Lenten Letter 2017

Dear friends in Christ,

We are now entering into Lent, the penitential season which prepares us for Easter. If you look on page xiii of the 1962 Book of Common Prayer, you will find a list of “Days of Fasting, Abstinence, and Solemn Prayer.” The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, is one of only two “major fast” days we observe. Ash Wednesday is this WednesdayDisplaying Christ_in_the_Wilderness.jpg, March 1 st.

I commend to you on Ash Wednesday the practice of fasting, abstinence and solemn prayer beginning at sundown on the eve of Ash Wednesday and continuing until sundown the next day. Two opportunities to receive the Imposition of Ashes will be offered that day, at 12:15pm and 6:30pm. These services will be very short in order to make them accessible to all the faithful.

Being marked with ashes is an act of penitence, of acknowledging our fallen nature and seeking God’s help in changing ourselves. Ash is made through the burning of Palm leaves saved from Palm Sunday the year before, an embodiment of how our humanly praises of God in one season can be short-lived and therefore worthless the next. We read scriptures and pray for our own penitence, and at the end of this solemn service parishioners kneel at the altar rail to hear: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The sign of the cross is then made in ash on our foreheads. This ashen cross is a sacramental, a sanctifying symbol and reminder of our unworthiness. We carry forth this mark into the world, a silent echo of John’s proclamation to “make straight the way of the Lord!” as we await the costly grace obtained for us in the Paschal mystery.

Observing Ash Wednesday is a fitting start to our Lenten penitential practices. Fasting, abstinence, and solemn prayer empty us and make within us room to be filled, spiritually. Then when we arrive at our Sunday feast days, which are breaks in our Lenten ‘emptying,’ the Eucharist will fill us in a new way. I encourage you to develop your own special devotional practice to observe throughout Lent. An aid to doing so can be obtained from our office, or accessed online here: https://goo.gl/8a5UHZ.

You may want to include in your personal Lenten rule of life participation in one or both of the special devotional opportunities being presented to our parishioners. Cheryl James will be facilitating a “Faith and Film” discussion series on Mondays at 1:30pm throughout Lent, the first of which will feature the documentary “Veil of Tears” about the plight of women in India and the work of the faith-based development agency, Gospel for Asia. I am away early in Lent for the second part of the Interim Ministry Course, so will be offering every Wednesday an online resource for practicing Lectio Divina. Lectio Divina is an ancient method of reflecting on a scriptural passage in an intentional and structured way that instills in the practitioner a type of spiritual sensitivity. I have found Lectio Divina invaluable to my own spiritual life. If you need help accessing these posts which I will make to the St Stephen’s Facebook page, please contact Carly during her regular office hours.

I leave you with this prayer from our BCP Ash Wednesday service:

Lord, for thy tender mercies’
sake, lay not our sins to our charge; But
forgive that is past, and give us grace to amend
our sinful lives; To decline from sin, and incline
to virtue; That we may walk with a perfect heart
before thee, now and evermore.

Peace be with you,

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Christmas Letter 2016

Dear friends of St. Stephen’s,

He is near!

My favorite daily devotional guide has long been the classic “My Utmost for His Highest,” by Oswald Chambers. In his devotional reflection for December 25th, Chambers describes how Jesus Christ comes to us, personally, just as he comes to us in history: from the outside.

“Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not evolve out of history; He came into history from the outside…. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate, God coming into human flesh, coming into it from outside.”

We humans have a tendency to resist the outsider, whether it be a person from another family, another culture, or God, Himself. Thankfully, God does not relent. The baby Jesus was born against the odds, in a harsh environment, and under a ruler who sought to have him killed.

This Christmas, as the baby Jesus is born into our lives, here and now, what will be the conditions he will face? Will he encounter peace and welcome, or chaos and resistance? In my life, undoubtedly a little of both. I will do my best, as I do every year, to enter into this time in a contemplative frame of mind. Taking time to pray, reflect and give thanks each day. I will seek to communicate to those around me the love I have for them. But there are always moments when the busyness gets to me, and I become short tempered when I’m trying to prepare for the King’s arrival, and instead send Jesus packing.

Thankfully, God does not relent. He accommodates to us, where we are. This accommodation is a kind of incarnation, a kind of taking-on of flesh. The moment when the outsider becomes the insider. And through this taking on of our flesh, our acceptance, our forgiveness, that we find the courage to ask for the forgiveness of those around us who suffer when we are not at our best. To make amends to those people near and far who have suffered as a result of our actions, and as a result of our inactions. To make the outsider an insider. It is in this moment that Jesus Christ becomes an insider to us.

This Christmas, may we welcome all those whom we have put on the outside. In doing so, we will be welcoming the Lord, Himself.

In Jesus’ name,

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St. Stephen’s Christmas newsletter

Rev. Chris’ Christmas letter can be accessed here.

Christmas service dates/times:

– Dec 21 Blue Christmas service (When Christmas Hurts)

  6:30pm (contemporary language, with music)

– Dec 24 Christmas eve

  6:30pm Family service aka “Angels in PJs” – (kid-friendly Christmas lessons and carols, with eucharist. Feel free to bring little ones in their PJs)

11:00pm BCP Midnight Mass (traditional language, Christmas carols)

– Dec 25 Christmas day

  9:30am (contemporary language)

Christmas offering/financial update – This year has been one of many transitions, and while transitions always bring the promise of new life, they also often result in reduced income. Our Year-to-date Income is approximately $125,833, and our projected total expenses for 2016 will total approximately $144,672. This leaves us with approximately $18,839 to raise before the end of the year without drawing from our reserve funds. Please consider making a special Christmas offering to help us offset this potential year-end deficit. Special Christmas offering envelopes have been placed in the pews for this purpose. Thank you so much for your support!

– Rev Chris will be on vacation from Dec 26-Jan 1, inclusive.

Sunday Jan 1st there will be only one worship service because Rev. Chris will be away. The service will be at 10:30am and will be a BCP Morning prayer service led by one of our devoted lay readers, Lloyd Begley.

Friday, Jan 6th at 7:00pm we will be hosting a joint Epiphany service with St Olaf’s Lutheran Church, our full communion (ELCIC) partners in Swift Current. The service will be followed by a reception in our hall, catered by our fantastic ACW group! Please plan on attending, celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, and growing in relationship with our brothers and sisters from St Olaf’s.

“VISION is the fuel or energy that will drive the congregation forward throughout the growth side of the life cycle. Vision is the current understanding of God’s spiritual strategic direction for a congregation that is cast by leadership and owned by membership.” (Bullard)

Last Sunday during my sermon I introduced a resource we will use as a congregation to help guide us during this period of interim ministry. This is the Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Growth model developed by Dr. George Bullard. As we look towards the new year and our Annual General Meeting, I encourage you to read and reflect on a document that describes Bullard’s work in more detail–especially the role of VISION in congregational regeneration. The document can be found here: http://bit.ly/2gTDvyg As you read about the role of VISION in the growth of a congregation, consider what unique calling God might have for us as the Anglican church in Swift Current in 2017.

– This newsletter, along with Rev. Chris’ Christmas letter and the Bullard document above will also be available in hard copy at the church on Sunday, although the numbers will be limited to reduce environmental impact and expense.

Peace to you and yours this Christmas season!


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8:30am Sunday services return

Hi everyone, just a quick note to let you know that this Sunday we are marking the beginning of Advent with the return of our 8:30am BCP said communion service. Spread the word!

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Lord, Teach Us to Pray

I discovered a convenient website this week, InformationAgePrayer.com. You can actually go to this website and pay money so that at certain times of the day a computer’s text-to-speech engine will pray certain prayers on your behalf. Isn’t that convenient? Now we don’t have to think about our devotion to the Lord; we don’t have to remember inconvenient things that require us to take time out of our busy schedules – as if we didn’t already have enough to do! It’s like being in two places at once! My prayers can be prayed while I’m watching television, driving, reading, surfing the ’net, or just about any other thing that I need to get done in the day. And the computers aren’t committed to any faith tradition in particular.

I think one option was for the whole rosary to be prayed on your behalf for $50? If that sounds at all appealing – and when I advised some friends that this existed, earlier this past week, I was shocked at some of the enthusiastic responses it stirred up – if it sounds appealing, it shouldn’t. Can you imagine if Jesus’ disciples went to Him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray…” and Jesus answered the most economical way to pray, since money comes and goes and time only goes – the most economical way to pray is to pay someone else to do it for you. “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” “Okay, well, here’s the best way for you to get it done – go to John’s disciples, and pay them to do it for you.”

Instead, Jesus taught them to pray certain words – certain petitions. Some months ago, we looked at the Lord’s Prayer together and today we’re not going to do that. Instead, we’re going to take to heart Jesus’ teaching about praying. What does Jesus say about prayer? He says to do it! He says to engage in it! He says to pray; to persevere in prayer; to be people of prayer! If there’s a defining characteristic of God’s people, something that goes along with the study of God’s Word, it is that we are a people whose life is defined by prayer.

The point of praying is not so that prayers get prayed. The point of prayer is not upholding the tradition of the Church, or saying certain words in a certain order. We do not pray to God because if we ceased to pray to God then He would no longer be fed by our devotion and waste away and die. It is not for God’s benefit that we pray to Him. It is for ours. The disciples asked how they should pray, and Jesus taught them to do it. Certain words, certain petitions. There are some people who say that the Lord’s Prayer isn’t for believers, but their rejection of that prayer is not worth the breath it takes to do the rejecting. Let us continue to pray the words that Jesus taught us – Christ’s own words – rather than praying as our own whims teach.

The witness of Scripture is that when people trust to their own devices and their own whims and their own preferences, they steer themselves wrong. Far be it for me to dissuade you from praying your own words and the prayers of your own hearts – but do not neglect, at the same time, to pray the words of which the Lord Jesus has said, “When you pray, pray like this…” The difference is that our prayers affirm where we’re at, but His prayer (and praying through all of Scripture) transforms us into the people He would have us be: it reshapes our worldview to the wide-angle, big picture of God’s eternity; it moulds our lives according to God’s purposes.

And so we pray. We pray, and we keep on praying. And when times come that heaven seems closed to us, and like God isn’t listening, and like all our words are trailing off into the wind, and like our efforts are futile – we pray. We pray, not because it changes things, not because it changes God, not because it changes anything else but us. We pray because through prayer our lives are changed. We pray because our Lord Jesus has commanded it. We must be willing, as Charles Spurgeon put it, to do what God tells us, as God tells us, when God tells us, because God tells us – and to accomplish such complete obedience to Him, we must be people of strong faith – faith that He will revolutionize our lives because He has promised that He will. Prayer irrigates the fields of life with the waters which are stored up in the reservoirs of God’s promises to us. Prayer is the wild and wet storms of the life-giving waters of God’s promises to us.

In sure and certain hope of the realization of God’s promises in our lives, we are obedient to the Lord’s direction. And so we pray. We cannot all argue the points of theological minutiae, but we can all pray; we cannot all lead God’s people, but we can all plead on their behalf; we cannot all be mighty in words, but we can all be constant and consistent in prayer.

Let us pray, in the words of John Calvin:

Grant, Almighty God, that as you not only invite us continually by the voice of your gospel to seek you, but also offer to us your Son as our mediator, through whom an access to you is open, that we may find you a favourable Father—O grant that, relying on your kind invitation, we may, through life, exercise ourselves in prayer. And as so many evils disturb us on all sides, and so many wants distress and oppress us, may we be led more earnestly to call on you, and, in the meantime, be never wearied in this exercise of prayer; that, being through life heard by you, we may at length be gathered to your eternal kingdom, where we shall enjoy that salvation which you have promised to us, and of which also you daily testify to us by your gospel, and be forever united to your only begotten Son, of whom we are now members; that we may be partakers of all the blessings which he has obtained for us by his death. Amen.

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Loving God’s Way More Than Evil

None of us would ever say that we loved evil more than good, or more than God’s way, and we’d be horrified if it turned out otherwise – but since the beginning, from Satan’s temptation to Eve through the time of the Biblical Judges when every person did what was right in their own eyes, the question of right and wrong, of good and evil, of righteousness and sin, has plagues humanity. Hear the Psalmist’s description of two kinds of people: There are the “you’s,” described in such flattering language as, “Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.” And then there is the “I,” described like this: “I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.”

A pretty sharp contrast, and I doubt that any of us would like to find ourselves on the bad side of it. The trouble is – and Scripture recounts it to us, secular history corroborates it, even the history of the Church tells us the same story: in and of themselves, people cannot help but choose their own way: their ego-driven, proud, falsely motivated way. Not one person – not even us, here today. But, the witness of Scripture is also clear, in Christ we may receive power and grace to choose another way. God’s way. So the question before us, today, is this: do we, like the “you’s” in the psalm, love evil more than good? or do we, like the “I” in the psalm, love God’s way more than evil?

We make all kinds of half-measures to preserve us from really facing this question. We say the right things, and then believe them to be true simply for that reason. We forget the greatness of God because we are blinded by the goodness of humanity. We settle for “good enough” instead of pressing on for the fullness of the righteousness of God in our lives. That’s a half-measure. “I’m a good person,” is not the song of a person who is humble before God and seeking the fullness of Christ in their lives, but the cry of the desperately proud and self-justifying. In so many ways we forget the absolutes of God, in whom is truth; in whom is fullness of being; in whom is our beginning and our end.

We make tolerance a virtue, but not tolerance as it was understood a century ago. Tolerance used to mean that though we may disagree, I will defend to the death your right to have your opinion. I can stand you, I can accord you respect and dignity, even though we may disagree – and in disagreement, I may really think you’re incredibly wrong. These days, tolerance means that we accord the same truth value to all statements that any person may make on any given subject. If you disagree and think a person is wrong, then we no longer believe that you respect and dignify the person. Yet a person and their beliefs are separate things. We are called to love sinners, and yet to hate their sin. But we mollify the meaning of tolerance, and convince ourselves that it means what it does not, because in so doing we enable ourselves to tolerate ourselves – to tolerate our own shortcomings (which no longer need to be adjusted), to tolerate our own sin (which no longer needs to be forgiven, let alone transformed by God’s grace), to tolerate our own rebellion against God.

But we have been saved by Jesus so that we can choose God’s way, instead of our own way. Do you love God’s way more than evil? Choose God’s way above your own!

And so the foundation for life, the true foundation, is Jesus Christ and His perfect way for His Creation. He will not have us condemn one another (let the one who is without sin cast the first stone), but neither will He have us condone sin: either in ourselves, or in others (go, and sin no more). We are to love sinners and hate sin because the sinless One loves sinners and hates sin so much that He gave His life for the sake of undoing sin and saving sinners like you and me. Giving ground to, excusing, and tolerating sinful rebellion against God – making space for it – is a half-measure.

And so let us be done with half-measures! May we examine our hearts and be done with false hopes based upon the transitory things of this world! May we not be misled by false advertising, and all that it promises – life finds its fulfilment in Jesus, and no other! May we cast aside the unworthy distractions that the world flaunts before us to draw our attention to other things, choosing Jesus above all else – who has given us far more than any other! May God grant us the grace of true repentance to turn away from, all sin that clings to us so graspingly! May God grant us the grace to submit our wills to His, and so to participate in the long process of sanctification, whereby He moves to make us holy. Amen.

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Loving Our Neighbours Well–July 10, 2016

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.  “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He said to him, “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.”  And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”  Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37, NRSV

The lawyer would have categorized people into the “people I will love” category and the “people I will ignore” category, but Jesus will not have it that way.  It is in the context of a person searching for a loophole, for a way around the established expectation that he himself knows and has just vocalized, that Jesus tells this story – one of the better-known stories in the Bible.  The parable of the Good Samaritan portrays three philosophies of life.  The robber’s philosophy was “What you have is mine, and I will take it.”  The priest and Levite had the philosophy that “What is mine is mine, and I will keep it.” The Samaritan’s philosophy was “What is mine is yours, and I will share it.”  Jesus endorsed the Samaritan’s philosophy and said, “Go and do likewise.”

The way we apply this parable to our lives is a tricky thing.  Taken strictly to the letter, the application would only be in the situation where we come upon injured people by the side of the road.  That person is our neighbour, and that set of circumstances does not come up often, so we – as the lawyer questioning Jesus desires to – we would acquit ourselves of the obligations of loving our neighbours.  So let’s look at each of those worldviews that are highlighted in the parable, and see if the parable doesn’t say something more relevant.

Now there’s no question that the point is that we would offer ourselves in the service of others.  “What is mine is yours, and I will share it.”  This is what Jesus is getting at.  “There is nothing greater in love than that a man should lay down his life for his neighbour.  When a [person] hears a complaining word and struggles against himself, and does not [] begin to complain; when a person bears and injury with patience, and does not look for revenge; that is when a person lays down her life for her neighbour.”  Poemen offers an interpretation of the parable that shows love at work through active passivity toward, or resistance of, the promulgation of evil.  How often do we have opportunity to show the loving attitude of the Holy Spirit by refraining from complaining, or to bear wrong at the hands of others with patience?  This is love.

And consider the insights of St. Augustine of Hippo, who scaled the global repercussions of Jesus’ directive to the level of the street: “All men are to be loved equally.  But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you.”  That is, the people you have contact with.  These, then, are our neighbours, to whom we are to show the same loving care that we give ourselves.  They’re the people sitting on either side of you, right now.

John Calvin observed: “Nothing can be plainer than this rule: that our liberty should be used if it conduces to our neighbour’s edification; but if it is not beneficial to our neighbour, it should be abridged.”  Which statement is opened up to us in these words of Anthony of Padua: “See!  The ladder is set up!  Why do you not ascend?  Why do you creep with your hands and feet upon the earth?  Ascend, therefore, because Jacob sees angels ascending and descending by the ladder.  Ascend, O angels, O prelates of the Church, O faithful of Jesus Christ, ascend, I say, to contemplate how gracious the Lord is!  Ascend, to assist; ascend, to consult; for of these things your neighbour stands in need.”  And so we recognize that true love for our neighbour works for aiding them in drawing closer to God.  As the famous atheist magician Penn (of Penn & Teller fame) has pointed out: “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?  I mean, If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, … there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and [everlasting life] is more important than  that.”  If we love our neighbours as we love ourselves, we are compelled to work towards ushering them into the Kingdom of God.

We are also warned that there is a balance to be kept in this, for a person with two needs (perhaps hungering and thirsting, though in our case physical and spiritual) cannot have one without the other, and so St. Augustine of Hippo reminds: “No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due to his neighbour; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God.”  Bernard of Clairvaux offers the framework for these loving efforts on behalf of others: “In order that love for our neighbour be entirely right, God must have His part in it; it is not possible to love our neighbour as we ought to do, except in God.  Now he that does not love God can love nothing in Him.  We must therefore begin by loving God, and so love our neighbour in Him.”  And so the attitude of the Samaritan – that “what is mine is at your disposal” – is commended to us in Jesus’ words, “Go and do likewise.”

What, then, of that attitude of the priest and Levite in Jesus’ story: “What is mine is mine, and I will keep it”?  Catherine of Siena asked: “Against whom does pride bring forth evils?  Against the neighbour, through love of one’s own reputation; whence comes hatred of the neighbour, reputing one’s self to be greater than he; and in this way is injury done to him.”  We are faced with many opportunities to go the way of pride, or the way of humility – to keep what is ours to ourselves, or otherwise.  Which is the way of love for neighbours as for ourselves?

Against this attitude, insular and isolating, St. Francis of Assissi wrote that “Blessed is that brother who would love his brother as much when he is ill and not able to assist him as he loves him when he is well and able to assist him.  Blessed is the brother who would love and fear his brother as much when he is far from him as he would when with him, and who would not say anything about him behind his back that he could not with charity say in his presence.”  The rallying cry, to this wrong way of thinking, is found in the words “What will I get out of it?”  Jesus challenges us, and St. Francis really echoes His challenge, to think – instead – in terms of “What can I put in?”

Sermon prepared already, I woke up this morning to an article that will be in an upcoming Anglican Journal that describes a presentation given to our national church’s General Synod, which is in session now, by a man who was a Fort Mac evacuee.

He said: “I have never seen in my life such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit… Everything that I had considered important ceased to matter.  I had not job.  I had no house.  I had no property.  Everything I thought up to that point was important was not… at any given time, your neighbour’s sound asleep.  In the day, the night – it doesn’t matter… There were people literally with their backyards on fire trying to break into their neighbour’s house while their kids were sitting in their vehicle.  That is the kind of love and grace that – I can’t even put it into words.”  He said: “The miracle was that everybody stopped asking, ‘What can I get out of this?’ ‘What’s in this for me?’ and said, ‘What can I do for my neighbour?’”

And so the challenge is really to stop thinking of what’s mine – privilege, resource, right – as my own, but only as mine for a time.  How, then, can I dispose of it in a way that brings honour to God, who gave it to me, rather than to build up my own name, in prideful rebellion against Him?  Jesus, then, will not have His followers live by such terms as the priest and Levite in His parable.  What is mine is not mine; I will not keep it.

How, then, can we guard ourselves against the third way of thinking that we see portrayed in Jesus’ parable – the way of thinking that the robber embraces, “What’s yours is mine, and I will take it”?  None of us would condone such an attitude with regard to the property of others, would we?  But how easily people rob one another of dignity!  How easily people devalue one another and tear each other down!  And sometimes we even do so under the guise of being helpful!  Hugh of St. Victor warns us: “Look … into yourself as well when you have to correct another, and acknowledge that you also are a sinner and subject to frailty, lest you also be grievously tempted, if your admonition proceeds more from irritation than from compassion.  Let the correction be prompted by love for the persons and hatred of all vices.  And let this love of the neighbour and hatred of all that is wrong always be maintained, so that we may be sever with error but at the same time have a tender compassion for the weakness of human nature.”  “There may be found some who rebuke the failings of their neighbours rather in the bitterness of hatred than out of charity, and not so much with a view to correct them as to give vent to the bad feeling they have in their hearts.  This is certainly not according to God’s will, as it is prompted by revenge rather than by a love of discipline.”

And so we have many examples of how we might love our neighbours as ourselves, which range far beyond the instance of coming upon a wounded traveler by the side of the road.  To refrain from spreading evil speech; to share salvation in Christ along with care for physical needs; to keep God first and above all else; to keep away from the selfishness of pride, greed, and self-centredness; to give away rather than to gain; to respect the dignity of others and not to degrade them in our own eyes or the eyes of others.  To love our neighbours as ourselves is not a matter of who our neighbours are, but of the attitude in each of our hearts.  In a world where the events of this past week in Baghdad and Dallas (to name only two) are more and more commonplace, such radical love for our neighbours is desperately needed.  Would you bow your heads with me as I pray John Calvin’s words:

“Grant, Almighty God, that as you have adopted us for this end, that we may show brotherly kindness one toward another, and labour for our mutual benefit – O grant that we may prove by the whole tenor of our life, that we have not been called in vain by you, but that we may so live in harmony with each other, that integrity and innocence may prevail among us.  May we so strive to benefit one another that your name may be thus glorified by us, until having at length finished our course, we reach the goal which you have set before us, that having at last gone through all the evils of this life, we may come to that blessed rest which has been prepared for us in heaven by Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

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On Holding On Too Tightly

This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship.  Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason.  When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach.  So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.

So there’s this third person that Jesus meets on the road to Jerusalem.  Remember the first two, one who had offered to follow Him unconditionally (though apparently with some expectation of reward) and another who had been given the chance of a lifetime (but had put it off, in favour of choosing the right time to follow on his own – ie. on his own terms).  This third person presents a completely different set of circumstances.  There is a provisional commitment to following Jesus offered.  Jesus doesn’t solicit it, like He did with the second; it isn’t unconditional, like the first, and may not carry the same expectation of reward, either.

At first, we might pour disdain on this traveller for venturing to make any statement of intention to follow Jesus at all.  Why wouldn’t you go home and say goodbye to your family first, then come and follow Jesus unconditionally – if that’s really what you plan to do?  Why would you let it out, before its time – before you’re ready to carry it through?  My imagination pictures the person who makes this statement of intention to commit as a person who didn’t know Jesus was coming along the road that way, and quite by surprise met Him on the road.  This person knows something of his reputation, and knows what kind of commitment they should make and do want to make.  But the people back home didn’t know that this person would be meeting Jesus that day – best not to leave them worrying about what’s happened.  This person will just run home and say farewell, first.

Perhaps you can think of something similar happening to you.  You’re out and run into someone quite unexpectedly, and you don’t have your day planner (or phone with calendar on it) readily available, so you hastily agree to have coffee soon.  But you didn’t write it down, you didn’t put it in your calendar, and it gets lost in the shuffle.  Or maybe you’re driving home and think of something that you’ve forgotten to do, and you think, “But I don’t have time for it just now – I’ll get it later.”  And later comes, and you’ve forgotten to do it again.

In the moment, we have all made commitments (to ourselves or to others) that were hasty.  We’ve all made promises that weren’t kept – not for lack of intention, or for ill-intent – but simply because they were made when we were half-cocked, not fully considering the time (perhaps we already had something scheduled), or the time involved, or the requisite skill-set, or the distance involved, or any number of other little considerations that just slipped the mind in the moment.  So we shouldn’t be too hasty to judge this person who meets Jesus on the road, who is honest about their reservations.  He’s someone who says, “I’ll follow you, Jesus!” and then, realizing something he’d forgotten (and how could he forget his family!), “Oh, but first let me go say goodbye…”

In the terms Jesus is using, a person who’s looking over his shoulder while plowing won’t be plowing a straight row.  There may be ways that technology can help people avoid this pitfall, these days.  In Jesus’ time, there weren’t.  Nobody, He says, who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.  He’s talking about a resolution, in people’s commitment.  Remember Lot’s wife who put her hand to the plow – the task before her was clear, to make her way to the city in the plain and not to watch the destruction of her old home.  She looked back.

So what about each of us?  How close do we hold to the things of this world?  How closely do we hold the ways of this world (ie. personal gain/profit, gossip, malice, envy, pride, self, etc.)?  These things stand between us and the fullness of Christ’s stature – yet how often do we still look to them?  Chesterton is often quoted: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”  The difficulty in being a Christian is that we must un-learn what we have learned, and hold very loosely to the things and the ways that the world has taught us to put so much stock in.

What are you holding onto, for life, today?

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On the Right Time for Discipleship

This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship.  Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason.  When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach.  So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.

When we look at verses 59-60, we find another person along the road to Jerusalem.  This person does not make the kind of offer that the first person made.  The first person made an oath of unwavering loyalty to Jesus, sight unseen (and was challenged to count the cost – in a sense, to see the sight!), but this person is invited by Jesus to follow.  The scene is somewhat similar to when Jesus called His closest disciples.  Fishermen in their boats were greeted by Him with the same words, “Follow me!”  Leaving everything, they followed.  This person’s response to Jesus’ invitation is a little bit different.

The response is not uncommon, though perhaps the form that it takes is not what we’re used to.  “First let me go and bury my father.”  Now, we don’t know this person’s life situation.  Perhaps he is on the road because he is travelling to see his father, who is sick.  Perhaps he is actually on his way to a funeral!  Or, perhaps the man’s father is in perfect health and his death (and burial!) will be at a future time that, at this point, cannot be guessed at.  We don’t know the circumstances of this person’s life.  We don’t know how long that hesitation to follow Jesus – that one condition that needs to be disposed of first – will take to run its course.

In a way, how long it takes is beside the point.  The real difficulty is that it’s there at all.  If a person is unwilling to do something, they come up with excuses.  And excuse begets excuse – the more often such excuses are used, the more readily they roll off the tongue; the more easily they are dreamed up.  Minds become hardwired to find reasons not to do, rather than ways to engage.  Those milestones of life, those achievements or attainments, easily become hurdles to life – blocking us from taking part in new opportunities that come along.  In this case, the person on the road has the chance to follow Jesus – to embrace the way of life, because he would be embracing the One who is the way, the truth and the life.  The chance is missed.

What about each of us?  When is it the right time for life – not the shadow of life that so many people endure: tossed about by the wind and waves of life, under the oppression of sin and sinful inclination, the tyranny of temptation – when is it the right time for real life?  I know – when is it the wrong time, right?  Yet how often do we erect hurdles, or build walls, that become self-imposed limitations on our own discipleship?  At the prospect of committing myself anew, or in a fresh way; at the prospect of recommitting my life, the whole of my life, to Jesus, am I an excuse-maker?  Do I see certain events, or milestones, as places to be reached before I can engage more deeply, or engage as I declare I intend to?

What might that say about the genuineness of my commitment, when I say that I would like to walk more closely with Jesus?

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Unconditionally Following Jesus

This coming Sunday we will be reading Luke 9:51-62 at worship.  Now, I don’t give the primary teaching this week as it is our family worship service – but there are countless jokes about preachers and open mics for a reason.  When Scripture is read, preachers gotta preach.  So because that opportunity won’t be there for me this week (unless you travel out to St. John’s, Pennant, for the 8:30 am service), I’m offering a few reflections on the Gospel passage for this Sunday.

In verses 57-58 we come across a very gung-ho person who pledges unconditional fealty to Jesus.  “I will follow you wherever you go.”  That’s the kind of thing that I imagine Jesus loves to hear from people.  I know that I’m always deeply excited when people commit themselves to Jesus, so I can’t help but speculate that He loves it, too.  It is certainly what He’s looking for from each of us – though there’s more to be said about that, because due to sin we are unable to make such commitment unless He has given it to us to do so.  His grace is what enables us to make such a pledge.

Looking back at the passage, we are surprised to find that Jesus doesn’t seem particularly excited – rather, He challenges the person to count the cost.  This isn’t a bed of roses, that you’re committing yourself to.  Jesus, in fact, says that there’s no bed involved at all!  The man’s pledge is reminiscent of God’s call to Abraham, and that’s important for us here because God’s promise to Abraham comes in, here, when we consider Jesus’ response (about counting the cost of discipleship).

When God first called Abraham (Genesis 12), He didn’t give Him a timeline or a destination or a well-worn road to follow.  He simply told Abraham to go away from everything he’d ever known, and that (along the way!) He would show him where to go to.  That reads the same as this man’s unconditional commitment to follow Jesus, doesn’t it?  If Abraham accepts God’s call to follow Him, he will basically be saying, “I will follow You wherever You go (or, “lead me” in this case).”  I can’t help see Abraham’s unconditional commitment to God being resonated in this person’s words to Jesus, on the road to Jerusalem.

Abraham’s acceptance of God’s call came with a promise: God would make him a great nation; would bless him and make him great; would bless all the families of the earth through him.  God promised Abraham a secure future, a legacy, a land of his own, a home.  God promised Abraham the kinds of things that many people work their whole lives for.  I can’t help but think that such favourable future conditions were in the mind of the man who offered his unconditional loyalty to Jesus.  And that’s what Jesus addresses.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  It weighs in serious contrast against God’s promise to Abraham, doesn’t it?

What about us?  What do we bring to our commitment to the Lord and His Kingdom and His way?  What are we looking to get out of this, out of being committed to Him as His people?  When was last time you took the time to sit down and really ask Jesus what He had for you – not what you wanted, but what He was looking to give?  If a part of being transformed into His new Creation, reconciled and restored to the Lord, is having our desires and motivations changed and aligned to His (and it is!), then what further work does He have to do in you, in this regard?

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