Tuesday, December 29, 2009

From National Church to Global Communion

[I am posting the course description of a course I shall be teaching in the Spring Term of 2010. To register contact the Registrar, Anita Fast, at www.vst.edu.]

HIS 650 From National Church to Global Communion:
The Development of the Anglican Communion
Spring Term 2010

Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett
Iona 219

Thursdays from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Anglicanism has developed from a specifically English context into a world-wide communion that embraces differing cultures and peoples throughout the inhabited world. In HIS 650 you will be introduced to the development of the Anglican Communion historically and theologically as it has welcomed and rebuffed the contexts in which it has found itself.

You must have completed HIS 100 or its equivalent. The instructor reserves the right to determine equivalency.

The course will meet weekly for a three-hour lecture and discussion.

You will be evaluated on your ability

• to identify distinctive movements within the Anglican Communion and to analyze their impact on contemporary Anglican thought and praxis
• to identify significant structures of the Anglican Communion and to analyze their impact on contemporary Anglican though and praxis
• to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of ‘unity in diversity’ as experienced by the member churches of the Anglican Communion

You are expected to fulfill the following expectations:

i) Participate in at least 80% of the scheduled class sessions,
ii) Complete the weekly reading assignments as scheduled,
iii) Complete one critical book review and
iv) Complete the final paper.

There are two evaluations associated with this course:

• A critical book review of Douglas and Pui-Lan, Beyond Colonial Anglicanism (five to seven pages) and
• A final paper on any aspect of the development of the Anglican Communion that you choose (ten to fifteen pages).

Required texts
There are three required texts, two of which will be read as weekly assignments. A detailed syllabus will be available on the first day of class.

Douglas, Ian T. and Pui-Lan, Kwok, ed. Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century. New York, NY: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2001.

Sachs, William L. The Transformation of Anglicanism: From State Church to Global Communion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Sykes, Stephen; Booty, John and Knight, Jonathan, ed. The Study of Anglicanism. Rev. ed. London, UK: SPCK, 1998; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Beauty of Holiness

[I am posting the description of a course that I will be offering at Vancouver School of Theology during the Spring Term of 2010. If you are interested, then contact the Registrar, Anita Fast, via the School's website at www.vst.edu.]

SP 515 The Beauty of Holiness: Worship and Spirituality in the Anglican Tradition
Spring Term 2010

Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett
Iona 219

Tuesdays from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.

Unlike other traditions shaped by the European reformation of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Anglican tradition did not develop a confessional approach to its articulation of Christian faith and praxis. Rather than confessional documents, the Anglican tradition developed a spirituality of praxis embodied in its ‘practices’ of the liturgical year, Christian initiation, eucharist, daily prayer and other spiritual practices. SP 515 provides a foundation in the history and spirituality of these practices within the Anglican tradition with an eye to their renewal in the life of contemporary Christians.

There are no pre-requisites for this course. This course is open to all students and is required for students in the M.Div. programme preparing for ordained ministry in the churches of the Anglican Communion.

The course will meet weekly for a three-hour lecture and discussion.

You will be evaluated on your ability

• to identify distinctive Anglican approaches to the topics mentioned in the ‘Purpose’ section above;
• to compare and contrast historic Anglican approaches to classic ‘practices’ to contemporary Anglican approaches and
• to analyze the approaches of various Anglican writers to the topics mentioned in the ‘Purpose’ section above.

You are expected to fulfill the following expectations and to complete successfully the following evaluations:

(i) Completion of four critical book reviews and
(ii) Participation in at least 80% of the scheduled class sessions.

You will be required to submit four critical book reviews of the texts by Bartlett, Guenther, Countryman and Weil (five to seven pages each). In these book reviews you will compare and contrast the approaches described in the text with your own experience of contemporary Anglican praxis. The book reviews need to demonstrate a familiarity with the content and approach of the author.

Required Texts
There are five required texts. Four will be read in order to complete the evaluations named above and one, Sykes, will be used as a resource for the course. Any additional weekly reading materials will be placed on reserve.

A detailed syllabus will be available on the first day of class.

Bartlett, Alan. A Passionate Balance: The Anglican Tradition. Traditions of Christian Spirituality. London, UK: Dartman, Longman and Todd, 2007.

Countryman, L. William. The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition. Traditions of Christian Spirituality. London, UK: Dartman, Longman and Todd, 1999.

Guenther, Margaret. The Practice of Prayer. The New Church’s Teaching Series, no. 4. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1998.

Sykes, Stephen; Booty, John and Knight, Jonathan, ed. The Study of Anglicanism. Rev. ed. Lon-don, UK: SPCK, 1998; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

Weil, Louis. A Theology of Worship. The New Church’s Teaching Series, no. 12. Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2002.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dear Bishop Nicholas

RCL Advent 2C
6 December 2009

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Dear Bishop Nicholas,

Once again the passage of days has brought us to the celebration of your feast day. All around us the hustle and bustle of people preparing for the annual celebration of North American disillusionment and short-sighted greed has begun. Our media make false promises by trying to make us believe that the purchase of this item or that item will somehow fulfill our deepest longings. Songwriters and singers outdo one another in writing songs that they hope will somehow imbue us with the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ even as they studiously avoid any mention of the rabbi from Nazareth whose birth gave rise to this ‘holiday season’.

My Jewish friends tell me that they used to be quite happy that Chanukah did not have the same profile as Christmas. Its low profile meant that Jewish children could be seen to have a time to exchange presents while the religious meaning of the festival, a celebration of God’s miraculous preservation of the Jewish people in the face of an imperial power, remained secure. But even my rabbinical colleagues tell me that the power of the North American consumer machine has begun to crack the religious defences of this Jewish festival. One of the rabbis made a passing remark that he wished someone would write a song about the ‘true meaning of Chanukah’.

Even your feast day has become a victim to the disillusionments of our times. Twenty years ago a young man, Marc Lepine, walked into the École Polytechnique in Montréal as students were in the last day of class before examinations. He separated the women from the men and then proceeded to kill fourteen and wound many more before he killed himself. He left a letter in which he blamed ‘feminists’ for all his disappointments. Even one of the good outcomes of this tragedy, stronger laws regarding firearms and their registration, is being dismantled by the federal government.

Once upon a time I used to portray you regularly at student and congregational parties. One of my former students made a cardboard mitre and my own jewellery as well as an English shepherd’s staff when added to a red chasuble gave a reasonable facsimile --- no beard though. I used to write stories that illustrated the values you upheld during your long and tumultuous life. I developed a three-year cycle which I never wrote down, but children who had heard the cycle would correct me if I strayed from the ‘canonical’ text. Now the pressures of being part-time students and congregations struggling in the face of ‘volunteer fatigue’ and declining membership just try to hang on during the ‘holiday season’. The events of the 6th of December 1989, the so-called ‘Montréal Massacre’ have also contributed to your day being underplayed as we try to remember that there are millions of women who still suffer abuse and murder throughout the world.

This year your feast coincides with our celebration of the Second Sunday of Advent, the first of two ‘John the Baptist’ Sundays. I was struck by the quotation from Isaiah 40 in the appointed gospel from Luke: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Here I am, surrounded by the riches of Canadian society, serving in an Anglican diocese where few if any of our members are truly hungry or naked or homeless, teaching what I always wanted to teach, married to a hard-working parish rector with whom I have three young adult children who are in school, and I can only relate to one part of the quotation: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness . . . .”

For whatever reason, and there are many I could name, this year your festival comes like a voice in the wilderness. Let me say more.

The wilderness is, in a biblical sense, always a place of promise and danger. The wilderness is a place of promise because a wanderer in the desert becomes acutely aware of how everything depends upon the graciousness of God. In the wilderness stories of Israel, water is found just when it is needed, food is discovered just when it is needed, shelter is found just when it is needed. The people were in God’s hands and God did not fail to provide for their needs. But the wilderness is also a place of danger. Death is always lurking just outside the limits of the camp for sure, but the real danger lies in forgetting our dependence upon God’s graciousness and to become greedy, to covet what others possess and to complain at God’s perceived lack of generosity. When that happens, we lose our way and begin to wander aimlessly. Eventually we no longer find water or discover food or find shelter. Death comes to us, whether physically or spiritually, and our bones litter the ground.

I wonder what John the Baptist thought when he heard people identifying him with that voice in the wilderness spoken of by Isaiah. Did he know that becoming God’s voice is rarely a positive career move? Did he realize that becoming a prophet, someone who speaks God’s word into the present, is usually the path to persecution and death? Recently I heard one of our bishops comment that, although we need our prophets, we rarely want them to be our leaders.

Poor John! He struggled in the wilderness and suffered the cruelties of the elements. He lived long enough to see his younger cousin supersede him. A tyrant imprisoned him and a jealous wife managed to have him executed by using her daughter to seduce her husband. When they came for him in the prison, did John see the straight path of the Lord in the wilderness? Did he see the salvation of all flesh? Maybe you could chat him up on this if the opportunity presents itself to you.

Forgive me for asking you this, but did you ever feel like a voice in the wilderness? What was it like for you to grow up during the last days of Christian persecution? How did you feel when you were imprisoned? Did you have any glimpses of the straight path of the Lord? Did you glimpse the salvation of all flesh? Even when Constantine de-criminalized the practice of the Christian faith, you hardly chose a popular course, did you? You used the resources of the diocese to provide dowries for poor women, hardly an act that would have endeared you to the diocesan council. You used the resources of the diocese to ransom sailors from pirates, hardly an act that would have endeared you to those who wanted to keep a cheap labour force. You even used diocesan revenues to provide parents with enough support to prevent them from selling their ‘surplus’ children into slavery. I doubt that the Better Slave Dealers Bureau of Myra voted you ‘Man of the Year’ for that little ploy.

You may be thinking, “What is he on about?” I’ll tell you. How do we proclaim the good news in what seems to be a wilderness? John proclaimed the good news of the coming of the Messiah and lost his head. You proclaimed the good news of a God of justice who cares for the poor and dispossessed and your feast day becomes the memorial of a massacre perpetrated by an angry man who felt dispossessed by the process of equality and fair treatment of women that you modelled for your own time. We here, we Anglicans of the Diocese of New Westminster, live in one of the richest places on earth, the ‘best place on earth’ if we are to believe our provincial government. For centuries we have played a significant part in the lives of our communities.

But the times have changed. When we open our churches to the homeless and become advocates for the poor, the neighbours complain about property values. When we contemplate redeveloping our properties to provide services to the elderly or to the dying, the sheer weight of bureaucratic procedure overwhelms us. When we dare to speak out about the near-sightedness that continues to rape the planet God gave us, the government withdraws the grants that we have used for decades to serve the poorest of the poor throughout the globe. When we ring our church bells to summon the faithful to worship, the neighbours complain about noise. Where, Nicholas, is the straight road? When will we see the salvation of all flesh?

Today we read part of a letter Paul wrote to the Christians at Philippi. He wrote that he was confident that the one who had begun a good work among them would bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ [Philippians 1.6]. I was wondering if you could find Paul, perhaps John as well, and go and ask God when that day will be. The people among whom I live and work have been doing a lot of good work and they are getting tired, some may even be beginning to lose hope that this wilderness is only a passing phase we’re going through.

I hope that you do not think that I am arrogant in asking you to do this. Perhaps I am. Maybe it would be enough for the Spirit to break into this wilderness of Vancouver and into this season where so many of our neighbours are deluding themselves with visions of ‘the perfect gift’ and with the hope of Boxing Week sales will somehow fulfill their humanity. Maybe the Spirit could give Paula back her voice so that she could speak words of hope and comfort into this wilderness. Maybe the Spirit could strengthen our voices so that we could convince our neighbours and our governments that this is a wilderness and that there are those who are being lost because of our greed and exploitation and our lack of concern. Maybe the Spirit could give my sisters and brothers in this Diocese a glimpse of what we’ve been working for; you know, the straight path and salvation of all flesh. Just a glimpse; that’s all we need right now, I think.

Well, that’s probably enough for this letter. You can share it with anyone you think might be interested in it. I wouldn’t mind it if you shared it with John and Paul. Please tell the Writer of the Song of creation that we could use a bit more of the Breath that moved upon the waters at the beginning. We are hanging in down here, but any extra jolt to our stamina would be welcome.

Blessings to you and to all who might know me,


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Living in and into hope

RCL Proper 33B
15 November 2009

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers: 1 Samuel 1.4-20; 1 Samuel 2.1-10; Hebrews 10.11-14[15-18]19-25; Mark 13.1-8

Let us pray.

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose brings salvation to birth. Give us faith to be steadfast amid the tumults of this world, trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen. [Evangelical Lutheran Worship]

1) It is an ancient and contemporary story. Someone lacks what society deems to be valuable, what is necessary for social status. After many years of enduring abuse with patience and faith, he or she abandons all propriety and receives a promise, perhaps given only to get rid of the person. Then he or she receives what has been promised and lives happily ever after.

2) But in Hannah this ancient story takes a slightly different trajectory.

a) Hannah acts on the promise inherent in Eli’s blessing. She takes the risk of yet more disappointment and seeks the bed of her husband. This is no passive ‘waiting on the Lord’; this comes close to putting the Lord to the test.

b) When she receives the gift she has sought for so long, Hannah gives the gift away, completely and irrevocably. Although the writer of 1 Samuel will later record that she subsequently gives birth to three more sons and two daughters, this does not negate the radical nature of her decision to give Samuel over to God. She has no surety that she will have another child. No doubt there were some family members who thought her quite mad.

4) Hannah’s act and the substance of today’s reading from Hebrews raise a question for me: What is our hope?

a) For Hannah her hope was that God would grant her a child, thus proving to the whole family that she was a fruitful wife, a fit companion or her husband, Elkanah. The birth of Samuel was, in one fashion or another, an affirmation of her full personhood as this was under-stood at that time.

b) For the writer of Hebrews hope lay in the assurance that faithfulness in following the way of Jesus was the key to being fully alive, fully living into the wisdom of God made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth. To love one another and to do works of justice was a manner of life that helped to shape us into the pattern of the Word of God as embodied in Jesus, the one in whom we see God’s life fully realized in a human person in time and space.

5) When Saint Faith’s was founded more than sixty years ago, what was the hope of the founding families?

a) No doubt there hope was to establish in this part of the city a sign of God’s faithfulness to the world. Here children would learn the faith, adults would serve the well-being of the community and compassionate pastoral care would be offered to rich and poor, young and old.

b) No doubt some hoped that this would be, to borrow a phrase from T. S. Eliot, a place where prayer was valid. Here we would stand before God and lift up the needs and concerns of our little corner of creation. Here we would pour the water of new birth and incorporate new fellow pilgrims to follow the way of Jesus. Here we would break the bread of life and pour out the cup of salvation, for strength not only for solace, for renewal not only for pardon (cf. The Book of Common Prayer 1979, 372).

c) From the vantage point of the present I dare to claim that the hopes of our founders have been realized. We have been and continue to be a visible testament to God’s faithfulness to us and to all whom God has made. We have shared and continue to share with young and old the wisdom of God made known in the Scriptures, in our own experience and in our Anglican heritage. Here prayer has been valid and the sacraments have been lovingly and faithfully administered to all who have come among us in faith.

6) We are now facing the challenge of determining the future of this community of faith.

a) Over the months ahead we will take counsel together regarding how best to live in and into the hope that first brought us into existence.

b) Some of us may have very clear views of what should be done. Others of us may need to ponder and to pray before we commit ourselves to a particular course of action.

c) Regardless of where we find ourselves in this conversation, one thing must re-main clear: to live in and into hope requires continuing commitment to corporate life and to the concrete actions that express our identity as followers of Jesus, our way and our life.

d) Ultimately our hope is for a world in which every human being is fully alive, loved for no other reason that he or she bears the image of God; fully alive, free to offer without artificial constraint or prejudice the unique gifts bestowed to her or him by a gracious God; fully alive, knowing that there is more to life than the acquisition of goods and prestige; fully alive, living wisely and in harmony with all of creation, human and non-human.

e) This is why we are here, serving as stewards of the resources given into our care, whether as individuals, as families, as a community of faith.

7) So, my sisters and brothers in the way of Jesus, as we walk the way before us and consider how we may live in and into hope, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” [Hebrews 10.23-25]

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Here I am with my colleagues on the Joint Commission of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada at our recent meeting in Edmonton (October 2009). To my left are Paul Johnson and Alyson Barnett-Cowan. Paul is leaving the National Office of the ELCIC and Alyson is off to the Anglican Communion Office in London.
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Be careful what you wish for!

The ecclesiastical air waves have been full of commentary on the initiative undertaken by the present Bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, to facilitate the integration of dissident Anglican communities within the communion of the Roman church. While some of the provisions are new, the initiative is not new. Since the nineteenth century both individuals and communities have sought re-integration either through submission and absorption as embodied by John Henry Newman or through accommodation of congregations who could not accept the ordination of women and the introduction of revised liturgical rites.

From an Anglican perspective such movement should be greeted with compassion and pastoral respect. Since Anglicans believe themselves to be Catholic Christians gathered in national churches, the decision of some Anglicans to seek communion with Rome is similar to choosing to live in a different neighbourhood that one finds congenial to one's values and lifestyle. However, given that the Roman Church does not share this Anglican perspective on the nature of the visible Church, the submission of Anglican communities to the discipline of the Roman tradition has a different public face.

I want to say that those who are fleeing what they understand to be questionable decisions within Anglican Communion should be careful in what they wish for. When one is running away from what may seem to be a mad dog, it is important to watch where one is going so as not to fall as unsuspecting prey to a lurking wolf.

In today’s Globe and Mail the Dean of Ottawa, the Very Rev’d Shane Parker writes: “For decades, the Anglican Church has welcomed Roman Catholics who feel called to be faithful to a tradition that dates back to St. Peter but who wish to do so in a church that has democratically elected bishops, male and female clergy, married clergy, provision for remarriage after divorce, and the courage to be affected by the dynamic interplay of scripture, tradition and reason. We haven’t made a public announcement for fear of offending our sisters and brothers in the Roman Church.”

Sandra Fairman from Toronto writes in the same issue, “I can see why conservative Anglicans might want to convert to Catholicism. They have inadvertently found themselves in a church where they are being asked to practice the teachings of Christ.”

To the comments of Dean Parker and Ms Fairman I might add that the Roman Church denies any meaningful role to the laity in decisions relating to the faith and order of the Christian community. Anglican clergy who choose to respond positively to the Bishop of Rome’s invitation will discover that they have taken up residence in an ecclesiastical cul de sac. They will not find themselves called to the episcopate and, unless specific provision is made for the theological education of new clergy in the Anglican tradition in a Roman key, subsequent parish pastors will reflect Romanitas rather than a genuine Anglican ethos. The experience of other so-called ‘Uniate’ churches, mostly Eastern Rite churches that have sought integration into the Roman communion while preserving their unique customs and heritage, has not been universally positive. Anglicans seeking communion with Rome may discover that their heritage will disappear within one or two ‘generations’.

So long as Rome considers itself to be the Catholic Church and to deny full ecclesial respect to non-Roman Western Christians, Anglican communities fleeing what they consider to be the ‘mad dog’ of so-called ‘liberal’ Anglicans will discover that they have fallen prey to a lurking Roman wolf who will consume them bit by bit. They will lose their Anglican ethos, an ethos that threatens the existing Roman hegemony. When faced with such a subtle threat, the Roman authorities will work quietly but assiduously to reduce the threat posed by these refugees.

In the meantime I shall pray for the genuine visible unity of the Christian Church, one that respects the diversity of peoples and cultures that have found hope in the Gospel while proclaiming the good news of our faith: Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!

Monday, October 12, 2009

But it's not fair!

Feast of SS Francis and Faith
4 October 2009

St Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

In 1975 I graduated from the University of Denver with a bachelor’s degree with a major in German language and literature and a minor in secondary education. I had a strong second minor in French and had been elected to membership in Phi Beta Kappa, the older academic honorary society in the United States, in my third year of university, the earliest date that I was eligible for election. In awarding the degree my university granted me the distinction of magna cum laude, a distinction which is something similar to a First in the British university system.

With these credentials in hand I set myself to the task of applying for a teaching position in my home state of Colorado. There were, at that time, sixty-three school districts in the state and I applied to all of them. This was not an inexpensive venture, since all required an official transcript from the University, each purchased at the cost of $2 or $3 in 1975 dollars. Then I waited.

By mid-summer I had received two letters expressing regret that there were no positions available and one letter inviting me to an interview in a district to the north of Denver. I went to the interview, confident in my credentials, only to be told at the end of the interview that I would not be successful in obtaining this position. There was an internal candidate for the job and, all things being equal, she would be the district’s choice.

I drove home in silence for two hours. When I arrived at my parents’ home where I was living, my father asked how things had gone. I gave him the bad news and then said, “It’s not fair. I have done everything everyone has told me to do and I am still stuck working in a department store.” My father looked at me and said, “Where did you get the impression that life is always fair?”

One of the things that makes saints saints is that they understand that ‘fairness’ is not a religious term. They do not look for fairness; they look for holiness and for integrity.

Because we read from it so seldom, we may not have realized that our first reading, a portion of ‘The Song of the Three Young Men’, is a song attributed to the three young men of the book of Daniel who are thrown into a fiery furnace. This is the song that they supposedly sang as they were in the midst of the flames. If you remember the story, you will know that the king has decreed that everyone must worship the god that he has set up. These three young Jews who have shown their fidelity to the law of Moses in every particular refuse to worship this god. As a consequence of their faithfulness, they are thrown at the king’s command into the fiery furnace. As they are being thrown into the furnace, the king taunts them, saying, “We’ll see now whether your god will save you or not.” Then, in one of my favourite verses in all of the scriptures, one of the young men says, “Whether God saves us or not, God is still God. We will not obey you, so do your worst.” They are not interested in fairness; they are interested in being faithful and in maintaining their integrity.

Francis of Assisi was not interested in fairness. His poor father spent thousands in to-day’s money trying to make his son into a somebody. His father outfitted Francis with the best armour, sent him off to war and Francis returned a failure. Francis’ decision to sell all that he possessed and to serve the poor sent his father into a public display of paternal anger that has echoed through the centuries. But Francis was not interested in becoming an up and coming young merchant. Francis had found something else that was more important to him. He didn’t love his parents any less, but he found something that he loved more. And off he went.

We remember Francis not because of his preaching to the birds and his hymns that ap-peal to our romantic sensibilities; we remember Francis and all the saints because they sought faithfulness not fairness. They are interested in maintaining a personal integrity that may come at the expense of what the world thinks is fair. They are not seeking to be rewarded nor are they afraid of being punished; they only seek to be who they are in God’s eyes.

Fairness is a concept that operates on the basis of the principle that we get what we deserve: if we are good, we are rewarded and if we are wicked, we are punished. But the question that my father implicitly asked me and that the lives of the saints strive to answer is this: Why do we choose lives of religious faith? Is it possible to choose to live a righteous life even if the carrot of reward and the stick of punishment seem to be unpredictably applied? Is it possible that the old saying, “Virtue is its own reward”, is, in fact, true?

The people of Samoa are among some of the most faithful Christians in the world. Is it fair that a tsunami strikes their islands? Will a tsunami render that faith void? The people of Indonesia are some of the most faithful Muslims in the world. Is it fair that a major earthquake strikes their islands? Will the earthquake render that faith void? The Roman Catholics of Cape Breton are among the most faithful in the world. Is it fair that yet one more of their pastoral leaders has been arrested for allegedly possessing child pornography? Will the arrest of one of their bishops render that faith void? The short answer is “yes”. I do not doubt that these events will cause some to turn away from their faith believing that events have demonstrated that the kosmos is not fair. Others, I hope, will come to a different answer: Whether things go well or ill, I will remain faithful to the path of righteousness that has guided me thus far. I will remain faithful because the glory of God is not shown in rewards to the righteous and in punishments to the wicked. The glory of God is shown in a human being fully alive. I will continue to follow this path, because it is the way that I become fully human, my true end as God’s be-loved.

My friends, let me speak plainly. The people of this parish, from its foundation to the present time, have lived faithfully in this community. We have served and continue to serve the people who live within and outside our parish boundaries with constancy and generosity. We have tended and continue to tend those who are ill in body and soul with love and gentleness. In a fair world we would be thronged by those who sought to join us in this way of life. But the world is not always fair. The future of Anglican ministry in this part of Greater Vancouver is not yet clear and we are not sure what role we as the people of this parish will play in that future.

What is clear to me, however, is this. We are not a community that exercises our religious faith in the hope of reward nor in the fear of punishment. We are a community that lives our faith because we know that it is what makes us fully alive, persons made in the image and likeness of God, who choose faith rather than expediency, who choose generosity rather than self-interest, who choose to serve rather than to be served. We are struggling and we are conscious of the challenges, but we still believe that God is working in us and through us. Our suffering may not be as dramatic in the grand scheme of things when compared to earthquakes and tsunamis, but our response is the same: Whether things are good or ill, whether we succeed or fail, we will bless God who has shown us the path of life, the way to be truly human in a world full of counterfeits.

That is why we remember the three young men in the fiery furnace and St Faith and St Francis. We remember them not because it’s fair but because they manifest that life of integrity, that search for genuine humanity, that still eludes many people. The tragedy of contemporary society in North America, I believe, to quote an old country song, is that people are ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’. They are seeking to be truly human, but, unfortunately, what is being offered to them is false. The way of Christ, the way of humility, is the only way I know to be fully human and it is at odds with a world of fairness. Christ teaches that the more we give, the more we acquire at the end. The way of Christ is that when we are wronged, we for-give. This is not fair. All the values of the Christian way of life are contrary to a world of fairness, but they are essential to be genuinely human. And that is what we are here for.

When the anonymous Christian sat down to write what we know as the Letter to the Hebrews, he knew that his readers were discouraged and tempted to abandon the faith that they had adopted. The first generation of believers was beginning to pass away and the world did not appear to have changed significantly. Persecution of one form or another had begun to break out against the followers of the way of Jesus. To this dispirited group he wrote: “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 11.23-25)

So let us confess our hope together. Let us encourage one another to love and to do the work that we have been given to do. Let us meet together to hear the word of life and to share in the body and blood of Christ. Let us come together, not to be rewarded nor to avoid punishment, but to become who we truly are: the beloved of God, fully alive. Amen.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Where have all the flowers gone?

RCL Proper 25B
20 September 2009

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers: Proverbs 31.10-31; Psalm 1; James 3.13-4.3, 7-8a; Mark 9.30-37

On Thursday, the 17th of September 2009, Mary Travers of the vocal trio, Peter, Paul and Mary, died after a lengthy battle with leukemia. When I heard the news of her death, I was deeply moved. I grew up in the United States during the turbulent years of the struggle for the civil rights of Afro-Americans, the civil strife over the war in Vietnam and the transition from the white, middle-class society of the post-war years into the more multi-cultural and politically-fractured society that is the United States today. When I reached adolescence, it was the songs of Peter, Paul and Mary that spoke to more far more than those of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix or any of the individuals and groups that colour the music of the sixties.

I listened to their songs because the words mattered. Their music was the vehicle that caused the words to remain in one’s consciousness. When they sang about peace, I believed that peace was possible. When they sang about justice, I believed that justice was possible. When they sang about the value of every human being, man, woman, child, I believed them. When they sang about childhood dreams and fantasies, I believed them.

I believed Peter, Paul and Mary because, even when I might not entirely agree with the political views they expressed, I knew that they were willing to put their lives where their songs were. They were with Martin Luther King during the March on Washington in the early sixties. They were in the midst of those who were protesting the involvement of the United States in what was essentially a civil war in Vietnam.

When I heard the news of Mary Travers’ death, I came to realize that a significant factor in my emotional response to her death was due to a simple fact: She taught me to believe that fundamental change was possible and I found myself no longer certain that this was true. I am fifty-six years old and discrimination against gays and lesbians, aboriginals and people of colour, the exploitation of the poor and the pursuit of personal privilege rather than the common good are still powerful realities not only in places far away from ‘the best place on earth’ but even here in this place of safety, prosperity and relative freedom. Even when I played her music on Thursday and Friday, the emotion was not renewed hope but disappointment that the vision still awaited its time.

Then I realized that I was to preach today, so I turned to the readings in order to prepare. In these texts I was brought up short and forced to consider what it means to be wise in the eyes of God. Although it is not common on so-called ‘green’ Sundays for the readings to present a unified picture, there is a strand that connects them together.

For those of us who were present for June Eveleigh’s funeral, the first reading will be familiar. In the closing section of the book of Proverbs, the writer composes a hymn to praise ‘the woman of worth’ who exemplifies “strength, independence, courage, kindness, wisdom and piety”. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed., 942 Hebrew Bible) What struck me at June’s funeral and in reading these words again is how the writer understands wisdom to be more than just knowledge. Wisdom is shown in how one actually lives and ‘the woman of worth’ is praised because of how she lives her life and conducts the affairs of her household.

We then responded with the psalm that ancient editors decided should introduce the whole collection of psalms. The righteous, the writer says, are known for what they do: they delight in the law of the Lord, they mediate on God’s law and they bear fruit.

Then we hear the words from the letter of James to an early community of Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah. Throughout Christian history this letter has been an object of controversy because of its clear affinity with Jewish tradition and its perceived critique of the theology of Paul, a powerful figure in the development of the Christian faith. But what wonderful words these are to hear: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. . . . (The) wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (James 3.13, 17) True wisdom is made evident in the conduct of one’s life, both personally and communally.

The lectionary seals the readings with a short passage from the gospel of Mark, but it too speaks of true wisdom. “Do you want to be great?”, Jesus asks his disciples, “If you want to be great, then act like a child.” Treat every moment as a gift. Be prepared to be surprised by new possibilities. Give flawed people the benefit of the doubt. Do not be afraid to express your feelings. Believe that the world is good. Sing, whether in tune or out of tune, at all times and in all places. This is wisdom; this is greatness.

Wisdom is shown by our actions in the midst of this confusing yet profoundly simple, at times disappointing yet always promising, marked by sorrows yet grounded in joy story we call our lives. There are those who believe that what we do, in the end, really does not matter, but the Scriptures and the experience of Jews and Christians throughout the millennia unite to sing a song of resistance to such counsel. Wisdom is known by her children and, through the Holy Spirit and the obedience of Christ, we are the children of the Holy One who is the source of our wisdom. Whether cities rise or fall, whether churches flourish or diminish, whether we live to see the fruits of our labours or not, wisdom is known by how we live and love, by how our words are embodied in our actions.

I know why the songs of Peter, Paul and Mary mattered and still matter to me. When they sing, they sing in the hope that their words will stir us into action. When they sing about peace, justice and the integrity of every human being, they are issuing a summons, just as surely as the writers of the Proverbs, the Psalms, James and Mark who wrote so long before our time. All unite in a common song, a song that echoes through time and must be sung again and again.

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on (this) law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

So let us sing our song of wisdom, a song that begins with the breath of our bodies and ends with the work of our hands. Amen.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Move the Chair!

RCL Proper 17B
26 July 2009

St Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers: 2 Samuel 11.1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21

+ May only God's truth be spoken. May only God's truth be heard. Amen.

In my first semester of theological college our New Testament instructor, Jim Dunkley, gave us a demonstration of the difference between the words ‘authority’ and ‘power’. He first pointed out that, in New Testament Greek, the word ‘authority’, exousia, means ‘something that flows from one’s being’, whereas ‘power’, dynamis, has the same root as our word for a powerful explosive, dynamite. He then took a chair and put in front of the whole class.

Now Jim is a big man with a big voice. He let loose with a roar, “Move!” But the chair did not move. Jim pointed out that the chair did not move because there was no relationship between the chair and him, there was no connection that flowed out of their beings. Then, he bellowed, “Move!” and kicked the chair. It flew into the first row and sent panicked seminarians fleeing to the back. Jim pointed out that he did have power over the chair and could force it to do what he wanted it to do. No relationship was necessary.

I don’t think any of my classmates ever sat in the front row of one of Jim’s courses for the remaining years of our seminary education.

I cannot help but wish that David had been in our class to witness Jim’s demonstration. What we heard this morning was the story of a young man who had been given authority to lead God’s people and it has gone to his head. He has forgotten the years of being pursued unjustly by King Saul. He has forgotten Saul’s use of illegitimate means to secure his royal power. He has forgotten the disasters that had befallen the people of Israel and how, under David’s leadership, they had regained possession of their lands as well as recovered the sacred Ark of the Covenant from the hands of their enemies. David has succumbed to the allure of power, the darker side of leadership.

David’s descent into adultery and murder troubled some rabbinic commentators. David was, after all, the one to whom God promised to be faithful, the one whose ancestors God promised would always occupy the throne of Israel. Some rabbis taught that David had not committed adultery because it was supposedly the practice of warriors to give their wives a conditional divorce before going off to battle. In this way their wives could remarry if they did not return. But, of course, David’s adultery occurred while Uriah was still alive. Some rabbis taught that David was not guilty of murder since Uriah was killed by the enemy. But, of course, Uriah was set up, abandoned by his troops, on the orders of David.

It is always difficult to accept that those whom we admire or whom we have been taught to admire may in fact have feet of clay. Our failure to accept this can make us blind to the potential lesson we might learn from their example.

Today we hear the first part of story that marks the beginning of the decline of David’s leadership. True a moment of truth will come and David will repent, but from this moment on, David’s reign will be marked by all the ills we have come to associate with leadership that has forgotten that authority depends upon a respectful relationship with the source of that authority, whether that source is God, one’s ancestry or the people. Those who forget this and turn to the darker side, the coercive allure of power, will inevitably fall prey to their weaknesses.

My friends, the earliest Christians had no power, only the authority that came from pro-claiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The writer of the letter to the Ephesians puts it so well: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3.20-21) His words do not diminish our accomplishments; they put them in relationship to the source by means of which our power comes, the Holy One who caused all things to be and to continue. Such words keep believers humble, because they hold us to the exercise of authority rather than the wielding of power.

But we became the victims of our own success. Emperors and others saw the Christian movement as a valuable tool to achieve their own political purposes. Privileges, honours and power rained down upon the leadership of the church. Well into the early decades of the twentieth century the Christian churches were a power to be reckoned with, whether you were a prime minister, a provincial premier, a mayor or the leader of any social or neighbourhood agency. But power corrupts individuals and communities, deflecting them from their primary obligations, obscuring their understanding of the source from which power derives.

I will not burden you with a recitation of a tale of woes. No one who has continued to follow the way of Christ as proclaimed by our own community of faith needs such a recitation. But I can point the way towards the regaining of our authority.

Prior to the de-criminalization of the Christian faith in the year 313, a Roman citizen in North Africa wrote to the municipal authorities. His complaint was that Roman religious authorities were doing little if anything to alleviate the needs of the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the powerless, the widowed and orphaned. In contrast to the inaction of the Roman religious authorities, he pointed to the activity of the illegal and despised Christians who were caring for all these sectors of society, whether they were Christian believers or not. Is it any won-der, he wrote, that the Christian church was growing by leaps and bounds, while the temples were left empty?

Christian people of Saint Faith’s, we are not many nor are we mighty. But we do have the opportunity to exercise authority here in Kerrisdale and all the neighbourhoods that we in-habit. Like David, the church has been tempted to follow the way of power and abandon the exercise of authority. But in these days we live in communities that need to see the kind of authority exercised by our sisters and brothers described by the Roman citizen of some many centuries ago.

• In a society where many do not know their neighbours, we can be Christ-like neighbours who help form communities of care and support wherever we live.
• In a society where many hold fast to old wrongs, we can be Christ-like ministers of reconciliation who heal the wounds caused by ancient hurts.
• In a society where many live for the acquisition of more and more consumer goods, we can be Christ-like stewards who point the way to genuine stewardship of the gifts of creation.
• In a society where many live only for themselves and for their own self interests, we can be Christ-like voices for those who have no advocates in the halls of power.
• In a society where many are denied their rights and proper place, we can be Christ-like servants who model justice, peace and respect for the dignity of every human being.

If we do this, then perhaps chairs will move when we speak to them, for they shall recognize the voices of those who exercise the authority that comes from the Holy One, the One whom it is right at all times and in all places to praise and thank. Amen.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

But I'm Not Dead Yet!

RCL Proper 15B
12 July 2009

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

2 Samuel 6.1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1.3-14; Mark 6.14-29

+ Lord, your word is very near to us. You have placed it in our mouths and in our hearts. May you give us your power to speak it and to live it. Amen.

About a year ago or so I became a regular reader of the obituaries in the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps one reason may be the simple fact that I have become more aware of my own mortality as I move closer to sixty than to fifty. Another reason may be more professional. I have noted the increasing number of obituaries that indicate that there will be no service, usually at the request of the deceased. or that a so-called ‘celebration of life’ will take place in a non-religious location such as a family residence, a social club or a favourite haunt of the deceased.

One of the other aspects of an obituary is the way that the life narrative of the deceased is recounted. Some are simply the facts such as the date of birth or date of death, the names of the surviving family and friends and the like. Others are panegyrics, filled with excessive praise and extravagant claims regarding the deceased. I often feel that these reveal a certain amount of guilt on the part of the survivors as if a glowing obituary can replace years or a life-time of neglect.

My favourites, if one can describe an obituary as a ‘favourite’, are those that tell a genuinely human story: the successes and the failures, the joys and the sorrows, the dreams and the disappointments. When I finish reading one of these well-crafted accounts, I have some sense of the person, a literary portrait of a human being.

Obituaries such as these bring to mind a prayer composed by Huub Oosterhuis and adapted for use in The Book of Alternative Services.

"God of grace and glory, we thank for N, who was so near and dear to us, and who has now been taken from us.

We thank you for the friendship he/she gave and for the strength and peace he/she brought. We thank you for the love he/she offered and received while he/she was with us on earth.

We pray that nothing good in this man’s/woman’s life will be lost, but will be of benefit to the world; that all that was important to him/her will be respected by those who follow; and that everything in which he/she was great will continue to mean much to us now that he/she is dead.

We ask you that he/she may go on living in his/her children, his/her family and his/her friends; in their hearts and minds, in their courage and their consciences. We ask you that we who were close to him/her may now, because of his/her death, be even closer to each other, and that we may, in peace and friendship here on earth, always be deeply conscious of your promise to be faithful to us in death.

We pray for ourselves, who are severely tested by this death, that we do not try to minimize the loss, or seek refuge from it in words alone, and also that we do not brood over it so that it overwhelms us and isolates us from others. May God grant us courage and confidence in the new life of Christ. We ask this is the name of the risen Lord. Amen."

It is an honest prayer and a hopeful prayer.

In many ways the readings we have heard today can be read as obituaries, the stories we want to tell and to be remembered after the death of a loved one.

Over the coming summer weeks we shall hear stories of the successes and failures, the joys and sorrows, the dreams and disappointments of Israel’s beloved king, David son of Jesse. In today’s reading from 2 Samuel we hear of his success; soon we shall hear of his adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, a man whom David arranges to be abandoned in the midst of battle so as to ensure his death at the hands of the enemy. Despite this moral failure, David shall remain fixed in the Scriptures as beloved of God, the one from whom the promised Messiah shall descend.

From the story of David we move to a letter written by an anonymous disciple of Paul, perhaps incorporating some of Paul’s own writing into his own. The writer of Ephesians confronts a church that is still uncertain about the role of Gentile Christians, non-Jewish believers in Jesus as Lord.

For more than two thousand years Christians have treasured these words as we have confronted our own conflicts regarding who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. Can Gentiles be Christians without becoming Jews first? Can slaves become Christians? Can a freed slave become a bishop or a presbyter or a deacon? What role or roles can women legitimately exercise in the life of the Christian community?

These and many other questions have been asked and debated over two millennia. Time and time again Christian leaders and teachers have turned to the anonymous writer of the letter to the Ephesians to seek guidance. So do we in our own turmoil over the inclusion of gay and lesbian disciples of Christ as well as our relations with peoples of different faiths.

Then comes Mark’s gospel, his proclamation of ‘the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1.1). We learn today that prophetic witness is always threatening to entrenched powers who will cheerfully arrange for the disposal of the inconvenient witness to the truth.

Poor John! After years in the wilderness proclaiming the kingdom, he will be overshadowed by his younger cousin, Jesus. After years of being Herod’s conscience, he will lose his head because Herod makes a foolish promise while besotted by the allures of his step-daughter and is such a moral coward that he cannot deny what is a patently vindictive request.

Yet it is John whom we remember and commemorate in the Christian community. It is John whose feast is the fête nationale of Quėbec.

My sisters and brothers, there are those who are writing the obituary of the Anglican Church of Canada. Some of those who are writing of our death point out that we are like King David, off to a good start but fallen victim to power. Perhaps they are right in their assessment.

Other commentators believe that our efforts to include many who are excluded by the majority of Christian communities, the divorced, gays and lesbians, women who feel called to leadership, have caused us to lose our edge and that we have become a nice but irrelevant social club. Perhaps these commentators are right.

Still other analysts suggest that our decline is due to our emphasis on prophetic social witness regarding the needs and concerns of aboriginal people, the hungry, the homeless rather than an emphasis on winning souls for Christ. Perhaps they have a point.

But I hope that you will forgive me if I take the attitude of Mark Twain that the rumours of our death are greatly exaggerated. We may have fallen victim to our privileged role in society; but we are not privileged now and we know how to repent and return to the Lord. We may have lost our ‘edge’ by reaching out to those who have been marginalized; but we are now the marginalized and we are learning how to confront prejudice and injustice. We may have been too focused on prophetic witness; but we know that we have more in common with John the Baptist than with Herod and we will continue to speak for those who have no voice.

It may be that these are the last days of the Anglican Church of Canada as we have known it. So be it. But the story that will be written about us will be an honest one, a human and humane one. It will be a story that will long be remembered because it will be the story of our lives and our witness to the gospel in our time and place. It will be a story of how God has worked, is working and will continue to work to bring about God’s purposes for the whole of creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

For Such a Time as This

The Ordination of Jennifer Burgoyne to the Diaconate and David Taylor to the Presbyterate
21 June 2009

Christ Church Cathedral
Vancouver BC

The Rev’d Dr. Richard Geoffrey Leggett

Propers: Isaiah 61.1-9; Psalm 84; 2 Corinthians 4.1-10; John 10.1-16

+ My sisters and brothers, I speak to you in the name of God, Three in One and One in Three, the Weaver who weaves us into the pattern of the Word through the shuttle of the Spirit. Amen.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

These memorable words form the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The novel, if you remember, takes place during that period of the French Revolution known as the ‘Reign of Terror’, as the guillotine claimed both aristocratic and revolutionary victims and England trembled with the thought of republicanism being exported across the Channel.

But as is often the case with genuine literary brilliance, Dickens’ words cannot be kept within the confines of the eighteenth century nor the nineteenth-century industrial Britain to whom these words were first addressed. These words give voice to the hopes and fears of people living in different times, places and cultures.

Twenty-five hundred years ago God called the prophet whom we sometimes identify as ‘Third’ Isaiah to speak words of comfort, challenge and hope to a dispirited and divided community of faith.

His community had recently returned to the land of Judah after a lengthy exile in Babylon. An earlier generation had heard words of ‘exuberant hope’ spoken by our writer’s predecessor, so-called ‘Second’ Isaiah, as they awaited the envisioned return to Jerusalem (The Jewish Study Bible, 783). But the reality of restoration aroused feelings of frustration and disappointment (The Jewish Study Bible, 783).

Years of exile had led some Judeans to embrace non-Yahwist religious practices as well as other religious, social and economic divisions (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed., 977 Hebrew Bible). The present was so unsatisfactory that the religious imagination of the people turned primarily to a hope in God’s future intervention which would result in the purification of the people of Judah and the establishment of Jerusalem as the religious capital of the world (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed., 977 Hebrew Bible). Yet the prophet dares to speak words of hope to his present:

• To you who are oppressed now, I bring good news.
• To you who are brokenhearted now, I bring healing.
• To you who are in bondage now, I proclaim liberty.
• To you who are disheartened now, I proclaim that this is the year of the Lord’s favour.
• To you who mourn now, I tell you that comfort will be given to you.
• To you who despair of the future now, I tell you that you are the foundations upon which God is building the future now.

For a time such as theirs, God provided the leadership that was needed.

Two thousand years ago God called an unlikely candidate to speak words of comfort, challenge and hope to a dispirited and divided community of faith.

Even a casual reader of Paul’s two letters to the Christian community at Corinth will quickly discern that this was not a peaceful community. In the first place they were a relatively tiny religious sect in the midst of a city bustling with religious faiths from East and West. In the second place there were profound economic and social divisions among the members. Some were rich, others poor and Paul, in his first letter to them, chastised the rich for allowing the poorer members of the community to go hungry when they gathered for their communal meal in which the Lord’s final meal with his disciples was remembered. In the third place some members of the community laid claim to distinctive religious knowledge to which others had no access.

Into this turmoil Paul writes to remind them that human beings are fragile containers for the good news of God in Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . . . (2 Corinthians 4.7-10)

Unlike other writers who boast of how they have become great through their adversities, Paul describes his adversities as proof that any power he has, any persuasive gifts he has, are not the result of his overcoming of adversity but despite his afflictions, perplexities, persecutions and difficulties.

• Wealth will not bring you God’s grace nor can poverty prevent you from receiving it.
• Claims to distinctive knowledge will not bring you God’s grace nor can simple faith obscure it.

For a time such as theirs, God provided the leadership they needed.

Tonight God calls two members of our community to exercise the ministries of deacon and presbyter within a community of faith that is divided and, in the eyes of some observers, dispirited.

Our Sunday assemblies are no longer the destination of choice for the majority of people who live in Metro Vancouver. Religious discourse has, in many ways, been reduced to the repetition of catchy slogans, whether of ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘progress’, that often do not bear the weight of closer scrutiny. The media tends to portray all religious people as fundamentalists or as apologists who try to explain away the distinctive claims of the religious communities to which they belong in the hopes of broader public acceptance. We are compelled to resort to civil law to defend our commitments to justice, peace and the dignity of every human being.

For a time such as ours, God provides the leadership we need.

Jennifer, I speak to you first, because as a deacon the order to which you are called is older than the order into which I was ordained twenty-eight years ago. You have been called to be a proclaimer, an interpreter, an animator of the church’s ministry beyond its self-identified boundaries, so that we might respond to the needs, concerns and hopes of the world. Your leadership in diakonia is even more vital in such a time as this when it is tempting for the church to withdraw within itself and tend to its perceived wounds rather than courageously proclaiming good news to the oppressed, binding up the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.

David, I speak to you second, because our order of presbyters evolved in response to the success of the ministry of bishops and deacons in proclaiming the resurrection and embodying the incarnation. You have been called as a pastor, priest and teacher to work with all the baptized, lay and ordained, to ensure that there are life-giving communities of faith that nurture all the faithful with the riches of God’s grace so that whole world may ‘. . . see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by [Christ] through whom all things were made’. Your ministry of leadership in koinōnia is even more vital in such a time as this when it is tempting for the church to disintegrate into various special interest groups and self-selecting coteries of like-minded individuals.

Both of you, as deacon and as presbyter, will participate in the ministry of Christ the good shepherd. There are times for the flock to remain close together and time for the flock to move on to new and greener pastures. Christ, the shepherd of the flock, will need you both, one to maintain the unity and integrity of the flock, the other to help us move into new places. Like sheep dogs you may even have to nip a few heels and growl convincingly when necessary.

In all that you do remember that the church is the ekklēsia, ‘a public assembly of free citizens summoned from their daily pursuits to take counsel and to take action for the common good of all’. The ekklēsia is called to be a ‘thin place’ where God’s presence and purposes for the whole of creation can become evident to all, whether of our faith or another faith or none.

• Speak persuasively of God.
• Speak boldly for God.
• Nurture the ekklēsia with all the skill, wisdom and strength you possess.

Whether this is the best of times or the worst, whether this is an age of wisdom or of foolishness, whether this is an epoch of belief or incredulity, whether this is a season of light or of darkness, whether this is the spring of hope or the winter of despair, I cannot say. It is never for those who live in a given time to judge its quality or to name its character. We are called to live as best as we can and as faithfully as we can using all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, to trust that God’s power is greater than our fragile vessels and to care for the people of God, whether they know their true identity or not.

One thing, however, is certain. God does not leave us bereft of the leadership we need for the facing of our times. Tonight two members of that leadership will kneel before the archbishop. Tonight that leadership may be sitting in front of you, to your right and to your left, perhaps behind you. Knowing this I might even dare to say that this moment is the best of times.

For all of you, my sisters and brothers, shall be called oaks of righteousness. You shall build up the ancient ruins and raise up the former devastations. You shall be called priests and ministers of our God. Your descendants shall be known among the nations and all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Die to Self to Live for All

Easter Vigil 2009
11 April 2009

St Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

+ Lover of the universe, your goodness is stronger than evil; your love is stronger than hate; your light is stronger than darkness; your life in us is stronger than death; your victory is ours through Jesus your Beloved who loved us. Amen.

There are few occasions on which it is more difficult to preach than the Easter Vigil or tomorrow morning’s celebration of Easter. The first difficulty is, of course, the challenge of preaching on the resurrection itself. Are we talking about the resuscitation of a corpse, the immortality of the soul or the Jewish-Christian belief that, on the day of God’s choosing, we shall rise from the dead, clothed in flesh? Frederick Buechner, an American novelist and theologian, writes

4. All the major Christian creeds affirm belief in resurrection of the body. In other words they affirm the belief that what God in spite of everything prizes enough to bring back to life is not just some disembodied echo of a human being but a new and revised version of all the things which made him the particular human being he was and which he needs something like a body to express: his personality, the way he looked, the sound of his voice, his peculiar capacity for creating and loving, in some sense his face.
5. The idea of the immortality of the soul is based on the experience of man’s indomitable spirit. The idea of the resurrection of the body is based on the experience of God’s unspeakable love.
(Buechner 1992, 235-236)

But a more significant challenge is to resist the tendency of some Christians to devote their energies discussing the resurrection as a matter only of the past or the future. There are Christians who will tonight and tomorrow expend considerable energy in a vigorous defence of the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. While this is a faithful exercise, it is a past-oriented one. There are other Christians who will expend considerable energy tonight and tomorrow focusing on either a spiritual understanding of the resurrection, that is to say, the immortality of the soul or the power of life over death or they will speak about various end-of-time scenarios, some of these scenarios being more dramatic than others. These Christians are engaged in what I would call a future-oriented exercise.

But in tonight’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, we hear a man engaged in a present-oriented exercise of Christian theology. While he does speak of past and future, I want you to hear again some of the present-oriented language he uses.

4 Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

I do not doubt that Paul has faith in the future resurrection of the body, but his present concern is to encourage the Christians in Rome to live today in the power of the resurrection. To borrow an old saying, Paul does not want the Christians in Rome to be so heavenly-minded that they are no damn earthly good.

Paul speaks of our dying with Christ. Let me unpack that phrase a little bit, so that you can hear what I mean when I say we are being called to a present-oriented understanding of resurrection.

I have long believed that we pay too little attention to the drama in the garden when Jesus utters those fateful words, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22.42) An early Christian theologian, Irenaeus, compared the life of Jesus with the life of Adam. Both were formed by God’s Spirit from virgin material; both were given a mission to undertake. Adam disobeyed and death came into the world; Jesus obeyed and death was defeated. The key moment is the decision to choose to participate in God’s mission rather than one’s own self-interest. We hear echoes of the importance of this choice in a passage from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi.

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death --- even death on a cross.

This is the death in which we share. There is perhaps no more difficult death than dying to the illusion that I am the centre of the kosmos and to our culture’s illusion of the all-powerful self that claims my allegiance. To be baptized, whether as a child or as an adult, is to die to the powerful Western myth of an individual autonomy that makes us a law unto ourselves.

To be baptized is to pray next to Jesus in the garden, ‘Holy One, not my will but yours be done.’ To be baptized is to become who we really are, the beloved of God who have been called by God to share in carrying out the plan of salvation, to raise up things which were cast down, to make new things which had grown old and to bring all things to their perfection as made known in Jesus of Nazareth. We are to participate in the here and now in a project spoken of by the same Irenaeus I mentioned earlier: ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive.’

The glory of God is found in a human being who has learned to live the resurrection in the present as well as remember the past and hope for the future. The glory of God is found in a human being who has learned that eternal life is not only a future hope but is also a present reality. The glory of God is found in a human being who is not afraid to die to the counterfeits that masquerade as truth in the marketplace of a consumer culture.

The Guatemalan poet, Julia Esquivel, wrote a collection of poems entitled Threatened with Resurrection. These poems come from her experience of the oppression and violence that consumed her country and sent many Guatemalans to this country as refugees. Let me close with just one.

You seduced me, Lord,
and I was seduced.

You grasped my heart firmly
with the outstretched hand
of the old Indian
who has been dying for centuries
without a roof,
without medicines,
without a doctor,
asking for the bread of justice
at the door of a locked church.

You seduced me, Lord,
and I let myself be seduced.
You have conquered me,
you have been stronger than I.

This is why those who were my friends
are retreating in fear
and close their doors to me.
Because each time
I hear your Word
I must cry out:
Violence and ruin
to those who manufacture
orphans, misery, and death!
How many times
did I wish to close my ears
to your voice,
to harden my heart,
to seal my lips,
to forget forever
the pain of the persecuted,
the helplessness of the outcast,
and the agony of the tortured,
but your pain
was my own
and your love burned in my heart.

You accompany me,
you weep with my weeping,
and moan during my prayer,
and pour yourself out in my cry.

Because you are
stronger than I,
I have let myself be a captive,
and your love
burns in my heart.
(Morley 1992, 58-59)

This poem speaks of a human being fully alive, a human being who lives the resurrection in the present. The powers of our world that still deny the dignity of every human person and that still find ways to perpetuate injustice are not threatened by ancient stories; but they are threatened by resurrection, a reality that is unleashed in the present. The illusions of our consumer culture that tell us that our self-worth depends upon possessing this commodity or looking like this celebrity are not threatened by future hopes; but they are threatened by resurrection, the revelation of what it means to be a human being truly alive.

Let us not forget the stories of the Lord’s resurrection, for they are the foundation of our present. Let us not forget our hopes for the future, for they are the fuel that powers our present. But let us not forget to live in the present, to call others to die to self in order to live for all. Amen.

Works cited

Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).

Janet Morley, ed., Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Reading Suggestions

For those readers of blogs who wish to explore some print material, let me suggest three new titles that have come to my attention.

(1) Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West published by Oxford University Press in 2008 (ISBN 987-0-19-518970-4). This is a careful exploration of the evidence for women clergy in the medieval western church that can be found in the documents of the period. This is not an evening's read, but a worthy task for those who are interested in reclaiming all our histories.

(2) Jeremie Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music published by Baker Academic in 2007 (ISBN 987-0-8010-2695-9). Begbie, an English Evangelical, is a widely-respected commentator on theology and the arts. This book has been well-reviewed.

(3) Richard D. McCall, Do This: Liturgy as Performance published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2008 (ISBN 978-0-268-03499-3). McCall is Professor of Liturgy at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge MA. This is not a book about how to perform liturgy but a serious exploration of the following question: "What is the place of the rites of the church in a world that is itself a performance, a continuing enactment that come to be in the act?" One reviewer says that this is the most important work in liturgical studies that he has read in five years.

Just some suggestions.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Stephen Bevans on Trinity and Mission

What I have discovered, and try to get across to my students, are two things here. First, God is more a verb than a noun, a movement, an embrace, a dance rather than a mover, a lover, a dancer. The ancient term perichoresis, especially in its more dynamic understanding proposed by the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure, denotes movement in the depths of God as such, a constant "moving around," "interpenetrating" one another. And, as contemporary theologians have pointed out, the term perichoresis lends itself easily to a play on words with the Greek word for "dance." With this movement or dance God moves into the world. I like to imagine the divine community moving through the world in a great conga line, gathering up people into the dance, led by the "Lord of the Dance." Second, intimately connected with the first, is that faith in this God is to be caught up in that movement, that embracing, that dance --- in God's mission. God is a missionary God, Christians are missionary people, the church is "missionary by its very nature." It is maybe "pushing the envelope," but I try to connect the traditional doctrine of theosis or divinization (a doctrine rather neglected in the West but developed strongly in the East) with this missionary nature of God and Christianity. When we believe in God, we do what God does; and when we do what God does --- pour out our lives in love for God and for God's creation --- we, as it were, become Divine ourselves, because we are caught up in God's very life. What this points to in turn is that it is in mission, in service, in self-giving, that we ultimately find our salvation, our human wholeness. This is why we witness to and preach the God of Jesus Christ and Jesus himself, and why we invite women and men to join us in faith and in the church. [quoted from Stephan Bevans, "DB 4100: The God of Jesus Christ --- A Case Study for a Missional Systematic Theology," Theological Education 43, no. 2 (2008): 113-114.]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Word for Ash Wednesday from Susan Marie Smith

"The current North American cultural context includes anxious liturgists who stick with authorized rites from the book in order to be certain of orthodoxy on the one hand, and unchurched amateurs who generate rites in psychologists' offices and living rooms in order to be able to heal and reconcile [on the other hand]. It is critical that those of us whose lives are given over to the mediation of God's grace and salvation to the world enter into the messy middle of inculturating rites that are fully Christian, orthodox and orthoprax, and fully indigenized to the particular peoples whose hurts Christ would heal were he walking the earth. This task calls us to be daring and critical, careful and adventuresome, experimental and theological. Let us take up the challenge." [quoted from Susan Marie Smith, "The Scandal of Particularity Writ Small: Principles for Indigenizing Liturgy in Local Context." Anglican Theological Review 88 (Summer 2006): 375-396