Christ Church Cathedral to Host Open Service of Prayer for the People of Japan

This message is from Diocesan Communications 

    
 

Christ Church Cathedral, in consultation with Holy Cross, Japanese-Canadian Anglican Church will hold a special service of prayer for the people of Japan, Sunday, March 20th at 4pm.

Christ Church Cathedral is located on the northeast corner of Burrard and Georgia at 690 Burrard Street.

People of all faiths are being encouraged to attend this service of prayer, to remember those who have lost their lives and to support those whose lives have been forever changed by the devasting earthquake and tsunami.

The service will be organized over the next day or so. Bishop Michael will offer a homily. There will be music from the Japanese-Canadian community and a time to pray together using English, Japanese and keeping a space of silence.

The organizers ask that as many clergy in the Diocese of New Westminster as possible get the word out to their communities about this event and encourage the children and youth (of course all others are welcome to participate) to construct origami cranes as symbols of support and respect.

The cranes can be folded from paper where prayer requests have been written.

Here is a link to a static site that demonstrates that process. Origami Cranes. 

There are also many youtube posts like this one,( Youtube ) that detail the construction of an origami crane.

Organizers ask that the cranes be brought to the service on Sunday.

PWRDF representatives will be present to receive donations and forward them to the central office in Toronto for distribution to relief operations.

For further information:
Contact: Randy Murray 604.684.6306 ext 223

Spring Tea date set for May 7th, 2011

The Ladies of St. John’s Anglican Church invite you to the Annual Spring Tea from 2:00 pm- 4:00 PM in the Church Hall. Home made pie ala mode along with Coffee &Tea is available for purchase as well as Plants, Handicrafts and of course baked goods. For ticket  information please see Ferne Malcolm or contact the church office!

Friends and Food Luncheon

Title: Friends and Food Luncheon
Location: Parish Hall
Description: Friends & Food Luncheon – We will be having our lunch on Wednesday, March 30 at 11:30 am. Join us for appetizers followed by a three course lunch and coffee. Tickets are $20.00. Get yours early as numbers will be limited. Proceeds will go to the ACW. For tickets see Ferne Malcolm, Brenda Binns, Ann Adair Austin or Mickey Marshall.

Start Time: 11:30
Date: 2011-03-30

Legacy Bulletin – March 2011

 Legacy Bible Verse-

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give thisperson your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down atthe lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.Luke 14: 8-14

To read the entire Legacy Bulletin for March , simply click on the link below:

http://www.vancouver.anglican.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ZswtR02j9GY%3d&tabid=63&mid=423

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

LEAVING EDEN,

AND EMBRACING THE PILGRIMAGE OF NEW LIFE 

When I was a boy growing up in Regina, we had home milk and bread delivery, we had house calls from our doctor, there was almost no TV, there were no organized sports or stores open on Sundays, churches were centres of life and of neighbourhoods, we knew our neighbours not just on either side but for blocks, there was freedom to roam, and there were few locked doors. 

As a new priest, in the early 1980’s, I realized a new era had dawned, as insurance companies ruled that churches had to keep their doors locked at all times, or their insurance coverage would be null and void.  Many who were accustomed to the “Enter, rest and pray” approach that had prevailed in churches until then protested this harsh approach, but the fact was that many churches, especially rural ones, were being cleaned out, burned, and desecrated, and stolen stained glass windows, church organs and brass crosses were turning up in antique stores all over.  So now they’re all locked, and it is naive to think we could do otherwise. Diana Butler-Bass, in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, says “when I was seven or eight, I used to walk … from home to school to the public library to the florist shop, and finally, to the church – by myself.”  She speaks of the Hamilton area of Baltimore (especially Harford Road) where she grew up.  Now, if you were to speak of letting your child do that, you’d be considered grossly irresponsible and possibly have Social Services intervening. 

This massive cultural shift is part of virtually everyone’s story one way or another.  As Butler-Bass says, “We have all become wanderers in a very different world … Old Harford Road is gone, completely gone.” 

She speaks of an emerging “spiritual nomad” culture, in which many people have become spiritual wanderers, pilgrims, seekers.  That is in part what the Garden of Eden story is about – the loss of innocence, a new age dawning, and the painful departure from an ideal place into a very different and demanding world.  As Butler-Bass says: “A new world was being birthed in massive cultural fragmentation and emerging global chaos . . . We know that some sort of new world is  emerging … but we have no idea of what it is becoming.”

In recent years Christians have been vilified about their history.  To many people it is nothing but a series of crusades and witch hunts and various kinds of abuse.  But many of us remember a different history: of fellow church members and clergy who were not only good, decent and caring people but also profoundly holy; of the church as a meeting place and going to church as an assured way to connect with God; of Christianity not just as some weird hobby but as a way of life.  Dr Butler-Bass speaks of a whole generation of people not even vaguely familiar with the Christian story – even its most basic aspects.  She speaks of the church valiantly trying things and not being able to reach this new generation.

 Dr. Butler-Bass speaks poignantly of the church where she was baptized, struggling to find its way in this changed and troubling new world. (p. 20)  I know of so many churches in that same boat – not sure what they’ve ever done wrong, confused as to why they have been abandoned, and grieving – grieving the loss not just of the people they used to associate with in church, but of a whole way of life. 

The good old days are gone, and at times I miss them.  Like many others, I too find the new world confusing and frightening at times, but I also find it fascinating and wonderful.  Butler-Bass paints a picture of the old world of community, where people were neighbours in some real sense, where people shared common values, where there were mutually agreed upon and respected boundaries and securities – things we used to take for granted.  It’s a delightful vision of an idyllic time.  We can lament the loss of that world, but as Butler-Bass indicates, despite its charms, some part of her always yearned for it to change. 

How tempting it is to idealize the past – to try to dwell there instead of consenting to engage the new emerging world and the spiritual seekers who come with it. I’m sure you’ve heard the joke: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?  Seven.  One to change the bulb and six to reminisce about how great the old one was.   The past is a bit of a fiction anyway – the word utopia means “nowhere.” We can only be where we are, and although we have a story and traditions, they are of little value if they cannot be embodied in a relevant and compelling new way. 

It says of Adam and Eve that their eyes were opened, and they suddenly saw beyond the world in which they had been born.  That is interpreted by some as a curse – as a penalty for disobedience – as an expression of sin.  But I believe God did not create Adam and Eve (that is, men and women) to be perpetual children, and Eden is not meant to symbolize some kind of perpetual day care.  At some point, as the serpent knew, we must begin to see more comprehensively.  Human life is a pilgrimage not a settlement. 

Butler-Bass references the movie The Village in which people who wanted to escape the modern world create an old-fashioned village in the wilderness, and then do everything in their power to terrify people into staying put.  The movie is a sign of the necessity of pushing past old walls, dealing with reality, and moving into a new and larger world – of the impossibility of trying to re-create Eden, which is a temporary place at best. 

As Christendom lost its influence, our eyes too opened to new realities.  We suddenly became aware of a whole lot of other options and lifestyles  out there.  As Christians, many of us felt betrayed and abandoned by our neighbours and by a society which no longer made an effort to include the church in the way things were ordered.  We realized that perhaps there were people among us — Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists, not to mention aboriginal people – who did not share our version of the way things should be.   We could no longer assume that Christianity was the only way or even the right way, and now it is seen as a way, one way among many ways. 

How to respond creatively to this new age?  

Butler-Bass says: “When most scholars look at mainline Protestantism, they explore issues of decline.   Why are churches failing?”  She says: “I am interested in other questions. Why do some succeed?  How are those churches finding new life in a time of religious change?  … What does their vitality mean for the rest of us?”  p. 9 

When Butler Bass speaks of Christianity “for the rest of us” – she means “the other Christians. The ones you don’t hear about in the media.  The quiet ones.”  She means those of us who are neither evangelical fundamentalists nor Roman Catholics.  She means those historical mainline churches that operate from a moderate to liberal theological foundation.   She undertook a study of a large number of those churches  and she found life – much more life than she expected to find.  

In each place Diana Butler Bass examined, she found what she calls a “spiritual triad”: connection to tradition; commitment to Christian practices; and concern to live God’s dream.   Part of our repentance may be to acknowledge that for a long time the Anglican Church just drifted complacently along, and developed a kind of amnesia, in which we forgot what our traditions really mean, and forgot what it truly means to be the church.  As Butler-Bass says we must realize, “ [we can] no longer assume that people [are] Christians – and that church [cannot] serve as a social-service institution, a political party, or a business.”  As Butler-Bass discovered, many of the churches she studied have re-vitalized due to “a new emphasis on spiritual practice and Christian tradition.” (p. 43), and she says: “The primary job of a church is to be a spiritual community that forms people in faith” (p. 42).  She discovered from her study that: “Mainline churches decline when they neglect scripture and prayer, discernment and hospitality, contemplation and justice.”  (p. 45) 

The Ministry Assessment Process (MAP) which we are undertaking as a parish and as part of our diocese, is asking us to look at where we’ve come from, but more importantly, where we think we’re going.  

The mainline churches throughout North America have been going through a period of self-doubt, characterized by blaming, discouragement, struggle and confusion (you can add your own words), but this may turn out to be a fruitful time, a necessary “dark night of the soul.”  Isn’t Lent about self-examination?  Doesn’t Lent remind us that  periodic times of self-discipline and renewal are essential to our spiritual health?  Maybe being marginalized in our society isn’t the worst thing – maybe it frees us to become more truly what we are meant to be – maybe it encourages us to become less complacent about our faith, and more intentional about developing spirituality and creating disciples.  

She suggests that many churches have stalled, fixated on differentiating themselves not only from society but from other Christian churches, yet she found that many are beginning to move again with new life. She points to the great gulf fixed between Evangelical fundamentalism and secular scepticism, and the divisive labelling of people as saints or sinners, and she argues for a way between the extremes – “a creative third way.” She says: “Creative third ways provide open spaces amid cultural questions and tensions.  Typically, such open spaces are found in congregations that value comprehensiveness over exclusion” (p. 35).   And she describes a pastor by the name of Lillian Daniel who “embodies a blended sort of Christian theology and spirituality that draws from deep wells of tradition and yet is generously open to change and the remaking of those very traditions” (p. 34).  She points to the possibility of a church that is comprehensive, that includes both saint and sinner, darkness and light, a church that reclaims its place of significance in the community by creatively invoking the presence of God, re-kindling the fire of the Spirit, and becoming committed to the way of Christ with a new integrity and intention. 

In my Annual Report I spoke of Anglicans as being spiritual and religious and it’s kind of reassuring that Butler-Bass uses exactly the same description.   She spoke also of something else dear to my heart as an Anglican: of our characteristic of being less fixated on doctrine and definition but serious about encountering the living God in prayer and sacrament and the fellowship of the Body of Christ.  Anglicanism is a beautiful synthesis of reason and faith; head and heart; conviction and mystery (p. 51).  These are gifts we already have, and these gifts are not meant to be buried in the past, but raised to new life and offered to a world becoming overwhelmed with alienation, violence and cynicism.  We can be that “creative third way.” 

Her final stop in the study happened to be on Ash Wednesday, at an Anglican church in Santa Barbara, California.  The priest, in her sermon, said that “Lent is about change – the change that God can make in ourselves, in our faith communities and in the larger world.  Lent is a time that opens our hearts to transformation, to becoming God’s people and doing that which God calls us to do.” She concluded her sermon by saying: “Transformation is the promise at the heart of Christian life” (p. 281). 

I have tried to distill Dr. Butler-Bass’s Introduction, first three chapters, and Epilogue. These chapters offer strong reminders that Christianity is meant to be an adventure, and that it is not weird to be enthusiastic about being a Christian.   Her focus on transformation is all very consistent with the season of Lent, and maybe we can dare to hope that this Lent, the Spirit is leading us into unknown and unexplored places with some mysterious intention, for reasons we cannot comprehend, and all we can do is respond faithfully to the summons to be there, to engage the struggle, as Jesus did, to await what God might reveal, and trust that God will sustain us on our pilgrimage, wherever it may lead us. 

The Rev. Grant Rodgers

 A prayer for this Lenten journey:

 Blessed are you, O Lord our God, the shepherd of your people, their pillar of cloud by day, their pillar of fire by night. In these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that in this pilgrimage of prayer we might learn to be your people once more. In meditation and reflection, fasting and service you bring us back to your compassionate heart. You open our eyes to your presence in the world and you free our hands to lead others to the radiant splendour of your mercy.  Inspire us to be still and centered in these Lenten days, that we may know you are with us, and with you present, we are never lost, for you are the Source of life.  To you alone be dominion and glory, for ever and ever. Amen

 

Appointed readings for this Sunday: 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7   The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden;  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. 

Romans 5:12-19  Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.  If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.  For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 

Matthew 4:1-11   Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”   But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”  Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple,  saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'”  Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.  

QUESTIONS

 What did you hear in this homily – what spoke to you?

Do you recognize the cultural shift Butler-Bass names?  What’s that like for you?

Is faith about asking questions or finding answers?

Do you relate to the idea of being a spiritual nomad?

What would that spiritual triad (connection to tradition; commitment to Christian practices; and concern to live God’s dream) look like at St. John’s?

Is transformation the promise at the heart of Christian life?  Is it the promise at the heart of what we are about here at St John’s?

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2011

LENT: A PILGRIMAGE TO LIFE

Ash Wednesday is serious stuff, in that it is a reminder of mortality, not  just mortality in general, but our own, and that’s not a place where most of us like to dwell.  But in Lent, as they say in the meditation biz, we are required to “just sit with it” for a while. 

The ashes are a reminder of fire that once burned brightly and hot – ashes are only remnants – signs of something that was —  and as such may remind us of younger days, the passion of youth, the burning desires and ideals that once motivated us. They might remind us that we are a remnant people.  And they warn us that fire, untended, can go out. 

For us on this day, the ashes become a symbol of the spiritual journey which begins in death and leads toward life.  There is no life that does not encompass death. 

I don’t believe Lent is a time to go moping about, playing victim, making a show of being deprived.  We are largely clear of that self-hating theology which obliged people of earlier times to torture themselves during this season.  We are reminded at the outset of this service (in the opening Collect) that God does not despise anything.  As someone said “God doesn’t make junk” (with the possible exception of the mosquito, of course). 

 “The Imposition of Ashes” is a confusing term. The ashes are not imposed – it’s voluntary.  The Church no longer imposes much of anything on people.  The ashes need to be received voluntarily, as a gift – as an expression of reality and truth in a world so full of hype and deception.  In Lent, Christians begin by embracing their mortality, dropping out of the delusional game of trying to avoid aging, of trying to avoid appearing to be what we are, of denying that suffering and death are actually essential aspects of life.  I don’t think you can see through to immortality without opting out of the massive exercise in denial that has become ingrained in our culture.

Ash Wednesday is a reminder of mortality while being a summons to new life.  Lent is about dying to Death, that is, departing from things which encumber and stress and distract us, and it is about coming to life.  Lent is a renewing and re-dedicating of our journey which leads toward Life – that Life we find in the person of Christ.  One online writer out it this way: “I worry that my Lenten disciplines have too often devolved into self-improvement experiments. I’d like to have my Lenten be a time of spiritual deepening and preparation for Easter, not just a religious veneer over a quest for thinner thighs.” 

Jesus taught that we must stop obsessing about what we wear and how we look and what we eat.  He asks, “Are YOU not of more value than that?”  (see Matthew 6: 25—34).  We may hope so, but we are often so concerned about externals that who we are gets lost in the shuffle and layered over. 

As I look back at recent history and remember the fashions of former days, I remember how desperate people were to be “in style,” whether it was the Brylcreemed ducktail haircuts or beehive hairdos of the 50’s and 60’s, the platform shoes or lime green polyester leisure suits of the 1970’s or the parachute pants, the mullets and the big hair of the 1980’s.  They look ridiculous now, but at that moment, we had to have it. Did we ever wonder: Why?  As Ecclesiastes said: “Vanity!  It’s all vanity!”   

Lent is an opportunity to step aside, or step back a bit, and try to gain some perspective on our life. I don’t think that means purposely getting a bad haircut or not wearing deodorant just to be weird for a while, but to take the opportunity and the incentive to begin to pay attention, to concentrate on becoming aware of how caught up we are by fashion, opinion, convention, and how afraid we are to be ourselves. 

As the purple crocuses blooming outside the parish office reminded me today: Lent is a time for growth – it is a reminder of the call to become what we most truly are. 

In the Middle Ages, Lent became known as a time for pilgrimages, which usually meant physically going somewhere.  That’s typically how they are understood today.  But important as those may have been, the mystical writer Walter Hilton suggested a new style of pilgrimage, not necessarily an overt one, but a journey to the interior of our own life, to the “heavenly city” that resides within, in a quest for our soul – for the heart of who we are.   That kind of pilgrimage might be achieved by walking a labyrinth, sitting in the garden; listening to music, reading a meaningful book, or devoting some time each day to prayer and meditation. 

To find that soul place, to make that discovery, sometimes requires a stripping away of layers – layers of roles and routines; layers of possessions and status; layers of attitudes and habits – in a courageous search for the truth about who we are, and the truth is that we are always more, not less, than we think we are, but we have to make that journey to discover it, to be able to realize the image of God, the reflection of the Creator, in us. 

Think and discern how you might use this valuable time.  What is it you need to pay attention to, or work to change?  Where are the impediments and unnecessary stresses in your life?  Lent is just long enough of a period that real change can happen if you dedicate this time to it.  Don’t over-think it –  don’t try to change everything – pick something and form some discipline around that for the next few weeks.  Ask God for grace and encouragement, and move forward on your personal Lenten pilgrimage.   Create some goals, but let the results unfold as they may, because that is being faithful to the idea of Lent as a pilgrimage, rather than a program. 

So, in the traditional words, “I invite you to a holy Lent – by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting and alms-giving, and by reading and meditating upon the Word of God.” I invite you to make a new commitment to walking the Christian path, following Christ on the journey of faith, that leads us into life. 

The Rev. Grant Rodgers 

Appointed readings: 

Joel 2: 1—3; 12—17   Blow the trumpet in Zion;  sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—  a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!  Like blackness spread upon the mountains  a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.  Fire devours in front of them, and behind them a flame burns. Before them the land is like the garden of Eden, but after them a desolate wilderness, and nothing escapes them. Yet even now, says the Lord,  return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain-offering and a drink-offering for the Lord, your God?  Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, ‘Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery,  a byword among the nations.  Why should it be said among the peoples, “Where is their God?”  

2 Corinthians 5: 20—6: 2   So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him,* we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 

Matthew 6: 1—6; 16—21 Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  ‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.   ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

RECTOR’S REPORT FOR THE YEAR 2010

 “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” 

These words, written by one of the early apostles of the Christian faith, still stand as a meaningful guideline for us as we strive to be a faithful and united Christian community.  These words were written at a time of significant trial for the Church, urging them to persist faithfully through hard times. There is no one who doesn’t need encouragement and positive reinforcement in what they are about. There is no one who cannot benefit from membership in a healthy community. 

Along the way, I have been privileged to have served as rector in two large parishes over a span of 17 years.  The danger was always in drifting toward a CEO style of leadership rather than a spiritual and pastoral one.  That constantly threatened to take me on a path toward burnout and away from the peace and joy of a life centred in the Christ.  Anglican writer and academic Arthur Middleton said: “There is a kind of thinking in the Church that wants to reduce the priest to a mere functionary, a managing director, where administration rather than doctrine and worship are to determine the form of the Church . . . . Priesthood is not a convenient, historically conditioned form of Church organisation, but is rooted in the Incarnation, in the priesthood and mission of Christ himself.”  That concept is central to my desire to come to a parish like St. John’s, and I enjoy being priest, pastor and spiritual director much more than being a boss, manager or CEO.  

I strive in my ministry to be aware that I represent Christ, however inadequately, and to remain open to the constant presence of the Spirit.  I hope I do that in a way that is down to earth and real, not suggesting that to be a Christian means being perfect. My approach to ministry has always been shaped by the concept that it is “the cure of souls” (or the care of souls), that is, attending to people’s inner life and motivations, helping them find a meaningful vision and perspective for their lives, and a lifestyle with integrity.  The cure of souls involves encouragement, helping people find healing for their wounds, and a way forward in life. People need to know they can come to me and that they will find understanding and compassion and not judgment or condemnation.  Let me say that I expect the same from you as well. 

Anglicans, I would say, are spiritual AND religious. We are people with a sense of the inner and sacred dimensions of life, and we are fortunate to have meaningful forms in which to express that. In other words, our sometimes vague feelings and inclinations are given focus and purpose in spiritual and religious practices rooted and grounded in tradition and the wisdom and experience of the historic, and continuing, Church.   

It appears that a more spiritual approach to ministry and church life is what modern seekers are looking for.  I have noted over the last number of years that people are interested in connecting more deeply and authentically, wanting direct, personal, and not second- (or 23rd) hand experience, and wanting to know if the Church provides guidance regarding spiritual practices.  Douglas Todd, religion writer for the Vancouver Sun, recently named this phenomenon as well.  

“Encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thess 5:11) — more words from scripture, but it can’t be said enough.   Mutual respect, support and encouragement must be priorities, principles and practices in any parish for it to be a place in which people feel safe enough and welcome enough, to be able to allow their light to shine.  I am not just speaking of an atmosphere of tolerance, but of making sure no one is taken for granted or dismissed or diminished, and of actively looking for opportunities to compliment and bless each other.   Every Sunday as I administer Communion, I am conscious of how many burdens and struggles are going on in your lives as you continue to journey forward, seeking grace.  Believe me, it is not hard to find good in you. 

We live in a world in which it seems like we have lost our manners – our civility – a time when many people are either moving about like robots, unconscious and indifferent, or flipping out and acting like animals.  Christianity is all about what it means to be a genuinely human being. It is all too easy to start taking each other for granted and to slide into patterns of indifference.  It seems to me that Christians can do a very valuable thing by expressing reverence and respect, because then we are identifying and encouraging the sacred in the midst of life. 

An important part of my role is to teach and guide (and correct when necessary), and I want to suggest that we are in a process of recovering a meaningful theology of the Church.  For me, the church is not primarily an institution, it is a spiritual society.  When we speak of the Church as the “mystical body of Christ,” we are certainly suggesting something more than the lunchtime gathering at McDonald’s.  But every individual and parish is faced with the choice of whether to live into that high calling or let the church fall into one default position or another.  

On Christmas Eve, we packed the church to the doors at both services.  One thing I found significant in that was the large number of young adults who showed up, on their own (not attached to a parent), to celebrate with us.  Recently, I was emailed by someone requesting to use one of my sermons on a Polish language web site!  There is always a larger constituency around us, some of whom have some sense of affiliation, and some who are at least sympathetic to the place of the Church in our society.  We are always affecting and influencing people, one way or another.  I believe there is great promise for this place if we persist in extending our vision of what we do beyond our doors, and if that is rooted in a community in which love and respect and support are obvious to all who enter. 

Do you feel like you’re making progress?  I hope we can reflect and determine together how we can best practise intentional discipleship – informing, guiding, mentoring and challenging people of all ages to grow up into the likeness of Christ.  The purpose of the Church cannot be otherwise without failing to be the Church and simply becoming a social entity not unlike the Legion or a Lodge.  

In 2011, the diocesan MAP (Ministry Assessment) process will take us on a journey of discovery.  I urge you all to find meaningful ways of participating, because the future of our parish and of the Anglican Church in the Tri-Cities/Burnaby area will be affected by this. 

By all accounts, 2010 was a good year for St. John’s. I am very grateful to all who exercise their ministry here in a collaborative, supportive and godly way.  We are fortunate to have two deacons (Anne and Trudi) who have a strong call to serve, and I am grateful for the ways in which they serve the parish, and also how they have been an encouragement and complement to my ministry.  We are also fortunate to have two wardens (Terry Walton and Sharon Cooper) who are extremely capable and insightful about the life of St. John’s.  I am very glad to know they plan on offering themselves for another year.  Karen Evans never ceases to amuse and amaze me. We also have people who carry out ministries like the Altar Guild, St. John’s Family Food Bank, building and grounds maintenance, ACW, treasurer, Sunday School, choir, EFM, MAP, etc …. but we need others to think about stepping up and offering to help and lead and serve.  In a parish, everyone’s contributions matter.  We need YOU.  St. Paul, quoting Jesus, said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  This is true, not only about Christian life, but about life in general. 

Years ago, I was a delegate to General Synod.  At that synod, our Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, pointed out the distinction between attending General Synod and being members of General Synod.  “Member” suggests a whole new sense of accountability.  So it was like an admonition not to sit there congratulating ourselves on being at General Synod but to get down to business and commit to do our part to carry its work beyond the meetings. It’s a piece of wisdom that applies at the local parish as well.  It is an essential part of Christian discipleship that we activate people’s sense of being part of the church, not just as something we attend for our personal improvement, amusement or whatever – to see it in the light of shared accountability. 

2010 began with everyone exhorting each other to “BELIEVE!”  That theme started with the application process, as it was not a sure thing that Vancouver would even win the bid in the first place.  And based on Canada’s past performances at the Olympics, it was hard to imagine the tremendous success that would follow.  Many in the community itself wondered if the city and the province could achieve success in such a huge enterprise.  Despite the challenges of non-winter weather, personal tragedies, and a few other glitches, the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games goes down in history as a great moment, a great triumph. 

In an society which has lost faith, it is interesting that fear seems to have come to the fore.  The opposite of faith is not reason; it is fear. Many people are stricken with anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and apprehension.  A community which can offer reassurance, hope and support and above all, a sense of meaning, is priceless. 

When you don’t know the outcome, believing can be a real challenge.  Cynics can be very convincing; playing safe can seem to be the wise thing to do; deciding to get on board can seem foolish or embarrassing.   The Olympics didn’t entirely silence the doubters and the nay-sayers, but in the end, Vancouver could be very proud.  I hope, at the end of the day, that we at St. John’s, will be able to look at our efforts and be equally proud of what we have done. 

Believe! 

The Rev. Grant Rodgers, B.A., M.Div.

Rector

LENTEN BOOK STUDY/PREACHING SERIES

 During Lent this year, as part of the MINISTRY ASSESSMENT PROCESS (MAP), the Diocese has requested that we engage in a book study related to the process.  For this study, we have chosen the book Christianity for the Rest of Us, by Diana Butler Bass.  

Because it would be difficult to get enough people to buy the book and commit to attending the study sessions, we decided on a creative compromise: we will integrate the book study into our Sunday worship during Lent.   

Each Sunday in Lent, the preacher assigned (whether Grant, Anne or Trudi) will reflect on different chapters of the book and integrate those insights into the sermon.  Also, after each Sunday service, there will be an opportunity to gather for a short time of discussion and feedback immediately after the service.  

After the 8:30 service, we will meet in the lower hall.  After the 10:00 service, coffee, tea and goodies will be available in the narthex during Lent to accommodate our after-church sessions.  Our hope is that as many as possible will thus be able to participate.  Please plan on attending.

Blessings

(The Rev.) Grant Rodgers

  P.S.  Please note as well that every Wednesday in Lent, 7:00 p.m., we will gather in the church for a contemplative/meditative service, which will be followed by a short time of conversation.

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

 

A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE WORLD

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

Jesus says to his followers: “Do not worry about your life” and he suggests that when people become so overloaded with anxiety, responsibility and the pressure to conform that they are confused about their own identity and purpose,  they need to step back, take a little field trip and spend time meditating upon simple things, to reconnect with their soul.  By teaching people to look at birds and the wild flowers, Jesus was giving people  simple steps toward a profound and balanced spiritual life.  

Look at the birds ….  consider the wild flowers.  The American writer Lewis Mumford said:   “A day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search of truth or perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.” “Look consider” – these are contemplative words, which raise questions about how much attention we give to the devotional/contemplative side of life?   Is our life balanced?  Are we at peace with ourselves? 

First, as Jesus says, LOOK at them, not to analyze or draw some little moral lesson, because you can have a million facts or pieces of information about something and still not understand its essence or its soul.  Look, simply to see them, to notice.  Many people are not even conscious of the hundreds and thousands of birds which are all around us – never hear them singing – never pay attention – and it’s often a great gift to people to help them see and notice.  But further, once we’ve noticed, once they’ve got our attention, appreciate them, be present to them, and recognize their being.  In the biblical sense, to know something is to love it, to enter into relationship, so it becomes no longer a thing, an “it,” or an object, but a being in its own right. 

My life has been partly defined, or at least punctuated, by a number of significant bird-moments.  Long before I ever heard this passage from the Gospel, I was quite happy to look at birds, and probably happiest when I found myself in one of those timeless moments that birds have created for me.  Bird-watching has taught me to be focused, to be open to what a moment can bring, to pay attention to what is in right front of me instead of what happened at work or what’s going to happen when your excuse for getting home late is that you were bird-watching.  Forget all that – just be present.  People now always seem pressed by time.  It seems like it was just Christmas a few days ago; now Easter is pressing.  Jesus offers us a doorway from that sense of pressure into timeless moments – into eternity — offers a way of slowing time down and stretching it out. 

Part of the lesson is to see how simply birds live, and how complicated our lives are by comparison.  Once upon a time, human beings lived very much on a level with nature, but our lifestyle is now so cluttered with things we have come to believe are essential, that we have grown very distant and removed from the birds and the flowers and the planet itself.  And the industry that sustains us in this lifestyle is making life much more difficult not only for the birds, but for fish and dolphins and frogs.  Maybe in our world Jesus might be saying: Look at the birds, consider the wild flowers, and think about what our manic consumerism is doing to the environment, and ultimately to ourselves. 

Maybe we have become too advanced, too proud, to allow a bird or a flower to teach us something.  Ironically, in a world of billions of stimuli, people are bored and indifferent and rather numb. If they look at all, they tend not to see anything, and move on.  But one of my favourite writers, Annie Dillard, urges people to persist in looking, whether at birds or at muskrats, to stay with things, to look at things more deeply, being more intentional about observing and paying attention, and allowing things to speak to you and teach you. 

Coincidentally, this  past Friday afternoon, I was working at home (on my day off), experiencing some anxiety about getting this sermon done, and something distracted me so I looked outside from our upper floor deck,  and across the street in the open field across from us, sitting in beautiful sunshine, was a flock of about 40 Canada Geese.  They seemed absolutely peaceful, just sitting there enjoying the sunshine, not noisy as geese often are, but calm and contented.  I was drawn into their peace, and just got lost in it for a few minutes.  I was reminded too of being at the ocean and watching geese just floating and appreciating their capacity to live so simply and gently on the planet.  I stood watching them for a few minutes, and then came back in to write this.  20 minutes later, I looked out again and they were gone – the moment would not have been available then; it was only available when I went out. 

To look at and appreciate birds and flowers requires a certain amount of humility – a willingness to identify with them in their brief and beautiful lives — instead of thinking of ourselves as superior and disconnected, instead of persisting in our whirlwind of delusion and denial, in which we believe that by surrounding ourselves with things we will somehow be insulated from death.  Birds and flowers live with no such attachments and delusions, Jesus says, and they seem to get along fine.  Through birds and flowers, Jesus is trying to teach us to deal with reality. 

Be still, the scripture says, so that you can begin to be conscious of God’s presence, and of who you are in relation to God (see Psalm 46). Jesus knew that if want to see birds, it necessitates becoming still, because if you are agitated or restless the birds will be gone in an instant.  Also, you have to wait on birds, like you have to wait on God, sometimes for a long time (I waited 50 years to see a Wood Duck).  We get glimpses, inklings, moments, not a constant exposure.  True bird-watchers may tell you that the time you spend in stillness, waiting for a bird to appear, is not wasted time. 

A few days ago I saw a robin hopping around in the snow.  That is an image of the incongruity of our life at times – looking for sustenance where there is none, finding the world a cold and unwelcome and rather sterile place, or feeling somehow we are out of  sync. 

You know how intensely you feel when you’re in love? Life is not cold and meaningless then! In fact, everything seems more intense, more meaningful – you find joy and delight and wonder in almost everything.  It’s suddenly a wonderful world, in which beauty springs up to meet you at every turn.  I often have felt that when you’re in love you are very close to God, because God is love, and love truly is what seems to make us fully alive.   As the scriptures remind us, those who do not love do not know God.  

Meister Eckhart said:  “What we take in by contemplation we give out in love.”   In contemplative moments, we can become more centered in God, and to be centered in God centers us in life. If you’re not centred you’re not present to anything, everything passes you by as inconsequential – you’re oblivious to it, or you don’t know enough to care until it’s too late.  “Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it,” Jacob says (Gen. 28: 16—17).  Jesus defined sin against the Holy Spirit as declaring that God is not present where God actually is.   

Jesus asks: Is it possible to let go of tomorrow and just be available and attentive and faithful to the present moment?  Learn to be present.   The lilies Jesus was talking about have a very brief season – it’s easy to miss it.  I think of raising children: you blink and they’re teenagers; you blink again and they’ve left home.   As scripture reminds us, everything passes away quickly and is gone.    

The point is: be alive and alert to the present moment; create dedicated Sabbath time in our lives; re-discover what the word worship really means.  Spend some time each day as devoted time, whether meditating and praying, or just looking at the sky or listening to music or going for a walk, or to be willing to just sit and be open to whatever is that presents itself to us.  There are quite simple and accessible things we can do to re-connect with our true selves, our souls.  

We live in a manic, driven world in which people are expected to act like machines, and machines are taking over the roles of people, whether it’s those annoying automated voice mail systems or IBM gloating over its machine beating Jeopardy champions, or exercise, diet and medical programs that suggest our bodies are to be treated like machines.  We are caught up in way too many processes which are mechanical when they should be human, personal, soulful.   Jesus’ words are like a wake-up call to those of us who are walking through life like robots. 

The reality is that we can’t just drop out of jobs and mortgages (Jesus knew that), so we can’t just open up a commune or arrange to be at a spa all the time.  We have to find ways of re-connecting with our deeper self (of restoring our soul) and if we can develop a meaningful spiritual life, we don’t have to go to an ashram in India or Machu Pichu to be able to put things in perspective and find peace.  As Psalm 23 says, God will lead us to still waters; God will prepare a banquet table before even in the midst of conflict; God will restore our soul.  Psalm 131 suggests our soul is like a child within us, that needs to be revered and nurtured and matured. 

“Is it really worth it?”  That is a question I have heard many people ask, and it’s a good one to ask, because the word worship is derived from “worth-ship.”  It is best to devote our lives to things we think are truly worth it.  We live in a world of divided loyalties, but Jesus quite rightly says you can’t serve two masters – you can’t have two absolutes in your life. And your life can’t have true meaning if you are serving something mechanical, impersonal and inhuman (Mammon). Money never sleeps, perhaps, but it’s never awake either, because it’s lifeless, inert, and its value (and power over us) really depends on what we are prepared to give it. Jesus urges us to discern our priorities, because if we don’t, we create terrible conflict within ourselves and for those around us.  Jesus points to the need for choices that give priority to that which is really important, and do not allow us to become slaves to things which are, in the long run, irrelevant. 

We don’t have to drop out, but we can step aside, and indulge in what some may regard as useless activities or wastes of time.  Remember that  Paul said we may be considered fools when we embrace the wisdom of God.  But do it anyway!  Learn to pause, step aside, and savour the goodness of life, instead of being consumed with anxiety about whether we have enough, look right or are managing our diet correctly.   Birds and flowers are just examples. It could be sea shells; it could be watching clouds go by or ants walking around; it could be walking your dog with no particular destination or return time; it could be time playing with (or just observing) your grandchildren …. The point is there are things right under your nose which, if you paid a little attention, could lead you back toward the freedom and peace you need.  The practice of  the presence of God is a step toward the kingdom which we continually pray might be made manifest among us. 

What Jesus is offering is not just a simplistic “Don’t worry, be happy” bit of fluff, but a profound sense that in and all around us is the Spirit of the God who loves us.  This is one of the ways in which we become stewards of God’s mysteries – in cultivating our spiritual life, we become capable of pointing to things with reverence, and proclaiming that God is present in all things, and that, indeed, we do not have to worry about our life. 

(The Rev.) Grant Rodgers

 RCL appointed readings: 

Isaiah 49:8-16a  Thus says the LORD: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, “Come out,” to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.” They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;  they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up.  Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.  Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.  But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.

 Psalm 131  O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.  But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.  O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time on and forevermore.

 1 Corinthians 4:1-5  Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God. 

Matthew 6:24-34    “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?   Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?   Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

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

(DON’T) GIVE ME THAT OLD-TIME RELIGION!

A priest and a nun were travelling home from a conference when their car broke down. They were unable to get it fixed, so they decided to spend the night in a hotel. The only hotel in the town had only one room available. 

The Priest said: “Sister, I don’t think the Lord would have a problem, under the circumstances, if we spent the night together in this one room. I’ll sleep on the couch and you have the bed.  The nun said, “I think that would be okay.”  They prepared for bed and each one took their agreed place in the room. Ten minutes later the nun said, “Father, I’m terribly cold.”  The Priest replied: “Okay, I’ll get you a blanket.” He got her a blanket, but ten minutes later, the Nun said: “Father, I’m still really cold.”  And the priest very patiently said, “Okay Sister, I’ll get you another blanket.”  He got her another blanket, but ten minutes later, the nun said “Father, I’m still cold. You know, I don’t think the Lord would mind if we act as man and wife just for this one night.”
So the Priest said to the nun: “You’re probably right …  Get up and get your own blanket.” 

It is a bit of unintentional irony that in the appointed readings today we have a reading about divorce the day before Valentine’s Day – as they say in comedy, timing is everything.

We all find ourselves in situations where the rule books don’t help. One of the great ironies of our time is that we have come to realize that sometimes to choose life means we have to reinterpret the Bible from time to time. According to Matthew, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  In the process, a certain amount of reinterpretation was required.  Sometimes choosing life means making it up as you go along.

Case in point:

 How many of you are close to someone who is divorced?

How many have someone in your immediate family who is divorced?

How many of you are divorced? 

That usually involves almost everyone.  But until the 1970’s and in the case of some parishes, later, Anglican Church policy around divorce was  unbending, which meant that clergy were obliged to refuse all requests for second marriages, and some went so far as to tell the couple they would be living in sin if they proceeded.  The result was that thousands who came looking to their church for support, for some sense of acceptance and redemption, ended up going elsewhere (usually either the United Church or to Justices of the Peace) and never again looked to the Anglican church to offer anything relevant to their lives.  We wonder now why so many couples are choosing not to enter the marriage arena at all – or not to consult the Church if they do.  Perhaps the roots of that go back to that time when the Church was more fond of closing doors on people than opening them.

In this case, to choose life meant that the Church had to recognize the fact that marriages do fail, for a thousand different reasons, and that everyone deserves a second chance.   

Matthew’s version of Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems harsh and out of sync with the Jesus who dealt so wisely and graciously with the woman taken  in adultery, or with the woman at the well, who had been married five times and was at that point living with a sixth man without being married.  In Luke, Jesus tells the scrupulous Pharisees that prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom ahead of them.  Yet here, in Matthew’s Gospel, there is this apparently absolute and rigid stance.  It somehow doesn’t sound like Jesus at all. 

Divorce existed in Jesus’ time, but we have to assume it was being abused.  Jesus’ comment is not merely a negative – a “thou shalt not” kind of thing – but a positive comment about the importance of loyalty and fidelity in relationships.   It’s important to note that his comments were directed at men, because in that patriarchal and misogynistic society, there was a double standard, and men could get away with things while women bore the brunt of the community’s moral outrage.  His point about divorce likely has to do with the cavalier way in which men in that society could put aside their wives, often for very little reason – apparently just on a whim – and the women would be often be consigned to a life of poverty and degradation, because a discarded wife was an object of disgrace.  Jesus is asking them to look at the law from a larger perspective and not just in terms of what they can get away with – or the bare minimum requirement – but to see it in terms of God’s care and concern for all people.  Jesus’ comment is less about divorce per se and more about how the vulnerable – women in particular – are treated.  

There was a strong contingent in the early Christian community which wanted to maintain continuity with traditional Jewish religious and moral practices.  In the very first generation of Christians, in the mid 1st Century, there was a heated debate about how much and how many of the old rules and laws should be kept.  In the end, they decided to let go of almost all of it.  It’s helpful to understand that Matthew wrote his Gospel from the perspective of those who wanted to hold on to the past – and not break from tradition.   

Jesus was an observant Jew; he accepted recognition as a rabbi.  I can well imagine him telling people that he appreciated and respected the ancient commandments.  But the rabbis knew that scripture does not cover every possible situation; there are always times when you have to think for yourself, and that in itself is a gift God gives us. 

“Happy are they whose way is blameless” today’s Psalm says.  Yes, a life without blame would be terrific, but it seems to me that usually means not getting caught, because no one is blameless or perfect – no one is capable of perfect obedience to every aspect of the law  (except maybe for this very nice old lady at a seminar I was running one time, who said she had never committed any sin.   I didn’t want to argue with her, in case I might cause her to commit her first sin). 

There’s the obvious meaning in a law – and there’s the not-so-obvious.  To obvious transgressions like murder and adultery, most people would proudly say, “I’ve never done anything like THAT!”  (which is a way of implying: Therefore I’m superior). 

So Jesus says, No? Really? Have you ever made someone the target or victim of your rage?  Have you ever insulted or slurred someone – maybe gossiped about someone and diminished their reputation? Have you ever ridiculed someone or made them look like a fool?  Well then you are really no better than someone who murders someone – as the Epistle of John (3:15) says: “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer.”   OR – have you never looked at someone lustfully – that is, seeing them not as a person in their own right  but as an object – as a thing to be used – of course you have.    

Of course Jesus is saying that it’s wrong to murder someone, and of course he’s saying that it’s a good thing to be faithful.  But he is also saying that nobody’s perfect – there is no one who can say they are morally superior.  In fact to think so is more of a fault than someone who acknowledges their failings, and their “poverty of spirit.”  The Jesus I know does not let law stand in the way of justice, and does not allow injustice to be excused by the fact that it’s legal.   In his teaching, Jesus reveals that law is not a substitute for justice; and laws must not be allowed to become a means of establishing a false sense of superiority.  If all are guilty then we all share the blame, and it’s ridiculous to focus the blame on a few scapegoats.  Rather than isolate certain people, Jesus says, we’re all in this together – we’re all human, so let’s deal with our issues from that perspective. 

The key words here are, “But I say to you …”  because they show that Jesus felt free to re-interpret scripture.  No doubt he respected the rules and traditions, but again and again he showed them to be part of a living and flexible tradition – open to re-interpretation.  That is what it means to choose LIFE – not just forcing ourselves into the rules but having the courage to make faithful and responsible choices.  If you recall, Jesus was constantly scolded for breaking the rules. 

I think we’re eventually going to discover that God isn’t nearly as interested in some things as we were led to believe.  One of the key aspects of the Christian witness is the fact that Christ represents God’s redemption – the fact that God doesn’t hold our failings against us – that we are not forsaken by God if we fail to be perfect (as today’s Psalm implies).  

Martin Luther King said “That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” For Jesus, it’s not just whether something is legal, it’s about whether it’s right.  It’s not just what you can get away with or not be blamed for but whether it serves the purpose of love, mutual respect, building up community, etc. 

What does it mean to “choose life” in our time and especially for us at St. John’s?  I think it means recognizing that we continue to seek a common purpose, not focusing on past failures, or on individual faults, but bearing with one another in weakness and strength, focusing on what is good and positive in each person and in ourselves, and allowing the Spirit of Christ to set us free. 

RHGR+

 

RCL-appointed readings for this Sunday:

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20    See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.   If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them,  I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.  I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,  loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Psalm 119:1-8  1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.  Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,  who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways. You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.  O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!  Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.  I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances.  I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?  For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?  What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.  So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.  The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.

Matthew 5:21-37 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.  So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.  Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.  “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’  But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.