Chicken? Egg? Which comes first?

Kenora                        Pentecost + 4 Trinity + 3 – Proper 12

St. Alban (tsfr)

Year B

20 June 2021

Wisdom 3:1-9

Psalm 63

Matthew 10:40-42

Saving God, enter the flood and storm of chaos and confusion and speak peace to our fearful hearts, so that we might find our faith in him whose word brings rest to all creation; through Jesus Christ, Lord of wind and wave. Amen.

Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? The faith? Or the baptism?

Now, jokes will address the chicken or the egg question until we run out of ideas, almost as long as we’ve contemplated why the chicken crosses the road.

I’ve even had some fun with it, myself, when the road between Flin Flon and The Pas, in northern Manitoba passes both Egg Lake and Goose Lake.

So, that instance, it would depend on which way you’re going as to which comes first, the goose? Or the egg?

I also know that the thought regarding baptism, when I was growing up was to baptize the children of our lives as quickly as possible after birth. I know that I was baptized literally six weeks, to the day, after I was born.

And, in all of the baptismal planning conversations, it is still reiterated, stated as plainly as possible, that the promises made in baptism by the family, and by the sponsors before God, remind us to raise the child in an atmosphere, in a lifestyle of living out a life lived in faith, including the idea coming to church as a regular faith practice.

 In some cases, the children baptized may not even be aware of their participation in the Christian family, yet in other circumstances because they were so young.

On the other hand, I’ve had great conversations with people who found a life of faith, and a life lived out in the body of the church, before they experienced the act, the sacrament of baptism.

What comes first the chicken or the egg? The faith, or the baptism?

Today we celebrate St. Alban.

Alban, was a Roman soldier, in the third century, and a pagan in Britannia, what we now call England. He gave refute to a persecuted Christian priest, and he was intrigued when he saw the man at his daily prayers. So he asked him about his faith.

We’re told that it was during this conversation that Alban converted to Christianity, and when the soldiers came for the priest, Alban took his cloak and took his place.

Naturally, the ruse was discovered by the Roman governor, and Alban refused to either recant his newfound faith by offering sacrifice to the Roman gods, or to give up the priest.

Alban was condemned and beheaded, and history counts his beheading as his baptism.

In Alban’s case, the faith came before the baptism.

So, today we celebrate this one man, who in the third century, when Christianity was still the new faith on the block, allowed the Holy Spirit to enter his heart, and to save a life.

We celebrate the moving of the Holy Spirit that leads us in directions that only God can see the ending, and yet leads us, through our actions to continue to share the kingdom of God with all those who are around us.

We celebrate the moving of the Holy Spirit that we actually are able to wonder which came first: the chicken or the egg?

But instead of continuing this ponder, because we know that with God all things are possible, lets, instead, marvel in the gift, the ability that we each possess, to share one’s faith, with those who are searching for answers, those who are searching for God, but might not yet be aware of the need in their own lives.

This isn’t just something from the third century, but instead it exists throughout our history. It’s been a part of our lives since Jesus rose from the dead, and especially since the Apostles began to share their faith in all directions from Jerusalem out into the wider world.

Just think of it, Paul, under arrest by Romans, continued to spread the faith, the love of God, among the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire, and had all faith that he would be released, in Rome, to be able to continue his journey west through Spain.

Then there is Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, where the Holy Spirit connected the two, so that Philip was able to share his faith, to inform the questing faith of the Ethiopian about who it was he was truly seeking, and to accept his offer to be baptized in water found by the side of the road.

The Ethiopian was reading the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, and “34 the eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:34-36)

But it all starts with our curiosity.

It starts with our desire to know more about God, and about what God has and continues to do to, in, through, and for each of our lives, still today, and through tomorrow.

It begins with our seeking. We look for ways to connect with God, with the divine with those who live lives of faith, in the world and through the world.

It is led by the Holy Spirit in all instances, and it means that we are willing to not only hear, but to follow where we’re led. And trust me, it’s a grand adventure.

Matthew reminds us: “40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Mt 10:40)

Looking at Alban’s brief history, we see that he was curious, that he was seeking, and that he was prodded by the Holy Spirit.

We see that he welcomed the priest, whose name we never learn, and so welcomed the Holy Trinity into his life, in the same way we see with Philip and the Ethiopian.

But these aren’t the only stories. We are able to continue to refer to the stories of the bible, but so much more than that we are able to look to family members who came before us.

After all, what was the faith the trust in God and the daring that it took for our family members to come to Canada to start a new life? And each one of them brought an active faith life with them and give us this .

How many of us are able to look back at the steps of our lives and see where others have heard our stories of faith, and so made decisions to follow in the same direction in their own lives?

How many of us, have been, likewise, inspired by friends, family, or even people who became family and friends to walk more closely in the life of a Christian, in the light of Christ?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Matthew reminds us: “40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous;” (Mt 10:40-41)

Jesus himself reminds us that we are more than we appear, that we are in fact ambassadors of God, that we are the body of Christ in the world, but it still begins with each one of us.

Alban’s journey started with his curiosity. A curiosity that was fueled by the faith of the man, who when persecuted continued unstintingly in the living out of his faith.

Then, we see that faith was displayed when he willingly took the priests place and he remained firm in that profession of faith even when faced with death.

It’s such a short tale that we have of Alban, yet at the same time, his faith has spoken to us across the centuries.

At the same time, his example, as brief as it is, is so profound.

In his case, in the question of what comes first, the faith or the baptism, we find that faith precedes, that it informs, and it gives the strength needed to last throughout the centuries, and into tomorrow.

Amen.

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Seeds are Just the Beginning

Kenora                        Pentecost + 3 Trinity + 2 – Proper 11

Year B

13 June 2021

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Psalm 20

2 Corinthians 5:6-10(11-13)14-17

Mark 4:26-34

Mighty God, to you belong the mysteries of the universe. You transform shepherds into kings, the smallest seeds into magnificent trees, and hardened hearts into loving one. May your life-giving Spirit re-create us in your image and shape us into your purposes, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

I was looking over the readings, for today, and, as always, my mind ponders a number of subjects.

Among them, this week, are the ongoing struggles to recognize the impact of intergenerational grief of the residential school system on the indigenous population. A level of grief that has been renewed with the discovery of the remains of the 215 on the grounds of the former residential school in Kamloops.

Then there is the recognition that intergenerational trauma affects many cultures and many nations as well, although this is a relatively new revelation on the human psyche.

This week I also pondered, or rather reeled, at the news of a domestic terrorism attack in London, ON, when an entire family was the intentional victim of a hit and run, solely because of their faith practices.

And then there was the idea that in general that we find a loss of belief in God, in the divine, that I am able to see reflected in the literature, and movies, and entertainment of the day to the point that, in June, Netflix still has a raft of romantic Christmas movies available to be seen.

Then I turned to the readings, for today, and found Jesus’ parables of growing seeds and a place for all peoples and cultures in one place, reflecting the kingdom of God. And I wonder if the idea of Canada as a tolerant multi-cultural nation, who cares for and about each other, is still out there, somewhere?

Today, Jesus tells us the parable of the mustard seed. He tells us of this the smallest of seeds, that when it grows, it becomes a bush so large that it’s able to provide homes for many different kinds of birds. (Mk 4:31-32)

The shrub isn’t the home of just the birds who look like each other.

It’s not the home to those who only hale from a specific migratory area.

There isn’t a shrub for this species of bird, and another shrub for that species of bird, lined up like suburbs or gated communities. Rather it’s one shrub and within it’s branches we find room for all of the wildlife, no matter their origin, their migration patterns, or their social habits.

So, from this one tiny, mote of a seed, we find the kingdom of heaven. We find inclusion, we find community, we find love, and we find each other.

Within this tiniest of seeds, we see exponential growth of our faith, our understanding of a world so loved by God that God sent Jesus into it to tell us these parables; and to plant these seeds in each of our hearts.

God sent Jesus to encourage the seeds to grow into shrubs that make room for absolutely everyone of every description in the world to be present, and to beloved in our hearts.

In such an image, in the kingdom of heaven, there isn’t room for racism, for terrorism, or for children to be lost.

In such an image, we find room for absolutely every one who wishes to roost there, and to combine their different plumages, and gifts and skills, to be the most beautiful expression of unity, and diversity, and of God’s love for all of creation.

I grew up with the idea that we live in a multi-cultural society, where everyone, no matter where they came from, no matter the ethnic differences, or differences in faith practices, that we are all welcome to call Canada home.

That we were all able to live our lives, together, and to respect each other.

I see today that such a grand idea had holes in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Rather it’s an idea that perhaps needs to be refocused in the idea that the smallest of seeds creates the greatest of shrubs, so that all the world can find a home in its branches.

Now, I know that my understanding of the world has grown and changed but the idea that we’re all living in a multi-cultural nation remains.

I know that this idea of multiculturalism has hit stumbling blocks over the years since it was first presented, especially when we think of our own way of life as being the only way to live, or that your aims for expansion, or prosperity disregard my life and my way to live.

But this train of thought seems to be gaining ground and it makes my heart hurt.

If we truly see the kingdom of heaven as the mustard seed then we have to realize that, as a seed, all of the kingdom is nothing more than potential, until it’s planted and is allowed to grow. 

Until it’s lived out, it’s an idea that is still on the drawing board.

It’s not until we plant the seed, water it, and watch it grow does it become real.

It’s not until it puts out leaf and branch; it’s not until the birds arrive in the spring and begin to look for nest sites; its not until the eggs are laid in this the greatest of shrubs that we will realize that there is more than enough room for all, that no one is left out.

That no one is pushed aside, or told they need to conform, or to change, or to move, or anything else that certain members of the population decrees is good for society but in reality, only benefits a small group within the larger society.

The seed still exists.

God plants this tiny, infinitesimal seed in each of our lives, in each of our hearts, and God waits for it to begin to grow.

I remember reading an article of an archaeological dig that took place in Wisconsin, in 2015. In this dig, they unearthed a small clay pot that had been filled with 800-year-old squash seeds.

From there, the Canadian Mennonite university, in 2019 planted a couple of these seeds and they planted them.

And the seeds grew.

In one growing season, they revived a long extinct variety of squash.

These seeds, these promises, waited over 800 years to sprout, and to grow, and to fulfill the promise of feeding the world.

The seeds, planted by God, exist in each of our hearts, and just waits to be allowed to grow. They exist as the promise of God’s love, of God’s desire to share the kingdom of heaven with all of us who believe.

Will the seed in our hearts, like the mustard seed in today’s parable, provide a place for all nations to gather, as equals? No one being over or better than the other?

Will the seed in our hearts, like the previously extinct squash seed, have the capacity to feed the whole world?

Or will the seed in our hearts bring back what we thought had been lost forever?

We stand upon a precipice. Not just here in Canada with the issues of our day, but in the world.

There are many issues that have the ability to draw us together, to build a better world. We realize that there is still so much work ahead of us to come back to the idea that we’re all one nation, but come from many different nations, different cultures, different ethnicities, and different expressions of how to live our lives and at the same time to honour the traditions of the divine that we bring with us.

And in the light of such love, then are able to we take a step forward, together.

Together we have work ahead of us. Work to find a way to honour and to come together over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, and to live into them to overcome the errors of the past that seek to divide us instead of unite us across Canada.

And following that, with honesty and openness between all people, we will better understand how to be Canadians in Canada.

At the same time, we are able to remember that other cultures and other traditions live their lives in different ways but we’re all in the same shrub, and there is room for everyone within its branches.

Amen.

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A House Divided

Kenora                        Pentecost + 2 Trinity + 1 – Proper 10

Year B

6 June 2021

1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15

Psalm 138

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Mark 3:20-35

Gracious God, give us such a vision of your purpose and such an assurance of your love and power that we may ever hold fast to the hope we have in Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Have you ever wondered about how information is transmitted?

Today’s gospel tells us: “21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”” (Mk 3:21)

And we’re able to pause here to wonder what it is that the family has heard?  Or what has prompted “people to [say] “He has gone out of his mind.”” (vs 21)

If we look at the verse before this, Jesus has just appointed, chosen, identified the twelve, the apostles – so maybe that’s what his family is responding to? That this isn’t just a little sabbatical from the family’s carpentry business “Joseph and Sons”?

But looking further back in this chapter from Mark we see that Jesus has just been teaching multitudes from all across the region. People who have heard that he had been healing a man of a withered hand earlier in this same chapter, and because of that, there were many there to heal as well, including those who had been possessed of demons.

But it’s the fact that his family is responding to what the gossip chain is conveying, and although some information is always adequately transmitted, often its embellished, it’s added to, in ways that make listeners ears perk up, and families cringe when they hear it.

22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” (Mk 3:22)

As we’ve seen the verses before today’s gospel passage tells us that Jesus has handpicked his closest followers, the apostles, and those who will be his closest friends throughout the years of his earthly ministry. But at the same time, he goes back to his home community. And he faces those who are unable to comprehend this small-town guy gathering apostles, teaching the people, casting out demons, and being so much more than they are able to comprehend.

“He has gone out of his mind.” “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”” (Mk 2:21b, 22b)

Wow! Is his message so radical that people are diagnosing mental illness without benefit of a medical license in psychiatry?

This week I’m reminded of the movie “The Last Holiday,” when a woman is misdiagnosed with a terminal illness, and she gets out of her rut, cashes in all of her assets, and takes the holiday of her dreams, without concern for any finances.

From the moment she arrives at her destination, she makes choices to live, to enjoy life, to have as many new experiences as possible. She takes a helicopter from the airport; she upgrades her room because that is the room that’s currently available. She enters into all of the experiences she’s denied herself up to this point because she wanted to have that nest-egg for tomorrow.

Along the way, she falls in with people who she knows by reputation or by sight. But because she’s there, because she’s in an upgraded room, because she visually fits into their social set, but she’s living by her rules alone, they believe that she is an affluent decision maker in the annals of the nation. So they treat her as an equal. They make assumptions on her and her lifestyle, and her sphere of influence based upon the rumours they hear from the hotel staff, beginning with her arrival by helicopter.

She’s honest with them. She just doesn’t divulge the fact that she thinks she’s dying, and that she doesn’t earn the same way that they do.

Looking back at today’s gospel, Jesus’ family does what caring families do – they try to figure out what’s really going on. They gather together, and they attempt an intervention with Jesus to bring him back to the correct frame of mind, if the rumours are correct and he’s ‘lost it’.

They want to protect Jesus, but not only Jesus from these ugly rumours. At the same time, they want to protect their family in the community, as well. After all, how long will it be before people remember the now ancient history of the early years of Joseph and Mary.

How long will it be, now at the beginning of Jesus earthly ministry, until they dredge up all of the stories of Mary and Josephs early relationship, and the immaculate conception. How long until they relive the scandal of decades before, until they deny any divine participation in Jesus’ life and ministry, and attribute it to what the rumours are saying.

The same is true for each of our lives. We all know what we’ve done, and how it’s been interpreted by the community around us. Was it youthful indiscretion? Or now, looking back doe sit lend itself to patterns we see today that make us uncomfortable.

In Jesus’ case, he refutes what he’s hearing, from the midst of the people who have come out to hear him, to talk about him, to be healed by him, and to just be near him.

23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. 27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.” (Mk 3:23-27)

Jesus answers in parables. He gives instances that call for more conversation and more introspection about and among those who are making such statements than providing clear answers such as “I am the Son of God, and the Son of Man”

And this gets back to the idea that we need to come to changes in our minds, our opinions, our positions on our own. If someone tries to do this for us, then we dig in our heels and we refuse to adjust our position. We become entrenched and more firmly believe that what we thought in the beginning is correct, when in truth we’re in error.

And this brings us to our own world, today. This past week, and a bit has brought to light unmarked graves at a former residential school, and the rumours, the half truths, and even the full truth is out there, but where will we go to get to the bottom of it all?

This brings to light the work that is still outstanding on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that will take a long time to work through, but at the same time, although it’s not easy, it’s the way forward for all of Canada.

And in each of our lives, then, how will we live into the truth that is God’s message of love, of healing, of wholeness for all who believe?

Those clustered around him are there because what he’s saying is different. Because what he says has a ring of truth more than the teachings of the scribes and the Pharisees in the synagogues.

What Jesus says today is so much broader in scope than our own family ties, and because of that, we are all brothers and sisters because we believe.

This isn’t an easy text to understand because it requires us, each one of us, to step back from the drama of life and to find the truth of God’s love at the root o fjesus actions, and of the events of our ownw lives.

But when we get there, we realize that our families are so much more than we’ve imagined because we are all children of God.

Our families are so much more than we’d thought, because our brothers and sisters in Christ are also our family. 

Jesus tells us: “31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters[c] are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”” (Mk 3:31-35)

From a human perspective Jesus’ mother and brothers and sisters are there to do what is right, but they’re still working from the perspective of the gossip, rather than from the knowledge of who Jesus is and what his earthly ministry entails.

And we are oh so human, so the question remains, how will we respond to the events of our day? Will we hunker down and allow the rumours the speculation and the negative emotions of the world wash over us, coating us with their corrosive dust?

Or will we, with Jesus, stand up, tell the truth, seek out the truth we don’t know, and enlarge the kingdom of God with God’s love shared among all people.

In the movie, when the truth was revealed, our main actress didn’t shy away from it, rather she recontextualized it and allowed the truth to be it’s own statement, coloured by the perception that she wasn’t long for this world. Those who had gravitated to her joy for life, her openness in living weren’t swayed, rather they continued to stand by her, in this as well as in the perceptions they had lived under a few minutes before.

Jesus reminds us: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mk 3:23b-25)

In the world of opinion vs truth, I hope we continue to turn to the truth even if we have to dig to find it; and together we’re able to look forward to a new day, more in knowledge and love of each other than we were the day before.

Because this way is the truth of God, is the kingdom of heaven, is the way that Jesus leads us to follow, every day.

Amen.

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Three in One, One in Three: Now we have a Mystery!

Kenora                                                Trinity Sunday

Year B

30 May 2021

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

Holy God, the earth is full of your love. May we your children, born of the Spirit, so bear witness to your Son Jesus Christ, that all the world may believe and have eternal life through him, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Trinity Sunday is undoubtedly one of my favourite festivals in the life and year of the church. Yet at the same time, to try to identify the persons of God is one of the most unfaithful things we could attempt to do.

So, rather than attempt to unravel it more than our creeds have done, in order to inspire our faith, I want to look at these precious words of faith and, today, invite us to reflect how and where God has and continues to bless each one of us.

The Nicene Creed tells us:

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.” (BAS pg 188)

When we proclaim these words, this statement of our individual, and at the same time, corporate statement of faith, the first thing we recognize is that we don’t walk this journey alone. Rather it’s not “I”, but “We” who proclaim these words of our collective, corporate belief.

“We” work together, believe together, and at the same time, we recognize all that surrounds us, including ourselves and each other have been made by God, and are part of what has been created by “the maker of heaven and earth.”

And when we look closely at these words, we are able to marvel at the intricacy of the world, of the beauty that surrounds us, the resources that are intended to provide for food, shelter, means of income, and for leisure.

We are able to marvel at the variety of animal life that exists all around us. We’re able to see those who fly, those on four legs, as well as the insects, the fishes, and all of humanity, as well.

All of this, the world, the creatures of the world, and humanity is all created by God, not to stand apart from creation but rather to be a living part of it, as stewards to be able to give this ongoing creation into the care of future generations.

But none of this is individual in its approach, nor in its effect.

The creed begins with the word “we”, and we are all a part of the creation in which we live and move and have our being.

We are all a part of the creation in which we find love, raise our families, and interact with our friends. We are a part of creation when we venture out into the world, even if it’s to go to the grocery store, because without the produce of creation there wouldn’t be a grocery store.

We are a part of what God has made, and that includes each one of us.

In its brevity, this the first article of the creed encompasses absolutely everything from the creation of the cosmos, to the planet, to the life on the planet, and that includes you and me, as well.

So, then we, as part of this creation of God turn to the second article of the creed.

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.

Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” (BAS pg 188)

And now the story fleshes out. Now the writers of the Creed have some ‘meat and potatoes’ to present to those of us who also are included in the “we” of this article of the creed as they recount our collective story of salvation, of life lived in and through and because of the action of God the Son to bring us back into a positive and ‘right’ relationship with God.

In their words, in their imagery, we see the salvation story, here, laid out for each one of us, and the fact that it is only by God’s divine planning that any of this can come to fruition.

We see in these words how much we are loved by God that such steps were taken to renew connections between God and all of humanity. Steps taken between all groups of humanity to share our corporate worship experiences and to live into the life we find in and through God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And we see in the articles of the creed, that God is triune. There are three persons that make up God. And so, we turn to the third article of the creed which describes to us the life, the participation in all of God’s creation of the Holy Spirit, where once more, the word “We” leads the way in declaring our belief in God.

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” (BAS pg. 189)

And again, the Nicene creed talks about the “We” in the world, it talks about those of us who have been touched by the Holy Spirit in our lives to declare our faith, our belief, our trust in God who is presented to us in three persons so that we can have a life in faith, and have it abundantly.

Looking at the readings for today we see where and how the three persons of God are at work, not just in the pages of the bible, but in and through each of our lives, as well.

Isaiah finds himself standing, alive, before the throne of God as God seeks a prophet to send into the world.

He says: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isa 6:1b-4)

We see Isaiah, whose life is already changed by this experience, now commit his life to spreading the word of God to the whole world so that our faith, our trust, and our belief in God can continue to not only sustain us, but to grow, as well.

In Romans, we see Paul describe for the believers in Rome how much we owe to Christ and to the Holy Spirit for opening the way for us to believe in God, to have a relationship with God, and to be that avenue that such belief and faith are then able to include each one of us as the children of God.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Rom 8 14-16)

In this he describes the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit who continues to guide our hearts and our spirits into the paths, the occupations, the relationships that are able to bring us all closer to God.

But not just in the spiritual sense, we’re able to be closer to God when we work together to share our experiences of where and how God leads us in the world, gives us the words to say, when we need to say them, and to be where we need to be when we need to be there.

Even Jesus admits that an understanding of the trinity is difficult when he talks about how Nicodemus is having difficulty in wrapping his mind around the notion that it’s through Jesus’ resurrection that he will bring all peoples to himself.

That it’s through the work of the Holy Spirit that all of this is able to come to pass.

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:5-8)

And this brings us back to the mystery of the Trinity. To the image of one God in three persons, the one who creates, the one who redeems and the one who sustains are the images that we carry with us, that we proclaim, when we gather, when we proclaim the words of our faith, found in our creeds, when we boldly stand and say “We believe.”

At the same time, we allow the work of God to move us to take our part in the story that will be told to the generations, after us, because they too will have the chance to feel the love of God in their lives, and they too will be able to stand, with us, as we all declare “We believe…”

Amen.

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Eyewitnesses of Every Age!

Kenora                                                Ascension Sunday

Year B

16 May 2021

Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-43

God unheld by word or wall: lift us from dullness and cynical contempt; make us ready for your Spirit of transforming power; and turn our hearts to the mending of the world, through Jesus Christ, the name above all names. Amen.

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Isn’t it interesting how different people see things in different ways? We’re all eyewitnesses but what each of us sees might be different than the person standing next to us seeing the same event.

Such different interpretations to witnessing the same event gives us a whole host of murder mystery literature, the rise of such “great detectives” as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. It gives us “conflicting eye witness statements” to events and to crime dramas, and to occurrences all around us.

But Jesus today invites us to be witnesses of all that he’s done that God has done, that the prophets and even the psalms testify to about the coming of the Messiah for the sole purpose of breaking the bonds of sin and death that forever kept us away from the loving embrace and inclusion of God in our lives.

So, Jesus, in today’s passage from Acts, makes each of us witnesses of these things.

Jesus invites us to accept the Holy Spirit into our lives and to share all that we know and all that we’ve learned from him, about him, through the pages of the bible, through the interpretations of scripture, through the gospels that make up the core of our faith and its expression in every action of our lives.

So, isn’t it interesting that we can look at the same thing and come up with different interpretations of what we’re looking at and how to apply it to our lives?

We’re told: “In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:1-3)

And naturally our first question, when we read this is what else has this author written? And why is it mentioned here? Personally, I always find it interesting to recall that the author of the gospel of Luke has gone out and researched and probed and compiled his gospel in order to aid Theophilus in his journey of faith. Luke was Theophilus’ eye witness, and he has become ours as well.  

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (Lk 1:1-4)

So, we’re able to see that Luke seeks to provide a cohesive statement of faith, of the miracles and the life of Jesus for the sharing and fostering of faith in those around him.

But like everyone who writes a best seller, you just can’t leave a cliff-hanger like the ascension there. It needs to be followed up with what happened after that, even though it ends with “and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.” (Lk 24:50b-53)

And so, as a follow up, as the next chapter in the story, we find the early years of the church chronicled in the Acts, aka The Acts of the Apostle: Luke’s ‘killer sequel.’

But he’s not the only one out there writing things down to help us grow in our lives of faith, to help those who were not eye witnesses to become them and to so share the message of God’s love further and further than its’ been before.

Just looking at the New Testament, we find four different accounts of Jesus life and ministry written from different perspectives different viewpoints. These are our gospels.

And then after the gospels we find Acts chronicling of the early years of the church, we find the writings of Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles as well as other authors.

We know that this is a book that points us, continually to Christ, to faith, to a life lived in the light of God through Christ’s efforts and teachings. In its own eye witness accounts, it makes each one of us eye witnesses, as well. But in saying that, sometimes how that story is told makes all the difference.

Going back to the idea that we have 4 gospels, all chronicling the life and ministry of Jesus may seem redundant, but they reinforce each other along the way, because each was written for a specific audience, and we are able to benefit from all of their accounts.

A good example could be on getting directions to St. Alban’s.

A simple straight forward way to do it is to recite the current physical address of the church building: 312 Main St. S. Kenora, ON. We are able to see this as direct and straight forward as reading the gospel of Mark.

It works. But another way would be to describe where St. Alban’s started, on First Street North in 1884, but, being constructed of wood, and being far from sources of water, it burned down. (Now someone who knows the history better than I do can flesh out the eye witness account with the heroics of the local fire department, and those members who came to help with that fire.)

But the story teller wouldn’t stop there because we’re in St. Alban’s today, so we have to carry on by telling that we built the church again on First Street North, in the same location, by 1893.

Unfortunately, that building burned down as well. And once more a great tale of tragedy because it was also made of wood, and, once more it was too far from the water’s edge could be told to the one seeking directions to St. Alban’s.

But that story’s not over, because the church then moved from First Street North and was rebuilt of stone in 1917, in its current location on Main St. South, closer to the waters edge.

That would work as well, although it takes time in the telling. But in doing it this way, we become acquainted with the life and the history of St. Alban’s in the Kenora area. We’re draw into the tellers tale, and we become eye witnesses when we find where the original church stood on the hill overlooking the down town area.

At the same time, each answer of where to find St. Alban’s tells you of the location of St. Alban’s, but the second fills you in on a community that is resilient, and resourceful, and determined to continue to come together and, if necessary, rebuild what is needed so that we are able to continue to be St. Alban’s, in Kenora, still today.

So here we are able to find parallels with Matthew and Luke’s gospels where much effort is found in striving to tell a fuller more complete story, account, eye witness statement of what it means to be Christians who call St. Alban’s home.

But that’s still not the end of this example, either. That’s still not the final description one could give on where to find St. Alban’s.

After all, we are, each one of us, who calls St. Alban’s ‘home,’ the church.

We, each one of us, carries the mission of the church into the world, and so the questor, looking for the church could, really in answer to their question of where to find the church, be given the addresses of the members, and told that this is where the church resides.

It resides in each of our lives, in each of our hearts, in all of our actions, even when we’re unable to gather in the physical building, at the moment. And to complete our equation of what it means to be eye witnesses with four gospels, this would be closer to John’s gospel, when we read it, and become reacquainted with his ‘eye witness statements.’

So, what then does that say about how we witness to the work of God in the world, in the bible, in each of our lives?

We continue, today, to embrace, to learn about and to emulate the life of Christ and those of the early church, in and through each of our lives.

We, each one of us, through this have become those eye witnesses.

Do we agree on absolutely every detail? Do we tell our accounts, our stories of Christ acting in our lives, and in the lives of those who came before us in the same way? I hope not.

And I hope not because our strength is in the fact that my story, although it has the same beginning, has travelled different roads than yours, and yet we’ll share the same ending, one day.

In my own life, I am grateful for the gospel writers. I’m grateful for Luke who carried on with the stories so that we can emulate them in their actions to live out the life of faith and the gratitude of Christ.

I’m grateful for the early evangelists for opening the way for each one of us to follow where they have trod, and so that we are able, in turn, be that example for others to follow.

We are the example for those who follow us to be able to, in their own way, tell their ‘eye witness accounts’ of faith and the gospel and the role of Christ still today and tomorrow for them, for us, and still to be that example for yet others who will follow them, too.

Amen.

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I have Called you Friends

Kenora                                                6th Sunday of Easter

Year B

9 May 2021

Acts 10:44-48

Psalm 98

1 John 5:1-6

John 15:9-17

God of abiding love, you dare to call us friends. Take our fragmented hearts, command them to love, and make whole our joy, which is our life, reborn in Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for us. Amen..

________________________________________

Love. What an interesting word.

The devotion, posted to Facebook for today, from the publication Forward Day by Day, comments that to love is both the easiest and yet it’s the most difficult thing to God; and I have to agree.

If you look at the language, the words that we use to describe our current situations in the world, we are able to declare states of war, or hostility, or times of conflict, but I don’t recall us declaring times of peace, or times of love between parties. Do you?

We gravitate to the language that describes the negatives in life, in our world rather than positives. We talk about what we don’t have, we focus on what it is we feel that we lack instead of what fills our lives with light and love. We speak in language of scarcity rather than in words, feelings, and language of abundance.

So, in that light, then, if we’re going to insist on looking at what it is that we just don’t have enough of, looking at it through the language so scarcity, then Jesus words to us would come across as a bitter pill of being required to love as we are loved. But not as we are loved by each other, rather as we are loved by God, by Jesus.

So, here it is in a nutshell. If we are unwilling to love others as we are loved by God, then it’s a chore to love.

And I’ll have to say it’s probably not a black and white issue. We’re capable and willing of loving those who love us, those with whom we have close connections such as family, spouses, children, and so on. We’re even capable of loving those we call friends and acquaintances.

But there’s the stretch: How easy is it to love absolute strangers? How easy is it to love those whose cultural bearing and values are different than our own?

How easy is it to love those who for whatever circumstances are homeless and suffer from issues of addiction, of alcoholism, and the trust issues that grow out of that situation?

And on one level this comes down to our ability to love ourselves, our true selves, the self who looks back at us when we look into the mirror.

What guides me in all situations is the poem “The Man in the Glass.” I received a copy from my grandfather, and I refer to it often, to myself, in my daily patterns and paths.

The poem goes:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
and the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that man has to say

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
who judgment upon you must pass
The fellow whose verdict counts the most in your life
is the one staring back from the glass

Some people may think you a straight-shooting chum
and call you a wonderful guy
But the guy in the glass says you’re only a bum
if you can’t look him straight in the eye

He’s the fellow to please never mind all the rest
for he’s with you clear up to the end
And you’ve passed your most dangerous difficult test
if the man in the glass is your friend

You may fool the whole world down the pathway
of life and get pats on the back as pass
But your final reward will be heartaches and
tears if you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

And this hits on much of what Jesus is telling us, as well.

“I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (Jn 15: 15b-17)

We are loved. We are, by nature, creatures of love, and to deny that, twist that, cheat that nature harms ourselves more than it will ever cause harm to the world and the structures around us.

We started looking at today’s text, at Jesus’ command to love as we are loved, and we’ve already compared that give of abundance to the common use of language of scarcity.

How much love do we need? How do we hold onto it? Because language of scarcity for those who have abundance is expressing the fear that the resources in our lives are finite. That to run out of what we think is necessary is so terrifying that we allow that fear to dominate absolutely every action, thought and decision of our lives.

But love is a gift that we receive daily. It’s a gift that grows when we share it. And when we think using the parameters, the language of scarcity we see such things as priceless as precious gems: something that can be lost and not easily replaced.

But that’s not what God, what Jesus is telling us today.

Rather, as we share it, love grows. As we live in it love fills every action of our lives, and spills over to the world around us.

So, if this is the reality of living a language of abundance: the knowledge that we’ll always have enough, the trust that we’ll never lack what it is we truly need, then we are free to share what we have with those who might not know how abundance changes our lives, and has the ability to change theirs as well.

If this is true, then we need to ask ourselves why do we not share it with those who will even treasure a morsal of love from those of us who know that the fount of living water will never cease.

Jesus tells us “11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 15:11-12)

Although Jesus phrases this as a commandment, he does that because if it’s left to our devices, our foibles, then we’ll set it aside until things become perfect, ideal, in our own minds.

So, Jesus commands. He tells us it’s a condition of fulfilling his commands to each one of us, a show of whether or not we’ve listened to his teachings, or just let them roll off our back like water off a duck.

And from our perspective, it’s a delight, a joy to receive Christ’s teachings and to live into them in the sense of gospel.

But for those for whom it’s considered a chore, then these words of love from our Lord and saviour become the law. And in reality, our hearts are ruled by such distinctions.

Gospel, in our minds and hearts sets us free. Free to be of service to our neighbour. Free to acknowledge that we are loved by God, and so love others with that same feeling of joy. Free to declare peace to the world along with fulfillments of acts of love in all directions.

Law, on the other hand binds us more completely than being grounded by covid restrictions. If we look at the degree of interpretation and discussion that the Hebrew people have dedicated to the interpretation of God’s law, we can see it like that degree of stricture. Knowing just how much one can and cannot do in a given circumstance. Some may see it as freeing that way, but when the command is to love, then it holds us back instead of freeing us.

Now, I acknowledge that the distinction between seeing Christ’s words as law, or as gospel is important for our minds, but in our hearts, Christ reigns and Christ’s teachings guide every step. And today that step is to love; not as we love each other but as we are loved by God, and so we’re freed, then to love the whole world as God loves the world, and all that the world contains.

Jesus tells us: “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (Jn 15:15b-17)

What abundance! What joy! What freedom!

What love!

Amen.

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Love in the Time of Covid

Kenora                                                5th Sunday of Easter

Year B

2 May 2021

Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:24-30

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

God of deep soil and luxurious growth, you call us from our shallow selves to find our depth in you: may we abide in him alone who can teach us who we are, Jesus Christ, the true vine. Amen.

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“Beloved let us love one another, because love is from God.” (1 Jn 4:7a)

Our epistle lesson begins with this wonderful sentence.

It begins with this sentence, that attempts to describe how much love is a part of absolutely every aspect of life, of the world. After all, we are able to look at the world around us and we see so many places, so many hearts where love, God’s love is needed. Truly needed.

But most of all, we can see where God’s love is needed in each of our hearts, and in our lives, as well as in the lives and hearts of those we just thought of, those who came to mind when I spoke that last sentence.

This also brings us to the observation that it’s easier to love another than it is to love ourselves. A comment we hear when we preach on the topic of God’s love, when we preach on the concept of loving our neighbours as we love our selves, to paraphrase Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians. Our reading from 1 John for today tells us: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

When we hear this sentence, I’d rather we didn’t look at this in the way that throws mud on ourselves. After all, we’ve all had, and continue to have challenges in our lives, when it comes to learning to love as we are loved, by God.

There are so many examples in the world that work against such love, that twist love, that uses love as an abusive tool, or a way to control. But using love, especially God’s love to control another is exactly the opposite of what John is describing to each one of us today. Rather it’s, the love that comes from God that we strive to share and to feel in our lives.

At the same time there are examples in the bible of what life looks like when we don’t accept God’s love in and for our lives, and the lives of those around us.

Looking at Adam and Eve, we can say that they didn’t understand God’s love and because of that, they were able to be deceived by the serpent in the garden. Yet, they did love God, and they did love each other, because God is love. 

At the tower of Babel, we can see what the world looks like when humanity decides to see what heaven is like, but not from the perspective of learning to love as God loves us, but rather to strive to extend the reach of human influence, devoid of love, into heaven.

The prophets tell us what life is like when we willingly abandon the love of God, and instead embrace patterns of worship that do not center around love, God’s love for us, and our reciprocal love for God and, consequently, for each other.

And the exiles, especially those returning to the Promised Land, tell us how far we wander from God’s love, often willingly, resulting in a need, a desire for God’s love to grow in our hearts, in our lives, and in our generations.

At the same time, we look at the world around us and we see places, we see examples, we see humans misusing the love that God has given us against others, against animals, against all of creation every day.

Just looking at the news, every article, including the sports reports, are able to be seen to be a violation, a twisting for humanity’s own purposes of the love that God extends to us and to all of creation. This ranges from crimes against each other, to missing and murdered persons. We are able to see it in the actions of our governments to put profits and influence ahead of the care of all of creation, from current and future generations, to injuries that are intentionally inflicted on players and teams that change lives forever.

At the same time, we know that God’s love has the ability to impact absolutely every aspect of life, of our lives, of the lives of those whom we love, and even the world in which we live. 

In the midst of all of this for the past year we’ve been chaffing against the Covid based restrictions and guidelines of governments and the diocese, all intending in a sense of love to keep us all safe. We, each of us desire to see an end to this pandemic but science can only move so fast to be considered safe and ethical in its actions and in the meantime that leave us masked.

It leaves us washing our hands. It leaves us restricting who we make face to face contact with all in a sense of living into this idea of loving each other as we are loved by God.

But more so, we chafe at these restrictions because we yearn to experience this sense of love as we are used to experiencing it, in hugs, in face-to-face encounters, in seeing each other smile and in all of the other visual clues we receive from and share between each other.

In all of this we have difficulty in finding the love that is described in the reading form 1 John, for today. It seems that we have difficulty in finding where love has any place in the world in which we live, yet at the same time, we know that “love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (vs 7)

But this isn’t the whole of John’s message to each one of us, today. He also tells us, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (vs9)

John’s gospel tells us: “14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)

And, in chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “11‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. …16‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:11-17)

It would seem that for humans to grasp the love that God gives, that Jesus teaches, that the New Testament authors promote isn’t the easiest thing in the world.  It’s something that we continue to struggle with still today, and every day.

In the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul is speaking to the Christians in Rome. He’s speaking to a community that is both Gentile and Jewish in origin, yet together espousing the belief in, and love of God.

In some ways the Christian community in Rome is a volatile combination as both want to be correct where worship of God, and love of neighbour is concerned; so Paul tells us: “9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection… 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another… 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:9-18)

Every day, we continue to be challenged to leave behind the structures of the world around us, to let go of the false impressions or pale imitations of the love that lead us down the garden path and abandon us there to our own devices and definitions. 

Yet, at the same time the bible returns time and again to the words we find in today’s epistle from 1 John “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn 4:11)

And we cannot only live this amongst ourselves, but we are also able to take this into the world with us, every day as we strive to live God’s love to the world around us, in the same way we see Paul advising the Christians at Rome. Moreover, we do that, we take this message into the community, into the wider world, into our relationships and associations even in the midst of Covid in the world. 

With the work of the congregation, we serve our community in as many ways as we have people who call St. Alban’s home, and yet we all chafe at the restrictions and each have a desire to likewise reach out to the wider community.

Looking further afield, we are able to find the work that is being done by PWRDF (the Primates World Relive and Development Fund), the LWF (Lutheran World Federation) who both work hand in hand with other international aid agencies in regards to human dignity and care of creation.

There is much to which we contribute that spreads the love of God, that shows the world that love comes from God.

There is much we are able to contribute to in order to promote and live God’s love in and to the world. A love that we espouse, in our lives, and in the words we hear today in the epistle lesson.  “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” (1Jn4:9)

This is something that we continue to live today as we strive to remember that “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (vs 7b), as we strive, in all of the avenues of our lives, to be responsible stewards of all creation so that there is a future, and a sustainable land to give into the hands of future generations.

When we look at the world around us, we see tensions rising between groups, within communities, and throughout the nations of the world. 

When we look around us, we see people chafing at covid based restrictions and recommended actions to slow the spread of the disease, meanwhile variants of the original virus spring up from all corners of the world.

And in the face of this fear, this frustration, this changing medical landscape, we have a tool that, in the end is more effective than anything else in our arsenal in our dealings with each other and our attempts to share the love of God with the whole world. 

John tells us: “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this, we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. … There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. … We love because [God] first loved us.” (vs12b-13, 18a, 19)

Amen.

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A Hero’s Vocation

Kenora                                                4th Sunday of Easter

Year B

25 April 2021

Acts 4:5-12

Psalm 23

1 John 3:16-24

John 10:11-18

Shepherd of all, by laying down your life for your flock you reveal your love for all. Lead us from the place of death to the place of abundant life, so that guided by your care for us, we may rightly offer our lives in love for you and our neighbour. Amen.

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Have you ever had a ‘hero’ in your life?

Perhaps there is or was someone you looked up to, as a child, someone you could emulate and from whom you could learn to be a better example of humanity? 

At one time we would encourage young people to select heroes, people they could learn about and from, and whose struggles would help our youth to become more enlightened individuals.

When I was young, a hero would be someone who had or was making a difference in the world, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, or Dale Carnegie, just to name a few.

This week, we also focus on Vocations. Another word that we use in the church, but it’s not used much these days any place else. But a vocation is something, a job, not just in the church, that so suits us, our talents and abilities, that it doesn’t feel like work, it feels like something you’re meant to do.

So then, as we consider the heroes of our lives, and where God is calling each of us to use our talents, then we are able to look at the reading from Acts for today to see the growth of these early leaders of the church, and heroes of the bible.

The reading from Acts for today, follows on the heels of the miracle of healing a lame beggar at the gates of the temple that was questioned by the witnesses of this miracle.

From the verses before today’s passage, we hear: “While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, 2much annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead. 3So they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. (Acts 4:1-3)

Peter and John were arrested because the Sadducees, the captain of the temple, and the priests, didn’t like what they were teaching. After all, this was the core group who were involved in the condemnation of Jesus. This is the group that decided that for the good of all of Israel that this ‘threat’ to Roman rule had to be removed.

Yet, here are two of Jesus’ followers promoting the teachings of the man, of the Son of God, in the courts of the temple for all who hear.

So, considering the fact that we began today by looking at heroes, I would definitely consider Peter and John for this position. After all, they come from humble roots. Peter started out as a fisherman. He’s not had an easy road to his education: he witnessed the transfiguration; he proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, in one breath and then tried to get him to not walk the road to the cross in the next.

Jesus himself said that he would build the church on Peter, and changed his name from Simon to Peter for effect.

On the night of Jesus arrest, Peter betrayed him three times before the rooster crowed twice. Yet, Peter was forgiven by the resurrected Jesus of this action on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Peter was able to see how far he’s grown in his call, in his vocation.

Since the day of Pentecost, his role as a leader has been emphasized, and we see him living that role, that vocation, in today’s reading. 

We also see that John has had a similar path to leadership as they were neighbours in the fishing trade and have worked together, side by side from Jesus along the way and he continues to stand firmly at Peters side, as he supports is friend and co-worker to spread the news of Jesus love, of Jesus death and of Jesus resurrection.

Moreover, our reading for today tells us they have been arrested “and put … in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4But many of those who heard the word believed; and they numbered about five thousand.” (Acts 4:3b-4)

When standing in a place that is intimidating, and an explanation for one’s actions is required, like a school-aged child before the teacher or principal, it’s very easy for us to be tongue tied, for our words to feel inadequate, and for any number of things, that have absolutely no relation to the questions being asked, to go through one’s mind.

But Peter and John are brought from the prison to “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” (Acts 4:6-8a)

Standing before the very men who condemned Jesus, who tore their robes in anger and frustration at Jesus testimony, or lack of testimony, who goaded the rest of the Sanhedrin, and who encouraged brutality toward the prisoner, our Lord and Saviour, would have to be one of the most uncomfortable places in Jerusalem to be this morning.

But here is where Peter and John have found themselves; and they’ve given their response to these powerful men prayerfully into the hands of the Holy Spirit.

We’re told: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus* is “the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.”*
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’” (Acts 4:8-12)

What a message! What a teaching in the heart of the Jewish centre of corporate worship! What words to those who know of their involvement in the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus, and who prayed all through Good Friday and to Easter Sunday that the grave would remain undisturbed and that Jesus would have been just another prophet, not the Son of God, not the Messiah.

To this group, how can Peter and John’s message not be anything but a problem to those who wish to sweep this issue under a rug and leave it for history to decide the winner? And yet here we are, today.

And all of this lends credence to seeing Peter and John as our heroes before the rich and powerful. We are able to see the faith, the commitment, the truth in the words Paul and John give, respectfully, but it’s still a full slap in the face, to the hierarchy of the High Priest and his family.

What a way to turn the tables and to point out the arrogance of these men, these descendants of Moses and Aaron who are supposed to represent the voice of the spirituality of Israel, and yet how their position has made them feel the need to protect Judaism from Roman influence at all costs.

And here before them are two former fishermen who have only a rudimentary education. They’re not trained in the religious matters of the day. They aren’t even members of the Levite clan, but they are called and do follow Jesus.

And we see these men defending their actions, they’re declaring the work of the Holy Spirit, as well as the fact that Jesus, is not only risen from the dead, but he has ascended to heaven for the benefit of all who believe.

But what does this mean for us; for each one of us today? How does this search for heroes, this seeking of our own vocations affect each of our lives?

Peter and John are our heroes, not because they intentionally went into the temple to divert traditional and solid Jewish worship away from its existing structures, but because they had a new interpretation, a new way of looking at not only the world around us, but also a way to look at each of our roles in the organization of creation.

They have a way that opens us to seeing everyone around as brothers and sisters, each working for the betterment of the world, of our relationships with God, and with each other.

At the same time, they were going against the grain of those same officials who are worried for their job security, their worried about the mass mentality that may pin on them the death of Jesus. 

Peter and John are making changes to the way in which society operates in order to promote the teachings of Jesus all around them. Like our more recent church reformers, Luther, Henry VIII, Cranmer, and Erasmus in the 15th and 16th centuries, for example.

Today we are able to continue to look at how the church continues to adapt through the circumstances of the pandemic that continue to plague us, these days.

In each time, in each place, each of these men, these heroes, have only wanted to correct what they saw as abuses in the operation of the church of his day.

This doesn’t make for an easy road, but looking at their lives, and influence, in the early days of the church, we’re able to learn from their experiences. We’re able to learn of the struggles to keep faith contemporary without losing the message, the teachings, the interpretation of a life of faith as taught by Jesus.

In those to whom we are able to look up, and from whom we are able to learn, there are, in reality, as many heroes as there are those of us who need heroes.

We are able to see how their journeys, their challenges, their struggles to live lives of faith as we see their efforts to make change and to engage the next generation of the faithful where they are in their lives.

We are able to see this as far back as the passage from Acts for today. We see this in the work of Luther, and the work of the English Reformation.

We see this today as we struggle to live our lives of faith in the face of a world that may or may not agree that our actions promote the love in and belief in God.

So, when we stand up within and for our lives of faith, we are in excellent company that goes all the way back to Peter and to John, today, and extending forward to the generations that may see each one of us as a potential hero in and for their lives of faith, as well.

Amen.

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Christ is With Us!

Kenora                  3 Easter

Year B

18 April 2021

Acts 3:12-19

Psalm 4

1 John 3:1-7

Luke 24:36b-48

Wounded God, disabled and divine: give us faith to perceive you pierced and embodied, standing hear among us feeding us forgiveness, beautifully broken; through Christ, the suffering servant. Amen.

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We are all familiar with grief, and loss, these days. We know what it’s like to experience loss in general. We know what its like to grieve even if we cannot put a name to what it is we have lost, and we know what it’s like to know what it is we’ve lost.

The sense of loss challenges us.

It changes the way that we see and even interact with the world all around us.

And we recognize that loss is not just losing a loved one, these days. Rather, it’s not being able to have access places that we feel give us a sense of peace.

It’s not being able to be with the family and friends who normally fill our hearts with joy.

And it’s the anxiety and grief of watching the Covid numbers rise, our ICU wards fill, and attempting to navigate the Provincial Covid restrictions that are more meant to give our politicians a good night’s sleep than they are to keep us safe.

So, keeping all of that in mind, we turn to the words from Luke, in today’s gospel.

And today we find that we revisit Easter Sunday, after the women have come back from the empty tomb with the wondrously puzzling news that Christ is risen, that he’s not there.

Rather, he’s right here!

The gospel tells us: “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Lk 24:26b-38)

Now, on some level, we are able to look at this text and we see it in our minds eye. We see it through our own imaginations.

We see the closed and locked door.

We see the drawn curtains, allowing only a little of the bright spring sunlight to peek around the edges.

We see the disciples around the room, each one attempting to wrap their grief-stricken minds around the news that the women have brought back with them from the tomb, from the garden.

And, in our minds eye, looking around the room, we are able to see that these disciples would be able to identify with our sense of loss, with our losses, as we are able to identify with theirs.

We are able to understand the fear that comes with isolation, and with the losses that we have experienced, and continue to experience because of this pandemic.

So, lets look at this from our reality, today, as we remain in our own homes, the doors shut to all who are outside of our social bubbles.

Our curtains are likewise drawn to not lure us out into those public places that our ‘stay at home orders’ and Covid guidelines encourage us to avoid until the world returns to a sense of normalcy, and the virus brought to heel.

And it’s into each of our midst that Jesus comes, today.

We are startled!

We are terrified!

We think we are seeing a ghost, but Jesus’ words don’t change.

Seeing each of our reaction to his sudden appearance, he says, “Peace be with you.” (Lk 24:36b)

He says: “Why are you frightened and why do doubts arise in your hearts? (Lk 24:38)

And with one sentence, one greeting, Jesus has named and acknowledge all of the burdens of our hearts.

These days our hearts are filled with fears.

Our lives are filled with anxiety, and with terror at the unknown that lies before us, and at the restrictions that hem us in on all sides.

But then here is Jesus, and his words bring us peace.

Not the peace of private meditation, but rather he gives us the peace that passes all understanding.

Peace that is a gift of God, a grace and a salve on our hearts and minds, when we allow it to be that balm of love.

At the same time Jesus asks us why our hearts are troubled?

He asks us why do doubts assail our lives, and live in our hearts?

We don’t talk about it much, but our faith is governed by what is called “law and gospel,” and in many cases these are the same words.

When we can accept the words, Jesus’ words, as a blessing our lives, then they are gospel.

But when we cannot untangle our lives from the fears and the sins and the negativity that hem us in on all sides, then we hear God’s promises, Jesus’ teachings and the guidance of the prophets as law, and we receive it as restriction, and as burden.

Today Jesus proclaims, freshly risen from the tomb “Peace be with you,” and we desire to receive it as gospel. (Lk 24:36b)

We desire miracles and reassurance.

We desire that the word brought by the women from the tomb be true, but we aren’t sure, are we?

At the same time, we desire to hear of the end of this pandemic and a return to some of the more normal patterns in our lives, and yet on such a score we are still sadly disappointed.

We desire to absorb the love and the grace found in Jesus’ words, yet we stare at him, appearing in our midst, behind locked doors, and we rationally think we’re looking at a ghost.

We want the love and the grace of God, found in the women’s proclamation, in Jesus’ words, and in his sudden appearance in our midst and yet, thinking him a ghost, we look for the feet beneath the sheet, and our hearts sink within us as we all allow the doubts and the fears to dominate our hearts and minds.

We allow rationality to take over what our hearts long to embrace.

We desire the grace, we long for the sense of love and grace that only comes from God, but we invite the law into our lives as we acknowledge that, normally, once someone has died, they’re only able to live on in our memory and in our hearts.

But today, Jesus “said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.” (Lk 24:36b-43)

But Jesus still stands in our midst and he offers the love and the grace of the gospel.

For proof, he offers us his hands and his side; he asks us for something to eat.

At each turn, Jesus urges us away from the rationality of the law, from the law-based aspect of his sudden appearance, at the irrationality of the resurrection, and toward the love and grace of God.

We are encouraged toward the grace of his words, we are urged toward the gospel, the good news of the fact that the power of the grave is broken and that it’s though that broken grave that we are able to receive the love of God, the promise of Christ, and the presence of Jesus in our lives, forevermore.

At each turn we desire to receive the love the grace, the peace of Christ into our lives, into each of our hearts. But we need to choose to believe that our eyes to not deceive, and that Jesus stands before us.

We desire to open our hearts, our minds, and to allow the love of God, the joy of the situation to overcome the fears, the doubts that assail us so that we are able to walk in the warm sunshine with Jesus at our side.

But these losses nag at our hearts, and our minds. They pull us away from long attention spans, and they tell us that it’s all irrational, the measures put in place to, once more attempt to curb the pandemic that still dominates our society, a year later.

Yes, we live in a sense of loss, but the love of God, the promises of Christ and the peace of Jesus stand before us, and are able to give us peace, and we know this because Jesus very first words to us, who love him are “Peace be with you!” (Lk 24:36b)

Because this loss, this pandemic, these restrictions, will not last forever, and when we fill our lives with the peace of Christ, we can lift up those around us, and walk together in the light of God’s love, every day. Amen.

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Christ is Risen! Alleluia!!

Kenora                  Easter Sunday

Year B

4 April 2021

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Acts 10:34-43

Mark 16:1-8

Love divine, in raising Christ to new life you open the path of salvation to all peoples. Send us out with the joy of Mary Magdalene to proclaim that we have seen the Lord, so that all the world may celebrate with you the banquet of your peace. Amen.

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Today is the most amazing day of the Christian calendar, but I’m not telling you anything new.

Today, the women who go to the tomb become our first proclaimers of the resurrection.

Today we see Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb to properly clean and prepare Jesus body for burial, only to discover that this task isn’t needed because Jesus isn’t there.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” (Mk 16:5-6)

But this doesn’t mean that today’s text is ‘normal’ in any way. Rather we see the full gamut, the full spectrum of human emotion as well as the fact that these three women are commissioned to be the bearers of the news of the resurrection, the Gospel, the Good News.

The day begins with mourning and sadness, as they go to the tomb. These women watched, on Friday, as Jesus died on the cross.

They watched as Jesus was laid in the tomb without the proper preparations for burial, and they made plans to return, today to do what couldn’t be done on Friday.

And, so, today they return to the tomb to perform the last loving acts for our Lord and Saviour, only to discover the stone is rolled away, and Jesus isn’t there.

Rather they encounter the young man dressed all in white.

So, now, we see these emotionally drained, grieving women are confused. Things aren’t as they expected and to add to the confusion, is the revelation, and the message the young man gives to them, to proclaim to Jesus’ followers.  

The heart of today’s message is here, in the words of the young man: Look, See, Go, and Tell.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mk 16:6-7)

In one fell swoop, they’ve gone from grieving women out to fulfill a woman’s role to prepare a loved one for their eternal rest, to women commissioned by their witness of Jesus’ resurrection as they’re asked to carry this news out into the world.

And this is frightening!

Those of us called to Ordained Ministry, to Holy Orders we do this by discerning where and how we are called to serve, and our preparation for such roles then follows from that discernment.

But such discernment isn’t just for the clergy in our lives, rather it’s a level of discernment that all Christians need to embrace, and in which we participate to discover if such a path is for each of us, and a path that possibly we’ve not considered before.

And the path to fulfill such a call is often as unique as those of us who are called to fill these roles. But for the two Mary’s and Salome, their path to this life of proclamations has been different.

For these ladies, in the past three years, they’ve heard Jesus’ teaching, and they’ve seen his healing of all who come to Jesus, from the sidelines, from the point of view of those ministering to Jesus, and to the apostles.

But that doesn’t mean they’re unprepared.

Rather it means that this path that they’re being asked to walk is unexpected to them, but not to God.

It means that when Paul tells us: “28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) we’re living this out to the world when we listen to where the Holy Spirit leads, and bravely step into the paths that are laid before us.

And we see that lived out here, today, in the vacant tomb.

We see that lived out in the unexpected acknowledgement of the role the women play in spreading the greatest news; the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

“They saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mk 16:5b-7)

But saying that doesn’t mean that they’re prepared for this sudden shift to centre stage in their lives.

The gospel tells us that “8 they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mk 16:8)

And, having read this, we also know that, at some point not too long after this encounter in the tomb, they do proclaim the risen Christ.

We know that they do proclaim that Christ has gone before them to Galilee because the gospel tells us this, and yet the honest, raw emotion of the ladies’ experience in the unexpected turn of events, today, is here.

So, then, how are we able to live into this text in each of our own lives?

What does this look like from our perspective, when we stand in the door of the tomb, and hear the words of the resurrection, yet are asked to share that good news?

What does it look like when we, in the tasks of our lives, find ourselves called to share the glory of God, the love of Christ, the miracle of the resurrection?

How do we feel?

How does such a task to proclaim our faith to those most in need of our witness, our words affect the next steps in our lives?

The women find themselves confronted with the commands to Look, See, Go, and Tell, and they’re initially overwhelmed. But we know they did go and tell what they saw, heard, discovered and were told, or the gospel would have ended with Jesus’ burial on Good Friday.

And what if we find ourselves called to live that message throughout every facet of our lives?

We at St. Alban’s, in Kenora, are blessed in our worship and ministry leadership, both lay and ordained, past and present.

And I’m sure, that, if asked, all of our clergy and our lay leadership would gladly tell of how they heard these same words from the angel messenger, this call to their roles of leadership, to Look, See, Go, and Tell and how it’s changed and continues to change our lives.

But it’s not just the clergy, and the acknowledged lay leadership, who are called and who need to discover how we are called to be here, today, in the life of St. Alban’s. And this brings the question back to each one of us.

We stand in the doorway of the tomb, hewn in stone.

We’re the ones who are already amazed that the stone has been rolled back, and we’re flabbergasted as the messenger invites us into the tomb to see where Jesus had lain.

But now comes the challenge.

Now comes the next step, and how we deal with that is up to each one of us.

We, each one of us are sent out.

We’re sent to tell those we love, those we care about, those we know and those we meet that Christ died on Friday, but that today God raised him from the dead, to break the bonds that have, up to this point, been a barrier between each of our lives and hearts and God’s love, whether we were aware of it or not.

And the question we face is how, and in what capacity, are we called by God, commissioned by the messenger, to spread this message?

How will we share this revelation to the corners of our lives, our communities, our world?

Not just because it’s Easter, but because this is what we are Called to do, always.

Amen.

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