08 March 2011

Transfiguration 2011


Exodus 24: 12-18

Matthew 17: 1-9

Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination spoke these last public words:

I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I‘ve been to the mountain top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know [tonight] that we as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy [tonight], I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

His words speak of climbing the mountain and of seeing the vision of the promised land. Both today’s Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson speak about mountain top experiences. Moses enters the cloud which covers the holy mountain, but inside experiences the awesome brilliance of God’s presence. Much later in the book of Exodus, Moses returns from the mountain of the Lord and his presence and his own face shines so that the Israelites are afraid to approach him.

This story seems to be echoed in today’s Gospel story. Jesus brings Peter, James and John up the mountain with him. Jesus’ appearance changes before them and he shines with a holy light. A mysterious cloud descends upon them and they perceive Elijah and Moses.

Peter babbles on – probably not knowing what to think or say and they hear God’s voice saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” And the disciples hit the dirt in fear.”

This sounds like a reasonable response to me. As they descend the mountain Jesus tells his disciples not to speak of this until after he has been raised from the dead.

What a strange story. What are we to make of it all?

First of all, it is important to understand that an experience of the Holy cannot be explained in words. And the words of the Gospel here have all the classical marks of a religious experience. It is not something to be completely understood. They speak of an awesome experience which defies description. What exactly happened that day? Well, God happened! Can we comprehend it all? No, but we can experience it.

The disciples have a glimpse of the resurrection glory that Jesus will have. But first, they must descend the mountain and Jesus must move forward to the death of which he speaks. They have their mountain-top experience, but then they must descend back into the valley. People might seek those amazing mountain-top experiences, but it is in the valley that we actually live our lives.

Jesus descends with the disciples to return to the people where they live. Our God is a God who descends to be among us.

So how can we experience our own mountain-top experiences, and how can those experiences make a difference to how we live?

Well, the disciples come to their experience by following Jesus. That’s how we get to the mountain-top as well. That was how Martin Luther King Jr. came to his mountain-top, he walked faithfully with his lord, Jesus, following his example in his life.

It’s a bit of a trek. It’s not usually arrived at in a simple straight line. It’s a day by day journey going uphill and down, ascending bit by bit until you reach the top. Sometimes it feels like an arduous journey.

Martin Luther King Jr. got there by travelling a dangerous road of self-sacrifice and courage.

What must it be like at the top of the mountain? From it, Martin Luther King Jr. saw the promised land, even though he said he might not get there, he knew that his people would.

Would it not be tempting to try to stay on the mountain-top, and not return to the difficulties of the valley?

But you see, the mountain-top experiences cannot be wholly grasped and owned and kept. They provide us only with glimpses of glory. They give us but an inkling of a dream – a vision. They are fleeting, but they are real. And the difference they can make in our lives is that they can change the way we see the world. They can make us hope for more, and they can make us act with courage.

Sometimes when I read the story of the transfiguration, I wonder if it isn’t really about Jesus changing at all, but about the disciples changing. When Jesus touches them when they are flat on the ground in fear and lifts them up, it seems to be the same old Jesus. It was the same Jesus throughout this story, but they were given the gift of seeing a fuller reality.

This gift of seeing more can go with us back into the valley. I believe that the disciples would see more and more the glory of God even in their everyday lives.

When I think of mountain-top experiences I also think of a group of our parishioners who will travel to Honduras in the coming week. They will fly to the city of Tegucigalpa, way up in the mountains at an altitude of almost 1 km up. Their experience will be a combination of a mountain-top high as they see that their work will make a real difference to the kids they serve, as well as seeing the valley of extreme poverty.

Perhaps the real gift of the experience to them will be that they will see a deeper reality that many people don’t even notice. Perhaps, like the disciples who followed Jesus, it will be they who are changed. And perhaps they will see clearly the face of Jesus in the boys and girls and the people that they meet.

It was first in the shanty-town where I worked in Uruguay that the scales fell from my eyes and I really saw Jesus in a poor man working in the garbage to try to feed his family. It was after this experience that Jesus started to show up more and more often in the faces of others.

I believe that our faithful group from St. Luke’s will see this too. And they will experience the amazing paradox of the Kingdom as they see and feel great hope in the midst of poverty. They too will have a glimpse of the promised land as they too are changed. My prayer is that all of us will experience mountain-top experiences too, and will be changed by our glimpse of this promised land. Amen.

05 March 2011

Celebration of New Ministry

Celebrating the ministry of our new Director of Youth and Family Ministry, Rev. Elliott Siteman
3 March 2011

Preached by the Rev. Dawn Leger

Thank you for the invitation to preach. What a wonderful time we had! You really do have a lovely parish.

Here is the sermon. I'm anxious to try podcasting, but I don't have garageband. BTW, sorry I didn't turn it off when I was finished!

Here you go. Hope to see you again soon,

Thank you for the invitation to preach and be a part of this wonderful celebration as my very dear friend and mentor, Elliott, joins the ministry of St. Luke's. I bring greetings from Trinity Aurora, our rector, Dawn Davis, an old friend of Elliott's, our wardens and our youth and children's ministry there.

I have known Elliott for about 10 years now. You see, Elliott is a bit of a legend back home. A Cape Breton boy, studied at the University of King's College, once our Anglican seminary. He has vests for every liturgical season! He is a diocese renowned thurifer-servers, you are in for a treat!-and became the one many students of Atlantic School of Theology turned to when we needed a straightforward teaching of Anglican liturgy. It is the rare cleric in our diocese ordained within the past 10 years who was not taught by Elliott or taught by one of his protégés...of which I am one. Although I still make some liturgical choices that make him cringe.

Mostly, I know Elliott from our days at AST. Elliott was in his last year at AST when I was in my first. After many processions as postulants in our plain white albs at our beloved Cathedral Church of All Saints, and then twice as many pints of Peculiar at Henry House, walks through Point Pleasant Park, shaking of heads over theological professors and evenings with Wendy-Faye and good friends waiting for phone calls from bishops, Elliott became the rector in Neil's Harbour, Cape Breton, which is 30 miles away from the end of the world. Meat Cove is actually the end of the world and was also in Elliott's parish. After 4 years there, I was thrilled when Elliott, Wendy-Faye, and Magdalene moved to the parish next to mine! I was THRILLED when Elliott was named my regional dean, mostly because it meant I was not named to be HIS regional dean.

There are two themes running through our celebration tonight, two values that were exemplified in the life and legend of David of Wales: outreach and service. David built a religious community in Menevia fiercely devoted to one another and to those who were hurting in the world around them. They were salt and light.

Let's think a bit about salt. I want you to imagine a steak, perfectly aged, fresh from the butcher, all ready to be seasoned for the grill. So, you take this steak, you pat it dry. Then you take a big mixing bowl of salt and you throw that beautiful steak into it. You shake that bowl, completely coating that steak with salt, a nice coating of salt, so much salt that it is white.

Yum? Not really.

That is not how you season a steak! That is not a recipe. Don't do it! To season a steak, you shake or grind a small amount of salt, in order to keep the juices inside that steak to flow out when you cut into it.

Now, imagine that steak is our kids and that salt is us, those of us who chart the course of our Church. Yes. It would be easier if the kids would just jump right in and saturate themselves in our ways. We have a great thing here, and why wouldn't the kids just want to jump right in?

But that's not really the point. It's not about what we expect of our kids. The point is who we are as church. If we are salt, then our saltiness is only of value when we are shaken out of that shaker in order to let the steak be its best, to let our kids be their best, using their gifts as God has called them to. Salt actually doesn't determine how the steak will taste. The spices and the steak do that. The salt simply helps the spices mingle together, with the steak, to bring about a new flavour. That's youth ministry. Our job is to recognize each young person as a complete Christian, as complete as any of us, and to see the hand of God working in their lives. Are you guys hearing this? You are God's chosen disciples. You are a full member of the Christian community and of St. Luke's today, with your energy, your insights and your gifts as leaders, musicians, prophets and teachers. As salt, we bring the resources together to enhance what youth and children offer us.

(Invite Elliott to the trancept)

It is a common practice at a celebration such as this to present symbols of this new ministry. Here's the thing. The symbols of youth and children's ministry are...well...less than dignified. For example; a common symbol would be bread and wine for the Eucharist. Well, in youth ministry, you will be challenged to explain the nature of Christ's presence...in pizza. (pizza box) Get to like this stuff. You will be eating a LOT of it, and enjoying the community that goes along with it.

Your youth ministry will have a soundtrack. There will be metal, techno, Gaga, Bieber...? along with Merbecke and Beethoven. Start your musical education (earbuds and iPod).

There will be tears. Thankfully, you have big shoulders and you have the hug down to an art form (teddy bear). Like this guy, you might want absorbent shoulders, too. You will use them.

You will be doing sleepovers. You are too old to sleep on the floor my friend. You will need an air mattress. (air mattress and coffee cup). Oh, and sleepover is a misnomer, because you won't sleep, so you will need some coffee, too.

You are old, my friend. So am I. That doesn't mean we are irrelevant. Your mission is to build relationships. Period. (broadband cable) Do not underestimate the importance of technology, not to be cool, but to build relationship.

You minister to everyone in St. Luke's families. Always know where to find and have quick access to toys for toddlers, diapers for infants, and a deep breath of peace and encouragement for young parents. (diaper bag)

You will pray. Light a candle (candle) for prayer:
for the parents who have been downsized and making ends meet
for the kid whose best friend is trying to sell her a joint
for the little one living with an impossible disease
for the only child on his first day of school

Games are critical. You must cultivate your skills to come up with a game or activity to suit the abilities, ages and moods of everyone gathered on a moment's notice. You will have succeeded when you create a game out of (oreos and cheez whiz).

Before I leave you tonight, I will tell you a story about the priest you have called to minister in your midst. He probably won't want me to tell this story, but speaks something very important about his character and his vocation.

As I said, Elliott was in his last year at AST when I was in my first. Near the end of that year, it was a Thursday, to make a long story short, I learned that the financial support I needed to continue on to my next year would not be available. It had nothing to do with my abilities, but with the process. I had quit a career to continue my discernment and begin this degree, and it looked like I could not return. We were a small, caring community, and word got around AST over the weekend.

I went to chapel on Monday morning and was met with great concern from friends. Mostly quiet hugs, good, gentle pastoral care. Next thing I knew, Elliott was on one side of me, Tom was on the other, they grabbed me by the arms, took me into the vestry and shut the door, saying "What the...?".

So, I burst into tears and told them what happened. In my anger and hurt, I told them maybe it was time for me to give up

Elliott looked at me. He pointed his finger. When you get this look, pay attention! He pointed his finger and said, "You are NOT giving up! You are coming back to school. If I have to send you a portion of my stipend every month so you can stay in school, I will do it! You are coming back!"


Thankfully, after a few weeks, things worked out, my process continued, I was able to return to school, and Elliott put that money to good use when Magdalene came along. But that day was pivotal in my vocation. Elliott's generosity and faith gave me the strength to trust-to trust that God loves me, that God walked with me, that God called me and continues to call me to serve the Kingdom. Four years later, Tom and Elliott presented me to be ordained as a priest in the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

I tell you this story to tell you something critical about Elliott's ministry. Elliott will walk with you through the messiest stuff in your lives. He will give all that he can, all that he has. He will strengthen you by his faith in Christ, as he embodies God's love in the sacramental and community life of St. Luke's. He will stop at nothing to express God's love to your youth and families. You will be blessed beyond measure.

Remember. This kind of self-offering can, sometimes, carry a heavy cost. Remember the words of Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples, "I have washed your feet. You also ought to wash one another's feet."

Youth and family ministry is your ministry. And yours. And yours. In a moment you will all be commissioned to this ministry in various ways. When you go home this evening, and as you get to know Elliott more in the weeks to come, pray for this ministry, pray for Elliott, pray for Wendy-Faye and Magdalene and ask God how you are being called to minister in this new expression of ministry. How are you being shaken?

Oh. And the oreos, cheez whiz and crackers. Break the kids up into teams and instruct them to build a structure with the ingredients. Once the structures are built, tell them the first team to eat their structure wins the game.

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, GO!

Epiphany 8 A

Proper 8 A – Epiphany 8

By Stuart Pike

Isaiah 49: 8-162

Matthew 6: 24-34

St. Luke’s Church

Sunday, 27 February 2011

The problem which many people might have with today’s Gospel message, as Jesus says “Don’t worry”, is that it often seems that there is so much to worry about. Perhaps Jesus’ message will be heard differently depending on who is listening. Someone who has all they need, a warm place to live and money in the bank, might hear this differently than those who have just lost everything they own in an earthquake. How does Jesus’ message preach to the destitute? Doesn’t it all just sound like platitudes? Is Jesus for real

Worry seems to be an essential part of survival in the 21st century. And if we lack imagination, all we need to do is to switch on the radio, or the TV and we’ll be given a dozen new things to worry about within a minute.

Worry drives our economy. It’s what puts up the gas prices, and makes us want to buy that next new item which falsely promises to take our worries away.

Whenever I hear this Gospel story I am reminded of the popular song by Bobby McFerrin: Don’t Worry, be Happy. It just seems to be such a happy go lucky song and today’s Gospel lesson seems to be heading in such a similar direction.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we are to eat, or what we are to wear. And he uses some beautiful imagery from nature as he speaks to his disciples. Look at the birds of the air, he says, look at the lilies of the field. One can imagine Walt Disney’s woodland creatures gathering about.

Jesus leads us along this path and it is so easy to follow him: Don’t worry, our heavenly father feeds the birds of the air. Doesn’t God care even more for you? And look at how God clothes the grass of the field. Aren’t you more important than this? Won’t God care more for you

Jesus eggs us on further. He says that instead of worrying, we are to strive first for the Kingdom of God, and then he says, “and all these things will be given to you as well.” It certainly sounds like a don’t worry be happy kind of message. That is, until the last verse of the lesson. Just when all the birds are happily chirping and the flowers are blooming in our imagination, the ogre shows up.

Jesus says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Bobby McFerrin’s happy music grinds to a halt and Jesus brings us back to reality.

Wait a sec, Jesus, Can’t we have the well-fed birds and the beautiful flowers back? What’s all this talk about today’s and tomorrow’s troubles? Isn’t there a contradiction here?

It seems that Jesus’ message isn’t so happy go lucky after all. And for me, this makes the message both real and meaningful.

Jesus is not speaking platitudes. His words are an invitation to seek and find God’s Kingdom in the world around, no matter what our circumstances are. Jesus doesn’t want us to deny the existence of trouble, but he gives us the secret of how to transcend it.

Note the way the Gospel story actually begins – not with Jesus’ words about worry, but with his admonition that no one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and money.

One of the strangest things which I have witnessed is how worry often seems to be so much more of a preoccupation in wealthy nations than in poorer nations. Could it be that this is so because our experience of material wealth makes it easier to serve wealth?

Jesus knows that it is all too easy for us to put our faith in wealth - to believe that money is our security for the future. But if we really believe in money that way, we have made an idol out of money and have started to worship it, instead of God.

God’s kingdom operates with completely different economic rules than the material world. The material world’s economy is an economy of scarcity and limits. In such a world, there is never enough. And if we live in that world, we worry. We become preoccupied with counting, saving, spending and hoarding.

The economy of God’s Kingdom is one of abundance: it is overflowing with God’s grace and love. In God’s kingdom, there is always enough because God’s love is infinite. Just like in our own families, love doesn’t have to be divvied up according to how big our family is. In families that have four children, those children don’t have ¼ the love of a child who is an only child. No, the love of those parents expands to shower all those children with love.

God loves us even more. As God says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

Today’s Gospel lesson doesn’t tell us that we’ll not have any trouble: rather it almost promises that there will be trouble. The great news of today’s Gospel is that we can choose to live in God’s kingdom, rather than simply the material world. Jesus asks us to strive first for God’s kingdom. If we do, everything else that we need will be given to us as well

In God’s economy, wealth becomes a tool, rather than an idol. It becomes a tool for us to use to further God’s kingdom, rather than something which enslaves us with worry.

A couple of weeks ago I said that God’s kingdom is not some place far away in space and time, but it can be experienced right here and right now. In fact, it can only be experienced in the present moment and it allows us to leave worry behind, even in the midst of troubles. Living in God’s kingdom now is what enables you to stop and really see the flower that graces the grass of the field. Or witness the bird that God feeds in his abundance. Or see the love which exists even in the desperate situation. No amount of money is worth the knowledge of God’s love in simple moments like these.

And this knowledge of God’s love is what will transform your life into one which is about building God’s kingdom and truly making a difference to the lives of others. Amen.

Epiphany 7 A

Sermon by Elliott Siteman

Will be posted soon.