Homilies

Homily for Pentecost 21, October 29, 2017 – The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

Matthew 22:34-46 St. John the Apostle “Life Belongs to God” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.  I want to share with you something that happened while I was on retreat this week.  Coming in late from a walk around the lake with some of my colleagues, I did not have time to wash my hands before the next session.  To begin, our retreat leader led us in a breathing meditation that goes something like this.  You may stand and try it with me if you like: Breathe in as you bring your hands together in front of you in the classic Christian position of prayer. Breathe out as you cup your hands together and offer them up. Breathe in as you wrap your hands around you in consolation. Breathe out as you extend your hands away from your body in a giving away motion. (repeat) Thank you.  This is a powerful body exercise in what God offers to us and how we respond in love.  We were doing it in the context of how our heart, soul, body, and mind were being touched by God’s creation around us.  And as I lifted up my cupped hands, I realized in horror that they were filthy.  In the moment, it became a powerful metaphor for my complicity in what I personally have done to this planet, and what I have not done when I could have made a difference.  I was ashamed, for life belongs to God, and I had neglected to offer up all that I could.  My longing was indeed for the wholeness of creation and the coming of the kingdom, but what had I done?  Here I was caught with...

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Homily – Pentecost 16, September 24, 2017

Matthew 20:1-16 St. John the Apostle “Why are you standing around?” I speak as a sinner to sinners, and as one who is loved to the beloved of God through the mercy of God.  Amen. Today Jesus tells us a story of the labourers in the vineyard.  We hear about the ones that the landowner hired in the morning for the work, and as we sit in the pews we tend to identify and to side with them.  We are just like Jesus’ first listeners- both his followers and the religious leaders.  It makes sense that those who are hired for a job agree upon a wage before they spend all day in the field.  Where our sense of natural justice gets assaulted is the next part.  The landowner then goes on to pick up more workers as the day progresses and adds them to the workforce.  And in the evening, when the pay is handed out, everyone gets the same.  That’s not fair. It depends on our perspective.  For those who have slaved away from dawn til dusk, it doesn’t seem fair that we have been worked so hard and so long for this small sum, even though it is what we agreed to in the beginning.  It’s not just a matter of reward or righteousness.  We are tired, we have given our all, and there is so much work to do.  Why couldn’t the landowner have brought in the extra help a little earlier, and saved our aching backs?  Those who were first to be in the field resent those who didn’t have to work for such a long day not just because they got the same amount of money for a shorter shift, but because they were standing around. But from the point of view of those...

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Homily for Pentecost 15, September 17, 2017

Exodus 14:19-31 St. John the Apostle “True Story” May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen. An Anglican priest, a Baptist preacher and a Jewish rabbi are fishing in a boat on a lake. The preacher has forgotten the bait, so he walks across the water, grabs the bucket and walks back. Then the rabbi realizes he’s forgotten his lunch, so he walks across the water to the shore, picks up his lunch bag and walks back. The Anglican then remembers he didn’t lock the car, but when he gets out of the boat he falls into the water. He swims back, gets back into the boat, and says, “God, let me walk across the water.” He tries again and falls into the water, swims back, tries again and falls again. The Baptist leans over to the rabbi and asks, “Do you think we should tell him where the stepping stones are?” We want to believe in miracles and at the same time we want to be able to explain them.  One criteria for a miracle is that it is not explicable by natural or scientific laws.  But as human knowledge extends into new fields, things that were once regarded as supernatural occurrences are found to have a basis in science or history.  Thunder, earthquakes, plagues, eclipses, molecular interactions, can be examined and observed to find out how they work.  But does this make them any less miraculous? There is a news report of Saint Peter’s bones purportedly discovered this week in a small church undergoing renovations (It makes one wonder what we will find here!).  According to the Vatican, human remains were found in a couple of clay jars in the Santa Maria...

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Homily for Pentecost 14, September 10, 2017

Romans 13:8-14 St. John the Apostle “It’s not too late to say you’re sorry” 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. When I came into the church this morning, there was a beeping from the alarm panel.  The back-up batteries were low, and so it was reminding us that we need to attend to it.  Now.  That irritating sound that you hear won’t give up until you do something about it.  That’s much like the passage we hear this morning from Romans chapter 1.  St. Paul sounds like a nagging parent: “You know what time it is”.  Do we ever?  I for one have a remarkable capacity for putting off the things I need to do unless I put a deadline in place.  For everyday tasks, writing a sermon for example, I have a clear end date- Sunday morning.  But there are other things that we know we should do someday soon, but procrastinate about.  Having an emergency kit stocked and ready seems like a sensible idea, but how many of you have one near the door of your home?  We tend to put things like this off because although we have been told that someday there will be an earthquake, the probability is that it will not be tomorrow. But we never know how much time we have.  Events can overtake us quickly.  Think of those residents in the interior of BC that had to leave their homes quickly because of approaching wildfires or floods.  Even with warnings and evacuation alerts, it was difficult for many to pack what was needed in time to flee.  And for the residents of the southern states, past experience with hurricanes may led some to...

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Homily for Pentecost 13, September 3, 2017

Exodus 3:1-12 St. John the Apostle Port Moody “Identity and Courage” 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. When I was very young, the coming of Labour Day marked the turning of the year.  The hot lazy days of summer were nearly over and I would be heading back for another grade in school.  After post-secondary education, the first Monday of September took on a new meaning.  I was working for a public services union, advocating for the rights and safety of working people.  Labour Day highlighted the toil of generations before me who had sacrificed and lobbied in order to bring about that which we sometimes take for granted: parental leave, health benefits, defined working hours, financial support when one is ill or injured.  It is a yearly reminder that the working conditions that I and many in this country now expect are a recent development in human history, and one we can so easily lose when a different political administration comes to power. In many parts of our world, the political and cultural climates have driven ordinary citizens to fear for their livelihoods and their lives.  Some have groaned under the weight of oppressive regimes or war-torn regions.  Others have fled as immigrants or refugees into a wilderness, leaving behind family members and friends.  The thought of going back and facing what is going on in their countries of origin is terrifying.  Even if they are not persecuted for who they know or what they may have done, there is little opportunity to use their trades or skills to earn a living.  Why would they go back when even the most menial of jobs here in the new world...

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Homily – Pentecost 12, August 27, 2017 – The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

  Romans 12:1-8 “No Shame” May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Can anyone explain this to me?  When I am driving along the highway, the posted speed limit is 80 km/hr.  It is good weather, so this is the speed I travel at.  But all the other cars on the road are doing at least 90 km/h.  Slowly the speed of my car creeps up to match the other traffic.  When I realize that I am going more quickly than the law allows, I slow down a bit.  And then I feel guilty. Either way, I am trying to conform.  I can abide by the law of the land, which I agree is appropriate and good.  Or I can follow the custom of the majority.  Me, I compromise and do a couple of kilometres over the speed limit, not enough to get caught or be unsafe.  I think I still have a complex from getting pulled over during a driving lesson because a police officer had never before seen anyone actually do 30 around a curve as posted. When we comply with rules or custom, we are conforming.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  Sometimes this is not.  St. Paul, in his letter to the Roman Church, appeals to Christians not to be conformed to the age that they live in.  The Greek word he uses literally translates as living under a schemata.  If we are to assimilate, to fashion our lives, according to what the world thinks is important, then we become shackled by values that are not rooted in the gospel. The world runs after many things that lead to unhealthy life.   Youth especially are vulnerable because they are at...

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Homily – 11th Sunday after Pentecost , August 20, 2017

Genesis 45:1-15 St. John the Apostle, Port Moody “Family Reunions” 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. Family reunions can be such tense occasions that there are whole websites devoted to how to plan fun and stress-free encounters with one’s relatives.  First you have to decide who to invite.  Then where it is going to be held.  Oh, yes, and who is going to pay for it (or how you are going to get your relatives to contribute a fair amount.)  How long can you put up with each other, and what are you going to do together so that nobody gets bored or offended?   What to wear so that others don’t judge you?  I got stressed just visiting the websites. Once we get to the meet and greet, we all have a “best self” that we want others to see.  But the temptation is to slip into a role that we have previously been cast in during our family history.   Do we once again succumb to the “favoured child”, the “peacemaker”, the “martyr”, the “only one who gets things done around here”, the “font of all wisdom”, or another character?  The label we wear doesn’t just identify who we are and how we fit in to the family tree, it also can determine whether we help or hinder healthy relationships.  Reunions can strengthen ties of affection or they can enforce barriers previously built between people.  It is up to each of us to react to others the way we always have or to find a way to get unstuck. Reconciliation is about getting unstuck.  When we no longer cling to a previously believed right way of doing things, and we...

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Homily – Pentecost 11, August 13, 2017

Matthew 14:22-33 St. John the Apostle “Spero Me Patronum (with apologies to J.K. Rowling)” 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. Last Sunday evening, I drove through Kamloops on my way to Sorrento Retreat Centre on Shuswap Lake.  It was an apocalyptic landscape.  The sun was low like a hung-over red eye in the brown sky, and the buildings on either side of the highway were obscured with the smoky haze.  Gone was the city or any view across to the hills.  Except for the vehicles on the motorway, there was no sign of people or life.  With the temperature at 33 degrees Celsius and the heavy smoke, we kept the windows of the car sealed and we kept going.  Seeing the effects first hand, I was troubled for the residents of the city and all the communities fighting the wildfires this summer in BC: more troubled than I expected. Then I realized that the scene was familiar to me:  it came from a recurring childhood nightmare.  I am a child of the 1970s.  It was a period when tensions between East and West were uneasy, and television programming was pre-empted with newscasts from war zones.  World powers were amassing nuclear warheads pointed at the other.  Social consciences were beginning to awaken and speak out against the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction.  I remember saying, as a child, that I did not expect to live til I was 20.  And I had some bad dreams.  Perhaps they had roots in reality and fantasy; documentaries like “If you love this planet” and horror movies of the time.  One, which came more than once, found me with my family in a car...

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Homily – 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...

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Homily – 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...

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