Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Marked as Christ's Own Forever

[This sermon was preached on Sunday, the 27th of July 2008, at St Andrew's Anglican Church in Langley, BC.]

Propers: Genesis 29.15-28; Psalm 105.1-11, 45c (BAS); Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy, increase and multiply upon us your mercy, that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BAS)

+ Lord, we come to you for you have the words of eternal life. Amen.

Almost two thousand years ago during the reign of the emperor Nero, a Jewish follower of Jesus of Nazareth put pen to paper and wrote a formal letter to the Christian community in Rome. Such formal letters were often understood to be theological statements that represented the views of the writer and were meant to convince the reader of a particular point of view. The occasion for this letter, written by Paul to a community of Christians whom he had never met, was a controversy caused primarily by a long-standing question: What was the relationship between Judaism and the emerging Christian movement?

As was the case for almost all of the first Christian communities, the Roman community had found its roots among Jews living in the city who had responded to the message that Jesus had been raised from the dead and was, in fact, the long-promised Messiah. However, during the reign of the emperor Claudius, Nero’s predecessor, many Jews had been expelled from the city as a punishment for a series of riots in which Jews had been implicated. Under Nero, the enforcement of this edict of expulsion had relaxed and many Jews began to return to the empire’s capital city.

During the absence of its Jewish members, the church in Rome had been led by its non-Jewish members, a group known by the collective term ‘Gentiles’. They did not follow Jewish traditions and it seems that there was some friction as the Jewish members of the church returned, perhaps to re-impose some Jewish practices or perhaps simply trying to re-establish themselves as leaders of the community. Whatever the details of the conflict were, what we do know is that Paul undertakes to calm a storm brewing in what could be one of the most important and influential communities in the new Christian movement.

Paul’s letter to the Romans is a complex and multi-dimensional document, perhaps the most ‘systematic’ of all his writings that have survived. Throughout the centuries it has served as the basis for the theological insights of many theologians as well as the source of heated debate as Christians have tried to understand some of the letter’s more difficult passages.

Today’s reading, Romans 8.26-39, comes as the conclusion to that part of the Letter to the Romans where Paul attempts to address the Jewish-Gentile conflict in Rome. Leading up to today’s reading Paul makes three fundamental points.

  • No single group in the history of the world, whether Jew or Gentile, has lived up to God’s expectations.
  • The one saving act in the entire history of the world has been the faithfulness of Jesus of Nazareth to the God of Israel, whom Jesus called ‘Abba’ and who raised Jesus from the dead.
  • Any one who trusts in the faithfulness of Jesus to God’s will and who is baptized into that trust has been made one with Jesus through the power of the Spirit and shares in this present time, not only in some distant future, in the life that Jesus shares with his ‘Abba’.

For Paul arguments about who is in and who is out of the community of faith are irrelevant. Arguments about whether one should keep Jewish customs or Gentile customs are secondary at best and even then not crucial to the Christian message. We are reconciled to God not through our outward obedience to any particular code of behaviour nor by the intensity of our faith in Jesus. It is Jesus’ faithfulness to God that reconciles us to God and it is the Spirit working within us who will enable to grow into the likeness and image of God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth, if we will seek to conform our wills to the Spirit’s guidance.

Paul summarizes this fundamental understanding of the Christian faith in a series of resounding rhetorical questions, a series of questions that are often read at funerals as a testimony to God’s love for us through the faithfulness of Jesus. Bishop Tom Wright of Durham summarizes this passage in this way:

  • Who can be against us? No one; God, after all, did not spare the Son.
  • Who will bring a charge against us? No one; God, after all, is the one who judges.
  • Who will condemn us? No one; Christ Jesus, after all, who died and was raised, intercedes for us.
  • Who will separate us from Christ’s love? No one; the Spirit, after all, has poured out the love of God into our hearts.[1]

We are Christ’s and Christ’s we shall remain.

Let us move fast forward to a time just more than one hundred and fifty years ago. An English theologian published a volume of essays addressing the state of the Christian community in the Great Britain of his time. Frederick Denison Maurice was a convert to the Church of England from the Unitarianism of his childhood and young adulthood. His essays were addressed to contemporary Unitarians, but he was, in truth, addressing them to contemporary Anglicans.

The Church of England had emerged from the difficult times of the eighteenth century bitterly divided. On the one hand, Evangelical Anglicans had responded to the emergence of modern biblical criticism by emphasizing the truth and sufficiency of the Bible in answering all theological and social questions. On the other hand, Catholic Anglicans had responded to the co-opting of the Church of England by the state by emphasizing the continuity of the Church of England to the early and medieval church, claiming that the tradition, especially as it was then witnessed to by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, was the way to respond to changing cultural and social contexts. On the ‘third’ hand, so-called ‘Liberals’ questioned whether the church was relevant for anything more than establishing social and moral norms for public behaviour.

Maurice weighed into the fray by asserting that there was yet a ‘fourth’ way of responding to his contemporary situation. His ‘fourth’ way was to proclaim the message that Christ was in every human being and that God wished to be the life of every human being. The deepest truth, Maurice claimed, was not that we are divided but that we are united, united to God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom, Maurice wrote, is not just our future hope, but it is also a present reality.

He attacked those who proclaimed a message of ‘ever-lasting punishment’ as a threat, as a means of coercing people to conduct themselves in a particular fashion. We all know the message: Behave yourselves in such and such a manner or you’ll go to hell. Maurice re-claimed the message of Paul and of the Gospel of John by saying to his contemporaries, “The message of the gospel is not about fear but about hope. The attitude of God towards humanity is not condemnation but love. The promise of God is not a future reward for the good and punishment for the evil but eternal life now, the fullness of life in the present.”

In his final essay on ‘Eternal Life and Eternal Death’, Maurice wrote these words.

I ask no one to pronounce . . . what are the possibilities of resistance in a human will to the loving will of God. There are times when they seem to me . . . almost infinite. But I know that there is something which must be infinite. I am obliged to believe in an abyss of love which is deeper than the abyss of death: I dare not lose faith in that love. I sink into death, eternal death, if I do. I must feel that this love is compassing the universe. More about it I cannot know. But God knows. I leave myself and all to Him.[2]

Maurice’s essays caused a turmoil in the Church of England. Shortly after they were published, Maurice was dismissed from his post at King’s College, London.

Today in the Anglican Communion there are voices raised that would separate us from the love of God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth. Just as the church in Rome was convulsed by conflict over the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus, so too our Communion is convulsed by conflict over questions of gender, sexuality and authority. Just as the Church of England in the time of Maurice was convulsed by conflict over Scripture and tradition, so too our communion is convulsed by conflict over how the Scriptures are to be interpreted and by whom as well as how the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth is to be translated into the many national, social, cultural and ethnic ‘languages’ spoken in our world. This is not a new conflict nor is it likely to disappear in the near future. Every generation of Christians has faced this challenge.

What I do know is this. Any one who uses fear cannot be speaking by the Spirit of God. Any one who says to a brother or sister who has been clothed by Christ in baptism that he or she can be separated from God cannot be speaking by the Spirit of God. Any one who claims or implies that the love of God is limited to only one group or only one party with the church or only one expression of the Christian message cannot be speaking by the Spirit of God. Any one who attempts to exclude another brother or sister in Christ because he or she does not follow the same code as another cannot be speaking by the Spirit of God.

All of us, gay or straight, male or female, European or African, so-called ‘conservative’ or so-called ‘progressive’, all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. But the good news is that Christ has not. By his faithfulness to his ‘Abba’, Christ accomplished what we could not --- despite all the codes and strategies we have adopted or imagined. In our baptism we participate in Christ’s faithfulness

  • so that we can become mustard seeds that give rise to bushes which shelter those who are vulnerable;
  • so that we can become leaven that gives rise to bread to feed those who are hungry in body, soul and spirit;
  • so that we can become the treasure that gives value to what may seem to be a fallow field;
  • so that we can become the pearl that reveals the beauty of God’s creating, redeeming and life-giving love.

In baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever --- for ever.

No one, whether archbishop or bishop, whether conservative or liberal, whether professor or church bureaucrat, can take from us our basic identity, our true selves. That identity, that selfhood, has been given us by our Lover, God. Through Jesus, God’s Beloved, and in the power of the Spirit, the Love that unites them, God calls us to be agents of love not fear, voices of hope not accusation, hands that embrace rather than strike out.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[3]


[1] Summarized from Tom Wright’s commentary on Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. X, 613.

[2] Frederick Denison Maurice, Theological Essays (London, UK: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1957). 323.

[3] Romans 8.39.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Be Careful How You Look at the World

[This sermon was preached on Sunday, 20 July 2008, at St Faith's Anglican Church, Vancouver BC.]

Propers: Genesis 20.10-19a; Psalm 139.1-12, 23-24; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

+ May your word, O Lord, accomplish that which you purpose and prosper in the thing for which you sent it. Amen.

When I was in seminary, our professor of church history, Bill Petersen, insisted that we become familiar with the biographies of the saints and luminaries of the church who were commemorated in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. I remember sitting with my classmates playing a game similar to Trivial Pursuit. “Who was Irenaeus of Lyons?” one of us would ask. Then whoever gave the most correct answer would be allowed to choose the next saint. “Ignatius of Antioch.” “John Chrysostom.” And on and on it went.

The life of one saint has remained in my memory because there were two versions of his story. Chad, Bishop of Lichfield, who died in 672, lived during a tumultuous period of British history. Among the tumults was the conflict between the indigenous Celtic Christian tradition and the newly-established Roman Christian centred around Canterbury in Kent. Chad had been made bishop in the Celtic tradition in 669, some four years after a synod meeting in Whitby had initiated the Romanization of British Christianity.

In a face-to-face outdoor meeting, Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury demanded that Chad cease the exercise of episcopal ministry. Chad had never sought to be a bishop and had accepted ordination in obedience to the call of his community. So, Chad stuck his pastoral staff in the ground as a symbol of his resignation and walked away. On this the two stories agree. What they don’t agree on is what happened next.

According to the Roman version, Archbishop Theodore was so impressed by Chad’s humility that he called Chad back, returned his staff and asked him to take up the ministry of a missionary bishop among the northern Anglo-Saxons, a post more congenial to Chad’s sense of vocation.

According to the Celtic version, the archbishop sent a deacon to pick up Chad’s staff. The deacon found he could not pull the staff out of the ground, nor could the succession of deacons the archbishop sent. Convinced that this was a sign from God, Archbishop Theodore yielded to the judgement of heaven and asked Chad to resume his episcopal ministry. At which point Chad pulled his staff out of the ground as easily as you please and then went off on his missionary work. I have my favourite version of the story, but that is no doubt caused by the strength of the ultimate strand in my Anglo-Norman-Celtic ancestry!

As my colleague, Sallie McFague, is fond of saying, “Be careful how you look at the world --- because that’s the way it is.”

Jacob is a man who believes that God is active in the world and in the events of our lives, whether waking or sleeping. His consciousness is open to the possibility that God can and does speak to human beings through various means --- if one is looking for such communication to happen. Even when one may not be looking for such communication to occur, God can touch us through our sub-conscious selves, our dreams, our intuitions. Jacob’s openness leads him to understand the importance of his dream, a dream that comes to him unbidden, unexpected and, as will become clear as his life progresses, inconveniently. But he does recognize that his world has expanded and that there are forces at work beyond his control. Even in a non-descript field God can reach out and reveal the divine presence and purpose.

And [Jacob] was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28.17

Paul is a man whose life has been turned upside down. From a persecutor of the followers of Jesus to a follower of the Way himself, Paul cannot help but acknowledge the mystery of the God who works in unexpected ways through unexpected agents in unexpected places. To the Christians in Rome, people whom he has never met but whose situation is well-known to him, Paul shares his perception of what God is doing in the world --- despite any external evidence to the contrary.

I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now . . . . Romans 8.18-19, 22

Live your future hope in the present, Paul writes. Look at the world through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Then the present will appear differently. Be careful how you look at the world --- because that’s the way it is.

My friends, we are sailing a sea that is filled with currents, doldrums and storms.

  • As we worship this morning, most of the bishops of the Anglican Communion are in England, trying to learn how to talk with one another about matters that divide one Christian from another and how to discover what unites one Christian to another --- even when we do not agree on how best to follow the way of Jesus of Nazareth. Some bishops have chosen not to attend, while others have chosen to risk the wrath of their colleagues by going to England.
  • As we worship this morning, the people of the Diocese of New Westminster are facing a future in which legal battles over property will most certainly occupy our attention. At the same time there are congregations who are exploring new initiatives in ministry --- even as the future shape of diocesan ministry is being discussed.
  • As we worship this morning, the people of this parish of St Faith’s are pondering how we remain faithful to the ministry established in this community some sixty years ago --- even as we consider how to pay the bills, how to serve our young people, how to support our elders, how to be a community of ‘open hearts, open hands, open minds’.

One perspective on all three of these situations is despair. Another might be cynicism. Yet another might be weariness. But then I think of Jacob and Paul, two men facing threats to their lives, their liberties and their pursuit of happiness --- to borrow from the Declaration of Independence. Neither chose despair nor cynicism nor weariness. Both chose to look at the world as the arena of God’s creating, reconciling and renewing activity. Both chose to look at the world as a place where God is not silent but constantly communicating to us --- if we choose to engage the world expecting such communication.

My friends, I have no illusions about the challenges of our personal and corporate lives. Nor am I a na├»ve Pollyanna who assumes that a world viewed through rose-coloured glasses is the world as it is. But what I do believe God’s word is to us today is this: Be careful how you look at the world --- because that’s the way it is.

  • Jacob believed that the world is a sacred universe in which God acts and that God does speaks.
  • Paul believed that the challenges of his time were real but could not thwart God’s purposes for the whole of creation.
  • In today’s parable two perspectives are evident. One sees fruitful grain to be nurtured and cared for, the other weeds to be culled. I suggest to you that, from God’s perspective, it is better to expend our energy on tending fruitful grain rather than obsessing with weeds. In a healthy field of grain, weeds find little purchase.
  • Those bishops who have gone to Lambeth, regardless of their views on the present controversies in our Communion, believe that it is better to talk directly with those with whom they may disagree rather than talk about them from a distance.
  • Those members of our own diocese and parish who continue to seek to share the life of the gospel we have come to know, regardless of the uncertainties of diocesan and parochial structures, are not blind to reality but rather are choosing to live with open hearts, with open hands and with open minds.

Which perspective we choose determines how we see the future. Despair, cynicism, weariness are real emotions --- but they need not become the lens through which one views one’s personal and corporate life. Challenges are real --- but open hearts, open hands and open minds will discover ways of responding that are life-giving rather than life-denying.

Be careful how you look at the world --- because that’s the way it is. Let us pray.

Through dreams and visions, O God, you broaden the horizon and hope of your people, that they may discover the meaning of your covenant, even in the midst of trial and exile. Increase the number of those who believe in your word so that all people may joyfully respond to your call and share in your promises. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pottage Now or Solid Food Later?

[The following notes formed the basis for a homily preached at St David's Anglican Church, Vancouver BC, on the 12th and the 13th of July 2008. My thoughts on the Esau-Jacob story were stimulated in part by my unease with the present situation in the Anglican Communion. On the one side are confessional-minded Anglicans who wish to dispel any ambiguity. On the other side are Anglicans who think that the way forward is to set aside credal statements of faith and rely on a particular understanding of post-modern thought. Neither, in my opinion, is the way forward, but the desire for a solution can lead us to accept pottage rather than solid food.]

Propers: Genesis 25.19-34; Psalm 119.105-112; Romans 8.1-11; Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23

O God of mercy, in Jesus Christ you freed us from sin and death, and by your Holy Spirit you nourish our mortal bodies with life. Plant us now in good soil, that our lives may flower in righteousness and peace. [We ask this through your incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Spirit of life, you live and reign, one God, now and for ever.] Amen.[1]

+ May I only speak God’s truth. May you only hear God’s truth. Amen.

1) From the first Sunday after Trinity until the second Sunday before Advent we enter what some liturgists call ‘ordinary’ time. More often than not, many of us simply call it ‘green’ time, that lengthy sequence of Sundays when the vestments are green and the lectionary includes texts that are confusing, seemingly irrelevant and even obscure.

2) At the present time we are in a part of the lectionary, the schedule of readings we use as a discipline to nurture our lives as Christians, that tells the stories of some of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people as well as their connections with the peoples who also lived in what we frequently call the Holy Land. We have heard the story of Abraham and Sarah and now we hear stories of their descendants.

3) I must be honest with you. As I looked at the readings for today, I was not sure what I should preach for you, the people of St David’s. The gospel reading didn’t need explaining; Jesus does that for me. The reading from Romans was pretty straightforward. Our reading from Genesis seemed, well, just a little bit boring.

4) But then I found myself thinking about some recent developments in my professional life and various developments in our lives as Anglicans. I then realized that the story of Jacob and Esau was not so boring after all. It was downright topical. Let me explain.

5) This past week I and several other administrators at VST have been pondering a proposal regarding staffing. We’ve gone back and forth on this proposal several times over the past few days, a ‘to-ing and fro-ing’ that has been a bit annoying to me and to others. On Friday I realized what the problem was with the proposal: It was a proposal that would provide us with a short-term gain but lead to long-term pain. What we needed to do was to accept some short-term pain in order to achieve some long-term gain

6) Within our own church nationally and internationally we are struggling with how we proclaim the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth in a way that is faithful to our heritage as Anglican Christians but open to our present situation as people of faith who live and witness in diverse cultures and social situations. Various proposals have been put forward to help us maintain our unity in the face of the very real social, cultural and theological differences that account for the controversies swirling around us. These proposals range from ones that are quite clear and specific about what is and is not Anglican Christianity, while others suggest that any attempt to define what is and is not Anglican are useless. What I find in both extreme positions is the desire to settle things quickly, to achieve short-term gain, while risking long-term pain.

7) Friends, the story of Jacob and Esau has many levels of meaning, too many for me to recount today. But let me suggest to you one that relates to our present situation. Esau is willing to sacrifice his birth-right to satisfy his immediate hunger. In other words, he prefers a short-term gain and, as a consequence, will suffer the long-term pain of losing his father’s blessing, a blessing that in Jewish tradition conveyed concrete benefits in terms of lands, goods and position in the family. ‘I’m hungry now,’ Esau snarls to his brother, Jacob. ‘What good are lands, goods and position to me if I starve to death?’ Imagine what a little patience would have brought to Esau.

8) Whether we are talking about St David’s or the Diocese of New Westminster or the Anglican Church of Canada or the Anglican Communion, we are in a time of pain. For some the pain arises from witnessing the decline of our congregations in the face of a changing society. For others the pain arises from witnessing our church battle over issues that touch the core of our understanding of what it means to be human and to be made in the image and likeness of God.

9) When we are in pain, we are often tempted to call out, ‘Make it stop. Give me, give us, something that will make the pain go away.’ But a quick fix, a pain reliever that masks the underlying causes of our pain, may contribute to a longer term dissolution of the values and commitments we hold dear. We may find that our desire to feel better may rob us of the opportunity to nurture and expand our ability to serve God and to participate in God’s mission to bring full life to all of God’s beloved.

10) My sisters and brothers, we cannot afford to be the Esau’s of our generation of Christians. We need to be prepared to endure the present pain and uncertainty within our congregation, church and communion without looking for quick or easy answers. In Jesus of Nazareth God has offered us a future, a heritage to be shared with generations yet unborn and with peoples who do not yet have the freedom to enjoy the fullness of life that is their birth-right. They are asking us to lift up our hearts and minds and hands and eyes so that we can see that we are on a journey that still has far to go, but a journey that leads us to a destination where all our hungers will be sated and our thirsts quenched.

11) May God give us strength for that journey. May God give us confidence to work towards our destination, life in Christ and life in its fullness. Amen.

[1] Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002) with doxology added by RGL+.

How Long, O Lord, How Long?

[The following homily was preached at the funeral of the Rev'd Kathy Hoodikoff, VST '07. Kathy was a presbyter of the Diocese of British Columbia serving at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria BC, who died after a sudden and devastating recurrence of cancer on 19 June 2008.]

Propers: Isaiah 25.1-6; Psalm 139; 2 Timothy 2.8-13; Luke 4.14-21

+ My sisters and brothers, may only God’s truth be spoken and only God’s truth heard.

Doug, Stacey and Marissa, on behalf of the Principal, the Faculty, the Students and the Staff of Vancouver School of Theology, I convey to you our sorrow at Kathy’s death and the assurance that you are very present to us in our prayers and thoughts.

To the other members of Kathy’s family I want you to know how much Kathy was loved and respected by her colleagues and the faculty. We had all hoped to watch her ministry as a priest develop in the years to come, but we shall now only be able to give thanks for the deep, rich and mature ministry she had already begun to exercise.

To all Kathy’s colleagues and friends here in the Diocese, especially Bishop Cowan, and the Cathedral, especially Dean McMenamie, I say thank you for the gift of ordained priestly ministry to which you called Kathy as her expression of our shared baptismal priesthood.

When I first heard the news of Kathy’s death, I offered the prayer that I have prayed too many times in recent years, the Kaddish, the prayer of the Jewish mourner. Today I ask you to join me in this prayer by responding ‘Blessed be God for ever.’ after each ‘Amen.’ Let us say ‘Amen!’ ‘Blessed be God for ever.’

Magnified and sanctified be the great name of God in the world which God created according to the divine will. May God establish the reign of justice and peace in your life and in your days, and in the lifetime of all God’s people: quickly and speedily may it come; and let us say Amen! Blessed be God for ever.

Blessed, praised and glorified, exalted, extolled and honoured, magnified and lauded be the name of the Holy One; blessed be God! Though God be high above all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations, which are uttered in the world; and let us say Amen! Blessed be God for ever.

May there be abundant peace from heaven and life for us and for all people; let us say Amen! Blessed be God for ever.

More than two thousand and five hundred years ago the residents of Jerusalem realized that their hopes had become ashes. Although they had been permitted to return to and rebuild the city of Jerusalem and to re-establish some semblance of autonomy, their initial joy had been replaced by bitterness and disappointment. A significant portion of the Jewish people remained in Babylon, while others lived in Egypt. The ruined city of Jerusalem could not regain the glory of the days of Solomon. The Temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, had been destroyed by the Babylonians and only partially and poorly re-built.

To this discouraged people a prophet brought words of hope and promise. This unknown prophet, not the Isaiah whose vision in the Temple still shapes our own worship with the song of the seraphim, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, but another prophet, spoke words that both captured the reality of the present moment and proclaimed a vision of what is God’s ultimate purpose regardless of how the present seemed:

‘For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.’ (Isaiah 25.5-6)

And the people faced their present with resolution and journeyed towards God’s future with hope.

Two thousand years ago that same people found themselves under the rule of another empire whose leaders claimed obedience, tribute and worship. The poor were becoming poorer, the rich richer and the Jewish religious authorities walked a tight-rope between collaboration with the imperial authorities and the assertion of Jewish identity. Charismatic religious and political leaders emerged on the left and on the right. As each one took his place on the stage of Jewish life, people wondered, ‘Is this one? Is the Messiah here? Will Roman rule finally be replaced by the rule of God?’

Into this maelstrom sailed Jesus of Nazareth, ‘filled with the power of the Holy Spirit’, preaching and teaching, healing and comforting, exciting the religious imaginations of the poor and arousing the fears of the powerful. On one fateful Sabbath, he was asked to comment on the lectionary reading for the day, a text taken from that portion of the book of Isaiah that was composed during the exile some five hundred years prior when the possibility of a return to Jerusalem was on the horizon. This text contained the volatile words, ‘to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour’, words which many understood to mean the time of the Messiah. And Jesus puts a match to the tinder of messianic hopes with his words, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

We know the roller-coaster that followed this simple yet dangerous proclamation. Crowds begin to gather and religious authorities begin to fear. Healings and teachings become felonies rather than manifestations of the grace of God. Plots are hatched; the rabbi arrested, tried, condemned and executed. News of his resurrection spread and hopes for his return rise and fall. His followers are persecuted, imprisoned and martyred. One Christian writer encourages the beleaguered community by reminding them, ‘If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him’. (2 Timothy 2.11a-12a)

And the people faced their present with resolution and journeyed towards God’s future with hope.

And here we are today, a day that for me brings back memories of a day in seminary, some thirty years ago now, when we officiated at the burial of a two-year-old boy drowned in a preventable accident. When the time came to put the dirt on his coffin, we all filed up behind the family. We had said all the right words. We had said wonderful things. We had sung wonderful hymns and we had even read passages from scripture which are exceedingly hopeful. But it had been a cold winter and the dirt was frozen. And when his mother, who had been told that she would never have another child, came to put her piece o dirt on his grave, she picked up a clod of dirt and threw it at the coffin. A true, a more true expression of how most of us had been feeling than some of the words that were spoken. To this day, some thirty years later, I still hear the sound of that clod of dirt clanging against the small coffin. And I still remember the dent that I saw as I passed by to put in my handful of dirt.

Today you and I are in Jerusalem after the return from exile, when the hopes for the future are confronted by the harsh realities of the present. Today you and I are in a synagogue in Nazareth hearing words that promise liberation even as we know ourselves to be burdened by the bonds of grief. Dare we hope that the words spoken by the prophets are true? Dare we risk believing that God’s last word is life not death? Dare we celebrate the life and ministry of Kathy, daughter, sister, wife, and mother, diocesan lay leader and priest?

Let us dare these things, yes. For Kathy’s sake and for the world’s, let us dare these things. But let us also dare to cry out, to lift our voices to the One who created us, who redeemed us, who empowers us by the Spirit, saying, ‘How long, O Lord?’ as we acknowledge our sense of loss and of promise denied. Let us lament the death of one who had already demonstrated how alive she was in Christ even as we proclaim our hope that the vision of the world which she believed and lived will come soon. Let us lament the too-short ordained priesthood of one who sought to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour even as we commit ourselves, whether lay or ordained, to that same priesthood of presence that Kathy embodied. Let us lament that our present only shows us glimpses of the world that God intends for all God’s creatures even as we give thanks for the glimpse of that world made known to us in and through Kathy.

And God’s people will face their present with resolution and journey towards God’s future with hope.

Kathy, into paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

May the choirs of angels welcome you, and with Lazarus who once was poor may you have peace everlasting. Amen.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Thoughts on Full Communion

[These comments were in response to an inquiry by Jason Derr regarding the full communion agreement between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.]

Dear Jason,

Here are my responses to your questions. I have copied my response to the national staff members responsible for the Joint Commission as a courtesy to the Commission. While I am a member of the Joint Commission, I do not wish to speak on its behalf but on my own responsibility.

1) Why did we do this? The visible unity of the Christian church has been a commitment of the Anglican and Lutheran communions for a century or more. We believe that this unity can be achieved by stages and our agreement is a significant stage in the effort to the full visible unity of the church.

2) Why the Anglicans? During the Reformation there were numerous contacts between continental Lutherans and the Church of England. Neither communion had ever condemned the other and, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there were examples of cooperation between the two communions, particularly in Africa and India. Lutherans and Anglicans have understood themselves to be reform movements within the catholic church and have tended to honour our catholic heritage even while being critical of certain emphases within that heritage.

3) How are we expressing this agreement on all levels? Representatives of the two churches serve as members of the national executive councils of both churches and on the major national committees and commissions of the two churches. National events are planned in order to facilitate the participation of the members of both churches. Dioceses and synods are cooperating in the appointment of clergy, the establishment of new congregations, the development of shared ministries and the continuing education of clergy. Local congregations are cooperating in areas of mission and ministry.

4) What does this mean for the local Lutheran congregation? First, it means that the congregation has a ready-made partner in their Anglican neighbour. Second, it means that there are now numerous opportunities to cooperate in areas of mutual concern and ministry. Third, it means that Lutherans and Anglicans can explore how they can worship together and support one another in pastoral ministry.

5) How did it come about? Anglicans and Lutherans have been engaged in bilaterial conversations internationally since the latter decade of the nineteenth century. Since the early twentieth century, the Church of Sweden and many of the national Anglican churches have been been in full communion. In Canada our conversations began in the early 1970's in response to an international bilateral dialogue that began in the late 1960's and to the dialogue between Lutherans and Episcopalians in the United States. These bilateral dialogues in the United States and Canada were further fuelled by conversations between British and Irish Anglicans and Lutherans in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries. After a series of Canadian Lutheran and Anglican discussions resulted in shared affirmations and common statements as well as a period of interim eucharist sharing, the National Church Convention and the General Synod authorized the creation of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Working Group in 1995 with a six-year mandate to facilitate a process that could result in full communion in 2001. This Working Group consulted widely throughout the country, facilitated study days involving clergy and laity from both churches and worked closely with the bishops and councils of both churches to produce 'The Waterloo Declaration'. The Declaration was approved by both churches on 6 July 2001.

6) What is it? Full communion is the breaking down of divisions by recognizing the full apostolicity of each church, the authenticity of each other's ordained ministries and the transferability of clergy and laity between the two churches. Full communion is a commitment to walk together, honouring our unity in faith and witness without abandoning our distinctiveness. Full communion is a relationship between equals that celebrates shared values and vision.

7) How does this effect clergy and future clergy in both churches? The agreement means that the present clergy of the two churches are eligible to serve in either church depending upon mutually-agreed guidelines governing movement between the two churches. These guidelines, available on-line at either national church website, are not intended to inhibit movement but to ensure that clergy are sensitive to the ethos of the other church as well as the differences in some of our constitutional arrangements. Future clergy should be trained in such a way as to become 'bi-lingual', ready to serve in the church that ordains them as well as their partner.

8) What does this mean for the lay person? For the lay person it means that we respect each other's baptism and confirmation practices. It means that we are committed to finding ways to support each other rather than compete with each other.

9) In a post-Christian world where most lay people do not identify by denomination, does this even make sense? Yes, it makes sense. There are no homogenized Christians and we delude ourselves if we believe that our traditions are irrelevant. In a world in which we are pulled by self-satisfying individualized spirituality on the one hand and exclusivist sectarianism on the other, the witness of two historic multi-cultural, multi-lingual communions drawing near and choosing communion rather than competition is significant.

10) Are Lutheran and Anglican churches restricted to playing together or can any given congregation also run programmes with any other local church or any denomination? Full communion is a specific relationship between Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada that is governed by the Waterloo Declaration. Either national church is free to enter into formal agreements with any other Christian body, although such an agreement does not bind the partner church to a similar arrangement. Congregations are free to engage in collaborative ministry with any other Christian community subject to the polity and policies of their own communion. There are numerous collaborative ministries being undertaken throughout our country between Christians of a wide variety of communions, 'Kairos', the Canadian inter-church justice organization, being just one.

I hope that these answer are helpful to you.