Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

RCL Easter 4B
29 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Click the link below to hear the sermon as preached at 10.00 a.m. on the 29th of April:

            One of the more influential teachers in my life was Mrs Nancy Galbraith, my English teacher in grades 7, 8 and 9.  Under her tutelage we explored the great stories of English literature, learned how to write well and were introduced to a world that was even more expansive than the wide Colorado skies under which we grew up.

            As you can well imagine, an indispensable part of the curriculum required us to engage the works of William Shakespeare.  I cannot now remember all the plays that we read aloud to one another, studied and, on a couple of occasions, saw performed in the theatre.  I can well remember, however, our study of Romeo and Juliet

            It was clear that Mrs Galbraith knew we should study the play, but it was not one of her favourite plays.  Perhaps it was her influence that shaped my own dislike of this play --- teachers do have a lasting impact on their students!  One of the things she said about the play which has remained with me to this day is this:  “The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that they love one another because they need one another.  They do not need one another because they love one another.”  There is another sermon in this quotation from my teacher, but it is not the sermon for today.

            You may remember that Romeo and Juliet are the children of two warring families, the Montagues and the Capulets.  As the children of such feuding families, the idea that the two might fall in love and marry one another is out of the question.  At one point in the play Juliet ponders the meaning of names and asks the famous question whether what we call a rose would smell as sweet by any other name.  Her answer is obviously, “Yes, it would”.  But I want to suggest that names are important, because names shape us and become, in a very real sense, our identities.

            I say this to you today because we have two texts that have been the source of controversy and conflict in the history of the relationship between Christians and people of other faith traditions.  Both centre on the power of a name and identity.
  • In Acts 4.12 Peter tells the assembled rulers, elders and scribes that “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” 
  • In John 10.16 Jesus tells those who are gathered around him that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Both of these texts, along with others, have been used by Christians to exclude the believers of other faiths from God’s coming reign of justice and peace.  Our sisters and brothers in other traditions have been told that they are damned if they do not confess the name of Jesus.  They have been told that there is only one flock, a Christian one, and that all others are doomed to eternal separation from God.

            I think that this message is based upon a limited understanding about what it means to confess the name of Jesus and what it means to say that there will be one flock and one shepherd.  We can, I believe, confess that Jesus is Lord and we can believe that we are called to be one flock without condemning the believers of other religious traditions.

            To believe in the name of Jesus requires that we first know what the ‘name’ of Jesus means.  In the ancient world names were carefully chosen.  In the Hebrew ‘Yeshua’ means ‘God saves’.  That is surely true.  When we proclaim our faith in the name of Jesus, we are claiming that it is only God who saves. 
  • We shall not be saved by any particular political system. 
  • We shall not be saved by the acquisition of more goods and power than another person or people. 
  • We shall not saved by imitating this celebrity or another celebrity. 
We shall only be saved through God’s initiative, for it is God, and God alone, who created all things, who redeems all things and who brings all things to their perfection.  What ever 'salvation' means, it will come only through God.

            To be saved has more to do with becoming a truly mature human being living in time and space now than it does with anxiety about what happens after our deaths.  What the life and death of Jesus shows us, what the life of the earliest Christian community shows us, is what it means to be fully alive. 
  • It means to break down the walls of hostility between male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free. 
  • It means to grasp the paradox that true wealth is found by giving rather than accumulating. 
  • It means to be made whole, the New Testament understanding of salvation, in this life not only in some hoped-for future.
            To believe that there will be one flock and one shepherd has more to do with understanding the solidarity of all human beings, believers and non-believers alike, as children of the living God and all of us made in the image and likeness of God.  We live in a world where political leaders and others expend considerable time and energy fostering division rather than unity.  What we as Christians confess is that God is the shepherd and that humanity the flock.  We remember that in Jesus of Nazareth God united us with the followers of the covenant of Moses, the Jewish people, so that we can witness to God’s unity and to human solidarity.  When Jesus was asked about the essential commandments, his answer, although a firmly Jewish one, was universal in its scope:

Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all you 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.

Before Jesus walked this earth, the prophet Micah refused to limit religious orthodoxy to participation in the Temple rituals in Jerusalem.  In answer to the question, "With what shall I come before the Lord?", Micah responded, "[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."  (Micah 6.6, 8)

            Today is an occasion when we must go below the surface of our Scriptures if we are to proclaim our faith truly. 
  • To proclaim that there is no other name under heaven by which we are saved is to proclaim that it is only God who saves and no other. 
  • To proclaim that belief in Jesus leads to salvation is to follow the way embodied by Jesus that leads us to maturity in this life even as it promises us a future in God’s reign.
  • To proclaim that we believe there to be one shepherd and one flock is to know that the only shepherd is God and that the only flock is the human race.
We need not be shy to share this name and to proclaim our message of human solidarity as one people brought into fullness of life by God’s initiative.  Religious differences are real, but Christians need not use those differences to claim superiority or an exclusive message of divine favour. 

            Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?  Perhaps it would.  But Christian discipleship, a life dedicated to the God who saves and who summons all human beings into one flock, would not.  For our rose is Yeshua and his scent beckons all human beings to our common source and hope.  Amen.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Road Again!

RCL Easter 3B
22 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

For an audio recording of the Sermon at our 10.00 a.m. service please click on the following link:

            As a boy growing up in Colorado Springs I was surrounded by a supportive community of adults.  My father, a member of the United States Air Force, worked in an office populated by military and civilian personnel who enjoyed being with one another, whether at work or at play.  It was the rare weekend that did not involve some sort of outdoor activity, sometimes in one of our favourite mountain locations some miles to the west of Colorado Springs, or at our home.

            I remember one such event, a large picnic gathering at one of the mountain parks outside of Woodland Park, a small town about thirty miles or so to the west of the Springs.  I think that I was ten at the time and, like many boys my age, had begun to be fascinated with cars and moving machines of any sort.

            One of the younger servicemen in Dad’s office had recently bought a motorcycle.  It was a powerful machine and it became a magnet for all the boys my age and a bit older.  The owner quickly realized that all of us were eager to take a ride and he gladly obliged us.

            Now these were the days when wearing a motorcycle helmet was not only rare but frowned upon by ‘real’ men.  Only motorcycle cops wore helmets and that, we thought, was only to make them look more menacing!  So, one by one, we hopped on the back of the motorcycle to be treated to a thrilling ride up and back the dirt round bordering our picnic site.

            When my turn came, I climbed onto the motorcycle and wrapped my arms around the owner.  We slowly gathered speed as we drove away from all my friends.  We reached the end of the road and turned around for our return trip.

            I don’t remember clearly what happened next.  Perhaps I loosened my grip around the driver’s waist.  Perhaps we were both distracted for a moment.  Perhaps the young man driving the cycle decided that he had had enough of stately runs back and forth.  Whatever the chain of events was, I remembered this:  He gunned the cycle.  He gunned it again and popped the clutch.  The cycle reared up like a horse and took off at great speed.  I flew off the back and landed on the side of the road.  I wasn’t really hurt, just winded, but my parents came running down the road with the young man roaring ahead of them.

            That, my friends, was the end of my motorcycle career.  I have never ridden one since and I am always uncomfortable during my commuting into Vancouver with a motorcycle ahead or behind or beside me.  My imagination runs wild and I can foresee disaster.  Even though I know there are safe riders and the number of accidents seems to be low, I have this deep-seated fear of these mechanical beasts.

            In today’s readings we are being asked to ride a motorcycle we have ridden before.  Every Sunday we hear three readings and join in the recitation of a psalm, hoping that God will speak to us and help us be faithful signs of God’s love in action.  Most of the time the ride is somewhat sedate.  The readings are often pretty clear or, at least, not too obscure.  We have started the practice of reading ‘illuminations’ that help put the readings into context.  We have become good riders, wearing our helmets, remembering our road safety rules and driving within the speed limits.

            But today we have readings that may throw us off the motorcycle.  Today the readings are clear reminders that what the Scriptures say may not always be what the Scriptures mean.

            1)  In the first reading from Isaiah we hear the familiar account of Isaiah’s vision and his call by God to undertake the ministry of a prophet to the people of Judah in their time of national crisis.  This story is so familiar that we may miss the implications of the closing verses of this portion of Isaiah’s vision:  “And [God] said, ‘Go and say to this people:  “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”  Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6.9-10)

            Isn’t the job of a prophet to help people understand God’s word?  Isn’t God’s desire that we look for God and listen for God?  Yet here God seems to be telling Isaiah that his ministry is doomed from the start, but that God expects him to fulfill it nevertheless.  Is it any wonder that many rabbinic commentators could not accept this idea and taught that God is talking about what is likely to happen rather than what God wants Isaiah to do?  Is it any wonder that some Christian commentators misused this text to boast of the superiority of Christian faith to Jewish faith by suggesting that Christians have listened where Jews have not?

            2)  In our second reading Peter speaks to the people who have gathered in response to the healing of lame man near the Temple.  In so many words he says to them, “I know that our scholars and teachers have been studying and interpreting the Scriptures for many centuries, but they and you got it wrong about Jesus of Nazareth.  He was the promised Messiah, but you read the Scriptures wrong.”

            Imagine that!  Hundreds of years of searching the Scriptures in order to know when the Messiah might come and, when he does come, we end up missing the signs.  What are we supposed to do?

            3)  In today’s gospel the risen Jesus appears to the disciples after his appearance on the road to Emmaus.  Here these people are, followers of Jesus for the last year or more, listening to his teaching and they still need a lesson in the interpretation of the Scriptures!  What’s a believer to do?

            My friends, every day we can turn on the radio or open a magazine or watch a television programme where someone speaks with utmost certainty about what the Scriptures say.  It can be quite daunting and Anglicans, in particular, often feel unprepared to enter into any conversation about the Scriptures.  But the truth is that conversation about the Scriptures, wrestling about what the Scriptures mean, is not solely a task for so-called experts or for clergy or for self-identified prophets.  It is a shared task for the entire community.  And why is a shared task?  

  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record millennia of human experience with the God who created all things.  
  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record the early Christian community’s memories of the words, teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call ‘Lord’ and the one who shows us what it means to be a human being fully alive.  
  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record the wisdom of God’s Spirit that continues to work in us and through us to achieve God’s purposes for all creation.

            We are not without tools.  One such tool is our God-given reason that allows us to dig into a reading and to sift what applies to us in our time and our situation.  Another tool is a tradition that links us with Jews and Christians throughout the millennia who have pondered the same questions we have and who have sought to find the meaning couched with the many words of the scriptural texts.

            We also have each other.  In many Jewish and Christian communities the study of the Scriptures is a regular activity.  Together we read the Scriptures, perhaps for the coming Sunday, perhaps working our way through a single book of the Scriptures, and we talk with one another about what our questions are, what our confusions are, what our revelations are.  Together we grow in our knowledge but also in our humility and modesty, our willingness to say that we sometimes do not know nor understand what these texts are saying to us.  But we will keep proclaiming these words and we will continue to wrestle with what they might mean for us and for all of God’s creatures.

            Yesterday I was working with our diaconal applicants and postulants in a seminar on the Anglican ethos.  We got into a conversation about the Anglican theological method, sometimes called the three-legged stool of scripture as interpreted by reason and tradition.  One of our postulants, Karen Saunders, who is to be ordained deacon with Christine, suggested the image of a tricycle, the front wheel being Scripture which drives us and the two back wheels being reason and tradition to give us stability.

            In a flash my memory of my early encounter with a motorcycle came over me, but with a new insight.  I realized that the image I now had was not of a tricycle but of the new Can Am Spyder Roadster, a three-wheeled vehicle that has both power and stability.  After my near-disastrous encounter with a two-wheel cycle in my childhood, I have discovered redemption in the image of the powerful Spyder, the rear wheel being the Scriptures driving me forward into God’s future and the two front wheels of reason and tradition giving me the stability to navigate the uncertain terrain in front of me.  I almost went out yesterday afternoon to test-drive and buy one!

            I hope that in the months ahead we will find a venue in our life here at Saint Faith’s for the kind of engagement with the Scriptures that will help us wrestle with what is said and meant.  Perhaps you have had your own experience of falling off the motorcycle we call the Scriptures.  Perhaps you are a bit daunted by the idea of entering into this strange world.  Well, let’s hope on our three-wheeler together and explore what treasures and mysteries there are to be found!  Amen.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Let Love Live Again!

RCL Easter 2B
15 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            Commuting from Surrey to Vancouver takes at least thirty-five to sixty minutes every morning.  While it is important to keep track of the traffic and to drive defensively, I have discovered that the commute is not wasted time.  From time to time I listen to interesting reports and interviews on CBC Radio One and Two as well as hearing new music.  My tastes are eclectic, so I enjoy the range of new music whether classical, popular, folk or country.

            This past week one song in particular caught my attention.  The singer is Johnny Reid, a Scottish immigrant to Canada who has made it big in the country music scene both here in Canada and in the United States.  His newest song, “Fire It Up”, holds within it one way of reflecting on the mystery of Thomas’ experience of the risen Christ we remember today.  Let’s play the music video.

            Have you ever known anyone who has suffered a loss that seems utterly senseless and irredeemable?

            I have --- twice.  During my final year in seminary a two-year-old child drowned in an accident that would not have happened had the Ford Motor Company installed a simple device that would have prevented a car from slipping into reverse if the door were slammed shut while the motor was running.  The child that drowned had been a miracle baby for a couple who had been told that they would never have any children.  This event brought the entire seminary community together to surround the couple with love, with sorrow, with compassion and with shared grief.

            During our first year in Canada we received a telephone call from a member of our former parish in Colorado.  He told us that one of the young men I had prepared for confirmation had come home drunk, had an argument with his father and then taken a gun and shot himself.  In one moment of anger an entire life of promise ended and a family was left with all the guilt and anger that such a death can cause.  But the parish community rallied around them and held them in the embrace of a community of concern and shared grief.

            And though it took some time for both set of parents, their hearts said, “Fire it up.”  And their minds said, “Fire it up.”  And their souls said, “Fire it up.”  And love lived again.

            Have you ever known anyone who has had been held in the bondage of prejudices that were unexamined?

            I have ---- twice.  In my final year of high school the federal court ordered that my high school be de-segregated by means of bussing African-American students from  their neighbourhood to our school.  The fall term did not start well and there was a fight in the lunch room between the new students and the more established students.  As a member of the Student Council I was chosen to be part of a team to try to mediate the situation and reduce the tensions.  It was my first taste of the consequences of prejudice, a prejudice my family had contributed to some three hundred years earlier by being slave-owners.  But the school community rallied together and we began to rebuild relationships.

            During my second year of seminary I experienced what is best described as a burn-out.  The only people who recognized what was going on and who reached out to me were two women who represented aspects of the new church I had not been prepared to accept.  One was a candidate for ordination to the priesthood from Canada and the other a lesbian single mother studying to become a Christian education director.  They knew how I then felt about the ordination of women and the place of gay and lesbian disciples of Christ in the life of the church.  But they reached across our divisions and rescued me from disaster.

            And though it took some time, my heart said, “Fire it up.”  And my mind said, “Fire it up.”  And my soul said, “Fire it up.”  And love lived again.

            Have you ever known someone who believed so much in a dream that the ending of that dream brought them to doubt and despair?

            We have --- today.  In the gospel of John Thomas seems to be within the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples.  When Jesus decides to go to Jerusalem, it is Thomas who recognizes the danger and who rallies the other disciples by saying, “Let us go and die with him in Jerusalem.”  But as the week unfolds, Thomas soon runs away like most of the inner circle.  He is not to be found at the cross.  He is not to be found when the disciples gathered on that first Easter, shut away for the fear of the Jewish authorities, have their experience of the risen Jesus.

            Yet I find it remarkable that the community of disciples are not prepared to abandon Thomas.  Despite his caustic remarks and his refusal to accept their message, Thomas is included in their gathering a week later.  Before his doubting eyes, he sees the Lord whom he was prepared to follow until death and he believes.  If we are to believe the legends told about Thomas, he travels to the east and becomes an apostle to the Indian people living in the southwestern part of the Indian subcontinent.  There he dies.

            And though it took some time, his heart said, “Fire it up.”  And his mind said, “Fire it up.”  And his soul said, “Fire it up.”  And love lived again.
            My sisters and brothers, we all know people who have suffered and are suffering incredible losses, some from death, some from the effects of changing health and financial situations.  But they are not alone.  God has given us to them so that they might live again in the light of our risen Christ.

           We all know people who are entangled in the web of unexamined prejudices and fears and perhaps even hate.  But they are not alone.  God has given us to them so that they might live again in the light of our risen Christ.

            We all know people who live in the shadows of profound disappointments and in the grips of a skepticism that leaves little room for hope.  But they are not alone.  God has given us to them so that they might live again in the light of our risen Christ.

            Christ has died, so let our hearts be fired up!  Christ is risen, so let our minds be fired up!  Christ will come again, so let our souls be fired up!  Let love live again!  Amen.

Audio link:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Ordo for Daily Morning Prayer during Easter

Morning Prayer
Easter to Ascension

The Gathering of the Community

Introductory Responses

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
who gave us new life and hope
by raising Jesus from the dead.

Rejoice, then, even in our distress.
We shall be counted worthy when Christ appears.

You, O God, have claimed us as your own
and called us from our darkness into the light of your day.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Morning Prayer continues with the Psalm.

The Proclamation of the Word

The Psalm

The Psalm from a daily lectionary or one of the following may be said or sung.

Sundays                        Psalm 118.1-2, 14-24
Mondays                      Psalm 34.1-10
Tuesdays                     Psalm 100
Wednesdays               Psalm 101
Thursdays                  Psalm 80.1-7
Fridays                      Psalm 109.21-31
Saturdays                 Psalm 118.19-25

The Reading

A Reading from a daily lectionary or one of the following may be read.

Sundays                        Jeremiah 31.1-6
Mondays                       Isaiah 51.1-6
Tuesdays                      Ezekiel 34.11-15
Wednesdays               Genesis 35.9-15
Thursdays                   Zechariah 10.6-12
Fridays                       Deuteronomy 34.1-12
Saturdays                   Exodus 19.1-7

After a period of silent reflection one of the following is said.

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.
Thanks be to God.
Holy Word, Holy Wisdom.
Thanks be to God.

If only one Reading is read, then Morning Prayer continues with the Responsory or the Canticle.

If two Readings are read, then the Responsory follows the first Reading and the Canticle the second Reading.

The Responsory

On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

We will shout for joy at your victory
and triumph in the name of our God.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

You will ransom our lives
and will snatch us from the grasp of death.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

You hold our souls in life
and will not allow our feet to slip.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.

Glory to God:  the Source, the eternal Word, and the Holy Spirit.
On this day the Lord has acted;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Morning Prayer continues with the Canticle.

The Canticle

The Song of Moses (Exodus 15.1-3, 6, 11, 13, 17-18)
I will sing to you, O Lord, for you have triumphed gloriously; *
            horse and rider you have thrown into the sea.
You have become my strength and my might, *
            and you have become my salvation;
you are my God, and I will praise you, *
            my ancestors’ God, and I will exalt you.
Your strong hand, O Lord, glorious in power, *
            your strong hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.
Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? *
            Who is like you, majestic in holiness,
            awesome in splendour, doing wonders?
In steadfast love you led the people *
            whom you redeemed;
you guided them by your strength *
            to your holy abode.
You brought them in and planted them *
            on the mountain of your own possession,
the place, O Lord, that you made your abode, *
            the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands established.
The Lord will reign *
            forever and forever.

Morning Prayer continues with the Affirmation of Faith or the Litany.

Affirmation of Faith

One of the following may be said.

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.  Amen.

Hear, O Israel
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.

Morning Prayer continues with the Litany.

The Prayers of the Community

The Litany

In joy and hope let us pray to the source of all life, saying, “Hear us, Lord of glory!”

Intercessions, petitions and thanksgivings may be offered in silence or aloud.  Then the Litany is said or sung.

Risen Saviour, fill us with the joy of your holy and life-giving resurrection.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

May isolated and persecuted churches may find fresh strength in the Easter gospel.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

Grant us humility to be subject to one another in Christian love.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

Provide for those who lack food, work or shelter.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

By your power may wars and famine cease through all the earth.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

Reveal the light of your presence to the sick, the weak and the dying, that they may be comforted and strengthened.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

Send the fire of your Holy Spirit upon your people, that we may bear faithful witness to your resurrection.  Hear us, Lord of glory!

Either the Collect of the Day or one of the following Collects may be said or sung.

Resurrecting God, you conquered death and opened the gates of life everlasting.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, raise us with Christ that we, too, may proclaim healing and peace to the nations.  Amen.
Love divine, in raising Christ to new life you opened the path of salvation to all peoples.  Send us out, with the joy of Mary Magdalene, to proclaim that we have seen the Lord, so that all the world may celebrate with you the banquet of your peace.  Amen.
We exult in your love, O God of the living, for you made the tomb of death the womb from which you bring forth you Son, the first-born of a new creation, and you anointed the universe with the fragrant Spirit of his resurrection.  Make us joyful witnesses to this good news, that all humanity may one day gather at the feast of new life in the kingdom where you reign for ever and ever.  Amen.

Morning Prayer continues with the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer

Gathering our prayers and praises into one,
let us pray as our Saviour taught us,

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 form the time of trial,
and deliver us from evil.
for the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours,
now and for ever.  Amen.

Morning Prayer continues with the Dismissal.

The Sending Forth of the Community

The Dismissal

Let us bless the risen Lord.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!
Thanks be to God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

The following may be said or sung.

God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make us perfect in every good work to do your will, working in us that which is well-pleasing in your sight.  Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

It Is Not Yet Finished

RCL Easter B
8 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            When I was twelve years old, my parents took my sister and me to see the film, The Agony and the Ecstasy.  The film tells the story of the painting of the Sistine Chapel, commission by Pope Julius II (played by Rex Harrison) and undertaken by Michelangelo (played by Charlton Heston).

            The project was frustrated by many delays, partly caused by Julius’ many wars, and by artistic tantrums on the part of Michelangelo.  At various points during the film Julius asks Michelangelo impatiently, “When will you make an end?”  “When I am finished,” replies Michelangelo.

            Of the various accounts of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth the version in the gospel according to Mark is the shortest and ends on an unfinished note:  “So [the women] went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  (Mark 16.8)

            Since Mark is considered the oldest surviving gospel and the foundation upon which Matthew and Luke built their versions of the Jesus story, such an abrupt and confusing ending is most unsatisfactory.  Later writers tried to improve on Mark’s narrative.  One writer contributed a short ending in which the women tell those around Peter of what they had seen.  Another writer contributed a longer ending which includes the infamous reference to picking up snakes, a practice known among some Pentecostal groups primarily in the southern region of the United States.

            But maybe, just maybe, Mark’s gospel ends just the way it’s supposed to end.  The women find the tomb empty.  They have a vision of an angel who tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is back in the ‘mission field’ of Galilee.  The angel commissions the women to share the message of Jesus.  That’s the end of the story.

            But the women are afraid.  Who wouldn’t be afraid to spread the news that God refuses to allow death to claim the rabbi the authorities have executed, that this rabbi is alive and continuing his mission and that the turmoil of the last few days is likely to go on for a lot longer?  Perhaps Mark is encouraging his original audience to similar acts of faithfulness so that they might succeed where the first followers of Jesus did not (cf. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1844 n.).

            Perhaps, just perhaps, Mark is saying that the resurrection of Jesus is not an event but an ongoing movement.  Perhaps the resurrection is not yet finished because the message of the resurrection, a stumbling block to some people and foolishness to others, still needs to be shared throughout all time and space.  Mark’s gospel is unfinished because God is not yet finished, because we are not yet finished, with the work begun in the ministry of Jesus two thousand years ago.

            Recently I attended an event featuring Karen Armstrong, the English religious scholar, and sponsored by the Ismaili Muslim community here in Metro Vancouver.  Her present project is known as the Charter of Compassion.  Her hope is to create a network of individuals and communities worldwide who sign on to the Charter and commit themselves to the life-long task of living and encouraging lives of compassion and respect.  Her work is, I believe, a manifestation of the call of Mark to share in the unfinished work of God, begun in Jesus of Nazareth and continued in us.

            As we look around us, we can see the evidence that what God began in Jesus has yet to be accomplished in its fullness in our world.  To some people this situation is a counsel of despair and they withdraw from any activity intended to change the world.  To others the world’s situation is a license to serve their own interests and ignore the needs to others.

            To those who are held in the embrace of Jesus of Nazareth and emboldened by the resurrection, the needs and concerns of our world only renew their commitment to live gospel-shaped lives and to work with other people of faith in the healing of creation.  But this is not easy work and there are many pressures upon us to conform to the world as it is rather than help to mould the world as it can be.

            When Paula and I were in Indiana, our Saturday nights were often spent listening to Garrison Keillor’s radio programme, “A Prairie Home Companion”, on American Public Radio.  Among its fictitious sponsors was ‘Powder Milk Biscuits’ which ‘gave shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done’.

            My friends, we know what needs to be done.  In Jesus of Nazareth we have seen who we are meant to be as creatures beloved by God and made in God’s image.  But there is still work to be done if all human beings are to come to know who they as God’s beloved.  If there is any ending to Mark’s gospel, then it is not written with pen and ink on a parchment page.  Those who were not satisfied with how Mark brought his story to a conclusion have, perhaps, missed its point.

            The ending of the gospel according to Mark is written in the lives of shy people, refreshed by the waters of baptism and fed with the bread and wine from this table.  It is written by shy people who get us and do what needs to be done:  Go tell all the world that Jesus has been raised from the dead and that he is working in us to enable every human being become truly and fully alive.  Amen.

Why Is This Night Different from Every Other Night?

RCL Easter Vigil
7 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            As we gather on this most holy of nights, our Jewish sisters and brothers are continuing their celebration of Passover, the commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their exodus into the freedom of the Promised Land.  For Jews this is a domestic celebration and around dining tales throughout the world traditional dishes will be share with prayer and with song and with story.

            At an early point in the meal the youngest person at the table will ask the famous question, “Why is this night different from every other night?”  This question will open the door to the stories of the exodus and Jews will fulfill the obligation to share these stories from generation to generation until that great Passover when the Messiah comes to bring God’s eternal reign of justice and peace.

            Genuine religious faith is not afraid of questions.  Questions give rise to a search for meaning and to a wonder at the depth and variety of our existence.  Our searching leads to discoveries, revelations and to more questions.  We are drawn to the mystery we call God as surely as moths are drawn to light and newborns to the scent of their mothers.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            For Christians this is the night when we sing the great Easter proclamation known as the Exsultet after its opening word, “Rejoice!”  I still remember the first time I heard the Exsultet:  April 1979 as Saturday the 14th gave way to Sunday the 15th.  It was the moment when I fell in love with worship as a means to experience the love of God.

            In the version of the Exsultet I first heard, there is a phrase which disappeared from the version we have in our service book:  “Accept this Easter candle, the work of your creatures, the bees.”  It is an omission that I regret.

            We tend to be so focused on our own bondage, whether to sin, to fear or to death, that we forget that all of God’s creatures are in bondage to those things which we have done and to those things which we have not done.  Throughout the world plant species are declining because the bees that pollinate them are dying, some due to our pollution of the environment.  As human beings encroach on the ‘wild places’ of the earth, some predators and scavengers seek food in our garbage dumps and our homes, becoming dangers to be hunted down and, if not relocated, killed.

            This is the night when the Exsultet reminds us that all creation needs liberation --- not from its sin but from the sins of humanity.  When we sing the Exsultet, regardless of which version we use, we renew our commitment to live simply so that other creatures may simply live.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            This is the night when Christians acknowledge that the new life promised by God’s raising of Jesus from the dead has come in response to human disobedience and evil.  It is an admission that requires humility and courage.

            In the oldest forms of the Exsultet there is a line:  “O blessed iniquity!  That such a sin should merit such a Saviour!”  Christians, on this night, are unafraid to speak of humanity’s ancient sin:  the desire to be God rather than rejoice in being one of God’s beloved creatures and stewards of creation.  We dare to speak of this deep-seated fault boldly, because we know that God’s power to redeem, to renew and to transfigure is far greater than our power to destroy, to alienate and to stagnate.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            This is the night when we join Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his simple profession of the Easter faith:

Good is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours,
through Christ who loves us.

            This is the night when we proclaim that the good news of God in Christ is good news to all of God’s creatures who suffer from the consequences of human sin.

            This is the night when we proclaim that the new life we celebrate comes only because we have loved the works of selfishness and division more than the works of compassion and reconciliation.

            Why is this night different from every other night?

            Because Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!