Saturday, December 29, 2012

Let's Grow Up!

The First Sunday after Christmas
30 December 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            In June of 1981 I was ordained to the transitional diaconate and assigned to the Diocesan Office in Denver as Deacon to the Bishops.  I suppose that today we might call my position as ‘personal assistant to the Bishops’.  Basically my job was to do whatever the Bishops asked me to do --- so long as it was legal, canonical and moral!  I remember those seven months very well.  It was during that time that Paula, a member of the Diocesan staff, and I became more acquainted.  It was also a time that bequeathed a broader vision of the church to me --- a church in which parishes were a vital expression but not the only expression of what it means to be ‘church’.

            One day the switchboard transferred a call to me --- the days before voicemail and sedate electronic voices saying things such as ‘if you want Richard Leggett, press 201’.  A member of one of our parishes had been admitted to Saint Luke’s Hospital, the Episcopal hospital in Denver, and wished communion before surgery.  Since none of her parish clergy were available, the called asked if one of the members of the Diocesan staff could go.  I checked with the Bishops and they sent me off, communion kit in hand.

            Now honesty compels me to say that I thought that I was a pretty important person in those days.  I was freshly out of seminary, very sure of myself and a member of the Bishops’ staff.  Surely the woman would feel particularly honoured to have a communion visit from someone of my stature!

            The woman’s name was Euke, short for Eulalia, and she was a member of Christ Church Denver, the parish that I would serve as curate in six months’ time.  We chatted for a few minutes while I set up the reserved sacrament.  We read the scriptures, prayed and I laid my hands on her and anointed her in preparation for surgery.  Then we shared the bread and wine of the eucharist.  After a moment of silence we began to say the Lord’s Prayer together.  That’s where the problem began --- I could not remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer and I had closed the prayer book.

            It’s a funny thing.  By ourselves we can probably all recite the Lord’s Prayer in either traditional or contemporary language.  But when we recite something together we become dependent on one another.  If one of us slips us, all of us go down together.  Euke and I spent a few agonizing moments stumbling over words that both of us could say in our sleep.  Mercifully we struggled to the ‘Amen’ and I brought the service to a conclusion.

            Euke reached out and took my hand.  In a quiet and wise voice, she said, “It’s alright, Father Richard.  You’ll get better at this.” 

            What I did not know then was that in two years’ time I would officiate at Euke’s funeral, my last act as a priest of her parish.  Over the next two years I learned that Euke was right about many things and I hope that she was right about my getting better.  Her words were a reminder that life isn’t over until it is over and even then God may have more for us than we can ask or imagine.

            It is customary to hear today’s story from the gospel according to Luke as a story about the precocious wisdom of the young child, Jesus.  But as I thought about Euke this week and about my own life and the life of my family, I realized that today’s story about Jesus in the Temple is also a story about a young person who will get better at being who he is, but he is not yet there.  In fact, today’s episode is a story about a pre-teen boy who is being a pain to both his parents and other members of his family.  I can almost hear Mary saying, “You may well be the son of God, but you’ll still listen to me, young man!  You are still living with your father and me.”  And Luke gently says, “Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.  His mother cherished every word in her heart.  Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.” (Luke 2.51-52, Common English Bible)

            I find come comfort in the idea that even Jesus had to mature in his relationship with God and in his relationships with people.  Sometimes we are so focused on the divinity of Jesus that we forget his humanity.  During the theological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries, one of the defenders of Jesus’ full humanity taught that if Jesus was not fully human, in every dimension of his being, then we are not truly saved.  If Jesus was truly human, then he experienced what you and I experience, that mystery and challenge of becoming fully ourselves, fully alive as God intended us to be, that process we call ‘growing up’.

            As I approach sixty in four months’ time, I am deeply aware of the fact that I am not yet fully grown up.  There are still many things that I have yet to fully learn and yet to have incorporated into my ways of thinking, acting and feeling.  I am sure that each one of us has a similar experience to mine:  Each time I think that I have figured something out about being human, I realize that I have not yet truly figured it out.  Just as I continue to be an unfolding mystery to myself, other people continue to be unfolding mysteries to me. 

            This is, I believe, good news.  I can live in hope, the hope that my mistakes are not the last word in my life, that my future is not merely a repetition of my past.

            What is true of you and me as individuals is true of that community we call the church.  There are folks who think of the church as an absolute, an unchanging institution that has nothing more to learn, nothing more to offer to the world.  But the truth is that God is still unfolding our future, still pointing us in new directions that lead us to ask new questions about who we are as God’s people.  Our past successes and failures do not define our future.

            In January we will be presenting to the Ministry and Congregational Development Committee of our Diocese a document that has been developed over the past year and a half.  It’s called our ‘Preferred Future’.  All of you have had a hand in shaping this plan for the next three to five years.  At its heart is the conviction that our ministry in Vancouver is not yet finished and that we still have work to do.  We are, in fact, still growing up, still maturing in our thinking, our acting and our feeling as a community of Christians.  One of my teachers, Louis Weil, said that when we see that there is still work to be done, there is only one thing to say:  “Thanks be to God!”

            So, let us join Jesus in maturing in wisdom and in favour with God and with our neighbours.  Let us grow in our compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  And whatever we do, whether in speech or in action, let us do it in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. [i]  Amen.

[i] Cf. Luke 2.51-52; Colossians 3.12, 17.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Daily Prayer Resources

Dear Friends,

I have posted links to draft orders for Matins and Vespers for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  There are steps in a process of revision under the leadership of the Liturgy Task Force of the Anglican Church of Canada.  I would be happy to receive any comments at

Advent Matins
Advent Vespers

Christmas Matins
Christmas Vespers

Epiphany Matins
Epiphany Vespers

Blessings to one and to all.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Rhys and the Angels

Dear Friends,

Over the last twenty-five years I have occasionally prepared a Christmas story, originally intended for the children but, more often than not, welcomed by the adults.

Click here for an audio file of my first new story in years, 'Rhys and the Angels'.

It's its first outing and needs a bit more work, but I hope that you find it a gift.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Live the Story!

Christmas Eve
24 December 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            At least once a year I pull out my DVD of The Lion in Winter, a historical drama set in 1183 at the Christmas court of Henry II in Chignon.  If you have never seen this film, you are missing out on a classic performance by two great actors, Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, his wife.  The supporting cast is equally brilliant and the dialogue a gift to the ear.

            The gist of the film is this:  It’s Christmas and Henry has gathered the family at Chignon, including Eleanor, whom he has imprisoned for her frequent coups against him, and young Philip, the King of France.  Henry’s sons, Richard, Geoffrey and John, are busily concocting schemes to unseat Henry and to become king in his place.  The competing royals form coalitions form that quickly dissolve even as the peasants and servants try to create a festive atmosphere for their social superiors.

            There is a moment when Henry reflects on his life and his accomplishments in the face of his sons’ and wife’s conspiracies against him.  “My life,” he says, “will read better than it lived.”  And every year, I take out the DVD and watch two stories:  one a story about a significant figure in the history of Great Britain, the other a story about a man whose family life is a disaster.

            Why do we tell stories, whether fictional or historical or a blend of both?  I think that we tell stories for at least two reasons.  On the one hand, we tell stories for nostalgic purposes, to put us in the mood for fond memories of times past and, perhaps, lost forever.  We tell such stories and then have warm feelings that sometimes slip into mild melancholy at the sense of something lost.  On the other hand, we tell stories because we believe that some stories possess the power to influence our present and to help us shape the future.  These stories may leave us with fleeting moments of nostalgia, but rarely is nostalgia the lasting impression upon our hearts.  After the two disciples on encounter the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus and hear his interpretations of the Scriptures, the stories of their ancestors, their response is more than a polite, “Well, that was nice.  Same time next year?”  No, they respond with stronger words:  “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road, and when he explained the scriptures to us?”  (Luke 24.32 in Common English Bible)

            Every year at this time we hear the familiar story of Mary and Joseph, the infant in the manger, angels, shepherds and sages travelling from the east to find the child of prophecy.  After two thousand years the story has become overlaid with generations of holiday traditions, so much so that our hearts and minds tend to confuse the deep meaning of this story with those holiday traditions.  Nostalgia and perhaps a little melancholy creeps over us, even in the midst of this festive season of parties, shopping and gift-giving.

            My friends, the story of the birth of Jesus, the Beloved of God, is not a story we tell in order to re-generate memories of Christmases past.  The Christian community re-tells this story, year after year, in order to make clear the power of Christmas present.  We tell this story because our world is not yet a place of peace and good will --- and we are not prepared to accept the status quo as God’s answer.  This story reminds us of the lengths God will go to reclaim and renew this world.  In the telling of this story we are left with a choice once the candles are extinguished, the gifts opened and the left-overs exhausted:  Will we simply re-tell the story or will we live the story begun in Bethlehem, brought to its climax in Jerusalem and continued in the life of the Christian people throughout the centuries?

            On more than one occasion I have lamented our use of ‘scrooge’ to describe an unpleasant miser because this use tells me that we really haven’t understood the story that Dickens tells.  Scrooge is reminded of his past, confronted with his present and is shown a possible future --- and he is changed by the experience.  Far from being an insult, a ‘scrooge’ should be any person who finally catches the meaning of the story, who is willing to change and is willing to risk living the story in her or his everyday life even in the face of the real challenges and tragedies that surround us.  Why live this story?  Because we live in the hope that this story is the real story, the real account of what God has in mind for us and for the whole of creation.

            My friends, I have only one Christmas wish for all of us:  I wish that the stories of our lives will be lived as well as they will be read.  The Light born this night shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, no matter how hard it tries.  Why?  Because that Light keeps popping up like candles at the end of a Christmas service, a Light that burns brightly and enduringly in the lives of women, men and children who have chosen to live the story of Bethlehem not just remember it.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just Say 'Yes'!

Advent 4C
23 December 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Micah 5.2-4; Psalm 80.1-7; Hebrews 10.5-10; Luke 1.39-55

For an audio file of the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist please click here.

As businesses prepare us for the Christmas season of buying and wish-fulfillment, we are surrounded by images of Mary, Joseph and the Christ-child.  But there are other stories that are key to the story of Bethlehem that the commercial world finds uninteresting.

In today’s gospel we hear told the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also expecting the birth of her first child.  Both Mary and Elizabeth are women who have said ‘yes’ to God’s invitation to be part of God’s on-going story, the story of how God invites men and women to participate with God in the healing of creation, the restoration of creation to its proper and intended relationship with God.

Let’s think of Elizabeth and Zechariah for a moment.  They are childless and, given Zechariah’s role as a priest, this is a catastrophe.  In the culture of the time Zechariah would have every reason to divorce Elizabeth in order to marry another woman who might bear him a son.  But, for whatever reason, Zechariah does not do this and the couple prepares themselves for the ending of their days without a child.

Then God, through an angel, speaks to Zechariah and promises that he and his wife will have a child.  As impossible as this seems, Zechariah returns home and within a short time a child is conceived.  Yet there is no ‘happy’ ending to this story.  Zechariah and Elizabeth know that their child, John, will be dedicated to the Lord, celibate and will be the messenger of the one who is to come.  They realize that they are part of a story that God began in creation and that has not yet reached its conclusion.  By saying ‘yes’ to God, they have agreed to a supporting role in what God is doing, even if that means their own dreams may not be realized as they had hoped when they were younger.

Throughout Advent the church’s message to its people through the Scriptures has been this:  Say ‘yes’ to God.  Say ‘yes’ to participating in God’s work of reconciliation and life.  But how will we know that we are saying ‘yes’ to God rather than a figment of our imagination.

  • If you and I feel drawn to deepen our commitment to prayer and to study, then it is very likely that the voice we hear is God’s.  Just say ‘yes’.
  • If you and I feel drawn to resist an evil in our personal lives, in our families or in our communities, then it is very likely that the voice we hear is God’s.  Just say ‘yes’.
  • If you and I feel drawn to share our faith with another person, to share why we are Christians, then it is very likely that the voice we hear is God’s.  Just say ‘yes’.
  • If you and I are invited to serve our communities and neighbours in new ways, then it is very likely that the voice we hear is God’s.  Just say ‘yes’.
  • If you and I are being awakened to a new way of upholding the dignity of every human being and the integrity of creation, then it is very likely that the voice we hear is God’s.  Just say ‘yes’.

Every day and every moment God is speaking to each and every one of us, just as God spoke to Zechariah and Elizabeth, just as God spoke to Joseph and Mary.  Sometimes God speak to us through the Scriptures.  Sometimes God’s voice is that of a friend or a family member or a trusted advisor.  Sometimes the divine voice speaks through literature or film or music.  But God speaks and then leans forward, hand cupping ear, to await our response.  Just say ‘yes’.

Are there risks to saying ‘yes’?  Yes, there are risks.  We risk being caught up in a story that is not entirely of our making, a story that has many more chapters to go.  But it is the only story worth telling and the only story worth living.  It is the story of an ancient love that is found in every human heart, an ancient love that breaks down barriers and creates life, even in the darkness of the soul’s winter.

Recently one of my former students sent a Christmas card with a poem by Dom Helder Camara, a Brazilian Roman Catholic theologian.

In the middle of the night
when stark night was darkest,
then you chose to come.

God’s resplendent first-born
sent to make us one.

The voice of doom protests:
“All these words about justice,
love and peace ---
all these naïve words
will buckle beneath the weigh of a reality
which is brutal and bitter; ever more bitter.”

It is true, Lord, it is midnight upon the earth,
moonless night and starved of stars.
But can we forget the you,
the Son of God,
chose to be born precisely at midnight?

When we say ‘yes’ to God, light shines in the darkness and the glory of God shines round about us.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.