22 August 2010

Proper 21 C - Bent out of Shape

Proper 21 C – The Call to ministry

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

Luke 13: 10-17

21 August 2010

St. Luke’s Burlington

Many of you know that I recently returned from vacation and the start of my vacation was spent with 16 other St. Luke’s parishioners, plus even more other Christians (mostly Roman Catholics) from across the United States. The Americans and we almost filled a 40 passenger coach.

We were on a coach tour of the Imperial cities of Budapest, Vienna, Prague and Innsbruck with the tour culminating with the real purpose of the trip, which was to see the Passion Play in the small village of Oberammergau in southern Germany.

The week before the play we had a very busy schedule visiting the sights of the Imperial Cities and getting to know each other better. I really enjoyed being with the other St. Lukans in a different way as well as getting to know a colourful spectrum of Americans with a wide variety of accents.

Perhaps the most flamboyant of the Americans was one of the ladies from New Jersey called Barbara. She had a big, loud voice to match her gregarious personality. She loved to have fun and to make sure that everyone else was having fun as well. And she was a devout Roman Catholic who helped plan and carry out a very moving ceremony of anointing with myrrh on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The main thing which all the people on the tour had in common was our faith.

The Passion Play enacts the story of Jesus’ last days, his crucifixion and death and finally his resurrection. The play runs from mid-May to early October five days per week. Each performance lasts for five hours. The whole village gets involved in the play. About 2400 from a population of 5000 are given parts in the play and even those who don’t act in the play are involved in hospitality, feeding the huge quantity of tourists and housing us in the comfortable small hotels in Oberammergau and the surrounding villages. The actors range in age from a few weeks to people in their 90s. For over a year none of the men cut their hair or shave their beards, so that they will look the part.

Some of them who have main parts in the play have to give up or curtail their ordinary day jobs for the five months that the play runs, such as Andreas Richter, who was the actor who played Jesus when we saw the play. Others who have minor parts continue to work in their regular jobs.

What an incredible gift which the people of Oberammergau give to the world in providing this deeply moving Passion Play. These people are really living their faith, and telling the amazing story of our God who loves us so much that he became one of us and then, even further, died for us. When I think about what these villagers do it makes me ask what can we do for our faith? What is God calling you to do?

In today’s Old Testament lesson we have the story of God calling Jeremiah to be his prophet and to call Israel back into faithfulness. But Jeremiah, true to the tradition of most prophets, protests that he can’t be God’s prophet. He says he is too young. But God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” It seems that God has a purpose for Jeremiah, and Jeremiah isn’t very old before he begins to understand his purpose.

I believe that God has a purpose for each and every one of us, and our task in this life is to come to understand what this purpose is, and to life faithfully into it. We’re here for a reason which is beyond simply our own personal needs and desires.

One of the things which we celebrate at a baptism is that we are all baptized into a royal priesthood. This doesn’t mean just the priests, but every baptized person is part of this priesthood. Each one of us has a purpose.

In the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus Christ, we have a few stories of Jesus’ birth, with the angels and the shepherds and all, and the coming of the wise men from afar. And then we only have one other story of Jesus as a young boy, when his parents lose him at the temple, and then that’s it, the next time we hear of Jesus in the Gospels is when he is a man of 30 and he goes to John in the Jordan river and asks to be baptized.

All of the rest of the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ ministry for the three years until his death and resurrection. So the story of Jesus’ ministry really starts after his baptism. Just like us, baptism marks the beginning of ministry.

So how are we to find out what our ministry is about? What we are called to do? Well, following the example which Jesus gives us is a good place to start.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus reaches out to a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. She is all bent out of shape and hasn’t been able to stand up straight for all those years. The most amazing thing happens when Jesus touches her and heals her – she stands up straight.

And then another amazing thing happens: the leader of the synagogue, instead of being pleased for this woman is indignant because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath! Jesus does this incredible miracle and the leader of the synagogue is upset because it doesn’t fit into his orderly worship service.

Perhaps as the baptized we can think of those who are bent out of shape, and how they need to be freed to stand up straight. For the most part, I’m not talking about a physical deformity here (though it might mean that.)

What about people whose lives are bent out of shape because of stress in their lives? What about those who desperately need to find balance in their lives? Those who haven’t had the time to find a place for God in their lives? Those are some people who we might reach out to as we follow Jesus’ example.

And today, as we baptize these young children into the Christian family, we might ask, but how can they have a ministry – they are so young? A huge part of the ministry of their parents and Godparents is to help these children listen for the voice of God calling them, so they can discover how they can live into their baptismal ministry.

When we finally left the passion play late at night we jumped on a bus with the words, Werner Richter Omnibus painted on the side, to take us back to our hotel. The older man who drove the bus had long grey hair and a grey beard, and looked a bit like a hippie, but he had actually acted in the play that night in a small part. But he passed out a colour photo of his family including his two adult sons his daughter-in-law and his infant grandchild, all of whom, including the infant, had parts in the passion play. As the photo went around the bus there was a moment of recognition. The married son with the wife and child in the play was the actor who played Jesus that night and our bus driver was none other than his father.

Barbara’s joyous Jersey voice loudly rang out as she called to her friend, “Would you get a load of this: God is driving our bus!”

All of us have a part to play in God’s world, no matter how young or old. It might not be a part in a passion play, but may we each have the grace to listen for God’s voice calling us so that we may find our deepest meaning in fulfilling God’s purpose. Amen.

21 August 2010

Proper 19 C -Holy Treasures

8 August 2010
Holy Treasures

By Anne Crawford

Luke 12:32-40

We all know someone who is a hoarder. Many of us live with one. It could be ourselves. We probably all know a compulsive shopper and I am sure that many of us have gone shopping on days when things felt blah. Shopping can be a good distraction at those times.

Sometimes this behavior is caused by an underlying mental health problem but for most of us it is simply part of our consumer culture. We are bombarded with advertising that persuades us we need the latest, whether it is a car, a gadget or a new outfit.

Hoarding is possibly okay if you don’t buy more. And we all know that as soon as something gets thrown out, we need it the very next day!

I know a couple who are considering buying the adjoining townhouse to where they live and knocking a wall down in order to create a butler’s pantry for their many dishes and accompanying table settings. George Carlin seems to be speaking directly to them.

Here’s what he says about stuff:

That’s all your house is-a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it, and when you leave your house, you’ve got to lock it up. You wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. That’s what your house is- a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. Sometimes you’ve got to move-got to get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.

Here’s what Jesus has to say:

Sell your stuff and give the money to those less fortunate.

Before we go any further let’s look for the deeper meaning in Jesus’ words.

“Sell your possessions and give alms”.

He doesn’t say “sell ALL your possessions” nor does he suggest giving everything away to the poor. That would be most unproductive. We would end up with more and more poor people and less rich people to help them.

Jesus is saying something different but you have to look more carefully at the text to discover the deeper meaning.

And to discover what He means we need to look at the preceding sentence:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”.

What does it mean – ‘the kingdom’?

We may think of the kingdom of God as somewhere otherworldly that our souls go to when we die. If we’ve been good we get there and if not - ….!


Many modern Christians think of the kingdom of God as being here and now rather than some distant land of harps and angels.

We get a clue later in Luke’s Gospel when the Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God will come.

Here is Jesus’ reply to their question -

I quote from The Message

“The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you”.

The King James Bible reads

“God’s kingdom is already within you”.

The Greek preposition entos can be translated as either among or within. The early Church translation is within and the more modern translation is among. The early church Fathers knew more about the reality of the inner world whereas the extraverted thinking of more modern times finds it hard to imagine anything worthwhile as being within us

Episcopalian priest and author, John Sanford succinctly joins the two for us and I quote

“There is a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is both within ourselves and outside ourselves and among us and other people”.

Now we have a new slant on what ‘the kingdom’ is that God is so pleased to give us.

Jesus goes on to say

“Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven where no thief comes near and no moth destroys”.

First we are given the kingdom and now we are being advised on what treasures are needed. Not things that will wear out or which can be stolen.

Saint Francis of Assisi gave up life as a rich merchant’s son and he has this to say about treasure

“Holy poverty is a divine treasure allowing us to let go of earthly things and thereby be free to join ourselves to God”.

Letting go of earthly things doesn’t mean we have to become another Saint Francis or another Mother Teresa.

What it does mean is that God can’t bless us with real treasures if we are overly concerned with our material possessions or our outward image.

Letting go of these things is the beginning of greater joy as we allow ourselves to remember that we are God’s Beloved.


So how do we get to do all this and become the joyful loving real person that God intends us to be?

I believe that the kingdom within us represents our inner being, our very core and our deepest self, the self which is hidden most of the time from the rest of the world. This is the self who longs to know who we truly are and what we truly wish for. We need our healthy egos for survival in the outer world but in the world of heavenly treasures we hunger for something more and God is offering that to us at every moment of our lives.

God is not asking us to give up the pleasures and the joys of living. He loves a joyful heart. He is asking us to be ready on those everyday occasions when He engages with us in the ordinary times of our lives. Are we ready?

Are we ready if we are distracted by our possessions or the care of them or the shopping for more of them? Are we ready if we are worrying about what people think of us or in creating the best impression? Are we ready if we are so busy judging others or trying to organize their lives?

Being prepared means being willing to let go of the things that distract us and to make time to stop and be thankful for whatever life has given us – the joys and the challenges.

It means being willing to take the time to focus on God. It means being willing to look at life in a different way.

Rabbi Harold Kushner writes:

“Religion is a way of seeing. It can’t change the facts about the world we live in but it can change the way we see those facts, and that in itself can often make a difference”.

So what can we do to bring about this change in ourselves?

In silence we can let go of trying to be something or someone. We can let God surprise us with the wonder of who we already are. Then we can look around and sense the wonder of the holy communion of people, animals, plants and stars to which we are inter-connected.

We can imagine God’s love touching our heart and unbinding us from whatever it is we need to be unbound from.

We can ask ourselves what it is we would do if we had the courage and what it is that our hearts really crave.

We can say with a true heart and with one voice:

Glory to God whose power, working within us

can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.


Proper 20 C - Mary the Virgin

Sermon for 15 August 2010

St. Mary the Virgin

Luke 1: 46-55

by Sharyn Hall

For most of us, the iconic image of the Virgin Mary is the image of her holding the infant Jesus. That image, often called the Madonna and Child, has been the inspiration for innumerable paintings, drawings and sculpture by famous and not-so-famous artists. For many people, the Madonna and Child is the Christmas card idealization of Mary as the Mother of Jesus. Perhaps some of us also see Mary at the end of Jesus’ life, standing at the foot of the cross with other women and with John, the beloved disciple, who took Mary into his home. A poignant image of Mary is captured in the famous sculpture by Michelangelo called La Pieta. That sculpture, which is in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, depicts Mary as the grieving mother holding the body of Jesus after he has been lifted down from the cross.

Mary is the image of motherhood with its joys and sorrows. Her motherhood began with anticipation and anxiety, hardship on her journey to Bethlehem and danger in her flight to Egypt. Her role as mother of Jesus ended with fear and heartbreak. Mary pondered in her heart events in the life of her son, which reminded her that he was not only her flesh and blood, he also was the divine Son of God. In a few gospel references, Mary is pictured as bewildered and worried about Jesus. The gospels give us these pictures of Mary and very little other information. Outside of the gospels, Mary is hardly mentioned in the rest of the New Testament scriptures.

The scarcity of information about Mary before the birth of Jesus and after his death led to the development of fictional stories about her in the early church. Initially, Mary was not held in greater esteem that the apostles, but by the second century, increasing interest in the importance of the birth of Jesus as proof of his divinity encouraged speculation about Mary. One particular document at the end of the second century is the source of stories about Mary’s parents, her birth, her purity and dedication to God as a child, her perpetual virginity and her ascent to heaven at the time of her death. This document has no basis in fact and was banned by the early Church Fathers in the western church, but it appealed to the imagination of the people and became popular in the eastern church.

Not surprisingly, controversies about the role of Mary continued for centuries. By the Middle Ages, the western church in Rome had adopted all the feast days around Mary’s birth, life and death, but the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century rejected all non-Biblical references to Mary. As usual, the Church of England chose a middle way. In the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, our church calendar restores memorial days for the Conception and Nativity of Mary, and those dates are retained in our Canadian Book of Common Prayer and Book of Alternative Services.

The stories about Mary, which are not in the scriptures, are not accepted as dogma in the Anglican Church, but people are not denied the right to believe them. Perhaps the most significant difference between our Anglican veneration of Mary and her veneration in the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches is that we do not see Mary as an intercessor for us with God. We see Jesus as the only advocate we have with God, and there is no impediment for us to pray to God directly. Anglican teaching emphasizes the honour of Mary in bearing and nurturing God’s Son, and in her faithful devotion to the will of God for her child.

Mary’s unique importance is that she personifies the coming together of humanity and God’s divine power. By willingly bearing the child of God, she embodied the amazing potential of God and humanity creating together, acting together to bring into the world God’s original will for creation. Although Mary embodies this potential, she is not a symbol of blessing for herself alone. In her song of praise called the Magnificat, Mary recognizes that her role is part of a long history of salvation for her people, both of the past and of the future yet to come.

God had saved her people for generations. The Hebrew people were conquered repeatedly by foreign armies and ruthless kings, but God always cared for the poor and oppressed, overthrowing the proud and raising up the humble, taking away from the rich to provide good things for the hungry. Mary sees her role to be the mother of God’s Messiah as the instrument of God to bring salvation to her people in their oppressed state. She sees herself as a servant of God’s will and mercy, not for her own benefit, but for the benefit of others. In this way, she is the model of true discipleship. She receives the message of God, and despite her awe and anxiety, she accepts God’s role for her, not reluctantly, but with a song of praise for God’s enduring faithfulness to her people, to Abraham and his descendents for ever.

We are descendents of Abraham. Sometimes we Christians forget that we, along with Jews and Muslims, are descendents of Abraham. Although Jews and Muslins do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, they do honour him as a great teacher and prophet. For Jews, Mary was the blessed mother of a prophet. In the Islamic tradition, Mary is considered one of the most righteous women, and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an. Although Mary is honoured in various ways by different faiths and by different branches of Christianity, she is a unifying symbol of God’s desire to interact directly into our world.

God chose Mary. We can be sure that God knew Mary’s heart and her suitability for the role chosen for her, but Mary had a choice. Would Mary be willing to endure the condemnation of her pregnancy out of wedlock, the dishonour for her family, the hardship of her poverty and the sorrow of Christ’s crucifixion? We also can be sure that God never abandoned Mary. God guided and comforted her as she cared for Jesus and then watched him embark on a dangerous mission. Despite her fears, Mary remained faithful to the will of God, and for her faithfulness, she has been called blessed by generations for centuries.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Proper 18 C - If I had $1000000

Sermon for 1 August 2010

Luke 12:13-21

By Sharyn Hall

The other day I was singing along with a popular song on my car radio, when I realized that the song is very appropriate to today’s gospel story. You may know the song; it’s called, ‘If I had a million dollars.’ The song was created several years ago by a musical group with the provocative name ‘The Bare Naked Ladies.’ The group has no ladies, only five young men with a gift for quirky lyrics and unusual musical sounds; however, their songs often have a message. ‘If I had a million dollars’ is a satirical poke at our materialistic society. The song is the age-old story of a young man trying to impress a young woman by describing all the things he would buy for her if he had a million dollars. He would buy her a ‘reliable K-car’, some art (maybe a Picasso), lots of Kraft dinner with expensive ketchup, and a fur coat, ‘but not a real fur coat; that’s cruel’. The song ends with the words, ‘If I had a million dollars, I’d be rich’.

In our gospel today, Jesus tells the story of a rich man who becomes a great deal richer because of an unexpected abundant crop of grain. Wealth in the Biblical world was not measured by money, but by possessions, and those possessions were usually associated with the land. A wealthy person owned land to produce crops and land to graze livestock, herds of sheep, goats and cattle. A wealthy person had a huge household of servants and slaves to harvest the crops, tend the livestock, and take care of domestic chores.

The attitude toward rich people in the Bible is ambivalent. Wealth and possessions are seen as blessings from God. All things belong to God, so if a person has good fortune to have bountiful crops and plentiful herds, the person has been rewarded by God for his faithfulness. Conversely, if the crops fail and the herds die, he must have angered God and is being punished.

We see this way of reasoning in the story of Job. Job’s so-called friends claim that the calamities in his life must be punishments by God for his sins, but Job protests that that is not true. He has been faithful to God, and he does not understand why God has taken everything away from him. In the end, God restores Job’s fortunes as reward for Job’s faithfulness. In the story of Job, wealth is understood as a sign of God’s favour, but in several of the psalms, rich people are criticized as wicked and poor people are portrayed as righteous.

This ambivalence toward wealth in the Hebrew Scriptures is also found in the New Testament. Jesus condemns wealthy people when he declared that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, but he also says that if you seek first the kingdom of God, God will provide all your material needs. In today’s gospel story, Jesus describes the rich man as a fool because he believes that his abundance can provide security for his future. He believes that his soul will be content for many years. Material riches can compete with God for the heart and soul of any person, no matter how religious they appear to be. The rich man has made wealth the idol of his existence with the power to give life meaning. As Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’

Jesus grew up in a society in which there were few rich people and many poor people. The general view of people who were not rich was that wealthy people were greedy and hard-hearted. They amassed wealth by oppression through unfair wages and dishonest taxes. It was understood that a disproportionate amount of fortune for a few people was gained at the expense of many others. People could only become rich if they made a great many other people poor. Therefore, those who were fortunate to have wealth had the responsibility to share their good fortune with the poor and others in the community.

In our gospel story, we can see that the rich man made two mistakes. First, he believed that his wealth could secure his future. He trusted in himself and his possessions to assure him a good life for a long time. Secondly, he had no thought of thanking God for his good fortune. Perhaps if he had been grateful, he would have realized that he had an obligation to share his abundant crop with his labourers and the poor people of the village. Instead, he decided to build bigger barns so that he could keep all the crops for himself. He did not honour God’s commandment to love his neighbour.

In our society, it may be difficult to hear this gospel story and not wonder why the rich man was a fool. Some people might argue that he was being prudent. He had a windfall of a bonus crop and he was putting it away for a rainy day. We might say that he was building up his investments for a comfortable retirement. It is a good policy to be prudent, but being prudent need not overrule God’s commandment for compassion and generosity toward those less fortunate.

The refrain of the popular song says, ‘If I had a million dollars, I’d buy you love.’ Love is not for sale and cannot be bought, but love can be given away. If you had a million dollars, what would you do? If you ever have a million dollars, remember the rich man who decided to build bigger barns and forgot that God’s blessings are to be shared. Thanks be to God.

Proper 17 C -Feast of St. James

Proper 17

Sermon for July 25, 2010

Matthew 20:20-28

Feast of St. James

Today we honour Saint James the Apostle, usually described in the Gospels as “the brother of John”, but also known as James the greater in order to distinguish him from other New Testament figures of the same name. He was a Galilean fisherman and with his brother John, he left his home and his trade in obedience to the call of Jesus. With Peter and John, he belonged to an especially privileged group of disciples whom Jesus chose to be witnesses of the Transfiguration, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

But, we also know that James’ willingness to act was not always seen as a good thing. Jesus gave James and John the nickname “Boanerges”, which translated into “Sons of the Thunder.” While James and John were always ready to act, sometimes their plans weren’t always thought all the way through.

In Luke’s gospel, James asks for Jesus’ permission to call down a rain of fire on a Samaritan village, after they had refused to receive Jesus and his disciples. We don’t get to hear what Jesus’ response was, but I suppose we would like to think that He turned quietly and calmly to him and patiently explained why he wouldn’t do that. However it is easy to create a picture in our head of Jesus looking at James with a dumbfounded look on his face that seems to say, “Have you not been listening to a word that I’ve been saying all this time? Of course I’m not going to rain down fire on these people. Whatever were you thinking?” And this seems to be another theme with James. He doesn’t always seem to grasp what he is being told.

James and John, once expressed a willingness to share the cup of Christ’s sufferings, and in the case of James, this was realized very soon after the Resurrection. According to the Book of
Acts, King Herod began a persecution of the Church and had James beheaded .

There are many legends centred around James, as is often the case of a saint. Some of these legends have James going to Spain to preach the good news of Jesus Christ there. Some biblical scholars believe there might have been some truth to this legend, citing Paul’s reluctance to go somewhere where a church had already been established.

One legend states that James came back to Jerusalem after being in Spain. He was arrested after an accuser had turned him in for being a Christian. Being an Apostle he did not recount his faith, but rather started preaching faith in Jesus Christ right then and there. He was ordered to be killed by beheading and his guards and accuser marched him to the place where he was to die. On his way there, the accuser heard something that touched his heart and James converted him. As James knelt waiting for the death blow, his accuser knelt beside him, confessed that he too now believed that Jesus was the Son of God and kissed him on the cheek. The guard then killed both of them.

Another legend claims that the body of James was miraculously lifted by angels across the Mediterranean in a stone coffin, and came to rest in Compostela in Spain. It is believed that a large crevice opened in and the angels gently laid his coffin to rest.

We like James are called to serve our God. We are called to preach the good news both in word and in action, something that James can serve as a great example for us to follow. James attained greatness because he served and as we read in the gospel:

“Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.”

Greatness is meant for all God’s children. As we allow God to work in and through us we will experience the greatness of God flowing through us, just as it did with James. Encountering God in a daily practice will help us to discover God’s greatness. Jesus is inviting us into his great kingdom. With that invitation may we be ever mindful that we are called to serve. And so as we go forth this day, may we remember the example of James and remember that it is us who are called to do the work of Christ in the world, now and always.


Proper 16 C - Martha and Mary

Sermon for 18 July 2010

Luke 10: 38-42

By Sharyn Hall

Our gospel story today is a dramatic scene with three characters – Jesus and two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha is busy preparing the meal and Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his words. It is a familiar Bible story, but how do we picture this scene? I was surprised to discover that many great artists of the past and present have painted their interpretation of this brief Bible story. Usually the artists set the scene in domestic surroundings. In some cases, the setting reflects the artist’s idea of a simple home in ancient Palestine; however, in other paintings, the home reflects the time contemporary to the artist, whether that is the Middle Ages or the 21st century. These visual images of this familiar Bible story remind us that the messages of the story are universal and timeless. In only five verses of scripture, we can learn a great deal, but it depends on how we see the scene.

Some people see Martha as the typical woman of biblical times, confined to the home, responsible for all domestic chores and having no part in intellectual discussions. Other people see Martha as the symbol of our modern age, reflective of our western work ethic, constantly striving to get the job done and distracted by many things. Martha is a complex character. She has the traditional view of authority as the male person in the room. Instead of asking Mary to help her, she asks Jesus to order Mary to help her, but the manner in which she asks Jesus is not respectful of him. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” Martha is accusing Jesus of being uncaring. Perhaps with strained patience, Jesus chastises her, not because she is rude to him, but because she is critical of Mary. Martha may know her role as a woman, but she is not afraid to speak up to a man, even if he is a holy rabbi.

Mary also is a complex character. She seems to be a gentle, obedient younger sister, who normally would be helping with the meal preparations, but when Jesus arrives, she chooses to step out of that role to sit with the men of the house and listen to Jesus. She is out of place. Someone in the room might accuse her of behaving badly. Jesus has a different view. He turns the culturally acceptable roles upside down. He praises Mary for recognizing the importance of listening to his message, of seeking to understand the will of God for her life and for the future of her people. Jesus says that Mary has the better part. The words of Jesus would surprise Martha and any other guests in their home.

The words of Jesus still surprise people today. Many of us, women and men, share the belief that the more we do, the more respect and admiration we deserve. People who spend their time pondering the meaning of life are called ‘dreamers’, or simply lazy. However, in the last few years, there has been a growing interest in seeking quiet times for contemplation and philosophical discussion. People are attending retreats to step away from the busyness of everyday life to seek spiritual renewal. This interest in spiritual growth does not reflect an increase in the practice of organized religion. Many people see organized religion as an impediment to a spiritual life, perhaps because organized religion is too organized. Perhaps religious people have become distracted by too many things, doing what is proper according to custom, and forgetting to spend time listening for the wisdom of God.

The story of Mary and Martha reminds us all that taking time to listen for God’s guidance is not only essential, it is the better part of being a disciple. If we do not slow down to spend time with God, we may crowd God out of our lives. Jesus said that the foremost commandment was to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength. Like Mary, we can choose first to seek the will of God, but the second commandment calls us to put our love for God into action. Loving others involves doing for others, caring for others in our homes, in our communities and in our world.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus does not show us that Mary’s role is the only good role, or that Martha’s role is totally bad. Jesus shows us how to be disciples by being both listeners and doers. Martha’s mistake was that she placed her social role above everything else. Mary had the better part because she was searching for God in the words of Jesus. We might say that the very best part would have been for both Mary and Martha to listen to the wisdom of Jesus and then to act for the care of others. A disciple is both a listener and a doer. Perhaps the words of Jesus caused Martha to pause a little while, and later Mary got up to clear the dishes.

This story is about two women, but I hope that men also are paying attention. Men also can see themselves only as ‘doers’ and can feel uncomfortable sitting quietly. Dare I say that men, more than women, fall asleep during sermons? We all have the same challenge to listen for the still, small voice of God in the whirlwind of our daily lives. The story of Mary and Martha can help us with that challenge. Picture Jesus sitting in YOUR kitchen. Would you offer him a cup of tea and sit down to listen to him, or would you be distracted by many things? When you feel overwhelmed because there is always more to do, remember the story of Mary and Martha, pause, and listen for the wisdom of God. Amen.

Proper 15 c - The Good Samaritan

Sunday, 11 July 2010

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

We have heard the story of the Good Samaritan so many times. We know it almost by heart. It is one of the first Bible stories that we hear in Sunday School. The words, "Good Samaritan" are so well known within our culture that it has even found a place in the secular legal world, our Country having passed a "Good Samaritan Law" protecting those who try to help from being prosecuted when something goes wrong.

For many, the story is a nice warm favourite, yet it has very little to teach because it is too familiar. Yet perhaps what we really need to do is to look at it all the closer to find the truths of Jesus in the parable.

We forget that the image of the Samaritan had a completely different impact on the people of Jesus' time than it does on us. To the Jews to whom Jesus was speaking, the words, "Good" and "Samaritan" didn't belong in the same sentence. To those whom he was speaking, Jesus would just have to say the word Samaritan, and people would dredge up visions of a social outcast. This would be like the enemy.

Today, the Samaritan would be like the motorcycle‑gang member brought home by your daughter. This was at least the strength of Jesus' parable.

It is just earlier in the previous chapter of Luke's Gospel where Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem, and the Samaritan town would not receive him or provide a place for him and his disciples to spend the night.

The parable is told by Jesus in answer to the questioning of a lawyer who wanted to test him. The lawyer first asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Really then, the Lawyer was interested in his own welfare, and not the needs of others. The story of the Good Samaritan turns the theme around not towards working out ones own salvation, but to being concerned for the needs of others.

The lawyer answers Jesus correctly about what one must do to inherit eternal life. He answers the same way that Jesus summarizes the law: To love God with everything we have and everything we are, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.

But then the lawyer asks Jesus who his neighbour was. The man wasn't interested in finding out the true meaning of the summary of the law. Rather, he wanted to know the limits of what he had to do. He wanted to know how little he needed to do in order to get to heaven. Who did he have to include, and who could he exclude in loving as he loved himself. Well, you just know that Jesus wouldn't take this kind of questioning, without radically challenging this man's way of thinking.

Notice, instead of answering the question of who the neighbour was, Jesus told him the story of the Samaritan and the man who was robbed and beaten.

Instead of answering who our neighbour is, Jesus tells us how we should be a neighbour. How we should love others as ourselves.

I suppose that we are mature enough in our faith that we don't need to ask who our neighbour is. We know that God created all human beings, and we know that Jesus came down to earth and died to cover the sins of the whole world. Our neighbour is everybody, from our next‑door neighbour to the person we haven't met across the world. These are all who Jesus means as our neighbour.

I wonder if the question which we can ask ourselves about this parable is: who are we in the story? There are several characters in the parable. There is the victim, first on the scene. He is beaten up by robbers, he has all of his money stolen, and then he is left for dead. There are the robbers of course, but none of us would want to identify ourselves with them. There is the Priest and the Levite. They walk by on the other side because it would inconvenience them. They would be defiled if they touched a dead man, and perhaps, they thought he was already dead, and they would not be able to perform their religious duties. There was the Good Samaritan who helped the victim. And there was also the innkeeper who was paid to look after the victim.

The moral we always seem to get from the story is that we had better be the Good Samaritan. Yet it seems so often that we are one of the other characters in the story.

How many times does it happen to us that there is someone in need, yet we are too busy to be able to help ‑ we have our jobs to do, and there isn't time to get involved? How many times do we pass by a hitchhiker? How many times, if we are visiting in a big city do we pass by a beggar in the street downtown? How many times do we avoid a situation we see developing where we might be asked for help?

Yes there are times when we are the Priest or the Levite.

There are times when we are the other characters as well.

I remember when I had the opportunity, as a theology student, to go to Uruguay in the Southern Hemisphere for four months to have an experience of living and working in the developing world. Part of my desire to go was to find out how I could make a tangible difference with my life in relationship with people in need. Basically, I want to go to be a Good Samaritan.

It was a lofty goal, and of course in our youthful enthusiasm most of my fellow Theology students and I wanted and expected to change the world!

It wasn’t long after I got there that I found out that the Southern Hemisphere has some really nasty flu bugs for which we gringos have no immunity. I was as sick as a dog for over a week. My hosts cared so well for me. Taking me to the doctor, brewing special medicinal teas and looking after me. I imagine the care which I received was much like that given to the one who fell among thieves.

And perhaps you can understand how important the story of the Good Samaritan is to me from the point of view of the one who was helped by the Good Samaritan. It is in being the one in need, and being the one helped that we perhaps learn the most about how Jesus wants us to be neighbours to others. It is in the role of the one in need, that this parable isn't just something with a moral. In living through the parable as the one in need ‑ one is transformed by the parable.

Well, I still find that I play all of the parts in this parable. There are times when I actually get to be the Good Samaritan. There are plenty of times, being a Priest, I've felt more like the Priest or the Levite in the parable. And perhaps having been the one helped in the past you can understand how hard it is on me to play the role of the one who passed by at times.

Yet, I can tell you that having been the one who was helped when I thought I would be the Good Samaritan, this parable of the Good Samaritan is not just a good old Bible story that has nothing new to teach me.

Certainly, as Jesus points out to his disciples, what ever we do for the least of his brothers and sister, we do to him. And part of our baptismal covenant which we will say together is the promise that we will seek and service Christ in all people, loving our neighbour as ourselves.

During this week think about the times when you have played the different characters in this parable in your own life. And perhaps, in contemplating what you have experienced in this way, you can see more clearly how it is that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. Amen.

Proper 14 C - The Seventy Disciples

St. Luke’s, Burlington

Galatians 6: 7-16

Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20

4 July 2010

By Stuart Pike

The readings for today, particularly the Epistle and Gospel, seemed a little oppressive to me at this stage in the game. We have a Gospel lesson which tells us that the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. And it goes on to tell of Jesus sending out the Seventy disciples to go out two by two to the towns around and cure the sick and preach of the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul writes to the Galatians that you reap what you sow, and he write for them not to grow weary of doing what is right. And he says: "whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith

It seems like the message of the Church and the message that we priests seem to preach about so often is that we need to do more work for our faith, that we are not doing enough Christian work. Sometimes I wonder if the people of the Church think that we are just a bunch of slave‑drivers.

And then, we Priests too sometimes find that the work is never finished. No matter how much work we put into the week, there is always more that could be done, and often we push ourselves too hard to do more and more ‑ egged on by St. Paul to not grow weary in doing what is right.

We live in a society which preaches at us to be workaholics. Of course the motivations are different. The reason why we are to work for the kingdom is not for material things ‑ nor for power. Jesus tells his seventy disciples not to glory in the power that has been given them, but to rejoice that their names have been written in the book of life. St. Paul tells us that we will reap what we sow, at the harvest time. It is in the hereafter that we will receive our reward.

Our secular society at least offers us material gain for hard work. We are preached at by the media to work harder so we can buy more, so we can be more efficient to earn more in order to buy even more so we can manage all that we have and work harder to maintain it all.

I'm getting exhausted just listening to myself preach this sermon!

So, our society preaches to work hard for material gain, and St. Paul and the Church, (including myself at times, I'm afraid to admit) preach to work hard for spiritual gain and for the love of Christ. And all the time more and more people are having heart attacks and strokes and nervous breakdowns and other stress‑related illnesses. And I begin to wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind for his faithful disciples.

Does being a good disciple of Jesus mean that we must work ourselves to death thereby buying the farm and thus reaping the harvest of what we have sown?

I think not. Somehow, I think there must be another way. And even though I, myself fall right into the trap of over‑working to always try to get the task done, I still think that there must be a better way to spread the Good News of life without working ourselves to death. I think there is a better way to spread the Peace of Christ without doing violence to our physical and emotional selves.

But then, I look back to the Gospel and the Epistle, and I find some of it that strikes me in a different way. Jesus does send out the seventy but he tells them to bring their peace to which ever house they enter. They are to eat and drink with them ‑ anything that they provide. If they're received in the town then they are to cure the sick, and to say that the Kingdom of God has come near.

This picture of what the seventy are commissioned to do sounds far more peaceful and restful than the way we seem to be operating in this modern western society of ours. Certainly more restful than the way we seem to be operating in the Church.

The seventy got rid of all their material things, and in this way they were sacrificing, but they relied on the goodwill of those who they found. It sounds more like a peaceful fellowship to me. It wasn't so much all of the things that they got done that seems to be important. Their way of being seems to be the important thing. It is out of the peaceful way of being that they did what they did. They still did work for the kingdom, but it wasn't racing to get the task done as we tend to work ‑ it was more responding as they could out of the character that they had.

And also, Jesus tells them that if a town doesn't receive them, they are just to shake the dust off their sandals, and move on to the next town. How many times do we Christians agonize over the inability to win someone over for Christ? How many times do we take a problem to our heart, when really, if we have tried, and there is no response, it needn't be our responsibility.

Jesus tells them to let it go. Don't worry about what hasn't sprouted and grown fruit. Just go on planting more seed.

And I look at the reading from Paul's letter too, and I see that he does ask us to work for the good of all. But he says: whenever we have the opportunity.

It sounds to me that if we concentrate more on our way of being ‑ that is being Christians, then we won't have to worry so much about doing Christian things. If we are Christians in our being, then God will present us with the opportunities, in our work and in our play and in our lives. We can worry less about getting all of these tasks done, and all that we failed to do, and we can be more peaceably concerned with just being who we are ‑ Christians ‑ wherever we find ourselves. Amen.

General Synod 2010

Sermon for 27 June 2010

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14

By Sharyn Hall

What a marvelous story about the prophet Elijah carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot! It is a story worthy of all the technological wizardry of Hollywood movies, but I wonder if our experience of supernatural special effects in movies would make us immune to the supernatural qualities of the Elijah story. How would we view the scene of fifty prophets standing in a desert watching a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire sweep up Elijah and carry him out of sight to heaven. Surely, we would believe that this was an act of God. Even in this 21st century, we would find this event startling and difficult to explain in any rational way.

I believe that the discoveries of science are gifts from God given to us through the talents and hard work of gifted people, but sometimes there are phenomena, which defy scientific explanation. The ascent of Elijah would be a spectacular example. If we were experience such an event, we might be jolted out of our arrogant assumption that we human beings have everything under control.

In recent years, the earth has been jolted by earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and hurricanes. What do these earthly disasters tell us? For many people, they are warnings of the instability of the earth through climate change. Other people see dire predictions of the apocalypse when the earth will be destroyed. Often these apocalyptic predictions are based on religious writings, particularly from the Bible. Events, which are beyond human power to control or explain, can make people feel fearful and powerless.

In our story of Elijah and his disciple Elisha, Elijah has great spiritual power because he is dedicated to God’s will. Elisha seems fearful and powerless to prevent Elijah from leaving him. He insists on following Elijah wherever he goes. Elisha earnestly desires to have the same spiritual power that Elijah has. He asks Elijah that he may “inherit a double share of your spirit.” Elijah responds, “You have asked a hard thing, yet if you see me as I am taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” In other words, if God decides that you are worthy of this spiritual gift, you will receive it.

We learn in the story that Elijah’s power was transferred to Elisha through his mantle. Elisha becomes the heir of Elijah by taking up Elijah’s mantle, which gives him awesome power as God’s prophet, but also caries with it great responsibility. Perhaps from this story comes our colloquial phrase, “to inherit the mantle of a leader.” The role of God’s prophet was a dangerous job. If you read the books of Kings in the Old Testament, you will read descriptions of wars, violent revenge, treachery, invasions, blockades and other events of constant strife.

The names of the places in turmoil are familiar: Jerusalem, Jordan, Syria, Damascus, Sidon, Hebron and Samaria. The land of the Bible is the land of the Middle East today, and for thousands of years peace in that land has been fragile and fleeting. It was dangerous to be a prophet or servant of God in Elijah’s day, and it is dangerous to be a prophet or servant of God today in the same lands. Recently I met a servant of God who lives that dangerous life.

One day I was leading a bible study group at our national Synod, and to my surprise the Bishop of Jerusalem sat down beside me. We were studying the story from the Acts of the Apostles about the apostle Philip who was directed by God’s spirit to take a desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, where he met an Ethiopian court official. As the story unfolds, the Ethiopian learns about Jesus from Philip and he is baptized into the faith.

One of the questions in our study guide asked about the Holy Spirit directing Philip to take that road. I asked Bishop Dawani of Jerusalem about this road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He explained that the road still exists. It is a dangerous road because of the skirmishes between Israeli armed soldiers and Palestinian fighters. He has travelled this road many times because it is a central road of the region.

The Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem extends over five countries: Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Bishop Dawani travels a great deal in the whole region to minister to the clergy and people. The diocese includes 27 parishes and 33 institutions, such as hospitals, schools and homes for the deaf, the disabled and the elderly. His ministry and the mission work of his diocese is the well-being of people regardless of their religious faith. The added challenge to the mission of his church is the constant threat of violence.

Bishop Dawani spoke to the whole Synod about his efforts for peace in the region. He meets with other religious leaders of all faiths to discuss possibilities for the co-existence of the three Abrahamic faiths in the same land. Also the Council of Religious Leaders has started a program called Kids for Peace, in which they bring kids of the three faiths together for summer camps. They believe a hope for peace is in teaching children to respect and care for each other.

When asked if he has advice for our Canadian church, Bishop Dawani declined, but he said he has a prayer that the Canadian church will always be united, because unity is the strength of our witness as disciples of Jesus Christ to give hope, love and courage to others. He urged Anglicans, along with other Christians, to be friendly to both Palestine and Israel as a bridge between Muslims and Jews. In a land of great disunity, Bishop Dawani works and prays for the hope of unity to serve others. Although only about 2% of the population, he believes that Christians can try to convince all sides that peace with dignity is in the best interests of all people.

Having met Bishop Dawani, I’m sure he would object to being called a prophet, but there are similarities between his role and the long list of prophets in the Bible. He calls for another way, a way in which God’s will for peace and reconciliation is possible despite years of violence and revenge among the people. He travels dangerous roads in a land where groups of religious extremists do not welcome his message. Nevertheless, he continues his mission for peace. He urges us as Anglicans to pray for the people of the Middle East, and if at all possible, to go to the land of the Holy One, to talk to the people, to give them hope for their future as people of God. Few people are called by God to be prophets, but we are all called to be God’s servants. It is not always an easy job, but thankfully, it is not usually a dangerous job for us in our corner of the world. Whatever our role or place in God’s plan for us, we can be sure that God’s spirit is there to guide us. Thanks be to God.