Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Secondary Waltz


Apple Music delivered up one of my favourite Mark Knopfler tunes the other morning—Secondary Waltz. I love the line, "Waltzing with fear in our hearts," and the impending "final manoeuvres," "heads awhirl" as D-day approached when "we're going to do it with girls." Actually, I got to do my learning with girls—co-ed school, a most uncomfortable experience, especially when we just got who we got as a partner.

Every time I hear it I am transported more than fifty years back in time and half a world away to school dances at Kuranui College in Greytown, New Zealand. The legendary Sam Meads was the Headmaster. Our disgrace wasn't so much the waltz, as it was the Gay Gordons. To begin, Sam would use his best parade ground voice to get us onto the dance floor and into position in the circle—was it by form (or grade for you Canadians)?—it seems like something he would do. And there we would all stand, not necessarily with a girl with whom we really wanted to dance, or who wanted to dance with us, while Sam's voice and temperature rose and the veins stood out on his forehead. Romantic, it was not. It was more "one, two, three, two, two" we were "all a disgrace," but eventually we'd all be in place, more or less, the music would start and off we'd go around and around, from one girl to another. Some were a secret delight because I knew I'd never get to dance with her for a whole dance, having asked, so I'd revel in the brief steps and twirl before moving on to the next. 

Speaking of whole dances and the asking—"May I have the pleasure of this dance?" was the standard expression we were taught. This after that agonizingly long and exposed walk across the gym from where all the boys sat against the wall, to the opposite one where all the girls—those most mysterious and delightful creatures—sat. They were supposed never to refuse, but some did, which meant an even more agonizing return across that vast gym floor. I know there were matching agonies of being asked, and not, on the other side of the gym. Ah, adolescence. It's a wonder any of us came out of it anywhere near normal. Perhaps I didn't. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Trusting: a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Revelation 21.1-7, Psalm 139 and John 14.1-6—for Carmen Codding

Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled at times like this in our gospel reading from John (John 14.1). Right. How on earth are we supposed to do that! How can we not be troubled when Carmen, and others that we’ve known, suffer and die too young, too soon, and especially, with Carmen, when she served God with such energy and passion for so long. Surely people like Carmen should be healed when we pray for them, should have been spared. Troubled is, perhaps, not a strong enough word for what Ed, their family and many of us are feeling right now. Some of us are downright, insert expletive here, angry.

So let’s dig a little deeper into what Jesus said and see if there’s anything that could help us not to be so troubled. Jesus said that to his disciples because he knew how grief-stricken, bereft and angry they’d be after he’d been arrested on jumped-up charges, tried in a kangaroo-court, and executed. He knew they’d be feeling something like we do and he loved them and wanted to help, comfort and encourage them.

So don’t let your hearts be troubled (John 14.1), he said, instead, “Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14.1) What exactly would we be trusting in if we decided to do that?

We’d be trusting that Jesus was telling the truth when he said there are many rooms in my Father’s house (John 14.2). It is a big, warm, comfortable, welcoming house to which Jesus says he has gone on ahead to prepare places for those who wish to join him (John 14.2). The house where God, himself, the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, will have made everything new (Rev 21.5), as we heard in the reading from Revelation, and will live with his people, people like Carmen (and you and me, if we want) in a new way, where very tear will be wiped from our eyes, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain (Rev 21.4).

We’d be trusting that, as bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, a perfect Father, a God who, as King David wrote in our reading from Psalm 139, knitted Carman, each one of you, and me together in our mother’s wombs, all fearfully and wonderfully made, each of us one of his unique, wonderful works (v14), of infinite value, and never hidden from God from before we were born, through all the days ordained for us and written in God’s book even before any of them came to be (v16), and all the way to the grave. Your knowledge, King David wrote, of Carmen, of each one of you, and me, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don't understand all of them. We don't agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can't fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away. We'd like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, David writes, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was present with Carmen when she finally went to sleep at St Joseph’s, whether she or Ed or anyone else felt it, or not, and he was present when she awoke in his house now completely and unassailably, out of harm's way. Think of it: Carmen went to sleep a sick, tired, weakened woman and when she awoke, an instant after, she was still, and even more wonderfully, with God, himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven—and the laughter level went up, no doubt.

But still it hurts.

Trust in God? Trust also in Jesus? We trusted and look what happened! Some of you might have a question something like we heard from Thomas in John’s gospel reading: “Lord, we don’t know where Carmen is and why she had to go there at this time, and not only that, we don’t know where you went, so how can we know the way?” (John 14.5) To which, I believe—so did Carmen and so does Ed—Jesus still replies, “I am.” If you want to get out of this life alive. The only way is through me. I look after the reservations for those rooms in my Father’s heavenly home. I’m easier to find than you might think.

How do we find Jesus? Well, we could follow Carmen’s example in life. She knew the way. So does Ed. Carmen knew where Jesus is to be found. In His church; yes, the one full of hypocrites and sinners just like this one, and also, and more importantly, people like Carmen and Ed Codding. Jesus is also found in the Bible and in the people, like Carmen and Ed, who follow Him. To explore The Way, The Truth and The Life Jesus represents would be a good way to honour Carmen’s memory.

Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus, you claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. If what you claim is true, please guide me, teach me,  and open to me the reality of who you are. Give me an understanding that is coherent, convincing, and leads to the life that you promise.



Monday, 29 June 2015

Some High Def on St Peter and St Paul, Apostles, Day

Thanks to The Prayer Book Society of Canada
Today started with several disturbing reminders that my Christian faith, worship and living are so not about me feeling comfortable and content. Sigh.

It’s the Feast of St Peter and Paul, Apostles (HD) says the church calendar. That HD does not stand for High Definition, by the way, it means Holy Day. Mind you, a little higher definition probably wouldn’t hurt this comfortable retired guy’s perception of reality just now. So here are some uncomfortably high definition shots for the day:

Peter 

In my Fellowship of St James Summer 2015 - The Devotional Guide notes for the day, Patrick Henry Reardon points out how this is a double feast day because these two apostles are “linked in a special way by their martyrdoms in Rome.” He adds that Peter’s wife was also martyred and that Peter was a witness to it. I did not know that. How awful.

Paul

In one of the Devotional Guide lectionary readings Jesus is telling Ananias that he wanted him to go and lay hands on Saul, “For I will show him,” not how famous he was to be and that he would write most of the New Testament and how amazing signs and wonders would be done through him, but “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9.16 ESV). No seeker-friendly pitch there.

Hudson Taylor

This morning I shared this Facebook post from my friend John Rye:
150 years ago this weekend, Hudson Taylor was walking on the stony beach at Brighton, south of London, when he decided that God was calling him to set up the China Inland Mission, now Overseas Missionary Fellowship. This differed from other Victorian missionary societies in making its needs known by prayer alone (no appeals for funds), by adopting local dress and culture as much as possible (no ties in school), by being headquartered in a Chinese city, not London,(currently Singapore), by being non-denominational, and by not accepting compensation from the Opium trade (which it consistently denounced) or from colonial treaties ( ie it ministered in places away from military protection). It is best known in the secular world as the mission which Eric Lidell, the runner in 'Chariots of Fire' was a part of until his death in 1945.
Peter Passchier, who serves in Thailand with Overseas Missionary Fellowship along with Kelly, his wife (and erstwhile parishioner at StB), and three small children, commented that he had been particularly moved by Hudson Taylor’s story when he read how Taylor was “unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge.”

Suffering, martyrdom, security, rejoicing and lack of knowledge. They continue. In high definition video these days.

LORD, have mercy!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

On Being (Quietly) Charismatic


The following was published in the Summer 2015 issue of the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine, Anglicans for Renewal. Subscriptions available here.

Hi, my name is Gene and I’m a charismatic. I’m not a very loud one. Pretty quiet, actually. I’ve not shouted, rolled (as in Holy), shaken or stomach-crunched yet.

A few people have been blessed, a couple even healed when I’ve prayed for them. Quietly. No sparks or gold dust. Hardly anyone seems to have noticed, which is probably a good thing.

The LORD gave me the gift of tongues—a prayer language. Nobody has come up to me and said, “I didn’t know you could speak Mandarin (or Thai, or Hungarian or whatever)” yet, but I know it’s real because after being prayed for many times and trying to make noises myself all of a sudden one day it just took off with a fluency that surprised me. Again, no lightning or spectacular manifestations, just a switch thrown somewhere in my spirit or soul or heart and off I went. It took about two years of praying with various degrees of intensity for that particular gift until that switch was turned on. Reading Dennis Bennet’s Nine O’Clock in the Morning was what really got me going on it. But I know that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ touched me with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amazing. A reminder for me when doubts assail.

I’ve been “slain in the Spirit” a couple of times. Gently and quietly. I could have remained standing. I felt a weight pressing down through me—the weight of glory someone said. I found myself swaying and let go to fall back as if into pillows, but I’ve not yet experienced going down involuntarily as if shot. I’ve seen it but I haven’t had it happen to me yet.

The LORD also gave me some prophetic gifting; the 1 Corinthians 14.3 strengthening,  encouraging and comforting kind. I’m certainly not a capital P Prophet. Nobody is today, in my opinion. Nobody carries the office, but many people exercise the 1 Corinthians 12.10 and 14.1-5 gift. Every now and then somehow the Holy Spirit puts things into to my mind that I could not know about the person for whom I am praying and it blesses them because they know I couldn’t have known and their faith grows because they realize that God does know what’s going on their lives and cares for them. It’s amazing to be a part of God doing that.

My priest used to say we’ve drifted away from believing that God can or will really act these days and that the Holy Spirit has been lost in the ecclesiastical shuffle somehow. Today’s Holy Trinity is God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the silent partner. One of the reasons that has happened is fear, I suspect. People are afraid of extremes—people falling over, or laughing, or shaking, or saying, “Thus saith the Lord!” Some feel left out when nothing seems to happen to, or around, them when they pray, so they give up. Some feel criticized or abused by over-enthusiastic charismatics or people who have got charismatic things just plain wrong. The trouble is that all of church, charismatic or not, includes a fair dose of the world, the flesh and the devil. There will always be unhelpful disturbing behaviour.

Despite it all, however, the Holy Spirit is a major player in the Scriptures and in the Church. From his first creation appearance in the second verse of the whole Bible, to his last mention in the fifth to last verse, the Holy Spirit blows throughout and continues to do so. Most often he is a gentle, barely perceptible breeze, these days it seems, yet every now and then he blows things over and sets the church bounding across the waves.

So, my name is Gene and I’m a charismatic retired Anglican priest. I’ve not experienced anything that has been particularly spectacular. I suspect that’s because The LORD knows only too well how easily I could get full of myself. But I believe in it. I believe in it all. I believe that without the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in me, I can do nothing worthwhile. I believe that Jesus still miraculously heals and changes lives. I wish he would do it more often in ways that I can see, but that’s up to him. I believe that people really are strengthened, encouraged and comforted by ordinary Christians exercising the spiritual gifts God has given. I believe that every now and then God still even raises people from the dead. I haven’t seen it myself, but I’ve read about it. I believe in revival and hope to see another one soon—especially in the Anglican church. And that’s why I serve on the Anglican Renewal Ministries board and write for this magazine.

UPDATE: since this article was published in the magazine a couple of good folk have taken me to task over what I've written above about the office of Prophet with a capital P. Citing passages such as 1 Cor 12.28, Eph 4.11 and others they believe there are still Christian prophets and a prophetic ministry operating today  I have to confess that I had missed these rather obvious references to there being an active Christian prophetic ministry in addition to the gift. I agree that some people do exercise the ministry today. It would have been better if I'd included that, but I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of a capital P Prophet as an office in today's Church.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Good Fruit: Healthy Living in The Spirit (Part 2)

The following was published in the Summer 2015 issue of the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine, Anglicans for Renewal. Subscriptions available here


THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT: Part 2 

In part one we did some general fruit inspection and looked at the “still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12.31) and mother of all the Gifts and Fruit of the Spirit, love. There are more (Gal 5.22).

Joy: from Mud Pies to the Beach

When I think of true joy I am often reminded of an experience when I was in my early teens. One of the pillars of my small town church community had died. Some members of the congregation were critical of his deeply devout wife’s “unseemly” behaviour when she refused to be the usual reclusive grieving widow at his funeral. Instead, she stood at the door of the church warmly welcoming her family and friends with a smile and ushering them to their seats. I know she loved her husband deeply and was grieving profoundly and yet something enabled her to act in a way that surprised and disturbed some of her family and friends. The something was Fruit of the Spirit joy—a joy which is more than simple happiness and freedom from suffering. It is a deeper, richer thing. We can be joyful in pain and disappointment.

Jesus was filled with Fruit of the Spirit joy—a unique and delightful expression of the loving relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted this joy transmitted to his followers and made complete in them so their joy, and ours, could be full (John 15.11, 17.13). It is one of the reasons he sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit, to be with us (John 15.7), so that Jesus will continued to be glorified as the Gifts of the Spirit are manifested (1 Cor 12.7) and the Fruit of the Spirit are enjoyed. Fruit of the Spirit joy is something of which there is ample fullness in the presence of The LORD (Ps 16.11). It’s joy that comes and stays in times of awakening and revival. We shout and sing with it.

This is the joy which surprised CS Lewis so and that with which, in its purest form, he described heaven as being full. Lewis was concerned that Christians of his time were too timid, too easily discouraged from expecting it or hoping for it. "If we consider the unblushing promises of rewards promised in the Gospels,” he wrote, “it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy has been offered to us. We are far too easily pleased, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea." (CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory) More good fruit than we can ask or imagine is what the Holy Spirit offers. Joy is one of them.

How do we get from slum mud pies to holidays at the seaside? We repent so that times of Holy Spirit refreshing can come with the presence of Jesus (Acts 3.19). We listen to Jesus and follow his example. We pray for more of Jesus and his life giving Spirit in our lives. “Ask, and you will receive,” he said, “that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). We earnestly desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the higher ones (1 Cor 12.31, 14.1). We love like there’s an endless tomorrow—find the best ways to start here: 1 Cor 13.4-7. And prayer by prayer, step of faith by step of faith, act of patience and kindness by act of patience and kindess, resentful irritation put aside by resentful irritation put aside, the Joy fruit comes. The Holy Spirit of truth (John 14.17, 15.26, 16.13; 1 John 5.6), will carry us along like wind-born seeds (John 3.8; 2 Peter 1.21), alighting where the Father wills and always bearing witness to the truth and the new life the presence of Jesus always brings (John 15.26).

Peace: Understanding Surpassed

“Our good Lord the Holy Spirit, who is endless life dwelling in our soul,” writes Julianna of Norwich in her Revelations of Divine Love, “keeps us most securely, works a peace in our soul, brings it to ease by grace, brings it into agreement with God, and makes it obedient (Ch48, p158). The peace which the Holy Spirit works in us is Fruit of the Spirit peace, the third Fruit of the Spirit in the Galations 5.22 list. The grace, agreement and obedience it brings is more than just the mere absence of conflict. As poet, William Alexander Percy, wrote:

They cast their nets in Galilee
Just off the hills of brown;
Such happy, simple fisherfolk,
Before the Lord came down.

Contented peaceful fishermen,
Before they ever knew
The peace of God that filled
Their hearts brimful, and broke them too.

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail,
Homeless in Patmos died.
Peter, who hauled the teaming net,
Head down was crucified.

The peace of God, it is no peace,
But strife closed in the sod,
Yet, let us pray for but one thing—
The marvellous peace of God.

Fruit of the Spirit peace of God fills and breaks. Life is real and can be hard. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives releases peace even when circumstances want to dictate otherwise. It’s peace that will prevail even after the sword Jesus said he brought has been deployed (Mt 10.34). Fruit of the Spirit Peace is unnatural. The natural state of those who experience and display it should be defeat and in despair. It’s a supernatural peace that surpasses all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always and in all circumstances (Phil 4.7), no matter what, just as it did John, Peter and the others. Fruit of the Spirit peace is the kind the risen Jesus wished to be with his frightened, confused disciples just before he breathed the Holy Spirit on them (John 20.19-22).

Fruit of the Spirit joy and peace cannot be extinguished by the enemy or suffering or strife or hardship or injustice. We can be down, but never out, because we know that even when we feel forsaken, just as Jesus did on the cross, we are not alone or abandoned. Therein is the marvellous Fruit of the Spirit joy and peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

The Sweet Light of Summer: a By the Way column for the Medicine Hat News

Summer is almost upon us. The days are getting longer. “Light is sweet,” wrote “The Preacher” in Ecclesiastes, “and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” (Ecc 11.7) Pleasant, indeed. There is lots to look at and enjoy; the fresh green of new growth, bright blooms, holiday views that stir and delight.

“The eye is the lamp of the body,” said Jesus. “So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” (Mt 6.22) Shakespeare must have been thinking along the same lines when he wrote, "The eyes are the windows to the soul." Those windows are what let that sweet light in. What I look at and where must be important. It will affect the light level in my soul.

It follows, therefore, that Jesus, the Light of the World, is The One to whom I must first look for the best way to keep my eyes healthy and my soul full of light. Where did he turn his eyes? He lifted them to heaven. Often. Jesus looked to heaven when he prayed the blessing over the loaves and fishes that miraculously fed the five thousand. It's where he looked just before he called Lazarus out of his tomb alive again. Heaven is also where he looked to find inspiration for his great high priestly prayer for us in John 17. 

Why did Jesus look to heaven? Because it's where his Father's house is, the one with the many rooms which he has gone ahead to prepare for us, and because it's where God, the Angels and all the heavenly host are. I must do it, too, because of that and because it lets the light in. The very best place for looking to heaven with Jesus is at weekly worship in my local church community. Private prayer, reading and meditating on the Scriptures, tithing faithfully, making offerings generously and serving those in need also let sweet heavenly light into my body and soul very nicely. They will for you, too. 

If, on the other hand, my eye is bad, says Jesus, my “whole body will be full of darkness.” (Mt 6.23) Great darkness. Bad eyes mean dirty soul windows. Dirty windows make it hard for me to see where I’m going spiritually and morally or, more to the point, where I should be going. So I need to keep my eyes healthy and my windows clean. So do you. Here’s how. I take care with what I watch, read, look at and click on because I know that there are things out there which are a “delight to the eyes” (Gen 3.6) and which are waiting for a look from me to enable dark downloads through my windows and into my soul. They’re waiting for a look from you, too. 

It’s almost summer. Light is sweet, especially when I keep lifting my eyes to heaven. Like Jesus. 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Emily's Confirmation


Emily, our granddaughter, was confirmed today. Each of the newly confirmed gave a short testimony at the celebratory lunch afterwards. Here's what Emily said:
Over this time that I have been doing confirmation classes I started to know a lot more about everyone, and we have all become like a little family. I started this journey knowing little to none about what confirmation was, but with the help of Claude, Rob and Danielle I have learned new things. Some things that I have learned about God are he will be there right beside me when I am sad or scared. When I am going through hard times he knows, and he will send people to comfort and care for me.
Through confirmation God has given me my own identity in the church, and has given me the gifts of the Holy Spirit to help me find my role in the church. Right now I am feeling called to help in children's ministry such as worship centre and the summer program.
The big question at the beginning of my confirmation classes was "Who are you?" This is the last thing that I need to talk about. To me I see my journey of discovering myself starting right now, and there is so much to learn. Some things that I have learned about myself are that to help strengthen and further my faith I think still having our weekly confirmation classes would be wonderful. I feel like these classes have helped me in reaching out to God, and I have learned that I really do enjoy them. Also that I feel that I can understand a lot better when God is calling to me. I feel he has been doing that a lot more since I started confirmation classes. Confirmation is me going out on my own and accepting my place in the body of Christ, as my parents did on my behalf at my baptism. As Saint Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27)
My assessment may well be influenced by being a proud and grateful grandfather, but I believe those words show remarkable spiritual maturity and awareness in a thirteen year old. Good job Emily, Kate, Stewart, Claude, Danielle, Rob, +Rob and people of St Mary's.