This Covenant of Love

Posted: February 17, 2018 in Language of Exploration

Lent 1

Covenant. It is sometimes called a contract, an agreement, an undertaking, a guarantee, a warrant, a pledge, a promise, a bond, an indenture; it is a pact, a deal a settlement, an arrangement, an understanding. We have more synonyms in the English language for something, it seems to me, we seem less and less capable of upholding.


The term “covenant” comes from the Latin con venire, meaning a coming together. Two or more parties come together to make a contract, to agree on shared promises, stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities. In political situations, it can be translated as treaty; in a social setting, it is the bond of friendship or love.

The biblical words most often translated “covenant” are the Hebrew word berit in the Hebrew scriptures (appearing about 280 times) and the Greek word diatheke in the Christian scriptures (appearing at least 33 times). Berit comes from the simple custom of eating together and describes a bond, two or more parties sharing a commitment, that stretches as far as God’s covenant with the whole of the earth in the rainbow’s story and, as Walter Brueggemann writes, reaches into Christianity in the promises of the eucharist. Diatheke, this word from New Testament Greek, is more likely the word employed in this context and it basically means to order for or require of oneself. It does not depend in any way on the parties of the covenant being of equal stature or power or rank.

The original covenant, between God and Israel, was a covenant that relied on commands and conditions — most notably, on some variation of the Ten Commandments — and throughout Hebrew scriptures we hear the stories of what happens when these commands and conditions are ignored or rejected. But over years, over generations — in two sentences in this sermon — God’s Covenant is realized to be everlasting, unilateral, impossible to be broken by mere disobedience. The Covenant, like any loving relationship, unfolds and becomes clearer. Why? Because Covenant is much more than a legal contract. Covenant can be depended upon, relied upon, trusted. Covenant cannot be reduced to some single, narrow exchange promise. Covenant is rich and plural and relational. It is born of deep trust, fidelity, freely given, never cheap, never mocked. Contract is static. Covenant a living document.

Now let’s go back to that short sentence I inserted at the beginning. Covenant, it seems to me, has become something that we are less and less capable of upholding. In my mind, there is but one commandment governing our lives as we follow the Way. That commandment is to love. And indeed, ‘to love’ can be interpreted in as many ways as there are interpreters! But I think we fool ourselves sometimes by injecting complexity into things that are really quite simple. We are struggling with the basic Covenant of Love that is the foundation of, even the meaning of, the Way.

To love is to engage in right relationship. To engage in right relationship is to live by the tenets of Matthew 25: to welcome, to clothe, to heal, to visit, to feed, to quench thirst. To engage in right relationship is to live according to the Beatitudes of Matthew 5: bless the poor in spirit, comfort those who mourn, lift up the meek, tend to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, love the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers, and serve and protect those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And you, when you stand against those who revile you or persecute you or spread rumours about you simply because you speak truth to injustice, simply because you dare to say I believe in a different Way: you are engaging in right relationship.

The battles of Jesus in the desert are the battles each of us face — some on a daily basis — to remain a person invested in the Covenant of Love. Jesus, in what I think are his moments most human, is tempted by power, by greed, by the easy path, by silence. This week in our nation, on our continent, we have been tempted as well. We have been tempted to remain silent. We have been tempted to refrain from comment. We have been tempted to find compromise, conditional understandings, functional explanations.

#MeToo has made us all uncomfortable as woman after woman outlines sexual abuse and degradation. In the film industry, in politics, in industry: that was awkward. But now it has moved into the church and the very inclination that brought us to this point — the urge to look away — tempts us again.

The collective assigned to review the treatment and neglect of claims about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women continues to reach new lows with families being unheard and friends being dismissed. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has sat for years in our parliamentary system and, even now, even with the disclosure that basic human needs are — I would suggest wilfully — not being met, we are tempted to look to the victims for cause, for responsibility. In this desert-like relationship with Indigenous Peoples, we are tempted to choose an easy path, relinquishing responsibility for treatment delivered in our name, by our representatives.

When the execution of Colten Boushie of Red Pheasant Nation in Saskatchewan resulted in a verdict of not guilty, there were so many responses. How many chose property over life? How many sought justification in the “Indian problem?” How many wondered if Colten was drunk when he was killed…as though that offered a defense? Again, we found ourselves high on a judgment seat, tempted from the outcropping of our collective privilege here in Southern Ontario, here in the middle class, here in the majority.

And then all of our hearts were broken when news of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida became public. All of us were outraged. All of us were sad. All of us had opinions and theories and feelings. Our temptation now was to blame: the NRA, mental health, poor policing, lack of social services.

This is quite a litany, I know. And my reasons for listing these things is not to make you feel guilty or to magnify that feeling of helplessness that we all share. My reasons are simply to have us look directly at the suffering in our world and to ask ourselves — honestly — in what small ways we might be complicit and then in what small ways might we effect change. Should we change our humour, change our judgment, change our words or actions? What is there in our lives, in our thinking, in our hearts, that needs transformation, that calls for repentance, that needs to be infused with the spirit of reconciliation? In the Ash Wednesday liturgy, we are called to a holy lent. What will make this time, this season, holy? My big question for you to consider as we cross the threshold into Lent is this: What keeps you, what prevents you, from being fully present and active in the Covenant of Love that is the Way? What do you need to put down or take up? What prayer do you require? What action must you take? How are you being called to act, to share in cherishing all that the Holy One cherishes?

Thanks be to God.


February 14, 2018                                                                                                                                                                          Ash Wednesday

ashwedI love when the first day of Lent, this time when we gather to mark ourselves with the ashes that remind us of our mortality, begins with the glorious sunshine we had today. I love it because it also reminds us that Lent is not a time when we are dragged into depression or sullenness or disappointment. Somehow in our world we have allowed ourselves to draw a false connection between introspection and sadness, between self-examination and disappointment, between silence and grief. Sunshine reminds us that spending time with our own lovely selves need not be a sad experience…spending time with ourselves and thinking about our relationship with God and with the earth and with each other, is a time of deep connection, a time to remember that we are truly beloved.

Here on this threshold to Lent, we balance between the cold and dark of winter and the promise of coming warmth; we struggle (because it has been so long in the cold and darkness), we struggle but here in community we manage to share in carrying hope for the days ahead. More than any other season of the liturgical year, I think Lent draws us into a landscape that is distinctive for the ways that it intertwines all of the extremes in our lives and calls our attention to the dualisms — those dramatic, opposite pairings — with which our lives are fraught. We know brokenness and beauty; we experience horror while holding hope; we suffer loneliness and isolation even as we draw together in community. On Sunday we see one of the greatest dualisms of Lent in Mark’s gospel, which takes Jesus — and us — into a stark wilderness where evil comes to visit, but where angels do, too.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of what can be a bittersweet season. Ashes are the first sign and symbol of Lent, but they are not the final word. That’s part of the hope we cling to, a hope that the final word is in resurrection, is in the beloved essence of our bodies, our lives, which live forever in God! Today, we will bear this mark of what has been left behind from the burning away, the honing, this reminder of the dust and earth from which the dream of us, of humanity, arose in our Creator’s mind, and to which we will one day return. The dream of us, not the reality of us, originates in the dust. But the real us, the flesh and blood before you, originates in the rich environment of another human, of a woman. We are born from blood and water and, if we are fortunate, love. We are born to walk on the earth, share the breathing of the air, feel the tides ebbing and flowing in our veins. We are born to die, but also to truly live, because (as author Jan Richardson beautifully describes) “even the ash — which comes from burning the Palm Sunday branches from last year — has a memory of its own. Deep within its darkness and dust lies the imprint of green, the memory of life, the awareness of what has gone before and of what may yet be.”

Ash Wednesday propels us into a season that inspires us to remember, deep in our mortal bones, that what God creates and graces and blesses may be beset and broken but never destroyed. What God loves in the world is loved forever. Life finds its way: ancient memory takes hold or ‘kicks in,’ and follows the same path that the ash followed, inscribes itself anew, and beauty — like the phoenix — blazes from the wreck and ruin. “We are treated…as dying,” Paul writes in the Epistles, “and see — we are alive; as punished and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”phoenix

And you: here on this threshold to Lent, amid the ashes, what do you possess? As we enter this season during which our lives are pared down to only that which is absolutely essential and basic and elemental, what do you continue to hold as most important? Or will you turn and lift something anew to treasure? And in your searching, my friends, is there anything you need to allow to become ash, anything that needs to be transformed into something new? And those things that are dying or destroyed, ask yourself and God what new life might yet take hold? What might you discover when the phoenix is freed from the flame?

Will You Meet Us?
A Blessing for Ash Wednesday

by Jan Richardson

Will you meet us
in the ashes,
will you meet us
in the ache
and show your face
within our sorrow
and offer us
your word of grace:

That you are life
within the dying,
that you abide
within the dust,
that you are what
survives the burning,
that you arise
to make us new.

And in our aching,
you are breathing;
and in our weeping,
you are here
within the hands
that bear your blessing,
enfolding us
within your love.



That’s Transfiguration

Posted: February 10, 2018 in Language of Exploration

February 11, 2018

One of my favourite movies is the film Shrek. And it’s not just because I think Eddie Murphy has the greatest voice and never fails to make me laugh. How many of you have seen the movie? It’s a classic kind of fairy tale with ogres and a talking donkey and an evil, plotting king. But deep within the movie, as Fiona the beautiful princess is about to be tricked into marriage with the evil prince (who wants to become the eScreen Shot 2018-02-10 at 9.32.03 PMvil king), Shrek the Ogre appears and humbly pledges his love for Fiona. In response, Fiona abandons the evil prince and, instead, chooses to show Shrek her real self — surprise, she is an ogre too! — and in revealing her true self, the bond of deep love between Shrek and Fiona is sealed. Now that is transfiguration! A revelation, a transformative understanding, an opportunity to see and experience with new eyes.

Transfiguration is one of those church occasions that give us an opportunity to spend some time reflecting on ourselves, rather than engaging in the factual inquisitions so popular in our time. Transfiguration is not a moment for literalism or absolutes. Instead, it is a time to simply immerse yourself in the story of Jesus and the apostles. Think about how scripture tells us the stories. Jesus has whatever experience he has and in turn, the apostles interpret it in the light of their own experience and belief system. They are actually not able to tell us anything about Jesus himself — they cannot climb inside the mind of the Teacher, climb inside the heart of the Rabbi — but they can tell us everything about what happens when they, and subsequently we, are surprised by the holy. And what a surprise this moment of transformation must have been.

We know that the apostles saw their historic heroes — great Hebrew figures like Moses and Elijah, the leader and the prophet respectively — we know they saw them in the person of Jesus. And when they have this vision of them together, they are moved to want to honour the sacred space of the transfiguration with a monument to mark the occasion. We like monuments too, don’t we! But no. That would never do. In monuments things become static. Moses had been commissioned by a sacred fire in the wilderness; Elijah had received the divine in a whirlwind. Both were people who spoke directly to God, both encountered holiness through natural phenomena, and both continue to hold great places in the memory of Israel. It is not surprising that, as the relationship the apostles shared with Jesus deepened in friendship and in love that they began to see Jesus in a new way, they began to relate his witness to the stories and teachings of Moses and Elijah. In Jesus, they had found a leader and a teacher, a person close to the divine, a prophet, and maybe — just maybe —the promised messiah.

If we choose to think about Jesus as the living word of God, then we remember that the Word is the same in every era. The Word does not change. It is we who change. Think about that — it’s something you will notice, for example, as you return to places you experienced as a child and realize how different they seem now. The people to whom we feel the closest may seem to change too. The parent, once so omniscient, becomes fallible; the strong partner experiences loss or fear. The baby we held when they were so wee and vulnerable, now goes off on new and sometimes terrifying adventures. The Word does not change. We change.

And that means that the real relevance of this story of the transfiguration lies not in who Jesus is or was to those disciples, but who Jesus is for each one of us, now. The truth that was in Jesus remains the same, but we approach it from a different perspective. We, as the church, proclaim the hope that we find in the life and person of Jesus, but that hope is rich and vibrant, not monochrome. That hope is a tapestry of colour and varying weave; ever unfolding and eternal, never complete. And even when we return to points on the map of our faith, our love, we see these creative points differently. We read meaning and significance into the present and we re-infuse faith and hope into the imagination and scholarship of the past. Again, the Word — the living of the Way — does not change. We change. That’s transfiguration.

May the light of the Holy One shine through us now, revealing the glimpse of infinite beauty revealed in and to Jesus. May we see in each other the possibility of the divine presence calling us in joy and peace, calling us to change and growth and learning and loving. May we allow ourselves to be delighted and surprised by the unending variety of the expressions of God.

Thanks be to God.

Refining Fires

Posted: February 4, 2018 in Language of Exploration

Candlemas, Purification of Mary, Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Imbolc

The Nunc Dimittis
Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared
before the face of all people.
To be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

I think these are some of the most beautiful and promise-filled words of scripture. First to be promised a vision of holiness and second, to receive it! This is a song of a dream fulfilled. But today is about even more…if you can imagine!

Today is the last day of Epiphany. So the Christmas decorations must finally disappear…no worries if it happens today because that just means you and the Queen share the observation that Christmas does not completely disappear until Candlemas. That’s one name for today’s celebrations. Candlemas. (And, as we mark Candlemas we will later bless the candles for the upcoming year and we will bless a candle to carry the light of this community and of this Epiphany into each of your homes.) But it’s also the day we remember the Purification of Mary, a Jewish ritual required following childbirth. And, it’s the day we remember Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple, normally done 40 days after the birth of a firstborn son. Both of these rituals secure Jesus’ place in the history of Judaism because, remember what we’ve talked about the last few weeks, Jesus was a part of a faithful Jewish family!

Today’s other celebration is the celtic festival of Imbolc, the midpoint between the Winter solstice and the Spring equinox. Imbolc, Irish for “in the belly,” is a feast of potentialities: it marks the first milking of ewes and the nascent or budding Spring, along with the lengthening of days and the gradual warming of the earth. It is an occasion for spring-cleaning — especially the hearths — and, as any gardener knows, it’s a time to begin cleaning up dead growth before the new shoots emerge.

And the liturgical colours of these days are vibrant: the golds and whites of the Purification and Presentation; for Candlemas, the vestments in procession were in dark purple to signify our readiness for penitence and changed to white for the celebration of the Eucharist; the colours of Imbolc are the springtime and earthy array of white, pink, red, yellow, light green, and brown. By this time next week, the altar will be alive with all of these colours as we celebrate Carnivale or Mardi Gras in our last festive act (aside from pancakes and maple syrup) before we enter Lent.

These days are a busy time of looking forward and looking back. Perched here at the cusp between the birth and the passion of Jesus, we both anticipate and celebrate the coming of the Light. Like Simeon, with the new baby in our loving arms, we enjoy a bit of peace at this junction. Like the woman at the empty tomb, the woman first to see the resurrected Jesus, we can join the cry, “I have seen the Lord.”

It’s all there in our sacred story, today, isn’t it? We celebrate the Light in fire’s refining. We celebrate the Light in the great song of integrity that is Psalm 84. We celebrate the Light in the truth that Jesus was painfully human, like us, flesh and blood, mortal, a brother, so very human in his experience of suffering.

But the readings today also contain a warning, a warning that the Light of Love, in its act of refining, opens us up to scrutiny. The process of refining can be growth and change, but sometimes that growth and change comes because we are brought to a place of hard choices, of uncomfortable vulnerability, even unpopular or difficult changes. Today in the gospel, the Light that enters our hearts and lives comes for “the rise and fall of many in Israel.” In other words, the Light comes for all, but those who keep the power will be required to give more, and those who speak truth to power will be blessed. Luke promised in the words of Mary’s song, remember the Magnificat, that the poor would rise to healing and shalom or peace, while the rich would be sent away empty. You see, the Light really is a troublemaker. It will “reveal the inner thoughts of many a heart.” It will expose deep secrets and it will blaze into the darkest corners and uncover all that is hidden, and unearth all that is buried. It is indeed a two-edged sword, God´s Word made human. By Holiness alone are we truly known.

So Luke stresses that we cannot enjoy the light and warmth of Christ without also welcoming the purification that it brings, the refining, the cleansing of our inner clutter. And what does that mean? It’s a clearing of insecurity, a clarifying of lack of focus, even an end to deceitfulness. This inner Imbolc, this inner spring-cleaning, this inside-our-hearts kind of work, has to be undertaken (and the coming Lent will give us the opportunity) in order for the Light to do its work within us and within our communities.

Our call now is to demonstrate our embracing of the Way by exploring, by recognizing, how we treat the most vulnerable among us: the orphan, the widow, the refugee. We are called to treat the poor with equity, to give justice to the vulnerable, to deliver the needy when they cry, to walk with the poor one who knows no aid. We must open our hearts to the helpless and needy and save the lives of our sisters and brothers who have stumbled into difficult times. There is no question that to be Light-bearers is no easy task! How many of our governments would pass this stringent test? How many of our governments or community leaders could answer proudly the question, “How did you deal with the poor?” For that matter, how might we answer the question? How have we lived the beatitudes? How have we been witness to the great commandment of love?

That’s what we will explore throughout Lent, but it’s also something we can do each day. Take inventory of how we, daily, live the Way; examine honestly how we, daily, are Light-bearers. Take stock of how we, daily, love and are loved.

In our life with and in the Light, our hearts point to and name those shoots of justice and peace already emerging in our neighbourhood. Our community suppers. Our weekly lunches. Our gifts of food and socks and blankets and time and money; and, how we share this property and the bounties of our collective life. There is sometimes an ache, even a pain, to be found in our own refining fires. But ultimately, the refining fires of justice and peace turn our lives and our hearts towards holiness, towards God, towards love, towards community. And we are compelled to love in return, to serve, to be Jesus’ brother or sister, to be Jesus’ hands and feet, to simply be the grace of God alive and present to even one other soul. Indeed, we will be turned inside out when we live in the Light, refined by the fires of God’s deep and abiding love for each one of us.

Thanks be to God.



Sermon at the Induction of Rev’d Ann Turner
by The Rev’d Canon Trudy Lebans
January 28, 2018

In the Anglican Church of Canada, of which I am a part, we celebrate when a priest becomes the new Rector of a parish. January 28th was the day I celebrated with my community of St. James in Fergus, Ontario. My partner, Trudy, was the preacher (thus the tidbits of information about me that she shared!). It was a truly joy-filled day. I share this sermon not only to share the celebration but to offer you Trudy’s excellent reflections on ministry together. I hope you enjoy the read!

What a special day for all of you! Affirming what seems to have been true almost from when you first met each other, that Ann would be your rector. I had to get out of the way swiftly before the current carried me off! But I know you want to hear some juicy details about Ann. Well, here it is: her background is Irish so a good tragic song, or a country song, can make her cry. She is a vegetarian, that is, she thinks it is wrong to eat vegetables who have harmed no one. She can sing but she can’t dance. She has a soft heart until you  push too hard and then you will see the less sentimental side of the Irish appear. Is that enough?

I want to speak this afternoon about ministry, not surprisingly, and how that is shared in a congregation. As priests, our vocation calls us to help uncover the holy in the mundane, in the places where sometimes no one has looked; and sometimes in the human heart that yearns for the holy, but is afraid to find it. Our vocation calls us to stretch out open hands, break open our own hearts so that we can model the healing power of God in all aspects of our lives. And we realize that vocation in the community of the faithful, who keep us going when we are weary and keep us from taking ourselves too seriously. Together we are called to continue and extend the peace making mission of Christ in the world.

For those of us who spend time within these walls, we gather to remember the stories of hope and we use music and ritual to enhance our experience of faith. The act of worship at its best unites hearts and minds, souls and bodies. It reminds us that these lives are holy, both in the body and in the spirit.

This place and these rituals are not how Jesus drew people to a vision of how life could be, however.  I think that the church in our time needs people who are not afraid to talk about how the teaching of Jesus shows us how to reach out across barriers, how to be the good news about life, about the power of joy, of hope, of new life. Some of these people we encounter will become disciples through their work in the community or through their visions as artists. Some will become Sunday people and some will participate with us in other less traditional ways.

The mission of Jesus cannot survive inside these walls exclusively. Faith has to be lived on the street, in the coffee shops, in the pubs, at the concerts, in the sports arena. Faith is most particularly about how we intersect with others as individuals and as a community. Instead of worrying about how many people are in church, (although that is a good thing!), perhaps we need to be asking ourselves how we advocate for justice for the least popular, the least advantaged in our community. Perhaps we need to think about how we can help heal the wounds made by Christianity itself.

In Ann, you have a skilled animator and interpreter of faith, and she will help you dream and imagine and bring those hopes to fruition. It will take all of you, though because while you have a talented priest, she is only one person, You, however, are a community of activists, unafraid of change, open to the promptings of the Spirit, ready for the ever new day.

When you and Ann covenant together in a little while, please remember that this is a sacred trust that has been given to all of you. You are the hands and feet, the body of Jesus in this place. Outsiders cannot know the mercy and love of Christ except through you.  Although called to different ministries within the church, together we are all priest and friend; we represent the household of faith, called by Jesus, united in the Spirit, God’s holy creation. Today, you open a new chapter. May the Spirit blow through this place with creativity, passion, and the deep love that is the heart of the universe.

It’s in the Practice

Posted: January 28, 2018 in Language of Exploration

Deuteronomy 19:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. …You only need a heart full of grace.”

Albert Einstein shared this idea: “[We] would indeed be in a poor way if [people] had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”

Mother Teresa lived a life of public faith and action. These are her words: “I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do. I used to pray for answers, but now I’m praying for strength. I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.”

And finally, from that great prophet, Anonymous: “Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behaviour does.”

Now just let these quotes stir around in the back of you mind. These are the words of people who choose action.

Seeing as it is still the season of Epiphany, I want talk about a few moments of revelation that I have personally encountered in my own walk of faith. I want us to think together today about how, when one pays attention in life, there are more “aha” moments that present themselves than not! I want to talk about surprise and delight and the joy of a new idea that motivates us and challenges us and provides a certain momentum to drive us forward.

practicing faith
I can see I’ve peaked your curiosity. Just what is she going to talk about now? Well…here is the question for today. What if Christianity was less of a belief system and more of a practice? There is solid precedent for this kind of thinking. Even after declaring themselves atheists, some of our Jewish brothers and sisters continue to practice the commandments of Judaism. The mitzvot are more than simply good deeds — feeding the poor, acting kindly to the stranger — and are instead understood by Torah scholars to be the 613 guidelines (if we are counting only historical mitzvot) to living well in the world. Other thinkers have endeavoured to prove that the mitzvot are all completely rational, logical actions that any moral and ethical people would welcome. Still others claim that the commandments actually improve us as human beings, refining us as upright and just people, or that doing God’s commandments actually has a cosmic effect upon the spiritual fabric of all creation.

One of the things we forget when we get to thinking about Christianity is that Jesus would not have been horribly invested in starting a brand new religion. What scripture shows us over and over is that Jesus was committed to re-forming and renewing the practice of Judaism. I think Jesus had no interest in creating another set of ritual practices or a theology or even some kind of new morality. What Jesus offered was the idea of deep, intentional relationship that had nothing to do with moral behaviour or even belief.

In Paul’s great conversion, he comes to understand that this re-forming and renewing also means that the Jesus teachings might be worthwhile and life-changing for people outside of Judaism: people like the gentiles. So, as we hear in Corinthians today, Paul starts to sort out what the practice might look like. It is in the writings of Paul, I believe, that we start to recognize that the real faith, the real living of the faith, is in the practice itself.

Goodness knows, I love the liturgy, the music, the prayers. I resonate with ideas of reconciliation and forgiveness and witness. I believe that I am called to join in public and community worship, even to lead it now and again J! I love our rituals and the possibility of the mystical wonder of life that interrupts the mundane. I just don’t think that that has much to do with faith that is Christ-centred.

The faith that is Christ-centred has a sense of holiness, whole-in-us, found in the parameters of right relationship. I think Jesus has very little interest in people’s worthiness, but a lot of interest in how we yearn to be whole, in our willingness to reach out and to trust in the power of relationship to change us. The stories are there for the reading and the consideration.

About Jesus, the elders remark, “Is this a new teaching?” Well, yes and no. In the Genesis story, we read about God in relationship with creation. In the stories of the prophets, God speaks about what is possible in relationship with one another. Yet despite all of this talk of practice, somehow over time the Divine became entombed in codes and rituals, remembered history, rules and commandments, a set of mutual expectations meaning “if you do this for me, I’ll do it for you.” Quid pro quo or something for something.

But that was never Jesus’ measure. Jesus does not deal with institutional or moralistic piety. He says to get on with whatever you believe to be good and right. Look at your brother beside you. Behold your sister before you. You know what action is required. You know what blessing you might offer. You know, in your bones, what is right in a particular time and place and circumstance. What action must you share? What gift do you have with which to acknowledge and heal and transform? You see, whatever belief you subscribe to perhaps feeds your own heart and soul, but it is in your action that this belief is vibrant and alive and a testimony to the Way of Jesus. You know because Jesus did it before you. You know because Jesus lived it before you. And our call is to be as Christ in the world.

What would it really look for us to insist that relationship is the highest calling? What would it look like to insist that living the Way is about being in concert as friends — and Jesus held friendship in the highest of regard — what would it mean if holy friendship is the defining characteristic of the faithful life? It would mean that we would have to discover each other, not as cardboard figures of our own creation, but with humility and a willingness to put our assumptions aside to see the very real and vulnerable being before us.

The Christian Way is not a moral code, not a doctrine, not a prescribed set of legalistic rituals. It is instead a people in community doing what we need to do to realize the holiness in one another and in our world. After all, the great commandment is quite simply to love. My friends, let us love one another. And by our love, our faith is strengthened, our beliefs are made known, and a little bit of God’s kingdom comes alive in our midst.

Thanks be to God!

Invited to Go Beyond* 

Posted: January 20, 2018 in Language of Exploration

* A sermon written in conversation with Rev. Canon Trudy Lebans (

The best description of the irresistible call of Jesus is eloquently characterized by theologian Dorothee Söelle in her poem “not without you.”

he needs you
that’s all there is to it
without you he’s left hanging
goes up in dachau’s smoke
is sugar and spice in the baker’s hands
gets revalued in the next stock market crash
he’s consumed and blown away
used up
without you

help him
that’s what faith is
he can’t bring it about
his kingdom
couldn’t then couldn’t later can’t now
not at any rate without you
and that is his irresistible appeal

This is what today is about! Jesus’ irresistible appeal: an appeal that brings Elias and his family back into our community for baptism; an appeal that brought a few of us into Hamilton yesterday to make a ministry presentation; an appeal that has made my heart open wide with the responsibilities of being your priest and pastor; an appeal that fuels our energy for community lunches and dinners, for food drives, for collecting socks, and for sharing our time volunteering with those who struggle or are lonely or maybe just needing help to find ways to get by.

Think about it. What made Simon and Andrew, James and John follow him? What made these very different people leave behind work and family to follow a relatively unknown itinerant preacher? I don’t think we will ever really know but I do think we might find a way to understand when we pause and ask ourselves why we are here today. What yearning in our souls drew us away from our warm covers this morning? From our interesting book, a second cup of coffee, our devices, email, facebook? What is here that calls us from our comfort?

The companion question to wondering what draws us here is to wonder to what call Jesus responds? I think it is the call from a people: an alienated, disconnected, people who are suffering and who have lost hope for a better future. Jesus shapes his call as he walks the roads of Palestine, healing and challenging, teaching and practising compassion. He himself learns as he goes and sees that this road that he has chosen will inevitably lead to a confrontation with the powers in charge of these people for whom he so deeply cares.

And for one more perspective on this subject, let’s think about the call itself? We’ve talked about call for a few weeks now. We’ve talked about being open and choosing to act. It’s heart work and sometimes, hard work. But I am not sure that there is any such thing as an exterior call. Let me unpack that a bit. I’m not convinced that the Holy One singles anyone out for any one special purpose. I heard someone say once that God had made them choose the path they chose…that they did not want to become the person they had become…not a bad person, actually, but a clergy person. And it made me pause because to me, this sounded a bit like a bully! I don’t think God is a bully. I don’t think God forces God’s self or agenda upon us! I do think when we open our hearts to God, when we choose to live the Way that Jesus modeled, when we think and care as community…it is not about anything exterior but about God-within. The incarnation. It was his own heart that Jonah refused to listen to and thus got himself into not a little bit of trouble. On the other hand, it is a prayerful commitment when the psalmist sings, “For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him.”

I think it really is about the incarnation — the abiding spirit of God — that calls through our humanity, through our psychology, through our lived experience, even through our relationships.

For Christians this guiding Love within finds shape in following the Way of Christ. In our hearts, there is an unfulfilled longing that sends tendrils out into the world and for those of us here, those of us who choose the Way, those tendrils connect us intimately with Jesus. But that is just the beginning. Like Jesus, we are presented with choices at every branch in the road. The choices invite us to choose compassion or hate, to choose indifference or connection, to choose commitment or apathy. We are free agents able to ignore the pulling of our hearts, the deep questions of our minds, the teaching in our relationships.

The touchstone for us around our choices is of course our baptismal covenant, which for many of us must be re-thought and re-chosen from time to time. It is the map that tells us how close we are to Gethsemane, how near the cross, how willing we are not only to love Jesus, but to make the same choices, to make “Jesus” choices.

The call that Christians hear begins within our hearts. For that call to be fully realized, however, we must also hear the cry of the poor. We must also hear the invitation to stand in solidarity with those who suffer. We must hear the summons to move from judgement to compassion.

In his book Days of Awe and Wonder, Marcus Borg invites us to go beyond the simple stirrings in our minds and hearts and to allow ourselves to be reborn in the Spirit of God.

“We are invited to go beyond the minds that we have to minds and hearts that are shaped by the Spirit of God. We are invited to go beyond the minds that we have — minds dominated and blinded by conventional categories, identities, preoccupations — to minds and hearts centred in the Spirit, alive to wonder, alive to seeing, and alive to compassion. We are invited to go beyond the minds that we have — minds dominated by the ideologies and preoccupations of individualism — to minds and hearts that see and hear the suffering caused by systemic injustice, minds alive to God’s passion for justice.”

Thanks be to God.