Sunday, 27 July 2014

Purple That Counts: a Short Funeral Sermon with reference to 2 Timothy 4.6-8, Psalm 139 and Matthew 5.1-12—for Gail Clarke

The more observant of you may have noticed that the colour of the hangings and my stole this afternoon are purple. Usually they would be white for a service like this—the colour of Easter and Resurrection. Gail’s family chose purple because it represents a theme, a sort of running joke for the family, Meredith says, having to do with a grandmother who wore purple pants and resonating with Jenny Joseph’s poem about wearing purple when she is old—that's why we were all invited to wear purple this afternoon.

It is a good colour for today for some other reasons. Purple is the colour of Lent, a penitential season which begins with Ash Wednesday when, as we are marked with a cross of ashes, we are reminded that from dust we came and to dust we shall all return. A good reminder for days like this.

It works for another reason. On Ash Wednesday we are charged to observe a holy Lent by self examination, penitence, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and reading and meditating on the word of God. In other words, we are all charged to observe good spiritual accounts because one day we will all die. Another good reminder for days like this. I can hear such a reminder coming from the straight-shooting Gail Clarke. And its fitting, too, with Lenten purple in mind, that Jenny Joseph’s poem is called Warning.
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick flowers in other people's gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
So purple is good for Gail, I reckon. Don’t you?

But even more this afternoon, purple is the colour of royalty and that reminds me of King Jesus, and brings me to the readings we just heard.

When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew tells us, he spoke to them and taught them. Jesus sees us just as clearly as he did them. (Mt 5.1) And Jesus is also speaking to us and teaching us through the words he spoke to them and his disciples then. “Blessed,” or happy, “are those who mourn, for they will be comforted,” (Mt 6.4) he said. And I believe it’s true. I’ve found words in the readings this afternoon that seem perfectly tuned to help us remember and appreciate Gail. There’s comfort in them, too.

For example, if ever there was a woman who finished her race having fought a good fight and kept the faith (2 Tim 4.7), it would be Gail Clarke. She believed she was in the hands of The LORD all through her illness. She believed that God healed her through prayer. As Erin reminded us, she refused to let the illness define her—none of the bad things, only the good. Lack of hair just meant ritzier hats. I admired her for that.

I’m fascinated by the way the words of Scripture we heard seem tuned to resonate with Gail’s life and what she did for a living. Consider, for example, the reading from Psalm 139, verses 17-18 in particular: “How vast is the sum of God’s weighty thoughts! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.” As an Accounting Technician, Gail did a lot of sums and counting in her life. She did it professionally, and in her personal family life, too. She counted pros and cons yet when she came to the end, like the Psalmist, she still considered herself to be with The LORD. I suspect it was that kind of process she went through each time she went on one of her pro-shopping trips and when she decided that cancer treatments had to wait until trips to Quebec to visit daughter Erin and her family took place. Counting can be important. Abraham, we are told, “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." (James 2.23)

More from Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel (6.11-12):
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
On my account. I wasn’t aware of Gail being reviled or persecuted or falsely accused of evil because of her faith, but I think it’s reasonable to say that her life was lived on Jesus’ account. She was a worshipper here, an active parishioner who helped keep this parish's accounts in order and she engaged with the issues that face the church. Her life’s transactions, assets, liabilities and operating results were accounted for as part of her real, matter-of-fact Christian faith.

Jesus continues in Matthew:
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Great reward. Jesus promises great reward, a good return or profit, for a life lived on his account.

That's certainly what the Apostle Paul believed:
From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness. (2 Tim 4.8) 
Reserved. Accountants, Accounting Technicians and Stewardship and Finance committees (in which Gail faithfully served for most of my fifteen years at StB) are always on about reserve funds, which are, according to Google, accounts “set aside to meet any unexpected costs that may arise in the future as well as the future costs of upkeep.” I find comfort in the fact that Jesus set up a divine reserve account with Gail’s name on it to cover all costs and in which is deposited a crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4.8) for her, and not only for her, but for all who long for his appearing. The time of Gail’s departure has come (2 Tim 4.6), but from now on (2 Tim 4.8), that reserve account kicks in.

Gail Clarke’s life counted. Our lives do, too. Jesus promised Gail, and you and me, a great reward, reserved in heaven. All we have to do is believe that is true and make sure our accounts are open and well kept in Jesus.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

…seen on the morning walk with Madeline. Looks a little worse for wear, especially on the left wing and tail.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Jesus: Worthy of Trust—a Short Funeral Homily with reference to Ecclesiastes 3, Psalm 103 and John 14: for Donna Tennant

Jesus is the one walking and talking in the song. In a garden. Donna loved gardening. God started everything in a garden. A good place to start.

Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled” (John 14.1) in the reading we just heard from John’s gospel. Tough call on days like this. Death is troubling. Endings and departures can be hard even when we know they’re coming sooner or later. Grief is troubling. It’s troubling to be reminded, if only for a few hours, our own mortality. It can be troubling to have to spend time with folks we’d rather not, or be reminded of hurts and misunderstandings, given and received, to be reminded of things we should have done, or said, but didn’t; and the things we did, or said, but wish we hadn’t. Troubling.

The solution? Jesus provides it. “Trust in God.” (John 14.1) Deceptively simple. Even a bit simplistic at first glance. But think about it. In who and what are we being asked to trust? The One who inspired the writer of our first reading from Ecclesiastes to to write, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecc 3.1) And he goes on to list many of them; birth and death, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, love and hate—even dancing, for heaven’s sakes! Pretty real and trustworthy, I would say. We’re experiencing some real life ourselves now because of Donna and The One who created her. Donna lived ninety-four years of times and seasons—a real lady said John, shy, quiet, reserved, her family tells me; yet assertive enough to elope with Alec, her sweetheart, to Taber in 1938; a woman whose home nobody ever left hungry, a gardener and lover of animals who also kept her own personal list of the times and seasons of all the activities of her life in a journal. Jesus is inviting us to trust in a real God who knows that real life is not simple, who knows all the details, journeys with us through it all even, especially, when we feel all alone. Sometimes lives are long, like Donna’s, sometimes not. Always complex. Rich. Real. Often mysterious.

Jesus says trust in the God to whom Psalm 103 was written, sung and recited in acts of worship for thousands of years, and read out loud as we honour Donna this afternoon. “Praise the LORD, O my soul!” (Ps 103.1, 2, 22) “Forget not all his benefits.” (Ps 103.2) Many of those benefits are then listed: forgiveness, healing (Ps 103.3), redemption, love, compassion (Ps 103.4), satisfied desires, youth renewed like an eagle’s (Ps 103.5). Love as high as the heavens are above the earth (Ps 103.11)—limitless, in other words. Someone who remembers that we are made from dust (Ps 103.14), that our earthly lives come to an end. Trust in a God worthy of trust and who is able to settle troubled hearts even in hard times.

And Jesus also said, “trust in me.” Is he worthy of our trust on a day like today? I believe so. Consider the third reading. He loved his friends. He knew how they were going to feel after he was gone. That’s why he told not to let their hearts be troubled, to trust in him and that there is more than enough room in his Father’s home for them. “If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14.1-4)

If we’re honest, at times like this most of us can relate to what Thomas says next. "We haven't any idea where you are going," he said, "so how can we know the way?” Thomas didn't know what was going on. Doubts and questions. We all have them. I believe Thomas’s honesty give us permission to be honest about our doubts and questions and faith or lack of it. Thomas gives us permission not to have all the answers. Doubt is allowed. It is often a part of a healthy, lively faith. Don’t let it put you off or cause you to give up. Jesus doesn’t so much provide the answer to all life’s questions as he provides us with grace we need to live with them. Besides, to quote Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher, Miguel de Unamuno, "Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”

Jesus says there is a way to God himself. His response to Thomas’ doubt and questions (and ours) makes it clear: “I am,” he said. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14.6)

In other words, trust in me. Trust and know that I love Donna and every one of you, without reservation, as nobody else does. I love you enough to die for you on the cross. I want all of you to enjoy one of those rooms in my Father's house. There's more than enough room for Donna and for all of you—extremely well furnished—changed for the better, no more deterioration, for all eternity.

What is the trustworthy way to that roomy place Jesus is talking about? His answer is characteristically plain and simple. “I am,” says Jesus.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Coulee Flowers

Alberta Wild Rose

Prickly Pear Cactus
Shot with my trusty iPhone 5

Friday, 27 June 2014

Evening Prayer in the Twenty-First Century and Blowing on My Embers

I posted this photograph on Twitter last Wednesday: the brightness of his presence through the clouds seen in the reflection of the trees and the sky on the iPad page. Pleasing. I noticed the photograph before I noticed verse 7 near the bottom of the page

It comes from the Daily Prayer feed from the Church of England via Aimer Media's Daily Prayer app and my iPad camera. 

Daily Prayer gives me Morning, Evening and Night Prayer each day. I don't have to look up what day it is, or the readings, it's all there so I can follow my nose through the office without even switching apps. It is Scripture set to prayer and two readings from Scripture morning and evening. I don't have to be feeling spiritual or holy, it just picks me up wherever I am and however I'm feeling and carries me along in that mysterious yet absolutely trustworthy and true  holy stream which is the Daily Office. Brilliant. 

Then, there came this message on Twitter: 
It's an Ember Day?!?!?!

…to which I replied: 
According to the CofE Daily Prayer iPad- iPhone app it is.

Maple Anglican then pointed out, correctly, that we'd just had Ember Days two weeks ago during Whitsuntide (BCP for "just after Pentecost") and wondered whether there was an error in the app. The makers of the Daily Prayer app then entered the conversation: 
I have found it is correct - EDs are normally observed Wed, Fri & Sat in the week before Sunday nearest to 29 June

…which a little Googling showed is true for the CofE. Concerning Ember Days, Rules to Order the Christian Year states: 
Traditionally they have been observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturday within the weeks before the Third Sunday of Advent, the Second Sunday of Lent and the Sundays nearest to 29 June and 29 September.
The intriguing thing is that what Maple Anglican says is true also. For Canadian Anglicans,
Ember Days of solemn prayer and fasting are traditionally kept at the turn of the four seasons (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Advent 3, Lent 1; the Day of Pentecost and Holy Cross Day). The origins of the tradition are obscure, but in time Ember Days came to be associated almost entirely with solemn prayer for ordinands. In this case the BAS suggests they do not need to be kept at the traditional times, but in relation to local diocesan ordination arrangements. The Ember Days, like Rogation Days, have been de-emphasized in liturgical revision since the 1970s, but there seems to be a reviving sense of their pastoral usefulness. They can be helpful in engaging the church in intentional and deep prayer for its whole ministry: for peace in the world, missionary work, Christian unity and economic justice. (From here)
Who knew? So far I haven't found why we do the week after Pentecost and they do the week before the Sunday nearest June 29. It's one of those lovely, odd Anglican things. Perhaps The LORD thought we need an extra set of Ember Days. 

To me, the important thing is that we just keep praying whatever the day. Ember Days are a lovely idea for prayer whatever the week—special days to drill down a bit deeper, to keep the devotion-to-Jesus-Christ embers burning, to fan them into flame (2 Tim 1.6) and to be a nice dry bit of Anglican kindling for Jesus, ready to burst into flame should he come to baptize me with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3.16). 

Many thanks to Maple Anglican and Aimer Faith Apps for the conversation and for making me do a little extra blowing on my embers. 

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Reckless in Slo-Mo: Small, Daily and Unglamorous


If you debate for a second when God has spoken, it is all up. Never begin to say—‘Well, I wonder if He did speak?’ Be reckless immediately, fling it all out on Him. You do not know when His voice will come, but whenever the realization of God comes in the faintest way imaginable, recklessly abandon. It is only by abandon that you recognize Him. You will only realize His voice more clearly by recklessness. (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, June 8th)
I can't say I heard God speak giving me a retirement date. For me it always seems to come to the point of saying to God, "I haven't heard from you and I really want to do Your will and please you. This is what I'm hoping/planning to do. If it's not what you want, please let me know."

For me it was more a matter of three things:

  • age; in the middle of the range at 67
  • dates; after Easter with the summer then available for posting, interviewing and a move for a new priest 
  • circumstances; my mother, who lived with my sister for fifteen years, always said she'd move into a senior's home before she needed extra care. Advancing years and a couple of strokes took her ability to choose that away so when the move had to happen it was very difficult for her and my sister. There's a lesson in that, I thought; you've got to move before you think you have to because too-late sneaks up on you. 

How reckless is retirement? I suppose one could argue that it's reckless to retire before one has to. It's reckless to abandon a well paid job and to join the ranks of the fixed income pensioners when one doesn't have to, especially when the Canadian Anglican pension fund has had some solvency issues. But it doesn't feel reckless. It's too comfortable for reckless. If it is reckless, it's reckless in slo-mo.

Which brings me to…

Small, Daily and Unglamorous

On their Facebook page Slow Church posted:
Slow Church hopes to affirm the small, the daily, and the unglamorous. It all matters.
Reckless retirement in slo-mo is about small, daily and unglamorous, too. I like it. Especially in the light of some things I've been reading in my daily offices lately.
Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21.45
Not one word. And,
So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. Luke 12.21
Retirement, I find, has not a whole lot of opportunity for laying up any treasure for myself so far. I'm hoping small, daily and unglamorous in slo-mo will be rich toward God.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Meeting Waterloo Again

Battle of Waterloo - William Sadler(1782-1839)
Today is the 199th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought on The Fourth Sunday after Trinity 1815 (if my math is correct—Easter Sunday was March 26th). It was the battle in which the Duke of Wellington finally defeated Napoleon. The battle was significant enough that its very name has become part of English phraseology. To "meet your Waterloo" is to be overcome by your ultimate challenge.

20mm Airfix Napoleon's Polish Lancers I Painted In My War Gaming Days

Yet "It was a near run thing," the Duke of Wellington said about it afterwards, "The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life." Another participant, when asked about his experience of the battle, said, "I'll be hanged if I know anything about the matter for all day I was trodden upon and ridden over by every scoundrel who had a horse." A close call. Touch and go. Trodden upon and ridden over yet victorious.

Where have I heard that before?