Saturday, September 11, 2021

Working on the Puzzle: Thoughts on Founders' Day 2021 (12 September 2021)


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC

 

            When I was more actively involved in the work of the Anglican Church of Canada in the wider national context, I spent a lot of time travelling and staying in various conference and retreat centres across the country.  One of the retreat centres we frequently used was run by a community of religious sisters.

            In one of the common areas of the convent there was always a large table with a jigsaw puzzle in progress.  In the evenings anyone who was in residence could pull up a chair and contribute to the work in progress.  Often there would be other groups meeting at the convent as well and the puzzle became a gathering place for folks from different parts of the country and from different working groups of the church.  Every once and a while one or more of the sisters would stop by and join in.

            Everyone knew the process.  First, work on the frame of the puzzle.  Then bring together little islands of interlocking pieces and coordinate their location by referring to the box top.  As this is being done, someone might discover a piece that links one island to another.  Piece by piece the puzzle emerges.

            Putting a jigsaw puzzle together has two benefits.  The benefit we most often think of is completing the puzzle itself.  But the other benefit is working with other people on the project.  Some folks are really skilled at creating those little islands, while other have the knack of finding the links that connect one island to another.  As we work on the puzzle, we chat and learn from one another.  It helps that we do have a clear goal and the box top offers a bird’s eye view of what we’re working towards.  In the working together new relationships are forged, new friendships emerge and new possibilities wait to be discovered.

            In many ways the life of faith takes place within the age-old human adventure of working on the vast jigsaw puzzle we know as the kosmos, the universe and all things visible and invisible.  Over the course of millennia we have been able to construct a significant part of the frame of the puzzle, though much still remains to be done.  We’ve been able to piece together some clusters of the puzzle, those islands that bring us closer to grasping the whole picture.  Then there are those ‘eureka’ moments when some one finds the piece or pieces that connect islands together, expanding our knowledge.

            Throughout all these millennia we have benefitted not only from the data we have gleaned and the knowledge we have gained.  We have benefitted from the process of working together on the puzzle.  Millions of people, some known to us, most unknown to us, have collaborated by bringing their hearts, minds, hearts and intuitions to the task.  While I would never deny the importance of history’s geniuses to this human endeavour, I would affirm that whatever knowledge we have gained, whatever wisdom we have nurtured, has been a corporate and collaborative effort of the wonderful but often annoying diversity of human beings.

            What is true of our study of the universe is equally true of the life of Christian communities over the past two thousand years.  We’ve been piecing together the puzzle of the kingdom of God, the reality of life in communion with God in the here and now, for a long time.  That puzzle is not yet completed and there are times, I must confess, when I fear that there are some pieces missing.  But perhaps the most important thing is that what we’re doing is corporate and collaborate.  To use a familiar saying, the journey, the piecing together of the puzzle, is enriches us as much as reaching our destination, God’s promised reign of justice and peace.

            We will always need new eyes to help up see what God is doing, new ears to hear what God is saying, new hearts to beat with God’s love and compassion, and new voices to speak God’s word afresh in ways understood by those who have been hurt by the life of faith, by those who don’t miss this life, by those who have never experienced it and by those who are curious about who we are and what we are doing.  The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is the emerging kingdom of God are human beings in whom the glory of God is just waiting to be revealed.

            Today Clara joins us at the table where we are working together to put together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that is God’s kingdom.  She brings her own gifts to join with those of the whole Christian community in this long work of restoring balance to the world and renewing the lives of all its creatures.  So pull up a chair for Clara and let’s see what we can discover together about the God who doing more than we can ask or imagine.


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Hear. Read. Mark. Learn. Inwardly Digest.

 

 

RCL Proper 23B

5 September 2021

 

Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC

 

            I grew up in an Anglican environment.  Often I would hear adults punctuate a point made in a conversation by saying, ‘Hear.  Read.  Mark.  Learn.  And inwardly digest.’  I understood the gist of the words even if they sounded a bit odd.  But, as all children know full well, adults do have funny ways of speaking.

 

            Then, one Sunday when I was twelve or thirteen – so it must have been the 2nd Sunday of Advent – our priest began the eucharist by offering the following prayer:

 

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.  (BCP 1928, 92)

 

I almost jumped out of my seat.  There it was, the source of those odd words I had heard so often and it was the Prayer Book!  And its message was an exhortation to pay attention to the Bible.  As I thought back to all the times I had heard the phrase used, there was a slight sense that my elders had almost been saying something blasphemous.

 

            In truth they had not been taking the name of the Prayer Book in vain; they had been applying words that had become part of their spiritual DNA to the matters of importance.  They had been doing what participating in worship is meant to do:  what we say and do in public worship is to become embedded and embodied in what we say and do in our lives outside of the formal worship of the Christian community.

 

            At the heart of the worshipping Christian community is the proclamation of the Scriptures.  It is so important that, in the Anglican tradition, we do not entrust what is to be read on a Sunday to the whim of the presider or preacher.  If worship is meant to shape our daily lives and if the Scriptures are the heart of that worship, then what Scriptures are to be read is a concern not just of the congregation but of the wider church, whether understood to be a diocese or a national church.  Our hope is that, despite the varying personalities of Anglican parishes, we are united Sunday after Sunday in our hearing the same texts so that we can be united in common witness.

 

            This morning we’ve just heard three texts that share a common thread, something that does not always happen in the lectionary for the Sundays after Pentecost.


  • In Proverbs the writer, in simple and direct words, reminds us that how we respond to those who are poor is not only a matter of character but of divine concern.  
  • In James the writer, in words that are painfully true in our day, declares that inequality may be a social reality, but it is not a quality of the kingdom of God as that kingdom is shown in how local Christian communities live and serve.
  • In Mark the writer, describing a situation that could apply to numerous places in our world today, describes how a foreign, non-Jewish woman, three categories that should exclude her from Jesus’ mission as then understood, will not be quiet and expects Jesus to act as one who tears down the walls of division between foreigner and native, Jew and non-Jew, male and female, ‘us’ versus ‘them’ by doing what God sent him into the world to do.

 

These are the texts I entered into the draft bulletin for today; these are the texts I’ve been pondering all week; these are the texts we’ve heard.

 

            These are the texts that I had in my mind as I attend a meeting of the City of New Westminster’s Land Use and Planning Committee on Monday.  On Monday we presented our revised property development proposal made necessary by our failure to secure funding for non-market, affordable rental units, long a central component of our redevelopment plan.  When all was said and done, BC Housing was only able to fund some 20% of the units contained in the application they received for funding from the Community Housing Fund and our units weren’t in the 20%.

 

            The Land Use and Planning Committee approved the recommendations of the City Planning Staff that our application process continue forward, good news for all of us, but the Committee’s approval was not unanimous nor without questions.  Let me name three.


  • How will our property re-development benefit the common good of the City?
  • How will our property re-development contribute to reconciliation with the First Nations on whose traditional lands we live, work and worship?
  • How will our property re-development serve the needs of families, especially younger families?

 

As I left the meeting and as I continued to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest both the comments of the Committee and the Scriptures for today, it seemed and still seems to me that we are being asked by both to ‘embrace and ever hold fast’ the hope that what we are doing embodies God’s mission here on the banks of the Fraser River and in the heart of New Westminster.

 

            We all know that we live in a culture where religious communities such as ours are sometimes deemed irrelevant at best and pernicious at worst.  We respond to these attitudes by doing what we do best:  providing a holy place where people can gather to be transformed both by serving and being served so that they can then be sent out for mission.  Some will be members of our Christian community, while many others will not.  But this is what it means to be committed to the common good.

 

            We all know that our society is plagued by inequalities such as those caused by poverty, by prejudice, by structural racism, to name but a few.  Christ came to break such barriers and to bring us into that unity God meant us to share, a unity where the variety of our gifts, personal and communal, strengthen our common humanity.  How can we, as a Christian community, be an agent of reconciliation in how we move forward in the physical re-development of this property?

 

            We all know that we are surrounded by younger families who are struggling to make ends meet, whether financial or social.  I think that we all want something more than one more impersonal tower block here; we want a genuine community that cares for young and old alike.  

            We have heard the Scriptures.  We have read them.  We are marking them.  We are learning them.  We are inwardly digesting them.  And, in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to listen to the voices of our City and to the voices of the Scriptures so that our re-development embodies what the Spirit is saying to the Church, to us here and now.  

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Beauty of Small Things: Reflections on John 6.1-21 & Ephesians 3.14-21 (RCL Proper 17B, 25 July 2021)

 


         Every once and a while a particular scriptural text will fire the imagination of a community of Christians in a given place and in a given time.  Martin Luther, for example, was captivated by that section of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome that declares that we are justified by faith through God’s gracious gift rather than by our pious works.  From this spark grew the fire of reformation that spread throughout the western Christian world and, even today, continues to fuel Christian thought and action.

 

         What happened to Martin Luther happened to those responsible for the creation of The Book of Alternative Services during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  They were captivated by a portion of today’s reading from the letter to the Christians in Ephesus.

 

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine; to him be glory in the church and Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.  (Ephesians 3.20-21 NRSV)

 

This sentence summed up their firm belief that we, the disciples of Jesus, are not mere bystanders in God’s on-going work of re-creation, reconciliation and renewal.  We are co-workers with God, actors in the great drama of the kingdom of God unfolding in our world.

 

         And so, at the end of the eucharist, we who have heard the Word and shared in the holy food offered at this holy table are sent forth, commissioned just as Jesus commissioned his first disciples as agents of the kingdom.  We give praise to God even as we re-commit ourselves to the work of the kingdom.  You know it well.  Say it with me now.

 

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.  (BAS 214)

 

These are powerful words.  They are easily said but are difficult to fulfill.

 

         When Jesus and his disciples find themselves surrounded by a large crowd of hungry people, the disciples first response is to send them into the neighbouring villages and countryside to fend for themselves.  But Jesus is having none of this.  ‘What resources do you have,’ he asks.  ‘Precious little,’ the disciples answer.  ‘Use them and let’s see what happens,’ Jesus responds.  I have little doubt that the disciples feared for their lives as they began the distribution.  Hungry crowds have little patience when they discover the food has run out.  But it doesn’t run out and there are even left-overs.

 

         Twenty years or so ago I was chairing a meeting of a committee of the Native Ministries Program at Vancouver School of Theology.  No arrangements had been made for lunch, so I made some suggestions about where folks could find a meal.  I apologized that I hadn’t been shopping so I was not able to offer lunch at my home on campus.  One of the members of the committee said, ‘That’s one of the differences I notice when I’m in a city from when I’m at home in my village.  Here you apologize for not having enough.  At home we invite you and figure out how to make due with what we have.  Rarely does anyone complain about being hungry afterwards.’

 

         So often we find ourselves looking so closely at what we do not have that we cannot see what we do have.  Sometimes we are hindered in our actions by a perception of scarcity that we find ourselves taking no action at all.  Yet the last two years have proven that we are actually ‘richer than we think’.

 

         In 2019 few if any of us here at Holy Trinity Cathedral had any idea of how to make use of digital technology.  But we did not throw up our hands in despair.  We had a Facebook page and a website and, when asked, parishioners provided the financial resources to purchase the hardware to do more.  Last Sunday I officiated at the marriage of a couple who came to us because of our on-line presence.  In September we will have the baptism of an adult and in October two people confirmed who also came to us in the same way.  Glory to God, whose power working in us . . . !

 

         In 2019 COVID achieved what snow, rain and winds could not:  we had to suspend our breakfast program.  But our dedicated volunteers would not be stopped.  Plans were made.  A new day and time were identified.  The Archbishop was sent a plan.  We resumed our program and have become a distribution point for another program that serves several other churches with food resources.  The City of New Westminster and the United Way have provided financial and other resources.  Glory to God, whose power working us . . . !

 

         Today Laurel joins us as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  She’s just one small person who does not yet know fully what being a disciple means, but the possibilities are more than we can imagine.  She will bring her own gifts and insights into the midst of this peculiar people we call the church.  She will surprise us with her questions and with her glimpses of God’s wisdom hiding just beyond our immediate sight.  But it’s through the small things that God begins the greatest work.

 

         God can and is doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  All God needs is for us to use the gifts we have in confidence and in hope.  After all, we’re the living proof of the power of one young woman’s ‘yes’ to an outrageous request from God’s angel.  It’s amazing what’s possible in a world such as this. 

 

         

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Speaking the Truth: Reflections on Mark 6.14-29 (RCL Proper 15B -- 11 July 2021)


            Whenever we read the Bible, it’s not too hard to create our own list of heroes and villains, saints and sinners.  But if there’s one thing that the Bible teaches us about human beings is that we are rarely only one or the other.  Almost every hero or saint has flaws and weaknesses, every villain or sinner the possibility of redemption.

 

            So I admit that I have some sympathy for Herod Antipas.  He’s definitely a villain, but his was a family that, as the saying goes, put ‘fun’ in ‘dysfunctional’.  His father killed Herod’s older brothers, wrote a will giving most of his territory to Herod, then, during his final illness, changed the will to give Herod a smaller inheritance.  If this wasn’t bad enough, Herod Antipas didn’t quite measure up in the Roman imperial system that determined a person’s prestige in terms of authority, power and dignity.

 

            Romans took authority very seriously.  Authority meant the right to give orders, to make decisions and to enforce obedience.  The source of one’s authority was found in the political structures and offices of the state.  Poor Herod Antipas owed his authority to the good will of the Roman emperor and other regional officials more than to his status as a son of Herod the Great.  So, on a scale of 1 to 10, Herod Antipas was a 5 at best.

 

            Romans also had considerable respect for power.  A powerful person possessed the resources to impose their will upon others.  If one had money, land and armed supporters, then they could easily coerce others, even those who might possess legitimate authority.  Now Herod Antipas was far from being impoverished, but his power was always kept in check by the fact that his territory was surrounded by thousands of Roman troops.  Even his boundaries were set by Roman officials.  The one little war he fought he lost to his sister, not a good thing by Roman standards.  So, let’s give him a 3 out of 10 on the power scale.

 

            But the most important quality in the Roman imperial society was dignity, the quality of being worthy of honour or respect.  Dignity might be a product of one’s exercise of authority and possession of power, but even Romans had to admit that there were enslaved and oppressed people whose dignity could not be denied.  Poor Herod Antipas was despised by his own people as a collaborator who was living in an incestuous relationship with his brother’s wife.  In the eyes of Rome and of his neighbours, Herod Antipas was just another petty regional ruler whose primary value was to administer lands that served as a buffer between Rome and the other empires to the east.  He wasn’t even a king – he was a tetrarch, ‘the ruler of a fourth’.  So, perhaps we could give him 1 out of 10.

 

            Herod could do the math as well I.  He knew that he was a very small fish in a very large pond.  9 points out of 30 doesn’t inspire awe.

 

            So there’s a lot behind one single verse in today’s gospel:  “. . . for Herod feared John, knowing that [John] was a righteous and holy man, and [Herod] protected him. When [Herod] heard [John], he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6.20)  Even though John was a fierce critic of Herod, his prophetic words touched that place in Herod’s soul that longed to be more than just a vassal of Rome, that part of Herod’s soul that sought to be a faithful Jew, to be a good man.

 

            But Herod was too entangled in the cultural and social spider’s web of his time.  Like any insect caught in such a web, Herod was drained and his moment of redemption passed.  In only a few years after John’s murder, Herod and his wife will be betrayed by another of his brothers and will end their lives in exile in Spain disappearing from history around the year 39.

 

            I recently came across a quotation from Walter Brueggemann, biblical scholar, theologian and preacher, that describes the prophetic role we have to play in today’s world so that saints and sinners, heroes and villains, might be led to that dignity Herod Antipas let slip away when he murdered John the Baptist.

 

            Our first prophetic task, Brueggemann says, is ‘to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion’.  We all know that there are many people in our neighbourhoods, in our communities, in our country and in our world who cannot see the real challenges we are facing in building a world for our grandchildren.  We suffer from the illusion that ours is a free and open society with equal opportunity for all.  In our baptismal commitment we promise to respect the dignity of every human being, but we know that obstacles continue to be raised that prevent many groups of people within our society from being fully respected.  This illusion and many others like it need to hear the same voice that John used to try to bring Herod Antipas into the truth.

 

            We also have the prophetic task to grieve in a society that practices denial.  The worst injustices visited upon aboriginal peoples and other peoples in Canada are part of our past.  Their ripple effect disturbs our present and disrupts our sense of progress.  Grieving is more than lowering flags to half-mast and promises for change.  Grieving is allowing the full force of our shared past and its wrongs to shake us, to bring us to our knees in penitent prayer and to compel us to demand action from those who exercise authority and who have power.

 

            But perhaps most importantly, we have the prophetic task to express hope in a society that lives in despair.  In some parts of the world that despair is a quiet acceptance of the status quo, while in other parts of our world that despair is genuine hopelessness in the face of unending sorrow and oppression.  Change is not possible without hope.  John called ‘. . . for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins’ (Mark 1.4 CEB) because the kingdom of God was drawing near.  Our message to our friends, families and neighbours is that within each and every one of us is the authority and power to change the world, piece by piece, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, heart by heart.  When God raised Jesus from the dead, God showed us that we are not meant for condemnation but for abundant life with each other, with God and within our very selves.

 

            What Herod Antipas failed to realize is what generations of villains have failed to learn.  You may chop off the head of a prophet who disturbs you by appealing to your ‘better angels’ and think you’ve silenced that uncomfortable voice.  But God has a habit of raising up more prophets who will continue to seek to restore your dignity and the dignity of every one of God’s creatures.  We will speak the truth so that illusions are shattered.  We will grieve so that denials sound as empty as they are.  We will express hope so that despair gives way to a shared vision of a renewed humanity.  For the kingdom of God is at hand – indeed, it is already here for those who have the eyes to see, the ears to hear it, the hearts to love it and the hands to shape it.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Looking for Christ in All the Wrong Places: Reflections on Mark 6.1-13 (RCL Proper 14B -- 4 July 2021)

 

            Although I grew up in a region of the United States where country music was popular, it was not part of the musical atmosphere of my home.  At home we listened to popular music, classical music and musical theatre.  This is not to say that I never heard country music.  I heard it coming from neighbours’ homes, from the cars of my friends and others, even from the in-store music where we shopped.  But, given a choice, I would not have chosen a country music station or bought a country music recording.  I probably even yielded to the temptation to look down on those who did.

 

            In the late summer of 1980 I was on the road from my home in Colorado to my theological college in southern Wisconsin.  I had just crossed the state line into Nebraska and, for the next four hours, was in an area where the only radio stations were either broadcasting agricultural information or country music.  Since I wasn’t interested in soy futures or pork bellies, I chose the strongest country music station.

 

            About an hour into Nebraska I heard a song that I’ve always thought to be a song about the good news of God in Jesus.  In truth the song is about a man who after many failed relationships and false starts has finally found his one true love.  But for me, a theology student on his way to begin his final year of studies before ordination, I heard a slightly different message.  The song was Johnny Lee’s ‘Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places,’ a song that appears in the soundtrack of the movie Urban Cowboy.

 

            With few exceptions, most of us have experience of looking for love in all the wrong places.  Perhaps we’ve sought love in material possessions.  But we soon discover that possessions really aren’t interested in a mutually life-giving relationship with us.  We even feel from time to time that they own us rather than the other way round. Perhaps we’ve sought love by seeking the approval of others.  We reach our goal of gaining the approval of a particular person only to discover that our hunger for approval still gnaws at us.  So we strike out in search of the approval of someone else to satisfy our need.  The wrong places where we look for love are almost endless.

 

            Even when we find love in the right place, we are aware of how fragile that love can be.  It requires tending.  It goes through dry places.  It can be a roller-coaster ride of joys and disappointments.

 

            For those of us who have chosen to be disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, we know that in following him we are looking for love in the right place.  Unlike material possessions, Jesus does not try to rope us into maintaining them.  Unlike the yearning for the approval of others, there is nothing you or I have to do or to be in order to know that we already have what we are seeking – the unconditional love of God made flesh in Jesus and breathed into us through the Holy Spirit.

 

            But having found love in the right place, we cannot pretend that it’s easy to nurture this life-giving and life-affirming relationship.  We are human beings, made in God’s image which is the ability to love and to be loved, yet still seeking to live in God’s likeness which is loving knowing that the more we love the more love there is.

 

            Sometimes we even look for Christ in the wrong places and cannot see him where he already is.  The people with whom Jesus had grown up and lived could not believe that this carpenter’s son could be the promised messiah.  Surely the messiah would come from a princely family or be a mighty warrior or be able to summon heavenly hosts to drive out the Romans and their collaborators.  They could not see the messiah in their midst, so they could not experience any ‘miracles’, any signs that God’s promised reign was already among them bringing life and hope.

 

            Even when Jesus sent his disciples out to share the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand, he warned them that they would not be welcomed everywhere they went.  After all, if it’s hard to believe that the son of a carpenter is the messiah, it’s not likely very easy to believe that a motley crew of fisherfolk, tax-collectors, rebellious zealots and a few women of no particular social standing are messengers of a new way of living in relationship with God.

 

            But that’s exactly where Christ is to be found.  Christ is found wherever two or three are gathered in his name to be his friends in the world.  Even more importantly, Christ’s friends aren’t supposed to just hang around together; they’re to go out into the community to speak and to act in Christ’s name.  Just as he sent out his disciples two thousand years ago, two by two, with only what they could easily carry, so he sends us out with the only supplies we need – our selves, our souls and bodies, reasonable and holy offerings for the work before us.

 

            God in Christ and through the Spirit has given every disciple of Jesus authority over what Mark calls ‘the unclean spirits’.  Whatever Mark meant by ‘unclean’ spirits, I know what I believe to be the ‘unclean’ spirits of our own times – any of the ‘isms’ that perpetrate evil or deny justice or foster violence or disregard the dignity of every human being or shatters the integrity of God’s creation.  While we must ‘think globally’, what God desires of us is ‘to act locally’ using the resources, knowledge, skills and experiences we possess to free God’s children.  The great lie is that we do not have such authority; the great truth is that we do and that we have a responsibility to act on that authority.

 

            There will be those who are not interested in what we have to say nor in what we do.  There will be those who suggest that such a motley crew such as the disciples of Jesus in today’s world are hardly capable of confronting the ills of our world.  There will be those who believe that our failures of the past disqualify us from being agents of God’s present work and future vision.  They are looking for Christ in other places.  Perhaps God will surprise them there; I cannot deny God’s freedom to act where God chooses.

 

            But I do know where there is a right place to find love and to find Christ.  It’s here in this community and the many other communities like it throughout the world.  People are looking for this love and we have opportunities to invite them to come.  They may say ‘no’.  They may say ‘perhaps later’.  They may say ‘yes’.  All we can do is to say, ‘Come.  Look here where we have found love – and where Love has found us.’

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Becoming Free from the Bondage of Privilege: Reflections on Mark 5.21-43 (RCL Proper 13B, 27 June 2021)

 


Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

New Westminster BC

 

         I wasn’t introduced to artichokes until I was in my 20’s.  They were too expensive and too exotic a food for my family table growing up.  So, the first time I was served one at a social function, I was totally at sea.  Why were these nice people who had invited me to dinner serving me a very large thistle head?  I waited until everyone else was served to see what I supposed to do.  I watched as each person peeled away a piece, dip it in sauce and then nibble the end.  After all the pieces were gone, my dining companions then went to work on the heart.

 

         It seemed to me at the time that someone had had to be very hungry to discover the edible portions of an artichoke.  Even the ancient Romans and Greeks who lived in the region where the artichoke originated debated whether it was a useful food or not.  But, despite the debate, the artichoke continues to grace many tables these days – rarely mine.

 

         Today’s gospel reading is, from my perspective, a bit of an artichoke.  On the surface it’s a tale of Jesus healing two women, one older, one younger.  But as we peel away the layers of the two stories, one embedded in the heart of the other, we find the solid gospel food we need in these days.  Both healing stories point us towards the path of becoming free from the bondage of privilege.

 

         Let’s look at Jairus for a moment.  He is wealthy; he has social prestige; he occupies a public role as a man of substance.  Yet all these privileges that allow him to act freely in the community and to expect defence cannot save his daughter.  Her illness brings Jairus literally to his knees before Jesus, an itinerant Jewish teacher who is not wealthy, whose social prestige is a bit iffy, who occupies a public role as a wonder worker, a religious gadfly and a potential political threat.  Jairus’ daughter’s crisis brings Jairus a moment of liberation from the bondage of privilege.  We can only imagine what his life was like after this encounter with Jesus.

 

         Then there is the older woman who has lost everything due to her condition.  She is destitute.  She has no social prestige due to her constant ritual impurity.  She has does not occupy any public role, whether as a wife, a widow or a woman of substance.  She has nothing to lose by trying literally to reach out to Jesus in her search for healing.  Jairus is brought to his knees, but she is brought to boldness, unseemly to some in the crowd, but honoured by Jesus.  This woman is already liberated by the bondage of what is understood as privilege to her contemporaries.  But she gains a new privilege by her faith in Jesus; she becomes a ‘daughter’, a member of the new family of God begun in the life and ministry of Jesus.

 

         As I pondered these stories of liberation from the bondage of privilege, I found myself thinking about some occasions in my life where the privilege of being a Euro-Canadian male with advanced degrees and social status as a member of the Christian clergy.

 

*      Watching a Melanesian woman and her children being told to disembark from a plane because it was overloaded with the luggage of Taiwanese lumber workers and two white Anglican priests, John Blyth and me.

*      Arriving in the airport in Singapore on a flight from Yangon and being pulled along with Bishop Jim Cowan from the long line of arriving Burmese passengers to an expedited customs and immigration station reserved for diplomats and air crews.

*      Being sent off with a warning rather than a ticket for speeding on the south side of the Patullo Bridge perhaps because I was wearing a clerical collar and was so Canadian-like in my politeness with the police officer.

*      Receiving two doses of the Moderna vaccine while others still wait for their first dose, both here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

 

         Let me be very clear.  I am not telling these stories to lay blame on or shame anyone.  I am telling these stories so that we can all ponder the reality of the privilege that many of us possess, often a consequence of our birth or other factors beyond our immediate control or the way our society is structured.  But privilege can be a form of bondage.  It is bondage when our reaction to any challenge to our privilege evokes in us any sense of outrage or anger, both of which are simply forms of fear.

 

         When we face the possibility of being liberated from the bondage of privilege, fundamental questions bubble up from the core of our being:  Who will I be without this privilege?  What will I have if I yield this privilege?  What shape will my future take if this privilege is distributed to others?  These questions are ones which Paul speaks of in today’s reading from his second letter to the Christians in Corinth as he pleads with them to contribute to the needs of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

 

. . . I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.

         As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

 

         Our faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who continues to guide and empower us by the Holy Spirit gives us the confidence to risk yielding privilege in order that there ‘may be a fair balance’.  While there are voices that plead a scarcity of resources, whether physical, social or spiritual, we, the disciples of Jesus, know that we dwell in the midst of an abundance of resources.  To yield privilege is not to be impoverished or diminished; it is a step on the journey to discover the living heart of the good news of God in Jesus.

 

         In that journey of discipleship we peel away the armour of privilege, just as a hungry person peels away the outer armour of an artichoke, in order to reach the heart that awaits us.  We discover that as we peel away the exterior, the good news does not become less but grows, just as last week’s mustard seed grows into hardy bush that shelters the birds.  In this yielding we learn the truth and the truth shall set us free.