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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.