the original and contemporary overtones of force and shame that Mary bears as an unmarried pregnant woman along with the fetus?  If she had said “No”, would God have respected it?  To those hearing the story today, can we say with assurance that this is not some form of spiritual rape?

Our English is imprecise, but digging down into the Greek yields a reassuring surprise.  The verb form used carries the connotation that Mary plays an active role in this generative act.  For language geeks, it is the future middle tense: συλλήμψῃ (sullempse).   Literally the phrase is closer to “you yourself will conceive” a child.  God’s incarnation is dependent on Mary’s agreement to create room within.  There is a choice here.  There is always a choice.  The Holy Spirit will come upon her and the Most High will overshadow her because Mary says “yes”, and not because some powerful deity says so.

Mary ponders and questions and fears in the process of deciding to trust what God is about.  “Let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  With her assent, God enters into creation as Jesus, the living Word.

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me.
Speaking words of wisdom, “let it be”.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
Speaking words of wisdom, “let it be”.

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
there will be an answer, let it be.
For though they may be parted there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be.

And when the night is cloudy, there is still a light that shines on me,
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me,
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
There will be an answer, let it be.
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

The Beatles song, “Let it Be” is based on Luke 1:26-38.  When I was younger, I thought it was about accepting what happens in dark times.  Now I realize that the wisdom is in having the courage to see there will be an answer, if we can make room for God-with-us.

We don’t physically bear Jesus within us as Mary did.  But when we pray, we open ourselves to be in intimate relationship with the Spirit of Jesus, promised as a gift to the Church after the resurrection.  We talk about the Church as the “Body of Christ”, and collectively we make him known as we pray and work together.  He is still in the world through his Spirit with us.  And God still has the power to bring his love to birth in each of us.

In Romans 8:26-27, Saint Paul says “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God”.    In the process, that wonderful, holy core of us grows and swells until our whole being is filled with God’s purpose and grace.  And we are one with the Spirit of Christ.  Amen.










Sermon for Christmas Eve 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Luke 2:1-20

St. John the Apostle

“no perfect Christmas?”

If you went to the mall during the past couple of months, you know what Christmas is all about.  Christmas is about getting everything you want.  It’s holly, jolly, chestnuts roasting on an open fire and sleigh bells jingling.  It’s let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, because we’ve got all the time in the world to build a snowman.  It’s I’ll be home for Christmas with family and friends and Santa Claus stacking presents under the tree.  It’s Christmas cards mailed off according to schedule and online ordering and payments put off to the new year.  According to the tropes, Christmas has to be perfect and you are expected to plan, decorate, entertain, gift, and be happy for the whole season.

And so we feel guilty because the tree didn’t get up this year.

We know better.  There is no vacation from the realities of life just because a certain day on the calendar got designated by the Church and celebrated far beyond the boundaries of Christendom.  Sickness and death don’t take a break.  Natural disasters and political crises still happen.  Financial situations are even more stressed and family relationships more awkward because of the pressures of this time of year.  We want to believe in a magic that will transform us even for one day a year. Perhaps it is because we so want things to be better that we are irritated and depressed when things go wrong for December 25.  Maybe we could move the day to April.  Or maybe we could re-think the whole thing.

Because Christmas was never perfect.  Especially not the first one.  Between the lines of the good news of the birth of Jesus, according to Luke, we catch glimpses of the reality.

There was the social situation in Israel at the time.  The Roman Empire occupied the land of the Jewish people.  Under the rule of Gaius Octavius, known as Augustus Caesar or “revered emperor”, a first census to establish financial and military control of the Syrian territory was announced.  This province included both Galilee and Judea.  Every man had to be counted for tax and conscription purposes.  For the Romans, the population was a source of needed revenue and troops for their ongoing wars of conquest.  In their leftover time they could grow crops for Rome and stay out of trouble.  Joseph was just a Jewish number for the register.  Mary didn’t even count.

Under this oppressive regime, Joseph and his eight-months pregnant fiancée were forced to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south, a distance of over 120 kilometres.  So late in the pregnancy, Mary and Joseph were far away from family, friends, and the local community by the time they reached their destination.  Joseph’s kin may have come from Bethlehem, the city of David from whom he was distantly descended, but they obviously didn’t open their doors to him when he showed up with the woman who was great with child.  No room was to be bought for love or money.  Only a stable shed for a bedchamber and a birthing room.

Maybe looking back, Mary and Joseph could smile and say to each other, “Do you remember when…?”  Because in the midst of the anxiety and the cold and the pain there were some moments.   The innkeeper who took pity on them and gave them as much room as he could.  The animals sharing their warm breath in the quiet of the stable.  The shepherds tumbling in the door with their story of angels and glory.  The tiny miracle baby lying in the absurd makeshift cradle.  Perfection wasn’t in the whole, but in the little things.  Especially in the littlest one of all, this child of their own they called Jesus.

But even from his birth, they knew Jesus wasn’t all theirs.  He came into the world in the way that all humans do- with blood and water and pain and cries.  But when Mary held him in her arms, it felt like she was holding the whole world, the whole universe in that tiny body.  Somehow God had folded love down to fit in this surprising gift for the world.  The angel Gabriel had told her, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).  Mary didn’t know what was to come, but she did know that the time she would have this child to herself was all too short.  He would grow up into whatever God would have him become too fast.  So this night, when all she could do was hold him and feed him and love him had to be enough for the moment.

When we do not know what the future will hold, it is all the more important to treasure the small things that touch our hearts today.  Find the beauty and the kindness and the companionship when it comes to you, even if it brings you to tears.  Accept the healing touch and the mug of tea when they are offered.  In them Jesus comes again, as God-with-us.  In this imperfect world, and in our imperfect lives, the reality is that love comes to us still, if we let it.

There were perfect moments that first Christmas.  And there are perfect moments waiting for us as well.  Moments when the love of Christmas shines through the mess and the heartbreak.  Hold onto those this year, whatever they are.  Ponder these things, like Mary, and treasure them in your heart.  Christ will be with you, not just at Christmas, but every day, when you need love most.  That is the true meaning.  And that is just perfect.  Amen.


Sermon for Epiphany, December 31, 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 2:1-12

St. John the Apostle, Port Moody


I speak as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God through the mercy of God.  Amen.

Today we continue to celebrate the Christmas season with the conjunction of two festivals.  One is the day dedicated to the patron saint of this parish church:  St. John the Apostle.  The other is the coming of Epiphany on January 6, when we remember the visit of the magi to Jesus.  On the surface, the two don’t seem to have very much in common with each other or with our everyday lives.  An excuse to keep the decorations up an extra week (in our house, January 6 is the signal to finally take the tree down).  But wasn’t Christmas the big deal?

The entrance of God into time and place with the birth of Jesus is unique in history.  In no other faith is the record of the Divine coming among us as a human being.  There are narratives of divine beings who interact with humankind, and individuals who are raised to exalted levels of being, but Christianity is alone is affirming that in the person of Jesus we saw the fullness of God’s love for us lived out.  Here is the crux:  believers who have experienced this love testified to the good news.  We have their testimony.  This is the thread which links the events of the first century to today.

If nobody had witnessed what God was up to, we wouldn’t be gathered here this morning.  The root of the Latin word “testamentum”, or testament, is “witness”.  From it we get the words “testify”- to bear witness- and “testament”- a witnessed statement.  The New Testament is the account of witnesses to the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, and the impact of his existence on the early Church.   Faithful people try to give voice to the hope that is in them because that is the only way others will hear.  Each of the readings from Scripture we hear on a Sunday morning is part of the chorus of voices that collectively make the witness statement of humanity.  Jews have Torah and Christians have the Bible. Moslems have the Koran.  Other world religions bring teachings and reflections, and spiritual mystics and poets add colour and depth.   But without those willing to testify to what they have seen and believe, nobody would know.

That is why the little story from Matthew chapter 2 is important.  A few shepherds may have been at the stable and told their friends, according to the gospel of Luke.  But here in Matthew, we have an account of a wider sharing of the meaning of Jesus’ birth.  Magi, that is, learned astrologers or wise men, have learned of a new king from their study of the skies.  They travel from far beyond the borders of the little occupied territory of Judea to its religious centre at Jerusalem, and make the mistake of asking the one person who really doesn’t want another contender to the throne.  In spite of his machinations, the magi learn of Bethlehem, and visit the child Jesus.  After giving him gifts that symbolize he will be high priest, king, and sacrifice, they journey home to their country by another road to share what they have experienced.  Their testament to the nations of the coming of the true King is why we celebrate Epiphany as the “shining forth” or revelation of Christ as Lord of all the Nations, not just to the Jewish people.

And while we could be holding up Matthew today as the one who traditionally bears the name of the gospel we heard, let’s turn to another witness familiar to this community.  John the Apostle is the saint that this building is named after.  Now there are several “St. Johns” in the Lower Mainland.  So the different parishes have added on identifiers.  There is St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Beloved.  Some scholars have differentiated amongst all these folk.  The hand which wrote the gospel may not have been attached to the disciple who is named in the lists of the Twelve (although it may have been one or more of what is known as the Johannine community, believed to be based on that disciple’s teaching).  There was also the one known as “the beloved disciple” who was nearest Jesus at the Last Supper, which may or may not have been a John. And that John could have been different again from the John Mark of the book of Acts.  John was a common name then and now.  But the aspect that is emphasized when we speak of St. John the Apostle is that of apostolic ministry.  We commemorate the work of preaching and sharing the good news of Jesus, through word and action.  To be an apostle is to bear testimony to the gospel truth, so that others may hear and receive it.

Your will is your last testament.  It shouldn’t be your only one.  Each of us is called as a follower of Jesus to give testimony- the personal story of our relationship with him as Lord and Saviour.  When I was growing up I thought testimony was a rather suspect activity that born-again Christian friends wielded in order to make me feel guilty or inferior about my own Anglican roots.  Nobody told me that my personal story, even if it didn’t involve so many drugs or as much rock and roll, was just as important.  It isn’t drama that makes it testimony- it is owning it as true for you.  Neither is it necessary to stand on street corners or accost strangers with the question “Have you been saved?” (You can ask me later about the youth encounter weekend when we were sent out two by two to testify and my partner and I ended up in a Christian Science reading room).   Rather, testimony is sharing your spiritual history in a way that says why Christ is important in your life.

Some people are really good at this, and have exciting accounts of how we first became Christians and accepted the love of God as the cornerstone for our lives.  Others of us have much quieter and less spectacular histories: an unfolding journey of trust and service.  What I have found is that not many have ever had the opportunity or the courage to talk one on one with another about their faith journey.  But you have heard testimonies when a parishioner expresses why stewardship is important to them, or someone has told you what brought him or her to this community of faith.  Testimonies can be spoken.  And testimonies can be written.  Here is how you can start.  Before this congregation right now is perhaps the most important collective testimony that you will have to write in the next ten years.

The canonical committee is putting together the first draft of what is called the “parish profile.”  It is the document that will be circulated to attract a new priest to this parish of St. John the Apostle.  The draft will be brought to the parish and your highest priority needs to be making yourself available to give feedback.  This is because this parish profile is your testimony.  It must say who you are as a church and what you believe about what God is doing through this community.  It must give account of the hope that is in you.  If you leave it in the hands of the canonical committee, however much you trust them (and I do, too), your voice will be missing from the chorus of witnesses.  That will make the final document thinner and less able to convey the whole truth.  Let’s work together to gather as an apostolic community that bears the good news.  Make the time and the effort to join in this part of the process.  In the next few weeks, the committee will be letting you know of the events when you can take part in this.

If you look closely in the Bible, in Matthew 2 it does not say how many magi there were.  We traditionally think of three because of the three gifts that were brought, but nowhere does it say how many came and then went back to their own countries to testify to the Light.   We are each called to testify.  Not just to hear the good news, but to be bearers of the good news.  Perhaps in this way we too can be wise.  Amen.

Homily for Advent 2, December 10, 2017- the Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Mark 1:1-8

St. John the Apostle

“Praying with our Minds”

May only truth be spoken here, and only truth be heard, in the name of the one, true, and living God.  Amen.

There is a tradition that John the Baptist spent years in prayer and study at the desert community of Qumran before he begins his public proclamation.  His idea that the time has come for people to repent of their sins and embrace a new life of righteousness in preparation for the Messiah doesn’t just spring out of nowhere.  A wealth of Jewish thought and theology lie behind his words.  When he preaches and teaches, he draws a multitude of people to the river Jordan.  There, they are led to understand afresh the faith of their forebears.  Many confess and are baptized.  But he tells them, “Wait.  There’s more to come.”

John urges them to continue in their journey of faith.  To live righteously: yes.  But also to keep their minds and hearts open to the revelation before them in the person of Jesus.  His finger points to the Messiah and leaves individuals to make their own decision.  He releases his own disciples to go and follow Jesus- to find for themselves what he has been prepared to understand and what he has prepared them to receive.  In the words of a recruitment poster for a theological college that I kept above my desk: “God gave you a mind and He expects you to use it!”

So when some of John’s followers transfer their loyalty to a new Master, they look to Jesus to continue the teaching.  In Luke chapter 11, verses 1-2, we read that “Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to prayer, as John taught his disciples.’  He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name…’”  You know the rest.  We came to know this teaching as the Lord’s Prayer.  Perhaps it was one that you first learned as a child.  Certainly is a prayer that all Christians come to know by heart.  The Lord’s Prayer has a place at the centre of our faith.  But just knowing the words isn’t enough.  It is a lifelong journey to live out what we pray in it.  And sometimes, it helps to have other words to explain it and comment on it.

It is a very Anglican understanding that our faith is informed by Scripture, tradition and reason.  Together, these three help our minds grasp what God is calling us to do and be.  And each of these are pathways we can use to help us pray with our minds.  Our Holy Scriptures give us a treasure trove of words to adapt to our personal lives.  Our heritage gives us both oral and written prayers.  And our own intelligence allows us to create and put into words the yearnings that lie within us.  We pray with our minds because God gave them to us as a means to learn and practice how to live humbly, gratefully, and peacefully.

First and foremost, we have the Holy Scriptures.  The word of God is available to each one of us, in the language of our own culture and time, as well as in the original Hebrew and Greek in which it is written.  These writings contain the story of our salvation and the record of the people of faith who have sought to understand and describe God at work in the world.  The prayerful study of scripture reveals new truths and insights.  And there are so many prayers within the pages that we can find new material every time we turn a page.  The practice called Lectio Divina involves praying a portion of the Bible, slowly reading and meditating on God’s word.  The psalms give us honest prayers of thanksgiving, lament, confession, cries for help and outbursts of anger: something for everyone!  When we do not know what else to pray, we can read an appropriate section of Scripture.  Indeed, many of the prayers we use in gathered worship are drawn directly from the pages of the Bible.

Secondly, we have a rich heritage of prayer through the Church.  Christians from the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus have created and collected prayers that speak to the intimate relationship we can have with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  In the Anglican tradition, some have been brought together in successive editions of “The Book of Common Prayer”, which is exactly what it says.  The prayer book of the common people, in the common language, to be held in common when we worship.  In it are found different kinds of prayers you can use.  There are collects: prayers which gather up the community around theme or image for the time of year.  There are litanies, used to prayer for different needs in and beyond the congregation.  There are canticles- drawn from the songs of scripture and often used in musical settings in worship, such as the Magnificat, or Song of Mary.  Each of these can be used personally as well as communally.  Then there are the “big picture” prayers, such as our Eucharistic prayers, which each recount the story of salvation in the words and images that are lifted up to God.  Through our liturgy, we don’t just pray; we re-tell and re-teach who we are as God’s people.

More recently, we have the green Book of Alternative Services here in Canada to draw on, as well as many other resources from all corners of the Anglican communion, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and other denominational and Christian communities.  The flexibility of our worship allows us to use many of these within the framework of the Anglican experience to help us to pray better with fresh expressions.

But prayers are not just found in prayer books in the pews.  We have through our heritage many theologians, songwriters, poets, and mystics to inspire us in our prayer lives.  The very first book written in the English language is believed to be the “Revelations of Divine Love” written by Julien of Norwich, an account of her interior prayer life during a time of painful visions.  From Thomas Cramner to Thomas Traherne to Thomas Merton, our tradition is infused with the writings of those who sought to share their faith and experience.  And many of our hymns are a great resource for prayer.  Try singing or meditating on a favourite or one that is completely new to you!  There are also online resources to explore, from daily prayer apps for your phone to supplementary materials for the Revised Common Lectionary at Vanderbilt Library.  All around us are works that can enrich and expand our prayer lives.

Lastly, there has to be a process for making prayer our own.  It doesn’t matter how many wonderful resources are available, if we don’t make some time to incorporate prayer into our daily lives.  The discipline of praying daily is the only way that you can keep communications open with God.  In practical terms it doesn’t matter so much whether you say Morning or Evening Prayer, have set times to turn to God, or a method that reminds you in key moments to lift up your heart.  What truly matters is that prayer is a priority in your life, even for the times when you don’t feel like it.

We all have periods when we feel we are going through the motions or mouthing the words.  But the very fact that we are willing to train our minds and bodies to attend to our relationship with God is what is important.  There will be wilderness times when we feel lost and without energy, when we are not sure if anyone is listening.  But by continuing to pray, we use our minds to focus our hope on what is to come.  Advent is a season which combines our knowledge of the darkness of the world with an anticipation of what might be.  Prayer is the engine that keeps us moving through the darkness, even when we cannot see the way.  And as we pray, our minds, which are so disturbed and frightened by what goes on around us, find a peace that passes our understanding.

I want to leave you with a poem by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, which I offer up as a prayer:

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens to mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like a child.

Sermon for Advent 1, December 3, 2017- the Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Mark 13:24-37

St. John the Apostle

“Praying with our bodies”

Abba, Father: you are the potter and we are the clay, the work of your hands.  Mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus your Son.  Amen.

Most people come to church on a Sunday morning to find a word of hope for their lives.  This morning, we are challenged by the readings from Scripture to discover where this lies.  The prophetic speech of Isaiah 64 implores God to come down in awesome might to cleanse humanity of sin.  Then Jesus proclaims what happens when the Son of Man does appear: “the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give light, and the stars will be falling from heaven.” (Mark 13:24-25).  Stern stuff.  To find hope, we need to be alert to Christ coming into our lives.  That’s why it’s always a good idea to turn to prayer.

But who taught you how to pray?  I didn’t learn when I was a child.  I remember going up to Camp Artaban for the first time when I was ten.  On our first morning in the chapel service, the theme leader, who happened to be a priest named Ron Barnes, told us kids to close our eyes to pray.  That was a new one for me, and I had grown up in the Anglican Church! Nobody had said anything or showed us about prayer before that.  One was supposed to absorb the right way of doing things by osmosis.  In the typical Prayer Book service, there were times when everyone stood, or sat, or knelt, or crossed themselves.  In my high church parish there was a weird little bob called genuflection that we were supposed to execute when we came into or left the pew or “acknowledged” the altar. it must have been even more confusing for visitors or newcomers, as the rest of us followed the priest and hoped for the best.

I wish that someone had sat down and explained a few basics about what to do with my limbs when I am praying.  So in case you have some of the same questions I have, I want to reflect on what it might mean to pray with your body.  I would like to consider body position, praying through our bodies when we are still, disciplining the body, and using our bodies in motion as  prayer.

We start from the fact that humans are incarnational beings.  We have arms and legs and occupy a certain amount of space.  So when we enter into a quiet time of communion with God, we have to figure out where to park.   I want to clear up one misconception: no one position is “right”.  You may have been taught as a child to kneel beside the side of your bed with your hands clasped in front of you: head bowed, eyes closed.  That is one option.  There are many more.  Standing with your head and arms raised is an ancient Hebrew prayer stance.  You see a priest take this form at the prayer of consecration.  Another way to pray is to stand with your hands cupped- expectant and ready for the blessing that God will give.  Kneeling is a classic posture for prayer, signifying our humility.  You can pray lying down too, either on your back (trying not to fall asleep) or on your front (best where there is no-one likely to step on you).  Sitting in a good chair is a well-supported position for lengthy prayer sessions so that your body aches are not distracting you.  Different positions may be more suitable for different types of prayer- whether you are petitioning for someone’s healing or asking forgiveness or absorbing God’s peace and beauty.  What you choose is simply a matter of getting yourself ready to pray, and your posture is there to remind you of what you are doing.

Prayer is one of the few practices that allows us to be still without interruption.  It gets us alone to become aware of your body.  Observe your breath and your heartbeat.  Feel the tension in your shoulders or the ache in your knees.  Let the members of your physical form speak to you of what is going on in your life.  You carry a record within you of what you are struggling with and what is going well.  Your body is trying to tell you things – it is praying for you.  The physical discomfort and pain experienced is not only something that we can bring to God in prayer; it is prayer.  There will be times when you cannot concentrate on words or thoughts because of the stress that is being manifest.  Know that your body is a witness before God, and offer it up, just as Jesus did on the cross.  At the same time, remember that in the crucifixion God takes your pain and transfigures it.

There are saints in the history of our faith who have taken this an extra step.  In a belief that the body must be subdued or “mortified”, they have practiced ways of prayer that are very hard on the body.  Imagine kneeling on a cold stone floor all night in vigil, or fasting for a prolonged period to focus one’s vision.  St. Cuthbert is said to have prayed while standing in the ocean up to his knees.  At least when he got out, he had otters come and dry off his feet.

Even if you are not hurting when you start to pray, you will probably find that staying in one position is not easy after a few minutes.   Some adjustment to seek a healthy posture is good, but prayer is a discipline.  Let any other physical exercise, we built up muscles as we practice.  As we engage, our cores are literally strengthened, and you will find that your endurance will increase.  Be wise however, to discern what is the development of balance and tone and what is a warning signal from your body to get off your knees.

Lastly, we can pray with our bodies in everything we do, not just when we are still.  In fact, some of us are twitchier than others and find it hard to maintain a single posture.  There are ways to pray that engage our bodies even when they are not at rest.  There are body prayers that put us through a sequence of movements, with or without words attached.  There are spiritual disciplines that utilize conscious breathing techniques, walking mindfully, stretching, or dance.  And there are times when the task we are engaged in invites us to do it prayerfully, whether it is knitting a shawl or writing an icon.  When worship and work are one, everything we do can be a prayer offered up.  The key is keeping our awareness on the meaning behind what our bodies are doing, and giving that over to God.

In and through our bodies, there are opportunities to become connected to the One who made us in in the Divine Image.  Sometimes this comes through others, who are vehicles for God’s grace.  When we are anointed, or experience healing touch, or the laying on of hands, then we feel the power of prayer as it is transmitted through another body to ours.  At other times, we may be the ones who are the conduit of love and peace and hope.  It may be as simple as holding another’s hand, a hug, or the joy of intimacy.  This too is prayer when God is in the moment.

We are created beings, and we are made to employ our bodies to serve as we watch for the Master.  In prayer, use what works for you to stay alert to God in your life.  We have the admonition from Jesus himself: “Stay awake”.  But don’t feel bad if one day you settle down to pray with every good intention and then fall asleep.  Remember, God gives to his beloved rest.  It might be just what your body needed to continue to hope.  Amen.



Homily November 19,2017 The Rev. Deacon Anne Anchor

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11;  Matthew 15:14-30

May these words and these thoughts that I share as a Deacon of your church be true to you gracious God.

I would like to share with you my experiences over the summer, that have deeply impacted my life. As background to this I need to go back to August 2012. I shared on that day my reason for my plans to participate in the first Walk for Reconciliation in September 2012. I feel it provides for a foundation for my ongoing passion for the issues of reconciliation with the First Nations peoples of Canada.

That day I said, “This walk is part of the ongoing goal of reconciliation with our Aboriginal peoples.  Those that attended the Residential schools and their families have challenged our church to be accountable for the ills perpetrated on them in years gone by. This issue has a personal element for me. While we were living in Vancouver I attended Southlands Elementary. It was a couple of blocks away from the Musqueum Reservation. The first generation of Musqueum children to attend public school attended Southlands and I had a good friend, Theresa, who was Musqueum.

Theresa and I had a friendship that was restricted though. I will never forget how difficult it was for me to be told by her that although she could come to my birthday party I was never able to go to her house on the reservation. At that time, even at the age of 9 or 10 I knew this was unjust and by the time we moved away I was saying, in my childhood innocence, I was going to work with Indians (to use the vernacular of the day) to right the injustice. Little did I know the depth of what had happened in the past and my dream never came to fruition. I guess this was the time when I first became aware of injustice in my world. I did not know what it was all about; I just felt that something was wrong. Over the years as I came to understand as to why I could not visit Theresa at her home I just became sad. I do not know what has become of Theresa, I pray that she has not become a victim of the legacy of the Residential Schools.”

I fast forward to today. In my covenant renewal letter to Bishop Melissa at the beginning of this year I stated that … ‘An evolving area that has been a concern for many years is to better understand and assist in the struggles involved with Reconciliation with the First Nations people and I hope to participate in some of the Diocesan activities in this area.’

By the beginning of this summer I felt I had neglected to do anything around this statement in my covenant renewal letter. Due to family commitments I was unable to attend events around Reconciliation that involved spending a day in Vancouver. This is when I felt I had buried the talent I had neglected for many years.

Yet, I knew I had to hear First Nations people’s stories, I knew I had to listen with compassion about the impact Residential Schools had on generations of families. I knew I had to listen to the pain of the families affected by the negligence of our justice system to The Missing and Murdered Women. I knew that each time I would hear such a story there would be pain in my heart and I would think of Theresa and wonder where her life journey had taken her. I felt helpless and unsure as to where my journey with these concerns would lead me.

Reading this parable from Matthew’s gospel “I knew you were a harsh I was afraid and hid you talent’. I felt like the unworthy servant who buried the talent. I had done nothing since I was in Elementary school about wanting to ‘work with Indians to right the injustice’.

Something changed at the beginning of the summer when Trudi and I attended an event at Douglas College. It was here that we heard stories from local people of the effects of the Residential Schools on their families.

I heard the story of a First Nation Cree 2 Spirited UBC doctoral student. For clarification, the two-spirited person, has been in the tradition of the First Nations people for many moons as cross-gender roles, the male-female, the female-male.

I heard the stories of Cease-Wyss who is a respected ethno-botanist who shares her wisdom about this local land on which we exist and also I heard from Fred Hulbert,

Council Member, Kwikwetlem First Nation

It was this evening that stirred my longing, and empowered me to get closer to unburying the talent that lay dormant for many years.

It was the words of the First Nations Cree Two-Spirited person that hit my heart the most and caused me to weep. I felt his sadness of the impact of the Residential Schools on his story that ran parallel to my brother’s story of the impact the church had on his upbringing as a clergypersons’ child who knew he was gay but was not free to be himself in the life of the church in those days.

Later, Lilian and I attended an evening at Town Centre Park sponsored by the Tri-Cities Ministerial where an apology was offered for the involvement of the churches in the Residential Schools. I left this revival meeting frustrated, as for me it left much unsettled and I wondered as to the benefit of it.

After that evening I heard of the Welcome Post Project and Tasha Faye Evans. I had seen Tasha Faye at Sophie’s school (Pleasantside) when she coordinated the Welcome Post Project there but had never met her. I did wonder how she would respond to Trudi and me (as clergypeople) when we attended our first Welcome Post Project evening at the Noons Creek Hatchery. In her awesome way Tasha Faye was very receptive to us and I felt that special connectedness to her as happens when you meet certain people.

At these evenings I grew and took amazing steps forward on my journey to Reconciliation. I saw people of Port Moody journeying to embrace Reconciliation. Having Tasha Faye join us at the end of the summer to speak was an amazing blessing and I was more than pleased that Council agreed to support the Welcome Post Project.

Some of the parish engaged in a discussion on Linda Gray’s book  ‘First Nations 101’. This was a fruitful experience as we discussed what we did and did not know about our First Nations People. Out of these groups came a desire to go deeper into reconciliation, how this will happen has yet to be determined.

The readings we just heard are pretty challenging. As I read them I wondered to myself where is the good news. The gospel is one that I have real difficulties ending with saying … ‘This is the good news of Jesus Christ’

Being overwhelmed by all that is happening in our world causes me to wonder, whether it is easy to understand the one who buried the talent. We are being challenged, as Matthew’s Jesus challenges the status quo of his day, to do our best with what God has given us. We are not to allow our actions to be overshadowed by our fears. Fear, when it gets hold of us can freeze us into inertia, to lose hope for the future. I have, at times, found myself wondering whether the hope in what I say or do is going to have any effect on anyone or any situation. Yet, as I speak these words I can hear my mom saying….

“Anne we can’t give up hope, for as soon as we do the darkness will win”

My hope is based on my belief in the grace of God and this is what I hang onto when I get discouraged. Without my belief in a gracious God the door for the darkness to take over would be opened.

We are further being challenged by the reading from Zephaniah when it says …

‘’At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs”, and continues, ‘the great day of the LORD is near, and hastening fast”

Our hearts, and more importantly, our actions, must show that we recognize and are thankful for our God given talents, and we are not to hesitate to go out and use them for the betterment of this world which we hold to be God’s kingdom here on earth.

And finally in the passage from Thessalonians we are reminded that

‘we are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.’

Although I have felt challenged in my commitment to my covenant and my hearts’ concern for First Nations people, I wonder now if perhaps I had not buried my talent but had allowed time without forcing the issue for the talent to grow into something that would serve a purpose for the betterment of all.

In the fall, Trudi and I went to hear Roy Henry Vickers speak. Roy Henry is the First Nations artist of the books we used this summer with the children for their First Peoples Principles of Learning. One of the many impactful statements I heard from this brother of the land was his closing after sharing his life story and the story of the treatment of his grandmother at a BC Residential School, by saying something that really challenges us, I paraphrase it here …

Although the pain and sadness continues I live in the hope that love will prevail and we all will live in harmony one day ….

As I discovered this summer there is hope for Reconciliation with First Nations people. I believe there is a generation coming soon when all peoples; whether Indigenous or immigrant; whether gay or straight; whether Christian or one of the many other ways of honouring the Creator will live in harmony.

May we never be a people who rest complacently on our dregs. May we continue to be children of light and live in the faith of God’s grace. May we never forget we are to use the talents God has given us for the betterment of all creation. May we live in hope that the foundations we lay now will become a reality of unity in generations to come.

On the Facebook page for the Roy Henry Vickers event we attended he is quoted as saying  … ‘Great happiness and peace comes from knowing that you make the difference for good in the world so go out and make that difference.’








Homily for Pentecost 21, October 29, 2017- The rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 22:34-46

St. John the Apostle

“Life Belongs to God”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

 I want to share with you something that happened while I was on retreat this week.  Coming in late from a walk around the lake with some of my colleagues, I did not have time to wash my hands before the next session.  To begin, our retreat leader led us in a breathing meditation that goes something like this.  You may stand and try it with me if you like:

Breathe in as you bring your hands together in front of you in the classic Christian position of prayer.

Breathe out as you cup your hands together and offer them up.

Breathe in as you wrap your hands around you in consolation.

Breathe out as you extend your hands away from your body in a giving away motion.


Thank you.  This is a powerful body exercise in what God offers to us and how we respond in love.  We were doing it in the context of how our heart, soul, body, and mind were being touched by God’s creation around us.  And as I lifted up my cupped hands, I realized in horror that they were filthy.  In the moment, it became a powerful metaphor for my complicity in what I personally have done to this planet, and what I have not done when I could have made a difference.  I was ashamed, for life belongs to God, and I had neglected to offer up all that I could.  My longing was indeed for the wholeness of creation and the coming of the kingdom, but what had I done?  Here I was caught with my hands dirty.

But then I reflected on the hike I had taken.  The rocks I had scrambled over, the tree trunks I had clung to for support on the steep sections.  I remembered holding onto a friend’s hand to help him down the path.  Of the sense of belonging I felt for nature and for my fellow walkers in that time.  And I saw that there was another side to those uplifted hands offered to God.  My hands were engrained with dirt because I had touched creation.  And in lifting up my hands, I was receiving its life and its pain into my care.  Belonging in love means getting our hands dirty.

Life begins and ends with breath.  And through our breathing, we are connected to God, the One who gives us life and breath.  We belong to God, and we also belong to everything around us.  When we breath in oxygen, we are receiving what the green plants have released to us.  And when we breathe out carbon dioxide, we are returning it for growing things to use.  What a wonder: that we live in a sacramental universe where everything is able to speak to us of the love of the Creator.  When we pay attention, we find communion.  We find signs of that great love.

When the religious leaders ask Jesus which commandment is the greatest, for them it is but one question in a long series they hope will reveal some heresy for which they can have him arrested.  The Pharisees have already tested him on authority, taxes, and the resurrection.  No doubt they have a few more surprises ready to spring at him, like the question about the Messiah that follows.  But Jesus takes their inquisition at face value.  They themselves should know the answer.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and first commandment”.  But he doesn’t stop there.  “And a second commandment is like it: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Jesus links the love of God, the love of neighbour, and the love of self together.  They belong together.  Together, they express the orientation of the faithful person.

Our spirituality is not one of isolation, but of intimacy.  This is why we cannot withdraw from the issues around us in the world and pretend that they do not affect us.  What hurts one part of creation hurts God in God’s very being and wounds each of us inside too.  We each long for a world where there is security and justice and enough for each of us not just to survive, but to live abundantly.  But if I want that for myself, I have to want it for others as well.  Loving my neighbour means that I have to think about “ours” rather than “mine”.  This is what belonging is about.

It seems a little overwhelming.  There are big scary topics like climate change and reconciliation with First Nations peoples, terrorism and hatred and world hunger.  When we lift our hands to God, they don’t seem to hold much that will help.  But God will give to each of us as much as our hands and hearts are able to hold, and assist us in distributing what we have as widely as possible.  Even the little we are able to receive will help, if we are willing to get our hands dirty.

For me, that breathing exercise is the ultimate act of stewardship.  I bring myself to God: through prayer, through awareness of the beauty and joy of creation, through the touch or sight of my neighbour.  I cup my hands to receive what God is passing into my care.  I steady myself to ready myself for action, reassure myself that I am held in God’s love as I commit to love. Then I release what I hold into the hands of others so that God’s work of love continues in this world.

Our retreat leader offered us four practices to help us stay rooted in the knowledge and love of God, and of his beloved child Jesus:

  1. Simply taking time to be quiet and pay attention to small things. A child, a bird, a leaf.  What can it tell us of God’s love?
  2. Practice gratitude. Say thank you more often to remind yourself that everything is a gift.
  3. Honour your body. It is the little bit of God’s creation with which you alone have been entrusted.
  4. Live a more natural life. Find touchpoints to the rhythms of creation in what is local, sustainable, or renewable.

If we do this together, as a family, as a church, then too deepen our lives in belonging.  We are never alone.  As long as we have breath, we have God with us to act in love.  A God who longs for us as much as we yearn for belonging.  The Anglican mystic, Julian of Norwich writes,

I saw three kinds of longing in God, all directed to one end.  We have the same three in us, of the same virtue and for the same end.  The first is that he longs to teach us to know him and love him ever more and more, as is suitable and profitable for us.  The second is that he longs to have us up in bliss, as souls are when they are taken out of pain into heaven.  The third is that he longs to fill us full of bliss, and that will be accomplished on the last day, to last forever.” (p. 218)

When our days are done, love reclaims us as His own, and satisfies all our longing at last.  Until then, life belongs to God, and we belong to life.  Amen.


Pentecost 16, September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16

St. John the Apostle

“Why are you standing around?”

I speak as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God through the mercy of God.  Amen.

Today Jesus tells us a story of the labourers in the vineyard.  We hear about the ones that the landowner hired in the morning for the work, and as we sit in the pews we tend to identify and to side with them.  We are just like Jesus’ first listeners- both his followers and the religious leaders.  It makes sense that those who are hired for a job agree upon a wage before they spend all day in the field.  Where our sense of natural justice gets assaulted is the next part.  The landowner then goes on to pick up more workers as the day progresses and adds them to the workforce.  And in the evening, when the pay is handed out, everyone gets the same.  That’s not fair.

It depends on our perspective.  For those who have slaved away from dawn til dusk, it doesn’t seem fair that we have been worked so hard and so long for this small sum, even though it is what we agreed to in the beginning.  It’s not just a matter of reward or righteousness.  We are tired, we have given our all, and there is so much work to do.  Why couldn’t the landowner have brought in the extra help a little earlier, and saved our aching backs?  Those who were first to be in the field resent those who didn’t have to work for such a long day not just because they got the same amount of money for a shorter shift, but because they were standing around.

But from the point of view of those who were still in the labour lineup in the marketplace, waiting to be hired, those who were already at work were the lucky ones.  They wanted a job to do.  So why are they standing around?  If we look at this parable as those who want to work but don’t have the opportunity, we get a sense of what Jesus is saying to us about God’s grace and justice.

Some people don’t appeal to employers. They may not have the connections with the company to get their foot in the door, or have the prior work experience or qualifications that meet some hiring standard.  They may not present as well in an interview because the way they dress or speak.  There are many people who would be assets to a workplace if given a chance, but if you are competing against others that speak English better or have Canadian degrees or have confidence and a glowing reference, the chances of being hired are diminished.  There are the doctors and scientists and teachers who have immigrated to Canada only to find that the jobs open to them are as taxi drivers or house cleaners.  Even though our society is in need of their specific skills, they start, at least, with work outside their field to feed their families.  These are the ones who are seen by those in authority as unskilled labourers in the marketplace.  Sometimes we do not discover what gifts a person brings to an organization or company because we never bother to ask what they can do.  We leave them on the margins and compl

There are also those who stand around because they do not hear of the work opportunities.  When we do not hear what is needed, and how we can help, it is difficult to offer.  And sometimes we are not very good at knowing what we need in the way of assistance, let alone advertising for it.  There are more jobs available than there are people to do them, and yet part of our population is unemployed and despairing of finding meaningful work.  This happens in the Church as well.  The tendency is for a few good people to do much of the work quietly and behind the scenes.   Others neither realize how many hours are being put in, nor understand what they might do to share the load.  Our other problem, especially as an organization, is to resent the people who come in “later in the day” to labour with us.  Well established patterns for getting things done might be challenged by different ways if a new person is allowed to join in.  It takes energy to explore alternatives rather than just dismiss the idea because “we’ve always done it that way”.  Whether it is a workplace or an organization like the Church, we have to decide that if we are to seek more workers, we have to be prepared to be changed by what they bring to the job.  Specifically, if we as a faith community are to share the good news about God, then who we invite into ministry will bring new talents and ways of being disciples.

And just like in the Scripture story, there are those who are left standing around because they have been judged not suitable for the job.  The landowner probably chose those labourers he saw as the fittest for the hard work in the vineyard.  But maybe when he came back to the marketplace a second and third time, he began to see other possibilities for the ones who were still there.  As a society, we value those who are young and strong and clever.  We are more hesitant to engage with those who have physical or mental challenges.  And we do not value the gifts our elders bring to our work in the way that we should.  Just because bodies slow down and minds get forgetful, it doesn’t mean that seniors should be set aside as useless to our common good.  A recent federal report on the status of the elderly in care facilities highlights the tendency to warehouse and forget those who have decades of experience and wisdom.  In the province of BC, seniors in assisted living received less than 3 hours a day of personal interactions with staff.  This means that for those elderly persons who have few friends or family members who visit, they spend more than 21 of 24 hours each day alone.  There is no one to help with personal needs or even to share a recollection or an insight.  As a society, how do we treat our elders?  We leave them standing around, waiting for someone to show an interest in their worth.

Jesus lays out that God’s love is not a finite resource.  God’s grace extends to all who are willing to join in, no matter what their fitness or prior experience.  There is room and a job for everyone.  The task of the Church is to invite and equip persons for ministry.  That means extending the labour pool.  Sometimes we bemoan that there are not enough people to do all the things we want to get done in the Church.  The answer is to get more help.  It may be late in the day, but there are still people out there who have not been invited.  Maybe we have missed asking them in the past because they don’t appeal as much to us.  Maybe we haven’t been too good about getting the word out that there is a place for them, and then when they come, actually making a place for them.  And maybe we have some work to do to discern the special gifts of those we thought were less suitable for what God was about.  The point is that God’s amazing and astonishing grace is to keep searching for those who are willing.  And God will show us how to be ready and able to help.  Nobody should be left just standing around.  Amen.