Sermons are now being posted here. To access the sermons from August 2009 to May 2011, please go to the St. James the Assiniboine website. The link is in the column to the right.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

About now, most of you are ready for Christmas, or should be. Many homes may have a Christmas tree and over the past weeks you have thought long and hard about what to give. You went out and tried to locate the best gift possible, as the spirit of Christmas lies in the giving. You have carefully wrapped the gifts and they sit under the tree, waiting for the moment when you either wake up on your own or are convinced the time is right to see what those gifts contain.

Over the season of Advent, we have been waiting, waiting for this moment. We have carefully thought about how to prepare. We have decorated our homes and lit candles. We have been to church; we have prayed and read or heard the stories of John the Baptist as he called people to repentance.

John, the prophet, called us to repentance as a way of preparing our hearts for the coming of One whose sandals he could not untie. He prepared people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It is His birth we celebrate this evening as we recall the greatest love story of all time, the story of God’s unconditional love for us.

As we read this story once again, I could not help but be moved by the journey of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It would be quite the journey, over rough terrain with Mary ready to give birth. Luke is a historian of sorts, and places the birth narrative in context. A census was taken of the entire Roman world and we are told Quirinius was governor of Syria at the time. These are measureable events in history that give us the time line.

The journey for Mary and Joseph was a long one, and many would be travelling. You can imagine how busy it must have been at the inn with government workers and soldiers who were entitled to free lodging, a part of their perks if you will. In the time of Jesus an inn was not anything like we’d imagine as a five star location, far from it. There may have been a circle of thatched rooms with a courtyard in the centre. The travelers would have to bring their own belongings—food, bedding, pots to cook with, etc. So, Mary and Joseph would have been weighed down with all of this extra stuff.

Then, to reach your destination, tired, dirty, hungry, and to be told there is no room at the inn must have been devastating. To be told you would stay with the animals in the manger; that would have been enough to drive anyone crazy. Contrary to some stories, the manger was not a cozy looking stall such as we see in a lot of crèches. Rather, research tells us the manger was likely hewn out of rock in a cave-like atmosphere.

Yet, despite all of this, Mary and Joseph were undeterred. Mary was ready to deliver her child and this delivery would not happen in a sterile environment, certainly not in any hospital. Imagine your infant being born in an animal stall, no fuzzy blankets, just straw and hay and cloth, along with concerned parents.

If that wasn’t enough, soon they would have visitors invading their space and telling Mary and Joseph of their encounter with angels singing and telling them to find this baby.

The scriptures tell us Mary pondered all of this in her heart. Perhaps the first thing she pondered in the midst of the chaos was the voice of the angel Gabriel. “Do not be afraid.” As the Bible says, perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps Mary recalled once again the words of the angel telling her how she would be the mother of the Saviour and how she should name him Jesus. Perhaps the story of the shepherds reminded Mary of the importance of the angels and their words.

It was into a smelly, loud, chaotic setting that Jesus was born, God’s ultimate act of love for His creation. Until now, the world was in chaos and there was war and turmoil around. The world was not a safe place. Humanity was wandering, lost and in great need. As a part of the plan of salvation, God would give us the greatest gift, that of becoming human for us. Now, I ask you. Think back five or so years. What gifts did you receive at Christmas? Can you remember what they were and who gave them to you? Whatever they were, none of them could come close to the gift God gave to you and me and to our world—the incarnation.

From the moment of His birth, Jesus would encounter a real and human world. He would be raised by human and loving parents. He would see as we see, He would feel as we feel, He would dream as we dream, hope as we hope, struggle and be tempted as we are, but did not sin. He would come to know the scriptures. He would know love. And, as He grew, He would prepare for His mission to the world, that of bringing others to know of God’s unconditional love. As you came to know Jesus, you would know God. Jesus Himself would say, “The Kingdom of God has come near,” when He was with someone.

This is the greatest gift: Jesus, the Christ child, and that gift that gave hope to the world that night still gives us hope. That gift that Mary pondered all of her life was born that we, today, might have hope to change a world that has many similarities to the one Jesus was born into. Back in the time of Jesus, for example, life carried on around the miraculous birth. Those in the inn were carrying on their tasks, those staying at the inn were unaware of anything happening of significance. Herod carried on his murderous ways and plotted against the Christ child. Life carried on in complete ignorance of the miracle occurring.

Even today, it is similar. Folks carry on with their lives at Christmas, working, purchasing, visiting friends and family, yet unaware of the presence of Christ in their midst. It is still a dangerous world. War and violence is all around us. On the world front, our leaders are still trying to assist the democracy movement where riots have broken out and peace efforts continue everywhere from Afghanistan, to Iraq, to the Middle East to the very birthplace of Jesus. On the local front, there is still domestic violence, gang violence, high crime rates and poverty.

Christians today are a minority around the world, and especially in the very place where Jesus was born. Christians on this part of the planet ponder, as Mary did, what to make of their faith, of the words of Gabriel to Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Even in the midst of a world full of chaos, God can and does bring order and peace.

That peace starts in our hearts as we make room for Christ to be born afresh within us. As we allow room in our hearts for the gift of God, the Holy Spirit, we are transformed more and more into God’s likeness. The letter to Titus reminds us we have become heirs of God, chosen ones, having the hope of eternal life.

When we experience the love of God within us, it is that same love that drives us to serve as Jesus did, to want to make this world a better place. In many instances that love is spontaneous. Consider Margaret Newton’s story published recently in The Winnipeg Free Press:

Dec. 1 was the worst night of my life.

I left home at 5:30 p.m. to go to a gathering of friends on Pembina Highway at St. Norbert. Coming from North Kildonan, I got completely lost.

Then on a bridge, my front tire exploded. I managed to get the car to the right side of the bridge, but unfortunately it was not far from a right turn. I had no phone so I put on all my car lights and got out.

There were so many cars coming. I stood at the back of my car and waved at them. Some of them yelled at me to get my car out of the way. This went on for over a half hour. By this time, I was actually crying.

Then a car stopped and a lady came over to me. She put me in her car, and we drove to her work to get her phone. She called her husband to see if he’d fix my tire. Then we drove to pick him up and he fixed the tire.

When he discovered where I was heading and that I didn’t know how to get there, he drove my car, followed by his wife in her car to St. Norbert and the apartment where I was going. By now it was 8 p.m.

The name of this wonderful angel who stopped to help is Rosa Tervoort and her husband is Randy.

There are many such good souls in this world, despite all of the negatives stories you hear. There are many such stories right here in our own congregation I am sure. Often, Christians will give of themselves in love never expecting reward or recognition. I want to thank you especially for your contributions to the Christmas hamper that went to a large family at Peguis. The folks who picked up the hamper here in Winnipeg and delivered it were astonished by the love shown to this needy family in Peguis. God is alive and active in His world and works through you and me.

This Christmas, as we rip off the wrapping from our presents, let us remember the greatest gift of all, the gift of the Christ child born this night for you and for me. May that gift be born anew and lead us to deeper and deeper love and faith and may the Lord bless you and yours!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Four

December 18, 2011
Good morning and welcome to this Fourth Sunday in Advent. As you recall, Advent is a time of waiting, of preparing, and, as our scriptures the past weeks have reminded us, it is a time of joy and hope. Now, our waiting is coming to and end as we move toward Christmas.

Perhaps the greatest joy one can experience is the joy of childbirth. It’s truly a miracle, As a father, I can recall those early years in our home as expectancy and hope as you consider the future in front of you and your new family. As a mother, I know Brenda has fond memories, not perhaps of the childbirth itself, but of the family we have been blessed with.

Perhaps mothers everywhere can relate to the experience of Mary as told in scripture—of her love, her faith, her courage. Luke is the only Gospel writer who tells this story. According to research I found, the Gospel of Luke has often been called the Gospel of womanhood because Luke has many positive stories of women. In fact, there are eight. Other than the birth stories, we also hear of Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene and the woman who anoints Jesus’ body for burial. In the Book of Acts, believed to have been written by Luke, we hear positive stories about business women, such as Lydia, the maker of purple linens.

Today’s story actually begins with the virgin Mary visited by the angel Gabriel, who gives her shocking news.
Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you are to give him the name Jesus.”

Mary had much to ponder, but her response to the angel was instant. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.

The next few months of expectant waiting must have been hard on Mary and Joseph. Mary, after all, was betrothed to Joseph, and the prospect of having a child outside marriage may have been weighing heavy.

We pick up this story today as Mary travels to the hill country of Judea to visit her cousin, Elizabeth. Considering all Mary had been through so far, learning from the angel her cousin was also about to give birth miraculously, it makes sense to look for the support of someone who knew exactly what Mary was facing.

In the Magnificat from our liturgy, we have Mary’s response to remember for all time. “My soul praises the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” I like the version we use in the Book of Common Prayer that says “My soul magnifies the Lord. And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Here again, we read “my” three times, as this is an intense personal experience.

The words “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” are significant, as God has chosen Mary to fulfill his purpose to bring the Messiah into the world. Mary was nothing more than a slave girl, the lowest on the social scale of the time, her father’s property when she was a part of his household and engaged to Joseph.

This is also an eternal truth, that God works through those we might see as the lowliest, in order to achieve His divine purposes. The statement draws attention to the fact God chooses the foolish to shame the wise, the poor more than the rich, the sick more than the healthy.

This point is driven home in the Magnificat, as we read “He has stretched out His mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans,” or as the BCP version states, “In the imagination of their hearts.” I like that phrase as well. Any wisdom, any wealth, any position we have in life is given us by God. When we forget that, when we believe our own talents provide all of this, we can be devastated when crisis befalls us.

Martin Luther once said of the Magnificat that it “comforts the lowly, and terrifies the rich.” In the Magnificat, God changes the order of things—the top goes to the bottom and the bottom to the top. God changes the way we think and act and live. The Magnificat reminds us of God’s economy and his compassion for the poor and the weak. When we truly acknowledge the Lord within our lives, that same spirit drives us to compassion.

At this time of year, you can see evidence of that as the Food Banks get refilled, hampers are filled, banquets are laid out for the homeless and more reach out to give. It is the essence of Christmas, the spirit of giving and it comes from the spirit of Christ within us. The love of Christ within us naturally moves us to do compassionate and loving things.

If you listen closely to the news or scan through the daily paper, you will see fitting examples of love in action. There’s this story, for example, given us from Theresa Patel in Gimli. She writes:

“I want to thank three special people who “stood guard” at my car a few weeks back. I was doing some last-minute shopping at Cabela’s on Ellice Avenue. My car was full of gifts from my day of shopping. In my rush to get into the store, I must have accidentally pressed both the lock button and the trunk opener on my key pad, leaving the trunk open.
"My three special people noticed my wide-open trunk. Two of them stayed at the car, while the third person came in to inform the store manager who then made an announcement about the make of the car and the license number.
"I was apprehensive as I left the store wondering what had happened, and standing there, at the back of my car, trunk wide open, were these three wonderful people. Thankfully, nothing had been removed and they were making sure I was there before they would leave.
“I just want to say a very special thank you to these people for taking the time to wait for me. They saved me from what could have been a very expensive shopping trip! It makes the Christmas season even more special.”

This unselfish love is the love of Christ. This is the challenge of the season, to remember the love Mary had, that unconditional love that says “Let it happen to me,” that love for our Lord that gives us unending joy and moves us to praise and witness through our actions. Thankfully, today, we are blessed with the very presence of Jesus in our lives, through the Holy Spirit. God has had a plan of salvation from the beginning of creation. That plan was only partially revealed in the Old Testament. Yet, as we read in the epistle of Paul to the Romans, the plan is fully disclosed in Christ.

Through the Holy Spirit, we have the strength to continue to work with God, to partner with our God in bringing salvation to the world. There is Good News for us to share, that God so loved you and so loved me that He sent the greatest gift of all to us, His Son Jesus, to the end that all who believe will not perish in sin, but have eternal life.

In John’s Gospel, we are further reminded that in the Father’s House are many mansions, and that He has a room prepared for each and every one of us. The promises of salvation are fulfilled and live in us as we come to believe. Jesus is not a myth or a fairy tale. There is no gray in our understanding here. Either He exists or He doesn’t. For us, as Christians, we believe that Jesus exists and lives within us. This brings us true joy at Christmas. It gives us hope and it gives up purpose for life, to love unconditionally and to serve as Jesus served.

Are we prepared, this season, to acknowledge the presence of Christ in our lives and to allow the Holy Spirit to move us to unconditional love? Are we prepared to look into our hearts and to repent of those actions that take us away from God? Are we prepared to follow Mary’s example of obedience and trust in our Lord? Are we prepared to welcome the birth of the Messiah?

With God’s help, we can make a difference in our world, and often that difference begins one person at a time. May we be open to the working of God in our lives and may the joy within us lead our souls to magnify God this season!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Three

December 11, 2011
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Good morning and welcome to this, the third Sunday in the season of Advent. Our wait for the coming of Christ continues.

Typically, this Sunday’s theme has been one of joy. What exactly is joy? We hear of people being joyful and there is even a well-known hymn that has joy as its focus—“Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of Glory, Lord of Love.” Remember that one?

In my research, I hit the web and found a good explanation of joy by author Mike Ratliff. He writes that the secular perception of joy is “lasting happiness.” However, the Bible interprets joy very differently.

In fact, God commands His people to be full of joy. That’s good to know isn’t it? Psalm 37:4 talks of joy, along with Philippians, which we read from today.

Joy, says Ratliff, is both an outcome of our relationship with the Lord and our source of strength for our obedience of him (John 15). Nehemiah 8:9 says the joy of the Lord is our strength. God desires for His people to be strong in Him so He graciously gives us joy as we cooperate with Him in our sanctification, which is the process of becoming holy.

The joy of the Lord is the source of our fulfillment. Christ-likeness deepens for those who have determined in their heart to walk the walk by faith and live for God’s glory alone.

When the believer walks in this way, their joy filled heart produces true worship of their Lord. This worship is true worship because it is in spirit and truth (John 4:24). This means worship is completely God-centered, fully intent on His glory. In this manner, there is no hint whatsoever of this being simply entertainment. The worship focus is entirely off us, as humans, and focused on blessing the Lord. When we lift up our voices in praise, that joy is revealed. Imagine if in our singing, we were heard to say blandly…. Joyful… joyful… we adore thee (drawn out and slow as it is sung).

This worship that comes from the joy within our hearts cannot be fully contained in the context of a service. Yet, spirit filled worship leads us to deeper and deeper hunger for the spiritual life.

The joy we experience springs naturally from a heart of repentance, which is why this week’s readings continue their focus on John the Baptist. You recall John was the last of the prophets of the Old Testament tradition and came out of the desert baptizing and preaching a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

There are several lessons to be learned from this passage. First, those baptized must be taught. That requires those who are equipped as teachers to teach. In today’s world, much of John’s message still applies, especially when we look at the life of faith. Yet, there are still some who come to the Church and request for a child to be baptized next week. Proper preparation and instruction of candidates is essential if we expect them to make a decision for Christ in their lives.

Second, those who profess and promise repentance must show some evidence of it in their lives. Here, again, we want to guard against simply stating things with our lips that we do not carry out in life. One of the greatest critiques of the Christian faith is that Christians go to Church and are taught how to live a life of faith, but then do not live that life when they leave the service. Thankfully, I can say to these same folks that the Church is not a place for the perfect. As Jesus reminded us, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 23:23)

Finally, this passage shows us that those who desire to do their duty must desire to know their duty and enquire concerning it. The first good word that the Apostle Paul said after his conversion experience was “Lord, what will you have me do?”

What will you have me do? It is the eternal question for all the baptized while we have breath on earth. I find it fascinating that John’s message was delivered to the people gathered, the publicans and the soldiers. Presumably, the Pharisees and Sadducees, religious leaders of the day, did not feel they needed to heed any message from John. Our message today is also one that applies to all, and that includes those within the Church itself.

Perhaps we will find the answer to the question of purpose when we re-visit the very words of Jesus in the Synagogue, when He read from the scroll and sat down to teach. The words from the prophet Isaiah applied to Jesus and they apply to us. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The Spirit of the Lord is within each of us who are baptized, and it is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin, who brings us to seek forgiveness and to repent and who moves within us to accept forgiveness when offered. It is the Holy Spirit who anoints us for our daily ministries at work, at home, at school, at play, in the neighbourhood, around the city or anywhere we may go. We have good news to share, that God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe will have eternal life. Obviously, there are many ministry opportunities He calls us into—whether it is binding the brokenhearted, liberty to captives, or release to prisoners. We each have at least one spiritual gift given by God to be used in ministry and to His glory.

All of these teachings contain truth for us even today, as we recognize that all of this starts with the need of the human heart to repent, to turn away from those things which we do or fail to do that ultimately take us away from God and His love for us. We need to guard ourselves from belief that we have the only truth and all will go well if only others listen to us.

John must have been a powerful preacher, as the many who heard his message actually thought he might be the very Messiah they were waiting for. He answered that the one who was coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. It is this same Holy Spirit predicted who is ours today. At our baptisms, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus fulfilled His promise to never leave us orphaned. He is as close as our breath. The Holy Spirit, working within us, is the One who brings us to true repentance and joy.

In this season of Advent, we must focus on the spiritual. Then, we need to understand any growth in faith comes largely as a result of the grace of God in our lives. God’s grace can perhaps be best understood when we are able to recognize our frail human nature and shine the light on the darkness that occurs in our lives from time to time. These tests and trials of our lives are God allowed circumstances that are tremendous tools in His capable hands to grow us in grace. As we turn away from what is dominating us, giving us pain or struggle we are urged to turn to God instead and place our hope in Him. God, in fact, draws us to do this. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) When we do this, with a spirit of repentance and help of God, we will find joy.

As Ratliff reminds us, when our joy is in anything or anyone other than the Lord, it can be stolen or taken away because everything apart from God is simply temporal. When our joy is in the Lord, it cannot be stolen or taken away because He is eternal and what He promises to do He does (John 16:22, 23).

What is joy? A better question might be “What is the joy of the Lord?” The fuel that drives the engine of our worshipping hearts is the joy of the Lord. Our worshipping hearts keep us focused on the Lord for our fulfillment. As we delight in Him, He grows us in grace. This, of course, is more than simply being religious. Rather, it is walking through every moment of every day living for His glory. The joy of the Lord both empowers that process and grows from it.

Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi said it best concerning our life of faith. It is our task in this life to preach the gospel to others. So, Frances said, “Go…preach the gospel, and, if necessary, use words.”

As we wait, let us preach the gospel with our very lives in tune to the life of Christ within us. In the process, may we find that joy that passes all understanding and may we bring that joy to others.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Two

December 4, 2011
Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” Good morning and welcome. The words of the prophet John the Baptist remind us we are all on a journey, the journey of life. The journey of faith starts at baptism, when we are brought before God and baptized into the community of faith.

The journey continues, in our tradition, with Confirmation, often later in life. In many instances, Confirmation students are about 12, but these days we have adults being both baptized and confirmed. At St. James, we are continuing the process of Confirmation on Tuesdays at noon, for example.

In between baptism and Confirmation, of course, we offer both Nursery and Sunday School and it is a joy to have children in our midst. The children learn about their faith and parents take them home to continue the learning. Yesterday, for example, the adults joined with their children for the Rector’s Christmas party.

As a part of the Confirmation process, we ask students to invite someone to act as a sponsor. The sponsor is one who has been a church-goer and who is quite a distance along in his or her journey of faith. This way when the student has questions, the sponsor can answer based on experience and personal knowledge. At Confirmation class, I told the students the only stupid question was the one that is not asked. Questions are at the heart of growth in faith. At any age, we will have questions, such as “Why is there so much suffering?” “Why does God allow storms to come and kill so many?” “Why would a God of love not have prevented that violence from occurring?” “Why doesn’t God intervene in the amount of hunger and poverty that exists?” “Why or how does God answer prayer?”

There are many questions. I am sure if you think about it, you have many more and they cannot all be answered in one sermon. Yet, what I can say is that God reveals God’s self to us individually as we journey through life. Just as your views change on certain subjects as you grow older, that, too happens as you grow in faith, your positions on certain matters of faith may change.

Sticking then to the analogy of a journey, let’s think of journeying as travelling. When you head out on a trip, whether to the local grocer or to a foreign land, I am sure you don’t just decide to go somewhere and just leave. Or do you? If you just headed right away out the door, you might discover it is cold. You need a warm coat, and while you are at it, it may not hurt to have boots and a hat and scarf. Then, when you head out, you decide. If it is not far, maybe I’ll walk. If it is further, maybe I will drive. If I am headed overseas, you can bet I will need to do a bit more advanced thinking on what I might take and where I might stay and what airline and how much cash and other preparations.

Preparing for the journey, in other words, is pretty important. Yes, you can act on impulse and simply go, but that has its consequences. If you simply go to the airport, purchase a ticket at the counter and board the plane for, say, Florida, that’s great. Now where are you to stay once you are there? Will you rent a vehicle? Take a bus? Have someone pick you up? Decisions go on. Preparations must be made for the journey.

Advent is a season of preparation, as we read in the Gospel. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

John was the last of the great prophets and lived in the desert wilderness. Scripture says he was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed a message of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord.

What is repentance? It is an essential part of the journey of faith. The words "repent" and "repentance" occur 56 times in the New Testament. It is similar in meaning to the word translated "convert" or "turn", which is also common. The main theme of the preaching of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the coming of Jesus, was: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2). The first recorded words of the public ministry of Jesus are also "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17). Jesus declared that the purpose of His coming and ministry was to call "sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). When Jesus sent out His disciples to preach, we read that "they went out and preached that people should repent" It is obvious from the above references, and there are many more, that if Jesus and those He trained knew what they were talking about, none of us will find a meaningful relationship with God unless we do what the Bible calls "repent". That being the case, it is important to find out what it means. (

Repentance is not simply feeling sorry for something. To get a proper picture it is important to understand that repentance always takes place in relation to someone — always in relation to God, and sometimes in relation to other people as well. Repentance is never a private affair. God created us to live in relationship — first with himself, and then with others. That is the reason why religions that do not have a personal God of grace with whom we may enjoy a loving relationship, and from whom it is possible to stray, have no proper place for repentance. Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age thinking come into this category.

Essentially, repentance is simply that process by which a person who is away from God recognises that situation and goes back to God. As C. S. Lewis explained, repentance is not something God demands of you before He will take you back, and which He could let you off of if He chose; it is simply a description of what going back is like. It is basically a U-turn. Instead of going away from God, or ignoring Him, you turn around, go to Him and choose to give Him His rightful place in your life. Repentance, therefore, has more to do with your will than it has to do with your feelings. You may feel deep sorrow about certain things that you regret, or you may not, but the real issue is whether or not you go back to where you belong. Of course, sorrow may assist that process.

The Greek word translated "repent" in the New Testament has the basic meaning of "changing your mind". However, in the Bible it goes further than just changing one's thinking about something; it means changing one's attitude towards that thing. To truly repent you must make two changes of attitude — towards both God's truth and God Himself. (

John then was calling the people of his day to change their hearts, to look inside and examine their relationship to God and others. He knew there was great need of change. People don’t like to be told to change their lives. This came as a hard message but it is also a fitting message for this time of year. When we look at our world, at our society, there is plenty of room for change. To the south, our neighbours are worried about the economy. Profit seems to be the motivator. In Durban, Africa, our country has been called to task on its attitudes toward the environment. Significant changes need to be made to protect the environment. Communities across the north of Canada are suffering with shortages of water, sewage and homes. One community in particular was in the news this past week and the Red Cross had to respond. There are plenty of examples in the air of the need for change. However, even today, we want to avoid change. Greed and jealousy and envy and malice exist and it is easier to point beyond ourselves, to blame gangs, the government, our neighbour, anyone else rather than look inside and begin the change from within. Then, there are a lot of people who believe in God, and who yet miss the good news. For them God is always coming, but never here. God is always promising, but never delivering. God is always near, but never quite in touch... do you know anyone who has that attitude?

Advent is also all about coming...the coming of Christ. God lives. Christ is here. And Christ is coming here. At Christmas, Christ comes and is reborn in our hearts. Christ will also come again as He has promised, and at a time we do not know. In the meantime, Christ is within us and you can see Him daily.

You can see Him in the face of a new born baby,
You can see Him in the gaze of young lovers,
You can see Him in the look of old married couples,
You can see Him within your own hearts,
when you take time to look.

God will accomplish His purpose.
The kingdom will come.
The question for us is - will we get an attitude?
Will we be a part of the fulfilment of God's purpose?
Will we partner in God’s loving purposes for the world, for our neighbourhood?
Or will we journey instead in darkness?

Our journey of spiritual life involves change. Change from within starts with the examination of our lives. Am I in relationship with my God? Is it one of love? Is that relationship causing me to change the way I approach people and stay in relationship with them? Am I forgiving? Am I accepting forgiveness? Am I seeking God’s forgiveness when my relationship has moved far from Him? These are not easy acts. Yet, if we are honest and call upon God, transformation comes as we repent, as we turn our lives around and our faces toward God. Help comes through the Holy Spirit moving within us.

We give thanks for John’s teachings on repentance. May our lives this Advent and Christmas be filled with joy as we turn our faces and our hearts toward Christ, our Lord and our Saviour.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent One

December 4, 2011
Therefore, keep awake – and, what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Good morning and welcome.

Well, this is a Sunday I know I have been waiting for. It’s Grey Cup Sunday. Bombers fans everywhere have waited a very long time, over 20 years, to bring home the coveted cup. This year’s team has been compared with one that won the last cup, so we stand a good chance. It has also been a good year for Grant Park High School where, they, too, have waited. Last month, they were rewarded with the school’s first championship, and Brenda and I were thrilled that our son Michael was part of that history. He will not soon forget that.

We are in a new year, did you know that? It seems out of place to be wishing folks a Happy New Year, but in fact the church’s new year begins today. That’s why at times we have trouble finding the readings in the lectionary. You have to remember the church year starts always in November. It is Advent, and the season of Advent is all about waiting. We wait for the coming birth of the Messiah. We wait for the Lord’s second coming. Yet, just as it is hard to wait for the next championship to come home, it is also hard to wait for the coming of Christ into our midst. There is much struggle and pain today—wars, violence, sickness, family strife to name only a few challenges. That is, unless we prepare. If we should come home with the Grey Cup after today, that will be great…but it didn’t just happen. There was much done ahead in order to prepare for exactly this day.

Forget about the many losing seasons, especially the one where we had to fire a head coach here. Forget about the 2010 season under a newly minted head coach of the Bombers. I believe we went 4 and 14 that year. Then, this year, we started the journey back to respectability as we won many more games than we lost. Our defense became known as the best in the land, and fans here began to chant “Swaggerville,” — even the Grant Park Pirates, who borrowed the phrase, chanted “GP Swag! GP Swag! until the end of their championship game.

All of the losses taught us something about the nature of football and of the team mentality and of hard work, discipline and focus. Sure, we might lose one game, but the next one the Bombers would come back and handily defeat a team like Hamilton or Montreal or Toronto. As the Bombers waited for their opportunity, they prepared by playing and learning. This, I believe teaches us something about the season of Advent and our faith.

Advent is all about preparation while we wait. All you have to do is look at the Gospel reading. “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware; keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.”

Just as Michael and all of the football players on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Grant Park Pirates football team used all of their experiences to learn and prepare for the trip to the championship game, so, too, does the Church have to look at preparations. In Advent, we are looking at preparation for comings. We prepare for the coming of Christ, for the celebration at Christmas of the birth of the Christ child and the birth of Christ in our own hearts. We look to the coming of Christ a second time as He promised. In the Gospel, again, we are encouraged to be alert, to ensure we are ready for when Christ comes again.

So, then, what can we do to prepare?

1. Well, if you look to the liturgy, we light the Advent candle each week as a reminder. It will point the way to how much time is left before Christmas.

2. When you look to the outside, you will see many in the neighborhood put up Christmas lights and trees and even hang wreaths. Each of these has a Christian understanding—the lights reminding us of the light of Christ, the trees being evergreen and representing the eternal life we are promised, and the wreath similar in the circle having no start and no end. As people, we are seen in great numbers in malls theses days, searching for exactly the right gift. Anyone in the malls for Black Friday searching for deals? What is that all about? Far more than a secular exercise, at this time of year, I would hope it would be for us a reminder of the need to give beyond ourselves. We give to help others, we see a need and provide. This is the sacrificial piece of the Christian faith, though it may not often be thought of. I would also say that each gift that is purchased is likely done with great consideration of the other and may take some time to find.

3. Perhaps the most important way we prepare in this season is intensely personal, through our life of prayer. Christ is present and alive today and He is present in our hearts. Through prayer, we come into direct contact with our God, with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Through prayer, we are led by the Holy Spirit to mission or ministry. That mission or ministry will by necessity be one of servanthood, as we pattern our lives after the life of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve. We are moved into action, into servant ministry through the Word, so at this time of year, we often have a study or time of prayer. Beyond Sunday, we can join in study such as any of the Adult Education or Confirmation opportunities that start Tuesday at noon here at the church. In our time of prayer, in preparation, we will look at our inner life as a whole, asking ourselves, “How is my relationship with Christ? Am I continuing to pray, to read the Bible, to attend study, to reach out to others? Is there anything in my life that needs changing to accommodate my life of faith? Do I need to apologize to someone? Do I need to accept forgiveness? Do I need to forgive myself for anything that may have happened recently? The letter to the Romans says this “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably, as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.”

Instead, says Paul, we need to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. When Paul says “the flesh,” he means anything we as humans do that will take us away from concentrating on God and His love. To put on the Lord Jesus, we need to first acknowledge and accept Him as a genuine part of our lives. To put on Jesus is to understand that living the Christ-filled life is living a life filled with grace, as we heard in today’s epistle to the Corinthians. “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”

Paul wrote his letter to the early church to remind them they were imperfect and needed the grace and forgiveness freely and unconditionally given by God. He wanted them to know that just as the football teams learned from their mistakes and preparations for the big game, Christians can face an unknown and unpredictable future in confidence. No matter what losses they may face, no matter what struggles, no matter what fears, the Lord Jesus would be with them and strengthen them and prepare them for the journey ahead.

Of course, there will be a judgment time at the end times, and our Gospels point to that. Yet Jesus is the One who will judge and we can be confident He is leading us in faith through the Holy Spirit. We know He is leading when we know there is love and the evidence in our lives as pointed out again by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22) If you see these attributes in people of faith, you know the Spirit is at work. I see these attributes all around at this time of year, but particularly here at St. James as we held yet another Christmas Bazaar for the neighborhood.

Therefore, “keep awake” says Jesus, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.”

May we all be found awake and working for our Lord, spreading the Good News in our neighborhood and world. And may God bless us all as we journey in faith together! Now….Go Bombers Go!!!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Reign of Christ

You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world.” These words of Jesus to Pontius Pilate were delivered prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, and is a clear statement of the kingship of Jesus.

Welcome to this feast of the celebration of the Reign of Christ, or Christ the King Sunday, or the Sunday Next before Advent as it is known in some places. It is held at the end of the church’s calendar year and ahead of the first Sunday in Advent, starting next week.

When we think of kings, we can have preconceived notions of men in ornate fancy robes, with crowns on their heads and yielding great power. Over the centuries, there have been many kings, some fitting that description and others who didn’t. In the Old Testament lesson, we read of bad kings, called “shepherds.” The prophet speaks out against them. Historically, the southern kingdom of Judah is now subject to Babylonian rule. Some Israelites have been deported while others have scattered.

In the midst of this situation, we are reminded of the Lord’s Kingship. “I, myself, will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”

I like this imagery for kingship, as it is nurturing and caring, as of course the shepherd is for the sheep. Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost and knows His own.

Anyway, there have been many kings, good and bad,even the mighty King David, called and anointed by God as a young man. David was the one we credit with having written many of the psalms we now use in worship. This same David was as human as you and me. He sinned, committing adultery, for example. These men were human and made their share of mistakes, but they were led by God.

In our own Anglican tradition, much of our heritage is traced back to a king, Henry the Eighth. Henry was King of England from April 21, 1509 until his death. He was the second monarch of the House of Tudor, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry VIII was most known for his role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. There is a poster on the upstairs wall of the cathedral that states “There is much to be said about forgiveness in a Church that was headed up by a man with six wives”

Henry VIII may be thought of as the founder of the Anglican Church due to his inability to get a divorce from his first wife, Catharine of Aragon, but that would not be accurate. His beef with Rome had to do with the Pope sending foreign bishops to have control over the Church in England. His struggles with Rome led to the separation of the Church of England from papal authority, the dissolution of the monasteries and the establishment of himself as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. He also laid claim to the title “Defender of the Faith”, a title the Queen holds today.

In Henry VIII’s reign, the structure inherited from Rome remained, with its bishops and archbishops, priests and deacons…the structure we are familiar with today. We were known as the Church of England in Canada up until some time in the 1960s and I remember when the name was changed to the Anglican Church of Canada.

Kings and the monarchy remain with us today, but I will always recall the words of a former Primate, Michael Peers. It was during a dark time in the Church’s life. The Anglican Church of Canada faced bankruptcy over the issue of Residential Schools and the many claims that had been filed. Anglicans were panicking, including those Aboriginal Anglicans gathered at the national Sacred Circle. Many were thinking the Church would disappear.

In his message to that Circle, our Primate said that over the ages, many have come and gone. Our Church has seen emperors come and go, kings and princes come and go, but this one fact remains. After it is all said and done, the Church will remain. Why? Because the Church is the Body of Christ and the only King that matters is Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

So what about this Kingdom of Jesus? Where is it? It is in the past, when Jesus walked the earth and said “The Kingdom of God has come near you,” It is perhaps more importantly in the present when the Body of Christ gathers as we do today. The kingdom is with us in the here and now. We, too, today, can say to someone “The Kingdom of God has come near you,” when we approach someone, since the Holy Spirit resides within us. The Kingdom is also in the future, when Jesus will come again to judge the earth as we hear about in the season of Advent.

The kingdom could be found within Jesus and is not of this earth, as Jesus tried to explain to Pilate. The kingdom is within. This kingdom is one of peace and love and joy. Jesus said this of the kingdom… “Those who do not accept the kingdom as little children will not enter it.” By this He meant the nature of children, the attitude of trust and openness found in children. Accept it, not like children in childish ways, but as children, in child-like ways, open to the working of God in your life.

Paul speaks of kingdom life, the inner spiritual life in his letter to Ephesians read today. He says this… “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Those words are inspiring for us today…a Spirit of wisdom and revelation…think about that….the wisdom that comes from God is not the same as human wisdom. This wisdom, along with prayer and discernment will bring about revelation from God as to how to approach mission and ministry. “When two or three gather in my name,” says the Lord, “there I am in the midst of them”. Paul asks for these gifts so we may know the Lord better, so we might grow or mature in our faith in Christ. It is that genuine faith that moves us to action and any action taken with the help of the Lord will be accompanied by great power.

This inner life, this kingdom life, is seen in each of us when we accept and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in our world and in our lives. The kingdom of God, this kingdom of peace and love and joy, is within, and can be passed along to a world that needs it. As we become like little children in our attitudes of trust and obedience to our King, we begin to spread that Good News to others around us.

The kingdom view often looks nothing like the kingdoms of this earth. Since the earthly kings are human, they will make earthly mistakes. Yet, every king, every authority, every aspect of our earth owes its reliance on our God and King. When peace reigns in the heart, the individual is moved to extend that peace to others.

The writer of the Book of Revelation perhaps said it best concerning Jesus. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

May we be found accepting the kingdom within and may that acceptance lead us to assist others to do the same, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pentecost 22

Good morning and welcome. How many here have anything to do with investments? (Don’t worry about a show of hands, it’s just a question posed.) Perhaps you use a specific agent, as our family does, or maybe you are just financially savvy and invest on your own. You know—take some of your hard-earned cash and buy some stocks or other types of investments?

The general rule of thumb for investors is that you invest when the stock price is low and make some profit by selling when the stock is higher. In today’s economy many find themselves in trouble trying to cash in stocks when the prices are low and interest rates are also low. It takes patience to play the investment game, that’s for sure. Yet patience is a virtue and certainly investing involves a certain amount of risk.

So, it’s not surprising that today’s Gospel speaks of investing… investing in God’s mission if you will. Jesus gives a great example… the parable or story of the talents. It’s a pretty straight forward story that explains how God will judge the world and His people.

The story goes like this…there is a man who leaves on a journey and he entrusts his property to his three slaves. Essentially, he is investing here and is going to expect a return on his investment down the road. He has given one slave five talents, another two and the third one.

So, the master departs and while he is away, the slaves put the talents to work. The first trades with his talents and earns five more. The second does the same and earns two more talents. The third slave however, simply buries the talents in the ground. Then comes the accounting. The master returns. Upon learning that two of the slaves have invested the talents well and earned more, he says, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

The third slave appeared to be lazy with what he was given and offered the explanation that because the master was seen to be a harsh man, he was afraid and chose to do nothing with the talents but return them. The judgment was harsh. The talent was taken from him and given to the one who had ten talents. “To all them who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.

The fate of the third slave was sealed as he was sent into the outer darkness. Now, what does this story or parable say to us? It is one about investment for sure and a return on that investment, and it is certainly about judgment. Perhaps the most pressing truth is that if we are not productive with what God has given us, we will lose it. Perhaps that is why many of our churches, not just the Anglican Church, but many, are suffering?

Spiritually speaking, each of the baptized is given at least one spiritual gift from God. Look this up in Paul’s first letter to the Church in Corinth. It says this. “Now, you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the Church, God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.” (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).

All of these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit and are to be used to glorify God and build up the kingdom of God on earth. If I have the gift of voice and song and do not use it effectively, I could be compared with the slave in the parable who buried his talent. The bottom line is that the Church itself, the Body of Christ, misses that gift and is essentially hampered. The gift is there to be used and lies dormant. If all spiritual gifts were ignored, our Church would essentially be gutted of its message and the power of God to improve not only the life of the brothers and sister in Christ, but of the world God has called us to be a part of.

On the other hand, if we invest in God’s mission and utilize the gifts given, the blessings come to us. There are many successful churches that can claim this as truth, whose memberships and finances and mission is strong and growing. These churches or missions could be compared with the slave given 10 talents and making five more. There are other churches and missions that are smaller in numbers but faithful and giving and utilizing their gifts. These same churches and missions will also grow and receive the blessings of God. They can be compared with the slave who was given the lesser talents.

The bottom line is this. God calls each and every one of us into service for Him and He calls us as a Church, as community, to utilize the gifts He has given us for mission. In the Anglican Church of Canada, we have suggested there are five marks of mission. Here is what they are. Listen and consider how we as a church community are responding:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. We have Good News. God so loved you and me that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him will not perish in sin but have eternal life. The plan of salvation is for all of God’s people in the world. To proclaim something is to give it voice. Have we been doing that? As a Church? As individuals?
  2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers. We have had the real joy of welcoming newcomers to St. James. We can always use more teachers, more who want to grow and to learn. You will hear more about Confirmation, for example, at the end of today’s service.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service. There is much need in our world—hunger, poverty, sickness and disease, to name only a few. At St. James, we have created a Pastoral Care sub-committee. If you feel called to respond, ask about how to get involved.
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society. This may seem harder, and is certainly a task for the committed and faithful believer. Ask yourself “What are the unjust structures in our midst? How can I be a part of that transformation process?”
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. In the news lately, surely you may have heard about developing issues, like putting Hydro lines in the middle of pristine land, proper drainage of water and sewer, flood protection, protection of endangered species to name a few.
 Thankfully, it is not you or me who will be the ultimate judge of our actions on earth. In the end, it is true that it is not the quantity of the work we do for our God, or even the quality. Rather, we will most likely be judged by our attitude toward God and the gifts He has given us. There is always room for grace, as God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that we might have life. He has defeated the power of sin and death and given to us new life. Not just any ordinary life, but abundant life. Are you living an abundant life? If not, perhaps this is the moment for discernment.

The truth is, if we are not productive with what God has given us, we will lose those very gifts. Yet, if this parable teaches us anything, it is that we who have been given gifts and a call by our God must respond. Use it or lose it as the saying goes. To those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.

There are indeed many churches that are struggling and lacking resources. Perhaps the gifts of God are being buried. No matter what your age, we all have a responsibility to utilize our gifts to assist God in His mission in the world. For some, the response will be through giving financially, in order that the mission is carried out. For others, it may be an active function of involvement in mission. Still others will be on the learning curve and moving toward a greater role in mission.

At St. James, it means more of reaching the neighborhood, and a continued effort to find ways to partner with our God in His mission. Let us continue to invest our efforts into God’s mission, expecting His blessings to flow!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remembrance Service

This was our Rermembrance Day Service (November 11). There was no 'sermon' today as we had guests from the St. James Legion speaking to us.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pentecost 20: One More Hypocrite

Good morning folks and welcome to our Prayer and Praise service. We are so pleased to have Lawrence Ryner and the group “Two or Three” back with us to lead us in praise.

How many here have been around long enough to recognize that old advertising slogan, “Taste the Real thing?” It may even show up today from time to time. The ad deals with Pepsi and its claim to be the “real” cola. For a long while, there were taste tests to see if you could tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke. Remember that?

How about jewellery? Anyone here wearing a gold wristwatch or bracelet? Are those items made out of pure gold? In the time of the great Gold Rush, many would stake a claim to mine gold. Some would bring their gold to be cashed in only to learn it was not real gold. It was pyrite or “fool’s gold.” It was fake, phoney.

How about movies? Anyone here seen a good one lately? The last one I saw with my two sons was Green Lantern. It was pretty good. A lot of movies today are being made in 3D to make the characters appear real. Yet, every person in the movie is an actor. If the actor is really good, he or she will have you believing he really is that character and that is hard to do in a comic book movie.

Actors get into a character, and pore over their lines and go over them over and over again to get the actions just right, the cadence of the speech just right, etc. It has been a real joy attending some of the plays my youngest son has been in with Grant Park High School over the years.

If the actor is good, you are convinced he or she the person he or she claims to be. Now, what does all of this have to do with our message today? You recall from last week Jesus was challenging the Sadducees and the Pharisees, when He was asked the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”

The answer was that love was the key and loving God, self and neighbour is essential. Obviously, Jesus did not see this demonstrated in the lives of the religious leaders of His day. Essentially, He was labelling them as hypocrites. What is a hypocrite? According to the dictionary, Hypocrisy is the state of thinking you have to have to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, ideals, thoughts, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie. The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek ὑπόκρισις (hypokrisis), which means "Jealous", "play-acting", "acting out", "coward", or "dissembling". The word hypocrite is from the Greek word ὑποκρίτης (hypokrites), the agentive noun associated with υποκρίνομαι (hypokrinomai κρίση "judgment" , »κριτική (kritiki), "critics") presumably because the performance of a dramatic text by an actor was to involve a degree of interpretation, or assessment, of that text.
A hypocrite then is an actor, is a pretender, pretending to have love for you but does not. A hypocrite says the pretty words of love, makes the motions of love, puts on a good face of love, comes across totally charming and loving. But that person does not really love you. Pretending to have strong feelings for you, but it is all a farce.

Hypocrites give the illusion, the pretense, the deceit of authenticity, but it is all an illusion, just like the “phony” cola, the “fake” or “fool’s” gold and the one who is simply in a role, acting.

The scribes and Pharisees claim their authority is handed down from Moses and Jesus does not deny that. However, what He does say is “Do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long (*the outward wear). They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market places, and to have people call them rabbi.

Jesus claimed the religious leaders looked outwardly like people with authority and their words claimed authority. Their actions, however, proved the opposite, as though they did not understand the very laws they were called upon to uphold…principally, the law of love. The scribes and Pharisees were actors in a sense, giving an impression of religious leaders yet not understanding in their hearts the meaning of love.

The next thing Jesus does is speak to the crowds and disciples. Turning to them He says “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.”  This is an eternal truth, since it applies even today. We have one teacher, Jesus, and we are His disciples, His followers, His students or learners. Those who teach, do so in His name and with the assistance and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

For that early crowd along with the disciples, Jesus gave clear instruction. “The greatest among you will be your servant.” Those words apply today as well.

And so, today, we need to heed the words of Jesus. There are many outside these walls who would claim Christians are nothing but hypocrites….claiming one thing as they worship and yet leaving the service and doing the opposite. In the news lately, we heard of a priest in Northern Manitoba who admitted to sexually abusing young boys in the Scouting movement. “Hyprocrite!” they would say…here is one who teaches with authority as those early scribes and Pharisees did. Yet, he, too, was far from God in his heart. As a priest, he would celebrate the Mass, preach, and bring the Word of God to others. Yet, after the service, during the week, he gave in to a dark side and committed horrendous acts on innocent youth. This truly was an actor, someone who looked the part, dressed the part, but clearly did not have the love of Jesus in his heart.

It is no wonder then, why many claim the church is bogus and that religion is a sham. I can’t blame people for reaching that conclusion and walking away from church and religion. Yet, the words of Jesus are clear. We are to be genuine. In order to be genuine, we must admit we are sinners each and every one of us. That’s not a word we even hear much about these days. Sin. Yet, sin is just what we do as a part of our human nature. Left to ourselves we want to be in total control. We want to do what we want, when we want, and we don’t like to be told how to live. The scribes and Pharisees certainly didn’t, and it isn’t much different today. Sin is all about missing the mark, like an arrow shot at the target but missing centre. We get off track, we get tempted, we get lured away from God, giving in to temptation, lust, greed, power. It goes to our heads, making us feel more important than we actually are. In fact, we become phonies ourselves in the process, and yes, hypocrites!

The church is not this building we are in. The church, as the Apostle Paul has said, is the Body of Christ. We are all members of the body, each given gifts by God to contribute to the body’s health and well being. Yes, we preach love, we teach love, we serve at the table in love, we sing in love, but we are still human with our human nature and we will always make mistakes. No one here is perfect. Jesus Himself said those who are not sick have no need of a doctor.

The church is a hospital for sinners and hypocrites, so tell those outside these walls we can always use one more. Any human being can be redeemed by our God, who loves us so much He gave up His life on the cross. By dying on the cross for all of humanity, He brought about forgiveness of sin and opened the door to eternal life. Through the Holy Spirit, we are guided in this life to learn, to be disciples, to be followers of our Lord, Who tells us we must be servants and serve as Jesus served. We must humble ourselves and know our God loves us unconditionally.

Recall the words of Paul to the church he founded in Thessalonica. “You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, urging and encouraging you and pleading that you should lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

We must be genuine in our faith, brothers and sisters. This starts with the genuine commitment to our Lord. The words of our creed are not just words. They spell out what we believe. Think on them and act appropriately. We are to love as Jesus loved, unconditionally. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to serve as Jesus served. We each have at least one spiritual gift to be used to God’s glory. What is your spiritual gift? If it is music, play music, if it is singing, sing to the glory of God. If it is teaching, get involved and find ways to do that. If it is preaching or leading, speak to me or a Vestry member or someone in leadership and we will guide you.

Most of all, maintain your relationship with the living Lord who is a part of your life. Give your life to Him and in prayer, seek His friendship and His will for your life. You may find He has an incredible plan for you. As each of us grow deeper into Christ, our authenticity as the real thing will become clear. Others will seek us out and many will want this unconditional love of God. As Paul says, God’s Word is active in the believer.

May the love of God, active in you and me, spread out to the neighborhood and world around us, that many more will come to believe and to know we can always use one more in our midst. May the Lord bless us as we journey together in faith.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pentecost 19: You Shall Love

By now, most of you have heard the news...Muammar Gaddafi is dead. He is the dictator that ruled over Libya with an iron fist approach.

The last few days there has been no end to the discussion on the opinions of this man... his supporters claimed he was committed to his friends and rewarded them lavishly when they supported him...not so when you didn’t. Gaddafi was brutal in his approach to his enemies. Over the years, many leaders on the political stage have had to clench their teeth and find ways to work around him. This man has been a part of the world stage certainly in all of my growing up days. I even watched a TV sitcom from the 1980s yesterday and Gaddafi’s name was mentioned.

This death is a part of a growing movement it seems on the part of ordinary, every day folk to get out from under the thumb of dictators. In many cases, when these dictators are brought down, others are raised up to take their place.

As I said, like the man or not, the way he treated the people of Libya, he did have his supporters. We’ll never know if those people supported the dictator simply out of fear or whether it was genuine. What it does say is that there is light in every human being. Every human being is created in the very image of God and when God created His world He said it was good.

At the time of Confirmation, we are sometimes asked, “What is the chief purpose of mankind or humanity?” The answer: “To glorify or bring glory to God.” What do I mean by glory? Two things. First, there is the glory in God himself as we read in Acts 7. In his speech to the Sanhedrin, Stephen says this. “Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran.” Second, there is the glory we give to God as described in 1 Chronicles 69, “Give unto God the glory due His name,” and 1 Cor. 6:20 which says, “Glorify God in your body and your spirit.” In other words, lifting God’s name up in the world and magnifying Him to others.

It’s tough for anyone to even remotely suggest Gaddafi glorified God, but certainly, to his supporters, to those whom he did assist, something of the nature of our God was seen. Herein lies the challenge to the Church, to glorify our God in a world that so desperately needs to know Him. So, how do we do this?

We begin with obedience, and when I say this I do not mean we are to act like we are under the thumb of a dictator, simply doing what we are told. The very word, “obedience” has two roots—“to listen” and “to act.” In our Old Testament lesson today, we heard of the very last days of Moses, the servant of God, who glorified God in his obedience and God was with him in his journey, particularly as Moses challenged the pharaoh and the Israelites as they grumbled in the wilderness some 4o years.

Moses never did get to see the Promised Land God would give. He could look out on it, a land flowing with milk and honey. Yet, he would not live long enough. Before his death, though, Moses prepares the people of Israel for their entry to the Promised Land. Moses was 120 years old when he died and the reins of leadership were handed over to Joshua, as scripture says, “Joshua, son of Nun, was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the Lord had commanded Moses.” There’s that word—obey. Just as Moses obeyed by listening to God and then acting, so now Joshua would do the same.

We obey to give glory to God and we give glory to God because all of what He ahs done for us. In John 3:16, we are told that God so loved the world, so loved you and so loved me, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him would not perish in sin but have eternal life. Jesus, by dying a cruel death on the cross, has carried out the plan of salvation. He has saved us from sin for a reason—that we might tell others of God’s unconditional love so that others would seize the opportunity for life eternal.

Obedience, then, is an act of love. We are told in scripture that we love because we were first loved by our God. God knows each and every one of us personally and has a plan for each of our lives. Whether we follow that plan or not is up to us. The plan of God, the plan of salvation, is for us. John reminds us of that in his first letter. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4)

Sometimes, the message of love is rejected, especially if it means changing one’s evil ways, or challenges others to repent. This is what was happening with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day as we heard in today’s Gospel. The Sadducees, a sect that did not believe in resurrection, were arguing with Jesus. The Pharisees wanted to capitalize and embarrass Jesus, by asking, “Which of the commandments is greatest?” The 10 commandments set out laws to live by and the religious leaders themselves had stretched that to over 600. Here was a way to trap Jesus and to put a wedge between his followers.

The answer was clear. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then, He said. “This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Jesus was setting out the way of life for all of us. Love. What does this mean? To willingly give yourself, a self-giving, an act of the will. That’s a great line in a song from Steve Bell... “Love is not a feeling, it’s an act of the will.”

To love is to give freely, first to our God with the whole of our being—mind, body and soul. Then, the second part of loving involves our reaching love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Perhaps this is where Gaddafi and others like him went wrong. The human nature, left to itself, will rebel against God, will want its own way, will want total control. When temptation comes, that is when we will choose the wrong ways...sometimes it may be greed or envy or pride that lead us to a fall, that take us away from our God of love. It may take us instead in the direction of power, lust, or control over others. When challenged, this can still be dangerous as we read and hear about daily.

And so, in the second lesson today Paul writes to the Thessalonians to remind them of the nature of their ministry. “As you know and as God as our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But, we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

In these very words of Paul, we see the response of love that comes out of obedience to our God. We love, because we remember we were first loved by God. Others, as we give unselfishly, become dear to us, as dear as our own earthly brothers and sisters.

Now, let us remember, that just as an earthly family will struggle from time to time, the family can still unite, can still bond, can still function in love. This earthly model is a pale comparison with the love our God has, but it is reflective of the opportunity for that love to come into the lives of all whom we meet. As Timothy has said, if we cannot love our brothers whom we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen? As well, it is hard to love if we do not first love ourselves. At times, we may not be proud of the way we have treated others or we just do not have a good image of ourselves. When we feel this way toward ourselves, it is difficult to respond to others in love.

Thanks be to God, though, who has forgiven us all our sins and given us new life in Him. The first thing we need to do at times is to forgive ourselves, from the heart. When you truly know forgiveness, it is then easier to pass that to others and this is primarily what we are doing at the Peace...passing the love and the peace and the joy in our hearts from ourselves to others.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us continue to break bread with each other, to receive with joy the sacrament which is a weekly reminder or remembrance for us of all that God has done for us. May that fellowship with our God bring us healing, wholeness and joy and may that joy spread to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Feast Of St. Luke The Physician

Good morning and welcome to our celebration of the Feast of St. Luke the Physician. Luke, for those who don’t know, is the one who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. He is also believed to be the one who wrote the Acts of the Apostles, which tells the story of the formation of the early church.

Tradition tells us Luke was a healer, a physician, and he gets a mention in today’s readings. Paul writes to Timothy to tell him what’s happening in his life. He mentions Luke as being the only one who is with him.

Since Luke is associated with the healing ministry, it is not surprising that a healing ministry evolved that borrows his name. The Order of St. Luke the Physician, or OSL, is a non-denominational healing ministry that is worldwide. I have been a chaplain in that ministry and a part of many healing missions through the years.

Each year when we celebrate this feast, it gives the Church an opportunity to focus on the importance of the ministry of healing. At one time in history, healing was atomically associated with sin. The common understanding was that if a person had committed a sin, there would be consequences that resulted in some form of sickness.

Then, as the years progressed, the sacrament of anointing with the process of laying on of hands, was reserved for those nearing death. That is when you called for the priest. The visit of the priest often meant the delivery of what was called “Last rites,” and anointing with oil was a part of the ritual prior to death. Still today, when a loved one is very sick and the priest comes in, there can be some discomfort.

Thankfully, that is changing as we bring a new understanding to the ministry of healing. The oil used by the clergy is a sacrament. You recall what a sacrament is? It’s the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. The outward sign of this sacrament is the oil and laying on of hands. The inward grace, of course, is the healing that occurs.

In our Gospel today, we see the importance of the healing ministry. Jesus is in the synagogue as was His custom. He stands up to read and is given the scroll of the prophet of Isaiah. He unrolls the scroll and reads: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus then sat down and scripture says the eyes of all are fixed on Him. When it says ‘he sat down,’ this is the posture for preaching. Jesus then begins by saying the scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing.

Clearly, Jesus Himself saw the importance of bringing healing to the world. In Luke’s Gospel, we read of some 60 or more incidents of healing, including the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, delivering of demons, the healing of the man with the dreaded skin disease, the healing of the paralyzed man on the bed, the healing of the Roman officer’s servant and the woman who was healed by simply touching Jesus’ cloak. There are many stories. Jesus clearly had the power of God working in Him to heal, and many times, Jesus would say, “Go, your faith has made you well.” You may recall those words from last week’s Gospel when we read of the story of the healing of the 10 lepers.

Clearly, it is the will of God that we are a whole people, whole in body, whole in mind and whole in spirit. The OSL is one of the ministries that have worked hard to restore the understanding of the healing ministry that God still wants to and does heal today. As you know, each week, we pray for people on our short term and long term prayer lists. A good many have been healed over the years. You may even be one of them, and for that we need to be thankful. Anyone here receive a healing in years past or a recent healing? I spoke with the Rev. Ian Peterson at Faith Horizons. He is the priest in the parishes of St. Mark’s in St. Boniface and Holy Trinity Headingly. Ian has been on our diocesan list for some time now as he suffers with cancer. Today, he is looking well, and feeling stronger, though not totally out of the woods. He told me he firmly believes prayer is at the center of his healing and that his suffering has had purpose, in that his congregation witnessed the faith of this humble priest.

As a chaplain in the OSL, I have witnessed many healings from cancer, from skin ailments, from sickness. I have witnessed the power of God at work to lengthen a person’s leg. All of this occurs as we open ourselves to the person of Jesus Christ and His great love for us, and His power to continue to heal.

Now, mostly, we are familiar with physical healing and generally know when it occurs in someone else. Most of us see a physician at some point in our lives. The physicians, too, offer a gift of healing that comes from God, as we heard in the Old Testament:

Honour physicians for their services, for the Lord created them; for their gift of healing comes from the Most High, and they are rewarded by the king.” (Sirach 38) There is also inner healing that occurs in those suffering with the pain of loss, or who struggle with a mental health issue or family or relationship conflict. For example, I received a letter this past week from “On Eagle’s Wings,” a northern Mission operating out of Edmonton, Alberta. The Executive Director writes:

“I had missed hearing from Donna. She told me about their very tough summer. It was not how she hoped it would be. Usually, Donna would have travelled to visit family in another community. She would have gone canoeing to pick berries, fish and enjoy the cool breeze on her face as she gazed at her grandchildren enjoying all of creation. Donna would have helped with the Bible School, too. Not this summer. Instead, she received a phone call. This call was regarding a court date for her son. The situation had not been a happy one that led her son to this dilemma. It never is. She hoped the courts would understand her son needed help, not punishment. The court date was confirmed, and soon experienced. The sentence was read. Donna’s son was going to jail many miles away. She needed to talk. She needed to pray. So, we talked. We prayed. Together we recognized the difficulty of the situation. Donna said, ‘Don’t stop praying. Please find a way to be with us.”

Contained within that story is the response of the Christian to pain and suffering around us, to listen to the hurt of others, to offer unconditional love and support. Healing can happen. The northern agency is able to do just that, similar to what our 90-some agencies here in Winnipeg do to assist Indigenous people. Places like Siloam Mission, All Saints and Agape Table, St. Matthew-Maryland, West Broadway Community Ministry, and Rupert’s Land Wechetowin, Inc. respond to the need on the street. There are many ways to do that, and a lot of times those ways are discovered through prayer. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, many find peace and healing and love and joy.

Here at St. James, we practice the healing ministry each week, as we offer the anointing with oil. If you desire healing for yourself or someone you know, stay at the altar following your Communion, and prayer and anointing will be offered. This healing is not just for physical ailments but spiritual as well, as our Lord continues to restore relationships and bring wholeness.

Today, we want to give thanks to the Lord for the gift of healing that comes as we offer our intercessions. We give thanks for the privilege of continuing to offer the ministry of our Lord and to say, with Him, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news.”

The Good News is for you and for me and for our neighbourhood and the world in which we live. May this gift continue to bring glory to God.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Harvest Thanksgiving

October 9, 2011
Good morning. Doesn’t the Church look great all decorated for our Harvest Thanksgiving?

It’s great to be able to celebrate Harvest Thanksgiving on the day it is actually appointed in the lectionary. Most years we host it earlier, as by now the temperature and weather patterns have changed and our harvest has already happened. Not so this year. We have had great temperatures up until now, haven’t we?

When we moved to Winnipeg from Saskatchewan in 1998, one of the first things we did was alter our yard, adding a larger flower bed and making room for rose bushes, a couple of trees and a lot of vegetables.

The last couple of years, we decided to chew up the grass on the south side of the house. Seems potatoes and beans and tomatoes all grow well there, a virtual urban garden, and there’s nothing like fresh vegetables. We had a nice garden again this year, and even grew a couple of pumpkins, one of which grew in the neighbour’s yard!

At this great feast, we get a chance to admire the fruits of our labours, as we plant and nurture and harvest. But more so, we get a chance to reflect on the very Creator who gives everything life! Our God is a great giver of life and for this we need to have thankful hearts. As we grow vegetables, and bring in the harvest, we can also reflect on the many who do not have gardens, the ones who are going hungry and for whom eating a meal is sometimes a luxury. As a community of faith, we give thanks for all God has given us and most especially for giving us Jesus, as the scripture says:

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in Him will not perish in sin, but have eternal life.” God gave His Son that we might have life, and not just life, but an abundant life!

The scriptures today remind us to always be thankful. In the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are wandering in the wilderness, and are reminded of their dependence on God, who has given them all they need. God has told them of the Promised Land which they will enter.

Moses reminded them how God saved them from their slavery in Egypt and will lead them to the Promised Land. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…..You will eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that He has given you.”

In the second lesson, the Apostle Paul speaks to Titus and others about generosity. “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” He notes that each must give as they are able, not out of a sense of reluctance or compulsion. In the church, we generally have taught that stewardship is all about taking care of what does not belong to us. The creation belongs to God. Our wealth is generated by the very creation God has made. Our time and Talents are to be used to glorify God. In past, we have taught that our financial offerings to the church, which cover all operating expenses, come from one tenth of our net earnings. Yet, in the New Testament, when the early church was formed, each gave out of their wealth and all was spent to the common good. What we have is generated by God and that is where the sense of thanksgiving arises.

Perhaps the greatest word for us from the scripture today comes from the Gospel reading that speaks of God’s goodness when it comes to those in need. On His way to Jerusalem, Jesus meets up with some lepers. In the Bible, leprosy is described as a terrible skin disease or outer condition of the body, sometimes today described as “Hansen’s Disease.”

Clinically, Jesus was not a “leper” but, if we understand that Biblical leprosy was more than just a disease - it was a “condition” - there is truth in claiming that he was a “leper”. “Lepers” were those who were rejected by society and this is the most devastating thing about neglected, untreated Hansen’s Disease. It can result in rejection where there are no treatment facilities and no health education by which people may be freed from superstition and ignorance. There is a sense in which Jesus was a “leper” because we rejected him. Every time we reject a person in real need, virtually, we are rejecting Jesus - making him a “leper” - because, in the Christian faith, we really come into contact with God through people and particularly people in real need (Matthew 25 34-40). (

There were 10 lepers in the passage and they are keeping their distance. They recognize Jesus and acknowledge Him. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus hears and commands them to go and show themselves to the priests. These are people who have declared them to be unclean. We are told they were made clean on their way, but one, and only one, when he saw he was healed, turned back and praised God in a loud voice. “He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him,” we are told.

This is the essence of thanksgiving, in recognizing the generosity and love of our God in our lives and in His world He has created. We are to be grateful, as this leper was, for all that God has done and is doing in our lives and we are to praise God with a loud voice in our worship as well. That is what our worship today is all about, giving our whole self to God, our maker and redeemer. We are to give Him our allegiance.

The scripture argues loyalty to God is where our choice needs to be. The more we give to God, the more we are blessed. It has been said money is not the real problem, rather the love of money that gets us into trouble. Greed, pride, envy, those are the real barriers to thanksgiving. As Paul says, “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” This is a wonderful law that works well when we practice it.

If our loyalties are divided and greed takes over, it may be harder to give thanks. There may even be a tendency to say, “My own labor has resulted in my wealth and I choose to enjoy that in whatever way I want.”

While this is true, that very ability to work, to create wealth, to be independent, comes from inner capacity and that capacity is given to us by the One who created us and who knows us.

The flip side of creating wealth is that for many, opportunity does not exist. In economic downturns like we have been facing lately, many have lost their jobs and many visit food banks on a daily basis. Churches in our midst, like Holy Trinity and Agape Table at All Saints Anglican Church feed hundreds on a daily basis. So much so, the call is out for volunteers to assist. Anxiety and fear are very real….anxiety over the next meal and fear of meeting daily needs, especially in the growing face of violence in the city.

When Jesus was with us on earth, He said that when two or three gather, there He is in the midst of them, as He is today. All fear is cast out where love rules. Jesus said that when He came close to another, the kingdom of God was close at hand. Well, dear brothers and sisters, this very same Jesus, who died upon the cross for our sins, promised we would not be left alone to face our struggles by ourselves. He promised to send the Holy Spirit. The very life of Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us, in the believer, and it is the Holy Spirit who leads us in faith, who reminds us of the promises of the Bible and who provides for us the way out of misery, pain and discomfort.

As we consider the earthly and give thanks, we remember those who have less, those in poverty. We even read of our governments wanting to eradicate poverty. I have met many in poverty, especially those on the streets, and many of them are thankful—thankful for a meal provided by an outreach, thankful for a spot under the bridge to stay dry and protected, thankful for the friendship of others.

It is helpful at times like this to recall our baptismal vow, to seek and serve those in need and to respect the dignity of every human being. The only consideration we need is the place of baptism in our lives. All Christians are called to follow our Lord and to serve as He served. All Christians are given at least one spiritual gift for ministry and together we have the task of spreading Good News, that God loves us all unconditionally.

Strive first for the Kingdom of God. Discover the Kingdom life within you and share that Kingdom life with others, bringing peace and love and joy. Place God first in your lives and give to Him all of your cares and worries. There is much to be thankful for. When you wake up in the morning, be thankful for another day. Be thankful for the opportunities that lay ahead. Be thankful for the challenges that come our way that strengthen us and equip us so we can help others. Be thankful for a community of faith that shares in ministry and finally, be thankful for our God who lovingly heals, lovingly provides, lovingly nurtures and reminds us… “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

This is indeed Good News that we are grateful for. Thanks be to God!