28 December 2008

Christmas 1 2008- Sermon

First after Christmas – Holy Family

28 December 2008

Luke 2: 22-40

By Stuart Pike

Luke’s Gospel is truly amazing in all of the detail which it captures. Mark’s and John’s Gospels don’t even contain any stories about Jesus’ birth or his infancy, but basically begin with Jesus’ baptism when he was 30 years old. Matthew’s Gospel does have some stories of Joseph and Mary preparing for the birth of Jesus. But no one can top Luke for such a vivid story.

In Luke’s Gospel we have stories of the appearance of the archangel Gabriel, once to Zechariah, and once to Mary, announcing about Jesus’ birth. Then, on the actual night of Jesus’ birth, we have clouds of angels singing and praising God for the wonderful event and the poor shepherds who are witnesses are quaking in their boots and then rushing to the stable to see the amazing sight.. When it comes to the story of Jesus’ birth, Luke’s Gospel is in technicolour .

And then in today’s Gospel story from Luke we skip ahead 40 days to the story of Jesus being brought to the temple to be dedicated to God. In these days they didn’t do baptisms to mark the beginning of a life of faith, they did a rite of dedications. And Mary and Joseph, being devout people of faith are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. In Mary and Joseph’s culture, this ritual would feel very much like an infant baptism, which we do today.

And yet, here we have very little fanfare – there is not one single member of the heavenly host to be seen! They are just about to start the service of dedication when two very ancient senior citizens show up and interrupt the proceedings.

I wonder how we would feel if, in the middle of a service of baptism, an ancient old man like Simeon were to hobble up to the front, snatching the baby out of the arms of the mother and then spouting on about how great this child is going to be.

I imagine that we would think that the poor old geezer had gone off his medication again. And then, to top it all off: what if we were to have another one – and old widow this time, praising God and working her way through the congregation telling everyone about the baby. Perhaps the two had just swapped their medications by mistake, we would think! Someone might think to take out their cell phone and dial 911.

But St. Luke says that Mary and Joseph were amazed by what was being said about their son. Simeon calls Jesus a light for all people and Anna speaks to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In some way, these two were talking about how Jesus would bring healing and salvation to people. What could they mean? I doubt that they knew entirely what it meant, but they did know that they were being guided by the Spirit of God to speak their truth.

So why did God not send legions of angels this time? Why did he speak through two very old and ordinary-seeming (though admittedly eccentric) human beings?

None of us are ever going to be able to understand God’s reasoning behind his specific actions, but I think events like these do show something of how God views us and values human beings.

Although we would expect the son of God to always be heralded by a heavenly host, and to be received by the nobility of the earth, we see that when the heavenly host is present, it is to the poor and lowly that the great news is announced. Or it might just be the poor and lowly, the ancient old man or the widow who is doing the announcing.

God’s revelation is not only through glorious visions and marvelous people. God also works through ordinary everyday and even powerless people: shepherds, senior citizens, widows. Even Mary and Joseph themselves were of the poorer class, only being able to afford the poorest of offerings for this service of dedication.

In fact, God does his most loving and life-giving work by giving up all of his glory and wealth to become a human being, and not just any human being, but a destitute new-born baby who was born in a barn and laid in the animal’s feeding trough for a crib. Indeed, God welcomes us in and gives us life, by dying a torturous criminal’s death. God’s self-emptying is so complete in this act of giving that it proclaims how great God’s love is for each one of us and, as Simeon says, to all people on earth. God gave all of himself to for us.

The message for me in this Gospel is that if God works through even the most unlikely of people – the poor, the infirm, the widow and the infants – then God can work through any of us! God can even work through me, through you!

That is why part of our baptismal covenant is that we will seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbour as ourself. Jesus approaches us today in the guise of the stranger, or the neighbour, or the person in need. God works through ordinary people- and sometimes in the doddery old man and the aged widow. May we have the grace to see the holy in the ordinary.  And may we know that Christ was born for each one of us. Amen.

Christmas Eve 2008 - Sermon

Christmas Eve 2008

St. Andrew’s Church

by Stuart Pike

Incredibly enough, we have finally made it to Christmas! The wind up for the season seems to be at such a frenetic pace that I am sure many people are simply glad to see Christmas because much of the rush will finally be over.

I, like many people I know, cannot experience Christmas without remembering past Christmases and all that they brought. Christmas for me when I was growing up had a lot to do with family and with traditions. As we usually lived far away from extended family, Christmas meant my immediate family was the focus. Our parents, my sister and my identical twin brother spent the holidays together.

From my earliest memories, there seemed to be two competing stories or themes about Christmas. One theme was about Santa and reindeer and presents - The Santa story. From the colour red of Santa’s outfit, to the sound of sleighbells, to the shiny garlands and Christmas ornaments, to the gaudy Christmas wrapping, to the sounds of toys being played and sometimes broken: this Santa Story was noisy and fun and somewhat garish. I remember one Christmas that my aunt who lived 1000 kilometres away shipped my brother and me a toy percussion ensemble kit with drums and cymbals and more, much to our delight and the rest of my family’s despair. That aunt was persona non grata for years to come!

The other Christmas theme was always there in my family as well. I thank God that my parents brought us up with all the opportunities to experience holy things not only at Christmas, but throughout the year. This other story, or theme was, of course, the real Christmas story: the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem all those many years ago - the Jesus story.

This theme was quiet and still and holy. Despite the sound of the glorious anthems and music in Church which I loved, despite the words of the readings and the sermon, the message of the Jesus Story was felt, more than understood, in a mysterious and perfectly silent peace. The anthems, the readings, the sermon all simply pointed to this mystery, they put the mystery into a setting, a container, but the mystery was received in awe and wonder in stillness. For me it was sometime during the distribution of Holy Communion that this mystery was received.

Of all of the Christmas hymns which I knew, it was “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which spoke to me the most. I felt its truth. “Above [Bethlehem’s] deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.” Yes, that was right to me. Most of our life was like a dark and dreamless sleep when compared to the light of those silent stars and the truth to which they witnessed. And, yes, yet in our dark streets shines “the everlasting light.” Yes, holy things aren’t apart from the everyday, but the everlasting light shines in the midst of it all - sometimes invisibly, it seems, and yet perceivable. The lesson from Isaiah speaks of this light when it starts off, saying, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.”

Essential to the deep truth of this hymn were the words about, ‘how silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given’, and though, “no ear may hear his coming, ... where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” And the hymn ends with, “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” I had been told that Emmanuel meant, “God with us.”

I must have been around eight when I remember really listening to the words of that hymn. I was left awe-struck by them. They were so real and true and deep. They left me feeling so excited and with a sense of immense privilege that God, who I had always assumed was far too great to be concerned with petty human affairs, actually rushed in to be with us - to abide with us.

Of course it wasn’t something which my eight-year-old brain really understood: how exactly did it all work? But then, today, it is equally not something which my 48-year-old brain really understands either. But even at the age of eight I knew that the truth of this mystery was something which can be known without having all the facts along with diagrams and a flowchart to explain it all.

Although I loved all the noise and fun of the Santa story, I knew that the Jesus story was deeper and lovelier and truer.

It has only been in the years since I was eight that I have come to a fuller appreciation of the mystery. I’ve learned some new words and read of some new images. Incarnation is probably the most helpful word to point toward the mystery. Anyone who knows Spanish knows that “Carne” means meat. In-carn-ation, then, means that God became flesh, or human. How and why God did that is certainly a mystery, but one which can be grasped at if one can begin to imagine the great love that God has for us. God is a lover whose love is so great that he wants to be right with us.

And God did it in the most amazing way - he came to us in the greatest humility - as a newborn baby. And not any baby - a baby born in the deepest poverty - laid in the animal’s feeding trough instead of a cradle. And the message was heard not by the royalty and the wealthy of the land, but by the humblest of people - the shepherds who lived outdoors with the animals which they looked after. This God, wanting to include everyone, came to us as the humblest so that no one should be left out.

It would be after the late Christmas Eve service as I went outside with my family that I would always look up hoping that there would be no clouds and I would see the silent stars going by. For me, no matter where I lived, it was Bethlehem, and the great mystery had just taken place that night.

The deepest, truest part of that hymn is in the prayer of the fourth verse which prays to the holy child of Bethlehem to descend to us and be born in us today. God comes to us not only in the child born two thousand years ago, but he comes to us again and again, born in human hearts today. I have witnessed this amazing mystery of others being Jesus to me throughout my life. But more astounding than that is the thought, for each of us, that the holy child of Bethlehem is not only born in others, but is born even in ourselves.

I wish you all a joyous Christmas as we celebrate the true story: the Jesus story. And remember, all of our children will learn the Santa story; make sure you let them experience the Jesus story. “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.”

Christmas Day - Sermon

 The Word in the World

From Universe to Neighborhood

Christmas Day 2008

by Anne Crawford

We’re not short of words these days.  We read them, write them, hear them and speak them.  We use Word Perfect to compose letters.  We send text messages and check our voice mail and email.  We read newspapers and then see and hear the news again on television. 

We get bills and junk mail and soliciting phone calls, though mercifully we are now able to reduce two out of the three. 

The Christmas season brings its own flurry of words.  Cards from people we haven’t seen in years that live half way round the world.  We read about the highs and lows of their year and maybe get a wedding or baby photo or sad news that a loved one has died.  Most of the time things seem to stay pretty much the same for most of the friends that we hear from.  That is to say that each Christmas we hear that someone has had cancer or faced a bereavement or had a new grandchild or retired or moved –  the ordinary occurrences  of life for most of us both in their darkness and in their light.  This is the human condition.

Here are some words my nephew wrote in a letter accompanying his Christmas card:

“The world is experiencing turbulent economic times and no one has any real answer to the problem.  At the root of all this is greed and profit:  traders who had to achieve targets to keep their jobs selling toxic products and mortgage lenders selling to those who they knew could not repay.  An imperfect world with imperfect people.”    

Brian, we all agree.

God chose to be born into an imperfect world with imperfect people.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

God made his home among us.

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

What a wonderful image Eugene Peterson gives us – God in the neighborhood!

He chose the most difficult and fragile of circumstances.  A young unmarried girl who would have been stoned to death had word got out about her pregnancy in her hometown of Nazareth.  

When I was working at one of the Arab hospitals there, we had to secretly remove a young girl overnight to the safety of a Jewish hospital in a large city.  The girl had been raped by an uncle, and family honour demanded her death.  Their method was a bath and an electric fire.  Fortunately a nurse spotted the missing fire and acted quickly.  That was forty years ago and yet we read the same story in the Toronto Star this past week – this time in Somalia and this time a stoning.

Mary went to stay with Elizabeth who lived in the country, and who knew enough of God’s miracles to care for her young cousin long enough for Joseph to have had his first dream, taken note of it and followed through by standing by his young betrothed. 

If Elizabeth had turned Mary away and if Joseph had not taken his dream seriously, God might never have been born.  And if the Magi and Joseph hadn’t listened to subsequent dreams after the birth of Jesus, he would have been killed as a baby by Herod’s soldiers.

This for me is the miracle of Christ’s birth – the fact that it happened at all.  Yet we know that God moves in mysterious ways among ordinary people in ordinary neighborhoods. We don’t have to understand how the Word became flesh – each baby born in a miracle and a child of God.

Here are some words from a book I received for Christmas titled The Hand of God.  Opposite an image of Earth from Apollo 17, US Astronaut James Irwin writes:

“The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space.  As we got further and further away it diminished in size.  Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine.  That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart.  Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”

This for me is the miracle of creation – the fact that we are all living on a Christmas tree ornament which supports life and even as it twirls round and round.   Much can be explained by quantum physics but you do not need to be a Stephen Hawking to be awed by the cosmos.  Just go outside one clear night and look up. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In the beginning was logic, Logos.  In the beginning was God’s breath which hovered over the waters of chaos.  In the beginning was God’s spoken word as he said “Let there be light.”  In the beginning was wisdom, Sophia.   There was love and a desire to create and communicate.  Choose an image that helps you understand the scriptural words but rest in the mystery that is God just as you rest in the mystery that is the universe.   Both the baby in the manger and the ‘Christmas tree ornament in the blackness of space’ represent the fragility and the wonder that is the mystery of God beyond us and with us. 

The words we heard this morning from Isaiah were written to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to encourage them and assure them that God has not given up on them.  It is a message of redemption and not one of judgment.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.'

We need to hear that message so badly in this troubled world of ours today and guess what – we have already heard it when Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.  God lived with us to show us how to live with each other.  The Gospel message is that God showers his gracious love on all of us and we have received it as a free gift.  This for me is the most profound miracle of all.

It is our turn now to live the Gospel message.  It is our turn to ignite change for the common good.  It is our turn to engage as citizens and provide the impetus for a healthy society.  We are God’s hands and feet and mind and word.  He has no one else in this place and at this time.  We are the beautiful messengers of today.

Here are the words of a story I received from my friend Lois in a Christmas email:

This plain envelope has peeked through the branches of our Christmas tree for the past ten years.  It began because my husband Mike hated Christmas – not the true meaning but the commercial aspect of overspending and frantic last minute shopping for gifts.

One year I decided to think of something other than the usual gift for Mike and the inspiration came in an unusual way.

Shortly before Christmas our twelve year old son was involved in a non- league junior wrestling tournament between his school team and one sponsored by an inner-city church.   These youngsters in their worn sneakers and sweats presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their blue and gold uniforms and new wrestling shoes.

As the match began I was alarmed to see the other team wrestling without headgear.  It was a luxury they obviously couldn’t afford.

Our sons’ team took every weight class and as the other boys got up from the mat, they swaggered around with false bravado and a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat.

Mike was saddened.  “I wish just one of them could have won.  They have potential but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”

That’s when the idea for his present came.  I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church.

On Christmas Eve I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done as a gift to him from me.  His radiant smile said it all and the tradition continued over the years. 

One year sending a group of challenged youngster to a hockey game, another year a cheque to elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground just before Christmas.

The envelope was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, with the children standing in wide-eyed anticipation as their Dad lifted it from the tree and revealed its contents.  They grew but the envelope never lost its allure.

The story doesn’t end there.  Last year Mike died of cancer and when Christmas came I was so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up.  But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree and in the morning it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their Dad.

There is an envelope for each of you as you leave the church today.  It contains a poem.  You might consider reusing it if you have a tree at home, or bringing it to the tree in the parish hall.  We could start a Christmas tradition in both places.

You’ll hear what to do with the envelope when you find some time today or tomorrow to block out the world’s words of cell phone and IPod, of TV and emails and in a time of stillness and quiet be receptive to the Word of God who came to us as a gift in the birth of Jesus and who continues to speak to us if we but silence ourselves and listen.

Finally the words of a Christmas greeting sent from a spiritual mentor of mine, Bob Haden.

John Philip Newell, in Christ of the Celts, tells of the passage from The Acts of John where Jesus, after the meal at the last supper, invites the disciples to form a circle and begin a simple Hebrew circle dance.  Jesus stands in the middle of the circle and says, “I will pipe, dance all of you….I will lament, mourn all of you.”  Jesus continues, “The whole universe takes part in the dance.”

So as we leave this Christmas Day service, let us visualize ourselves, dancing with the whole universe, being piped in the dance of life, in all of its joys and sorrows, by Jesus.  What a privilege to hold hands with you in this dance.

I echo Bob’s sentiments as I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

22 December 2008

Advent 3 - Who are you? - Sermon

Advent 3B - Who are you?

By Stuart Pike

St. Andrew’s Church

11 December, 2005

 You could be forgiven for thinking that you were experiencing some sort of deja vu while you were listening to today’s Gospel reading. Come again? Didn’t we have that reading last Sunday?

Well the quick answer is: almost! Today we have the story of John the Baptist from the point of view of the Gospel of John. Last week we had the same story from the point of view of the Gospel of Mark! Big difference, right? It is a challenge for the preacher.

So I thought I would ask the question, what is the difference between last week’s lesson and this week’s? Both have the reference to Isaiah’s prophecy of the one crying out, “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.” Both have John referring to one coming after him and John says that he is not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.

The main difference is that in today’s reading from John, we have some new characters who have shown up: the Priests and Levites. They are the religious heavies, who have been sent out to investigate John. They have been sent out from the temple in Jerusalem. This baptizer, John, is intruding in on their turf. No one else is supposed to be a religious force in Israel; just who does he think he is?

So they send them out to find out just that:

“Who are you,” they ask.

Who are you? It’s quite a question. Would we know how to answer it? Who am I? What do you stand for? What is important to you? Why are you here?

Who are you includes all of those questions and more. What is your essence? It is a good question to ask yourself during Advent. There might be people who want to know, or need to know. Maybe you need to know who you really are.

When I went to an Advent retreat a couple of years ago, the monk who lead the retreat asked us to consider who we really are. He sent us to meditate on a poem by R.L. Sharpe:

   Isn't it strange how princes and kings,

   and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,

   and common people, like you and me,

   are builders for eternity?

   Each is given a list of rules;

   a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.

   And each must fashion, ere life is flown,

   A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

            By R.L. Sharpe

That’s really what our lives are about isn’t it? It’s about taking the shapeless mass of ourselves and forming it into a shape. That shape is always about how we are in relationship to others. Will we turnout to be for others a stumbling block? Or a stepping-stone? If we are to be a stepping stone, then can we not be a part of Isaiah’s highway which makes a straight path for the Lord?

It sounds too grandiose doesn’t it? Surely we need to be more humble than this, don’t we?

I remember when Nelson Mandela was made President of South Africa after years of imprisonment under the Apartheid rule. His speech was also about asking the question, “Who am I?” He quoted Marrianne Williamson when he said:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. Thee's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

(Marianne Williamson, quoted by Nelson Mandela)

Ask yourself the question posed to John the Baptist: who are you? When you know who you are, you also realize whose you are.

How have you been fashioning your life? What shape is it?

As the darkening days of Advent draw ever closer to the light of Christ’s birth, ask how you can use the tools, or gifts which you have been given, to reflect Christ’s light brightly. Make straight the way of the Lord - be a stepping stone for others. Amen.

18 December 2008

All Souls - Sermon

The Inheritance of all the Souls before us

1 Peter 1: 3-9

By Paul Tinker

Lord in your mercy you provide to us new birth into the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ – May we offer our thoughts, words and deeds in thanksgiving and in honour of the faith that you have in us.             Amen


“An inheritance that is …




                                                Kept in Heaven for you”


Today is All Souls day

And those God inspired words of Peter from our epistle lesson today lay out for me the role of the Souls that have gone before us…

            And ultimately the task that is set out for us



We live in this western society that holds hard and fast to the notion of - competition

            And to it’s companion ideal of “what have you done for me lately

                        We can easily be defined by our latest output

By the tasks that are most immediately behind us and how well we did in achieving them


We have just finished in this country a federal election

One, which was executed well by the returning government – spending millions with the sole goal of getting a slightly stronger minority government but in the process weakening their opponent

            The conservatives were the winners

                        And that is what we will remember – that is what grabs our attention

We look to the leader of the Liberals Stephan Dion, as the loser

and “what he has done lately” as insufficient and well – He needs to go

                        Never mind all the good and the ideals that he stood for over his career

                                    No – loser – time to go


And tomorrow is the final day of uncertainty to our neighbours in the south

            They will elect a new winner and set the fate of the loser forever

                        Rarely does a losing presidential hopeful run again

                                    It has been said that ‘History is always written by the winners’


Many, might point to the natural world and say that is merely the design of creation

            The theory of evolution is based on the strong surviving for the good of the species

That the weaker thans are to be a brief moment in history often not even making a mark on history


Before I was called into ordained ministry

            I was worked in various sales jobs, spending most of my time in the IT industry

For most of my business career, in the eyes of my employers, I was lead to believe, that it was not about doing my best, but about the bottom line

Each month, our sales numbers were closely monitored

At the beginning of the month was the message to work hard to start the month off strong,

As the month progressed – mine and the others were tracked against the forecasts, percentages closely scrutinized

And by the end of the month there was always the underlined message that sales were all that mattered and the fear that we were only a couple of bad months away from unemployment

I believe that many of you today can relate to that type of environment – whether it be at work – school or whatever you are involved with


It is there in most of the sports we do

            Now I understand that the very nature of sport is competition

But it could be so much more than reduced to the lowest common denominator

When I come back from playing squash – no one has ever asked me if I:

·      effectively dealt with my stress

·      or did I achieve a good heart-rate to help with the long term health of my heart

·      or maybe was I feeling good and moving fluidly and connecting well with the ball

            No - what everyone asks – How’d you do – did ya win?


Competition and ‘what have you done for me lately’ is everywhere

·      It is there at work

·      It is there at homes ‘keeping up with the Jones’

·      It is in our politics

·      It is in our schooling – our value somehow connected to the grade on a report

·      It is a main part for much of our leisure time in the sports we do


And yet, it is so temporal

            So limited to the moment

                        And fleeting away the farther we get from the recent success


But we Christians are given something more – something beyond the temporal


You see competition or trials are not inherently bad

            Peter writes


        although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials,

so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.


            The trials that Peter is writing about is ‘life’ – earthly existence

Whether that be the big moments in life which we can look to suffering in health of either - mind – body or spirit

Or the daily trials of living as fallen people in a fallen world


Because in God’s great mercy – we are given new birth – we are baptized into Christ

            Our genuineness is being refined

Tested in a refiners fire

            Where the impurities of the contaminated gold are burned away

                        Faith is what is left

                                    And striving for God’s ways, righteousness, the byproduct of that faith


I draw you back to the fact that we mark today as ‘All Souls Day’

The day in which later in the service we will read the necrology / the memorial list of those that have died this year.

Members of our family, friends and people in which being connected to this parish family of St Luke was important

            Let us consider what they really left behind


I would like to illustrate this by an email story that I received last week



I'm invisible. The invisible Parent. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this?  Can you tie this?  Can you open this?

I'm a clock to ask,' What time is it?' 

I'm a TV guide to answer,
'What number is the Disney Channel?' 

I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England ... She had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.  It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself.  I was feeling pretty pathetic, when she turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.' It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription:

‘with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

The passion of their building was fuelled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

As I read the book, I have this feeling that the missing piece has fallen into place.  It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does.  No act of kindness you've done, no house cleaning or laundry, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.' 

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction.  But it is not a disease that is erasing my life.  It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness.  It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder.  As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

When I really think about it, I don't want my children to tell the friend they are bringing home - my parents’ do this and do that for us and our home. That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want them
to want to come home.  And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'you're gonna love it there.'

As parents, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. 



For those of you that are not parents I hope that you were able to consider how you are or could be a parental or guiding figure to someone else

            Consider your own cathedrals – and to whom cathedrals are built for


As we consider the souls that have gone before us

            As we consider the foundation in the Faith that they have helped to establish

                        The most important inheritance that they have provided

                                    And as we remember that God inspired words of St. Peter


“An inheritance that is …

            Imperishable                        Undefiled            Unfading            Kept in Heaven for you”

who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,

to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time…

you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,

as you attain the goal of (your) faith, the salvation of your souls.



O God, the king of saints, we praise and glorify your holy name, for all your servants, who have finished their course in your faith and fear, the disciples, the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs and for all your other righteous servants know to us and unknown, and we pray that encouraged by their  examples aided by their prayers and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light through the merits of your son Jesus Christ, our Lord - Amen

Jesus Descending to know us - Sermon

Jesus Descending to Know us

By Paul TInker

John 1: 47-51

I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen

John’s Gospel has often been compared to a pool in which a child could wade safely and an elephant could swim.

It is both simple and profound.

It is for the beginner in the faith - and for the mature Christian.


It begins in an incredible way – to set the stage for what John will reveal / or some might say…  prove…

        In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God.

            He was in the beginning with God.

All things came to be through him,

and without him nothing came to be.

What came to be through him was life,

and this life was the light of the human race


The opening God inspired words of John’s gospel are beautifully crafted

and could be like an opening statement

to declare what the rest case will be a witness for

The whole of the Gospel narrative contains a series of “signs”

— the gospel’s word for the wondrous deeds of Jesus.

continuing on the legal case metaphor – the structure of John’s Gospel can be consider in only four groups

- The Prologue or Opening statement – chapter 1 until verse 18

- The Book of Signs from verse 19 till the end of chapter 12

            ‘The proof’

- The Book of Glory – chapters  l3 to 20 – telling of the greatest of all signs, the story of Jesus’ passion, the story of the cross – the seemingly ‘climax of the case’

- And the Epilogue – from chapter 21- till the end - or as some might call it the “closing argument” – the beautiful surprise twist bringing the case to a triumphal victory

- The Resurrection Appearances in Galilee


John wrote an account that is set to win over – to prove - that Jesus of Nazareth, was the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God

For the child in the wading pool and deep enough for the giants of God’s creation


Our Gospel passage for today, is extremely brief, only 5 verses – but it is but one small proof in the mounting case for Christ

It tells the account of one person that was miraculously transformed in a moment… and even promised much greater


Two thousand years ago, Jesus (having used Satan to sharpen his vision) left the desert of temptation and strode purposefully to… “Nowhere.” 

At least that is what the religious and political leaders thought of Galilee. 

He also determinedly marched out from the desert seeking…

“Nobodies.” At least that is what the religious and political leaders thought about fishermen and the other ordinary men that Jesus selected.


We have in our passage of today the introduction to one of the lesser known disciples - Nathanael (or known in the other gospels as Bartholomew) 

It is right before what is commonly known as Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana

            However this miraculous “public” sign

Is not His first miracle - it is the calling of the disciples that we have His first miracles,

The ability to transform lives so dramatically that they would leave everything is surely a miracle


It is given to us on a day in which we commemorate Michael and all the angels

Why today, do we have in Nathanael’s call to discipleship as part of the commemoration of all the angels?

Well the key to that is in the last part, where Jesus declares   

“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus tells Nathanael … and all those present… and us today that He will be the purpose of the angels of God

And He does it making clear reference the story known as ‘Jacob’s ladder’ which was our first reading from Genesis 28

“And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

In Jacob’s dream… we have God message… God’s word spoken by His messengers – Angels - descending to us

Jacob is given an incredible promise

Through Jacob, Abraham’s covenant will be fulfilled

“your descendants shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing”


innumerable descendants

A blessing for all the nations of the world

This is truly an incredible promise and yet it doesn’t end there

The angels carry an even more compelling message

“Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you”


In the Old Testament and in the gospel we have God with a message for us

Then … as now

God through his holy angels has a vitally important word

And it is a message of ‘assured Hope’

That is of course - “the miracle” – the Gospel

The miracle simply stated in the most quoted scriptural text – John 3:16


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”


But for Nathaniel it started with a much smaller personal miracle

“When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, he said of him,

“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

How did Jesus know that? That Nathaniel was truly authentic and not a phony out to deceive the world?

Notice the question that Nathaniel asked him,

“Where did you get to know me?”

            Nathanael doesn’t deny how Jesus has characterized him

                        He is struck by the claim and asks –how Jesus knew

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

That’s it! Nathanael is sold, Jesus must have superhuman knowledge and its effect on Nathanael is immediate and

Nathaniel replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

John in his account of the life of Jesus has entered another piece of evidence in the case for Christ; ‘superhuman knowledge’ in which an otherwise skeptical person, who had just told Philip - “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

            Has been so transformed to declare that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’


Followers of Christ often believe that about Christ:

That Christ knows everything about our lives.

We Christians don’t understand what it means that God knows the numbers of the hairs of our head and other trivial details of our lives from years ago…

but we sense that God is all knowing of our personal lives.

We sense that God “knew us even before we were born, when we were growing secretly and silently in our mother’s womb,” to use the words of the Psalmist.


For me, I always imagined that under the fig tree Nathaniel was praying to God

And his prayer was a deeply personal prayer,

I believe that he was truly open to God

And it is that in which Jesus spoke to when he said

“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”

Jesus got to know Nathaniel while he was under the fig tree.


A Fig tree has symbolic overtones, missed to the modern reader

The posture recalls the image of the ideal Israelite in utopia, sitting studying the Law or in prayer

The fig was considered the sweetest fruit of the desert people. 

To eat of the fig tree was a blessing;

To have your fig trees knocked down was a curse. 

It meant that the sweetest things in your life would be taken away from you.  

To say, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” was equivalent to saying; “Nathanael, I knew you before you were cynical.  I knew you when your heart could still be melted, when your faith was still hungry.” 

That’s the Nathanael that Jesus saw


That is the miracle that transformed Nathanael’s heart

            That is the miracle that transforms all our hearts to this very day

As our Genesis passage reveal the most comforting of all promises to Jacob

                        Know that I am with you”


For Nathanael knows that God is with him

He wants to hold on to the Son of God, to become His follower, a disciple of the one that is with him in his most intimate moments

It is the same for Jacob,

And it is the same for us now

      The miracle

o   both small and personal… to nobodies in nowhere

o   and universal for all


God is with us


God in Jesus, himself, has now become the bridge between heaven and earth, between divine and human, temporal and eternal.

The place to meet God is not the ladder of Jacob's dream at Bethel… but Jesus

            May we all be blessed with moments of our own fig trees

Where we can safely wade into shallow waters and also be filled to our deepest needs for God – knowing that – God is with us