I came to live in this country in 1999 – fourteen years ago. When I first came here, I missed England so much. In the first few months in the Monastery, I would spend much of my time remembering my former life: filled with a mixture of homesickness and nostalgia. I think I lived most of my conscious life at a point somewhere half-way across the Atlantic!
Something mysterious happens to us when we find something to believe in. We discover that some task, some project, some idea has so captured our imaginations that we want to give ourselves wholeheartedly to it. We become dedicated to its fulfillment. Perhaps it leads us to support a cause or join a campaign, perhaps to take up a new role or responsibility, perhaps to make a commitment of time, energy or financial resources.
Recently I was reminded of the story of John Newton, the 18th century London-born seaman who authored the extremely-popular Christian hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton was captain of a ship that plied in the slave trade, but in 1748 he underwent a dramatic conversion. His conversion took place at sea, in the midst of a raging storm, when he cried to the Lord for mercy and the ship was delivered. As he reflected on what had happened, Newton began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had been at work in him. Not long after, he penned the words to the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” in which he acknowledged that God’s grace had rescued him when he was lost, and given him sight when he was blind. Following his conversion, Newton left the slave trade, became an Anglican minister, and advocated for the abolition of slavery. Continue reading
Poetic language is open to interpretation, and yet it was Jesus’ preferred mode. And, as it happens, when we profess our faith in the Creed, saying “we believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…”, “maker” translates ποιητής [poietes]. ποιητής being the Greek word for maker and also for poet. We believe in one God, the poet of heaven and earth.
You might have noticed that the gospel story read this morning contains two healing miracles, not one. What makes them particularly interesting is that they are interwoven – in fact, one story interrupts the other.
We find Jesus surrounded by “a large crowd” just after his return from a healing mission that had taken him across the Sea of Galilee. A man approaches him – not just any man, but a leader of the synagogue, a person of considerable social status and importance. He is desperate with worry and grief and, abandoning all dignity, he falls to the ground at Jesus’ feet and “begs him repeatedly,” the gospel writer tells us, to come and lay his hands on his sick daughter, who is at the point of death. There is a mixture of desperation and hope in his eyes. He is convinced that Jesus has the authority to make her well, if only he will come, and quickly. So Jesus went with him.
Psalm 90: 1-6, 13-17
Mark 12: 13-17
It was the spring of 1976 and Canada was in the throes of a federal election campaign. I had just turned 18 the summer before so this was the first time I would be able to vote. I decided I wanted to see an election from the inside, and to cover my bases I worked for three different candidates, from three different political parties. I worked for a Liberal Member of Parliament from Toronto, stuffing envelopes in his office on Parliament Hill. I went leafleting door to door for the New Democratic candidate running in the constituency where I lived in Ottawa and I did office work for a Progressive Conservative candidate in another Ottawa riding. One evening I attended an all candidates meeting in my guise as a Progressive Conservative party worker. That riding was clearly an important one for the two main parties to win as the Conservatives had put up a well known candidate hoping she would be able to take the riding from the governing Liberals. The Liberals wanted to keep the riding, so they sent the Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, to the all candidates meeting. Between them, the New Democrats didn’t have a chance. At the end of the evening, the moderator asked for one last question. I was standing at the back of the room and my hand shot up. I had a question for the Prime Minister and I wanted to ask it. Amazingly the moderator pointed to me and I got to ask my question.
“What is the essence of Christian belief?” That is a question we who are in the Church are sometimes asked. I think that today’s Gospel reading gives us as good an answer to that question as we might hope to find anywhere else.
At the Last Supper before his Passion and Crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn 15:9-11) Continue reading
When we read, or hear, the beginning words of today’s reading from the first letter of John, “Children, it is the last hour!” (1 Jn 2:18) it may seem to us to be hysterical exaggeration, or a form of romantic hyperbole. On the other hand it could be seen as a summing up of the situation of our world in these days. Someone might ask, “is it the last hour?” I think that most of us do not want to think of the events in the past year or two as signs of the end; earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, and Japan; the tsunami and nuclear accident in Japan, typhoons and flooding in the Philippines, wild brush fires in California and Australia, the political upheaval in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the tensions in our own country in these early days of an election year. There have been a number of these “signs”, but most of us don’t want to think of those things as signs of “the last times,” (I’m sure though that there are some people who do think that those things are apocalyptic signs.) The world has been through many similar periods of natural disaster and political, spiritual, and economic tension from almost the earliest times. Continue reading
Sometimes the fear is personal: Am I wealthy enough, attractive enough, successful enough, clever enough, good enough? Do others admire me, approve of me, speak well of me? Will my project succeed? Will my marriage last? Will my finances hold out? Will my children flourish? Will my health continue?
Sometimes the fear is communal or even global: Will the world withstand this economic crisis? Will global warming lead to environmental disaster? Will nuclear weapons destroy us? Will our craving for wealth and power undo us? Will our cities ever be safe? Will war continue to claim our young men and women? Will China surpass us? Will Al Queda attack us? Will Iran and North Korea be contained? Will peace ever come to the Middle East?
Does it? Do the heavens declare the glory of God? When you look at the heavens, do you see written/declared/proclaimed, God’s glory?
I think I was about 15 when I came across Bertrand Russell’s slim volume Why I am not a Christian and I declared to my friends and my teachers, probably pretentiously, to shock, that I was no longer a Christian. When I looked into the heavens, I may have seen something inspiring, but I would have told myself that it had nothing to do with God.
Well, as you can see, as the years went by I changed my views. But I never lost my respect for the scientific method and for the vision and purpose of science, nor sensed any real clash between the purposes of science and religion. Even back at the Renaissance, there was a clear demarcation between what was called natural philosophy (what we call science), which concentrated on empirical evidence from nature, and theology’s concentration on the world beyond. Interestingly, Sir Isaac Newton wrote as much about the Book of Revelation as about the theory of gravity.
So it seems particularly baffling to me, why so much fuss is made about the teaching of science in schools in our country. To try to mix the empirical scientific method, with a priori theories about God, creationism or intelligent design seems wrong-headed. In my own experience, especially the experience of coming to faith, they are different languages, science and religion, employing different modes of perception. Continue reading
Is. 49-1-7/Ps. 71:1-14/1 Cor. 1:18-31/John 12:20-36
As Holy Week gets underway we have the sensation that something large, something very large, has been set in motion. And that there’s no stopping it. Even though we know how it all turns out—sort of—there’s a sense of both largeness and inevitability. So there’s nothing to do but to go with it. Nothing to do but to allow ourselves to be swept up in this enormous wave–again.
How large is the largeness of Holy Week? We just heard in this passage from John that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself. “All people” is pretty large. But a variation in some of the ancient texts suggests something even larger. When I am lifted up I will draw all things, everything, the whole shebang, to myself. An exponential leap from all people to all things, the whole creation, the whole cosmos. What happens in Holy Week and Easter gathers up the entire cosmos in its energies.
We may remember the end of the Gospel of Mark where after his resurrection Jesus tells the disciples to “proclaim the gospel to the whole creation”. Not just to every human being, but to the whole creation. We may recall Romans 8 where Paul says that “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now”, and that creation itself will be “set free from the bondage of decay”. And that the creation itself will “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
It’s hard to know exactly what Paul had in mind, but his understanding of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is cosmic in scope. Something that pertains to the whole cosmos is happening in the death and resurrection of Christ: animal, vegetable and mineral; earth, air, fire and water. From the depths of inner worlds to the furthest reaches of outer space. “Behold, I am making all things new”—not just all people, but all things, he says. Whether we quite comprehend this or not, the scope is breathtaking.
Yet the high drama, the cosmic drama of this week is experienced in very intimate things. A son and a father share an agonized conversation in a garden. Friends share supper for the last time. A foot is washed, then another. Clothing is removed to shame a victim. Flesh is pierced—the piercing of flesh is a terribly intimate thing. A mother anguishes as she awaits the last breath of a first born son. All terribly intimate moments.
Yet, all the while as these very intimate things take place, the cosmos, the planets and solar systems and galaxies swirl on their way. Its always like this, of course. Galaxies swirl even as we have our own agonized conversations, even as we share suppers for the last time, even as our own flesh, our own souls are pierced. And its all of a piece.
When he was lifted up he drew all people, all things to himself. All things, from the most distant fires of the cosmos to the most intimate embers of the soul. A fundamental unity, the very ground of our being, has drawn it all to himself. Having accomplished that, now your agony in the garden is my agony in the garden; and our agony in the garden is his agony in the garden. Now that which pierces you pierces me; and that which pierces us pierces him. Now your resurrection is mine and mine is yours and his new life is ours.
But its best not to jump ahead. For the moment, better to be swept up in this great wave and let him take us where he will.
We remember today, in this commemoration of the Martyrs of Japan, what for me at least, is one of the more fascinating chapters in the history of Christian missionary activity. It is not that I am so interested in the why’s and how’s of the actual martyrdom, as I am interested in what happened afterward.
My hunch is that few of us here know much about Japan (it’s a good things Brother David Allen isn’t here because he could refute that statement in an instant). What we do know is that historically, Japan has been a closed nation. It has been difficult for, and remains difficult, for outsiders to become accepted in Japan. And that was part of, and continues to be, part of the challenge for the Christian Church in Japan. It is seen to be very much an outsider. Yet, in the Sixteenth Century, the Church, through the missionary activity of one of the great Jesuit saints, Francis Xavier as well as some Franciscans, a tiny foothold was made in Japan for the Church. Unfortunately that came to an end on this day in 1597 when six Franciscan friars and 20 of their converts were crucified outside Nagasaki. By 1630 what was left of the church in Japan had been driven underground. And that is what fascinates me. Continue reading
This parable of the seed growing secretly (Mark 4:26-29) is found only in Mark’s Gospel – and its teaching is urgently needed in our speed-crazed world.
God created time, and hallowed time – and I think God likes us to spend time, and not try to beat it!
“I waited patiently upon the Lord: he stooped to me and heard my cry,” the Psalmist says.
“O tarry, and await the Lord’s pleasure. Be strong, and he shall comfort your heart. Wait patiently for the Lord.”
We ourselves are sometimes in too much of a hurry, spiritually, expecting God, at our bidding, to work miracles overnight.
And we often judge the progress of God’s kingdom by what we can see. But so often the real growth happens unseen. Continue reading
I had a bright, shiny sermon prepared for today about the wedding at Cana in Galilee, and about how in that story Jesus’ presence transformed everything so that everything and everyone in the story seemed to shimmer in the radiance of God’s glory. And then I saw the horrifying photographs of Haiti. Death, destruction, suffering and devastation.
In my prayers, I reflected on that other day which I always find so challenging.
August 6th, the day when we celebrate in church the Transfiguration of Christ, when on the holy mountain Christ’s face was irradiated with divine glory, is also the day when we remember the disfiguration of the people of Hiroshima, whose faces were irradiated with deadly heat and radiation.
We who are Christians, we who know and worship a God whom we call Love, we need to try to make sense of what has happened in Haiti. We may not be able to completely understand, but we need in some way to make sense of it for ourselves. I heard a Haitian woman yesterday as she held up her hands say, “One minute I try to hold on to my faith. The next I say, ‘God, why us?’” Continue reading
Habakkuk 2:1-4; Psalm 126; Hebrews 10:35—11:1; John 20:24-29
The days are getting longer. At 11:47 AM yesterday the earth’s axial tilt reached its furthest extremity from the sun: the annual winter solstice. In this brief moment something big happens. The days stop getting shorter and start getting longer—light begins to return to the northern hemisphere after months of increasing darkness.
Christmas is placed just a few days after the astronomical event—long enough that we can say for sure that light has returned! We can see with our own eyes that the days are beginning to get longer; there is light in the world. The day of the solstice, the moment of doubt we give to St. Thomas. Light should be returning now, but we’re not absolutely sure. Calculations show that the solstice should have happened yesterday (Thomas’s actual feast day), but we need concrete evidence. By Christmas Day keen observation will confirm that, yes, beyond a doubt, light has returned. There is light in the world, darkness has not overwhelmed it. Continue reading
To celebrate the new millennium, the editors of the World Almanac compiled a list of memorable quotes by Americans in the one hundred leading up to the turn of this past century. In the top ten, surprisingly, is a short prayer. Perhaps you know it:
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference. Continue reading
If we were to do a survey of images for God (and by extension, for Jesus) found in the Scriptures, surely the word shepherd would be near the top of the list. Given the pervasive presence of shepherds and sheep in the Middle East, this is not really a surprise. It is today and has been for thousands of years a culturally relevant metaphor, and makes immediate sense in that context. But in North America, not so much. In fact, if we really understood what shepherds do, we might reconsider our fondness of the image. Continue reading
A couple of weeks ago, as part of our Eastertide preaching series, I spoke in this chapel about what it means to believe. I wanted to challenge the popular understanding that believing means holding a certain set of statements or claims to be true – statements, for example, about God or Jesus or the Bible or salvation. When we speak of believing in this way, Christianity becomes a matter of the head, rather than of the heart. The true meaning of faith has to do with living in a life-giving, life-transforming relationship with the One we have come to know as God – a relationship characterized by love and fidelity and trust. It is not a matter of assenting to certain statements or claims about God, but of living in union with God and allowing God’s life to flow in us, and through us to others.
Acts 2:29-42 (or 49)
This is the final sermon in a five-part series we have offered here at the monastery during Eastertide. Throughout this series, we have sought to offer hope by examining the experience of resurrection in the early Christian community, as recorded in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and by applying its lessons to our own time. Each sermon has focused on a key word. Tonight the key word is “believe.”
Genesis 6:5-8 and 7:1-5,10;
Christianity – contrary to popular opinion – is a religion of the heart. It engages us at the deepest levels of our being.
I say “contrary to popular opinion” because the most common perception of Christian faith in modern western minds is that Christian faith is about accepting a certain set of “beliefs” to be true. Continue reading