29 January 2017

Epiphany 4 A 2017

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
Photo Credit: Sterling College on Flickr.com

Epiphany 4 A 2017 - Blessed are the Cheese-makers:
St. Luke’s, Burlington
20 Jan 2017

Matthew 5: 1-12

In one of the Monty Python movies (the Life of Brian) we see that someone portraying Jesus is preaching on a far off hillside but the people in the foreground cannot hear. One of them runs a little closer and then comes back to his friends.
“What’s he sayin’”, asks one of them.
“Blessed are the cheese-makers” answers the other. A woman says “Blessed are the Cheese-makers?” and her husband says. “It’s not to be taken literally dear, he means all manufacturers of dairy products.”
But that’s not what was read in today’s Gospel lesson! “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Peacemaking is a much harder, much more dangerous, and a much more controversial occupation than cheese-making. Peacemakers often don’t have much to show for their efforts. With the leader of the most powerful nation in the world engaged in what seems to be wholesale bigotry, excluding people because of their faith and building walls of exclusion in both the literal and figurative sense with just one week of executive orders, peacemaking does not seem to get much attention or respect.
Today’s gospel passage is sometimes called “The Beatitudes” and is taken from a larger section, called, “The Sermon on the Mount”. The “blessed life” or “the blessed” are not limited to peacemakers, but also include, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the persecuted, and the slandered.
At first glance though these do not seem to be indications of any real kind of blessing. In fact they are often taken as indications of just the opposite. They seem to be contradicted by both common sense and experience. We all know that the meek don’t even get into traffic at an uncontrolled intersection, let alone end up inheriting the earth! We all know that the world only remembers winners, not the losers. How can all these people be blessed?
The prophetic tradition called people to faithfulness for the ‘long haul’ and it called the people to live as if the proclaimed future were in fact already a reality. In the very declaration of blessedness, those so named actually become blessed. In great part because they are involved in being a blessing to others.
So, blessed are the peacemakers, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. All of these things involve people not just being poor in spirit, or meek or who mourn, but those who actually get up and get active in peacemaking and hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being merciful. It’s about making a difference. Because, you know it, we are now living in a world that is actively fighting against justice, righteousness, peacemaking and being merciful.

Two days ago was the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Auschwitz, one of the death camps run by the Nazis is probably the best known of the camps designed to kill Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, disabled people and others considered by the Nazis to be unfit to live. One million Jewish people and over one hundred thousand others were killed at Auschwitz alone. They came from all countries controlled by or allied with Nazi Germany.
Many stories have been told about people who tried to prevent such deportations by hiding Jewish people in attics and basements, by obtaining extra ration cards so that they could eat, and false documents so that they could escape, or by claiming young Jewish children were their own. When I was in High School, I watched a movie called “The Hiding Place” which told the story of a family from Holland who were eventually sent to concentration camps because they helped to hide Jews from the Nazis’. The Ten Boom family were watchmakers and committed Christians. Their home was always an "open house" for anyone in need.
During the Second World War, the Ten Boom family, far from stopping their work, continued and branched into much more dangerous pursuits. Their home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their very lives. Their faith led them to hide people such as Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch underground resistance movement.
During 1943 and into 1944, there were usually 6 or 7 people illegally living in this home: 4 Jews and 2 or 3 members of the Dutch resistance. Additional refugees would stay with the Ten Booms for a hours or a few days until another "safe house" could be located for them. Much of the ‘leg work’ was done by Corrie, who was far from young at the time. Through these activities, the Ten Boom family and their many friends saved the lives of an estimated 800 Jews, and protected many Dutch underground workers.
In the 1980's Corrie, the only member of the family to survive the concentration camps, was asked to plant a tree in to honour those who did not survive, in Israel’s “Garden of Righteousness” and she was honoured with the title, “Righteous Gentile”
She and her father would have looked upon their work, the sacrifices it involved, and the dangers as an honour and would have often given thanks for the blessing it brought them.
The beatitudes call Christians to look at the world with a different set of eyes. The world would say blessed are the rich and the clever and tricky.

Jesus knows a deeper truth, and it was one which we know as well. Blessed are the poor in Spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. And blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and are peacemakers.
And it’s certainly NOT about ignoring all of the ills of this life because they will all be erased in heaven! By no means. We are meant to struggle with the evil and sad things of this world and to make life better for all people, but we must always keep things in perspective. The success is not in the arrival, but in the journey; the joy comes from having walked together in faith with those who are on a similar journey of love, peace, justice and faith. 
So much of what I see in the beatitudes involves living our lives in a completely different way. We are called to choose an alternative to the ‘success model’. We are called to model something other than the ‘dog eat dog’ success model that tells us to ‘look after #1' by earning more and saving more and maximizing our return because “if we don’t look after ourselves, no one else will.”
Instead, it substitutes another outlook. The model of Christ teaches that “it is only through working together and focussing on the Good News of Jesus, the Christ, that we will find true blessing. Its part of the paradox of the gospel that it is only in losing our lives that we will find and in giving that we receive.
So how can we be peacemakers and hunger and thirst for righteousness today? We need to take the courage to resist unrighteousness and be peacemakers in our everyday decisions. We need to make our faith determine our actions, like the TenBoom family did.
We need to follow the call of Micah: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We need to stop hiding behind concepts like: “The church should not be in the business of politics,” as if the Gospel wasn’t political.
Practically everything that Jesus said was political! At this time and place, we can’t ignore that. Jesus was a person who stood up and said no. The Beatitudes are not just blessings but a call to action to be church, a call to action to make Jesus known today in our actions when the world tries desperately to silence those who speak the truth – no alternative truth, but the real truth!
Now I love cheese, and I love cheesemakers. And if you are a cheesemaker than you really are blessed, but you need to do more than cheesemaking

The beatitudes are our call to form another kind of resistance. To be deeply counter-cultural whenever our culture turns into a machine of injustice, unrighteousness, exclusion, bigotry, fear-mongering and hate. Because we know that love always wins in the end. Let’s work to that end. Amen.

22 January 2017

Epiphany 3 a 2017

Sermon by the Rev. Elliott Siteman
Photo Credit: Kris Williams on Flickr.com

15 January 2017

Baptism of the Lord

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Church, 15 January 2017
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word on Flickr.com

Baptisms are one of my favorite things to do.

I’ll never forget the baptism of one tiny little infant in my first parish. She was a young one and the whole congregation was excited. Baptisms were a rare event in this little wooden Church by the sea. We were all too familiar with burying our people. We were used to endings, and beginnings were so much more joyous.

The parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends had swelled the congregation to five times its usual size.

All of the action was happening at about chest-height - perhaps four feet off the ground - the same height as the baptismal font. The water was poured into the font, the prayers of blessing were said over the water. The baby was carried at this four-foot level and passed on from mother to priest at about the same height.

But down below this level was a little tyke - about three years old and perhaps three feet high. He was the infant’s older brother. He was remarkably well behaved. But perhaps this was because, apart from his tiny sister, he was the only child in the building.

While all of the action happened over his head, he stood up on tippy-toes, craning his neck to see what was going on. He silently went from holding his Dad’s hand, to holding his mother’s hand, trying to find the best vantage point, but he remained perfectly silent.

As I poured the water over her head, three times, I said the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And everyone said, “Amen.” And I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil of sacred chrism as I said, “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own forever.

At this point the little boy’s patience seemed to have found its end and he yanked on my robe and said in a little voice, “Let me see.”

The whole congregation watched as I knelt down on one knee and he finally was able to look down on his sister’s face still glistening from the water and the holy oil. She was silent, but her eyes were open, without focus, but pointed toward her brother.

The boy broke out into a smile and, in a voice which everyone in that little Church could hear, he said, “My new little sister.” and laughed with pure joy.

The whole congregation laughed with him, except for both grandmothers who simultaneously burst into tears.

Yes, well, that little boy got it right.

His sister wasn’t only quite newly born - she was just reborn.

Baptism is about re-birth and new life.

But when John was baptizing people in the Jordan river, his baptism was about repentance and the washing away of sins. John was preparing the way of the Lord, and while as everyone was asking him if he was the messiah, he kept on telling them that no, he was preparing them for the coming of the real messiah. He wasn’t even worthy to untie his sandals, he said. And they all needed to be washed clean from their sins before they could receive him
So we can understand John’s surprise when Jesus comes and stands in line, just like everyone else, and asks John to baptize him.

“But”, John says, “I should be the one baptized by you.”

How on earth could he possibly wash away Jesus’ sins, he thought.

But Jesus knew that baptism was going to mean a whole lot more than the washing away of sins. Baptism was about death and life. It was about creation and recreation.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the water. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.”
                                                                         (Genesis 1: 1-3)

Water, to the Jews represented chaos. But when God’s voice spoke, he created the world out of chaos.

In going down under the waters of baptism, Jesus was going down to a kind of death. By submitting to John’s baptism, he was taking a step into the void. He was giving up his control and rushing into his seemingly chaotic life which would end with his death in the not too distant future.

But, like in Genesis, God spoke and Jesus heard God’s voice calling him, “My son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God’s creative voice is making a new creation.

We know the story of Jesus’ life: we know how he gave and healed. We know about his courage and even his fears. We know about his passion for justice and about his vision of God’s kingdom, which turns our world and our values upside down. And all of his ministry starts from the point of his baptism.
Baptism is a new creation, and it is a call to ministry, but it is also a call to risk..

Daniel Chambers tells this story:

‑One evening the New Testament professor from Princeton Seminary visited a high school youth group. After the professor finished speaking about the significance of Christ's baptism as a revelation of God's presence in Jesus, a high school student said without looking up, "That ain't what it means." Glad that the student had been listening enough to disagree, the professor asked,

"What do you think it means?"
"The story says that the heavens were opened, right?"
"The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?"
"That's right."

The boy finally looked up and leaned forward, saying, "It means that God is on the loose in the world. And it is dangerous."

Baptism is a dangerous thing: it means that God is loose in your life, and you can’t just depend on things being the same. Baptism means to you and me that we are called to some kind of ministry in the world.

Baptism means stepping into the void and trusting that God will recreate anew out of the chaos. And this chaos and renewal can happen to us again and again.

Ultimately, baptism does mean that we, like Jesus, will burst up through the surface of the water to new life and will hear God’s creative voice, “You are my child, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Amen.       

08 January 2017

Epiphany Carol Service 2017

Sermon by the Rev. Holly Klemmensen
St. Luke's, Anglican Church, Burlington, ON (Diocese of Niagara)
Photo Credit: Carl Jones on Flickr.com

01 January 2017

Holy Name 2017

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara)
Photo Credit: Maria Mendes on Flickr.com

What’s in a name? We, quite a lot, really.

Names are important. When we are known by name, it means that someone is paying attention. It means that someone is interested in us. Getting to know each other’s name is an important part of our Church’s strategy to be more welcoming. This is why we get new people a name tag as soon as possible. It’s also why we request that our parishioners wear name tags to help welcome new people so they can get to know our names as well. Jesus tells his disciples that God knows each person by name. A name speaks to the essence of who you are.

In the old days your name described who you were in terms of where you were from or what your occupation was or your personal attributes. Last names often denoted place or occupation, first names often denoted personal characteristics or hopes for the person named.

In the Bible, sometimes people’s names changed after they had an encounter with God. God had a new name for them. God somehow recognized their changed essential nature which led to their new mission. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel – one who struggles with God. Saul – one who persecutes the Christian Church becomes Paul – the greatest defender and Apostle of the Church. Simon becomes Peter “The Rock” upon which Jesus will build his Church.

Today’s Gospel reading is very familiar to us. In fact, we might think it is the same reading we read on Christmas Eve. And it is, except for the last verse which is added:

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

Names were usually given at the baby’s circumcision, just like in the Christian Church, the baby’s name was given as the child was baptized. But Jesus isn’t given a name thought up by his parents, but rather, the name given to Mary by the angel Gabriel nine months earlier at the annunciation. The name means literally “The Lord is salvation.”

Now it is a peculiarity of the Christian Church, and it’s development in later years through the Roman Empire, that we have come to know the Son of God as Jesus. But unless the Angel Gabriel spoke Latin to the Virgin Mary, he actually told her to call him “Yeshua” which was the Aramaic language spoken by Mary, a version of the Hebrew language which has the same name as Joshua.

When know that the actual sound that Mary and Joseph’s neighbours would have heard when she called her son in to dinner at the end of the day would have been “Yeshua.”

Yeshua, the Lord is salvation, is the name of our Lord and it is this name that has power and meaning for us today.

Returning to our Saviour’s Hebrew name can bring us new, or renewed, insight into our Lord today. When we think of Joshua, we return to the most famous Joshua, before our Lord. The patraich, Joshua, was the one who completed the journey that Moses began. Moses brought the people through a time of wandering for forty years in the wilderness, leading them to the promised land. But Moses never crossed over to that land. He only saw it from a distance. It was Joshua who brought them over the Jordan to enter into that promised land.

It is Yeshua (our Jesus) who brings not only the children of Israel, but all people who follow him into another promised land: the promised land of the Kingdom of God.

And what does it mean that Yeshua is “Salvation.” Well the word, Salvation, means healing – being made whole. It doesn’t just mean “being saved.” Like saved on a shelf somewhere, like a jar of pickles, just ready for the second coming. Salvation is a dynamic thing, it’s about a journey of healing. It’s about movement and maturing. And it’s never about just you. You’re made whole, healed, transformed, not just for you – so you get to go to heaven someday. You’re set on this journey of transformation and wholeness so that you can make a difference in this world, and help us all get to the promised land, which is the kingdom of God.

Now the real truth about this spiritual journey to which we are called, is that it is essentially an internal journey. It’s a journey of discovery about who you really are, and what is your true self. And it is a journey that is not presided by your intellect and your thinking. It is a journey of the heart.

This is why the one of the most important points of the Gospel story is that when Mary sees all that happens in the stable and hears the witness of the Shepherds who rush in from the fields and tell their stories of the host of Angels. The Gospel says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

It seems that so often contemporary Christians try to sort out their faith in their heads. It’s all about logic and thinking, and getting everything to make sense. Mary understands that you live your faith in your hearts, rather than just understanding it in your head.

So for us too, the first and hardest leg of our spiritual journey is a journey of approximately 12 inches. It is the journey from the head to the heart.

And how do we learn to ponder these things in our heart? Well, you’ve got to learn to quiet the head. There are about a dozen of us who have learning to do that each week for the last seven years through our centering prayer group which meets every Wednesday at 2 p.m. We practice a meditative method which helps us to slow down our thinking, and to find the stillness we need to go deeper and listen for the God whose first language is silence: who didn’t appear to Elijah in the earthquake, or fire or thundering wind, but whom Elijah experienced in the sound of sheer silence.

The  main part of the method is to use a sacred word to return to the stillness when you catch yourself engaged in the head with thinking. You can choose any sacred word you like, but mine has been for the last seven years, the holy name of our lord. Not the Latin one we mostly use in Church, but the name that Mary was given by the Angel Gabriel. The name our Lord heard when his parents or his friends called him. Yeshua: God is Salvation: the one bringing us to wholeness of being, leading us one a journey which transforms us and helps us to be agents ushering in God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

May the Holy name of our Lord, Yeshua, bring you on that journey. May you find the stillness you need to journey from your head to your heart, and may you be transformed into all whom you were created to be. May you give your time and your energy and your life to bringing others into salvation and may you be made whole. Amen.