Pentecost 3/Aboriginal Day of Prayer, June 18, 2017

Matthew 9:35-10:8

St. John the Apostle

“Just the Gospel”

When Jesus sent out his first followers to spread the message, he gave them strict instructions. Now that they had learned about God’s kingdom for themselves, they had to practice sharing this good news.  The twelve disciples had to learn how to be apostles.   And so, their first mission was to be amongst their own race and religion.

Here’s what they were to do:  heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.  Here’s what they were not to do:  go outside their own faith and understanding, like the Gentiles or the Samaritans, or to accept payment for their labours.   Altogether, a pretty difficult practicum.  But I believe that this is exactly why Jesus let them loose on the house of Israel first.  If they couldn’t make any headway with people with which they presumably shared a world view, how could they hope to proclaim Jesus’ word to the rest of humanity?

The point is, they were to take just the gospel with them, not their preconceived ideas about which people was closer to God, or what way of living was more holy, or what cultural norms would be acceptable in the Kingdom.  Yet down through the history of religion humans have struggled with keeping clear about the core of the message.  We wrap it up in the cultural understanding and practice that we have, and we present it as a package to those we proselytize.  Jesus was a Jew first talking to Jews.  But as his ministry continued, both Samaritans and Gentiles received the good news he brought.  They didn’t have to convert to Judaism in order to get near him.  They only had to learn to worship “in Spirit and in truth” as he told the Samaritan woman at the well.  And being a Christian in the first century didn’t mean you necessarily had to be a Jew first, as Saint Paul so ably argued.  So why, in the course of Christianity, did we think that being a Christian also meant being just like the dominant culture that brought the gospel?

This is the legacy of the colonial mindset; when one culture comes to another with the preconceived notion that it is superior.  With the Bible in one hand, it is even easier to imagine that we bring something of great value, therefore our way of living it out must be better than the society without this good news.  But the assumptions that creep in undermine and actually are in opposition to the gospel.  Where in Scripture does Jesus say that people are savages, or dirty or stupid, because they hadn’t figured out what God intends?  He laments the lack of understanding amongst his own Jewish people, and the lack of leadership amongst the religious leaders.  And so he sends his disciples out to demonstrate what God’s way really looks like in the context of his own culture.

By the time the apostles start spreading out to touch the lives of those who are beyond the borders of the Jewish faith, they have had some practice with Jesus about dealing with other cultures.  He didn’t always agree with some of their practices, but he listened to their stories and their questions.  He recognized the same needs for healing and acceptance and justice.   He never categorized them as less than human.  Jesus knew them as children of the same Father.

When Jesus sends us out into our daily lives, we have the same instructions as the first twelve.  Our task is healing and reconciliation, right where we are.  In the Message version of the Scriptures, Matthew 10:5-8 has Jesus saying it this way:

“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers.  And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy.  Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighbourhood.  Tell them that the kingdom is here.  Bring health to the sick.  Raise the dead.  Touch the untouchables.  Kick out the demons.  You have been treated generously, so live generously.”

We need to practice.  In our own neighbourhoods are people that have been here in this area much longer than we have.  Generations.  Millennia.  We have made mistakes in trying to proclaim the gospel to the indigenous people of Canada, and there is much work needed for truth and reconciliation.  Let us return to the gospel values that guided the first apostles, and set aside some of the cultural baggage that has alienated people from us and our attempts to draw them to Christ.  Let us take action in solidarity with the indigenous peoples of Canada:

Listen now to the words of the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada speaking at the Chapel of the Mohawks, Brantford, Ontario, March 19, 2016:

Voice 2: “In renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery that drove colonial expansion – regarding “discovered lands” as empty lands; and treating the First Peoples of the land as savages to be conquered, civilized, and Christianized – our church described that doctrine “as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God”.

I remain deeply committed to enabling our church to let its “yes” in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery be a resounding and continuing “yes”.While much has been written about this doctrine, it is clear there is much more education required if we are to understand the political and spiritual arrogance inherent in it, and the force with which it was upheld through strategies aimed at systemic cultural genocide… I call on every diocese and territory of our church to ensure opportunity for learning about the history and lingering legacy of this doctrine…I am requesting that on National Aboriginal Day, June 21 or the Sunday closest, there be a public reading of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in every parish across Canada.

Narrator: Following are the voices of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by 144 nations in September 2007, and by Canada as “an aspirational document” in November 2010. These headings summarize the Articles of the Declaration affirming the rights and standards affecting relationships with indigenous peoples around the world. They will be accompanied by the voice of the principles guiding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the TRC.

Narrator: TRC Principle #1: “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles (Note: it is recommended that the number of each article be read aloud to designate it clearly)

#1 Human Rights and fundamental freedom

#2 Equality

#3 The right to self-determination

#4 Autonomy and self-governance

Narrator: TRC Principle #2: “First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples, as the original peoples of this country and as self-determining peoples, have treaty, constitutional and human rights that must be recognized and respected.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#5 Indigenous institutions, state participation

#6 Nationality

#7 Life, security, violence free, Guarding against genocide

#8 Cultural integrity and prevention of cultural destruction

#9 Communities and nations without discrimination

 Narrator: TRC Principle #3: “Reconciliation is a process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#10 Free, prior and informed consent prior to removal and relocation

#11 Cultural tradition and customs

#12 Spiritual and religious traditions; repatriation of remains

#13 Native language is fundamental to preserve culture. The guarantee to participate in political, legal and administrative proceedings.

#14 Education in our own culture and language

#15 Education and public information to promote peace in society.

 Narrator: TRC Principle #4: “Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacy of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal people’s education, cultures and language, health, child welfare, the administration of justice and economic opportunities and prosperity.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#16 Media and cultural diversity

#17 Employment and labour; protection from exploitation of children

#18 Indigenous decision making and institutions

#19 Prior consultation with free, prior, informed consent

Narrator: TRC Principle #5: “Reconciliation must create a more equitable and inclusive society by closing the gaps in social, health and economic outcomes that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

Voice 6: United Nations Articles

#20 Subsistence and development in economic activities; entitlement to just and fair redress.

#21 Improvement of indigenous living standards and special measures to ensure them.

#22 Ensure protection for elders, women, youth ,children, and persons with disabilities

#23 Determine and administer the right to economic and social development

Narrator: TRC Principle #6: “All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#24 Traditional medicine and holistic protection of resources. Progressive realization of physical and mental health.

#25 Indigenous peoples have distinctive spiritual relationships with their territories and have responsibilities to future generations.

#26 Land rights and legal recognition of indigenous systems

#27 Due recognition of indigenous lands and resources through fair process by strong participation

Narrator: TRC Principle #7: “The perspectives and understandings of Aboriginal elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers of the ethics, concepts and practices of reconciliation are vital to long-term reconciliation.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#28 Indigenous redress and restitution for lands and resources

#29 Environment conservation and protection ; prevention of hazardous materials; restoring health impacted by such materials

#30 No military activities on indigenous land

#31 Cultural heritage, traditional property and intellectual property.

 Narrator: TRC Principle #8: “Supporting Aboriginal peoples’ cultural revitalization and integrating Indigenous knowledge systems, oral histories, laws, protocols, and connections to the land into the reconciliation process are essential.”

Voice 9: United Nations Articles

#32 Determine and develop priorities and strategies for development

#33 Indigenous identity and citizenship based on customs.

#34 Indigenous legal structures and customary practices in accordance with human rights standards.

#35 Determine individual responsibility in indigenous communities

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #9: “Reconciliation requires political will, trust building, accountability and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.”

Voice 10: United Nations Articles

#36 Contact and cooperation despite division due to borders

#37 Recognition of treaty rights and observation of agreements.

#38 National measures for achievement of declaration articles

#39 Access to assistance from states and international cooperation

#40 Dispute resolution and remedies based on indigenous traditions and customs and international human rights law

#41 Full realization of rights through cooperation and assistance from UN systems and intergovernmental organizations

Narrator: TRC Principle #10: “Reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canadian society.”

Voice 11: United Nations Articles

#42 Promotion and application of declaration articles through UN specialized agencies and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

#43 The rights and the declaration are the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world

#44 Guarantee of gender equality

#45 Nothing in the declaration diminishes or extinguishes indigenous peoples’ rights now or in the future

#46 Respect for UN Charter and promotion of the principals of peace, justice and human rights.

Closing Prayer: Merciful God, you call us to loving relationship with one another.Be with us now as we seek to heal old wounds and find joy again in this relationship.Replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.Give us the gifts of honesty and openness, and fill us with your healing power and grace.We ask this in Jesus’s name.Amen.

(Anglican Healing Fund prayer)

 Please read aloud the words for Voice 2

Narrator: Listen now to the words of the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada speaking at the Chapel of the Mohawks, Brantford, Ontario, March 19, 2016:

Voice 2: “In renouncing the Doctrine of Discovery that drove colonial expansion – regarding “discovered lands” as empty lands; and treating the First Peoples of the land as savages to be conquered, civilized, and Christianized – our church described that doctrine “as fundamentally opposed to the gospel of Christ and our understanding of the inherent rights that individuals and peoples have received from God”.

I remain deeply committed to enabling our church to let its “yes” in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery be a resounding and continuing “yes”.While much has been written about this doctrine, it is clear there is much more education required if we are to understand the political and spiritual arrogance inherent in it, and the force with which it was upheld through strategies aimed at systemic cultural genocide… I call on every diocese and territory of our church to ensure opportunity for learning about the history and lingering legacy of this doctrine…I am requesting that on National Aboriginal Day, June 21 or the Sunday closest, there be a public reading of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in every parish across Canada.

Narrator: Following are the voices of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by 144 nations in September 2007, and by Canada as “an aspirational document” in November 2010. These headings summarize the Articles of the Declaration affirming the rights and standards affecting relationships with indigenous peoples around the world. They will be accompanied by the voice of the principles guiding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the TRC.

Narrator: TRC Principle #1: “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the framework for reconciliation at all levels and across all sectors of Canadian society.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles (Note: it is recommended that the number of each article be read aloud to designate it clearly)

#1 Human Rights and fundamental freedom

#2 Equality

#3 The right to self-determination

#4 Autonomy and self-governance

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #2: “First Nations, Inuit and Metis Peoples, as the original peoples of this country and as self-determining peoples, have treaty, constitutional and human rights that must be recognized and respected.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#5 Indigenous institutions, state participation

#6 Nationality

#7 Life, security, violence free, Guarding against genocide

#8 Cultural integrity and prevention of cultural destruction

#9 Communities and nations without discrimination

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #3: “Reconciliation is a process of healing relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#10 Free, prior and informed consent prior to removal and relocation

#11 Cultural tradition and customs

#12 Spiritual and religious traditions; repatriation of remains

#13 Native language is fundamental to preserve culture. The guarantee to participate in political, legal and administrative proceedings.

#14 Education in our own culture and language

#15 Education and public information to promote peace in society.

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #4: “Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacy of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal people’s education, cultures and language, health, child welfare, the administration of justice and economic opportunities and prosperity.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#16 Media and cultural diversity

#17 Employment and labour; protection from exploitation of children

#18 Indigenous decision making and institutions

#19 Prior consultation with free, prior, informed consent

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #5: “Reconciliation must create a more equitable and inclusive society by closing the gaps in social, health and economic outcomes that exist between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

Voice 6: United Nations Articles

#20 Subsistence and development in economic activities; entitlement to just and fair redress.

#21 Improvement of indigenous living standards and special measures to ensure them.

#22 Ensure protection for elders, women, youth ,children, and persons with disabilities

#23 Determine and administer the right to economic and social development

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #6: “All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#24 Traditional medicine and holistic protection of resources. Progressive realization of physical and mental health.

#25 Indigenous peoples have distinctive spiritual relationships with their territories and have responsibilities to future generations.

#26 Land rights and legal recognition of indigenous systems

#27 Due recognition of indigenous lands and resources through fair process by strong participation

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #7: “The perspectives and understandings of Aboriginal elders and Traditional Knowledge Keepers of the ethics, concepts and practices of reconciliation are vital to long-term reconciliation.”

Voice 2: United Nations Articles

#28 Indigenous redress and restitution for lands and resources

#29 Environment conservation and protection ; prevention of hazardous materials; restoring health impacted by such materials

#30 No military activities on indigenous land

#31 Cultural heritage, traditional property and intellectual property.

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #8: “Supporting Aboriginal peoples’ cultural revitalization and integrating Indigenous knowledge systems, oral histories, laws, protocols, and connections to the land into the reconciliation process are essential.”

Voice 9: United Nations Articles

#32 Determine and develop priorities and strategies for development

#33 Indigenous identity and citizenship based on customs.

#34 Indigenous legal structures and customary practices in accordance with human rights standards.

#35 Determine individual responsibility in indigenous communities

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #9: “Reconciliation requires political will, trust building, accountability and transparency, as well as a substantial investment of resources.”

Voice 10: United Nations Articles

#36 Contact and cooperation despite division due to borders

#37 Recognition of treaty rights and observation of agreements.

#38 National measures for achievement of declaration articles

#39 Access to assistance from states and international cooperation

#40 Dispute resolution and remedies based on indigenous traditions and customs and international human rights law

#41 Full realization of rights through cooperation and assistance from UN systems and intergovernmental organizations

 

Narrator: TRC Principle #10: “Reconciliation requires sustained public education and dialogue, including youth engagement, about the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canadian society.”

Voice 11: United Nations Articles

#42 Promotion and application of declaration articles through UN specialized agencies and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

#43 The rights and the declaration are the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world

#44 Guarantee of gender equality

#45 Nothing in the declaration diminishes or extinguishes indigenous peoples’ rights now or in the future

#46 Respect for UN Charter and promotion of the principals of peace, justice and human rights.

 

Closing Prayer: Merciful God, you call us to loving relationship with one another.Be with us now as we seek to heal old wounds and find joy again in this relationship.Replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.Give us the gifts of honesty and openness, and fill us with your healing power and grace.We ask this in Jesus’s name.Amen.

(Anglican Healing Fund prayer)

 

Pentecost 5, July 2, 2017

Genesis 22:1-19

St. John the Apostle

“What do we do with bad stories?”

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

What do we do with bad stories?  The troubling tales, the hurtful histories, the scriptures that make us squeamish and defensive?  This morning we heard the passage about God commanding Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah. I have to preach on it.  And you have to do something about it.  We have some choices.

We can deny or discount this portion of Scripture.  Some Christians would prefer not to read any of the Old Testament, especially the bits that seem to show an angry, holy, and jealous God rather than the God of love that Jesus proclaims.  But this, we come to realize, is a false dichotomy, for by that standard we could just as well rip out the pages of the gospels that tell of the crucifixion of God’s son.  I could have chosen to consider one of the other Scripture readings in my sermon today, and ignore this one.  But the revised common lectionary keeps us honest and the Bible challenges us rather than just makes us feel good about ourselves.

Similarly, we can try to hide the bad stories like Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of Isaac.  We could cut it out of the Sunday lectionary, and not include it in the Sunday School curriculum.  Some of us might not miss it.  There are good reasons why some passages are considered more suitable for public teaching.  My husband the teacher, on the other hand, keeps advocating for 2 Kings 2:23-24 to be read to children as a cautionary tale:

“Elisha went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him saying, ‘Go away, baldy!  When he turned around and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord.  Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys”.

Perhaps the Church should restrict such sections for those of more mature faith, similar to the Jewish recommendation that you should be at least 40 years old before you study the sexually explicit Song of Solomon (However, challenge teenagers with this prohibition and they may actually read more Scripture!).

Much Biblical scholarship seems to find ways to explain or justify the events in these “texts of terror”, as theologian Phyllis Trible refers to them.  Placed within a culture and time, the horrors are downplayed as merely relics of a chauvinistic past.  The victims are viewed from a safe distance.  The danger is that Scripture that is exegeted but not linked to what God is calling us to do about it today becomes a continuing means of oppression, prejudice, hatred, and fear.

If the bad stories cannot be explained or justified, then they can be rewritten to suit the modern understanding.  Experts claim to have insight on what the original author really meant, even across centuries and multiple re-workings of the text.  It is possible to twist the Bible to say whatever supports our perspective if we do not pay attention to the bits that don’t fit.

Yes, we can deny, hide, justify, or re-write the difficult stories of our Bible.  But there is another way.  When we are faced with a story that we would rather not engage, we can have the courage to listen, to struggle, and to learn.   Entering into the text opens the door to question, wonder, and empathy with the characters in the story. And perhaps to learn that there are layers of meaning which can teach us to see the world differently.

In the Jewish faith, Genesis chapter 22 is called the binding of Isaac or the “Akedah”.  It is read to the community at the Jewish New Year, which is a time for repentance.  The ram’s horn, the “shofar” is blown to remind God of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and God’s willingness to provide the ram in his stead.  In the reading of this passage, the Jewish people are once again bound in their obedience to God, even as they continue to struggle to understand God’s demand.  The story is mentioned nowhere else in the Old Testament by the writers or the prophets, but the theology of suffering as a sign of God’s favour for a chosen people continued to evolve over history.

When we as Christians read this same passage, we too struggle with how God could have demanded the sacrifice of a son’s life.  There is a happy ending for Isaac.  God provides a ram in his place, and he escapes death at the hands of his earthly father.  Similarly, we are looking at the crucifixion from a post-resurrection perspective.  The idea of God allowing Jesus to hang on the cross is tempered by the knowledge that after death, Christ rose again.  This may help avoid the accusation of divine child abuse, but the comparison of Jesus to Isaac is troubling.  In both narratives, a father offers up a son.  What kind of love is this?

Biblical writer Bruce Feiler looks closely at the dialogue (and lack of dialogue) in this episode in Genesis to help break our assumptions about the story.   When Abraham tells his servants, “the boy and I will… go and worship, and then we will come back to you” there is an expectation that God will provide another offering and Isaac is going to survive.  But when it gets to the moment when Isaac is bound and helpless, and Abraham raises his knife, there is no pleading with God or Abraham to stay his hand.  Isaac is silent. Abraham is silent.  And God is silent.  What is happening in this moment.  Feiler puts forward the following hypothesis:

“Almost all interpretations of the binding suggest it’s a test, specifically a trial of Abraham’s love for God:  would he be willing to do whatever God asked, however inhuman?  Even the text takes this position, stating at the outset that ‘God put Abraham to the test.’  But God never tells Abraham it’s a test.  Even more, he never asks Abraham to kill his son.  God demands only that Abraham take Isaac to a mountain and offer him as a burnt offering.  Abraham is never explicitly given the order to slay his son.  Early Jews, mindful of this nuance, referred to the event as an offering, not a binding and not a sacrifice.  Death was not considered part of the story… As a result, maybe Abraham is not being tested at all.  Maybe he’s doing the testing.  Perhaps the episode is Abraham’s way of testing God, specifically God’s promise in the preceding chapter that Abraham’s offspring will be continued through Isaac.  Given that God pressured Abraham to expel Ishmael, Abraham surely would have been doubting God’s loyalty.  His attempt to kill Isaac thus becomes a way for Abraham to determine if God is a figure of mercy and compassion, which is deeply in question at the moment.”  (p. 87-88 Abraham, a Journey to the Heart of 3 Faiths).

When we struggle with Scripture, we too are doing our own testing out of God.  We are asking, ‘Where is God present in this story?  Where is God absent?’  Our faith gives us some tools so that we do not have to run away from the texts of terror.  We can follow the rough road.  In her introduction, “On Telling Sad Stories”, Phyllis Trible urges us to take provisions to sustain us on the journey.  “They are few but ample:  a perspective, a methodology, and a story” (p. 3).  As a perspective, she suggests a prophetic movement that examines the status quo, pronounces judgment, and calls for repentance.  As methodology, she encourages a literary criticism that considers form, content and meaning, especially in the portrayal of characters that suffer.  This is not an abstract way of going about Bible study.  It is the power that we can bring to bear on all the stories of our lives:  in Scripture, in political discourse, in our parish history, and in our personal sagas.

For example, this weekend our country is marking 150 years of confederation as Canada.  We can celebrate the story that is being told is of how settlers came and made a modern nation.  But beside and within that story line are other stories that also need to be listened to and learned from.  Some of them are bad stories, and some of them come from very different perspectives.  In our own lives, too, there are things that we would much rather deny, or hide, or rewrite about our families and ourselves.  But all of them together shape who we are and our present relationship with God.  May we have the faith to believe that in our story, the Lord will provide.  Amen.

 

 

Homily for Easter 2, April 23, 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

John 20:19-31

 

“Marks of Mission”

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

Some religious places should have warnings:  may contain scenes of graphic violence.  They pop up when you least expect them.  I was visiting a retreat house on which had a separate dining room for the nuns of the convent.  Since I was the only guest there, I was invited to join them at table.  In the corner, staring me in the face, was a large plaster statue representing Jesus of the bleeding heart.  Somehow the image of Christ ripping open his robes to reveal an anatomically correct and technicolour organ put me off my dinner.

Visitors to churches may be unsettled by the crucifixes, the martyrs’ tombs, the Bible stories immortalized in glass and tapestry.  They often depict suffering and death.  From the Easter side of the resurrection story most Christians can put them in the context of life everlasting, but they can still evoke a squeamish response.   Modern people prefer beauty without flaw, life without decay, reward without mention of suffering.  An empty cross is easier on the eyes than a man hanging in pain.  But when Jesus rose, he did not escape from the tomb unmarked.  His resurrected body bore the marks of the hurts that were inflicted in the crucifixion.  Hands and side bear witness to his passion and testify to God’s victory.  These are the currency of physical death and physical resurrection which Jesus has paid for all of us.

So when Jesus appears after that first Easter morning, those scars are an important detail.  They are a means of the disciples recognizing their Lord.  They are also a proclamation that he is actually who he said he was:  the Messiah, the Son of God.  The marks are mentioned three times in the gospel story this morning from John chapter 20.  The first time is verse 20, when Jesus appears amongst the fearful followers, who are hiding from the authorities.  As proof that he is alive and that Mary has spoken truly, he shows them his hands and his side.  The disciples’ response is to rejoice, for now they see him as their Lord.

One disciple, Thomas, was not present amongst the gathering.  He tells the others “unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (verse 25).  In demanding this, he is not doubting any more than his friends did before they got to touch and affirm the risen Lord.  He wants the same proof so that he too can rejoice and believe.

Then in verse 27, Jesus comes again to the gathering and invites Thomas to touch his wounds.  “Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe”.  And it is in this act of intimacy that Thomas literally puts his finger on it.  “My Lord and my God”, he cries.  The purpose of this written record is so that those who come after this first generation of witnesses may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that though believing him we may have life in his name.  But we have not seen; we have not touched.  How are we or others around us to come to believe?

Those marks on the risen Jesus put him in solidarity with all of humanity.  We are all wounded in some way.  Sometimes what we have gone through even leaves physical marks on our bodies.  Pregnancy stretch marks, surgery scars, broken and set bones, stitches, cut marks, burns, needle scabs, tattoos and piercings.  Some we inflict on ourselves, other we endure for another.  All bear witness to our struggles.  Yet more marks are hidden and secret:  loneliness, abandonment, sickness, despair.  They too are carried, not just within the wounds that Jesus received as a human, but those he continues to show as the risen Christ.  When we see an image of the man with holes in his hands, it is not just a representation of the pain that Jesus once suffered.  It is also a lifting up of our own present pain.

But it is not the Church’s task to carry another’s woundedness.  We would sink under the load.  Only God is the healer.  Instead the Church, as the body of Christ,  are to collectively remember those marks, and find new ways to proclaim them for the world to see.  They are the symbols that new life is possible in spite of what has happened.  Love is stronger than death.  Scars are more powerful reminders of healing than unscarred flesh.  Those that we bear show that we are willing to get our hands dirty and hurt in order to serve.  What then marks us as followers of the risen Christ?

The Anglican Communion worldwide has identified a framework to describe and encourage ministry through the following five marks of mission:

to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

  1. to teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
  2. to respond to human need by loving service
  3. to seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
  4. to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

It is up to each local congregation to take concrete actions to make these marks visible to the wider community.

Our starting point is this parish.  If you think about it, the place where we gather says a lot to outsiders about what we believe and what we think is important.  What do you think people see when they come to our building?  How does it reflect the marks of mission?  We don’t have a plaster Jesus of the bleeding heart here (at least, I haven’t found one yet).  But we are surrounded by things that tell the observer about what matters and what doesn’t.  Are there clues that reveal our willingness to love and labour in the brokenness of human life, to be wounded healers through the power of the resurrection?  As Christians, we must be able to point to some signs of our belief, so that others can come to touch God.  This is our mission, as it was that of the first apostles, for “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

The questions we ask are important.  What speaks of our willingness to proclaim the good news?  How do we teach and nurture?  How does the world see loving service here?  When do we speak out about unjust structures, challenge wrongs, and pursue peace and reconciliation?  And in what ways do we demonstrate our commitment to safeguard and sustain the creation?  As we are willing to bring them to God, the Holy Spirit will breathe among us, and make us a people forgiven and forgiving.  Amen.

 

Homily for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 By: the Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 28:1-10

See, and Go”

I had been called to the hospital bed of an elderly woman whom I had visited before.  She was frail and forgetful but now there were major health problems, and her family was concerned that she might not have too much longer.  Upon arrival, I went up to the nursing station and asked for her room number.  When I got to the ward and looked in, my heart sank a little.  The bed she had been assigned was empty and stripped of sheets.  I knew she had not been scheduled for any tests.  It looked like I had gotten to the hospital too late, and she had died in the night.  I was just about to turn around and head back home when I heard a sound of a toilet flushing. The door to the washroom opened, and out she came on her own two feet.  Rumours of her demise were overstated. Continue reading “Homily for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 By: the Rev. Stephanie Shepard”

Homily- April 30th, 2017- The Rev. Anne Anchor

April 30, 2017 Luke 24: 13-35      The Reverend Anne Anchor – Deacon

 May these words and these thoughts that I share as a Deacon of your church be true to your word, gracious Lord

 I found this quote from Scott Hoezee on the Centre for Excellence in Preaching

“After his wife died, C.S. Lewis once wrote that he thought that his grief might be less if he intentionally avoided the places he and his wife Joy had frequented by limiting his travels to only those places where they had never been together.  So he switched grocery stores, tried different restaurants, walked only along streets and paths that he and Joy had never taken.  But it didn’t work.  To paraphrase Lewis, ‘I found out that grief is like the sky above—it is over everything’ “.

In light of what CS Lewis wrote I wonder if perhaps the disciples were as they walked the road to Emmaus ‘switching grocery stores’, ‘walking along streets and paths that they had never taken to try to calm their grief.’

One thing common about grief is that no matter how we handle it, we long for the end of that deep deep sadness and of that feeling of loss and we look for a new way of moving forward. That new way will often give us something to hold onto as we develop a new relationship with that person, something we can live with.

As I grieved the death of my dad, over 20 years ago, I settled deeply into a grief of the heart. I grieved with my mom as we talked about dad and as we cried together many times. I frequently listened to the song  ‘One Sweet Day’ by Boyz 2 Men and Mariah Carey with my daughter and we wept together

As time went by my mom felt the need to go to Grief recovery. At one session the facilitator said to us …  “there must come a time when you will need to ‘let go of your loved one’ “. This comment was a real struggle for me as I processed it, it was a real trigger to my emotions and I finally said … ‘I will never ‘let go’ of my dad, he is a part of me, he is a part of my children, he will always be a part of my life’ As I paused to calm myself down I was finally able to share that I believe it is not about letting go of our loved one,  it is about building a new relationship with them, a new relationship that enables healing and acknowledges the continued presence of that person in our lives.

This gospel contains two stories of the continued presence of Jesus. The first is a fleeting moment in time when they were talking and processing ‘all these things that had happened..’ I can imagine they are tossing around many ideas about how they had been let down by their teacher, and that perhaps what they had heard as they travelled with Jesus was not true and how they were sad not only at his death but at their feeling of abandonment. Perhaps they felt as CS Lewis ..

“that grief is like the sky above—it is over everything”

As the disciples walked and talked they were searching for a way out of their grief and searching for a way to make sense of all that had happened. Perhaps they were searching for a way to build a new relationship with their Lord and teacher.

But as an image appears to them they are challenged to think about what they are saying as they hear ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! …’ …. How    slow    of heart … In these words alone they are reminded that it is not by logic and reason that one believes but through the heart.

The second encounter remains today and will remain as long as there is Christian community. Through a reminder of an evening meal they had shared together this presence was about to do something that would enable them to understand who this was. The author of Luke writes …..  ‘When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them’.

This searching for understanding of who Jesus is to us is a life journey for ourselves personally and for us as a community. We sometimes have those moments when we believe we have encountered Jesus or the Spirit of Christ.

These encounters may be in those little moments of life when we are offered compassion and caring simply through the smile of another that brightens an otherwise dull day; or perhaps it may be when we look into the eyes of a new born and realize that they are looking beyond you as if to say… well this is different, I wonder what this new place will be like; perhaps it is in that moment when you are offered a thank you from the homeless person to whom you have shown compassion; perhaps it is on that Sunday morning when you look around you at church and realize that the Spirit of Christ is shining through each person around you; perhaps it is at the table of God when you are fed and feel nourished in a new way as never before. Some of us may have encountered the Risen Christ in a Road to Emmaus experience but those happen rarely. If we are prepared to open our hearts, we know that we can encounter the Risen Christ as we share at the table and break the bread and remember that Jesus told his disciples, do this and remember me.

There may be times in our lives when we begin to walk the Road to Emmaus, despondent, sad and longing to understand a death, a loss, an injustice, and we long to understand our grief, our hurt and sense of unfairness. Hoping as CS Lewis wrote, “ that his grief might be less if he intentionally avoided the places he and Joy had frequented by limiting his travels to only those places where they had never been together. “ We long for release from our pain and even though opportunities to do so abound around us more often than not we miss the signs of hope along the way. And then the time comes when gradually some light, some hope begins to break through and our eyes are no longer  closed to this light.

My heart tells me that I do ‘see’ Jesus in the actions of Social Justice of others. I do ‘see’ Jesus in the love and compassion of people within this community. I have seen the Spirit of Christ in the awe and mystery of being in contemplation. Yet I still at times long for Jesus to come physically near to me.

We can never give up on the hope that we can and will encounter The Risen Christ. Our faith is based on not only a belief in rebirth, in new life  but on the meal of remembrance that we share.

As the disciples eyes were opened as The Risen Christ broke bread, so may our eyes be opened to new life and hope, as we continue to build this community together centered around the table and broken bread. As a community we are in the process of forging a new vision and new relationships. We have grieved together through many different losses over the past few years. Now is the time for us to move forward in the hope of a renewed vision of what it means to be in a new relationship with the Spirit of Christ with one another and with this community of Port Moody.

I think Ronald Rolheiser Roman Catholic priest, teacher and writer says it better when he writes about this Road to Emmaus experience ….

“Hope is still more real than death.

In our hurt, we are struggling for words and grasping for trust.

We need to remain on the road to Emmaus.

The stranger still stalks that same road.

In his company  we need to discuss our doubts, discuss the scriptures and continually offer each other bread and consolation. At some moment too, our eyes will be opened. We will understand and we will recognize the risen Lord. Then the dream will explode anew like a flower bursting in bloom after a long winter.

We will be full of a new innocence.

Easter Sunday will happen again.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homily for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 27:11-54

 

“open heart, open arms”

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.

A couple of years ago, some of the people I knew were having a particularly difficult time during Lent.  One had been struggling with mental health issues, several had expressed feelings of deep depression, others were overwhelmed with responsibilities for aging and ill parents and their own children.  They came to me as a pastor for comfort, hope, and healing.  At 10 pm on Good Friday I received text messages from a fellow who was suicidal.  I spent the weekend wondering if he were alive or dead.  On one level, I knew I was being drained by all this need and hurt, but I kept going and giving as I could.  The breaking point, literally, came the day I got word of a mother I had worked with who was abandoning her life and leaving town, refusing to speak to any of her friends or support services.  After that phone call, I started having chest pains.

In the first few minutes, I couldn’t believe what was happening.   I was more embarrassed and annoyed: I had too many things to do, I didn’t have time for feeling sick.  But then I began feeling like I was suffocating from a tight band around my ribs, that I couldn’t move, couldn’t think straight.  I bargained with myself.  I had to go up to the hospital to visit two people anyway, so maybe I would get it checked out while I was up there. I got in my car somehow and drove, and by the time I reached my destination had convinced myself it wasn’t so bad.  Still, I presented myself at emergency feeling rather sheepish at this point and told them I was having chest pain.  Onto the examining table, electrodes attached, blood drawn: nobody was taking any chances.  And hours later, the tests came back normal, and I was allowed to leave, with a warning to follow up with my doctor.

I followed up with my doctor, with my bishop, and with a retreat.  And in prayer an image came to me of the world, surrounded by a broken heart, surrounded by a second and larger heart.  I believe it to be God’s answer to my question of why this had happened:  my heart is not large enough to hold the world.  Only God can.   In my attempts at love and compassion, there is a temptation to shoulder the pain of others and feel somehow responsible for fixing it myself.  But only God’s heart is large enough to encompass and hold all of ours as we live in the midst of brokenness and hurt.  And this is why we hear again the terrible and awesome story of the passion of Jesus on the cross.   In this work, God submits to open-heart surgery.  Let me explain what I mean by that.

Elie Wiesel is a holocaust survivor, a journalist, an author, and a Jewish theologian.   In his 2012 book Open Heart, he reflects on his experience as a patient who has suffered a heart attack and has undergone open heart surgery:

“I didn’t know, I couldn’t know, just how complicated it is, with risks and dangers that defy imagination.  For the layman that I am, this surgery is not unlike a walk on the moon.  There is the frightening discovery of the need to temporarily stop the heart, to replace it with a machine while the surgeon operates… I was coming back from far away, very far away indeed.  And I just as easily could have stayed on the other side.  I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude.  Still under the influence of anesthesia, I try to whisper: ‘Thank you.  Thank you, doctor.’  At that moment, did I think of thanking God as well?  After all, I owe him that much.  But I am not sure that I did.  At that precise moment, only the surgeon- his messenger, no doubt- moved me to gratitude.”  (p. 26)

I believe that the image of the heart stopping in order for the body to be healed is a powerful metaphor for what God does in the person of Jesus.  God submits to death in order to restart and restore humanity.  And God can only do this through a human being who is ready, willing, and able to die.  The crucifixion is not just “kenosis” in the sense of a self-emptying or limiting of God into a human body, but a willingness for the Creator, Godself, to stop, to die, in order for creation to be reset for new life.

This is not a magical moment of restoration, however.  It is a painful, tearing, struggling, desperate last attempt at reconciliation.  There is no plan B.  Jesus doesn’t argue with the process, but he is not serene about it either.  The only words we get in him in the gospel of Matthew are at the beginning and the end of the passion.  When asked, “Are you the King of the Jews”, Jesus responds, “You say so”. In doing so, he accepts the label that the governor Pilate gives him, though this is what will lead the authorities to condemn him for blasphemy and treason.  Then, as he hangs on the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”.  God and Jesus are so deeply fused in person that there is no-one outside to call upon for help.  God enters the depth of the human experience of despair.  And God’s heart stops within the human one.

Creator and creation hold breath, suspend heartbeat…  And then start.  And there is resurrection.  Every year we enact this liturgically between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, especially in the between-time we call Holy Saturday.  But it is not just at Easter that we die inside and live again.  Every day we can know this to be true as an action we carry within each of our bodies.  When we cannot pray, when we cannot find God in anything that we do or experience, our bodies still pray for us.  Each breath is a prayer.  Each heartbeat is a prayer.  And each pain and question that we cannot heal for ourselves, that others cannot fix for us, is still held in the heart of God.

We call ourselves a resurrection people, acknowledging that there is death and there is life, and that one grows out of the other.  Today we carry palm crosses to remind us.  But deep in our bodies we carry the cross of Christ, and the love that not only dared to die, but to live again for us.  We are marked because we are humans who are made in the image of God.  Our bodies are made of the same stuff as Jesus.  They are weak and finite and fragile things.  Living again is not easy.  It is painful.  It will never be like it was before we experienced our individual wounding, whether they are physical or emotional and spiritual.  But the past is indeed dead, and we cannot return to it or recreate it.  We were not redeemed to remain ghosts in the shadows.  The cross proclaims that we are not abandoned even in death, for hope comes even with Jesus’ exultant last cry that reunites his breath to the Spirit of Life.

We may not see God, but if we look, we will see the person who acts in God’s place in our situation.  For Elie Wiesel, the surgeon acted as the hands of God to operate on his heart.  In this he was able to voice his thanks.  On the cross, we are shown Jesus as the heart of God.  In our every day, who do we see as the messenger of this good news?

If we try to save others, our hearts will break.  If we try to save ourselves, we will fail and despair.  But there is One before us with an open heart, and open arms, who has the power to restore our human hearts to health.  Amen.

Stephanie+

 

 

Lent 5: Sources of Transformation: Diakonia – The Rev. Trudi Shaw, The Rev. Anne Anchor

Sermon 17/04/01  Lent 5:  Sources of Transformation:  Diakonia (Service, Stewardship, Evangelism)  Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

Trudi:

As a chaplain working in a secular context, in which the importance of spiritual care is often marginalized as “that fluffy, non-medical stuff”, I have appreciated the words of Pierre Teilhard du Chardin who said,

“We are not Human Beings in search of a spiritual experience.  We are Spiritual Beings immersed in a human experience.” 

His words come to mind as I reflect on the wonderful images from our readings:

The “dry bones” of Ezekiel’s vision, reanimated by the “Ruah” – the breath and Spirit of God – bringing a message of hope and new life to the people of Israel in exile.

Paul’s description of the “indwelling Spirit” that fills and motivates us, and gives us fullness of life, regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

And Jesus calling Lazarus forth from his tomb, long after the spirit had left his body and he should have been no more than a rotting and foul-smelling corpse.

Two things strike me about this reading that I believe are of importance to us as we discern God’s purpose for us at St. John:

When Jesus called – Lazarus responded.  He chose to leave the grave behind and risk ‘new life’!

And Jesus instructs the community to remove the grave cloths that have bound him in death.

Our response to God’s call to new life is essential; and our life in the community of the faithful helps us to remain free, unbound, to serve God’s will.

When Spirit and flesh are united in Christ, there is Life and the wholeness of God’s Peace.  When Spirit and flesh are separated we live always in the shadow of death, where fear and despair are our constant companions.

This spiritual death makes us more like mourners at a wake.  We dwell on past glories and fond memories, longing for things that are long gone.   In this state we are unable to see what God is doing to revive and bring new life to us, and to the Church.  We are incapable of responding  –  unable to be the People of God in the world.  We are in danger of becoming nothing more than dry bones.

But, just as Jesus called Lazarus forth from his grave, we are being called from all that threatens to entomb us and render us lifeless – the attitudes and fears and judgements that are not of God, and threaten to destroy the body of Christ.

We too have a choice: to respond to the voice of Christ, to leave our tombs, and to remove the grave-cloths that bind us to our old lives of sin and death.  Or to cling to what is ‘safe’, familiar…

In our Sources of Transformation series we have been speaking of the fundamental ways in which we are able to grow as people of faith so that we are able to respond to Christ – to live in the Spirit, and be his body in the world.

Whether we are able to see it or not, God is at work, reanimating and renewing the Church for the work of the Gospel.

And I believe that one of the signs of the ‘dry bones rattling’, is a renewed understanding of Diakonia, and the recovery of the sacred order of deacons in our modern church.

Anne……

For me, growing into an understanding of Diakonia has been an on going and ever changing journey.

The Sources of Transformation calls it Action, which it is but also much more.

What we do as Christians in the world is based on our commitment to following in the ways of Jesus.

We will be reminded of this in two weeks as we participate in the Maundy Thursday service then we will follow in the action of Jesus as he washed the feet of the disciples and says to them

‘So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example  that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.’

One of the challenges people have while reflecting on ministry and their lives in EfM is in trying to sort why what we do as Christians is any different to what other good people in the world do. I have come to my understanding that the main distinction we have as Christians is that we are doing what we do in response to God’s call to us following the example of Jesus. When we serve the other in our world we should know we are doing so because Jesus said ….

‘You also should do as I have done’ …..

During my formation to ordination I spent much time reflecting about the place of a deacon in the financial world. I had read so much about the work of the Deacon

as one who serves the poor, the widowed and the orphaned. It took me awhile to realize that this is service to the marginalized and the disenfranchised. I came to understand that in today’s world these two words clearly spoke about people

who had to deal with large institutions. If I could bring a little bit of caring and compassion to that environment I would be doing the work of a deacon in the world.

The week before my retirement I was having a conversation with a customer in my office about what I was going to do in retirement. I explained to him that I was a Deacon and what that meant. He paused and looked at me and said….

‘now I understand why I have felt so different about talking with you rather than other managers …… he said ‘there is a bit of salt in this corner of the bank ..

referencing Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth”

This is about a deepening awareness that as Christians living out our Diakonia, we are not called to serve only within the gathered community but in the wider world around us.

It is in the 3 statements of IF’s in this gospel …..

– “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

– and as both Martha and Mary say ….

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

that we are given the opportunity to see whom Jesus is, he takes these statements of IF’s and turns them into opportunities for people to see more clearly.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’”

During my formation I too would use the word IF, as in I can only respond to this sense of call to ordained diaconal ministry if …… this or that happens. It was when I stopped putting up this argument that I was able to hear and follow  where God was clearly calling me.

We are all called to serve in the world, we are called to respond to the needs of the world out of gratitude for all that we have been blessed with from God….  (stewardship).We are called to be witnesses through word and action to God and in sharing the love of Jesus with others in our daily lives (evangelism) ….. We are called to serve all whom we encounter in the world as Christ served. (action)

It would be remiss to not offer an understanding of why the Deacon is important to the community as a participant in worship. The Deacon has primary roles in liturgy  that are symbols for the community of Diakonia.

As we read the gospel we proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ  as the one who shows us how to use our gifts from God in serving people with whom we walk daily.

We set the table as a symbol of all the servants in the community who serve God

and also to quote my fellow Deacon, Trudi ….

‘we set the table so as to make sure everyone has a place at the banquet….’

Finally we offer the dismissal for all to go out to bear witness to Christ                               through their presence, deeds and words.

As deacons, to share thoughts about our ministry focus in the world, we are also authorized, on rotation, to preach and to lead the prayers of the people as a way of bringing the cares and concerns of the world to the church.

Trudi:

Many of us are blessed to experience St. John’s as a welcoming and loving community.  We enjoy being and working together.  But if that is all we are, we are no more than a Social or Service club and “there is no breath in us”.

God calls us to be a ‘Spirited community’ – alive in Christ.  We are transformed – and are agents of transformation – through our service to others, our careful use of the gifts God has given us, and our willingness to share with the world, the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The call to Diakonia begins for all of us in our baptism and is a life-long commitment we make in response to God’s commitment to us.

A quote from our Diocesan Website reads:  “Thus our deepest and most fundamental spirituality springs from our baptism, the event in which an indissoluble bond is created between us and God, through which we receive a new identity and a new purpose.” 

So let us take a moment this morning to remember the promise of God –  to animate our ‘dry bones’; to unbind our spirits; to call us from the tomb of fear and despair – so we might experience the fullness of our New Life in Christ.

And let us renew our promise to God in our Baptismal Covenant.

 Anne and Trudi:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?  I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?  I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?  I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?  I will, with God’s help.

Will you safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth?  I will, with God’s help.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Reflection on Transformation, Didascalia/Study and Learning: Mind, heart, and practice- March 19th, 2017

The Rev. Deacon Anne Achor

Reference Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42

I began my reflection on this gospel passage in light of our theme today for this part of the Lenten series on Transformation, Didascalia/Study and Learning: Mind, heart, and practice. It came to me that in the dialogue Jesus has with this woman, when she expresses her thoughts and challenges about what living water means to her, Jesus shows her respect even though she is female and a Samaritan. Jesus is not afraid to overcome old prejudices and is willing to break the social conventions that dehumanize others of his day.

The living water that Jesus promises her, is also symbolized in the water that, for Moses comes out of the rock in the reading from Exodus. This is God’s purifying water,     that purifies our hearts of old hatreds prejudices and hostilities and forms us as a diverse people of God on earth.

Further, Jesus is not going to accept this woman trying to pull the wool over his eyes and likewise, she shows respect to Jesus for what he knows about her.

For me, this gospel passage, shows that John’s Jesus is following in his Jewish tradition of accepting discussion and challenges with people who wish to understand and deepen their beliefs in whom this person,   this teacher      Jesus is.

Rabbi Jacob Neusner, in his book, A Rabbi talks with Jesus, explains that for a rabbi to argue  and dialogue with others is a sign of respect:Neusner says … “It, ….that is argument and dialogue, ….is my form of respect, the only compliment I crave from others, the only serious tribute I pay to the people I take seriously — and therefore I come to respect and even love them.”    I feel that the nugget in this gospel passage is in the closing verse   after the Samaritans have spent time with Jesus and they say to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”

It is through their personal encounter, talking and discussing with Jesus that they are able to come to their own understanding about whom he is. I believe It is through reading, studying and reflection that we enter more deeply into who Jesus is for us. It is as we enter more deeply into our understanding of scripture and our tradition that we are able to answer, for ourselves the question Jesus asks the disciples

,,,, who do you say that I am

At the beginning of each second year of EfM (Education for Ministry), I challenge the 2nd year students, to study the Christian Testament with this question in mind. I hope that by the end of their 2nd year they are able to answer this question ‘who do you say that I am’ from the depths of their heart and soul.

I believe, that when individuals are able to work through a response to this question they are more empowered to embrace the teachings of Jesus and incorporate them into their daily life.

When I was in Elementary School I loved to read. I always had a book that I read at night until I fell asleep. I would usually wake up in the morning and start off my day by reading until I had to get up for breakfast. As I reflect back on this time it is still surprising to me that as such an avid reader I was put in a remedial reading comprehension program.

I suspect if I were in school today I would have been diagnosed with a learning disorder.

I remember during my university days as my mom typed up my essays for me (I was useless at typing) she would often challenge me about what I was saying because it didn’t make sense to her. This was frustrating to no end for me as my scrambled brain understood what I was saying but for an outsider reading it there would have challenges.

But now, I think these experiences have helped me in life and especially with studying texts and scripture. I think they have helped me because I have come to accept that what may be my first insight into something  is not usually the only insight I will gain from what I read. I further think this has allowed me to have an open mind as to what others see and understand in scripture and why I am so passionate about Christian Formation, Bible study and Theological Reflection.

As the world changes so rapidly around us we are challenged in our understanding of our faith response to these changes and what this means to our daily walk through life. I hold firmly to the belief that we never fully know what it is to live out being Christian in our lives. As we read and reread scripture, as we study and discuss scripture and even church history I believe we are adding layer upon layer to the pearl of God’s message for each of us.

To seek out wisdom and new knowledge is best done in community so that one gets insights from others.  This allows for dialogue (as we see in the gospel between Jesus and the Samaritan woman) that leads to richer understanding and deeper wisdom.

Our current Unit in EfM is titled ‘Integrating Belief, Behaviour and Doctrine’.  In the opening session on ‘Living into Wholeness’ we are introduced to the concept of

‘Theological Conversations that Lead to Wholeness” .

The author writes …

“As a person swims in the ocean of God, the Spirits currents move simultaneously

towards wholeness and union. Living and moving within God’s currents encourages

integration gradually to occur as one seeks a comprehensive and coherent theology…..

A comprehensive theology is not a finished product that declare the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’. It is a momentary expression of how knowledge from various disciplines fits together to form a whole”

I feel that this theme is why the opportunities for Christian Formation studies that are offered in the Anglican Church and have had and do have in this community of faith, which shape our learning, insight and wisdom and that bring about wholeness is why studying scripture and reflecting on it is so exciting to me.

I see this excitement on the children’s faces as they participate and study in Godly Play and our worship, I have seen this on parents faces as they participate in discussion groups as they prepare for a child’s baptism and I see it weekly as new insight (no matter how challenging to previously held beliefs) is gained in EfM.

If we are to grow in faith and service we will seek the water from the stone given by God to the Israelites and we will search for the Living waters of Jesus. As we do so we grow into a more comprehensive theology that is about wholeness and incorporating our belief and fulfilled in our service and actions to others.

Our Christian journey calls us to seek out ways that help us to understand what impact our belief has on our actions with others and what this means for us in our daily lives.

So I leave you with these questions for reflection and discussion later that I hope you will participate in after the service during Coffee Hour downstairs.

How are you being fed to reflect theologically and spiritually at St. John’s?

How are you being fed spiritually so that you are able to be Christian in your life living out your baptismal identity with each other and in the world?

What Christian formation/Discussion group events have you participated in at St. John’s?

What particular discussion has had an impact on you at St. John’s

What other forms of group discussion, theological reflection or Christian formation would you like to see at St. John’s?

 

Homily for Lent 4, March 25, 2017

John 9:1-41

St. John the Apostle

“Seeing Community”

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

The ninth chapter of John tells the story of a person who receives physical sight at the hands of Jesus.  Those who live with the loss of vision can perhaps imagine joy and gratitude at a restoration of your eyes.  But few of us have suffered, as this man did, with darkness since birth, and few of us have the ability to understand his wonder and indebtedness to the One who touches his eyes and re-creates their function.  We try, as x did in his hymn “Amazing Grace”:

Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind, but now I see.

X wasn’t addressing physical blindness.  He was expressing his own sinfulness as a human being, the spiritual blindness that led him into profiting from the British slave trade in the x.  The spiritual blindness that kept him from seeing those of a different colour as his brothers and sisters under God.  Blindness comes in many forms.  Especially in John’s gospel.

You see, this passage is not really about the healing of a blind man.  It is about the healing of humanity, a humanity that is blind to God’s way.  This is the main reason why the narrative is at the centre of the gospel. The one who came to do God’s works heals lots of individual illnesses and infirmities.  But this particular story opens up the depth of view.  Going back to the original Greek reveals the shift.  “As he (Jesus) walked along, he saw ‘anthropon’ blind from birth.”  As Wes Howard Brook notes, in his book Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship, it is an unusual construction.  He and other scholars interpret it to mean that the writer is not referring to ‘a’ man, but everyman, humanity.  In other words, “As Jesus was going along, he saw humanity, blind from birth.” It is not just the sight of a blind man that is at stake:  all humankind is born blind.  The onlookers, the disciples, the scribes and the Pharisees, the Romans- all the world lack the ability to see the truth because they are part of a world tinged by sin.

What are we all blind to?  God, each other, and ourselves most of the time.  The good news is that God reaches out across the vastness of our isolation.   Our Redeemer touches us, re-creates us with water and the Spirit, and gives us a chance to find intimacy in holy community.  Instead of being cut off from each other in fear and distrust, God connects us again in relationship.  Even the disciples, those closest to Jesus, needed help to see this.  They were ready to stand there by the side of the role and argue the morality of why the man was blind.  They didn’t see his need, his hunger for acceptance and dignity and worth.  Jesus didn’t engage in debate with them.  He acted.  God’s works were revealed.

There were those who chose not to see what was going on.  The Pharisees had their own ideas of how God worked, and it certainly wasn’t on a Sabbath.  And those leaders weren’t ready to admit their own shortcomings, so they had no intention of becoming disciples of Jesus either.  Healing invites us to open our eyes to the other, to find life-giving ways to nurture relationships, to allow the other to transform us.

This is the heart of life in community.  Each interaction brings an opportunity for intimacy.  In our conversation, our silence, and in the sharing of food, our eyes are opened to a deeper truth.  Let us look briefly at these three sources of transformation.

Firstly, conversation involves engaging in dialogue with others, not just talking.  It is important on many levels- from casual comments as we get to know one another to more structured interactions that aim at giving all a voice around a particular issue or opportunity.  Through holy conversations we learn more about God, each other, and ourselves.  The man formerly born blind converses with the Pharisees and Jesus to try and explain what has happened to him.  His deeper understanding leads to his declaration, “Lord, I believe”.

Cultivating silence is learning to listen while another is speaking.  In quiet, we learn to be connected to ourselves and others and engage in more meaningful and reflective speech. It is an active process, not just a pause while we calculate how to refute the other’s position.  Through silence, we listen to God.   When Jesus and the man born blind meet on the side of the road, there is no initial conversation.  Jesus simply makes mud from dirt and spit and spreads it on the man’s eyes.  Then he tells him to go and wash.  The man does not question or speak, simply follows Jesus’ command.  And he is healed.

Sharing a meal with another is an act of trust and hospitality.  At its most basic level, the sharing of food has the power to create community.  When we gather at the table, we proclaim that we are a Eucharistic people who see others as part of the body of Christ.  No one can be excluded: not the blind, not the ones we disagree with, not even the ones who have the power to hurt us.  This is a reconciliation that we are invited to practice here so that we have the courage to go out into the world and proclaim and act what we profess to believe.

Transformation cannot happen in isolation.  It cannot happen without risking and being vulnerable to another.  Maybe you will be misunderstood if you speak up.  But people who only talk to themselves end up a little loopy.   And perhaps you will have to face some of the dark places inside you if you stop keeping your mouth busy.  Still, those who never pause to listen miss hearing God.  You may have ingrained boundaries around who you can invite to a party, or you may be too scared to attend.  Sadly, individuals who do not share food starve themselves of good company.   It is through the interaction with others that we learn to form bonds of affection and respect and forgiveness.

Our world offers many temptations to live superficial lives that do not really engage at a meaningful level.  Would you want all of your communication to be in tweets?   Would you want sex to be only physical release without consequence or emotion?  Avoiding contact might protect you, but it also makes a person blind.   Thanks be to God, there is another way.  Our faith community gives us opportunities to find intimacy within the boundaries of what is good and holy.   There is amazing grace practiced within these walls, with the power to transform you into a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus healed one person on the side of the road, but as God incarnate on the cross, he transforms us all.  Amen.

Homily-Epiphany 5, February 5, 2017- The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 5:13-20

“Feeling Salty”

I speak to you in the name of the one true and living God, whom we name Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot”  (Matthew 5:13).  Jesus spoke these words from the perspective of a first century Jew living in a Mediterranean climate.   He and those who wrote the Gospel of Matthew did not experience the great Vancouver Salt War this winter.  Perhaps you were one of those wise people who had an old bag of de-icing agent in your store cupboard before all the snow began.  Many didn’t, because many make a reasonable assumption that we don’t usually get arctic conditions in the Lower Mainland.  But when the snow came down and the freeze set in, supplies ran low.  Stores ran out.  Those who had salt hoarded it or jacked the price. Municipalities panicked.  When the City of Vancouver attempted to distribute free salt at certain locations, chaos ensued.  People pushed and stole and got angry:  all over a bucket of salt that they could throw underfoot and trample on.

In our modern society, salt is more often a culprit.  Too much salt in your diet is bad for you.  Even though every human body needs it, we ingest far too much with refined foods.  In fact,we do not realize how precious salt is until we need it for a specific purpose, like melting ice off the sidewalks.  But throughout our human history, salt has been essential.  It is a commodity based not on its scarcity but its usefulness.  It doesn’t just add flavour to food, it preserves food from spoiling.  It is an anti-bacterial agent and a cleanser.  It is also an irritant, as any of you know who have got too much in a cut or in your eyes when swimming in the sea.  And it is, as we rediscover every winter, a catalyst for reactions: dropping the temperature at which water freezes so we can keep ice off our pathways.  So when Jesus compares us to salt, he is not talking about food additives.  It is a good thing to be salty.

Actually, the expression “I’m salty” is current slang.  Yes, I had to ask my children what it meant.  It means to be upset and dissatisfied at someone or something that has happened, along with the expectation that the outcome should have been different.  In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus himself is salty.  He tells those listening that he has not come to bring a different message than they already have through the law and the prophets.  But he has come to bring God’s purpose to completion, something that the teachers and followers of the law have not been able to do.  Jesus words awaken a longing for the kingdom of heaven.  We should be dissatisfied and upset with the status quo because it does not yet reflect God’s purpose.  We should be irritated and catalyzed to work for change: to injustice, to degradation and waste, to selfishness and corruption.

Jesus tells each of us, “you are salt of the earth”.  We have saltiness within us, in the very make-up of our being.  And that potential has to be put to use in our living.  From a chemical point of view, it is impossible to split the sodium atom from the chlorine atom and still have a molecule of salt.  It is just as ridiculous to say that you or I can stop being salty.  We were created by God to make a difference in the world.  It is part of who we are.  The hyperbole that Jesus engages with the examples of salt and then of light simply underscores the importance of our conduct for the coming of the kingdom.

We are called to fulfill our calling by following the path of righteousness:  loving God, loving our neighbour, loving ourselves.  This past Thursday, February 2, may have been celebrated as Ground-hog day in North America, but it is also a festival that goes back to the very early Church.  On Candlemas, as it is sometimes referred, the infant Jesus is brought to the temple at Jerusalem.  According to the Jewish custom, he was symbolically redeemed with a sacrificial offering.   While the family was at the temple, an elder named Simeon saw Jesus and prophesized that here was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel”.  There was also a prophet present called Anna, who spoke that in this child all would find the redemption of Jerusalem.  Even at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, he was recognized as the one who would be the means of revelation and redemption.  In the light of his life, we find righteousness.

That dedication to righteousness begins for us in baptism.  This sacrament is a moment of alchemy.  Salt meets water.  What we were made to become is activated and made manifest in the waters of new birth.  In a few minutes, the parents and godparents will be bringing Norman to the font.  In so doing, they, and we, are proclaiming the love that God has for this little one:  in his creation and in his redemption.  And we are witnesses to the magic of what happens when salt meets water.   Norman:  you are salt for the earth.  And you will never lose your saltiness, because from now forward you will be reminded of the promises made for you.  You and every Christian are called to work for good in the world, to bring in the kingdom of heaven, with God’s help.  Amen.