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, 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!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where Angels Tread: St. Michael and All Angels

October 2, 2011
Good morning and welcome to this celebration. We are all decked out in white today in celebration for two reasons. It is the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels and on this feast day we celebrate the baptism of Pearl Schussler.

So, what are we to say about angels? Each of our readings today speak of angels, chief among them Michael the Archangel. I always know when this Feast day is near, as we have Michelmas daisies growing in our yard. When those daisies are in full bloom I know the Feast Day is near. I also know it time for my son Michael’s birthday, since he was born on the Feast Day, which is Sept. 29 transferred to today.

In a world and society that seems more and more to deny the spiritual, or at least ignore it, it is difficult to focus on what we cannot see. Yet, we know the spiritual exists through faith and the testimony of scripture. Our Lord Jesus, by dying for us on the cross, has given a precious gift, that of a promise of eternal life in heaven. The Apostle Paul tells us that if we do not believe in the resurrection, we are the most of all people to be pitied, for our message would be in vain.

But, in fact, Jesus was raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15. Our lives are spiritual, and we are part of the heavenly Kingdom even here on earth. And so, the spiritual is important. Scripture tells us all about heaven and angels. In the Old Testament passage, we heard of Jacob who has received a blessing from his father Isaac. He has a dream and in his dream he sees a ladder set up on earth, the top reaching heaven and the angels of God are ascending and descending.

In the Gospel passage, two disciples have decided to follow Jesus and come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. In His response, Jesus says to them “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

According to research, angels are mentioned 108 times in the Old Testament and 165 times in the New Testament. This is where we get the foundational material for what we know of angels. Research suggests angels were created perhaps immediately after the creation of heaven and before the creation of earth. There are both good and evil angels as we learn from today’s epistle.

The very word “angel” means “messenger” and there is a purpose or job description for these unnamed angels that include a number of tasks:

a) Worship and praise (Isaiah 6:1-3, Revelation 4, 5)
b) Revealing — serving as messengers to communicate God’s will to humanity. For example, they helped reveal the law to Moses (Acts 7:52,53)

c) Guiding — (Angels gave instructions to Joseph concerning the birth of Jesus (Mathew 1), to the women at the tomb, to Phillip (Acts 8:26), and to Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8)

d) Providing—physical needs such as food for Hagar (Genesis 21:17-20), Elijah (1Kings 19:6 and Christ after His temptation (Matthew 4:11)

e) Protecting — keeping God’s people out of physical danger, as in the cases of Daniel in the lion’s den and his three friends in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3 and 6)

f) Delivering God’s people out of danger once they are in it (Angels released the Apostles from prison in Acts 5)

g) Strengthening and encouraging — strengthening Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:11), encouraging the Apostles to keep preaching after their release from prison (Acts 5:19, 20), and telling Paul everyone would survive the ship wreck in his missionary journey (Acts 27:23-25)

h) Answering prayer (Daniel 9:20- 24, 10:10-12, Acts 12:1-17)

i) Caring for believers at the moment of death, as in the story of Lazarus and the rich man, where angels carry the spirit of Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom when he died (Luke 16:22)

Angels are not glorified human beings, though they appear to us as humans when sent. They do not marry or reproduce. It appears that all angels were created at one time, and no new angels are being added. Angels are not subject to death or any form of extinction so they do not decrease in number.
Research suggests angels are essentially ministering spirits and do not have physical bodies like humans, though they appear to us as physical at times: perhaps one of you may have encountered a stranger who helped you out of a jam. In the letter to the Hebrews we read this:

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2). The Bible makes it clear that angels can only be in one place at a time and must have a localized presence. While angels can appear to us as earthly humans, they also can appear in dazzling white and blazing glory as we read in Matthew 28:2-4.

Since angels are spirits, they do not have to appear visibly (Colossians 1:16). Recall the story of Elisha, who once prayed his servant would see the armies of angels surrounding the city, and the young man discovered he had overlooked a lot of invisible beings (2 Kings 6, 17). Sometimes an angel will appear to be a person with unusual features as we read in Daniel, when he saw an angel with arms and legs resembling polished metal and precious stones and a face like lightning (Daniel 10:5-6).

Sorry! You can't trust every angel.

The Bible classifies some angels as “elect” (1 Timothy 5:21) or “holy” (Matthew 25:31; Mark 8:38). All angels were originally holy, enjoying the presence of God (Matthew 18:10) and the environment of heaven (Mark 13:32).

Other angels oppose God under the leadership of Satan (Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Ephesians 6:12). We often call these “demons.” This is what is reflected in our passage from Revelation today, when war breaks out in heaven. Michael and his angels fight the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated. The great dragon is thrown down, the ancient serpent known as the Devil and Satan. (

And so, in our world today we continue to witness the battle between good and evil. We are living in both an earthly and a spiritual world. Angels and demons are a part of the spiritual. But we have Good News. It is not a fight between two equal and eternal forces. God who created all beings is still in charge, and once He has used wicked angels to accomplish His purposes, He will bring them to a final defeat. The Good News for us is that God so loved you and me, He gave His only Son, to the end that all who believe will have eternal life.

This brings us to today’s relevance, our celebration of baptism. It is our privilege as a Church, as the Body of Christ on earth, to bring one of our own, this child, Pearl, before God for baptism into His Body. In this sacrament, the outward and visible sign of the water represents a death to sin, a death to ways that take us away from God, and a rebirth, new life given by God. This is the inward and spiritual grace of the sacrament.

Today, Pearl receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit, she will come to know God. Through the nurturing of her parents, godparents, and family, and the larger family of God present in this community and the larger community of faith, Pearl will grow to know and to love God and to understand she shares in a ministry of service to God, a ministry of sharing our Good News with others.

Together with the larger company of heaven, the angels, and all of those who have gone before, Pearl will be led to a life of service and in the end, she, along with all believers, will enter the glory of God. For this, we give thanks. Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for Michael and all of the angels present with us and for all of the greater company of heaven witnessing with us today. Most especially, we give thanks for Pearl and for the gift of your Holy Spirit in her life. We give thanks that you will be with her in the days ahead to guide, direct, and support her. Thank you for this community of St. James, for the love and nurture and support we offer. Grant us the grace to know you deeper in our lives and to serve you humbly here on earth. In Jesus` name we pray. Amen.