Saturday, October 29, 2011

Che sera, sera!

RCL All Saints A
30 October 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Focus Text:  1 John 2.28-3.3

2.28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming. 

2.29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

3.1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Sermon Text

            Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this:  when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

            From time to time my family and friends have teased me about dwelling in the past.  To be sure there is some truth to this.  I have always loved history and, when in a good book store, I can most often be found in the history or biography section.  My favourite novels are historical novels, especially mysteries set in the past.

            My preoccupation with history has been a source of particular humour for my children.  Once, while shopping at Oakridge, Owen and I met someone whom I knew well from our Diocese.    The fact that I could not remember this person’s name did not escape Owen who was waiting to see what I would do.  Finally, I apologized to the gentleman and asked him for his name --- I had remembered his parish and when we had first met, but his name was not popping into my consciousness.  He laughed generously and, after giving me his name, said, “You meet a great number of people, Richard; I’m not offended.”  At this point Owen piped in.  “Well,” Owen said, “if you had been dead for at least five hundred years, I’m sure my dad would have remembered your name!”

            Dwelling in the past is not something that only afflicts certain individuals; it can afflict entire communities.  When the author of what we know as 1 John wrote to a community of Christians around the year 100 c.e., one of his concerns was to move that community from focusing too much on their recent past into focusing on their future as God’s beloved.

            This small community had been overwhelmed by two storms, one external, the other internal.  The external storm arose among their neighbours who have begun to persecute the Christians for reasons that are not clear.  The internal storm is one that we know all too well:  divisions over what it means to be a Christian and how we are supposed to live out our Christian faith.  This small cell of the Body of Christ has become even smaller as at least one group has left to form its own worshipping community.

            This internal conflict and the external pressure has caused those who remain in fellowship with one another and with the author of 1 John to doubt who they are and what their future is.  Time and time again the author will remind them that they are already God’s children and that their future is based in this present reality.  Nothing in their immediate past can alter this fact nor prevent this hope from being realized.  If God has loved us so much that Christ has come in the flesh to reconcile us to God, then can anything on this earth obstruct that love from bringing the followers of Christ into complete communion with God and with each?  To this question the author of 1 John answers with a resounding “No!”

            My friends, it is true that Christians spend a great deal of time in our common past, but we do so for a present cause and a future hope.  The celebration of All Saints is not about the past nor is it an indulgence in some nostalgia for a religious ‘good old days’.  We remember our past and the women and men who shaped that past in order to claim our present identity as their heirs in the faith and as children of the same God who empowered their witness to Christ in their days.  We are God’s children now, we proclaim, and we will live into the future that this identity promises for us and for all human beings.

            One of my theological heroes is the English theologian, Frederick Denison Maurice, who was born in 1805 and died in 1872.  His own times were times of religious conflict in the Church of England and Maurice was one of those rare persons who could affirm the best of all sides in the conflict.  But he was not afraid to take sides.

            Once he was the favoured candidate for a teaching position at the University of Oxford.  As was his custom he went for a walk with a book to read along the way, a book that happened to have been written by one of the people who was supporting Maurice’s candidacy.  As Maurice read the book, he realized that the theological position the writer was advocating would rob the average Christian of her or his hope that they are now and always will be a child of God.  This was completely unacceptable to Maurice and he later said so publicly.  He could not affirm any theological belief that suggested that God’s gift to each of us in baptism could ever be erased.  As you can imagine, he did not get the job!

            Saint Faith’s and the congregations like it throughout the Lower Mainland and the world are places that dare to proclaim to one and to all that we are God’s children now, male and female, gay and straight, believer and non-believer, wise and foolish.  This is the message that our ancestors in the faith dared to proclaim to their generations and the message that still needs to be heard by thousands, if not millions, of people today, especially those who have been marginalized by our society whether because of their gender, their sexual orientation, their poverty, their woundedness.

            They need to hear this message because without it there can be no foundation upon which to build hope, hope for a future in which we and all God’s children shall be free, free to be fully human, free to be fully alive in the image and likeness of God.  Beloved, we are God’s children now, but what we shall be is not yet clear.  What is clear is that this future is Christ-shaped and we have been created for just such a future.

            Being a child of God is great gift, but it also brings responsibility.  Our responsibility is to live as icons of God so that others will be drawn to us as surely as iron filings are drawn to a magnet.  How we conduct our public and private lives, how we conduct our worship, how we care for the assets entrusted into our stewardship, all these are means by which God quietly but persistently calls men and women to their true selves, children of a living God who is at work reconciling the world to God’s very self and offering every human being the means to become fully alive.

            Our times are no so unlike the times of the community of 1 John and Frederick Denison Maurice.  Outside our doors are many who believe that religion is irrelevant at best, dangerous at worst.  Inside our doors we have experienced a lengthy time of religious conflict over many questions.  There are people who have left the church to form other communities and still others who have simply left the church.  Some writers are even so bold as to predict the end of the so-called ‘mainline’ churches.

To all of them, to all of you, all I can do is to speak the words of the author of 1 John:  3.1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

We are God’s children now.  Let us live as God’s children confident that we and our future are in God’s hands.  Let us share with others the faith of all the saints, past, present and future, a faith that welcomes every child of God and that works to bring each one of us into the fullness of the stature of Christ.  Let us have this confidence and let us live this faith and all will be well and all manner of things shall be well.  Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Are We There Yet?

The 19th Sunday after Pentecost (RCL Proper 30A)
23 October 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Deuteronomy 34.1-12; Psalm 90.1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8; Matthew 22.34-46

         On Friday morning, the 21st of October, the sun rose and shone through the open drapes of my room at the Old Stone Inn in Niagara Falls.  It was only later that morning, midway through the morning session of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission, that I realized that the world had not come to an end.

         You may remember the American televangelist, Harold Camping, who had predicted that the world would end of Saturday, the 21st of May.  When that did not happen, Mr Camping declared that the 21st of May was the beginning of the end of the world and that the final cataclysm would occur on the 21st of October.

         That cataclysm has not occurred, despite any number of significant events throughout the world, and the word is that Mr Camping has determined that the end of the world will be quiet rather than cataclysmic.  Those who die outside the Christian faith, as understood by Mr Camping, will simply die.  Their lives have come to an end and they will simply cease to exist in any conscious state.  They have been judged, condemned and extinguished.

         Although I do not share Mr Camping’s understanding of the Christian faith, I admit to a degree of sympathy for him.  He has staked his entire ministry on the coming of the reign of God in his lifetime.  Now, age 90 and recovering from a stroke, Mr Camping is waiting for an event that he will not likely live to see.  I wonder what thoughts go through his mind and the minds of his followers, some of whom have sold homes and businesses, as they realize that the reign of God is still beyond the horizon.  All their prayers, all their work and sacrifice, all their hopes and they’re not there yet!

         Time and time again I am surprised by how the lectionary, prepared almost fifty years ago and revised some twenty years ago, anticipates the events of our times.  Waiting until Friday or Saturday to write a sermon begins to make a lot of sense!

         We have heard the story of Moses who has come to the end of his life.  He climbs Mt Pisgah from whose summit he can see the promised land.  Below him the tribes of Israel are preparing to cross the river and to begin their new life in the land of Canaan.  Moses has bullied and cajoled them and be threatened by them.  Moses has obeyed and defied and argued with God.

         But Moses will not set foot on the other side of the river.  Here, on this mountain, within sight of his goal, Moses will die and be buried in an unknown grave.  Denied the promised land, God will even deny Moses the honour of having a grave that becomes a pilgrimage site.

         What thoughts, I wonder, passed through Moses’ mind?  Did he feel anger, disappointment, relief or joy?  We are not told.  Moses dies.  The people cross.  A new chapter begins.  But Moses will never be there.

         The stories of Mr Camping and of Moses cause me to ask what is our goal, our destination, as a community of faith?  How will we know when we get there?  I am not in a position to ask my questions of the founders of this parish, but I can ask it of those of us who continue to travel along this journey of faith.

         Soon the Rectory will be listed for sale and, I hope, will sell quickly with a return that will provide us with new assets for our ministry.  But once the funds are in the bank, the playground re-located and our finances stabilized, will we have arrived at the promised land?  I think not.  We will have reached an oasis that will refresh us as we prepare for the next stage of our journey.

         I am hoping that our regional Ministry Assessment Process will lead us to a vision of a ‘preferred future’ towards which we may work.  But even that ‘preferred future’ will be the promised land --- because we are not there yet!

         God’s future for us and for all of creation lies somewhere beyond the horizon of human knowing.  Like Mr Camping I wish I could predict when that future’s outlines would appear and become the environment of our present, but I shall not be able to do so.  Like Moses I wish I could at least see the promised land, but then I remember that the promised land Moses saw was not then nor is it now a haven of justice and peace --- because we are not there yet!

         So, in this mean-time you and I are called to continue our journey, giving thanks for every oasis we discover even as we keep our travel bags ready for the next stage of the journey.  Let us plan well and exercise faithful and prayerful stewardship of our resources --- because we are not there yet!

         But we will be.  Of this I am certain.  One day it will dawn upon us and we shall rejoice in its light.  On that day we will realize that this journey has been worthwhile for it will lead us into God’s dawn of life and joy.  Amen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Liturgical Ordo for Pentecost 19 (23 October 2011)

If you are planning your congregational liturgy for this coming Sunday, then here is a suggested order of service.

Pentecost 19
23 October 2011

The Gathering of the Community

Processional Hymn

“The God of Abraham Praise”  Common Praise #347

Introductory Responses

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And also with you.

Collect for Purity

Almighty God,
to you all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hidden.
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hymn of Praise

“Praise to the Lord”  Common Praise #382


Let us pray.

Lord God our redeemer,
who heard the cry of your people
and sent your servant Moses
to lead them out of slavery,
free us from the tyranny of sin and death,
and by the leading of your Spirit
bring us to our promised land;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

The Proclamation of the Word

First Reading

Deuteronomy 34.1-12

The Psalm

Psalm 90.1-6, 13-17 in Songs for the Holy One

The Second Reading

1 Thessalonians 2.1-8

The Gradual Hymn

“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Common Praise #528 vv. 1-3

The Gospel

Matthew 22.34-46

The Homily

The Affirmation of Faith

Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

This is the first and the great commandment.
The second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.

There is no commandment greater than these.
Lord, have mercy upon us,
and write both these laws in our hearts,
we beseech you.

The Prayers of the Community

Intercessions, Petitions and Thanksgivings

The Exchange of the Peace

May the peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

The Holy Communion

The Offertory Hymn

“Not for Tongues of Heaven’s Angels”  Common Praise #494

Prayer over the Gifts

God of constant love,
you have guided your people
in all times and ages.
May we who offer you our praise today
always be ready to follow where you lead;
we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Thanksgiving at the Table

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Blessed are you, gracious God,
creator of heaven and earth;
you are the source of light and life for all your creation,
you made us in your own image,
and call us to new life in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Therefore we praise you,
joining our voices to proclaim the glory of your name.

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Holy God, mighty Lord, gracious Father:
Endless is your mercy and eternal your reign.
You have filled all creation with light and life’
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

We praise you for the grace shown to your people in every age:
the promise to Israel, the rescue from Egypt,
the gift of the promised land, the words of the prophets;
and, at this end of all the ages, the gift of your Son,
who proclaimed the good news in word and deed
and was obedient to your will, even to giving his life.

In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

For as often as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup,
we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

Therefore, O God, with this bread and cup
we remember the life our Lord offered for us.
And, believing the witness of his resurrection,
we await his coming power to share with us
the great and promised feast.
Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Send now, we pray, your Holy Spirit,
that we who share in Christ’s body and blood
may live to the praise of your glory
and receive our inheritance with all your saints in light.
Amen.  Come, Holy Spirit.

Join our prayers with those of your servants of every time and place,
and unite them with the ceaseless petitions of our great high priest
until he comes as victorious Lord of all.
Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honour is yours, almighty Father, now and for ever.

The Lord’s Prayer

As our Saviour taught us, let us pray,
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.  Amen.

The Breaking of the Bread

Creator of all,
you gave us golden fields of wheat,
whose many grains we have gathered
and made into this one bread.
So may your Church be gathered
from the ends of the earth
into your kingdom.

The gifts of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.

The Communion

Communion Hymn

“Je louerai l’√Čternel”  Common Praise #540 (sung 3 times)

The Sending Forth of the Community

Prayer after Communion

God our guide,
you have fed us with bread from heaven
as you fed the people of Israel.
May we who have been inwardly nourished
be ready to follow you all our days;
we ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Glory to God,
whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more
than we can ask or imagine.
Glory to God from generation to generation,
in the Church and in Christ Jesus,
for ever and ever.  Amen.

Closing Hymn

“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”  Common Praise #528 vv. 4-6


Liturgical Notes

The Greeting is from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 98.

The Collect, Prayer over the Gifts and Prayer after Communion are from The Book of Alternative Services, 388-389.

The Affirmation of Faith is an adaptation of the Summary of the Law as used in The Book of Alternative Services.

The Thanksgiving at the Table is ‘Thanksgiving at the Table VI’ from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 66 with the ‘Lord’s Day 1’ preface from The Book of Alternative Services, 218.