Thursday, 26 March 2015

For Rose—a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Revelation 21, John 11 and Psalm 139

Jesus was intimately connected with life when things went seriously wrong. He still is. Things had gone seriously wrong for Mary, Martha and Lazarus in our reading from John (11.17-27). A life had been cut short. Jesus’ friends were disappointed in him. They were in bitter grief. They believed he could have prevented Lazarus’ death had he been there. But he wasn’t and, in Lazarus’ case, he had other plans. Lazarus was raised to die again another day.

Wee Rose didn’t even make it to birth alive. There is disappointment and grief for her, too. It’s different because we never got a chance to know her. And we wonder if, had Jesus been somehow closer, he could have prevented her death, too. The fact is, he could have, but he didn’t. That’s as hard to accept for us as it was for Mary and Martha.

How do we come to terms with that?

Jesus was all about life—abundant, rich, exuberant, better, eternal life. “Your brother will rise again,” he said to Mary and Martha. So will Rose.

I remember reading once about someone who asked a pastor to say a little prayer about something. To which the pastor—a famous one I seem to remember—replied, “There is no such thing as a little prayer.”

Today I want you to know that there is no such thing as a little life, either. Rose may have been little. Her life with us on earth may have been short, and hidden from most of us, but hers was not a little life. No life is. God made Rose and made her life full and complete. We wish we could have shared more of it with her and we will, if we so choose to join Jesus in that new heaven and earth (Rev 21.1) we heard about in the passage from Revelation—where, not only will Jesus reign, every tear will be wiped away, death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more, and all things will have been made new (Rev 21.4-5). Something to look forward to.

And in the meantime, it is comforting to be reminded in the words of Psalm 139 we read earlier that Rose was never alone (The Book of Alternative Services p897, vv12-15). She was knitted together in her mother’s womb, marvellously and wonderfully made, never hidden from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who made and wove her little body in secret and with great love. She is not alone now.

Neither are we. Psalm 139 again—The One who knows us, from whose presence it is impossible to flee—though we climb up to heaven, make the darkest grave our bed, take the wings of the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there his hand leads us and holds us fast (The Book of Alternative Services p897, vv6-11). No matter what. And if that’s true, he’s certainly here with us now.

Not only that, we also have each other. And, more than that, we have the words of Jesus to carry us along and guide us. “Your brother will rise again,” he told Martha. So will Rose. And as Jesus said to Martha, so he says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

So let us, as we join together in praying the Apostles Creed, reply with faith and confidence as Martha did by saying “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Lent-ward Leaning

I decided to keep giving up working for a living for Lent this year. It's going well. I really like it. The observing a Holy Lent stuff fits: self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving and reading and meditating on the Word of God. Here's how.

Self-examination

I've done little else since I retired. Feeling it. How is my post parish ministry sabbatical year life serving God, if at all? It just feels so good! And why should I get to enjoy so much goodness when others have had to suffer so for their faith, especially in the Middle East recently? 
     I haven't missed presiding and preaching yet. I appreciate that I got to do it for a time, but retirement feels like a new thing for me. I've entered a new space. It reminds me of the big change from television directing to seminary and ministry in the late 80s. I was grateful for the TV years, but I didn't miss them though seminary and the early parish priest days until one day when I came across a crew shooting something in the foothills south of Calgary, one of whom was a sound guy with whom I used to work. That must have been five or seven years after the change. I felt a pang and a sense of loss, but not for long. Maybe I'm just slow. But I didn't want to go back. 

Penitence

I continue to be a thoroughly competent sinner in retirement. My self-examination reminds me of the selfish motives behind much of what I do and did as a parish priest—ambition, drawing attention to my abilities and talents—the list goes on. I have been reminded of how little I achieved that is measurable. Not that it was nothing. The LORD worked through me and the people I served in ways noticeable and not. So, penitence in retirement means I also, when I look back at what I've done, cannot say more than what Jesus suggested in Luke's gospel: "I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what was my duty" (Luke 17.10)—for some of the time, at least. My boat is so full of goodness, I am also reminded of Peter's words to Jesus, "Go away from me for I am a sinful man." (Luke 5.8)

Prayer

Anglican liturgical prayer in particular. I love leisurely Morning Prayer with Jude and a cup of coffee. I've enjoyed the time to pray Evening Prayer and Night Prayer, too. Rich. Especially this Lent. We've decided to use the traditional language CofE Daily Prayer app. The Canadian Book of Common Prayer was my introduction to Anglican daily prayer back in the 80s. I prayed through it thoroughly. The lectionary, the PRAYERS AND THANKSGIVINGS UPON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, the FORMS OF PRAYER TO BE USED IN FAMILIES. I prayed them all. Systematically. All 46+9 of the PRAYERS AND THANKSGIVINGS. I loved it. As a result, I got to know it pretty well. Praying it again this Lent is reminding me of those days of discovery. 
     The language is a treat. The LORD shews stuff, things are forgat withal, some women are strange, we are a thoroughly froward lot exhibiting all kinds of naughtiness all over the round world. We ought, therefore, and with haste, gat ourselves to the Lord, and that right humbly lest we be minished.
     The words have a certain Lenten grittiness and the liturgy is just as Sister Monica Joan said in Call the Midwife…


…happily clinging still, and that right happily. 

Fasting

Not so much other than on Ash Wednesday so far. Retirement has been more a feast than a fast. 

Almsgiving

Some opportunities. Here's a good one for Lent—or any time of year, for that matter—women in need of obstetric fistula repair. 

Reading and Meditating on the Word of God

My next post, LORD willing…




Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Writing by the Seat of My Pants


The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair,
wrote Mary Heaton Vorse. Dorothy Parker once quipped,
I hate writing, I love having written.
They are both writers, of course. Published writers who got their witticisms written down for people like me to quote in posts like this. I get the first statement. I don't do it often enough, but I get it. I can't totally relate to the second quote. I enjoy writing when there's something coming out of me. I enjoy organizing my thoughts and seeing where the ideas lead. It's like walking along a path I haven't walked before. I don't know what's around the next corner and I know I won't find out unless I start walking (the process, applying the seat and writing something down). I enjoy sermon and article writing. I'm enjoying writing this.

However, writing something more substantial is on my retirement bucket list. I have three or four such possible "projects" hanging over me at the moment. "Having written" only a very few thousand words in a couple of them, I am a long, long way from "having written" any of them. They all seem absolutely huge and complex and beyond me. I don't know what possessed me to think I was capable of writing anything beyond an email message, sermon, blog post or an essay. And the irritating thing is that it's all my own fault. Nobody forced me to take them on.

It doesn't help having friends like Fred Stenson who has actually written and had published several novels. I've read them all AND his short stores and posted about his two latest novels here. Wonderful, complex, multi-layered, engaging stories that have beginnings, middles and endings; not to mention actual pages, covers and flyleaf's. And then there's Glen Dueck here in Medicine Hat who has just published his first novel, Joanna. It's the story of the one of the women who provided for Jesus and was mentioned a couple of times in Luke's gospel (8.3 & 24.10). I am in awe of the kind of commitment and application required to get that work done while pastoring a church for a day job.

Now I am retired I have to face up to the fact that I can no longer use work as an excuse for the lack of pants seat application to the chair and the Macbook to the lap. In the meantime, those projects, which I never should have mentioned out loud, loom and taunt. Sigh. This post is probably nothing but a ploy by my endlessly devious and panicked inner aspiring writer to avoid writing something—anything—down for one of the projects in that bucket. Double sigh.

This Lent, perhaps, the time has come for me fast from unapplied pants seats.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Reflections on a Visit to Auschwitz and Islamic Extremism—my By the Way Column in the Medicine Hat News

Last Tuesday was the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death-camp. I visited it in 2006. I really didn’t want to, but I felt I couldn’t just slide on by. I needed to honour the victims by allowing myself to be a witness. I was stunned by the sense of methodical, orderly death-dealing on such an industrial scale. Just outside the fence was the comfortable home in which the camp commandant and his wife raised their children. What kind of switch has to be thrown in human minds and hearts to make that possible? I couldn’t get my mind around it. All I could do was shake my head and wonder at the enormity of the human capacity for evil. It was a quiet bus ride back to our lodgings.

Seventy years later and the news is now filled with accounts of brutal violence done by Islamic extremist groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and by individuals in Sydney, here in Canada, and in Paris.

I didn’t want to write about this, really, but the atrocities above make me feel like I did when a difficult or disturbing passage came up in the Sunday readings. I had to resist the temptation to ignore it and slide on by to easier, less volatile matters. Instead I felt obliged to engage honestly with whatever it was and to try and figure out a faithful response for followers of Jesus.

The fact is that religion looms over all the above and I represent one of the religions involved. I feel sad and angry about what has happened and is happening. I worry about what my grandchildren may have to face. How shall I respond in faith?

I must begin with Jesus, the One I follow and serve, himself a victim of political and religious oppression. He made many challenging statements about how we Christians are to live with conflict and abuse. For example, he said he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Mt 10.34-39)—history has borne that out. Jesus also told his disciples they’d need a sword so they ought to go and buy one (Lk 22.36). Also, if I want to save my life, I must lose it (Lk 9.24)—not so comfortable with that. And then there’s “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6.27-28). That, I get, but I’m not sure how well I can do it.

What I know I can do is pray, and never lose heart, that peace will prevail, war will be averted, justice will be done and the innocent will be protected. So can you.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

On the Merits of Liturgy and the Church Calendar

I've written about liturgy before. Here's another lovely take on it:
Liturgy, at its best, is more like the tracks of the train than the whistle. It’s silent and sturdy and, though almost unnoticed, it leads us to where our hearts long to go. In perhaps the most quoted address on liturgy, C.S. Lewis states, that liturgy is most useful “when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
…from Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, in a piece on her discovery and appreciation for the church calendar in Christianity Today's excellent "Her.meneutics" here.

Liturgy's trustworthy tracks, along with the church calendar, keep our worship and personal devotions on course as, year after year, they carry us along through the story of Jesus from Advent through Easter and a focus on discipleship for the rest of the year. The accompanying lectionary ensures that we are all, including preachers, at least exposed to themes with which we might not otherwise be inclined to engage.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Meeting Together














Church. The best place In the world to consider how to stir one another up to
  • love 
  • good works
  • not neglect to meet together
  • encourage one another
…all the more. (Heb 10.24-25)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

One Side to the Other: New Beginnings and Thoughts on Worship


This morning the missal stand (which holds the big prayer book at a convenient angle from which to read on the altar) had been moved from one side of the altar to the other at StB. I noticed it as soon as I settled into my pew. 'Tis an outward and visible sign of the fact that we now have a new presider. This next stage of our journey to meet Jesus when he comes again has begun. Our new and very welcome priest, The Rev Dr Dustin Resch, now has the con. This morning he presided and preached (praught?) for the first time. It was grand. 

Keep Calm and Worship On

Here are some thoughts and discoveries about worshipping on the other side of the rood screen (supposing we had one) from that most peculiar and sometime irksome personage; the previous rector. These have been bubbling up and mouldering as Jude and I wandered at first without benefit of flock in the early months of retirement and more recently when it felt right to return to StB.

All Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)
What we Anglicans (and Roman Catholics and most Lutherans, too) do most Sundays is celebrate Eucharist (more on that later). The word comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. As as lover, follower and worshipper of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ I ought to be able to give worshipful thanks for what God has done, is doing and will do, in all circumstances—especially on Sunday mornings at church no matter where I am, who is presiding, how loud the children are, whether or not I like the music, or denominational peculiarities, or style, or the people up front, or around me. This was impressed upon me especially during our wanderings. I was reminded that I have a job to do among God's people at worship wherever I go. My job is to apply myself to the task, or the work, in liturgical terms (the word liturgy means work of the people) allowing nothing to distract me. In all circumstances. It is my responsibility. If I let some real or imagined failing of a leader or anyone else deflect me, the devil wins. If something bothers me, I just have to work harder. Sure, my mind wanders. Less often than it used to, perhaps. If it does, I just catch myself and refocus on what's being said, sung and prayed. Over and over again, as necessary.

Bible Delight

I love the Bible. I love the way we hear three passages read aloud every Sunday. I believe God's written Word read out loud gradually salts us through and through so it will not return to Him empty. It will succeed in the thing for which He sent it (Isa 55.11). 

When I led worship from the other side of the rood screen, I used to encourage people to bring their Bibles to church so they could follow the readings. I thought that doing that helps us learn where things are in there. I used to feel a little impatient with people because most didn't. On this side of the screen I find myself repenting of that. I find that I don't want to read along as the passages are read, I'm enjoying listening to them. I have to concentrate. My monkey-mind can head off on tangents very easily. But I find watching the face of the reader helpful in listening deeply. I've seen some folk close their eyes to listen, but I find the watching helpful for some reason. 

I still have my Bible handy in some form in case I need to look at a phrase or a verse more closely and I think daily Bible reading in the context of The Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) is important to help keep my faith and spiritual self alive, but Sunday listening has been the thing for me—somewhat to my surprise.

Worship in Song

Sometimes when I don't know a song I'm tempted to zone out and wait until it's over. But if All Circumstances above is valid, there are several ways I can be a part of the worship at all times. For example: 
  1. I can silently pray the lyrics as those who know the song sing
  2. I can harmonize by quietly singing or reciting appropriate Bible verses, for example, "How glorious you are, more majestic than the everlasting mountains!" (Ps 76.4) or "Be exalted O Lord above the heavens, let your glory be over all the earth!" (Ps 57.11) or I can pray "Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end!" Watch for verses you can use in this way in your daily Bible reading. 
  3. I can harmonize by singing in the Spirit as I pray in tongues (1 Cor 12.10) if I have that gift.
There is no reason why I should allow myself to be left out of the worship whether I know the song or not or how well it is led.

Making Eucharist

I love the drama of the Lord's Table. The story of our salvation is told Sunday after Sunday. The bread and the wine are presented, prepared and prayed over. The Lord is remembered until he comes again. I enjoyed presiding, but I also now love being a part of the parade of humanity that goes up to receive what Jesus has provided; old and young, male and female, all shapes and sizes, Sunday by Sunday; we approach, receive and return; a graceful altar call and response. I miss it whenever we're away, but I can still worship when I put my mind to it. 

The most important thing is that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped and enjoyed in the power of the Holy Spirit no matter what and in all circumstances. 

It is SO good to be home.