27 March 2016

Easter Day 2016

Sermon preached by Canon Stuart Pike
Easter Day, 27 March 2016
St. Luke's Church, Burlington (Diocese of Niagara)
John 20: 1-18
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word on Flickr.com

Hallelujah! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Hallelujah!

This is the traditional acclamation and response for Easter which has been proclaimed for a couple of millennia since the first Easter.

For me it is extremely important to note that it is proclaimed in the present tense. Christ is risen, rather than Christ rose, like 2000 years in the past. Christ is a present reality. Christ is risen, not only for Mary Magdalene, but also for you. So what does that look like?

Well, we can go back to that first Easter story and see what it looked like then.

The themes of darkness and light are very important in John’s Gospel. From the very beginning of his Gospel he refers to Jesus as the light of the world. And so the Easter Gospel begins in darkness because Mary goes to the tomb even before the sun has risen. And in John’s account, she goes alone. In this account she carries no spices with her. Jesus’ body has already been prepared and laid in the tomb by Joseph of Arimethea and Nicodemus the night before, and a great stone has sealed the tomb.

She goes because in her grief, she cannot sleep, and she goes to mourn. What she finds when she gets there is the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Now we Christians talk about the empty tomb being a symbol of new life, but Mary is not there yet.  For her the empty tomb simply compounds her not only have they killed her Lord, now they have stolen his body.

Mary runs to tell the other disciples that they have stolen Jesus’ body and Peter and John seem to have a footrace to get to the tomb.

John arrives first, but Peter enters the tomb. Sees the graveclothes lying there and the head cloth rolled up in a place by itself. John records these details because if the body of Jesus had simply been stolen, the thieves wouldn’t have bothered to unwrap it. Nor would they rolled up the face covering and put it in a place by itself. The scene doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on Peter, but it says that John, who reached the tomb first, but entered second saw and believed. Yet, it is unclear what he believed, because it says that they did not understand the scriptures that he must rise from the dead.

Astonishingly, the story seems to end here with these two. The Gospel just says that they returned to their homes.

It is Mary who stays in the garden at the tomb, still, mourning; seemingly inconsolable. Grief is disorienting. Those of us who have gone through it know that it can change our not only our perspective, but also our perceptions. We see what we don’t or can’t normally see.

She is so overcome by her grief that when she looks into the tomb and sees two angels there, she doesn’t recognize that they are angels. Perhaps she thinks that they are burial officials! In fact, she doesn’t even recognize Jesus, but thinks he is the gardener!

Jesus asks her why she is weeping and she continues to be focused on the theme that has filled her mind and distorted her perception, “Sir, of you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

What follows is the transformation that Mary needs to bring her back to full reality. The transformation is deeply personal as it needs to be for everyone. Jesus simply says her name, “Mary” and the transformation happens. It says that Mary “turned.” I think this means more than just her physical orientation, she had just turned to see Jesus in the previous sentence. Her whole being has turned here and she is transformed. In the twinkling of an eye she is brought into full reality and her inconsolable grief is transformed into indescribably joy. Just like that.

Can you imagine what she felt like in that moment?

Grief is disorienting, but Jesus’ transformation is reorienting – and that is why Mary “turns” in this moment.

This transformation is deeply personal and intimate. As personal as your own name. And remember the present tense, Jesus is risen. Jesus is not only risen for Mary, he has risen for you too and he is calling your name:

Jane, John, Elizabeth, Bill, Heather, Ray (I’m not going to get all your names in here, but you get the idea.) I did have to get Ray in there, though!

Susan, Peter, Alice, Mike – Jesus is calling your name too!

Transformation of your perception and focus is always ready to be your reality in any moment. Jesus is always ready to welcome you to live in God’s Kingdom in the here and now. That’s what Jesus called Mary into in that moment in the garden. That was the turning, the transformation which she experienced. She entered into the kingdom which Jesus had been saying all during his ministry that is among us.

The next thing that Jesus says to Mary is “Go.” She is to go and tell of her experience to the other disciples. Thus, Mary is the Apostle to the Apostles.

And remember that Jesus is risen. Our lives are full of times when we too need to “turn” to be transformed and to live into the fuller reality of God’s kingdom. It is not only grief which distracts us – though there’s plenty of that in the world right now. But also the cares and preoccupations of our lives keeps us from living into this fuller reality. And the focus of the world in general is so far from this deeper reality.

So this Easter and always: listen for your name: Jesus is calling you. Be transformed so that you can live into the fuller reality of God’s kingdom which is among us. Be there – make God’s kingdom your abiding place. And finally, Go. Tell others about this reality and invite them along. Their lives are crying out for transformation, as is yours. Be present to this in the here and now, because:

Hallelujah! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

26 March 2016

Easter Vigil 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Elliott Siteman
St. Luke's, Burlington, Diocese of Niagara
26 March 2016
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word on Flickr.com

25 March 2016

Good Friday 2016

preached by the Rev. Sheila Plant
St. Luke's Church, Burlington.
St. John's Passion.

Photo Credit: Stuart Pike on Flickr.com

Maundy Thursday Sermon 2016

Sermon by Canon Stuart Pike

Photo Credit: Jim Forest on Flickr.com

Sermon Text:

Maundy Thursday 2016
St. Luke’s Church, Burlington
24 March 2016

Today’s Gospel reading from John differs somewhat from the synoptic Gospels.  Here there are no words of institution from which we get our Eucharistic prayers. But what is here, and what is missing from the other gospels is Jesus washing his disciples feet, and giving them a new commandment.

The dinner is already in progress and Jesus arises in the middle of the meal, puts a towel around his waist and starts to wash his disciples feet.

Now we know that the tradition of washing the feet was the standard operating procedure before any meal. People would have been outside walking through filth during the day. Normally there would be a servant stationed right at the door who would wash the guests’ feet as they entered the house. This was the lowliest job conceivable, and it was usually done by a slave because, as you can imagine it would be a pretty grim job. People did not have the footwear that we use today.

Elliot, Sheila and Holly and I will be washing the feet of some of our parishioners in imitation of what Jesus did, but it can’t be nearly considered the same in terms of lowliness. Thankfully probably most of the people’s feet that we are washing will have at least been in shoes.

Pope Francis, last Maundy Thursday, went to a prison to wash prisoners’ feet – prisoners from various faith traditions. There perhaps we were getting closer to understanding the astonishment of the disciples at Jesus’ action – especially Peter’s reaction.

The people who usually performed this duty were the “nobodies” of their society. They would mostly just be unnoticed.

It is understandable that Peter objects. “How can I let you be a slave to me?” “How can you wash my dirty feet?” “How can I honour you, if I treat you like a slave?” It is beyond Peter’s comprehension.

Jesus is doing here what he has done all through his ministry: he is showing that he identifies with the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, the slaves: the nobodies of this world.

That’s what so many of his parables were about:
-       The Good Samaritan
-       The lost sheep
-       Lazarus and the rich man
-       The Mustard seed
-       The widow and the unjust judge
-       The Pharisee and the publican

That’s what so many of his healings were about:

-       the 10 lepers
-       the woman with the hemorrhage
-       all the blind that were healed
-       Jairus’s daughter and the son of the widow of Nain
-       The mute man
-       The epilectic boy

The list goes on – especially when you consider that in Jesus’ society all of the sick were generally considered to be outcast and sinners.

This identification of Jesus with the poor, the outcast and the nobodies of the world is also what so many of Jesus’ words were about:
-       Blessed are the poor, and actually most of the rest of the beatitudes.
-       It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
-       Except that you become as one of these (little Children) you cannot see the kingdom.
-       The first shall be last and the last shall be first

These are just some examples of how Jesus identified and showed God’s preferential option for the poor and marginalized. And now, by this action of washing his disciples feet, he is showing them, symbolically, how he considers absolutely nobody a nobody.

Jesus through whom all things were created considers no one to be beneath him. What an astounding truth.

So that is part one of Jesus’ lesson.

The second part is Jesus telling his disciples, you must do the same for others.

And this is where it gets so difficult. Because Jesus washing his disciples feet is such an intimate action. It involved touch – the most intimate of the senses. And it involves caring for the person in the most physical way, and in a very vulnerable and intimate way.

When Jesus models this for us, he wants us to be involved in caring for others not only spiritually and morally, but physically too. He wants us to care for the whole person. He wants us to roll up our sleeves and get involved with people’s lives. And not only that, but this is a commandment that Jesus gives us. It’s not an option. The commandment is “new” because it isn’t just about loving one another. It’s about loving one another as Jesus has loved us.

Who are the nobodies in our culture today? The poor, the marginalized, the sick, the refugee, the outcast, the stranger, the hungry, the lonely? When we understand Jesus’ example in washing his disciples feet, we will truly understand Jesus’ commandment to us to love one another. So I leave you with some questions: how will you be engaged in loving the other? What things do we do at St. Luke’s which is reaching out in loving care to the other? Who will you see that no one notices? What physical thing will you do to make a difference in another’s life? When will you start? Amen.

22 March 2016

Palm Sunday 2016

Sermon by the Rev. Elliott Siteman
St. Luke's Church, Sunday, 19th March 2016
Photo Credit: Franciska on Flickr.com

13 March 2016

Lent 5 C 2016 - Giving yourself

Sermon by the Rev. Holly Klemmensen
Photo Credit: Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P. on Flickr.com

06 March 2016

Lent 4 C 2016 the Prodigal Father

Sermon by Stuart Pike
Preached at St. Luke's 6 March 2016
Photo Credit: tutincommon on Flickr.com

Sermon Text:

So today we have probably the best known parable of Jesus – commonly called the parable of the prodigal Son, though I think there is good reason to name it, the parable of the prodigal Father. The word, Prodigal means “having or giving something on a lavish scale”, or “wastefully extravagant.”

This seems to be describing the behavior not only of the son who goes and spends his inheritance, but also of the father who lavishly pours out everything – his resources, his forgiveness and his love, not only on his wayward son, but also on his more responsible and resentful son.

The father shows us an image of a God who is extravagant and reckless with his love, his forgiveness and his grace. It’s hard for us to understand. It’s hard for us to even condone. God’s love is too extravagant. It’s not fair!

But we live with a difference sense of economy than God does. God’s resources – especially God’s love is infinite, whereas we are used to meting out everything: our physical, emotional and spiritual resources – like our forgiveness and our love.

So here we are, heavily into the season of Lent, the season of repentance and we have the story of a son who asked for his inheritance early – almost the same thing as wishing his father dead, and amazingly, the father actually, like a prodigal, sells off some land and livestock and gives it away to his son.

The son, after spending it all wastefully comes to destitution and regret and repents. Or at least, he might be repentant. Is he really, or is he only trying to con his father one more time to save himself?

It matters not to the father, who doesn’t even let him finish his well-rehearsed speech. The father’s love just washes over him as he wraps his arms around him and, like the prodigal he is, showers him with abundance.

So, is this a repentance story? I think it is. The word repentance doesn’t mean “to grovel in misery.” The word means to turn one’s life around. To change direction and to follow in the right path. It means to align one’s path with God’s will.

The wayward son, no matter his hidden motivations does just that. He changes his direction, he returns to the father. And even if he did this for selfish reasons, it sure looks like his father’s love will win his heart once again.

Love wins. As it always will.

Talking of love, yesterday I led a marriage preparation class for 7 couples who will be married here at St. Luke’s in the coming year. Holly, Elliott and Sheila and I will all be doing some of those weddings. Of course, all of these couples are madly in love. It is that love which has brought them to this time as they are preparing to give themselves to each other for a lifetime commitment. It is a sacrament which Jesus himself sanctioned, as it was at a wedding feast that he performed his very first miracle, changing over a hundred gallons of water into wine: what a prodigal son Jesus was, not to mention the life of the party!

It is at a wedding that we celebrate the grace of God poured out abundantly upon God’s people. Remember, God’s economy of love is more than we can imagine.

The day before yesterday I celebrated a marriage with the sacrament of Eucharist here as well. An unusual wedding in Lent, which normally isn’t the done thing in an Anglican Church. However, there were reasons which made this the right thing to do. God’s grace abundantly pours over and through our rules which simply can’t hold God’s grace back.

I was delighted to be able to celebrate at that wedding, because I really believe that love – all love: the romantic kind, the brotherly kind, the compassionate kind - it’s all a holy thing. It’s a divine gift which God gives to each one of us to exercise in the world. God is love, and celebrating the love that two people have for one another in a marriage ceremony shouts out loud about the holiness of love.

However, given the news this past week out of the house of bishops, I feel saddened that I can’t, and probably won’t for a very long time, be able to celebrate this pouring out of God’s grace and love for everyone who would ask it of me.

As many of you know, General Synod will be looking at possibly changing the Marriage Canon to allow marriage between any two people who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other; to give themselves to the other because of the love that they have for each other. Perhaps I should be even more explicit: this would mean that we would be offering marriage to any two people, whether they be straight or gay. Whereas now, in the Diocese of Niagara, we will offer marriage to straight people, but only the blessing of a civil union to gay people. In other words, they need to do the civil marriage bit outside of Church, but we will let them in the Church to bless their marriage afterwards.

Because this is a matter of doctrine, it means that it has to pass in two consecutive General Synods, both times by a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses of laity, clergy and bishops. This past week the bishops, from a special meeting of the House of Bishops, issued a communiqué stating that it looks like it will not get the two-thirds majority vote needed in the House of Bishops. This both seems to preempt the process of General Synod, yet, it is also the Bishops being honest about where they seem to be in this issue. Please note that many bishops, including our own, are very much in favour of this change to the marriage canon. But probably not enough to make a 2/3 majority.

Now you’re asking whatever can this have to do with the story of the Prodigal Father?

Well, it’s partly timing, because this news from the House of Bishops came this week. But it’s also because the story is about God’s love. How overabundant that love is and about how much God wants us to turn, to repent, to change direction and to align our way to his way of love and grace.

In many ways the story of the prodigal father is the story of two lost sons, and the father who pours out his grace to win them both back.

In many ways I see the Church as often showing the characteristics of both sons. The one who wanders so far away from God’s way of overabundant love and grace. And the one who metes out condemnation and judgment and is filled with resentment.

God created each one of us and after he creates humanity, he says, it is very good, and blesses each one and gives them this divine gift of love to exercise in this world.

God only knows why God created some of us straight and some of us gay, but it’s very evident that God did this. It is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the diversity which is God’s wonderful world.

Now there are several ways in which you can use scripture to justify intolerance and even persecution. Scripture has been used in this way to justify slavery, misogyny and even genocide. And it has been used over millennia to justify the persecution of gay people. None of this is God’s will. God is the prodigal father who pours out his love and grace on all his children. We do not have to use scripture like this. Jesus tells us it is wrong when he berates the Pharisees and their rigid interpretation of scripture which persecutes God’s people.

The great news of this story of the prodigal father though, is that it is never too late. God’s love will win. It will overpower us and it will bring us home. It is the season of Lent for us as individuals, but also for us as the Church. We can repent. We can repent  no matter how far we have strayed from God’s way of love and grace. We can repent from the way we as the Church have condemned people and even done it in a way that at one time made it seem righteous! It doesn’t seem righteous anymore, probably because it never was right and more and more people of the Church have come to understand this.

The great news is that God’s holy spirit can move us and help us repent, to change direction and to be made new. That’s what the Gospel is all about. That’s what Jesus was all about. And that’s what we can pray for, for our Bishops and clergy and laity who will be discerning God’s voice at General Synod.

Love is holy – all love is holy – it is a divine gift which God gives to each of us. May our prodigal God pour out God’s grace upon us all and allow us to repent, to change and to love one another. Amen.