Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hanging Out with Some Calendar Girls: today's By The Way column for The Medicine Hat News

Jesus was pretty pointed when he talked about the importance of visiting the sick and helping those who suffer. Sick and suffering people matter to Jesus. So as a parish priest I spent a fair amount of time visiting and praying at the bedsides of people who were sick. Many of them suffered from cancer so when director Kate Leeming of Medicine Hat’s charitable theatre group Playing It Forward messaged me asking if I’d like to join the cast of “Calendar Girls,” Tim Firth’s stage play version of the 2003 film of the same name, I said yes. I had enjoyed the film and I liked that all profits are to go to the Margery E. Yuill Cancer Centre here in Medicine Hat. 
I’m playing the small part of Rod, the husband of one of the women who were members of a Yorkshire Women’s Institute. In 1999, after the death of one of their husbands from leukemia, these courageous women made the controversial decision to raise money for a new sofa in their local cancer centre by means of a nude (“not naked”) calendar. So far their provocative and unconventional fundraising initiative has raised more than £3 million for cancer research.
Why not a regular calendar featuring picturesque churches or views of the countryside in the area? I believe it was an attempt to raise the matter of cancer above the routine. So is this production. Cancer is so common today that it is all too easy to succumb to cancer-campaign fatigue. 
The Calendar Girls give us all a bit of a jolt. Eyes widen in surprise. Memories rise up in the tears and laughter. Life and suffering and death come to us hard. Respectability and propriety get stripped away. We find ourselves having to come to terms with bare facts in the lives, suffering and struggling of real people. 
I see joining the cast of courageous Medicine Hat women in “Calendar Girls” as a small way of contributing to the blessing of those who continue the struggle with cancer. Coming to see us (and buying one of the Medicine Hat Calendar Girls calendars) would be a good way for you to contribute to the blessing, too. 
The final two performances are this evening at 7:30 and Sunday, at 2 p.m. in Medicine Hat High School’s Karen Cunningham (one of the Calendar Girls in this production) Performing Arts Centre. 
Tickets (if there are any left) can be purchased at

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Following Directions: a Short Funeral Sermon with Reference to Ecclesiastes 3.1-8 and John 14.1-6—for Rita Yolanda (Castelani) Todd

There is a time for everything,

a season for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve…(Ecc 3.1,2 & 4)
Jesus had first hand experience of death and grief during his short life under heaven. He wept over his friend Lazarus when he died (John 11.35). He wept over the coming destruction and suffering for Jerusalem (Lk 19.41). He comforted Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha. He also comforted his disciples with the words we just heard in the reading from John's gospel because he knew they, too, would soon be in mourning over his death. "Don't be troubled," He said to them (and to us). "You trust God, now trust in me."

Even when we're celebrating a life like Rita's, who loved and enjoyed life, as Mickey wrote, lived to a good old age (Gen 15.15) and died full of years (Gen 25.8), there's still a sense of loss and sadness. And occasions like this bring us, who are still living out our times and seasons under heaven (Ecc 3.1), face to face with the great mystery of death and life. You've heard all the questions and have probably asked them yourselves. Why is there suffering and evil? Why are some lives so short and others so long? Why to bad things happen to good people?And on and on. All Rita's questions about those mysteries will have now been answered, but what about us? What is there to help us who are still busily tearing down and building up, crying, laughing, grieving, dancing, loving and hating and living through the list we heard about in Ecclesiastes? Do we just have to accept that we all have our time to be born, that we go through the list of seasons and activities we've been assigned and then we die? Or, is there more?

That's what Jesus is saying. There is more and it's good. Don't worry about it. Just trust. Trust in God and trust in me, he says. Especially in the hard times and seasons, even when they don't seem to make any sense, because I've looked after it for you. I've been through it all and gone on ahead to prepare a place for you that is so over-the-top delightful and good that everything you've ever experienced, no matter how good or bad, painful or pleasurable, pales in comparison. You can't earn it, or do good enough to deserve it, all you can do is believe in me and what I say, and one day, when everything is ready, I will come and get you so you will always be with me where I am (John 14.3) with your own room in my Father's heavenly home. Some of you, like Thomas, may not know the way to the place Jesus describes. Some of you may have forgotten and need to be reminded of the directions. Some of us are men, who are reluctant to ever ask for directions even when we totally lost. Notice Thomas didn't ask for directions either. But Jesus gave them to him (and us) anyway.

"I am," he said. I am The Way, follow my example. I am The Truth. Learn about that truth in the Scriptures. Rita's grandmother was right when she told them "everything you want to know or do can be found in that book!" I am The Life. My heart now beats in my body on earth, the Church. Become a part of it so your heart will come to beat in time with mine. The Church is where my truth is taught and where you learn to live your lives in The Way I teach.

Enjoy your life like Rita did! Live it to the hilt! But what Jesus wants us to know is that the best, most satisfying, safest, most secure, most joyful way to live our times and seasons under heaven is follow the directions given by Jesus.


Friday, 10 March 2017

Heavenly Light: a Short Funeral Sermon with Refence to Romans 8.26-28; 15.13 and 2 Cor 1.3-4—for Mary Simpson Dudley

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world." (John 8.12) Jesus is the Heavenly Light Mary wrote about in the poem Erin read to us earlier. Jesus is
the Heavenly light
that surrounds us day and night
A gift from above that will never
be gone from our sight
…provided we keep our eyes open for him.
And whether it warms your heart and
brightens your day
or simply lights your path to help
you find your way
He promised to be there during even the
darkest hours
And now a special Heavenly light
will be forever yours
The Holy Spirit Paul wrote about in the reading we heard from Romans is the one the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ sent to be with us after Jesus was crucified, died, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Jesus called the Holy Spirit, The Comforter or Helper (John 14.16). The Holy Spirit is The One who now helps us in our weakness at times like this when we're grieving and, as Mary wrote in her poem, "during even the darkest hours" in our lives. He is The One who prays for us with groanings too deep for words (Ro 8.26) and who pleads for those who believe in Jesus "in harmony with God's own will" (Ro 8.27)—in harmony with "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" who "is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort," who "comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others." So, "When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us." (2 Cor 1.3-4) just so, we're here to comfort one another.

Not only is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the source of all comfort, he is also the source of the kind of hope that overflows with confidence and is able to fill you and me "completely with joy and peace" when we trust in him, because even in those darkest hours Mary wrote about in her poem, even when someone we love dies too soon and it feels like we'll never get over it, Jesus promised he would never leave us or forsake us (Heb 13.5), that his Father causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to his purpose for them (Ro 8.28)—even things like this. Because, as Charlie sang in Morningtown Ride earlier:
Somewhere there is sunshine
Somewhere there is day
Somewhere there is Morningtown
Many miles away
And there we will find Jesus, source of Heavenly Light, the Resurrection and the Life, gone ahead to prepare rooms in his Father's heavenly home for those of us who want one (John 14.1-3). Where Jesus is, death cannot prevail. Where Jesus is we "won’t have to walk in darkness, because we will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8.12) Everlasting life.

Mary knew that. I know that she hopes we all do, too.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Praying the Ember Day Collects and More

The Anglican Collects, or prayers of the day, are very helpful in giving shape and focus to our prayers. They can take us out of ourselves and too much emphasis on our own desires. They can also provided the perfect words when we're struggling with what exactly we want to say. They can express and articulate those sighs which have been too deep for words (Ro 8.26). The Ember Day Collects are no exception. 

Here are some Collects to pray on these Lenten Ember Days—today, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday—if you're feeling called to join ARM Canada in our Ember Days of fasting and prayer for our Church. Pray them however you feel led—slowly, silently, out loud, over and over, morning, noon, evening and night—with the Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod 2019 and the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ in mind.  

First, to prepare our souls for Ember Day prayer, the Collect for Ash Wednesday, which, according to The Book of Common Prayer  "is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the day until Holy Week."
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. (BCP, p138)

Then, the Ember Day Collect "To be used at times of prayer for the whole ministry of the Church": 
ALMIGHTY God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed divers Orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all those who are to be called to any office and administration in the same; and so replenish them with the truth of thy doctrine, and endue them with innocency of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name, and to the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

…may it be so, indeed, for all in the Anglican Church of Canada who lead us and will be members of General Synod 2019. 

Pray the Ember Day Collect in The Book of Alternative Services: 
Almighty God, by your grace alone we are accepted and called to your service. Strengthen us by your Holy Spirit and make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. (p395)

In addition, we have the Collects for the First Sunday in Lent, which are usually prayed through the following week: 
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. (BCP, p140)  
Almighty God,
whose Son fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are but did not sin,
give us grace to discipline ourselves
in submission to your Spirit,
that as you know our weakness,
so we may know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.  (BAS, p286)

Monday, 6 March 2017

The Holy Spirit in the Prayer Books: Part 6—The Benedictus

Luke's Gospel is especially rich with references to the Holy Spirit particularly in the story of the miraculous events leading to Jesus' birth. The very first one is about John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even born (Lk 1.15). The second is about another baby. The angel Gabriel tells the young woman, Mary, that she was about to be miraculously pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1.35). The third is to do with John's mother, Elizabeth, also miraculously pregnant, but in her old age and filled with the Holy Spirit, as she greeted Mary, the mother of Jesus, after Spirit-filled as yet unborn John leaped in her womb (Lk 1.41). The fourth reference is to John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, also filled with the Holy Spirit (Lk 1.67) who prompts him to prophesy over his newborn son. 

Prophecy is one of the charismatic, manifestation Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12.10) and the higher, spiritual Gift which, according to Paul, ought to be "earnestly" and "especially" desired (1 Cor 12.31, 14.1, 39). Zechariah' inspired utterance is now known as the Benedictus (Benedictus, is simply the first word of the passage, "Blessed," in Latin), or Song of Zechariah, which features in Morning Prayer after the second reading every day in The Book of Common Prayer (p9) and is one of the optional canticles which may follow the readings in The Book of Alternative Service version of Morning Prayer (p88). Here is the BAS version: 

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; * 
he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty Saviour, * 
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old, 
that he would save us from our enemies, * 
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers * 
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies, 
free to worship him without fear, * 
holy and righteous in his sight 
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet 
of the Most High, * 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, 
to give his people knowledge of salvation * 
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us, 
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow 
of death, * 
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1.68–79)

I suspect that those who pray the morning office frequently, especially the BCP version, can develop such a comfortable familiarity with this canticle that its truly "charismatic" nature is lost. These are Zechariah's very first words after having been rendered mute for more than nine months because he failed to believe the angel Gabriel's foretelling of John's birth (Lk 1.20). 

The Benedictus is an amazing, miraculous Holy Ghost inspired utterance. God himself is glorified in the very first words. Holy Scripture, God's promises and the history of salvation are affirmed in the references to Abraham, David, the holy prophets and God's holy covenant with his people. It has been a part of the Church's prayer for nearly two thousand years. There is no question that the Church has been built up (1 Cor 14.5) by Zechariah's utterance. 

"The one who prophesies," writes Paul, "speaks to people for their upbuilding (strengthening) and encouragement and consolation (comfort)" (1 Cor 14.3). The Holy Spirit spoke through Zechariah to bless those who heard him that joyful day and to bless the Church ever since. There are, indeed, strengthening, encouraging and comforting words of blessing here. We are reminded that we have been set free, given a mighty Saviour, saved from our enemies and the hands of all who hate us, freed to worship without fear, made holy and righteous, as the dawn from on high breaks upon us and guides us into the way of peace. The Benedictus clearly meets Paul's 1 Corinthians 14 strengthening, encouraging and comforting criteria for trustworthy prophecy.

There is a forthtelling word about John, Zechariah and Elizabeth's miraculous new baby son, too. He will be a prophet of the Most High, going before the Lord to prepare his way and giving people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. A true and God-breathed word for baby John and a point of application for you and me, too. I believe that, as witnesses of the Resurrection, you and I are called to do the same—to prepare the way of the Lord into the hearts of those who have not yet come to saving faith in Jesus by loving them with the tender compassion of God. Praying for them systematically, repeatedly and without losing heart will also prepare the Lord's way into their hearts so they, too, may gain knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, as in God's tender compassion, the dawn from on high breaks upon them, shining on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death and guiding their feet into the way of peace. What a wonderful thing to pray for someone, what a wonderful task, what a wonderful, fruitful and Holy Spirited prophetic utterance. 

The Benedictus, a true Holy Spirit inspired prothetic word, is a key part of Anglican Morning Prayer. It has become a rich, evocative spoken song of praise and worship, a powerful prayer, and is very much worth repeating daily in Morning Prayer. 


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Using The Book of Common Prayer on Ash Wednesday.

Some thoughts for the Calgary Chapter of the Prayer Book Society on using The Book of Common Prayer on Ash Wednesday here.

Monday, 13 February 2017

More Home Truths: a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Psalm 73.23-26 and John 14.1-4 & 12—for Theresa Exner

Jesus promises us all a home in what we just heard Evan, Theresa's (Oma's) grandson-in-law, read to us from John's gospel (John 14.1-4,12)—trust in my Father and me, he said, there is more than enough room—many rooms—in my Father's home.

Having a home was especially important to Theresa having once been a wartime refugee herself and, as a consequence, having to live somewhere other than what she considered her real home for the rest of her life.

Having a home is probably one of the deepest human desires. Homelessness is one of societies most disturbing and troublesome issues both locally and globally. Having no place to call home is something most of us fear. Theresa wasn't homeless. She was more a little bit homesick, I suspect.
None of us are homeless, either (I hope). Most of us not homesick, either—and yet. At times like this, when we're forced to acknowledge the reality of death, despite our best efforts to avoid and delay it. We have to deal with funeral "homes" and resting places and we go "home" to be with family. And, underneath, there's this spiritual undercurrent, too, a sense of being set adrift, a yearning, wondering, restlessness which a death in the family stirs up. This life is temporary. Is this all there is? Or is there more? Is the home-coming Jesus describes and for which he says he went on ahead to prepare places for Theresa and for all us, real? Will he really come and get us so we will always be with him where he is? Home in his Father's house.

"And you know the way to where I am going," Jesus said. The way? Yes, there is a way. Jesus said he is The Way a few verses after the passage Evan read. We heard something of what The Way is at the beginning of that reading from John. "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust (or believe) in, God and trust (or believe) also in me." Believe what? That Jesus Christ is Lord and that he rose from the dead. If that's true, then that home exists, the risen Jesus is there preparing places (or maybe he's already prepared them) for Theresa and all of us who choose to trust, to believe, that Jesus is who the Bible says he is and what he says is true.

To trust and believe doesn't mean we necessarily understand it. It doesn't mean we don't have doubts. We're mere human beings whose "health may fail" as Kathy read in Psalm 73, and whose spirits grow weak depending on how much sleep we've had or how we're feeling on any particular day. Like in any relationship, doubts, or irritations and dissatisfactions, even hurts happen. But then can be overcome by choosing to remember the good things, the promises, the commitments, the value, the spirit of it all and remembering that it is worthwhile—that if there is to be any place of rest, any home, any peace in life's marvelous mixture of well-being and woe. What Jesus is talking about must be it.

Theresa's long being a part of the Resurrection celebrating community of St Peter Lutheran Church shows that, even when her heart was troubled, as it must have been even if only because of her homesickness sometimes, she trusted in Jesus and his Father which means she knew the way to where Jesus was going and has gone to be with him where he is. Theresa is finally home for good. We don't have to worry about her any more.

We, however, are still living in temporary housing. May I encourage you all to consider how to secure that place Jesus went on ahead prepare by, in words of the Psalm Kathy read, acknowledging that we do still belong to The One who created and loves us, who holds us by the hand, guides me with his counsel (if we'll only listen), is leading us to a glorious destiny in a heavenly home (if we do but follow), and though our health may fail and our spirits grow weak, the God and Father of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ, will remain the strength of our hearts and promises to remain the ours—our very own, forever and ever. Amen.