Homily for the 24th Sunday of Pentecost – October 23, 2016

I am very conscious today that for many of you, this may be the last time we ever connect in person; I am also conscious that this is most likely the last time I will ever speak from this pulpit.  Over the last eight years, I have preached to you something like 350 times on Sunday’s alone, so, if you have been listening, you have already heard what God sent me here to say.  But keep the ears of your hearts open today too, just in case.

I want to say to you that in all those 350 or so times, every time out, I was trying to proclaim to you, in the best way that I could, something significant, something worth thinking about, something of the truth and life of the awesome God we serve through Jesus Christ.

We have studied and reflected together.  At least 60 (and probably more like 70 or even 80) of you have taken part in adult formation classes we have offered in the Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening studies and in sermon\discussion series.

We have explored Benedictine and Franciscan spirituality, reflected on Jesus in the movies; we have considered “contemporary faith and spiritual practice,” and we have tried to imagine where the church might be going in the 21st Century.  We have re-visited the painful legacy of the Residential Schools and made an effort to empathize with contemporary First Nations people; we have looked at inter-faith issues and we have visited mosques together; with the help of Dr Nancy Reeves, we promised to say Yes to God; with the help of people like Matthew Fox, Marcus Borg, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Harold Kushner, Brian McLaren, Lillian Daniel, Thomas Green sj, Stephanie Spellers and Michael Ingham, we met Jesus again for the first time, we have considered what it means to be radically welcoming, we have pondered why bad things happen to good people, and we have tried (God knows we tried) to imagine a complaint-free world.   All being well, we know how to age with grace, and we know something of what it means to “live the questions.”

We have done a lot together over these eight years.  I have lived a substantial piece of my life here, and yet the time has gone by very quickly.

I have grieved with you, celebrated with you, golfed with some of you, walked and talked with many of you, and we have enjoyed a lot of fellowship around the table, and even though I’ve gained 30 pounds and added some white hair, I am enormously  grateful (as well as just being enormous) and I think Jesus would have approved (he was, after all, accused of being a drunk and a glutton).

The parish welcomed my approach to liturgy and it seems to have worked. The survey we did a couple of years ago indicated approval and appreciation ratings that were almost unbelievably positive.  As I like to say though, Anglican liturgy is a team game, so that couldn’t happen without the deacons, sacristans, readers, communion assistants, and LaRee and her choir – and without your participation.   Keep on making a joyful noise.

We did a study on “radical welcome” and then we gave that a big test when we opened our doors and hearts to the people of St Margaret’s.   We are, as a result of that act of faith, stronger, more diverse, more devout, and we eat better than we ever did (and that is saying something!).

I am grateful for what I have meant to you, for the place you allowed me in your hearts.  But ministry is never the responsibility or accomplishment of one person.   We have created and modeled more of a team approach to ministry, and encouraged a “priesthood of all believers” theology, encouraging people to become engaged in the ministry of the parish, whether that was in pastoral care or governance or Synod, music and liturgy, or outreach or mission, or the work of the Diocese.

I’d love to expand on the Gospel today, of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple – it is such a rich and symbolic parable.  But suffice it to say that you could see the Pharisee as one of those people who makes no room for others, who occupies the best seats, assumes a place of prominence, and make others feel less-than and unwelcome.  It’s great to gain a place of belonging and become part of a community; it’s great to develop friendships, but there is always a responsibility to be looking to the margins, to be open to the newcomer, the stranger, the seeker.  Jewish people were urged never to forget that they were once wanderers and strangers – to allow that memory, that experience, to continue to shape their theology and their pastoral practice.

Please remember Archbishop Temple’s insight:  that the Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not its members.

The unaware Pharisee in todays gospel reminds us of the importance of times of self-reflection, times of seeking deeper self-awareness and perspective. From time to time every person, every family, every community, every society, and certainly every parish, needs renewal – new ideas, new directions, new people.  This is something to be embraced and welcomed and celebrated, regardless of whether you think those ideas and directions and people measure up to your standards or not.

Why did Jesus tell this parable?  The text says “he told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” This is one of the reasons Jesus warned about the false virtue of loving people who are just the same as you are, because sometimes staying the same is a dead end, a spiritual death sentence. I have met this angry Pharisee in so many church settings and I have to say I have met him in myself as well – well-meaning, with a strong sense of how things should be, but so angry at the way things are going that the anger itself becomes chronic, even pathological, obscuring other qualities, blinding us to the beauty and goodness that are always around us.

You can become so serious and obsessed with how bad things are that you’re just a curmudgeon and part of the problem, or, like the other guy in the parable, you can de-value yourself to a point that you never allow the good that is in you to shine.

So these two men come, from very different places in life, to the same place to pray –  one deeply aware of his need for deep healing, the other bitterly angry about what he sees going on all around him, and I think the parable tells us something of the way in which God’s house is meant to accommodate a great variety of people.  “In my Father’s house” as Jesus said, there is a lot of room.   I think it tells us something about the scope of God’s love.    We bring what we think are our virtues and we bring what we think are our faults, and God sees through them all with the eyes of love.

The temple – the house of God — is the place that welcomes all, and it is always surprising how God puts us into contact with others we might tend to dismiss or even despise, or who might seem to us to be missing more than a few screws.

Going forward …

I hope you will remain conscious and intentional about the quality of community you are offering… This was a great place to come to, and I think it has become a more promising kind of place.  But it’s up to you, all of you, to make sure it remains a safe and affirming and inclusive place, as well as a challenging, engaging and transformational place, so pay attention to the behaviours and attitudes and actions of all the members and seek to hold up a certain standard, the one standard that matters, which is love, and not just love in a generic sense, but the love of Jesus, remembering always that the Church doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to God.

St John of the Cross, whose festival we observed last week, said “in the evening of life, we shall be judged on love alone.”

There are some great lines in today’s readings, very fitting for the moment.  As the writer of II Timothy says “the time of my departure has come.”

As John describes Jesus’ last meal with his disciples, Jesus says, “it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (Jn 16:7).  Not that I am Christ, and that itself is part of the point: Christ isn’t going away, I am.  But part of our tradition of ordained ministry is rooted in the idea that when your mission is complete, you move on.   Part of what clergy do in attempting to model the apostolic ministry is to be open to the call to move on, to know when they are done in a certain place, and to go where they believe they are meant to be.

It’s that time for me.  If I do not go away, the new life that God has in store for you cannot enter, the new doors that are meant to open will stay closed – the new ideas and directions a new person can bring will remain unexplored.

We also celebrated the feast day of St Teresa of Avila last week, and the front cover of today’s leaflet reminds us of her sense that everything is provisional and also about the importance of the art of detachment:

Let nothing disturb you; let nothing frighten you.

All things are passing away; God never changes.

Peace obtains all things; whoever has God lacks nothing.

God alone is sufficient.

I always loved the line given to John the Baptist – “He must increase and I must decrease” — in which John describes himself merely as a friend of the bridegroom, but not the Bridegroom himself.   Indeed, what a friend we have in Jesus!  But we need a certain humility as priests — we need to know our real place in the bigger scheme of things.   I need to disappear from your radar, and there needs to be a period in which St John’s creates the space for a new priest, and that can’t happen if I am still occupying that space.   So, according to what I believe is God’s schedule, not necessarily mine, it’s time to go.

And this is the reality that sustains me as I do: that in Communion we are never separated.  God is Communion, and that Communion connects us to all that is, past, present and future, so don’t ever underestimate what you are doing around the altar, because it is the meeting place in which we connect with Christ and all of God’s people in the Communion of Saints.

One ancient saint described God as a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  When we gather for Eucharist, we are reminded, and we experience the reality, that everything is included and connected in the oneness of God in Christ.  Whoever knows that knows that there is almost nothing to worry about, and that, no matter what, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

 

The Rev. Grant Rodgers+

Joel 2:23-32   O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.  The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.  I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you.  You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame.  You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I, the LORD, am your God and there is no other. And my people shall never again be put to shame.   Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.  I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.  Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

 

Psalm 84:1-7 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.  Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.  Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.  As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.  They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

 

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.  At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!  But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

Luke 18:9-14  He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

THE REV. GRANT RODGERS- REFLECTIONS ON MY IMMINENT DEPARTURE-AUGUST 21, 2016

THE 15TH SUNDAY OF PENTECOST-AUGUST 21, 2016

A year ago I accepted an appointment to Vancouver School of Theology  (VST) as Director of Anglican Formation, a position which seems to suit me and which I love.

Initially, it looked like the arrangement – of working 1/3 time there and 2/3 time here — had the potential to be a new lease on life for me and for St John’s as well, with creative interaction between the two realms.  It was ideal for me, as it allowed me to remain in this parish which I have loved leading and serving.

It also carried the exciting possibility of bringing another person into the ministry picture at St John’s.   After nearly a year, though, we had some supply help, but no one emerged to fill that 1/3 space that my being at VST created.  I began to be aware that you can say you’re 2/3 all you like, but 100% of the work and expectations of the Rector were still present, despite my efforts to delegate and draw back.  Those expectations and assumptions are only natural when people have been so accustomed to one pattern. The problem is that I have at least 1/3 less time to do all that, and to meet all the expectations.

I spoke to people at the Synod office several weeks ago about whether there was someone out there who might provide ministry on a 1/3 basis but there seemed to be no one at all on the horizon.

Despite all that, until very recently I saw myself continuing indefinitely as St John’s – to retirement age and beyond.  It has been a place that I have enjoyed, I have had good support, we have a great clergy team, we have dedicated leaders, and there is a lot of promising new life emerging.  However, as time progressed, I was slowly becoming aware that with two full days a week dedicated to VST, I was not going to be able to provide for St John’s what this parish needs and deserves as it goes forward (and it needs to go forward).  I just do not have enough time to plan programming, or to offer adequate pastoral attention, and many weeks have been characterized by not having enough time to get things done either here or at VST, so having to make time by not taking time off, working at strange hours of the night, and essentially working seven days of some weeks.    It’s not a pattern that can continue for long.

Questions like : When are you done?  When is it time?  When do you need to move on so someone else can carry things forward? – are not easy questions to answer, and when you are happy in a place, they are questions you would rather avoid.

For a while, I remained pretty much oblivious, but it was becoming clear to others at least that it was unrealistic (maybe even selfish) to think I should continue.   However, I was not ready to accept that yet.

However, perhaps influenced by health issues earlier in the year, it did start to occur to me that maybe I was done.  8 years is a long time.  By now you have heard most of what I have to say; some no doubt have grown tired of me long since.  I have never believed that stagnating or just treading water were helpful models of ministry.

During a recent conversation with Richard Topping, Principal at VST, it became clear that my work there is appreciated to the degree that they would take me on at least half time if possible.  That changed the dynamics of my situation even further and I was presented with another choice.

Further conversations with the Bishop and the Executive Archdeacon helped me realize that my time has come to leave St John’s, to clear the space for another person to offer their leadership, their gifts, their insights, their compassion, to bring new energy and direction, full time, to help you move forward in becoming what you are called and meant to be.

A missionary to Chile who was a guest speaker in my last parish left me with a meaningful insight.  When asked about what it means to be a missionary, he said we clergy are all missionaries – that we are always interim, and temporary.  We have a purpose, a mission, to accomplish and then we have to go.  Discerning when that moment has arrived is never easy, as I mentioned, and the fact that I took so long to come to this decision, and to accept it, is an indication of the degree to which I care about this parish.  But accepting the fact that it is time to go is also an indication of the degree to which I care for this parish.

I am reminded of a sign I used to have hanging in my office: “You are not totally, personally, irrevocably responsible for everything.  That’s my job! Love, God!”

The Bishop and Executive Archdeacon helped me think this through and reflected with me about an appropriate parish in which to continue my priestly ministry on a half-time basis.  This past Wednesday, I had an interview which was to begin the process of exploring.  I thought it would probably take months to come about.  But after a very good meeting with the folks at the very first parish I spoke with, they were on the phone to the Bishop the following morning, and she was on the phone to me not long after.  The whole process took only several days – I remain slightly stunned!

As a result, I will, as the wardens indicated, be going to Christ the Redeemer in Cloverdale (in Surrey), some time later in the Fall – the dates are a little fuzzy due to previous commitments, but either late October or early November.

I am feeling excited about the prospect, but I have not even begun to deal with my feelings about leaving St John’s.   This isn’t the first time I have had to make the decision to move on.   I know there will be a variety of feelings, from sadness to disappointment to fear to anxiety to anger.  But I hope we will choose to engage and enjoy this time of transition; as I move on, we can celebrate certain things, laugh about a lot of things, and share memories of significant moments.   I go away from here carrying many good memories along with the 30 pounds I gained during my 8 years here.

Clergy are in fact something of a model in terms of responding to God’s call and going where they believe they are supposed to be –  early on, most of us realize you can’t argue with God, as the prophet Jeremiah found out.

Somewhat coincidentally, today’s readings provide direction, wisdom and reassurance as we begin this phase of transition:

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of how important it is to remain open to God’s call, even when things seem inconvenient and overwhelming to the point of impossible.  This passage reminds us never to underestimate our own significance – our own place in a larger picture — our own chapter in a bigger story – even when we may not be confident in our own value or gifts or abilities.

The alternate reading today from Isaiah (which I worked into the Confession) urges us to get past our own interests, reminding us that  religion is never just about ourselves – that if we can get away from merely serving our own interests, God will take us to new and amazing places: “I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth … The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs” (from Isaiah 58).

Except in God, in all things there is a beginning and there is an end.  The Letter to Hebrews teaches us that we seek and celebrate and serve the God who shakes things up, the One for whom everything is temporal, provisional, interim and conditional, the One who leads us beyond the forms into the substance, beyond the appearances and into the reality of the life that generates and animates the universe.  The real life of God is something ineffable – difficult to comprehend – and not just a matter of connections with certain specific objects, places or ways of doing things.

And today’s Gospel, of the woman who was healed after suffering 18 years, encourages us to believe in the power of Christ to heal and restore, and to remain open to possibilities even though things don’t happen according to our own sense of timing.  Jesus was the bearer of new life  and transformed many who allowed him to touch them.  It is an important reminder to keep our hearts open, to allow them to be accessible rather than hardened and closed, even though to keep your heart open leaves you susceptible to being hurt.  The way of Jesus transforms the way of suffering – gives it new meaning and dignity – and incorporates it into the bigger picture of his life, death and resurrection, the kingdom of God and life in the Spirit.

You can be profoundly changed by an encounter with someone that lasts only seconds – over eight years, we have certainly shaped and changed each other in substantial ways.  I am not the same person I was when I arrived; you are not the same people you were.

For eight years I have spoken of St John’s in terms of “we”, and now it is hard to begin to use the second person pronoun “you,” as the distancing and departing begins.  As I begin the process of separating from you I am conscious that we are all part of a larger Communion – a ministry that is not isolated to one parish.  In the Spirit, we remain one.   So it is very appropriate  that we speak of this in the context of the Eucharist, that one place where we know the healing life of Christ is present, the one place that unites us all.

Let us bless each other and give thanks to God and patiently work toward the future of this great Communion, especially as it is manifested in the parish of St John the Apostle, in which I have been privileged to play a part over the past eight years.

The Rev. Grant Rodgers+

Rector

Easter Sunday – Ven. Grant Rodgers

St Paul, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, wrote: “All will be made alive in Christ” or as the old King James Version puts it: “In Christ shall all be made alive.” Either way, what we are talking about is life. We gather today to celebrate this promise, this hope, this reality; to embrace the life we share in Christ and to re-enter it through the sacrament of the Eucharist; to worship the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not even exist” (Romans 4).

We are not just expressing a belief or remembering an historical event; in some real way, we are celebrating the life that is in us. And Jesus is the first expression of this life, this new creation; Jesus is life. As theologian N.T. Wright puts it: “Easter was the moment when Hope in person surprised the whole world by coming forward from the future into the present.”

My theme at Christmas was a bit of ancient wisdom: “Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.” Today, let us celebrate the fact that “All will be made alive in Christ” – another phrase worth remembering.

The bulb in the ground, the child in the womb, the bear hibernating deep in its cave; the husband who has languished on the couch all winter – all feel this inexorable pull toward life – and amazingly, spring to life. It is in all of us to know that we are constantly being summoned toward transformation and renewal and evolution, as compellingly as Jesus summoned Lazarus out of his tomb.

Anais Nin:

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

In the Resurrection we see clearly that God is about life, and on this day we are reminded of something essential about God, a clue about what God is: “God did not make death, and God does not delight in the death of the living” (Wisdom 1). Again, “All will be made alive in Christ.” Even what we think of as death becomes an avenue, a means, of entering into life. It was Jesus after all who said that a seed must fall into the ground and die before it can come to fullness of life, and Jesus who said that we need to lose our existing life in order to be open to our new life. And it was Jesus who did this improbable thing of embracing death, even in the form of execution, in order to be born again into the full life of the Spirit of God. In Christ, God summons all creation into a new creation, a new way of being.

The Book of Wisdom makes it clear that this is a choice, not something simply imposed or automatic. This is an essential aspect of our humanity, one of the key ways in which we bear the image or character of God – that we are free to make choices. So especially at Easter, we could say “Choose to be dead if you wish, but why on earth would you do that? Instead, choose life, choose to be fully alive. That’s the real reason why we are here.”

In Christ, we are constantly offered new birth. St Paul says in Romans: “If the Spirit of the One who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells within you.”

Having just had a Facetime visit with one of our grandchildren, I am very conscious of how animated and dynamic children are.

Children typically can’t sit still – they are constantly impelled to motion. So Avery was sometimes in our view and often bouncing off in another direction. Have you noticed how children emphasize what they say with a jump or a spin or by singing what they’re saying? Their reactions to things are immediate and uncontrived. She’d say something like “I love you Grandad,” and then go off and fling herself on the couch. And children’s punctuation is physical – “I know!!” can be punctuated with a stomp of the foot or hands shooting toward the ceiling, or arms clamped around their little bodies – or a laugh, which to me is always a giveaway that they are close to God. In no uncertain terms, you know there is an exclamation mark on what they are saying. When there is music, they dance; when there is singing, they sing. Children are unguarded and curious — this openness and spontaneity is part of what Jesus pointed to when he suggested we all need to be like children – the clue to the way to find the kingdom of life within ourselves. “Seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened” Jesus said, but if you just sit there, maybe you never realize that what you thought of as noise, or as an interruption or a nuisance was actually Christ knocking at the door of your life, maybe in the form of a child, or perhaps a bird, or a song, or maybe even a sermon, trying to get you to open the door that leads you out of the tomb and into life.

An insatiable desire for life – enthusiasm – hopefulness – joy – these are sure signs of the life of God within you. Of course we can’t be bouncing around like 3yr olds at 40 or 50 or 80 (or can we?). Maybe it gets more subtle as we age but it should never disappear. The analogy or metaphor of children is meant to be a reminder that being in Christ means being fully and emphatically and unapologetically alive. There’s a reason why Jesus said “leave the dead to bury the dead.”

You really have to work at being dead. We could choose death but it would be difficult because life is our true nature and it vibrates and pulses in every fibre of our being because that is how God created us. You really have to work hard deaden those impulses within yourself; you really have to persist in telling yourself some other story than the one that is before us this morning.

What exactly happens to us at death – where exactly we go – even the apostle John acknowledges he doesn’t know. But as he says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wants to make it clear that death is not of God. Death is an enemy, something foreign and abhorrent to who we truly are, and that enemy is ultimately overcome in Christ. So being dead, or acting dead, or even overly solemn, or pompous or pretentious, is no way of honouring God.

The Gospel today contains one of my favourite lines from the entire Bible, as the men in white (angels?) ask the women who have come to tend to Jesus’ body: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here.”

The women going dutifully to the tomb to do the honours to Jesus’ corpse symbolize the fact that we often persist in going to those places where life used to be, driven by the power of habit and custom, embracing the shadows and the memories that once made that real and vital, but we are not very likely to find life there any more.

We look to the past and we can understand much. The Big Bang; Tyrannosaurus Rex; primitive humankind — all are aspects, momentary expressions of God’s being – in process, evolving — but in Christ we see the new creation; we see the future. We see who we are meant to be and what we are becoming. Christ is not a figure of the past and not an anomaly – Christ is the future and Christ is the norm. And we are being summoned into that future – the Omega point as Teilhard de Chardin called it.

The Gospel warns us not to be looking for life in places where death is the norm. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” This is a question so pertinent to real Christian life that it should be posted on the doors of our churches as a question that must be asked by all who come there. This is not a museum. This is not a mausoleum. If all we are about is old habits, nostalgia, memories, dreams of what used to be, we are more to be pitied than any other human beings on the planet.

But in fact, as St Paul says, Christ has been raised from the dead – death has no more dominion over him – death is no longer where we look for him. Having read St Paul for many years now, I am certain he was not the sort to base his life on something he did not believe was true, or “factual.” For Paul, this had not only happened but it had been experienced and witnessed by many, including himself. Paul knew what he was talking about not because he had some vital bit of information, like a scoop from the TV news. Paul knew what he was talking about because he was living it; he was already in Christ, as Christ was already united with God, right in the context of this earthly life.

Jesus is supposed to have said to Mary “I AM the resurrection.” He didn’t say “I WILL become something in the future” – the Resurrection was already present and he was already abiding in it, and sharing it with others. That is the life we are called to in Christ; in essence, that is what Christ means.

In today’s Collect we prayed: “God of Life, through the resurrection of your Son Jesus, you have overcome the old order of sin and death . . .” With Jesus’ death and resurrection, an old paradigm had passed away – life is now to be interpreted and experienced in an entirely different way. Jesus contrasts those who are wedded to the old paradigm and those who have embraced the new reality: “they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” Lk 20).

We are always left with a choice about Easter and Resurrection, even though we have known of its pull and its power from before we were even in the womb and certainly during it. There are so many negative factors that dissuade us and urge us to doubt and dismiss what we know in our deepest self, something we did know and experience as children.

But we lose touch with that and in all those places where we stop connecting with life we start to experience death, as the Book of Wisdom suggests – negativity, unhappiness, cynicism, inactivity, loss of interest and curiosity, deadening of relationships, illness, disease that begin to characterize our lives.

As the Book of Wisdom says: “perverse thoughts separate people from God.” One of my seminary professors said that sin is separation – from God; from others; from our true self. So Wisdom says emphatically: “Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your own hands; because God did not make death, and takes no delight in the death of the living.”

Whatever story we may tell ourselves, whatever we may believe about ourselves, the Gospel proclaims that God’s desire for us, God’s intention for us, is life. Jesus says: “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” My hope is that you leave here today convinced that you are a child of the light, a child of the resurrection.

The women did not comprehend what they saw at the tomb – they did not understand it – they could not really explain it. Initially they simply experienced it. In the beginning it was simply an experience of life being where it was not expected, an experience that reversed their expectations and plans, an experience that filled them with hope and joy and sent them running in excitement to share what had just happened to them.

I hope that you will experience at least something of the reality of the resurrection – the new life – with the hope, enthusiasm, joy and new directions that that Life always brings.

“All will be made alive in Christ” – even you! Even us! Today, let us like children feel that life force pulsating and resonating within us and know that it is God. If the glory of God is human beings fully alive, as St Irenaeus said, some1800 years ago, then let us feel free to feel it and show it and share it, in the name of Christ who is our life.

The Ven. Grant Rodgers+

Readings for Easter Day

Wisdom 1: 12—2:5; Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; 13 because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them, and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hoped for the wages of holiness, nor discerned the prize for blameless souls; for God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.

I Corinthians 15: 19—26 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Luke 24: 1—12 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Homily for Epiphany 3

Homily for Epiphany 3/January 24, 2016

The Venerable Grant Rodgers

A month ago we were singing Christmas carols! It seems hard to believe, but it’s an indication of how quickly time moves on, and a reminder that life itself moves along very quickly, which in turn raises a question of what we’re doing with our lives.

The poet Mary Oliver, reflecting this sense of how quickly it all passes by, asked: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Good question! Continue reading “Homily for Epiphany 3”

Homily for Christmas I, 2015

December 27, 2015

Today, in addition to continuing the celebration of Christmas, we celebrate our patron saint, John the Apostle and Evangelist, whose festival day is December 27, and often seems to get overlooked in the aftermath of Christmas.

There is much uncertainty even about who John is.  Someone by the name of John is mentioned a number of times in the New Testament.  All the references could be about the same person, but it could also be two or more people.  John was a fairly common name at that time, so there could indeed be several different New Testament figures of the same name.  But in every case what comes across is someone who was there – someone who was with Jesus at the key moments of his ministry, and thus speaks with authenticity as someone who knew Jesus intimately:

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us” (First Letter of John 1: 1—3).  Today’s Gospel (from John 21) suggests John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved . . . the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper.”

Depending on how you read the references to John in the New Testament, he could come across as passionate and fiery, with great ambitions of attaining the highest possible heights, or possibly as a boyish, affectionate, naïve or even effeminate character – all of which could tempt people to take him lightly or not treat him seriously.  From what we know of John, as a composite, he comes across as many things: sensitive, humble, loving, sophisticated, intelligent, articulate, passionate, courageous, loyal, insightful, profound, mystical.

The writings attributed to John take us on a mysterious and mystical journey.  John allows us to see inside Jesus in a way that we do not in the other Gospels — we are invited behind the scenes into the nature of the relationship Jesus shared with God, including the startling insight that Jesus came to know himself as one with God, and that he was actually one with God from the beginning.

John’s Gospel speaks to us of transformation and offers the key image of being born again, from above (see John 3: 1—10).

“In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery? “The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but I believe there will be more light than here. Maybe we’ll walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking? That’s impossible!  And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies our nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is short for a reason. Life after delivery is logically impossible.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something, and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense! And if there is life out there somewhere, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but I believe we’ll meet Mother and she will take care of us.”   The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”  Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Facing certain death, St Ignatius of Loyola said to his companions: “My birth is imminent. Forgive me, brothers. Do not prevent me from coming to life.”   Meister Eckhart taught that God is all about birthing, and Christmas of course is the celebration of the birth into human life of the divine life, the life of God its Creator becoming manifested in a new way through the life of Jesus, the model, the embodiment, the prototype of the new humanity, bringing into being new possibilities and much greater scope to human life.

The Gospel of John, though it pays no attention to the physical birth of Jesus, nevertheless opens up a new world, one that is much larger in scope.  Like the sceptical child in the womb story, we can remain in denial as much as we like, but eventually we must come into the light of that bigger picture and that new life.   John’s Gospel serves to open our eyes to signs of that kingdom right in front of us, right now.

In John 3, Jesus informs Nicodemus, one of the leading teachers among the Jewish people, that in order to experience the kingdom he needs to be born again.  Nicodemus doesn’t get the metaphor, and assumes Jesus is talking about physical, literal birth.  He is taking what Jesus says literally rather than figuratively, a typical mistake when dealing with things Jesus taught, and also when dealing with John’s Gospel.   John never seems to be merely prosaic or literal – his Gospel is an appeal to see beyond the obvious – to look through things – with the sense that nothing is exactly as it appears on the surface.

So Jesus says to Nicodemus: “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand this?”  Jesus was incredulous because it’s central to the whole enterprise – without it, we are at best the Rotary Club or, worse,  maybe a museum.  And the presumption of teaching about matters relating to God without any real sense of who and what God is, seems preposterous to Jesus – a great fraud.  As the Book of Revelation (also possibly written by John) says, Christ stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open up to the fullness of life that is beyond the little shells and closets we choose to dwell (hide) in.

We can be grateful for the variety of insights expressed in the New Testament.  For example, Matthew’s Gospel urges us to look at life such as the birds and the flowers and trees and learn from it; John invites us to look right through it.

One of my Christmas (and Easter) traditions is to read or watch the movie version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which portrays how the Pevensie children (Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy) stumble through the wardrobe into a whole new world and adventures and identities.  For Lewis, heaven is the real world, while this world is a realm of shadows, containing inklings, hints, possibilities, of greater things to come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (20th Century Lutheran pastor and theologian) speaks of the disenchantment of modern life, of how modern life has tended to be devoid of mystery, imagination and faith:

“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty. A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery. We retain the child in us to the extent that we honor the mystery. Therefore, children have open, wide-awake eyes, because they know that they are surrounded by the mystery. They are not yet finished with this world; they still don’t know how to struggle along and avoid the mystery, as we do. We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary of our being, because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal, and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…. Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life, nothing of the mystery of another person, nothing of the mystery of the world; it means passing over our own hidden qualities and those of others and the world. It means remaining on the surface, taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated and exploited, and not going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation. Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of life at all and even denying them” (from: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas).

John’s Gospel has been called the Book of Signs.  With John it’s never “just water” or “just wine” or “just bread” or “just some guy” – John teaches us to see through the surface of things to their deeper significance.  Things and events and people point beyond themselves – they open the door to another level of reality.   John stresses Jesus’ divine and cosmic nature, and takes us beyond the historical and outward events and into the realm of God’s eternal purposes as they are expressed through this one amazing life.   There’s enough detail that you know John is telling the same story as the other Gospel writers, but he’s telling it from another level – another depth.  John wants us to know what was going on in what was going on.  He wants to tell the inner story, the hidden story, and to  allow the Christ dimension to emerge – in The Gospel According to John, Jesus is deeply conscious of his higher nature and identity.

In John, the Gospel becomes cosmic in scope, deeply insightful about the deeper meaning not only in Christ but in the universe itself, and introduces us to the sacramental principle of learning to perceive the divine significance that is under the surface – beyond the superficial – beyond appearances – to see through the wardrobe and into another dimension of life.

For example, I have always felt that the feeding miracles are meant to teach us something about the way we should approach and understand the Eucharist, and John’s Gospel makes this connection clear to us.  He very directly connects the feeding of the multitude with the Eucharist, and so John portrays Jesus saying “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” (John 6:53—57).

Taken literally, it makes no sense, or comes across as offensive and appalling.  But again, in John’s Gospel, we learn that it’s not “just bread” – so Jesus urges his followers to see the spiritual significance in the offer and the sharing of the bread (John 6:27).

John articulates a theology of the Eucharist that first of all tells us that this is absolutely consistent with the identity and person of Jesus, and that it is also a way of experiencing the real presence of Jesus on an ongoing basis.  John shows us in various ways that Jesus’ presence is transformative, that it changes things – as in his telling of the wedding feast in John 2, where in Jesus’ presence, water becomes wine – as in the raising of Lazarus, where a corpse comes to life.

Another person named after John, Johannes Eckhart, said: “We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity…. We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I also do not give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of God is begotten in us.” (Johannes (Meister) Eckhart, 1260-1328, German Dominican monk)

What effect should a patron saint have upon the life of a parish?  How might that characterization shape life here at St John’s?  I think we are fortunate as a parish to be named after St John, whose distinctive Gospel proclaims Jesus as the source of abundant life.  Now there’s something we could run with! John also identifies Jesus as “the Resurrection and the Life;” as one who washed the disciples’ feet; as the way, the truth and the life; as the “I am,” the manifestation and presence of God in our midst – God with us.  There is much in John’s writings that we could take up to infuse our life here with deeper significance and energy.  A parish named after St John should above all never be shallow or superficial!

A parish in which people are encouraged, urged, to be like John – that is, courageous, passionate, articulate, intelligent, sophisticated, loving, humble, insightful, mystical and sensitive – sounds like it should be a very meaningful and exciting place to be.

Let us allow St John’s be the kind of place that it is being called to be – let us be willing to be born again and again through the mystery of the Word made flesh —  like children of God let us step out of the womb we have known and embrace the new world that God is constantly revealing to us – that people who come through our doors may be transformed in a sacramental way in our midst, and when they go back through those doors into everyday life, find that life is no longer ordinary and mundane, but full of signs of God’s presence and purpose and power.

R.H.G. Rodgers+

I John 1: 1—9  We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.   This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 21: 20—25   Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’  So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’  This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.  But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Homily for Christmas Eve 2015

The Venerable Grant Rodgers, Rector

I know I would be remiss if I did not say to you at some point this evening:

“The Force be with you,” because we live in a culture that likes its religion with a little popcorn on the side, and maybe a little imagination and science-fiction along with it.  Some people carp a lot about how Christmas has been high-jacked or gone off the rails or become completely secular. My Christmas would not be complete without my yearly watching of the movie adaptation of Dickens’ great story of Ebenezer Scrooge, or reading Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” or O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” — not mention Dr Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Merry Christmas, Mr Bean,” “Blackadder’s Christmas Carol,” etc.  And frankly, if you can’t find something of the Gospel in Star Wars, you need to go back to Sunday School.

For me, Christmas is not something I own because I am a pastor or even because I am a Christian, and Christ is not some dead relative whose reputation I feel I need to defend.  Christmas is a gift — a gift that is meant to be shared.  After all, in the original story, there was a child in the manger, not a dog. Am I right?   However, when people take the “dog in the manger” approach, especially at Christmas, it never seems to edify anyone, and often goes horribly wrong. Take the Puritans for example.

Once upon a time there were people called Puritans within the Church in England, people deadly serious about their faith, who wanted to do away with anything frivolous or fun or foolish, and as a result nearly succeeded in getting rid of Christmas altogether.  And they did, for a while.  In June 1647, an order of the British parliament abolished the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, and during Christmas Day of 1647, a number of clergy were actually taken into custody by the authorities for attempting to preach!

God knows what the Puritans thought they were defending, or upholding, but apparently, anything that looked like a party, or like it was even reasonably alive, Puritans seemed to want to kill it.  They were hugely incensed about subversive stuff like Mince pies and Morris dancing (which involves hopping about as though you just stepped on a nail and hitting each other with sticks) – for Puritans this kind of thing was a sign that Satan must be close at hand.

They encouraged business people to keep stores open and carry on as if nothing were happening.  They wanted people out working in the fields on Christmas Day, not partying and spending time at church or with family and friends.  In 1657 the Council of State convinced the mayor and aldermen of London to clamp down on all celebrations in the capital, so much so that a number of people were actually arrested and held for questioning, just for attending church services Christmas Day (!!!)

Life was hard for most people of that era, and often very short.  Christmas represented a brief respite from the general drudgery of it all, but Puritans in their “wisdom” felt that life should be dull and difficult every day of the year.  They even ordered clergy in their preaching to urge people to mourn, not celebrate, on feast days of the Christian calendar – a general demeanour of gloom and doom being in their mind the best way to honour God.

Charles Dickins’ characterization of Ebenezer Scrooge, with his almost compete absence of humanity, and his Protestant work ethic in effect every day of the year, only resentfully allowing Bob Cratchit a day off at Christmas, is rooted in this puritanical hatred of anything that looked like frivolity or fun.  I wonder if they ever stopped to consider what Jesus might have to say about all their repressive ways, or how they dealt with the fact that Jesus himself was accused of being a drunk and a partier.

Wisely, the people charting the course forward for the Anglican Church found a more sensible way, a way that allowed Christmas in particular to be celebrated more broadly, and shall I say more generously.  Puritans, having failed to “purify” the Church of England, sailed off in large numbers to the New World, where they could fully devote themselves to dullness, alleviated by the odd witch hunt.  And of course they banned Christmas in America as well – with much more success.

I don’t want to merely castigate certain Christians, because things are never quite as simple as they appear and frankly, I find that most people, including me, have at least something of the Puritan in them.  However, it was somewhat ironic that in that case it was religious people who almost destroyed Christmas.  So if you want to complain about why commercialism dominates the Christmas season, realize that this is a very old argument, and think of the Puritans, some of the most seriously misguided people ever to think of themselves as ambassadors of Christ.

I think we best promote what Christmas is about by celebrating it joyfully, gratefully and generously without complaining that others are not doing it properly.

For Puritans, happiness, if it existed at all, was something earned, which of course sets up the eternal frustration of the Pharisee attempting to work toward deserving something that can only be given and received as an act of grace (see Romans 10:3), too full of him/herself to receive what only God can give.  Scrooge, after his conversion, or born again experience, Scrooge attempts to chide his newfound happiness by saying, “I don’t deserve to be so happy,” and then, laughing, throws his pen over his shoulder, saying “I can’t help it!”  That is the grace we are celebrating and proclaiming at Christmas!

Despite appearances that suggest people are not taking Christmas seriously enough, we need to be careful not to get pushed into a sectarian mindset, politicizing Christmas and Christianity and demonizing others at a time of year that so clearly speaks to the deep needs and hopes of all humanity, and reminds us of the importance of qualities like kindness and generosity.  At Christmas it would be most inappropriate for Christians in particular to be Scrooge-like, miserly and proprietary about this great festival which was intended as good news for all people.   As Titus said, Christ’s appearing was meant to reveal the goodness and the loving-kindness of God, not judgement and doom.  And really, is there any such thing as a “pure” celebration of Christmas?

For me, it is important not to get stuck in fixed conceptions of Christmas (or other aspects of the Faith).   As Teilhard de Chardin said, “God is always new.”   Johannes (Meister) Eckhart had a similar insight several centuries prior when he wrote: “God is the newest thing there is, the youngest thing there is. God is the beginning and if we are united to God we become new again.” For me, it is always a good thing to reflect upon what Christmas is, rather than what it used to be, and to consider how best to allow God to become present to us in new ways.

Several weeks ago, in need of a phrase for our Christmas advertising, I was tempted to go with something like “Yes, we’re open!” or maybe “Share, savour, celebrate!” — slogans being used by various stores, but instead I decided on the phrase: “God became what we are that we might be what God is.”

I like it because it is unusual and off the wall enough to sound unorthodox, unconventional, even “heretical” enough that people might be encouraged to think about it.  It expresses the concept that God is to be discovered within our own life, as Mary discovered that she was bearing the Christ in her own body –  that the Incarnation is about this incredible realization of God with us and within us.

The phrase: “God became what we are that we might be what God is,”  may sound New Age or something I made up, but it is actually a proclamation made by a number of those people we call the Church Fathers, those first theologians and spiritual leaders of the Christian movement, and the phrase also echoes what is expressed in scripture.

For example, St Paul in 2Corinthians says that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  The Second Letter of Peter says that we “may become participants in the divine nature.” This concept of divinization or theosis, of becoming what God is, is actually quite common in the writings of the Church Fathers and remains central in the teaching of the Orthodox Church.

St Irenaeus (c. 130-200) writing in the 2nd Century, refers to “the Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did, through His transcendent love, become what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself.“[Primary 1]

St Clement of Alexandria, also Second Century (c. 150-215) said: “[T]he Word of God became a man, that we may learn from a human being how we may become God.”[Primary 3]   And: “if one knows himself, he will know God; and knowing God, he will be made like God”[Primary 4]

St Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-235) said: “you shall be a companion of the Deity, and a co-heir with Christ  . . . for you have become God … you have been deified, and begotten unto immortality.”[Primary 9]

St Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373) wrote: “Christ was God, and then became human, and that to deify us” [Primary 11]. “For Christ was made human that we might be made God”[Primary 13].

St Basil of Caesarea stated that “becoming a god is the highest goal of all” [17] and numerous others, like  Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) Theophilus of Antioch, St Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-395); St Augustine of Hippo; Maximus the Confessor; Cyril of Alexandria; Gregory of Nazianzus, all said similar things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg put it this way:

“A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?”

This is astounding stuff!  This is about much more than whether we have mince meat or Morris dancing at Christmas – this is about who we really are, and what we might become and how we might live more fully as we embrace the possibilities contained in this revelation.  It is about the way we experience God through Christ and it reveals the purpose and nature of our very existence.

In a world in which so many people are considered disposable, reduced to statistics or commodities or seen merely as extensions of others, this is good news indeed — this is essential news from my point of view.  That people can see themselves differently – that we are not just shoppers or taxpayers or consumers – that we are not just mechanisms or organisms or creatures – we are not things! Each person bears the image of God and has the divine within them – is potentially transformative.  C.S. Lewis, speaking on his personal belief in the subject of literal deification, said: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

St Irenaeus also said: “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.” That is the gift of Christmas – the gift of life – and with it the permission, the invitation, the encouragement, to be vividly and joyfully alive.   Luke’s Gospel suggests that God delights to share the kingdom, rather than the all-too-common religious notion that God is more like Ebenezer Scrooge, sitting in his counting house, eager to keep the rest of us outside, unwilling to share what he has with us.

We have traditionally imaged God as something external and separate, but the Incarnation proclaims “God with us,” one with us, no longer something external but somehow intrinsic to what is and what we are.  At Christmas we celebrate the great mystery that suggests that the purpose of the universe is revealed in this “kenosis” of God becoming what we are – this self-giving, this giving birth to a new humanity — revealing the proper movement of the universe, its life-principle, even though it seems to fly in the face of reason and logic.   —  part of the great and wonderful mystery which we in the Church call the Incarnation, and that we celebrate as Christmas.

At Christmas we are reminded, and urged to celebrate, the fact that we can come to know something of the purpose of the universe, something of eternity, something of the meaning of life, within our own circumstances.  Christ is the model, the human embodiment of this, and suggests that this new way of relating to God is so that we can be where he is (John 14).

Mary’s conception is a matter of giving birth to what is within us – giving godly purpose, ethical purpose, loving purpose to what is within us – to see our life as inherently sacred – as divine

Far from the traditional view of God being somewhere else, the Incarnation proclaims that the divine emerges from within; the Incarnation proposes that God became one of us – one with us, that we might embrace the process of becoming, even though that becoming may stretch out over millions of years.

The image of God is already in us – we need to explore as to what conditions allow that image to emerge and flourish – e.g. love, affirmation, appreciation, freedom, community, service, compassion, etc.

Anger, hatred, bitterness and resentment toward others are not Christian virtues.  The truly godly thing is to help people see themselves in this new light – the light of the love of God for them and for all.

There are always grinches about at Christmas, who think it’s their duty to put others down or generally to be controlling and obnoxious, who will insist that their own version of things is the definitive one.  They like to think they have power over others, but in reality they don’t . . .

… because the Gospel proclaims another truth: that all who are receptive to the God who becomes one with us, thereby blessing our humanity, themselves become, in a real but mysterious way, children of God. The image of God is already in us, according to the Bible.  John says that what Jesus did was empower people to see themselves in a new way — to realize that in a real way we can share in the divine nature — connected in a vital way.  As many priests say during the preparation at the celebration of the Eucharist: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

So as St John says: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.”

The Christian Gospel, at Christmas especially, is an invitation to embrace our true identity, and our true freedom and joy.  It is full of hope, and good news for all people (even grinches, Scrooges and Puritans) of the goodness and loving-kindness of God.  May God bless us, every one, this Christmas and always.

RHGR+

The Christmas Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.   John 1: 1–18

HOMILY FOR THE REIGN OF CHRIST – THE VENERABLE GRANT RODGERS

NOVEMBER 22 2015

A little boy and his “papa” are being interviewed by CNN in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The little boy is trying to make his father aware of the danger: “Bad guys are not very nice … They have guns and they can shoot us because they’re really, really mean, papa. We have to be really careful or we have to change houses.” Continue reading “HOMILY FOR THE REIGN OF CHRIST – THE VENERABLE GRANT RODGERS”

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday of Pentecost

Commemorating St Luke the Apostle

October 18, 2015

We celebrate today (October 18) the festival of St Luke, apostle, theologian, Gospel writer, physician.   Saints days remind us that our history is about people, not formulas or doctrines or theories – that the Church is about real people paying forward their experience and wisdom and example, not merely a bureaucracy or institution. Continue reading “Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday of Pentecost”

Homily for Pentecost 21 – Thanksgiving Sunday

Last week I saw an amazing video on the TV news about a young woman interacting with a dolphin from a boat while holidaying in the Bahamas. Suddenly she dropped her cell phone into the ocean. Moments later, the dolphin had gone down, retrieved it for her and gently gave it back. Continue reading “Homily for Pentecost 21 – Thanksgiving Sunday”

Homily for the 16th Sunday of Pentecost August 30, 2015

The fact that we have the parish picnic today reminds me of my probably inordinate love of food, and the fact that I have gained way too much weight over the last few years. But how much is too much? What’s the ideal? What’s the norm? Continue reading “Homily for the 16th Sunday of Pentecost August 30, 2015”