Homilies

Homily for the 14th Sunday of Pentecost – August 19, 2012

During the recent Olympic Games, we watched the heartbreak experienced by the Canadian men’s 4 x 100 relay team, who thought they had won the bronze medal, and were jogging around the Olympic stadium, draped in Canadian flags, giddy with excitement, overjoyed at their achievement.  Seconds later, they found out that one of them had not managed to pass the baton properly.  No medal, no glory.  Their efforts were in vain, never to enter the record books.  The team sat there in tears on the track, looking like kids who have had their Christmas presents taken away. The importance of passing the torch has been expressed in a variety of ways.  One famous expression is John MacCrae’s First World War poem, In Flanders’ Fields, which says: “to you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high …”    That sense of continuity and ongoing responsibility to keep the flame alive is essential whether in sports, in families, in the military or in the Church. At one point (1Cor. 9:24 ff.),  St. Paul portrays the Christian life as a race, a metaphor which speaks to us about how important it is to have a sense of direction and purpose, and also about how quickly opportunities, and even life, go by.  It speaks of the discipline and training and time commitment required in order to accomplish anything important.  It speaks of how important it is to offer our best. In a relay race, the hand-off is the critical moment, one that must be managed with skill, because the runner completing his/her part of the race is tiring, and the one about to begin can be too eager to blast down the track without properly connecting with the one who is trying to hand off the baton.  And it...

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Homily for the First Sunday in Lent, March 13, 2011

LEAVING EDEN, AND EMBRACING THE PILGRIMAGE OF NEW LIFE  When I was a boy growing up in Regina, we had home milk and bread delivery, we had house calls from our doctor, there was almost no TV, there were no organized sports or stores open on Sundays, churches were centres of life and of neighbourhoods, we knew our neighbours not just on either side but for blocks, there was freedom to roam, and there were few locked doors.  As a new priest, in the early 1980’s, I realized a new era had dawned, as insurance companies ruled that churches had to keep their doors locked at all times, or their insurance coverage would be null and void.  Many who were accustomed to the “Enter, rest and pray” approach that had prevailed in churches until then protested this harsh approach, but the fact was that many churches, especially rural ones, were being cleaned out, burned, and desecrated, and stolen stained glass windows, church organs and brass crosses were turning up in antique stores all over.  So now they’re all locked, and it is naive to think we could do otherwise. Diana Butler-Bass, in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, says “when I was seven or eight, I used to walk … from home to school to the public library to the florist shop, and finally, to the church – by myself.”  She speaks of the Hamilton area of Baltimore (especially Harford Road) where she grew up.  Now, if you were to speak of letting your child do that, you’d be considered grossly irresponsible and possibly have Social Services intervening.  This massive cultural shift is part of virtually everyone’s story one way or another.  As Butler-Bass says, “We have all become wanderers in a very different world … Old Harford Road...

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Homily for Ash Wednesday 2011

LENT: A PILGRIMAGE TO LIFE Ash Wednesday is serious stuff, in that it is a reminder of mortality, not  just mortality in general, but our own, and that’s not a place where most of us like to dwell.  But in Lent, as they say in the meditation biz, we are required to “just sit with it” for a while.  The ashes are a reminder of fire that once burned brightly and hot – ashes are only remnants – signs of something that was —  and as such may remind us of younger days, the passion of youth, the burning desires and ideals that once motivated us. They might remind us that we are a remnant people.  And they warn us that fire, untended, can go out.  For us on this day, the ashes become a symbol of the spiritual journey which begins in death and leads toward life.  There is no life that does not encompass death.  I don’t believe Lent is a time to go moping about, playing victim, making a show of being deprived.  We are largely clear of that self-hating theology which obliged people of earlier times to torture themselves during this season.  We are reminded at the outset of this service (in the opening Collect) that God does not despise anything.  As someone said “God doesn’t make junk” (with the possible exception of the mosquito, of course).   “The Imposition of Ashes” is a confusing term. The ashes are not imposed – it’s voluntary.  The Church no longer imposes much of anything on people.  The ashes need to be received voluntarily, as a gift – as an expression of reality and truth in a world so full of hype and deception.  In Lent, Christians begin by embracing their mortality, dropping out of the delusional game of trying...

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Homily for the 8th Sunday of Epiphany, February 27, 2011

  A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE WORLD Homily for the 8th Sunday of Epiphany, February 27, 2011 Jesus says to his followers: “Do not worry about your life” and he suggests that when people become so overloaded with anxiety, responsibility and the pressure to conform that they are confused about their own identity and purpose,  they need to step back, take a little field trip and spend time meditating upon simple things, to reconnect with their soul.  By teaching people to look at birds and the wild flowers, Jesus was giving people  simple steps toward a profound and balanced spiritual life.   Look at the birds ….  consider the wild flowers.  The American writer Lewis Mumford said:   “A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.” “Look … consider” – these are contemplative words, which raise questions about how much attention we give to the devotional/contemplative side of life?   Is our life balanced?  Are we at peace with ourselves?  First, as Jesus says, LOOK at them, not to analyze or draw some little moral lesson, because you can have a million facts or pieces of information about something and still not understand its essence or its soul.  Look, simply to see them, to notice.  Many people are not even conscious of the hundreds and thousands of birds which are all around us – never hear them singing – never pay attention – and it’s often a great gift to people to help them see and notice.  But further, once we’ve noticed, once they’ve got our attention, appreciate them, be present to them, and recognize their being.  In the biblical sense, to know something...

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Homily for the 6th Sunday of Epiphany, February 13, 2011

(DON’T) GIVE ME THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION! A priest and a nun were travelling home from a conference when their car broke down. They were unable to get it fixed, so they decided to spend the night in a hotel. The only hotel in the town had only one room available.  The Priest said: “Sister, I don’t think the Lord would have a problem, under the circumstances, if we spent the night together in this one room. I’ll sleep on the couch and you have the bed.  The nun said, “I think that would be okay.”  They prepared for bed and each one took their agreed place in the room. Ten minutes later the nun said, “Father, I’m terribly cold.”  The Priest replied: “Okay, I’ll get you a blanket.” He got her a blanket, but ten minutes later, the Nun said: “Father, I’m still really cold.”  And the priest very patiently said, “Okay Sister, I’ll get you another blanket.”  He got her another blanket, but ten minutes later, the nun said “Father, I’m still cold. You know, I don’t think the Lord would mind if we act as man and wife just for this one night.” So the Priest said to the nun: “You’re probably right …  Get up and get your own blanket.”  It is a bit of unintentional irony that in the appointed readings today we have a reading about divorce the day before Valentine’s Day – as they say in comedy, timing is everything. We all find ourselves in situations where the rule books don’t help. One of the great ironies of our time is that we have come to realize that sometimes to choose life means we have to reinterpret the Bible from time to time. According to Matthew, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but...

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Homily for the Seventh Sunday After Epiphany February 20, 2011

FACING INTO THE VIOLENCE “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;  and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile …  I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot by an assassin/terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca, and very  nearly killed.  Months later, when the Pope  went to the prison to meet with his would-be assassin, people were astounded that the Pope would seek reconciliation with someone who had offended him to such a degree. People in the media suggested they thought it was complete foolishness for the Pope to stoop to this guy’s level.  Agca was a Muslim fanatic; the Pope had been shot four times at point blank range.  John Paul had every reason to hate the man, and no apparent reason to want to see him again, but he did.  And the pope repeatedly asked people to “pray for my brother … whom I have sincerely forgiven.”  Publicity stunt by the Pope?  Or perhaps one of the most genuine expressions of what Christ meant when he said “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies”? This Gospel (Matthew 5: 38—48), like last week’s, is a very difficult one, and very easily misapplied to situations where it doesn’t fit.  For instance, in cases of spousal abuse, this passage has been lifted out of context and used to turn women into victims.  It has also kept many Christians from asserting their rights, or even standing up for their principles.    The context into which Jesus spoke these powerful and difficult words was extremely violent and oppressive.  The Roman occupation of Israel...

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Homily for the 4th Sunday of Epiphany January 30, 2011

  THE BEATITUDES: NOT CHEESY AT ALL   In Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, people at the edge of the crowd listening to Jesus deliver the Beatitudes struggle to hear what he’s saying. “What was that?” one asks.  Someone turns around and says, “I don’t know, I think it was, ‘Blessed are the cheese-makers’”!   It’s a humorous comment on how difficult it can be to figure out what Jesus is really saying.  Indeed, as St Paul suggests, the Gospel is foolishness to many.  The Beatitudes (Blessed are …) are generally considered the heart of Christ’s teaching, and yet they generate a lot of confusion among people, so I invite you to reflect for a few minutes on what these extraordinary verses might mean for us (beyond cheese-making, that is). First, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  St Luke’s Gospel says simply, “Blessed are the poor,” which takes the saying in a different direction. But Matthew’s version (“Blessed are the poor in spirit”) recognizes that moving toward spiritual maturity involves emptying, letting go — that surrendering the ego is essential to life in the Spirit.  It speaks of those who embrace the spirit of humility, of service, of being willing to be open to others and to the world.  Jesus does not promote poverty, and you don’t have to be economically poor to have a humble spirit.  Matthew’s version suggests something like: Be poor in spirit (in contrast to the self-righteous Pharisees who strutted around acting like they had arrived – like they owned a bigger share in the Kingdom than others – full of themselves but not of God).  Be poor in spirit (in contrast to the self-assured TV evangelists with their glib formulas and illusions of success). Be poor in spirit (in contrast to the misguided lunatics who blow...

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Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

ONE IN THE SPIRIT Homily for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity  Acts 2: 42—46  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds* to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  Isaiah 58: 6—11:   Is not this the fast that I choose:    to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator* shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your...

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Homily for Epiphany 2 – January 16, 2011

Have you ever wondered: What motivated the disciples to drop everything and follow Christ?  Do you ever wish you had that kind of enthusiasm for something – for anything? Many if not most people in Palestine of that era were living pretty close to the edge of poverty.  The Romans were occupying the country and treating it as a source of revenue, so people were being taxed very heavily.  We have just been through an economic downturn in which many have lost jobs, and have had to scramble to find something different in order to stay in their homes and keep food on the table.  In the midst of such an economic crisis, to suggest that people should drop their steady income, or close up their business, and run off after some charismatic spiritual figure who promised nothing in the way of material gain, would seem like insanity and perhaps cruelty.  It would seem like an irresponsible thing to do.  And yet in that volatile situation, of Roman occupation, an understandable anxiety among Jewish leadership and citizenry, and economic hardship, people like Andrew, and then Peter, and James and John, and many others, walked away from the security and safety of their jobs, the support of their families and communities, and embarked on a hazardous three-year ride.  People in such circumstances don’t typically walk away from their everyday responsibilities — not unless they encounter something that blows them away.  Andrew says to Peter: “We have found the Messiah!”  The word is almost meaningless to us but it was a word loaded with meaning in that time.  It would be like someone coming home and telling his family that he had just found the cure for cancer, or the fountain of youth.  The Gospel of John tries to convey something of the...

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Homily for the Baptism of Jesus – January 9, 2011

JESUS AND JOHN: TWO EXPRESSIONS OF THE FIERY LOVE OF GOD Homily for the Baptism of Jesus January 9, 2011   We celebrate the Baptism of Jesus today and this is where the Church calendar makes things really confusing.  Jesus was just a baby a week or so ago and suddenly he’s a 30 year old adult.  There may or may not have been some fanfare around his birth, with stars and magi and shepherds showing up and kings hunting him down, but he seems to have been able to live in almost total obscurity for 30 years – a bit curious.  And then suddenly he presents himself at the water where John the Baptizer has been working to bring transformation to the people.  At a time of year when many of us are walking with a distinct waddle from the extensive feasting of Christmas, we get confronted by John the Baptist, with his homeless lifestyle and meagre diet. John is one of the more intriguing characters in the Bible.  Son of a Temple priest (which no doubt involved considerable social status), John rejected the sophisticated life of the inner circles, the upper echelons, of a big city, and went off into the wilderness area south of Jerusalem to begin a new ministry.  We have to assume he was a young man.  In my middle age, I am grateful for the comfort of microfiber and fleece sheets – I have long since done with roughing it in the bush and wilderness canoe trips.  John, with his harsh, scratchy outfit and living off the land on a weird subsistence diet, has all the hall marks of a young idealist – the angry young man.  Otherwise, we don’t know a lot about John’s ministry beyond the obvious fact that he baptized people. ...

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