Great Vigil of Easter, 2016 – resurrection people

We are a resurrection people. But this is not something easily come by. We are at the other end of a journey that has been on the move for over 2,000 years. One of my seminary professors told our class that in all likelihood, the first Good Friday did not just last until Easter morning. Rather, it likely lasted year. Even though some of Jesus followers were there to witness the empty tomb, and to then see him after that as well, in the face of what culminated on Good Friday, it took years for the early church to come together. They did not come out of the gate running. It was in dribs and drabs. In secret. Slowly as the came together and were able to galvanize around the stories of hope that they dared believe, they started to live it, and the movement of the early church began, and grew. But make no mistake it was excruciatingly difficult. We have the blessing of hindsight from this end of history. We know where the journey has ended up so far. We are inheritors of that faith and lived experience of what it means to be a resurrection people. It has been a long hard journey.
But tonight we continue to look through Mary’s eyes at the events as they unfolded.
For a short time, Jesus disappeared. There was a trace, left in the tomb – the linens that his body had been wrapped in.  A sense of disbelief is shared among the disciples when they hear the news. “‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” In one of the other Gospel accounts we are told that Mary Magdalene assumed that his body had been moved. Or stolen.
On Holy Wednesday I spoke about a group of Argentinian women – Los Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo – grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, of the disappeared – Los Desaparecidos – their children – men and women who disappeared without a trace during Argentina’s dirty war. Almost always assumed murdered. And not just without a trace – but all records of them were wiped out – bank accounts, social insurance number, birth records – all gone. As though they never even existed in the first place. Can you imagine the pain, anguish and grief of those women? I imagine they would know what Mary, Jesus’ mother knew. Those women marched and those women chanted – We want our children. I suspect Mary wanted her son – back from the dead, back from the hands of the empire.
The disappearances didn’t just happen in Argentina in their war, but in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, and many other countries throughout the world. It happened in the 1970,s and 1980’s – but remember too the 60;s scoop in our own country and the first nations children, stolen from their communities, some never to return home.  Sri Lanka in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. And the crazy thing is that it keeps happening today. People disappear without a trace leaving questions unanswered for ever with no closure.
What would Mary have thought, upon hearing the news – could it be? Could it be true? Is he alive, and not dead? The darkness has not swallowed him up? Surely he is gone, and now the Romans or someone has stolen his body, so they are denying us even that. And yet – “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
Thankfully Jesus did come back and inspired his mother, his friends and companions, his apostles, his disciples to stand in the face of the darkness – the evil that people disappear into – to speak truth, to shine the light of Christ in that darkness, to not give in to the fear, and the hatred, pain and the anguish. But instead to turn to forgiveness, and the love that Jesus exemplified.
Sometimes, we don’t even know, and yet the living proof is right in front of us.
I would like to tell you the story of Mary – but Mary from Argentina. Mary’s brother was smart. He had all kinds of potential and promise, and despite what was happening in the country around him, had a great future ahead of him. And then one day he was gone. No trace. Nothing. Every record that he had been a citizen and alive, bank accounts, health records – everything – just gone. He was disappeared. He became one of los desaparecidos. Mercifully, this happened after his mother died – because either it would have killed her, or she too would have joined the women in the Plaza de Mayo – meeting every week, and demanding justice for their disappeared sons and daughters, grandchildren, siblings, nieces and nephews. Mary was out of the country when it happened. She did not return. She couldn’t. To face that emptiness, to face that blackness – that evil that had swallowed up so many, and now her brother too. It took Mary 27 years to go back and face the disappearance of her brother. And in the end, there was nothing they could show her, but the torture chambers and the detention cells where he likely spent the last hours of his life. But Mary came to a place – not without difficulty, and anguish and sorrow, but Mary came to a place where she found peace. She found the love of Christ that has allowed her to live as a person of the resurrection, that lives life and not death. She has been able to entrust her brother to that same resurrection – she alive, and he dead. She has been able to live into a forgiveness that holds those responsible for his murder to account, and yet find closure, and to find God’s grace, love and mercy in the midst of it all. She said to me – there is great beauty in the world, and yet the world is an ugly place. And we see this paradox with our eyes. Where evil like the crucifixion happens, and where people are disappeared. She said, we are moulded by life, by the world – but we play a part in that. Mary, Maria from Argentina, knows what it is to see with the eyes of Mary. She knows what it is to be wracked by questions, and hope and despair at the same time. And yet in the face of that, she knows what it is to find life, hope, love and forgiveness. Mary said that she has never really told her story before, but that it is important – not for pity or sympathy, but so that people learn, so that it doesn’t happen again. Like the survivors of the Holocaust, like the Reconciliation process in South Africa, like the Truth and Reconciliation process in Canada – Never again. That Mary, is Mary Crawford, from here at St. George’s. You might never know the amazing stories of strength and hope and grace in our very midst – the amazing witness of the Gospel at work in the person sitting next to you in the pew. The eyes that have seen with the eyes of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
Tonight, the challenge, as we come to celebrate Easter and the joy of the resurrection, the challenge as we celebrate the confirmation of three amazing individuals in our very midst tonight is this – to live as resurrection people. To live out the Gospel. To stand in the face of the darkness, and evil, and to respond with grace, love, mercy and justice that are the foundations of our faith.

The Refugee crisis and ‘that’ picture

I will admit it. I am, literally, in tears as I write this.

The picture. Yes—that picture that started circulating yesterday of the 3 year old boy washed up on the beach in Turkey.

He and his family were trying to come here—to Canada. The heart strings are pulled.

My son is 3. Trying to think through everything that led to that picture is too much. The conflict in Syria. The danger and difficulty of travel, and not being able to find a safe place. The difficult choices that get made by people under tremendous pressure, faced with bad choices and even worse alternatives—and I don’t mean the refugees fleeing, I mean the civil servants and state agents enforcing policies and laws that were never designed to even start dealing with the kinds of need we are now seeing in the world. Those policies and laws that needlessly put the lives of innocents in danger, and make it safer to board an un-sea-worthy vessel in hopes of reaching a distant safe shore, rather than face a horrible and painful death. Immigration laws and systems, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North or South America, were not designed for dealing with the kind of human migration that is happening, mostly due to armed conflict around the world. The United Nations refugee agency—the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) says that there are almost 60 million people displaced—read on the run—because of conflict in the world. That is both refugees who have fled their country (like almost 4 million Syrians, almost 3 million Afghans, over 5 million Palestinians, and on and on) and Internally Displaced People (IDPs) within their countries (like almost one million Ukrainian IDPs, almost 9 million Syrian IDPs, almost 3 million Iraqi IDPs, and on and on). 30,000 people a day have to flee, according to the UNHCR. And it is not slowing down, the pace is picking up. Seriously—there is almost no peace anywhere. Everyone is rightly focused on the Middle East right now, especially Syria and Iraq. But there are equally, countless other conflicts and situations all around the world. Too many. I cannot wrap my head around it—it is overwhelming.

My heart bleeds, my eyes stream with tears when I think about it too long, and when I am sitting there feeling totally helpless my internal monologue consists of a sustained scream. What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with us? What, is going on?

I have been involved with sponsoring and resettling refugees through the Anglican Church of Canada since 2008. I know what it means to try and do something—I have met “those people” and in the most humbling moments of my life I have been called “brother” and “son” and “uncle” and other equally undeserved accolades. At the same time, I hate myself for having been on the phone with people calling from Libya, and Indonesia, and Brazil and other places and telling them that I can’t help them.

All I mean by all of that is that I am not just sitting in a corner crying and wringing my hands. I do that too, but I am and have been consistently involved with trying to help. For all of those accusations and criticisms of “bleeding heart liberal” etc, I try to put my money where my mouth is, I have tried to walk the talk.

But it’s not enough.

For two main reasons:

the need is overwhelming. By June of this year the UNHCR said that the number is 59.5 million people.
“That” picture. Because as much as there is that picture of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi, there are hundreds more just like him around the world every day. Children that die needlessly, let alone the men and women who also die, as a result of being displaced.

A couple of years ago, the UN had a slogan for World Refugee Day – One Refugee without Hope is too many. In my heart and mind, that holds true.

What can we do as individuals? Lots. You don’t have to feel helpless about this. There are all kinds of donations to be made to good organizations doing good work. You can find out about how to be involved with sponsoring and resettling refugees through a whole host of great Canadian organizations, religious, ethno-cultural, community, and other types (Hint: it’s not cheap. It’s time consuming. It is challenging in every possible way, and it is but one of the most worthwhile things you could possibly do).

IF you don’t want to do that, then advocate and work for policy change that would allow and facilitate our government to help more people. IF you don’t want to do that, then use your skills and abilities to figure out other good and creative ways to build up your community and make it a better place for everyone, even the people you don’t like.

If you don’t want to do that, then sit down and shut up.

Seriously.

If you think that it is too expensive, too complicated, too anything, then look at the picture of three year old Aylan Kurdi again, and think about writing a letter to his parents explaining all of the reasons why there is no room in Canada for them, why they don’t belong here, how we are too busy, and the life of their son was too expensive for us, why there isn’t a faster, better system for Canada to respond to the refugee crisis in the world—be my guest. But don’t delude yourself that you can’t do anything. Don’t compare refugee resettlement to any other form of outreach. It’s not about whether helping refugees is more important than dealing with homelessness, or addressing the systemic racism towards First Nations in our country because it’s not. Believe it or not, you can do both.

We still believe in the myth that our country is open and caring and loving to the world. Lots of refugees believe it too. Until they try to come here. Our country has changed drastically since the times we took in 60,000 Vietnamese, and 20,000 Kosovars. A friend of mine commented that the situation for refugees is awful but the situation for the much larger numbers who have not left and cannot leave is of course much worse and that has no happy ending. He continued that the fundamental issue is injustice of our security and privilege and exclusion of those outside of imaginary political boundaries. I am inclined to agree.

In one sense, I don’t care what party ends up in power after the upcoming election. What I want the politicians to do is to care. I went them to have big bleeding hearts that will see them do the impossible—or what they think is the impossible. In reality, the refugee portfolio is the smallest in the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, but it responds to some of the most desperate and some of those most in need in the world in a way that no other does. I want whoever is the next government and whoever is the next minister to allow the very good people who work at CIC to do their jobs. I want them to work with the many many people across our country who want to help, and to make it happen.

It’s time to change our hearts of stone back in to living hearts of flesh and blood. It is time to do more than we think we are able or have the capacity to do. Every time we think we can’t do it, experience usually proves us wrong.

One person, one human being without hope is too many, and every refugee on this earth is a human being, a fully formed person with lives that matter.

If you want to respond to what is happening, volunteer your time. Donate some money or goods. Help change a life.

find one of the organizations in Canada that are involved in sponsorship. More than likely, they are active in your community. The Government maintains a list of the organizations called Sponsorship Agreement Holders. You will have to look up their phone number. Contact an organization close to you and tell them that you want to help.
The government has a guide to the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.
The Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, based in Toronto, is an amazing resource to the Private Sponsorship community. On their site you will find lots of information about the program, and ways that you can get involved.
Lifeline Syria is an initiative that is working in the Greater Toronto Area to settle 1,000 Syrian refugees

I originally wrote this piece for the Anglican Church of Canada, and wrote this second version, revised for the Sponsorship Agreement Holder Association.

Why?

All over Facebook today I see Jon Stewart’s monologue about the shooting in the church in South Carolina.
I am gladdened that so many people are seeing his as a voice of reason – I too think he is one.

My question today is that if so many of us agree with him, …. Then why?

Why are we in such a state and a place as this?

If we are thinking caring humans who want to be happy and healthy and seek to have the best interests of all, then, why?

Yes bad things happen – tragedies occur, and we help each other through.
But the ones that we can stop before they even start – the ones that never have to be, the ones that we create ourselves –  why?

Why can’t we be better? Whether it’s this kind of senseless violence, violence against women, violence against anyone, hatred, racism (institutional and individual) individual), prejudice, any ‘ism’ you can think of…..

WTF is wrong with us all?
WHY CAN’T WE BE BETTER?
We are better than that!

We are not animals, we are human beings.
We are not hard wired for anything except life.
So why can’t we just live? Why can’t we just take care of the world that gives us life? Why can’t we just take care of each other who sustain each other and support each other in life?

Why?

No more greed, or hatred or narcissistic self interest. No more jealousy, betrayal, willful ignorance or excuses. No more violence to anyone or anything.

Just.

Life.

Encounter with the risen Jesus.

“There are many who say ‘O that we might see some good! Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!'” -Psalm 4

Jesus appears to the disciples in one of their strangest times – they are struggling to come to terms with the events of the crucifixion and what his death by crucifixion means for their community. Then various people start giving accounts of encounters with the risen Jesus. The Apostles are then simultaneously trying to come to terms with his death, as well as reports of his resurrection. And then he appears to the group of the gathered 11.

The different Gospels give slightly different accounts. Last week we heard from the gospel of John about the apostles and Thomas’ encounter with the risen Jesus. This week we hear from the perspective of the gospel of Luke. Some of the elements are the same – Jesus appears to the gathered group, meets them in but also challenges them in their fear.

This week’s gospel reading comes immediately after the story of the road to Emmaus, where two of the disciples who encountered the risen Jesus on the road, run back the 7 miles or 11 km to tell the apostles what they had seen and heard and experienced. And then Jesus appears in their midst.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” -Mt. 18.20

Peace be with you – according to my study Bible, a common Jewish greeting, but also a sign of the kingdom of God. Jesus makes the ‘common,’ Holy. Jesus asks the Apostles to be witnesses – witnesses to the transformation of the common in to the Holy – this was such a major part of what Jesus did – that transformation. Not an outward visible transformation in the sense of clothing someone in luxurious textiles and gold and silver, but rather restoring humanity, self worth, healing brokenness of heart, mind, soul and yes, body too. So in that sense, yes you can see and tangibly feel that – but it is not simply window dressing – it is complete and total transformation. It is God’s proclamation that you are worth everything.

Jesus meets the disciples in the midst of their fear and confusion, and challenges them not to stay there. He reassures them – he’s not a ghost. He invites them to touch his hands and feet. Then he asks for something to eat as further proof.

Then he does something very interesting. He challenges them on their understanding of the Messiah. What was expected was the second coming of King David, and that he would lead the people to rise up and overthrow the Roman Empire who had invaded their land. Just as he had done for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus reinterprets the Scriptures – the Law (the Torah) and the Prophets so that they might understand that the idea of the Messiah they had was wrong – and that instead of this great king and warrior, instead of bloodshed and war, there was Jesus, full of grace and mercy and compassion and healing, teaching forgiveness of sins, inclusion and hospitality. Not without a sharp word or two, but not the Messiah that they thought was coming.

Jesus commissions them to be witnesses to all of this – his life his teaching and ministry, his death, and more importantly his resurrection. He asks them to carry on the ministry of bringing the kingdom of God to people – preaching and proclaiming salvation and forgiveness of sins – healing and new life – that inward change and transformation that becomes an outward expression of love of God and love of neighbour. This hope filled message of life Jesus commissions them to go out to the whole world, starting in Jerusalem, right where they were.We are called to do the same.

Light in the midst of darkness

We, brothers and sisters, do not believe in magic. Miracle, wonder, mystery, absolutely. Uncertainty, yes. But magic, no. On this night (Easter Vigil) we engage in that deepest mystery, a challenge to our understanding. We continue to wonder, and try to see this celebration through the eyes of Judas, the betrayer.

At this point in the story, there are no more words about Judas, because just as Jesus was on trial in front of Pilate, in front of the High Priests, Judas was in the midst of taking his own life. Judas, consumed by guilt, doubt, fear, killed himself. There are three different version of the story. He hung himself, he threw himself off a cliff, and he hung himself on a branch hanging over a cliff, and the branch broke and he fell to his death. I wrote on Maundy Thursday that Judas had spiralled in to a kind of madness. He went to a very dark place – Sheol, a place outside of, away from God – the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Judas put himself there. There are words from another psalm(139) that say if I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.

There is traditional, classic, solid theology that in answer to the question of what was Jesus doing on this Holy Saturday – where was Jesus on this day between Good Friday and the day of Resurrection? The answer is, he went to hell. It says in the letter of Peter that he went to preach to those who were dead – he went to preach to them the Gospel of life, that the kingdom of heaven has come near. That same message he preached to those who were living. Where was Jesus on this Holy Saturday – he went to hell to find his friend Judas, to redeem him, and to bring him back.

We do not believe in magic, but in mystery and miracle.

If you have ever had to deal with addictions – your own or someone else’s, we try to rationalize our way out of it – to make sense of it, but the truth is, there is no reason or rhyme and there is no sense. Addiction makes people do things that are not good, and that hurt, and that betray. I am not saying that Judas was an addict, but in terms of trying to make sense of what happened – there is no sense to be made – that is why Scripture says that Satan entered into his heart; that is why Scripture says that the devil had put it into the heart of Judas, son of Simon Iscariot to betray Jesus, because we cannot think of any other way for Judas’ betrayal to make sense. Because it doesn’t. Broken, full of fear, rudderless, Judas made a choice. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We must identify with Judas though, because we must face our own demons and imperfections – nowhere does it say that Jesus stopped loving Judas. Nowhere does it say that Jesus rejected or condemned Judas. Nowhere does it sat that in the midst of the darkness, that Judas was far from God. Jesus does not blame Judas -he makes the simple statement that “woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born!” We can take this to refer to Judas, but it could refer to anyone who is guilty of betraying Jesus, of betraying God – when we think of meeting Jesus in the faces of all of the other people we meet in life, this takes on a whole new level of understanding of love and compassion, one that is radical and challenging and offensive in its inclusivity.

Guilt and fear are destroyers of the soul, and that is the self condemnation and self judgement that puts someone into the outer darkness and leads to suicide – that thing that gets called the coward’s way out, when someone doesn’t want to face up or take responsibility…. these are the things that we say to try and make sense of something as equally devoid of sense and reason as addiction. When we are face to face with addiction, when we are face to face with suicide, when we are face to face with betrayal, to protect ourselves, to avoid looking in that mirror that has us face our own demons, we put distance between ourselves and whatever it is that we don’t want to face. What if we stopped trying to make sense of the end result, and instead looked at the whole picture of life with the kind of love and compassion that Jesus has?

In Judas, through Judas’ eyes, we are invited to open our hearts beyond what we ever thought possible, to be open to God’s love, and that is miraculous and mysterious, that is a most difficult notion to accept – that as St. Paul says “nothing in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus, our Lord. – that applies to Judas, and believe it or not, it applies to us, to every person on the face of this earth. Nothing, absolutely nothing is beyond the love of God. Things don’t stay in places of death or places of unhealthiness – the God of life seeks to change and transform and redeem. If we do stay, then we die. The guilt and fear destroys the soul. But God comes in to those places and lifts us up to the place where Jesus is – the place of light and love. Nothing is beyond the love of God. Amen.

one of you will betray me

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”

Jesus was not the hero of Empires and kingdoms and nations and states – Jesus was the underdog – the hero of the poor, the disenfranchised, the rejected, those on the fringes of thinking, believing and living. . Jesus ministered to Jews and Gentiles, the clean and the unclean. Jesus came for the lost. One of the biggest challenges I find in the Easter story is – what happened with Judas? Wasn’t Judas exactly who Jesus came for – the lost? One full of doubts and questions, and uncertainties? One who is imperfectly human and full of faults? Isn’t this exactly the kind of person that Jesus came to be with?

Isn’t this exactly the kind of person that Jesus’ opponents were looking to seduce and corrupt so that they could capture Jesus? Someone who was on the verge of breaking – if they could only push them over the edge….

“Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. “

Judas – one of the twelve, hand picked by Jesus, at the beginning of his ministry. They lived and worked together for three years – I bet that some of the 12 knew that Judas was skimming off the top of the community purse. and yet he was still the keeper of that purse for the group. Probably every time Simon Peter voiced his doubts Judas could have said the same things, and more. Judas probably wrestled with the same kinds of thoughts as James and John, the sons of thunder, and their request to sit one at Jesus’ right hand and the other at Jesus’ left when he took his throne. There was this expectation of an earthly kingdom the like the world had never seen before – and oh wasn’t that the truth. Not a kingdom of power and might and glory with thrones of marble and gold gilt, with courtesans and lush robes and sceptres and palaces, and servants but a kingdom of servant leaders, fools and failures, rejects and sinners, the poor, the sick, the outcast – and when the new radical sheen of being servants wore off, after three years of making sacrifices for those on the fringes and bearing the scorn of the religious leaders of the day, perhaps doubt wound its way into Judas’ heart, mind and soul. Maybe questions started to form in Judas of where was the revolution, what was the Messiah waiting for, why wasn’t he rallying people to get ready to throw out the Romans? And especially now, at the most sacred time of year, the Passover, the time of remembrance and celebration when God stood up for the Hebrews against the Egyptians – what a perfect time for God to stand up for the Hebrews to the Romans! What a perfect time for God’s chosen people to reclaim the land that God had promised to them through their forefather Moses, and and remembering that God kept the promises made to Abraham! What a perfect time – and instead this? This new commandment of loving one another? This ritual of washing feet – and asking the disciples to do the same? What a hypocrite!

Just days before in Bethany, Jesus was anointed with costly ointment – that could have been sold to distribute to the poor and needy – and instead it was thrown away in this lavish display of indulgence. So if its ok for that, then why is it not ok for the common purse to be used for the needs of the apostles? – Maybe this is what ran through Judas’ mind. A growing sense of confusion, misunderstanding, bitterness, anger, jealousy…. so broken, and so human. Maybe this is how it had been the whole time for Judas – struggling to understand

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.”

And yet, Judas was not excluded from the meal that was shared, Judas was not excluded from the washing of the feet. Judas was included in all of that. And that must have been that much more confusing to him. Feeling guilty and convicted that Jesus somehow knew what he had done…. what he was going to do…. should he do it, should he carry it through?

Jesus was accepting of tax collectors – those collaborators who had betrayed the people Israel to the Romans, but what would Jesus do with someone who had betrayed him personally? That was different. Everyone acts differently when its personal.

“It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.”

And the disciples were confused – not just because Jesus had called out a betrayer in their midst, but because it was so unclear as to who it was? And no wonder the disciples were confused, because they were all dipping bread in the dish with Jesus. They were probably all reflecting on their humanity, their questions, their uncertainties, their failings, their doubts – wondering if they had betrayed Jesus, or how they had betrayed Jesus, or if they had considered it, how he knew? They had all failed him in some way, they had all been berated by Jesus for not getting it, they had all been called out on their mistakes.

“For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’ “

And Judas, spiralling out of control, descensds into a kind of madness, a place of guilt and confusion, and yet a place of seeming conviction and focus – maybe Jesus wasn’t who they all thought he was, otherwise God wouldn’t allow this to happen, he wouldn’t be able to go through with it. Judas descends to a place where reality, and reason and sense are suspended, and time moves strangely. This is right, it has to be right, it is right, isn’t it? He descends into that place that Scripture calls the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

This is not right. This is all wrong. I made a mistake. What do I do? How do I fix it? What now? O God, help me! He really is God’s son!

Nothing is in Vain,

Nothing is in vain.

 

Jesus did not give teachings, share wisdom and demonstrate love for fun and games. The church does not hold up those teachings, wisdom and examples for fun and games – these are people’s lives we are talking about. Jesus did not glamorize one thing over another, he tried to teach simply, and to simply teach about the love of God. The kingdom of God is not a philosophical exercise, or thought experiment. It is not something hoped for in some far off distant future that one day we might attain or see, if we are extra good and kind and nice. In the verses before the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching and preaching the Good News in the Galilean countryside that the kingdom of God has come near, and is here now and is in fact in your very midst.

The Beatitudes are not just words of consolation, comfort, and encouragement. They speak to a different lived reality of an immanent and present God breaking into the world everywhere and at all times. Jesus often taught in parables – and parables challenged people to think differently – they used images that were well familiar, and flipped meanings and understandings on their heads; they were and are paradoxical. The Beatitudes were challenging then and are just as challenging now, and present an almost more encompassing paradox than the parables. Chris Haslam from the Diocese of Montreal puts it this way – the Beatitudes “overturn the conventional values of society; they constitute a moral revolution which continues today.” It must continue today, because our societies and cultures struggle with the paradox just as much as they did in Jesus day.

We seek meaning in everything from our lives and actions, to the natural world around us, to our very presence – the space and air that we take up. This is not in vain. Especially in the lives of those who have died, we seek meaning. We have to be careful not to trick ourselves into seeing meaning where there is none, or to making greater meaning than there is.

You see, one of the most important parts of the stories found in Holy Scripture is this recurring theme of God using fallible, broken, mistaken, fearful, uncertain, etc. Human beings and doing amazing things with them. The saints in every age have been and are just people, and we – you and I are no different. What we do in faith and hope is not in vain.

Blessed are you. We are God’s children. See what love God has given us. A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages… All the saints in every place and age. Blessed are you. We are called not just to look to those saints as examples – to remember, commemorate and honour them – we are called to be those saints of God. In the midst of poverty, mourning, conflict, persecution and revilement, we are called to seek meekness and humility, hunger and thirst for righteousness, be merciful, be pure-in-heart, make peace – What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.

We are called to live these out, and we have the strength of our ancestors, the Saints who stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we bring the good news that the kingdom of God has come near. We honour and celebrate the Saints by continuing the work that they were doing, and have entrusted to us. We make this real when we are in the world – we pass on the keys to the kingdom of heaven – we comfort, we give inheritance and birthright, we do justice and show mercy, we seek the face of God in the face of every person – especially the hardest to love, we make the kingdom of God real for others and for ourselves. What Jesus meant saying when two or three gather together in my name, I am there with you – Jesus brings the kingdom of God – by gathering together we make the space for the kingdom to break in. Then not just Jesus, but the entire kingdom of God, and all the saints, come (marching) rushing in. (O Lord I want to be in that number, O when the Saints go marching in.)

That is where I want to be. I think you might want to be there also. Let us come together and make a space for the kingdom and the Saints to come near. Amen.

Long term vision.

Prayer. Spirit. Inspiration. Encouragement. Hope. Challenge.

The first clergy conference I ever went to, there was a conversation about retirement and pension and what happens when there is slide as boomers start to retire, and then there will be the post-boomer slump; ie what happens to the pension plan. I opened my big mouth and said that I was not expecting there to be a pension by the time I get there, and that I was not expecting one. I didn’t say that for any other reason than I have thought about it, and have come to terms with it. IF there does happen to be one, great, but that’s not why I am in the ministry of the church. Its not that its not a concern, but rather we may have to sort something else out.

Another time, another conversation, a colleague, at the other end of his career, had told me that when he was first ordained, he thought that things would be radically different by the end of his career; the church having shrunk, close to all clergy would be non-stipendiary, and exciting forms of church would be replacing traditional parish ministries everywhere. At the end of his career; none of that was the case. I was told in my discernment and while at seminary to expect the church to change and to not always expect to be in a full-time paid ministry position.

I find myself thinking and wondering about all of those things.

And more. the practical day to day living out of our faith and hope. for me, that is ministry with and for Refugees, ministry online, ministry in the parish. It shouldn’t be a challenge to live that out day to day,  but it feels like it is, to remind myself that God is immanent; God is around us, and with us, and in all places. There is nowhere we go that God is not there first. There is no place we can look in the heights of joy or the depths of depression that God is not there. I fight against the darkness of depression in myself constantly, and all too often keep it all bottled up. It is good to share that struggle with others, whether I or they know it or not. Just being with others in particular ways sometimes makes a world of difference, and reminds me to not only look, but to see God at work right in front of me, so that I don’t miss what God is doing, right in front of me – inviting me to join and be a part of it. There is life, and hope, and love.

Last week I was able to go and attend a conference for clergy of the Anglican Church of Canada – Conversations 2014: Clergy under 40 talk to God and each other. One voice of about 40 participants, I really enjoyed the opportunity to pray and talk with colleagues about both our shared and individual hopes, dreams, cares, challenges and concerns.

We talked about the future of the church, discipleship, relationships, resources, health and wellness, our families, our jobs, ourselves, ministry, work, who was there, who was not there, and a whole lot more. 

We worked from a premise that said that the wisdom for our conversations was already in the room – that the people who were gathered were all the right people for the conversations we were to have. We didn’t have any key-note speakers, or major over-arching themes. We were a group of colleagues who had come together to pray, listen to God, get to know each other and support each other, sharing the sacraments and sharing our lives.

You can read a couple of other reflections by Rachel Kessler and Dawn Leger. I really appreciate what they have reflected on and shared from their experience at the conference.

Being at this conference put me in a room with a bunch of other people who are faced with those same kinds of questions – faced with all kinds of uncertainties, at the earlier stages of our careers of ministry with the church.

I second-guess myself constantly, I always labour over whether I am making the “right” choice, and I worry about whether I am in the right place, doing the right thing. For me, at this conference, I wasn’t feeling any of that like I usually do. Instead of being afraid of the questions, I was talking about them. I was hearing the hope and encouragement that others were feeling. I was being confronted with the challenge of what others were experiencing in their ministry. I was challenged to re-think and re-examine how I have been thinking and acting. It helped restore my hope and encouragement for what I am doing, and for the church, and being a part of it.

As I looked around the room on the last day, I was very glad to be working alongside those fine people as we work together to enable, empower and build up the kingdom of God in the Anglican Church across the country.

 

The Road to Emmaus

One of my weekly duties at the Cathedral is taking a mid-day service on Wednesdays. I don’t preach all that often on Sundays, so am glad for the opportunity to keep my hand in it on Wednesdays.

Here is my reflection on the road to Emmaus story which was today’s reading for Wednesday in Holy Week.

 

My new testament prof. in seminary made the comment that the first Good Friday likely didn’t last just a day – but that it probably took months, and maybe even a year or more for the community to work through the devastation of that first Good Friday.

The point being, that in this story of the road to Emmaus, the two walking along were deeply hurting and devastated, especially in light of what they recount to Jesus of people going to the tomb and finding it empty and talking to Angels.

Their actions speak loudly – “Yeah, right.”

We don’t know why exactly they were going to Emmaus, but it is away from Jerusalem. Away from the hurt and pain of Jesus death and burial. Away from incredulous claims that seem too good to be true. Away from the Romans, and those who handed Jesus over to be crucified.

One might go so far as to say they were fleeing.

Interesting that as they are fleeing, it is apparently not uncommon enough that a stranger should approach them and talk to them, and then school them in scripture – challenging them on their understanding of what kind of a Messiah they were expecting. All like it is perfectly normal to meet a Rabbi on the road who can teach you about scripture and interpret it for you, and as they say opening the scripture up for them.

And then, after spending all that time with them, it is only after he breaks bread with them – after they share a meal with him that they recognize Jesus. Its not in the theology, its not in the scripture and learning about it, it is in the simple act of breaking bread – sharing a meal. Then with their hope  and faith restored, they go back to tell others, and share their experience.

God came to them in their time of sorrow and trouble and need, gave them hope, lifted their spirits, and then shared a meal with them, and then moved on to go and do the same for others.

In some ways, it feels like the history of the church – or maybe its just how I feel. Walking away from the place of pain because it is too much. along that path away God comes close, gives us words of encouragement, restores faith and hope, and then shares in a meal – and it is in midst of that meal that our eyes are opened, and we see God.

It is in the midst of those normal every day things that we do. We may not see it or realize it. We may not recognize God in that person that we are talking to. We may not hear God in what is being said to us. We may not think it is grand enough or holy enough. What are we expecting – a burning bush? A pillar of fire and smoke? Jesus, both before and after resurrection, came unassumingly, in humility and gentleness. No trumpets, no honour guard, no flash. He was just there.

The other reading for Eucharist today was from Acts – Peter and John go into the temple and meet a man who can’t walk begging at the Beautiful Gate, an entrance to the temple. Peter tells him they have no gold or silver, “but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

Words….. just words. And yet in the story, the beggar stands up and walks. Healing. Just like the two who were walking away from Jerusalem. They were offered healing for their broken and hurting souls, and then they went back because the place of pain had been transformed, and was now a place of life. Words can be very powerful. Words…. just words.

I need to remind myself every day to just see and hear what is right in front of me – to see God in that, to hear God in that.

 

 

 

Sabbath

Day 10 – Sabbath. Hurray for that good ol’ “Protestant work ethic. ” I am not saying it’s not important to work and work hard, but there is a difference between being a crabby, grumpy, tired, over-worked, person (speaking from personal experience) and someone who knows how to rest and take time with family, friends and meet strangers and make new relationships (trying to be). Time and space to breathe and pray. Sabbath.

It is more than an idea, it is a practice, and a spiritual one that needs to be practiced (obvious, but not). It is really, really, really easy to be busy. I know, I am really, really, really good at it. (Someone has done up a giving up busyness for lent program even!) The problem is, how long does it take before everyone knows that you are so busy that you are too busy for them because you have so much to do – Answer – not very long. and then people move on to find someone who is less busy, and can give them the time.

What I am working on is giving my family and friends and myself the time. It takes work.