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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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pentecost 5 Homily: Recognizing the Weeds

(Homily presented at the marriage of Kathleen and Sandy during the weekly service)

Ever notice how at this time of the year, when we have had an over abundance of rain and now sunshine, that the flowers begin to bloom and fill up in the garden?

As it does each year, our back yard flower garden is filling up with an array of colours from various flowers. We even have an abundance of milkweed that attracts Monarch butterflies each year. Right now we are awaiting the return of the butterflies after a large hatching of eggs into the transformation process.

We have other plants with a lot of foliage, tall and some stretching our like the hostas. Brenda and I have collected a few “religious” plants as well, like the “Bishop’s Hat” that we enjoy each year. Well, as much as we enjoy our garden, it isn’t quite as simple as just letting the flowers and plants grow unto themselves. Left unchecked the way some of the garden is this year, inevitably you are going to get he weeds. This year I was smart. I hired Weed Man to take care of the dandelions, and while there are still a few hanging about, for the most part they are gone.

Unfortunately, in the back yard flower bed, the weeds grow strong especially with each rain. Have you ever noticed that the weeds are able to grow up right alongside the healthy plant and camouflage themselves? This is what drives me nuts. I have to get Brenda in just to peek at the flowers and educate me as to what is a weed and what is a plant.

Again, in today’s Gospel we have yet another parable that has an agricultural theme as we hear about the parable of the weeds and the wheat. Just like what happened in our flower beds, the same is happening in this story. If I were to simply pluck up the weeds without care, I could actually pluck up a healthy plant at the same time.

This is the same with the human condition. No matter what we try, we cannot escape a human nature that is more comfortable getting its own way, of a human nature that is tempted and can easily give in to sin, or those things that draw us from the love of God and neighbour. Perhaps it is the temptation to gain wealth at the expense of the poor, or perhaps the temptation to sexual sin that can lead to adultery. Or perhaps it is a temptation that simply pits person against person in an argument that distances us from others. The temptation and sin that follow does not have to be great. Sin is sin.

We are reminded in The Bible that God so loved the world, so loved you and me, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all who believe would not perish in sin but have eternal life. This promise is ours, that God will not pluck up the weeds that grow up alongside us, that cause us to fall. Instead, God allows us to live with the temptations and of course the consequences and disasters that may follow. We have free will and can make independent decisions. Obviously, not all decisions we make will be pleasing to God or others.

The promise of Jesus was that He would not leave us alone to struggle in life. On our own it is hard enough. Jesus said He would send to us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us forever. That promise is for you and for me. We know that when, not if, we sin, we are forgiven by God. That was why Jesus shed His blood and died for you and for me.

In return, we need to take care of ourselves. Just as we need to carefully examine the weeds in the garden and pluck them when safe, we need to be conscious of what tempts us in this life and to be cautious not to fall into sin. Eventually, as the parable states, the weeds and whatnot will grow up and be harvested. In the end, we all will be judged by God. Yet, while we have breath, it is our task to come to faith and to believe, to forgive and to accept forgiveness, to love as we are loved by God.

Brothers and sisters, if we can do this, we have a blueprint that will take us through this life in hope. As we give of ourselves in time, talent and treasure to God, we will be blessed. Therefore, let us be conscious of the seed planted within and of the weeds that grow within us and others. And, may that knowledge lead us to offer ourselves in love. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July 10, 2011 Sermon: Pentecost 4, We Reap What We Sow

Good morning and welcome back to our heritage church, the “hidden gem” of the City of Winnipeg. I love repeating that because it rings so true.

This seems to be a time of new life. Not long ago, our family was graced with a new life in the form of a kitty... Miss Molly is only a few months old but has captured our hearts. She runs and leaps at her toys, laps up water, eats a ton, sleeps on your feet and is quite oblivious to the plastic cone around her head she wears to protect her from licking her surgery wound. She brings endless joy to us.

Next door to us, our neighbours had a new baby—Austin weighed in around 8 pounds and is seen out and about already. I am sure his big brother Carson is thrilled with the new life. Reminds me of when our two were born, what a great joy it was. Perhaps Carson, like Graham, said to his little brother.... “I’m the BIG BROTHER, I’M THE BIG BROTHER”, so as to remind the young baby where his place was in the family.

Now, if I were to sit down and chat with Brenda, she could tell me all of the benchmarks a new person has to go through in life. I sort of remember them, and have studied the stages, but she knows them and has been teaching Early Childhood Education, as you know. I would bow to the expert, but am certain there are life tasks that must be accomplished... the first sounds, the first sentences, the first steps, the first hair cut, the first solid food, the first bike ride, the first scrape, the first tears and expression of emotion... all of that sort of thing.

When these kinds of milestones are interrupted or not noticed, it causes the parent, the worker, to notice and to look into what needs to be done to encourage a step of growth. In essence, though, developmental theory is all about the stages we go through from birth to death. One of the secular theorists is Erik Erikson, who claimed there are eight stages—ranging from trust and mistrust, autonomy and shame, initiative and guilt, to the intimacy and isolation and integrity and despair that are dealt with at end of life.

James W. Fowler, in his book Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, teaches about the stages of faith and human-becoming. In that chapter, he suggests there are seven stages of faith—Primal faith, Intuitive-Projective faith, Mythic-Literal faith, Synthetic faith, Conventional faith, Individuative-Reflective faith, and Conjunctive faith. Time does not allow for me to explain each of the stages but suffice it to say that just as a child grows from infancy to adulthood through to death in a developmental pattern, so too does the person go through stages in their maturing into faith. If one of the stages is missed, we may not see a person reaching fullness or maturity of faith.

Suffice it so say that if we cannot go beyond the understanding of the Bible as a collection of literal stories that tell of black and white rules to live by, we may choose to either live by those rules or ignore them. A maturing of faith in my opinion is one where the individual, like the growing and maturing adult, raises questions about everything he or she is taught and begins to reason through to find the answers for himself or herself. It is a process that leads, hopefully to a depth of faith that finds a person in relationship with a God who deeply loves him or her.

In our Gospel passage today, we read of Jesus using an agricultural metaphor to teach about growing in faith. When Jesus tells a parable, he uses the environment to tell a story that will teach. It is in the season of Pentecost, the season of growth, that we usually hear these stories or teachings.

Anyway, Jesus talks of the sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. When the sun rose, they were scorched and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked them, other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

It’s a parable of growth. The four fates that befell the seeds roughly correspond to four different fates that await Jesus’ message:

1. Some hear, but Satan or the evil one will take away what they learn, leaving them as they were. There is no growth here. This may be the casual visitor to a church, someone who maybe comes due to a certain event like a funeral or marriage or other special service. The person may have only a passing interest in “religion” and not open to the message.
2. Some hear, but the message cannot take firm root due to lack of depth and so the message does not endure. Perhaps a person has a casual attendance at church, maybe was baptised and went to Sunday School, but has been a casual attendee at best.
3. Some hear, but they have many other distractions that overwhelm the message, choking it off. Perhaps the person has a job that takes him or her away from Sunday attendance and on top of that has something on just about every day of the week. Perhaps the person is busy raising the family, and children are been driven to sporting or other activities. Perhaps the person is deeply committed to looking after a loved one who is in a Nursing Home and feels he or she must be close to their loved one. Often, I am told: ‘I would love to come to church, I am a believer and a committed Christian, but I have a lot of things that take me away from the church, making me a casual attender.’
4. Then there are those who hear the message and that message takes root in them and the result is a blessing to them and others. In such a person, he or she looks forward to hearing the Word of God, meant to offer spiritual food for the day to day routine in life. This is the person who understands he or she is in direct relationship with Jesus and who communicates with Him through prayer and who responds to His call to ministry and mission. This is the one who understands he or she is not the church by himself or herself and is connected as one member to the rest of the Body of Christ. As such, this is a person who is a responsible team member and who uses his or her spiritual gift given by God to respond to God’s call. This is the one who is a good steward of time, talent and treasure for God’s glory.

So, then, just as we must develop as humans from infancy through teenage years through to adulthood, and finally the end of life, we, too, mature and grow in faith. As the developmental teachers like Erikson will tell us, there are challenges in each stage and if we meet them, we often will continue our growth. Often, we see maturity levels in faith increase where a person responds to a crisis or challenge.

That is what our Church is here for, the day-to-day living in this world, to bring glory to God by loving one another and responding in faith to where God would have us go.

Collectively, as a Church, our task is continue to grow and to learn and to bring Good News, to support and pray for one another and to spread the news that God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son to the end that all who believe will not perish but have eternal life. God is with us in all of life, in its ups and its downs. Let us remember that in life we reap what we sow. Let us sow seeds of faith and pray they will fall on the responsive soil of peoples’ lives and hearts. May the Lord continue to guide us all into maturity of faith in the days and years ahead!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011 Sermon: The Yoke of Christ

Good morning and welcome… It’s a phrase we hear quite often but perhaps don’t think a lot about. In the Book of Common Prayer we hear it used a lot… “Come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” It is a part of today’s Gospel reading and is used just before the Prayer of Consecration.

This is a good Gospel message to hear at this time of year when folks are gearing up for vacations or are winding down from perhaps a stressful time or circumstance. All of us labor at something, whether in the home or at work or even at play…most of us know about being heavy laden. That is when the trials and tribulations of life get to you. Perhaps it is during a time of illness, when coping day to day is difficult. If in hospital, it can be debilitating, as I have discovered in pastoral visits.

Or, perhaps the tribulation is at work, with a difficult contract. We have all lived through the postal strike and Air Canada negotiations. That was difficult on everyone, the staff and the businesses in the case of the mail and those who depend on the airlines as well as those who work for the airlines.

Tribulation can also come in relationships, whether it is dealing with the stress of separation in a family, or easing a marriage that been troubled or a relationship that has soured. It is stressful and difficult for all concerned. Then think of other tribulation—if you have been listening to the news or watching it on TV you can see the devastating effects of the flooding in Manitoba. I couldn’t believe the pictures I was looking at in places like Souris where the water is right underneath the swinging bridge. This, of course, is hard on everyone—homeowners and farmers and their families and local businesses are all affected.

Tribulation comes on a wider basis as well when we examine global conflicts and violence, especially the violence we see at home in our own neighborhoods. Then there is the tribulation that comes when life transitions occur—a new job is on the horizon, a parent making a decision to downsize to a smaller home or a nursing home or assisted living. Perhaps one of the more difficult transitions is losing a loved one through death. These tribulations all cause us to labor hard. There are many other tribulations that come to us in life and on our own we can labor hard to deal with them.

And so, into this comes Jesus who asks us to do one thing, to come to Him. This, my friends, is a conscious decision. No one can make another person decide for Christ, to invite Him to be a part of one’s life. This is a very personal matter. Even though we may be baptized, many of us when we were just infants, at some point we all need come to the understanding of this need to invite Jesus to be a part of our lives. This is made harder by the fact we are all humans with free will. We are not forced to come to faith. In the letter of Paul to the Romans, we hear more about why it is hard to come to faith.

I do not do what I want, I do the very thing I hate,” says Paul, the great Apostle. “Now, if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But, in fact, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now, if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but it is the sin that dwells within me.

If the Apostle Paul struggled mightily with sin, we cannot expect that we will do any better. Temptation is all around us. We fall into sin when we choose to do things contrary to God’s will, and we miss the mark so to speak, like the bullseye. We miss the centre. We sin and when we do, it can be very troubling and difficult to turn back to Christ.

Unfortunately, what sometimes brings us to Christ is crisis or turbulence. We labor hard. We face tribulation or crisis. We simply cannot cope on our own. That first step of turning to Jesus may be the hardest but it certainly pays off, as Jesus promised “I will refresh you.” Then, Jesus says this… “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” We can all learn something from this agricultural expression.

What is a yoke? For those who might not know, a yoke is used by farmers to train young animals. The yoke is a bar of wood constructed to unite two animals, in this case two oxen, the young and old. When yoked, the old ox will take the major load and the young ox learns from the older one. It is a way to allow the two animals to work in the fields, drawing loads and pulling instruments used for farming. This is a model for us for ministry. Often, when we first choose, or arrive in, a church, there is a tendency to want to get heavily involved. On our own, this can lead to quick burnout and disappointment. If we are not careful, some will choose to leave due to the stress this may bring on.

Instead, if we are “yoked” to more experienced members of the Church, those who have been in ministry for some time, and the task of ministry becomes easier. We all are called by Jesus into some kind of ministry. It is the responsibility of the church to ensure new folks are equipped and trained, whether it is a new choir member, or a new Altar Guild member or new ACW person or greeter or reader or any new task within the church. This is one of the reasons I wanted the chairs of various committees to write out their functions in a manual of sorts, so new members could follow along. It is also the reason the Worship Committee has helped me plan a Ministries Conference in October, where we will all learn about the various ministries in our midst—readers, greeters, servers, administrants, crucifers, acolytes, etc.

Being yoked with someone will make it easier, but this task is strengthened when the yoke is with Jesus. When we learn to put our full trust in Him, we begin to see that whatever weight we face in life is easier. When we learn to turn to Jesus in prayer and rely on the community of faith which is the Body of Christ we begin to mature and grow in faith.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, says Jesus. What do we learn? We learn how to love unconditionally. We learn that on our own we suffer, but with the help of Jesus burdens are lighter. We learn to forgive and we learn to accept forgiveness when it is offered. What was that saying in the Bible? We love because we were first loved. We learn by watching others in faith. The Bible says many in the early Church came to faith because of the deeds of the Christians… “Look at how those Christians love each other.” When we love, we are living the faith. The letter of Paul to Galatians Chapter 5 Verse 22, says this. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” When you see these attributes working in someone you are seeing the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus at work. The deeper we love, the more Christ-like we become.

Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” What a wonderful image Jesus gives to us, to those who are weary, exhausted or burdened from carrying the load by themselves. What a comfort and joy to know that Jesus is with us, walking alongside us, teaching us and strengthening us on our journey of faith.

This summer, as you are out and about remember you are never alone. Remember that Jesus is as close as your breath and you can turn to Him in prayer. Remember to call upon Him in times of stress and remember that as Christians we are called to serve, to love and to go out into our neighborhoods with a message of love and faith.

This summer, may you find strength for your journey and rest for your souls as you rest in Jesus, and may He bless us all in the days ahead.