Homilies

Homily for Easter 4, May 7, 2017 – The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

John 10:1-10   “The Gated Community” Shepherd us, O Lord, beyond our wants, beyond our fears, from death into life.  Amen. If there’s one thing people in Jesus’ time should know about, it’s sheep.  Israel, first century, was full of sheep and goats. Most common people had at least a couple in the backyard.  Even those of the priestly classes, scribes and Pharisees, recognized one when it landed on the dinner plate.  They may have been above such menial day-to-day work as herding, but the history and culture of the Hebrew peoples was intertwined with the ruminants. The Bible is full of references where people get compared to sheep, and the images are both positive and negative.  Psalm 100 pictures God as the great Shepherd: “Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that made us and we are his.  We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”  Later on, the prophets criticize the religious leaders for getting fat themselves instead of guiding those in their care.  Ezekiel prophesies “You shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves!  Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand” (Ezekiel 34:2-15).  But the people are not blameless.  In Isaiah’s exilic lament he cries, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (Isaiah 53:6).  Sheep are communal animals that need food and shelter and care.  They thrive when under good leadership; they stray and struggle when there is no leader.  So when Jesus starts talking about sheep, even though we modern listeners struggle with the context, you would think that the Pharisees would clue in. In John chapter 10 we get the nearest thing to a parable that the gospel throws at...

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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 Redeemer.  Amen. 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...

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Homily for Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017 – The Rev. Stephanie Shepard

http://www.stja.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/20170416h.mp3 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.


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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...

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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...

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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...

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Homily – 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...

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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...

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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...

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Homily for January 1, 2017 – The. Rev. Stephanie Shepard

1 John 1:1-9 January 1, 2017 St. John the Apostle   “The Apostolic Community” 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. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?  A few years ago, I was sitting on a wharf on Gambier Island with my spouse.  It was a still summer evening, cloudless, and the stars shimmered in the midnight sky.  The ocean was so calm that I couldn’t hear the waves lapping against the piers.  When I dropped a stone down into the water, there was a faint phosphorescence that rippled outward in rings.  In the silence there was a sudden sound far down the bay- a cracking like a gunshot, followed by a great crashing cascade and a deeper thud that we felt as much as heard.  Somewhere along the shoreline, amongst the cedars and hemlocks and maples, an elder giant had fallen.  The next morning, we asked at the camp whether anyone else had heard the noise.  The two of us were the only ones to bear witness and try and convince others of the event. Today we celebrate the patron saint of this parish community:  Saint John, who is known as apostle and evangelist in the first generation of the Christian Church.   John is a common name, and there are many Johns in the Bible.  There are also many church buildings named after a John: six in this diocese alone.  A constellation of stories centre around the disciple who is named in the gospels as “the beloved”, an eye-witness to the events of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Traditionally, the fourth gospel is attributed to this John.  His name...

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