Sermons and Thoughts from St. Luke's.
This blog is to share Sermons and thoughts written mostly by the clergy of the Parish Church of St. Luke, an Anglican Church in Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara) Canada.
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Once again, we have actually made it
through the busy, noisy, celebratory and distracting season which is our
commercial lead up to this holy day, and have found ourselves in this holy
space listening to the story of Christmas and remembering what it really is
about for us.
Of course all the other distracting
elements that have been going on around us really had their beginnings in the
celebration of holy things: so much of our Christmas decorations, our Christmas
lights remind us of the triumph of light over darkness at this darkest time of
the year. The gift-giving in celebration of God’s great gift so freely given to
Even Santa is, of course, a take on St.
Nicholas who generously, and secretly, gave money to three poor girls whose
family would never have been able to afford a dowry. Without the dowry the
three girls future would have been very bleak.
It’s a little harder to find the holy
meaning in elves, reindeer and the myriad of other characters which have firmly
entered into our Christmas traditions. But more modern Christmas stories which
have become our tradition including everything from the Grinch that stole
Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge are all stories of the transformation which can
happen in the human (or Grinch) hearts through the miracle of Christmas.
This year, I sent out on facebook a drawing
of scrooge being approached by different kind of a ghost: The caption says:
“I am the ghost of Christmas Future
Imperfect Conditional”, said the Spirit, “I bring news of what would have been
going to happen if you were not to have been going to change your ways.”
In any case, most of the traditions and
stories of Christmas time are stories about transformation: from darkness to
light, from poverty and fear to abundance and security, from distrust and
enmity to sharing and love. They are stories about relationship which come
about because of the transformation which happens within.
This is what our Christmas lessons are
about as well.
Isaiah speaks to a people in a dark time.
War and the threat of war are nigh. But Isaiah tells King Ahaz to open his eyes
and to see a light which is shining in the midst of the darkness. And the
realization of this light will be in the birth of a child through whom God’s
Kingdom shall reign.
Of course, we don’t have to look far to see
a similar reality to what King Ahaz was experiencing. In the Middle East
(Ahaz’s part of the world) there certainly is war and rumours of war today. It is
a dark time in our world, too, just as it was for the people of Isaiah’s time.
We are desperately in need of some of this
transformation from a time of darkness, fear, poverty and enmity to light,
security, sharing and love.
But a wonderful secret of which Paul writes
to Titus is that through Christ, God’s grace has arrived and the transformation
in this means that we can the agents of God’s grace, living lives of goodness
and grace and, in turn, transforming the world as we build new relationships of
sharing and love.
That’s what the Christmas story in the
Gospel of Luke is about as well. The most surprising things about the story of
Jesus’ birth is that it happened in such a poor and quiet way. It was only the
shepherds – the most humble of folk who were out in the fields outside of
Bethlehem who got the glorious vision. The regular upstanding townsfolk of
Bethlehem itself are completely unaware of the miracle that is taking place in
the midst of them. And not only is the author of the universe being born into
human flesh, he is being born in the most humble of ways.
What could be the meaning in this? God, in
choosing to become human, chose not the great entry of a King, but chose to
come as the least of us. He was born in a barn. Is there anybody here who was
born in a barn? Jesus’ birth was humbler than any of ours, to show us that
absolutely no one is excluded from his knowledge and experience. Jesus, the
King of the universe, is born as least to show that his love is for everyone in
between. No one is left out.
God, in becoming human chooses to enter
into our experience: into the joys and the sorrows, into the messiness of life
and even into the experience of death in order to defeat its grip upon us and
to transform it into eternal life.
At the same time, God, in choosing to
become human shows us that our humanity matters. That it is honoured and that
it can be transformed into something divine even. Jesus became human not just
to save us. He came to transform us, so that we can be engaged in the
transforming grace of God in acts that show light in the darkness, love and
sharing in situations of desperation and enmity.
Nine days ago several of us drove to the
airport and waited with growing excitement as the Syrian family we have
sponsored was going through the final immigration process to allow them entry
into Canada. We had been planning for this moment for well over a year. And
many hundreds of people had been involved in preparing a house for them and
raising the funds that we will need to support them for their first year in
After a four hour wait our family,Said and Wisal (Dad and Mom) and children:
Ahmad, Rayan, Maria and Omar walked through the gates: very happy and very
tired. In those nine days we have seen already how lives have been transformed.
They had been refugees in Lebanon for five years. But not only their lives have
been transformed: all of us who have been working for this have experienced
transformation as well. Even the lady in the supermarket (just another customer),
who, when she realized that this was a Syrian family who had just arrived, was
transformed. Not knowing what to do: she welcomed them with tears in her eyes
and a smile on her face and gave the two girls $5 each. The girls received it
with thanks, not really realizing at first what it was (though they figured it
out pretty soon!)
Three days ago, we had a special Community
Lunch. We do one every 1st 3rd and 5th
Wednesday of most months, but this was our “Christmas” version. We had so many
more people there and we sat and ate roast beef together and listened to a
volunteer band of buskers singing to the music of violins, guitars, mandolins,
drums and more. We brought together poor people and not so poor, lonely people
and groups of friends, old and young. Some of the people who were there
wouldn’t have very many opportunities to have a celebratory meal over the
holidays. Tomorrow some of our own volunteers will assist at the Christmas Day
dinner at East Plaines United Church which we also support financially. Once
again there will be transformative experiences in which God’s grace will flow
through the work of very human hands.
Four days ago, it being a Tuesday, it was
our Food for Life day, as we give out free groceries to any who need them. It
was special because we also gave out turkeys. In addition, many of our
parishioners filled bags full of stocking stuffers for either adults or
children. Many going to families who would never be able to afford to buy them
for their own children. Once again stories of some people who have been
reaching out with God’s grace to transform the lives of others. These are only
a few stories, and stories like these continue throughout the whole year. But
it is what God enables through us as God’s grace transforms our own hearts.
It’s what the essence of Christmas is all about.
And it’s what being human is all about
because of Christ’s birth. God choosing to be human means that the words “I’m
only human” are nonsensical. To be human means so much more than to be “only”
human. It means God is absolutely committed to you being you. So be you, as
only you can be, transformed by the miracle of Christmas to be an agent of
God’s transforming grace active in human lives. A joyous Christmas to you.
Ours is a fast-paced existence and it seems to only be accelerating.
Our attention-span seems to be ever shorter - stories in movies and on tv need
to change direction every two minutes to retain interest. We skip along from
sound-byte to sound-byte and not a lot actually sinks in anymore. In the weeks
before Christmas, the media hype speeds up the frenetic beat of our lives as we
are warned how many shopping days we have left until Christmas. And underlying
all of this are the mounting expectations which are placed upon us, or which we
place upon ourselves. We must have a perfect holiday - we must find the perfect
gifts for our loved ones, and we must be perfect people. And people do crack
under all of this pressure. The fact is that we are not perfect people and none
of us live perfect lives.
Have you ever thought how good it might feel to leave all this noise
behind? To walk away from our life for a bit - to leave the tv and the
telephone and the six o’clock news and people in general - to hear the sound of
silence again? To breathe in deeply, and to exhale, and then to breathe in
Deep in our souls is the need to experience silence and simplicity.
That is why the wilderness holds such an appeal to many people. That is partly
why we come to church. We want to leave our lives behind and experience depth.
I’m sure that’s why John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. That’s
why the prophets of old often lived in the wilderness and spoke God’s will to
the city. That’s why Jesus, in the midst of his busy life filled with the needs
of so many people, often left and went out in the wilderness to pray.
But what were John’s expectations? It says in the Gospels earlier than
this story that he preached repentance. He also preached a really good fire and
brimstone message. He wanted to see the messiah come and give all the wicked
people what they deserved. He was like the prophet Amos - warning about divine
retribution. He didn’t realize that it was Isaiah’s message which Jesus would
Have any of you been to a desert?
The deserts on National Geographic - the Kalahari.
The desert in Israel - near the Dead Sea.
There is little that looks as lifeless and empty as a desert. It is
precisely this emptiness which can attract people of this age - the silence and
the emptiness can give us the space to listen for God again.
But then it is a whole other story if there is a little rain which
falls in the desert. The return trip from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem. The
greening of the desert - the cactus which blooms with the rain. The frogs which
come to life in the Kalahari. Deserts seem to be abundantly blessed with life
when a little rain comes. It might not be what we expect.
We must, indeed go out to the wilderness - to the desert. But then we
must leave our expectations open.
Jesus wasn’t what John the Baptist expected. This is why John sent his
disciples to Jesus to ask him if he was the messiah, or should they look for
Jesus doesn’t directly answer his question. Instead he tells John’s
disciples to report back what they have seen. The sick are healed, the blind
receive their sight, the lame walk. The poor have the good news preached to
It is like the desert has bloomed when Jesus comes forth, and the dry
aridness of John’s wilderness erupts with colour and life.
And Jesus asks the people: what did you go out into the wilderness to
look at? The same question is asked of us: What do we expect when we go out to
our own wilderness? When we find our quiet place - when we go to Church - when
we enter into silence?
I think the answer is that we won’t get what we expect. We won’t get
just the same as the rest of our life gives us. We will get something new - we
will get something which will change our lives - sometimes inconveniently so.
But we will also ultimately get the fullness of colour and life of a desert
which has bloomed, because Jesus has blessed it with his presence. Amen.
“Prepare Ye the Way of Lord, Prepare Ye the
Way of the Lord.
This is the way that your local group of
singers from St. Luke’s started out our Music at St. Luke’s version of
selections from Godspell last Spring. It starts with John the Baptist talking
about the need to prepare for the coming of the Lord. John was the one who
announced that one who was greater than he was coming. He was pointing away
from himself, to announce the coming of the messiah. “The Kingdom of heaven has
come near”, he says.
What was happening at this time that
brought people so far out into the desert to the Jordan river to see this
shaggy locust-eating, camel-hair wearing exceedingly intense man who ekes out
an existence in the desert.
Those of us who went to the Holy Land four
years ago know what the environment here looks like. It’s that part of the
Jordan river which lies just North of the Dead Sea. In the days of John the
Baptist, one would have to travel for a long day by foot, or by donkey through
the desert to get to the Jordan River. When we travelled across the Jordan
River and entered into the predominantly Isalmic Kingdom of Jordan, we passed a
site which the Jordanians claim was where John the Baptist preached and
baptized. John the Baptist is also considered a great prophet in the Islamic
What was it that was drawing people to go
to such extremes to journey from the comfort of their homes to listen to John?
And consider his message. It wasn’t a nice,
fun, or comfortable message.
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come
near. Get ready. Prepare the way. And the people are coming out from Jerusalem
and the surrounding countryside in droves. What drove them? My answer is, it
was the Spirit working in them. At the deepest level of their being, people
want to build a relationship with their God and, when people are ready, they
are willing to go through extremes to build it.
So how does one prepare the way for the
Lord? John certainly has an answer for that.
Repent is his message. “Repent, for the
Kingdom of God has come near.”
Ok, now that word brings most people up
short. Especially at this time of the year. How come we have this figure coming
and disturbing our pre-Christmas planning with this severe message?
I had to go to the mall last week.
Something which I am loath to do. I call shopping malls Babylon. It seems to
have that feel to me. So I go to Babylon last week and I’m listening to Rudolph
on the muzac over the P.A. system. There are fake evergreen garlands
everywhere, strewn with tinsel and there is a monstrous great throne for Santa,
who was mercifully absent. There are several residents on my street that have
put up their outdoor Christmas decorations already. Everyone is Holly-jollying
and here we have this voice crying out in the wilderness: repent! Won’t someone
just give the man an egg-nog or some mulled wine or something and tone him down
Repent? How does repentance fit in with the
holiday season? First of all, let’s talk about the word. Most people seem to
think that repentance is about feeling really badly about who you are, and
aboutlearning how to grovel in the
dirt. They think it’s about judgement and guilt. This really isn’t very helpful
because it doesn’t provide much of a solution or a way forward. Groveling more
or less keeps you stationary, right there in the dust!
Repentance is something much more positive
and active. It is about movement, about changing your direction and aligning your
path with God’s will. Repentance is about renewal and relationship, rather than
about shame. Repentance is about listening to the spirit which is the deepest
part of your being which is calling your forward, just as it was calling all
those people who walked through the wilderness to hear John.
Of course, there was a section of his
audience that got a harsher message: it was the Pharisees – most likely there
to check up on John, who was creating such an impact outside of the official
Temple establishment rules and regulations. The establishment didn’t like
anything happening which didn’t originate from the temple.
Still, no matter what congregation I have
ever preached to, I’ve never felt the urge to call a group of them a brood of
vipers! What an interesting hook!
But you, see, John’s wrath is directed at
those who were stopping people from developing, from changing, from moving to
deepen their faith. The Pharisees didn’t like change. They didn’t like anything
outside of their control, and the Holy Spirit is certainly outside of any
The symbolism of this baptism was
incredibly important too. It was through the Jordan river that these people’s
ancestor’s crossed to enter into the promised land. It was the way that they
sealed the covenant with God, by being washed, by being made new and entering
into the promise as a new people.
John’s audience knew that what they needed
was renewal, so they trek back out to the Jordan river to be sealed into a new
covenant. They didn’t know all of that at the time, but this is what they were
entering into. A new relationship with God, for the Kingdom of God was near, in
fact it was just around the corner.
And what about you? What is it that is
drawing you forward? What newness are you seeking in your life? Sometimes the
inner voice of the Holy Spirit is really small. Sometimes, it has been a long
time since we have heard it, or remembered it is there, calling us forward. But
it is certainly there. You who have been baptized have been sealed into a new
relationship with God and the Holy Spirit is within you calling you forward
into a deeper relationship with God.
So, during this season of Advent, during
all the hustle and bustle and preparations for the biggest commercial season of
the year, for heaven’s sake, take the time to put down the eggnog and listen to
your deepest desire, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and asking you to
prepare. Repent: that is move forward, or change your direction in alignment
with God’s will, for the kingdom of heaven has come near – it’s just around the
corner. The Lord is coming, prepare his way and be ready to meet him! Amen.