Friday, 13 November 2015

A Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Rev 7.9-12 and John 14.1-6: for Shirley Corbett

Jesus said, “Don’t be troubled.” (John 14.1) Don’t be troubled? How can I not be troubled? It seems to me poor Shirley Corbett had to lie in that bed at Masterpiece, unable to communicate with those who love her, for way longer than she deserved. And there’s a myriad of other things that trouble me, too; sick friends, strained relationships, addictions that I can’t control, and on and on—not to mention it being Friday the Thirteenth. Tell me how I can not be troubled and rise above all of that!

Jesus said “Don’t be troubled” to his disciples because he loved them and to prepare them for what he knew was to come. He knew his crucifixion and death would cause them great fear and pain. A couple of chapters later, after describing some of the additional troubles they would face, Jesus said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)

“In this world you will have trouble.” True enough and Shirley certainly had her share, but if there was anyone who lived by what he said next; “Take heart! I have overcome the world,” it was Shirley Corbett. “You trust God,” Jesus said in our reading from John, “now trust in me.” (John 14.1) And Shirley did. I will never forget her faithfulness in bringing Chantel and Mensha to St Barnabas, having taken responsibility for their care at the age of seventy, I believe, when Mensha was eighteen months old, I can’t remember how old you were, Chantel, and I know she’s still trusting in Jesus for their welfare and benefit. I admire Shirley Corbett because, whatever the trouble and the set-backs she faced, even when she was unable to communicate she never gave up on trusting in Jesus. I could tell even in her last years with us by the way her face lit up whenever she heard the old familiar prayers from the prayer book. 

Consider the fruit of that trust according to the readings we’ve just heard. First, a room and a place for her in the heavenly home of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ himself (John 14.2) because Shirley knew where Jesus was going and how to get there (John 14.3). And, she’ll be one of that vast crowd, we heard about in the reading from Revelation, standing in front of the throne and before Jesus clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” who is Jesus. Something to hear! And Shirley now, freed to speak again after these last few years of speechlessness and to join in the celebration, gets to enjoy that, her new room and the exuberant worship, perhaps even dancing, for all eternity. 

At times like this, when I’m trying to come to terms with trouble and suffering and things that don’t seem fair, and death, I find myself hoping and believing—trusting—that Jesus is right, trusting in him is the only Way, Truth and Life (John 14.6) which can bring me through life’s troubles alive. I hope, as I know Shirley would, that you will choose to do the same. James, Chantel and Mensha, I’m sure if your Grandma Shirley could speak to you now she’d say she is hoping and praying that you will, too, in the church she loved so much.  

“And all the angels…fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang, 
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom 
and thanksgiving and honour 
and power and strength belong to our God 
forever and ever! Amen.”

And, now, with God’s help, as we continue our worship this afternoon, if we incline our hearts just so and listen very carefully, we might just hear Shirley’s voice among them. 

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Praying for the Government

In today's Medicine Hat News…

After a marathon campaign, big wins and losses in election results that surprised most of us, and the formal transition of power over the last few days, you'll be reading this on the first Saturday under the new Liberal regime. Tomorrow, of course, will the first Sunday. Although our government has changed, what we Christians are called to do as Canadian citizens has not. We continue to worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, we continue to be witnesses of the Resurrection, we continue to love and serve our neighbours (whatever their politics) and we continue to pray. In particular, we continue to pray for our government and our elected representatives locally, provincially and federally, whether we voted for them or not.

The Apostle Paul urged "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. " (1Ti2.1-2) That's a good thing to do any day, especially the Sunday after a government change. I think it's worth praying for peaceful, quiet, Godly and dignified lives for all Canadians. I can pray for that whole-heartedly no matter what the government's political stripe and whether I agree with them, or not.

I think the Canadian Anglican Book of Common Prayer put's it well in A Prayer for the Queen and the Commonwealth. "ALMIGHTY God, the fountain of all good-
 ness, we humbly beseech thee to bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH, the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, and all who are set in authority under her (and I include ours and our provincial and municipal governments here); that they may order all things in wisdom, righteousness, and peace, to the honour of thy holy Name, and the good of thy Church and people; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen." (p12)

Such prayers stimulate the activity of the Holy Spirit in the decision-making and actions of our new government. With God's good Spirit involved, things are much more likely to be ordered in wisdom, righteousness and peace, to the honour of God's holy Name and the good of his Church and people. When that happens everyone wins.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Holy Spirit in the Prayer Books

This was published in the Fall 2015 issue of Anglicans for Renewal, the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine. 

I'm an Anglican by marriage. Actually, we all are if you go back far enough. So I didn't grow up with the Prayer Book. I was pretty suspicious of it and the idea of praying out of books when I first encountered it. But I really wanted to be in the company and good graces of a certain intriguing and very attractive young woman who happened to be Anglican and attended Evensong at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was in her company that my experience of praying out of a book began. She was a very comely incentive. God is good. 

Some years later when I came to a faith of my own, it was when I made television programs for a living. Most of the program's I made required a script. I directed the actors, performers, crew, images and sound to tell the script's story. One day I realized that the Prayer Book was like one of those scripts. We worshippers take the words of the page, into our hearts and offer them in worship to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And The Story continues as it is told over and over again.

I became Anglican just after The Book of Alternative Services came on the scene. I have to confess that I enjoyed the contemporary language. It seemed more open to me. I still enjoy it. But those early years of praying the office, exploring The Prayers and Thanksgivings, Family Prayer, Compline and the rest followed by fifteen years of Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion on Sundays at 830 gave me some roots and prayers for real life.

Last June I experienced the joy of being present when my granddaughter was confirmed at St Mary’s in Regina. As he laid his hands on each confirmand, Bishop Hardwick used the second prayer For Confirmation in The Book of Alternative Services: “Defend, O Lord, your servant Emily with your heavenly grace, that she may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until she comes to your everlasting kingdom. Amen. (p628) This is also the confirmation prayer from The Book of Common Prayer (p560) in contemporary English.

Now is that a wild-eyed, knock-down charismatic prayer, or what? “Daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more”? It was done very decently and in order, but those were the words prayed out loud, over my granddaughter (and everyone else who is confirmed in the Anglican Church of Canada) to the living God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Think about it. It’s a wonder we weren’t all thrown to the floor in a tangle of Anglican knees and kneelers. But we weren’t—at least not outwardly. I wonder why? Have we just given up on expecting God to act in such ways? Are we hoping for it, but God is saying, “Not now”? I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that confirmation should only be valid when everyone is slain in the Spirit (although I’d love to see it one day). But what if you and I were to pay closer attention to the way the Holy Spirit of truth is woven through our prayer book prayers and liturgies bearing witness about Jesus (John 15.26) and what if we watch for them and pray into them? Might the Lord be waiting to release something new?

In that hope, Lord willing, I’m going to explore the references to the Holy Ghost/Spirit in our books to see where they lead. And what better place to start than with the SOLEMN DECLARATION 1893 (The Book of Common Prayer, p. viii), a foundational document for the Anglican Church of Canada.

“In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen,” are the first words; an foundational invocation of the Holy Trinity. We begin with profound mystery. Such is the Holy Spirit. Such is the Father and the Son. We worship one God in three Persons. Indivisible. So when we focus on one Person, we do not deny or diminish the others. To be filled with the Holy Ghost is to be filled with all the fullness of God. And that is about as far as I dare go with that except to say that it is the best way to begin this expression of the Anglican church.

The next reference is in the third paragraph; a declaration that this church will “worship One God and Father through the same Lord Jesus Christ, by the same Holy and Divine Spirit who is given to them that believe to guide them into all truth.” Believe, and I am given that Holy and Divine Spirit to guide me into all truth. What is truth? God’s word is (John 17.17) and I am (John 14.6) says Jesus and truth is in Jesus, writes Paul (Eph 4.21). Not only that, but the Holy and Divine Spirit is the Spirit of that truth (John 14.17 & 15.26) and that pretty well wraps it up.

So the foundational document of the Anglican Church of Canada (after the Scriptures and the prayer book) affirms and attests that it is important to have been given the Holy and Divine Spirit because he will guide us into Jesus. Thus begins our trustworthy script for Anglican worship; a script which is essentially the Scriptures set to prayer.

As we learn our lines in worship and prayer may we make them our own while daily increasing in the Holy Spirit more and more until times of refreshing, renewal and revival come. Amen and amen.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Joy of The Lord Strength: a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Neh 8.91-12, Ecc 3.1-8 and John 14.1-6—for Betty Atkinson

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven,” (Ecc 3.1) just as we heard in the reading from Ecclesiastes 3 and Jesus was, is and always will be in every one them—for Betty Atkinson, and Barry, right from the beginning, and in every one of yours and mine, too, whether we recognize it, or not. I suspect Betty and Barry experienced the full list of times, seasons and activities we heard in the rest of that reading—from the time when they born to when they were primary school sweethearts (probably wouldn’t be allowed now) to the times and seasons and activities of marriage, children being born, and all the planting, uprooting, dancing, scattering, gathering, keeping, and embracing that raising a family involves. Jesus was there as they boated on the Great Lakes, just as truly as he was with the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, and as their lives were ignited during a clandestine Alpha course in Rhiyad, Saudi Arabia, moved to Forestburg, Alberta and finally St Barnabas, Medicine Hat.
I’m glad their times, seasons and activities brought them here. I know you are, too. I loved visiting and hearing the stories of their Alpha days over at Bonnie’s Branch. They always seemed to be laughing together, even when they were telling me about the painful things they were going through with Betty’s health. I have such fond memories of watching them help each other get their robe and mic on when they were Lay Assistants on Sunday mornings. Always together. Until now. And it sucks.
And yet. And yet. That piece we heard in the first reading from Nehemiah contained Betty’s favourite verse: “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8.10) And I wonder if the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to hear his voice in it today especially. “‘This day is sacred to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” (Neh 8.9) They were just back a long exile in Babylon, you see. An exile ten years shorter than Betty’s life. Seventy years. A long time. They were weeping for joy and for all they’d lost. We weep, too, for Betty, and what we’ve lost in her death, but there’s joy, too. Joy for a good life full of love and a good marriage and good memories and children, grandchildren and a great grandbaby. O yes, there were hard things, too: pain and separation, chronic pain in her back, and a mind starting to play tricks on her and she knew it. But if there was ever a woman over whom the Lord had joy, it is Betty Atkinson. So this day is indeed sacred as we honour her and worship the One who created her.
The title they put in the Bible for the reading we heard from John’s gospel is “Jesus Comforts His Disciples.” Why did he feel he needed to comfort them? Because he knew what was coming and that they would soon be grieving over his death. Jesus, who has a hand in Betty’s and Barry’s lives, and in all of ours, too, knows about and experienced times like this. His words are intended for our comfort, too.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” (John 14.1) he says.
“You can say that all you want,” you or I might reply, “but my heart IS troubled. I miss Betty. She’s left a hole in my life. I’m glad she is no longer in pain, but I miss her and I wish she didn’t have to go just yet.”
So, “trust in God,” Jesus says, “Trust also in me.”
“Trust in what? What are you offering?”
“A room in my Father’s house, prepared and ready for you where I am.”
“Fair enough. That sounds pretty good but, Lord,” we might say, like Thomas, “we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way? Besides, it seems we have to die to get there. What sort of comfort is that?”
I think Betty Atkinson had an insight into what Jesus meant. As I mentioned, her favourite Bible verse was “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8.10) Note whose joy is our strength. Not Betty’s (although she did possess a full portion of Fruit of the Holy Spirit joy [Gal 5.22] pressed down and running over) Not mine. Not yours. It’s the joy of the Lord, no matter how you and I feel. Joy-of-the-LORD strength gives the eyes of our hearts the ability to see through pain and grief to
things like the “greater things,” Jesus promised Nathaneal in John’s gospel with “heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” (John 1.50-51). It was joy-of-the-LORD strength in Acts chapter 7 that empowered Stephen and filled him with the Holy Spirit so he could see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at he right hand (Acts 7.55) as he was being stoned to death. Joy-of-the-LORD strength brings comfort when times are tough and when things don’t make sense. Joy-of-the-LORD strength empowers us to trust that when Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6) is not only the best way through times like this, but is also a truth that is completely trustworthy, and promises a life which is not only abundant, but everlasting.
With the joy of the Lord as her strength, Betty Atkinson followed the way Jesus provided; believed, taught and lived by the truth he is; and lives the life he was, is now and ever shall be. With the joy of the Lord as our strength, we can do the same.

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. And may your joy be my strength.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A Surprise Worship Encounter at St Nicholas Naval Cathedral in St Petersburg, Russia

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Is 55.4-5)
I think I had an experience of that on Saturday, August 22nd, in St Petersburg, Russia, of all places. Our Intourist guide, Tatyana, had started our day with a visit to the Naval Cathedral of St Nicholas. Our driver, Yuri, parked the car and we did the usual neck-craning, open-mouthed walk to the door while looking up at the gold-leafed spires gleaming in the Russian morning sun.

As we walked through the doors we were enveloped by the most beautiful music. The Divine Liturgy was being sung. What sounded to me like a sixty voice choir turned out to be a quartet in street clothes off to the side and around a corner. Every now and then the young conductor would move to the centre and conduct them and a woman came and went adding and removing sheets of music. They were an informal looking, but certainly not sounding, counterpoint to the liturgical choreography being performed in the sanctuary.

The priest and what I assume were deacons moved gracefully in and out of the sanctuary with and without thuribles. Blue incense floated through the gold-leafed Royal Gates. There were few worshippers—mostly women with their heads covered by scarves who would cross themselves reverently and bow every now and then. They came and went, bowing under the rope barrier that separated them from us tourists. The icon shops behind me did their business and tourists wandered about.

As has happened for thousands of years, the very God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was being worshipped in the Power of the Holy Spirit right in front of me. It was ancient, primeval, holy, and I couldn’t understand a word. Tears sprang to my eyes. I realize now that what was happening was my spirit was responding to the very presence of Jesus in that worship. It seemed very right in its "otherness" and sense of mystery.

Wikipedia says this about the orthodox Divine Liturgy:
In Eastern traditions, those of the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the Divine Liturgy is seen as transcending time, and the world. All believers are believed to be united in worship in the Kingdom of God along with departed Saints and the celestial Angels. To this end, everything in the Liturgy is seen as symbolic, yet also not just merely symbolic, but making the unseen reality manifest. According to Eastern tradition and belief, the Liturgy's roots go back to Jewish worship and the adaptation of Jewish worship by Early Christians. 
Time was transcended and the ancient Jewish Jerusalem temple did come to my mind as I witnessed that worship in St Petersburg.

In its day Temple worship had nothing to do with the people’s preferences and tastes, other than a few allowances to do with poverty and transporting animals over long distances. God was to be worshipped exactly how and where he decreed and that was it. David acknowledged that when he left the Ark with Obed-edom the Gittite because “the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule” (1 Chr 15.13). I am not a scholar or a liturgical theologian, but I had a sense of a something temple-like going in St Nicholas—an ancient spiritual engine running there as people came and went, most of them oblivious to what was happening.

Contemporary liturgical revision has carried us a long way from that I believe I witnessed in St Petersburg. I wonder if it’s been in the wrong direction. So much of today’s worship is about what makes us feel good, or is couched in language that addresses some socio-political issue rather than simply and unconditionally giving glory to Almighty God himself. I wonder if, like Uzzah, we’ve put our hands out to take hold of the Ark of our worship (2 Sam 6.6) because we think it too out of step with our reasonable, postmodern tastes and sensibilities. Will the consequences of our equally well meaning intervention be as costly for us as they were for Uzzah?

Meanwhile, in St Petersburg, the Divine Liturgy continues to be sung just as it has through all the vagaries of history including schism in the church and communist oppression and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ continues to be worshipped in some style.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Good Fruit: Healthy Living in the Spirit (Part 3)

The following appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Anglicans for Renewal magazine. 

ARM’s purpose is to help us all experience and enjoy more of the refreshing presence of God, the Holy Spirit, in our lives, our relationships and our church. With God’s presence come the gifts of the Spirit. When we walk by the Spirit and his gifts, we become the branches (John 15.1-8) upon which the fruit of the Spirit grows. As always, Jesus is our vine and model. Jesus perfectly reveals kindness, and all the other Fruits of the Spirit, in action. He is always perfectly loving, joyous, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal 5.22).

This is the third in a series of reflections on the Fruit of the Spirit.


While I know that, as someone said, God is the fastest checkers player in the world so it’s always my move, I always seem to find myself waiting and hoping patiently (or not) for something from him; for Jesus to come again (but not too soon—there are things I’d like to experience first), for someone to be healed, for provision, for dear (or irritating) brothers and sisters in the Lord to agree with me, for all manner of things I think it would be good for the Lord to do. The waiting becomes spiritually perilous when I lose patience and sinfully rebel by thinking God is too slow or missing what I think is the point, or by taking matters into my own hands, or just ceasing to believe and worship.

John, the gospel of and Revelation writer, knew something of that. A composer friend of mine who wrote an oratorio on Revelation reckoned John must have been on LSD or something like it to generate its apocalyptic energy, imagery and visions. But it wasn’t LSD, it was the Holy Spirit John was on. He was “in the Spirit” one Lord’s day when he wrote,
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev 1.9-10).
That patient endurance in the face of tribulation sounds like Spirit Fruit to me. It’s patience which isn’t easy or superficial. It comes from the real life depths of hearts and minds filled with the Holy Spirit.

James knew something of it, too. “Be patient, therefore, until the coming of the Lord,” he wrote.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7–8). 
I don’t know how it grows, I just plant my heart in the Lord and wait. Patiently. And just as the seed in the good soil in the Parable of the Sower, “are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8.15), so will I, Lord willing.

Patience shares roots with other Spirit Fruit, primarily love (1 Cor 13.4; Eph 4.2; Col 3.14) and joy (Col 1.11). Patience, along with faith, will see me counted among those who will inherit the Lord’s promises (Heb 6.12). It is patience with which I must bear with others in love (Eph 4.2; Col 3.12-13), seek for glory and honour and immortality in well-doing (Ro 2.7), face tribulation (Ro 12.12), admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted and help the weak (1 Thes 5.14). Spirit Fruit patience will do the same for you if you wait long enough.


As regards kindness, scripture is clear. We are required to love kindness and show it to one another (Mic 6.8; Zech 7.9). We are to put it on, bearing with and forgiving one another in love and in the name of the Lord Jesus (Col 3.12-17). Whoever pursues it “will find life, righteousness, and honour” (Pr 21.21). So, just as Paul exhorts you and me to “earnestly desire” the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 13.31; 14.1), Spirit Fruit kindness must also be worthy of earnest desire.

That kind of kindness is more than the milk of just human kindness and being nice. It’s like John 3.16 and 1 Cor 13 love which has less to do with feelings, especially warm fuzzy ones, than with self-denying acts of the will.

It’s easy to be kind to some people. To those of whom I’m fond, who suffer quietly and with no demands I can be kind in my own strength. It’s easy to be kind to small animals such as bunnies and puppies. Where I need the Spirit Fruit to kick in is with people I dislike, who are demanding or have hurt me, who, to my plank-blinkered eyes are wallowing in self-pity. That’s when, more often than I like to admit, I need the Fruit of the Spirit operating in my life as grace.

Speaker and author James Ryle defines grace as the empowering Presence of God enabling me to be who he created me to be, and to do what he has called me to do. Dallas Willard wrote that grace is what enables me to do what I can’t do on my own. God’s grace empowers me to BE kind and to DO kindly. It enables me to be kind to people towards whom I don’t feel particularly kindly. God’s grace works in me and you, through spiritual gifts we do not lack (1 Cor 1.7), which are given to each of us for the common good (1 Cor 12.7) and “to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12.11). As we cooperate by earnestly desiring the higher gifts (1 Cor 12.31; 14.1) and doing our best to follow the more excellent way of love (1 Cor 13), he sets the Fruit of the Spirit on us branches to grow and ripen so Jesus is glorified and the church may be built up (1 Cor 14.5 & 12).

That’s what patience and kindness and all the others are for. Thanks be to God.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Raanujärvi - Luukonniemi, Finland Noir

Just returned to Helskinki after a wonderful weekend north of the Arctic Circle in Lapland where, with Jude's sister Eleanor and her husband Dave we enjoyed a delightful Finnishing school under the most hospitable tutelage of Lasse and Marja-Leena Niemi. We experienced friendship, sauna (both smoking and non), reindeer and other Finnish culinary delights.