21 June 2010

Pentecost 4 C - Demons for Father's Day

Proper 12C – Wrestling with demons

1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a

Luke 8:26-39

St. Luke’s, Burlington

19 June 2010

By Stuart Pike

Earlier this week I was whinging in the office about how I have to preach a sermon on father’s day with a gospel lesson which tells the story of the Gerasene Demoniac!

One of our administrative assistants (who shall remain nameless) said, “Well that’s easy, fathers have demons!”

After the laughter, I returned to my study and thought, “Well, she’s not wrong!” I have been a father long enough to know that!

The thing is, these days, we really don’t do demons. At least they don’t seem to figure highly in our collective psyche. We sometimes understand mental illness or even psychosis and we try to put all bizarre and unreasonable behaviour into those categories. Sometimes even fatherhood! I mean, you don’t have to be insane to be a father, but often it helps!

Perhaps because we are uncomfortable with the concept of demons, there is a tendency to preach on one of the other readings when every three years we are presented with these lections.

It’s a pity because it really is a ripping good yarn, and it would have been an especially good one to Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries. This story is full of action and it is not without humour

In this one story there is a naked whacko, a legion of demons, a herd of squealing pigs (unclean of course) jumping like lemmings into the sea, a riot of Gentiles (also unclean of course) who are afraid, not of the demons, but are afraid when they have left! I’m sure that Jesus’ Jewish neighbours would think this was terrific entertainment! “Those unkosher gentiles on the other side of the lake are even weirder than we thought!”

However the essence of the story, beyond the humour, is some really good news about what Jesus’ mission was about. Jesus shows that he has power over anything which would separate us from a relationship with God. It doesn’t matter how powerful, or scary, or crazy or incomprehensible it is. Jesus can tackle it, and can heal our broken relationship with God.

The man who Jesus heals had been driven out into the wilderness by the demons. He was also driven there by his own people who simply wanted to bind and control him. The wilderness was his place of escape and he made his home among the tombs of the dead, instead of the living. This man was running from the worldly power of human society and the spiritual power of evil. Jesus is more powerful!

The wilderness is the place where God seems to do his best work. It is away from the distractions of human construction. It was in the wilderness that Jacob wrestled with the angel and prevailed. It was in the wilderness that the children of Israel formed as a nation before entering into the promised land. It was into the wilderness that the spirit drove Jesus after he was baptized, and it was there that he struggled to find his way forward. It was from the wilderness that the prophets spoke to the people of the city – calling them back into faithful relationship.

It was to the wilderness that Elijah ran when he feared for his life. Elijah went from feeling on top of the world, to sinking into the depths of despair and even to suicidal thinking as he struggled with his demons in the wilderness. Elijah was fleeing from the worldly royal power of Queen Jezebel. God is more powerful!

But notice that Jesus’ power and God’s power are unconventional.

God was not in the earthquake, nor the powerful wind, nor the fire. God was in the sound of sheer silence. What does that sound like? Is it the place, perhaps, where there is the absence of anything – not even sound. Is it not in the absolute wilderness, outside of human construction and invention and noise? Outside of logic and intellect.

And Jesus’ power is not in chains to bind or other force, but it is in the absolute power of his love, which calmly and courageously sees into the heart of the matter, enables us to name our demons and to set us free from them.

What are the powers today that get in the way of our relationship with God

There are still the same old ones – worldly powers – politics, the evil use of might, war and violence. There are the psychological ones – our fears and despair, our lack of confidence – our demons which sometime control us.

And there are also some societal ones as well. The secularization of our society. Simply a lack of space for faith in our culture: sports practice can be just as powerful as Agnosticism and atheism and apathy. I remember Archbishop Michael Peers addressing a General Synod quite a few years ago.

He said: "In this troubled age some people say the church is giving in to the trends of the times. But the real danger is not in yielding in ethics or morality or in forsaking scripture or the Christian faith but it is the battle against cynicism and hopelessness."

But Jesus is more powerful than any of this. If we will follow him. A relationship with Jesus will overtake any power, and will allow us to be part of God’s plan, rather than working against it.

And finally, here, I get back to Fathers, and how we can be a wonderful part of God’s plan to build the kingdom, even if we do have our demons to struggle with!

In a Church where usually 75 percent in attendance are women, fathers can make a huge difference. Yesterday, when we hears Dr. Jean Chamberlain-Froese speak she had a brought a young Ugandan woman along with her. It was her first time in Canada and when she saw the crowd she said to me: “Don’t you have men in your Church? It is a fact that among families where fathers attend Church, the children are ten times more likely to remain faithful Church goers into their own adulthood. Fathers have a huge role to play in building a Christian community. And they can do this simply by showing up!

But along with showing up, God has other plans for you to be engaged in building the kingdom. And this is certainly good news, because we all know that father like to build stuff.

And finally, whether you’re a father or mother or neither: what are the powers which control you and your life? What demons are you wrestling with? Perhaps they will drive you into the wilderness where you will meet our lord who will set you free. Amen.

General Synod Report

Sermon for 13 June 2010

General Synod Report

by Sharyn Hall

St. Luke’s Anglican church, Burlington

I have just returned from Halifax, where I was a delegate from our diocese of Niagara to the General Synod of the national Anglican Church of Canada. Every three years, representatives from every diocese of our national church meet to debate and determine policy for the next three years. The Synod is nine days of reports, resolutions, worship and discussion groups generally from 9 am to 9 pm. Although very tiring, the days were packed with a variety of topics from financial management to liturgical revision to international partnerships. There were many important discussions at this General Synod, which I will share with you from time to time over the summer.

Many people were waiting to see how we would deal with ‘the issue’, which is the controversy over the blessing of civilly-married same-gender couples. You will read in the media that we did not make a legislative decision, so some people will conclude that we achieved nothing. People on both sides of the controversy may be unhappy with the outcome. After hours of respectful deliberations, the delegates concluded that we are a diverse church, which is not of one mind on the issue, and if we were to insist on a definitive decision in favour or against the blessing of same-gender relationships, we would not resolve the controversy. On the contrary, we would cause more distress.

What became abundantly clear was the will of people on both sides of the issue to walk together as a church to serve the mission of Jesus in the world. Please read the statement, which is posted on our diocesan website, along with a letter from our diocesan Bishop Michael. The issue of blessing same-gender relationships does not define us as a church, nor does it define our Anglican Christian faith. We are a Christian church seeking to continue the mission of Jesus in the world today. There were many times during the Synod when this message was evident.

We had guest speakers from Uruguay, Jerusalem and the United States, who brought various perspectives on Christian mission. One of those speakers was Hellen Wangusa, who is the official Observer for the Anglican Communion to the United Nations in New York. Several faith groups have official Observer status at the United Nations, which enables them to observe and to participate in various sessions of the great number of commissions and committees of the United Nations. I have met Hellen in Toronto and New York as I have been privileged to be a member of the Canadian delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women.

Hellen is soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but her commitment to work for the well-being of people around the world is resolute. She spoke to the General Synod about the urgent need to work for the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goals. In the year 2000, the countries of the United Nations pledged to fulfill eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015, but Hellen reminded us that before the United Nations developed goals, there were other MDG’s. They were the Mission Driven Goals of the churches and other faith groups, who insisted that the United Nations was more than an organization to solve political disputes. It was the faith groups, which presented the needs of the world before the leaders of the nations and said we need to do something. Hellen’s knowledge of world issues is extensive and she acknowledges that the Millennium Development Goals do not address all the needs of the world’s peoples, but they provide a good framework for mission.

Here at St. Luke’s, we have endeavoured to promote the MDG’s in monthly breakfasts, and we have been blessed with excellent speakers. The theme of these breakfasts is ‘What can one person do?’ On Saturday, June 19, we will host our fifth breakfast, and we will be reminded again that one person can do a great deal. There was a three-page article in the Hamilton Spectator about the work of Dr. Jean Chamberlain Froese, who is our speaker. She is an obstetrician-gynecologist, who spends part of the year at St. Joseph’s Hospital and McMaster University, and the rest of the year in Uganda, where she has founded an organization to teach local people how to care for women and babies during pregnancy and childbirth.

The dangers to women and babies in developing countries are numerous, but generally preventable. While working in several clinics in East Africa, Jean realized that she could prevent many more tragic deaths by teaching the people to care for themselves. Her work is directly related to Millennium Development Goal # 5 to improve maternal health, and her work is directly related to another MDG, a mission driven goal, because Jean believes she is supported in her work by her Christian faith. God has called her to use her skills for the well-being of women and children here and half way around the world.

Few of us have the abilities to create great mission projects, but we all have the potential to contribute in some way to the well-being of others. In our baptismal covenant, we are called by God to have compassion for our neighbours. We are called to seek peace and justice for all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We are called to work together as we strive, and sometimes struggle, to continue the mission of Jesus. We need to open our eyes and open our hearts to the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, for the universal Christian church does not have a mission for God. God has a mission for the Church. May God’s grace be with us all. Amen.

Healing of the Paralytic

Epiphany 7 - Carrying a Friend.

Mark 2: 1-12

6 June 2010

St. Luke’s, Burlington

By Stuart Pike

I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I decided to go to seminary. The word itself brought to mind images of studious young people - mostly men - who were very serious-minded and straight-laced. Discussion would be very esoteric, and I would probably find myself struggling to keep up.

I found another reality when I got there. There were about even numbers of men and women and over half were not that young. There were lots of people who had left a previous career to go back to studying theology. We had nurses, teachers, factory workers, business people, a forestry student, and others. Along with the serious discussion there were plenty of fun times. What a wide variety of people there are who go to study theology! There were plenty who didn’t study full-time and would only do one or two courses in a semester.

It was among this mix of personalities that I met Margaret who joined us for a couple of courses when I was in second-year. If I ever had an image of a theology student, she wasn’t it. I mean she was old! It wasn’t only that she had a motherly image: she had a grand-motherly image, and, in fact, she was a grandmother. The wisdom with which she spoke during discussions didn’t have much to do with formal studies, but more with her experiences in life.

Margaret used to coddle us. She was always asking me if I had eaten, perhaps because I always had a lean and hungry look! Mostly, she would beam at us. Big smile, oh-so-gentle voice. If a discussion got a little hot as they are wont to do when earnest budding theologians start spouting opinion, she would wait for a chance to speak and would often tell a simple story which would bring home the point. Or else she would just continue to beam at us.

It was little by little and story by story that we were gifted with her own story. This gentle grandmother had lived through some tough times. I was grateful that I only heard the tragedies one story at a time, and interspersed with other stories of love and great fun. When she was a young girl living on the Prairies, her mother developed TB and had to live in a Sanatorium and she would be allowed to visit only occasionally. Amazingly enough, after living for years in that sanatorium unable to walk she survived until the discovery of the drugs which allowed her to return to her family. Her daughter, Margaret, had already grown up by then and so had lived most of her childhood as the only woman of the household.

She married young and had two children and life was good until she was diagnosed with cancer. It was only after many months of surgery and chemo and years of follow up, that she was declared cancer-free. It had been a long hard battle but the worst was yet to come. Not long after her recovery she found out that her son was also sick with cancer. After a couple of years of illness he died. She felt completely undone.

She spoke of how she felt abandoned by God. She spoke of the great anger in her which didn’t seem possible in the gentle woman I knew. I asked her how she had handled it all. How did she end up theology student.

She told us how some time after the death of her son, she met a woman in town who went to a Church which she had occasionally frequented. The woman recognized her and told her, we are praying for you. Margaret could barely speak in reply but said that she was grateful because she was completely unable to pray herself.

It was through that connection that she found her way into a Church community which supported her all the way to a strong faith. She realized that when she was so beaten down that she had no faith left, that she was carried by the prayers of others.

In today’s Gospel, from Mark, we have a story of four people who carried a man to Jesus to be healed. The man was paralysed, and so could not get to Jesus by himself. He was totally dependant on the actions of those who cared for him.

It is quite a story. We have been hearing the last few Sundays of how famous Jesus was becoming. As so in today’s reading there are so many people waiting outside the house that there is no way they can get through. Are they daunted? Not at all. They simply decide to climb up to the roof and take it apart over Jesus’ head. I wonder why I wouldn’t have thought of that! It sounds like quite an operation because the bible says that first they removed the roof, and then after digging through it, they let the mat down with the man on it. The Bible doesn’t mention the dust and plaster that collapsed on top of Jesus and the people with him. And it doesn’t really mention Jesus’ initial reaction.

I imagine Jesus teaching and stopping suddenly, “What on earth is that noise? Oh, I see, someone is coming through the roof!” I imagine him breaking out in laughter. We know he doesn’t respond in anger at the destruction. “Who the hell is going to fix my roof!” It simply says that when he saw their faith he says to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Note that it isn’t the man’s faith, it is “their” faith - the four who carried him.

Isn’t that an odd thing to say? He doesn’t place his hand on his forehead and say, “Be healed.” He says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

It is important to realize that sin isn’t only about the really wicked things that we do. Sin is anything which separates us from God. It could be by our own action or inaction. Or it could be by the godless circumstances in which we might be living. But, in this instance, I think Jesus is speaking metaphorically, and is simply stating an obvious fact. His friends have dug through a roof to get this man to Jesus! Jesus is saying that by doing this, the separation which existed between this paralysed man and God had been removed. It is pretty clear that Mark tells this story to say that by getting to Jesus, one gets reconnected to God.

Mark is saying: get yourself to Jesus. It doesn’t matter the obstacles: if people are in your way, go around them. If a brick wall is in your way, go over it. If a roof is in your way, dig through it. Bust your way in! Be innovative if you have to. Jesus won’t mind, he will recognize the faith which is involved. If you get yourself to Jesus, your sins will be forgiven too. Whatever is separating you from God will be removed.

But the most important lesson that I have taken from this reading is the one about the friends, and what they do for the paralysed man. They do it because they have faith and because their friend can’t do it for himself. That is what the Church is all about. It is about being a community of faith for each other, and especially for those who can’t do it on their own.

The fact is that, sooner or later, most of us will be in a situation when we have run out of prayers and we have no faith left for ourselves. Some of us have already been there. The Church is to be there for us then. But even more important than being part of the Church for your time of need is being there for other people.

I don’t know how many times I’ve hear people say that you don’t have to go to Church to be a good Christian. I think they’ve got it wrong. In order to be a good Christian, you have to be the Church and going to the worship of the Church is simply a part of being the Church. The most important part of being the Church is what you do for others all the rest of the week. Being part of a community of faith is an essential part of that. That’s being Church.

Being one of the four who carried their friend is what it’s about. Being the one to bring someone to Jesus, who can’t get there themself, no matter the reason, is being the Church. Praying for others and being the one to say, “We’re praying for you” is the same as being one of the four who carried a friend. Amen.

Trinity Sunday - Holy Holy Holy

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 30 May 2010

John 16: 12-15

By Sharyn Hall

Today is Trinity Sunday and we would not be Anglicans if we did not sing Hymn #1 – Holy, Holy, Holy, God in three persons, Blessed Trinity. Many of us mentally link this hymn with Trinity Sunday and Trinity Sunday with this hymn. Both the words and the tune are permanently joined to the concept of God as revealed in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we think about the possibility that this hymn is sung every year on Trinity Sunday somewhere in the worldwide Anglican Church, we can be amazed at the hundreds of times this hymn has been sung since it was written well over a hundred years ago.

While we sang this hymn, many other congregations in North America were singing the same words, and because of the different time zones, this hymn of praise will reverberate around the world in Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, Africa and wherever there is an Anglican congregation. We may not recognize the words in Chinese or Swahili, but we will share an understanding through the music about the glorious and mysterious concept of the Holy Trinity.

The text of the hymn is based on a passage from the Book of Revelation (4: 8-11).

“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Several of the images and phrases in this poetic and vividly descriptive passage of scripture are carried into the hymn text. The unusual line about saints casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea is derived from this scripture. Many of the qualities attributed to God are listed here. God is both almighty and merciful. God is perfect in power, in love and purity. God is eternal, everlasting through the ages. To be all these things, God is manifested in three persons.

The familiar words point to the glorious, yet complex, and sometimes hidden, meaning of the Trinity. God is the almighty Creator of the universe, the Father (and Mother) of all existence. God is the loving, merciful and perfect human being in Jesus, the perfect human made in the image of God. God is the powerful, unseen Spirit, which permeates existence, always here to guide and sustain God’s creation.

The author of the words was Reginald Heber, a clergyman in the Church of England in the early nineteenth century. He wrote poetry, essays and several hymn texts. The tune was composed by John Bacchus Dykes, one of the foremost church musicians of the nineteenth century in England. He wrote more than three hundred hymn tunes, many of which are still in use today. In 1861, Dykes composed the music for Heber’s hymn text specifically for Trinity Sunday. He named the tune, Nicaea, after the Council of Nicaea held in Asia Minor in the year 325, when the doctrine of the Trinity was debated and declared an essential doctrine of the Christian faith.

The concept of the three-part God is familiar to us, and yet so very difficult to explain. We can pray to the Blessed Trinity, and we can sing about the Blessed Trinity, but the Blessed Trinity is still a mystery. In our gospel passage today, Jesus tells his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Jesus knew that his disciples would not comprehend all his teaching, or the reason for his death, or the miracle of his resurrection. He knew that they would feel lost when he ascended to God. He assured them that God would not abandon them, but would send the Holy Spirit to sustain them and to encourage them to take up the mission of Jesus and to trust in God’s steadfast love. With the dramatic blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, the Trinitarian God was fully revealed.

God the Creator was already evident in everyday life, in the seasons of the earth and in the joys and sorrows of human existence. The human image of God was personified in the preacher from Nazareth, who taught that the commandments to love God and to love others were to be valued above all things. And finally the Spirit, invisible, yet as powerful as the breath of life, was sent to lead humanity into all truth, but only in God’s time. Three persons, yet one indivisible God!

There is a great deal that we do not understand about God, so it is with faith that we believe in the possibility of the Trinity, and it is with trust that we rejoice, sing hymns, and praise God, who will not abandon us, but is with us always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Pentecost C

Pentectost C 2010

Acts 2: 1-21

John 14: 8-17

St. Luke’s, Burlington

22 May 2010

By Stuart Pike

Airports are one of my favourite places. Being a traveler at heart, airports represent, all at once, a thousand different destinations. The other thing which I like to do at airports is to see and hear people who have arrived from all those destinations. Some of them are en route to other places. All their lives and mine have intersected at this one place. I am always impressed by the number of different languages which I hear. And language is another of my interests. Sometimes at a busy international airport I’ll let my eyes close and simply listen to the sounds of many languages.

Each language has its idiosyncrasies and characteristics. I’ve learned a few languages and have dabbled in a few others. At an airport I like to listen to some languages which almost sound like singing - like some of the Asian languages. I went to Spain to learn Spanish and all twenty of us Canadians were billeted with different Spanish families who couldn’t speak English. I remember some of the young women saying that their hosts always seemed to be yelling at each other, and meanwhile, they were just wishing each other good morning. It’s a loud and emotive language!

The Italians have the advantage of sounding romantic and melodious and also speaking with their hands.

Jumbo Gamberone


Zucchina alla Griglia

Zuppa del Giorno

Insalate Caprese

Penne Cana Mia

Pollo Principessa

Vitello Involtini Portabello

It sounds amazing even when you don’t know Italian and are simply reading a menu!

I love to hear the guttural and percussive languages like German and Hebrew and the consonant-rich, vowel-poor Slavic languages. In Russian there is a single letter which can only be transliterated by four of our letters called “shcha.”

At airports, you are treated to a cacophony of different languages and every single noise is transmitting meaning from one person to another.

I think I love languages so much because I have this innate need to find meaning. I want to understand people - I want to know how different cultures tick. And there are some ideas and images and emotions which simply cannot be translated - they have to be experienced within another language. I think many people share this need for meaning and understanding.

Of course, even though I appreciate the sounds and marvel at the variety of languages which there are at a place like an airport, languages can also represent a great division between people. Having been an English-speaking person living in Quebec I know just how true this can be. Wars are most often fought between speakers of different languages! I might like the many sounds of different languages, but without understanding, it is really just so much noise.

We know about this division, for even when we do speak the same language, we might as well not if we don’t understand each other. That is why, for example, a young person might complain to a friend about their own parents saying, “We just don’t speak the same language.”

It is so amazing how when divine things are happening, we are presented with surprising reversals. Our world is turned topsy-turvy. Things turn out to be opposite to what we would expect. And so it is in today’s reading from Acts. Humble, confused and scared fisherman become courageous proclaimers of the good news of Jesus to people far and wide. What is closed is now opened. And the clamour of different races and nationalities is filled with meaning and understanding!

The scene opens with the Disciples once again all congregated together behind closed doors. They’ve been doing this a lot recently. Perhaps they feel more secure in numbers and away from the crowds. Also, being together, they are giving each other support and are experiencing the solace of praying together. They are waiting for the promise which Jesus gave to them ten days earlier as he ascended away from them into heaven. Something about an advocate or comforter which Jesus would send them.

Then there is the sound of rushing wind inside this closed-up house. The description is typical of a spiritual experience - which can only be approximated by the use of language. We can’t over-analyze it. We’ll not understand exactly what happened and how. The spirit arrived in swirling wind and fire and is just as unpredictable as those two elements. And the Disciples are changed! Doors and windows are flung open and the miraculous noise brings all those foreigners together and the barriers of language dissolve.

The scene is an opposite to the story of the Tower of Babel. In that story, different languages divide people who are trying to put themselves in the place of God. Division is created and the people are scattered and isolated by their differences.

At Pentecost, all of this division and misunderstanding is undone. People are gathered together instead of scattered. And the Church is born.

This lesson poses several questions to us, the Church of today.

What are the “languages” or barriers which separate people in our community today? In which ways is our religious language, with which we are so familiar, simply not understood by the people outside our doors? How can we be enlivened and given the courage to fling open our windows and doors and attract those around us to hear the Good News of Jesus? How can we speak to our youth, or young families? How can we welcome people who are different from us? And how can we reach across the barriers of religious upbringing, economic class, ethnicity, generation gaps and simple personality differences which can divide us?

Somehow the answer to all of these questions will have to do with the Spirit which changed those disciples over 2000 years ago.

And here is another astonishing reversal: despite the rush and noise of that Pentecost experience, I think the spirit is often first felt in great silence. The 16th century mystic, St. John of the Cross wrote that “Silence is God’s first language.” The spirit can be nurtured in us in the silence and the simplicity of spiritual practices. I think that is what those disciples were practicing in those days before Pentecost, when they were waiting for Jesus’ promise.

I believe the challenge to us and to the wider Church is to find our centre once again in spiritual prayer: to learn how to pray again: to ground ourselves in divine things. And as God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my spirit.” And, being transformed by our spiritual experiences, we will once again be able to speak a language full of joy and power and Good News, which will be understood.

There is a risk to all of this. Once the Spirit starts, there is no telling exactly where you will be led. You will be directed and moved by the swirl of Wind and Fire. Will you take up the challenge of Acts and dare to be transformed? Amen.

Ascension Sunday

Sermon for Ascension Sunday 16 May 2010

Acts 1: 1-11, Luke 24: 44-53

By Sharyn Hall

There is a medieval manuscript from the twelfth century in Christ Church in Canterbury, which has beautiful illustrations of the stories about Jesus after his death. On one large sheet of manuscript paper, there are twenty-two illustrations, which depict the Biblical stories of the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to the disciples. There are pictures of the disciples discovering the empty tomb and Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus in the garden. Other illustrations include Jesus with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus eating fish on the beach with Peter and other fishermen, and Thomas seeing the wounds on the hands of Jesus.

The last two pictures are the Ascension of Jesus and the Pentecost experience of the disciples. In the picture of the Ascension, we see a group of disciples huddled together all gazing up toward heaven. Two figures in white robes stand on either side of the group; they are looking at the disciples, not up to heaven. At the top of the picture, there is a red and yellow cloud, and only the two feet of Jesus are visible hanging down from the cloud. If you did not know the story, you could conclude that the picture is very strange, but the picture illustrates the experience of the Ascension in vivid detail.

We know the story so well that we no longer wonder at the supernatural quality of the event. One moment Jesus is talking with his disciples, and the next moment he is lifted up and disappears into a cloud. There are other stories in the Bible of people ascending into heaven, for example, Elijah in his fiery chariot, but observing a person ascending into a cloudy sky was not an everyday experience.

In our story from the Book of Acts, the disciples continued to gaze up toward heaven after Jesus disappeared. I believe that we would react in the same way if we witnessed our friend suddenly levitate and disappear into a cloud. In our modern age, we have watched rockets and space shuttles blast into outer space, but we still find the ascension of Jesus difficult to comprehend.

In the Acts version of the event, the disciples seem dumbfounded, speechless and motionless. In the version in the gospel of Luke, the disciples are filled with great joy and return to the temple in Jerusalem to praise God. It is interesting to note that Luke probably wrote both versions of this event, and yet his descriptions differ in some details. The differences between the two versions of the same event remind us that Luke did not witness the Ascension of Jesus. He received his information from the recollections of the disciples. Perhaps not everyone remembered the event in the same way.

One detail in the Acts version, which is not in the gospel version, has significance for understanding the message of Jesus. That detail is the presence of two men in white robes, who are angels from God. They ask the disciples, “Why do you stand looking up to heaven?” The answer may seem obvious. The disciples are looking for Jesus. The angels assure them that Jesus is gone, but he will return. Having witnessed the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples may wonder if Jesus truly has left them this time. In several ways, Jesus had been telling them that he must leave them and return to God, but they did not understand what that would mean for them, the ones left behind. Was this the end? Would they go home now, back to their life before they met Jesus?

Jesus had other plans for them. They would receive the power and blessing of the Holy Spirit, but with that blessing would come great responsibility. They were to carry on his mission to baptize, not with water as John did, but with the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Would they be overjoyed at this news? The gospel passage says they were filled with great joy, but the Book of Acts says they were motionless. How could they do this without Jesus? What did he mean that the power of the Spirit would come upon them? So they stood gazing up to heaven until the two angels snapped them out of their motionless moment and confirmed that Jesus was gone.

Perhaps the two angels also encouraged them to believe in the promise of Jesus to send them the Spirit. We are not told in the scriptures if the angels talked with them or simply disappeared. What did the Ascension of Jesus mean for their future? We know from the scriptures that soon the disciples would have another amazing, supernatural experience when they would be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, but that is another story.

Today, over two thousand years later, we commemorate the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but we did not experience those events. Can we be convinced that we share in the mission of Jesus? It seems that some people can be convinced and others cannot. After his resurrection, Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.” When we talk with friends and neighbours about our Christian faith, it is important to remember that faith is not about logic. Faith has a mysterious quality, which defies definition. People can learn about faith, but they may come to believe in God and in Jesus only through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit would come upon them, and because of the Spirit they would be able to be witnesses to his mission beyond Jerusalem, into the hostile region of Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Christian scholars divide the age of the Christian faith into three parts: first, the time of Jesus on earth, his teaching, his death and resurrection, until his ascension to God; secondly, the in-between time, which has lasted more than two thousand years; thirdly, the time when Jesus will return to our world. We continue to live in the in-between time, a time of expectation and anticipation, but in this time of waiting we are not to be idle. Jesus made that message clear to his disciples. We, like them, are to be witnesses to his mission. There is much work to be done to bring God’s healing, justice, compassion and love into our world, but we need not work alone. May we always be guided by God’s gift of the Spirit. Amen.

Easter 6 C - Mother's Day

Easter 6 C and Mother’s Day

Acts 16: 9-15

John 14: 23-29

St. Luke’s, Burlington

9 May 2010

By Stuart Pike

Julia Ward Howe instituted Mother's Day in the United States as a peace rally event, asking mothers of her day to meet in public to protest war and violence ‑ her thinking was that mothers would be opposed to anything that threatened their children. The day has evolved considerably from Howe's vision, which really involved mothers accepting responsibility to the world because of their children, and not children honouring mothers.

The original Mothers' Day proclamation was written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870, in which she calls on all mothers to protest violence as a means of resolving conflict. She had seen the carnage of the American Civil War and the world was witnessing the violence of the Franco Prussian War. She wrote, "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

She then calls for an international congress of women "to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, and the great and general interests of peace." The original Mothers Day was a call for women to come together, and find a way to stop the culturally sanctioned destruction of the lives of their children (in this case by warfare).

Today, Mother’s day has become a day when we remember our mothers with love. It is often a time to remember the love which our mothers showed to us. It brings back memories of home life; perhaps a sense of nostalgia for a happy time of life. A mother’s love is often taken for granted.

What is the difference between a dog and a cat?

A dog looks at his owner who feeds him, protects him, and cares for him, and says to himself, "She must be a god." 
A cat looks at his owner who feeds him, protects him, and cares for him, and says to himself, "I must be a god."

Sometimes in our relationship with our mothers we adopt the attitude of the cat and take the love and care our mothers for granted. We take ourselves to be gods and mothers are simply there to serve us. On a day like this we are invited to adopt more of the dog’s attitude and be thankful and grateful for mothers’ love and care. I think the most beautiful thing that God ever created is a mother.

The love of a mother is often portrayed as a reflection of God’s love for humanity. Indeed, there are feminine images for God and for Jesus, and they are most often associated with a passionate love. In Deuteronomy. God is likened to a mother eagle who protects her young and hovers watchfully over her nest. I think we need to be able to God our creator as both Father and Mother.

In both Matthew and Luke, Jesus describes his love for the people as a mother hen who gathers her brood under her wings.

I believe that most often God’s passionate love for us is shown through the love of other people. One of the ways that God chooses to love us is through the love of our good mothers. A good mother’s love is a sacrament of God’s love.

Today it is Mother’s day, but, in the Gospel reading for today, it relates one of the last peaceful scenes which Jesus will have with his disciples. It is during the last supper and Jesus is preparing his disciples for what must soon come. I wonder if we can imagine how Jesus is feeling at this moment.

He knows that in order for him to return to the Father/Mother, he must leave his disciples whom he has guided and loved and protected. He must break this news to them gently.

You can imagine how the Disciples would have felt. Here they have followed him, their Master and their friend for all this time, and now he must leave them.

They must have felt lost, and without direction. If you read before today's gospel lesson, you see that during the supper, Jesus got up from the table and washed the disciple's feet, to show them, that although he was the master, that we all need to know how to serve one another.

Then he tells them that he will be going away (he means his death), and what follows are lots of questions from his alarmed Disciples. Peter asks him, "Lord, where are you going?" Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?" Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father. And Judas (not Judas Iscariot) asked him: "Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?"

Of course, Jesus knows the anxiety that all of the disciples are under, and so he answers the questions in a way that will help them after he is soon to be crucified.

Jesus promises them the Holy Spirit, and he promises them his peace. And then he tells them what to do, or how to be to assure them that he and the Father will be with them. He says: "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

This is how we are to be in order to have Jesus and our Father with us all of our days. We are to keep Jesus' word. This is the word which we read in the Gospels, which we have spoken of in the rest of the N.T., and which we have prophesied of in the O.T.

It is important for us all to have a good understanding of Jesus' word from the whole of the Bible ‑ that we might keep his word.

But the best way to summarize Jesus' word is to turn to Jesus' own summary of the Law, which we read at the beginning of the service: to paraphrase it is to love God with everything we are and everything we have, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

Of course, the disciples didn’t understand all that Jesus was speaking of at the time. At first, all they understood was the depth of their loss.

There are many in this congregation who have lost their mothers. They too might feel like the disciples in this passage did. And yet, Jesus promises them his peace. And the only way that they can experience this peace is through the Spirit.

The presence of Jesus and our heavenly Father/Mother is known to us in an intensely beautiful way through a spiritual relationship. In this spiritual relationship, Jesus and our God make their home with us. And this relationship will one day bring us truly home. Amen.

Easter 5 C - Come on Barbie

Sermon for 2 May 2010

Acts 11: 1-18

Revelation 21: 1-6

John 13: 31-35

By Sharyn Hall

Last week three people in this parish conspired to introduce a new parish vicar in this church. They discovered her photograph on the internet and decided that she would be an excellent way to introduce more people, particularly youngsters, to St. Luke’s. Her photograph also indicates that she already has the necessary vestments, because she is dressed in red for the season of Pentecost. You may wonder if I am concerned that I am being replaced soon by a smartly dressed vicar with blond hair, but I’m not worried because this new vicar is Barbie, the famous fashion doll, dressed in clergy collar, silver cross and red cope. So far we only have a photograph, and I’m not sure if this clerical Barbie is available.

Some people might be offended by this combination of the secular and sacred, but I am not. The Barbie doll has been in many countries for fifty years. Barbie has loyal fans of several generations who played with Barbie as girls and then passed her to their daughters and granddaughters. In order to adapt to changing times, Barbie’s clothes and accessories have changed. Barbie was joined by friends, male and female dolls from different ethnic cultures. The history of the Barbie doll can teach us a great deal about how our society has evolved in the last fifty years. The Christian church also has changed in the last fifty years, and one of those changes is the role of women as clergy, so why not have a Barbie with a clerical collar?

Adapting to the culture of the people has been one of the strengths of the Christian church’s longevity. The Christian faith has struggled for centuries to be in the world but not of the world. At different times, Christian communities have felt vulnerable to persecution, and at other times, the Christian church has dominated cultures. Questions about who is acceptable as a follower of Jesus have troubled the church from the time of the apostles until today. That issue is at the heart of our reading today from the Book of Acts. Peter is given a message in a very strange vision to accept all food as clean and acceptable to God.

“There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners…As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’”

In the Jewish culture, to eat food not designated as acceptable to God, especially reptiles and beasts of prey, was to disobey God’s law. Gentile people, who ate such unclean food, also were considered unacceptable to God, but shortly after this vision, Peter was called by God’s spirit to go to the home of three Gentiles. While he was there, the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles in the same way that the Spirit baptized the Jewish Christians. Peter said to the Christians who were with him, “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I should hinder God?” That is a very good question! In the early church, Gentiles were considered unacceptable to be Christians because they were not Jews, God’s Holy People, but it was in the Gentile world that the Christian church eventually spread far beyond Palestine into other nations and cultures.

Historians believe that several of our Christian holy days and practices were adapted to local customs. The date assigned for the birth of Jesus is around the time of the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Our clerical vestments were derived from clothes in ancient Greece and Rome. The symbol of the candle as light in the darkness of life is common in many cultures. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls coincide with very old customs honouring those who have died. These are only a few examples of the Christian church adapting customs of the local culture to remind people of God’s presence in the world.

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, we have a vision in which God will dwell among us mortals. The text says, “they will be his peoples.” This vision of God on earth is not for one people only, not for one nation or one race, and the mission of Jesus was not for one people only, but for all nations. Christ’s mission was a mission of love, a mission of inclusion, love for all God’s people.

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, ‘love one another, just as I have loved you.’ Jesus goes on to say that by this love, everyone will know that you are my disciples. In other words, everyone will be offered the way of Jesus. At that time, who was everyone? Everyone included Jews, rich and poor, powerful and powerless. Everyone also included Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, pagans and those who ate all kinds of food.

Who is everyone today? The diversity of humanity is beyond description. The multitude of races, religions and cultures seems like the proverbial grains of sand, too numerous to count. In our North American society, there are many faiths, but the largest number of people is those who say they are Christian, but do not welcome God into their daily lives. The people who rarely give a thought to God, who do not see God as relevant to the world, may respond to signs of the Spirit breaking into secular culture. They may smile at the thought of a Barbie doll dressed as a priest, and wonder why anyone would think that such a secular icon might have a spiritual dimension. In our multi-layered secular society, we need to find imaginative ways to draw people into a spiritual relationship with God and with the Good News of Jesus. With God’s help, all things are possible. Amen.

Easter 4 C - The Shepherd’s Voice

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

24 April 2010

Psalm 23

John 10: 22-30

by Stuart Pike

How many people here recognized the psalm that we read? We read it frequently at funerals because of the comforting words. Perhaps the words are so familiar to us that they have lost their meaning for us. Here is a paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm by Jim Taylor:

God has walked with me; I could ask nothing more.

God has given me green meadows to laugh in,

clear streams to think beside,

untrodden paths to explore.

When I thought the world rested on my shoulders,

God put things into perspective.

When I lashed out at an unfair world, God calmed me down.

When I drifted into harmful ways, God straightened me out.

God was with me all the way.

I do not know what lies ahead, but I am not afraid.

I know you will be with me.

Even in death, I will not despair.

You will comfort and support me.

Though my eye dims and my mind dulls,

you will continue to care about me.

Your touch will soothe the tension in my temples;

my fears will fade away.

I am content.

"In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with me."

All through life, I have found goodness in people.

When life ends, I expect to be gathered

into the ultimate goodness of God.

Jim Taylor - Paraphrase of Psalm 23

I Know We Know the Psalm, But Do We Know The Shepherd?"

The image of Christ being the Good Shepherd is one of the most recognized and loved by Christians. It was also an image which was recognizable by the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking when he used this imagery. The Scribes and the Pharisees would have been shocked by Jesus’ words, for the image of the Shepherd of Israel was used to describe God’s own image with Israel. The term was also applied to Kings of Israel of old.

It was also a good image because it was one which every Jew could picture. And even today, in the holy land, the Bedouin

people still look after their sheep in much the same way that they did in Jesus’ time. You will still see shepherds leading their flock out to the pasture during the day and guiding them at dusk to the watering hole. At the watering hole many flocks gather together to drink, but when it is time to return home for the night, the shepherds don’t worry about their flocks getting mixed up. Each shepherd has their own distinctive call and their sheep know the shepherd’s voice and will follow.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus speaks about how his sheep know his voice. Jesus says that he knows them and they follow him. That is the relationship which Psalm 23 is about. It is about knowing Jesus voice and following him.

Many voices compete for our attention these days. We live our lives in a cacophony of voices which are competing for our attention. I think it is harder and harder for people to hear the voice of Jesus calling us amidst the noise of our everyday existence.

A sheep’s ear is attuned to the master. How about us? Can we - individuals or the Christian community pick out Christ's voice in the noise that calls out for our attention?

That is one of the reasons why I have really valued my time at silent retreat, where there is no T.V., no radio and no noise but the sound of worship each day. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I think that we need to find ways to turn off the noise for some time each day, to be able to listen for Jesus’ voice - the voice of our Good Shepherd. It is only by doing this regularly that we can get acquainted with his voice, that we can know his voice. Can we hear the good news?

Some might think that this message isn’t consonant with the idea of having a Jazz mass, but I don’t think so. You see, when I speak about turning off the noise, I’m not talking primarily about sounds. I’m talking mostly about the noise inside our heads. The cacophony of voices are mostly the noise of our thoughts as we try to process the business of our lives, the details of our day and our own emotional responses. We desperately need a way to turn all of that noise off, and to simply be.

Music is one of the ways that we can be brought out of ourselves, we can let go of the noise of our thoughts and be brought to a new place. That music can be classical, or sacred or jazz.

At the Jazz mass which we had last year I mentioned a little about the story of Duke Ellington. And I’d like to mention him again today.

So many of the greats of jazz recognized God’s hand in their music. The year before he died, Duke Ellington published his autobiography and he wrote this:

"There have been times when I thought I had a glimpse of God. Sometimes, even when my eyes were closed, I saw. Then when I tried to set my eyes--closed or open--back to the same focus, I had no success, of course. The unprovable fact is that I believe I have had a glimpse of God many times. I believe because believing is believable, and no one can prove it unbelievable....”

Duke Ellington wasn’t able to fully express his experience of God in words, but I think he expressed it through his music. Later in life, during the last decade of his life he wrote music for and performed his sacred concerts, but even before that, his jazz was filled with holy creativity.

When we are brought out of ourselves and our own noisy heads, we might be ready to really hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

And, of course, the Good News - the Gospel - is concerned with where Christ will lead us. Christ will lead us home, ultimately. Even though we might have to experience the worst at times in our lives, Christ will still guide us in the right way. Even though we might be in the Valley of the shadow of death, Christ will lead us.

The Good shepherd is the image of care for us. We know that no matter how deep and dark the valley of the shadow of death is for us, Christ's voice is calling us to guide us in the way for us.

So let us let go of the noise of our thoughts and be brought by the music to a new place, where we can listen and recognize our own shepherd’s voice. Amen.