Saturday, December 24, 2022

Becoming Who We Are

Becoming Who We Are

Reflections on John 1.1-14


Christmas Day

25 December 2022


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC


         If I were ever told that I was to be exiled and I could only take one of the four Gospels with me, I would choose John without any hesitation.  His account of the mission and ministry of Christ never fails to draw me in.  Even texts that I have heard many times always show themselves to have more to them that I remembered.  John also has a better sense of humour than the other three canonical Gospels!


         Today’s familiar and, some might say, spectacular text is just such an example of a familiar text that keeps revealing new insights.  For the past couple of days I’ve been pondering just one phrase in one verse:  “But to all who received, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” (John 1.12 NRSVue)  I keep coming back to ‘he gave power’.


         Other translations of the Bible into contemporary English give different readings.  The Revised English Bible reads “he gave the right”.  The Common English Bible reads “he authorized to become God’s children”.  All these are efforts to translate one simple Greek word that betrays a simple translation:  exousian.


         The word is most often translated as ‘authority’ but it has a deeper meaning for us as we celebrate the birth of Christ.  It’s a word to free us, to empower us, to give us hope.


         Exousian means a power, a right that comes out of our very being, our ousia to use the Greek word.  It’s a word that describes something that flows out of a person, a living spring that can be hindered in its ability to flow freely out of us.  It’s a spring that never runs dry despite the best and manifold efforts humans make to obstruct its power to transform and transfigure us.


         When I was a boy, I loved to build dams on the many mountain streams where I grew up.  I would any material I could find – tree limbs and branches, rocks and mud – to build my structures.  But I never succeeded in preventing the water from flowing.  Water always finds a way.  My dam would be breached sooner or later, just as modern structures will fail if there isn’t some outlet to reduce the pressure.


         My friends, within every human being, Christ is waiting to flow forth.  We’re very good at building dams to try to hold Christ back, to restrain him in some safe, tame reservoir so that he cannot turn our lives upside down in the current of love and compassion that flows from him.  But Christ cannot be dammed; the spring cannot be restrained.


         We who have received him, who have welcomed him, have been given power to become Christ-like.  We who have believed in his name, have been authorized, have been given the right to claim our birthright.  We can become who we really are rather than be satisfied with the many counterfeits that some charlatans and social influencers are peddling and foisting upon us.  We can become children of God because that is who we are.  That is the stream of life, the reservoir of love, within each and every human being – even those whom we might find disagreeable, dishonest, even despicable.


         The Child whose birth we celebrate this morning is found in each and every one of us. The invitation to follow him is not an invitation to go to some far-off place that is alien to us.  It is an invitation to explore somewhere closer to hand – our hearts, our minds, our souls, our strengths.


         To be honest, it is not a short or simple journey.  It is a life-journey that certainly has its ups and downs, its moments of joy and despair, its successes and failures.  But is a journey to become real – fully alive children of the God in whose image we are made and into whose likeness Christ shows the way.


         We can leave the Child in the manger or we can recognise the Child that is within each one of us.  Just as Mary and Joseph will nurture this Child in the years ahead, preparing him for the ministry God entrusted to him, so we can nurture the Child within us.  Let me leave you with some words from Marty Haugen’s ‘Carol of the Manger”.


Once again we tell the story –

how your love for us was shown,

when the image of your glory

wore an image like our own.

Come, enlighten with your wisdom,

come and fill us with your grace.

May the fire of your compassion

kindle every land and race.


May God give us grace to reveal the Christ within us so that all God’s children may be free and the earth may be filled with the glory of God.


Normal for Now But Not For Ever

 Normal for Now But Not For Ever

Thoughts on Isaiah 62.6-12


1st Mass of Christmas

24 December 2022


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC


         Earliest this year as the government was lifting many of the COVID-related restrictions, a small group of us were having coffee in the Parish Lounge following the Wednesday eucharist.  COVID was the main topic of conversation and someone said, ‘Well, we’ll have to get used to the new normal.’  Before anyone else responded, one wise person said, ‘Not the new normal but normal for now.’  It’s a perceptive distinction.


         The new normal implies that we can plot a new trajectory with some confidence. Normal for now suggests that the future is not as clear as we might wish it to be.  Perhaps our new stance needs to be one of vigilance and agility in the face of an ever-changing present rather than planning on a more static state.


         Two thousand five hundred years ago the people of Israel were permitted to return to their homeland after decades of exile.  They had lost their independence and their cities and religious centres had been destroyed.  at first, the promise of a return to Judah had been greeted with joy and excitement by the exiles.  But now that the people had actually returned and were trying to re-build their homes, their lives and the Temple in Jerusalem, things weren’t as grand as they had hoped they would be.


         The economy had tanked and people were struggling to survive.  After years of living in a foreign land, some of the returnees had abandoned the traditions of their ancestors and were following the religious practices of their former captors.  Charlatans who promised quick foxes for what ever aliment or difficulty a person might were bewitching the people and playing upon their fears.  


         Then there were the traditional religious authorities who were charged with keeping Judah a peaceful neighbour to their overlords to the east.  High on their agenda was the re-building of the Temple and re-establishing the patterns of life as they were before the exile. It was a massive project designed to restore society back to a new normal, something like the old days, just a little different.


         To this dispirited people a prophet in the tradition of Isaiah offered not so much a message of hope as a message of divine purpose.  God’s purpose is not a new normal, the restoration of the ways things have been.  God’s purpose is significantly more global.  God’s purpose is the creation of a new people, a holy people, the redeemed of the Lord.  God’s purpose is not a mere re-creation of the past nor a sanctification of the status quo.  God is working on more than ‘normal for now’; God is raising up things which have been cast down, making new things which had grown old and bringing to perfection all things. 


         The Child whose birth we celebrate this night has been born to show us how we live in the ‘normal for now’ in order to work with God to bring about the ‘normal for ever’.  The challenges we face are not God’s ‘normal’ but conditions of a world as it has become rather than a world as it is meant to be.

·      Civil strife and violence are ‘normal for now’ but not God’s ‘normal for ever’.

·      Social inequality and poverty are ‘normal for now’ but not God’s ‘normal for ever’.


I recently read an article by a writer who described herself as a cultural Christian.  She expressed her appreciation for some of the elements of the Christmas even as she distanced herself from the faith that holds this story at its core.  I agree with her that it’s not easy to believe in a God of justice, of steadfast love, of a humility that reveals itself in a child born in a manger.  But I think that she and I are looking at the world differently.  What she sees as ‘normal’, I see as ‘normal for now’.  


My faith leads me to believe that tonight we’re celebrating the revelation of the ‘normal to come’, the promise of the ‘normal for ever’, a world filled with the glory of God – human beings fully alive and free, the creation as it is meant to be.


Unwanted Journeys. Unexpected Discoveries.

Unwanted Journeys.  Unexpected Discoveries.

Reflections on Luke 2.1-20


‘On the Road to Bethlehem’

Christmas Eve

24 December 2022


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC


         In late 2007, Bishop Jim Cowan, then Bishop of British Columbia, invited me to be part of the Anglican Church of Canada’s delegation attending the installation of the new Primate of the Church of the Province of Myanmar.  The installation was scheduled for February 2008 and there were intensive preparations for our journey in the months leading up to our departure.  Since I have always loved travel and have taught about the relationship between culture and Christian worship, I was excited about going.

         But as the day of our departure drew closer, I become more and more anxious.  I had recently learned that I had both coronary and respiratory conditions that were life-altering. Myanmar was then, as now, under the control of a military junta that actively monitored the activities of both Christian and Muslim minorities.  For example, citizens of Myanmar were not permitted to entertain foreigners in their homes.  Militant Buddhists regularly disrupted Christian and Muslim worship.

         My anxiety become so acute that I ended up in the UBC urgent care unit two days before our scheduled departure.  After a fair number of tests and lots of questions, my wise ER physician asked me, ‘Do you want me to write a medical excuse for you not to go to Myanmar or do you want to face your fears and go?’  I chose to face my fears and go on what had become an unwanted journey.

         But out of this unwanted journey came so many unexpected discoveries of the presence of our living, loving Creator.  I have not forgotten the fears, but the memories of the gifts far aweigh them.

         Have you ever gone on an unwanted journey?  Have you gone on such a journey and, despite your fears and misgiving, had an unexpected discovery of God waiting for you?  I have.  So did Joseph and Mary.

         Over the many centuries Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem has been romanticized.  We can be led to forget that this was no voluntary visit to Joseph’s family’s home town for pleasure.  It was a journey forced upon the people of Palestine by their imperial and colonial rulers, so that tax records could be updated and tax revenues increased.  Thousands of people were forced from their homes to travel hither and yon at their own cost and at some peril.  Hardly a scenic tour of old haunts!

         But even unwanted journeys can play a role in God’s saving purposes.  The Child was born.  Poor and humble folk caught a glimpse of the world as God desires it to become.  Exotic visitors from foreign lands came to see the Saviour, the Light of God.  And, in this place, at the end of this unwanted journey, hope is born and the world seems ever so much more beautiful and holy.

         Right now there are many people who are on unwanted journeys.  Some of these journeys are, like Joseph and Mary’s, imposed by political leaders and situations with the possibility of grievous harm and life-altering consequences.  Other such journeys are less dramatic but still have life-changing possibilities.  Perhaps you know someone on such a journey; perhaps you yourself on such a journey.

         When travelling on an unwanted journey, be watchful.  Be attentive to the signs.  God is not loathe to send angels, messengers of grace and good news, to point us in the direction of unexpected discoveries and signs of hope and renewal.  Sometimes those angels wear faces very much like our own.

         Unwanted journeys need not be fruitless.  They may lead us to places where our living, loving God reveals a glimpse of the world as it can be, the world as God is working to bring into being.

         After all, the angels led us here tonight, didn’t they? 

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Thanksgiving: An Advent Stewardship Reflection



         I cannot remember when I first learned the meaning of the Greek word eucharistia, but I do remember the impact learning the nuance of the word had on my understanding of what it means to give thanks.  Eucharistia means to give thanks for a gift given freely whether or not the giver has an obligation to give a gift or the recipient has done anything that merits receiving a gift.  I think that the best English translation is ’windfall’, something that comes to us without any effort on our part.


         Some Christian teachers have stressed that the core value of Christian discipleship is a life lived in constant eucharistia, constant awareness of the giftedness of every moment of our lives.  For me the last four and a half years, even at the lowest moments in the pandemic, have been filled with gratitude for the privilege of being the Vicar of Holy Trinity Cathedral.  I have told friends and colleagues that even the most difficult days at HTC have been, for me, good days.


         The stewardship of our time, our talent and our treasure is built on our sense of gratitude for what God has given to us – family, friends, meaningful work, a sense of purpose in our lives.  I believe that we have so much to be grateful for here at HTC, even as we face the challenges of preparing for the next chapter in our life as a community of help, hope and home in downtown New Westminster.


         Let us be grateful for the time God has given us to enjoy the beauty of creation and the wonder of love.  Let us be grateful for the talents God has given us to be co-workers with God in the renewal of creation and the stewardship of its resources.  Let us be grateful for the treasure God has given us to use wisely to empower the ministries that allow us to embody the life of Christ within us.


         Soon the lights of Christmas will shine upon us and we will be embraced by God’s incalculable love for creation made known to us in the Christ Child.  May your hearts be filled not only with joy, with peace and with hope but with a deeply-rooted gratitude for all that God has done, is doing and will do for us and for all.  May that thanksgiving fuel the decisions you make in the coming year about how you use your time, your talent and your treasure.


         In Holy Trinity Cathedral’s network of service, worship, evangelism, education and pastoral care, there are many reasons to be thankful.  God calls us all to find ways for our gratitude to be put to use in God’s mission.  O be joyful in the Lord and enter into God’s courts with thanksgiving.


Richard +


Vicar of Holy Trinity Cathedral

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Time: An Advent Stewardship Reflection

One of the greatest mysteries of physics is time.  Pages and pages of learned articles have been written in an effort to explain what it is, why it exists at all and why we experience it as going in a particular ‘direction’.

For Christians time exists in one of two forms.  The most common form is chronos, a Greek word which means ‘measurable time’.  Chronos is what helps us to make sense of what is the past, what is the present and what is the future.  It’s the concept we use to mark the passing of the hours, days, months and years of our lives and the lives of our families and friends.  Chronos is one of the tools historians use to describe the significant events and movements in the story of humanity and before.

In the New Testament, however, another term for time appears – kairos.  Kairos is another Greek word which means ‘the right time’ or ‘the fulness of time’.  It’s a word that describes the quality of time rather than a quantity of time.  Kairos  is not linear and the past, the present and the future exist simultaneously.  It’s the word that Jesus often uses to describe God’s reign of justice and peace.


We can experience kairos in the midst of chronos.  Think of an experience where you spent hours in the presence of someone or in the midst of an activity only to realize that ‘time flew by’.  This is kairos.  Think of a decision you made which might not have made sense to anyone with a practical frame of mind, but one which you believed was the right one to make at that moment in your life.  That’s an experience of kairos.


         Advent, the season when we are focused on the coming of Christ into the world, God’s kairos breaking into our chronos, is a perfect time to take a moment to consider how we are using the chronos of our lives to further the kairos of God’s purposes.  As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be good stewards of all the resources God has entrusted to us.  One resource that we all have, the most precious non-renewable resource we have, is the chronos of our lives.


When David Johnston was Governor General of Canada, he made encouraging Canadians to volunteer one of his top priorities.  He knew what we all know:  How we spend the chronos of our lives can make a difference to others, to our communities and, dare I say, even to our own selves.  


This Advent I invite you to consider how you are dedicating the chronos of your life to further God’s kairos.  Perhaps you are already volunteering your time to the church and other community organizations.  Perhaps you are supporting friends and family members who are in need of an extra set of hands, a set of listening ears, a caring heart.


But perhaps you have discovered a kairos - shaped hole in the chronos of your daily life.  In Holy Trinity Cathedral’s network of service, worship, evangelism, education and pastoral care, there are many opportunities for your time to be used well.  God calls us all to find ways for our passion to be put to use in God’s mission.  All it takes is time.


Richard +


Vicar of Holy Trinity Cathedral


Friday, November 25, 2022

Apathy, Anxiety or Faithful Discipleship: Reflections on Matthew 24.36-44

 Apathy, Anxiety or Faithful Discipleship

Reflections on Matthew 24.36-44


RCL Advent 1A

27 November 2022


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC


Matthew 24.36-44


                  Jesus said, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.  Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.  Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.  But understand this:  if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”


            Biblical scholars have been known to refer to particular texts in scriptures as ‘texts of terror’.  These texts are considered terrifying for at least two reasons.  First, some are clearly intended to produce ‘the fear of God’ in the imaginations of the audience to whom the text was first addressed.  Second, others are terrifying because of the use later generations made of them to justify attitudes and actions we find horrifying today.


            Some years ago my former colleague Harry Maier chose to preach on a text of terror.  He warned us in advance that we might be surprised to hear this text described this way and then he proceeded to begin his sermon.


You better watch out.

You better not cry.

Better not pout,

I’m telling you why.

Santa Claus is coming to town.


I have never been able to hear that song again in the way I had before Harry’s sermon.


            Think of it for a moment.  Santa Claus’ coming is told in such a way as to produce terror rather than joy.  Parents use Santa Claus as a threat to coerce their children into behaving so that they will receive presents rather than be enrolled on the ‘naughty not nice’ list.  Brrr!


            We could, if we wanted to do so, create just such a song based on this morning’s text of terror from the 24th chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.


You better watch out.

You better not cry.

Better not pout,

I’m telling you why,

Jesus Christ is coming to town.


But I think there is a more healthy and faithful way to hear this text, a more fruitful and hopeful way.


            The late David L. Bartlett, former professor at both Yale Divinity School and Columbia Theological Seminary, wrote that contemporary Christians react in two ways to texts such as this morning’s Gospel. [1]


            (i) Some Christians might view Matthew 24 as an archaic text best left unread and unremarked.  It represents a world-view we do not share.  Such an attitude leads to perpetual apathy regarding the notion of the coming of divine judgement.  Who needs heavenly doom and gloom in the face of multiple wars and global climate change?


            (ii) Other Christians, often from more conservative, even fundamentalist, traditions see texts such as Matthew 24 as being at the heart of Jesus’ message.  We live in a world of perpetual warfare between good and evil.  Our only hope is to be on the right side of God in the coming day of the Lord.  No one will want to be left behind, so we better do our best to interpret the signs of the times, even construct elaborate timelines, to make sure we know what’s going on.  This attitude, Bartlett wrote, can lead to a state of perpetual anxiety.


            But there is, I think, a third way, a ‘middle way’ to use a favourite Anglican self-description of our tradition.  This middle way hears today’s gospel message as both a reminder and a call to renewed responsibility on the part of Jesus’ disciples.


            (i) It is a reminder that you and I are co-workers with God in God’s on-going mission to restore and renew our world.


            (ii) It is a call to renewed responsibility to do what is good in God’s eyes:  (a) to do justice, (b) to love kindness and (c) to walk humbly with our God.


            As this Advent beings, the 70th Advent of my life, the Evangelist calls us to do justice.  Justice beings with small steps, perhaps as simple as participating in our ‘First Nations 101’ parish book study, but such small steps can lead to the restoration of right relationships.  In such small steps we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” [2]  No apathy.  No anxiety.  Just faithful discipleship.


            This Sunday Matthew calls us to love kindness or, to be more faithful to the prophet Micah’s Hebrew, ‘to love others as faithfully, compassionately and steadfastly as God has loved and continues to love all that is, seen and unseen’.  Such love is also known in small acts such as thirty years of feeding people a simple meal, week after week, regardless of the weather or holiday.  In such small acts we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving (our) neighbour as (ourselves)”. [3]  No apathy.  No anxiety.  Just faithful discipleship.


            Matthew’s words are a summons to walk humbly with our God.  Such humility is found in our careful stewardship of the resources of “this fragile earth, our island home”. [4]  In this stewardship we “strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth”. [5]  No apathy.  No anxiety.  Just faithful discipleship.


            In the parish where I grew up and was nurtured in the faith, Advent always brought the singing of a hymn by Arthur Campbell Ainger to the tune ‘Purpose’ by Martin Fallas Shaw.


God is working his purpose out

as year succeeds to year:

God is working his purpose out,

and the time is drawing near;

nearer and nearer draws the time

the time that shall surely be,

when the earth shall be filled

with the glory of God

as the waters cover the sea. [6]


Ainger wrote the hymn convinced of two things:  (i) “God is always at work to realize (the divine) will for the world and humanity” and (ii) “God works in humanity to act according to (God’s) purposes”. [7]


            My friends, God is working God’s purpose out – with us, for us, sometimes despite us.  But the time is always drawing near – whether in our personal lives, in our world’s life or in our universe’s life.  But not with terror.  Not with apathy.  Not with anxiety.  Just faithful, hopeful and steadfast discipleship.



[1] Feasting on the Word.  Year A.  Volume 1.


[2] The Book of Alternative Services 1985, 159.


[3] The Book of Alternative Services 1985, 159.


[4] The Book of Alternative Services 1985, 201.


[5] The Book of Alternative Services 1985, 159.


[6] The Hymnal 1982, #534.


[7] ‘God Is Working His Purpose Out’ from Wikipedia accessed on 25 November 2022.