Sunday, 24 April 2016

Making All Things New (Rev 21.5): an Homily for the Sunday Before the Arrival of our New Priest, the Reverend Oz Lorentzen

The Fifth Sunday after Easter, Year C—with reference to Acts 11:1–18; Rev 21:1–6 and Jn 13:31–35

Jesus first. As usual. And thoroughly glorified, as we just heard in John 13. “You will look for me,” he said (John 13.33). And we do when we remember. But but we don’t always see him even when we’re looking. If we do see him we don’t always recognize him. Mary Magdalene didn’t at first when the risen Jesus showed up in the garden of the empty tomb—neither did Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. Yet even though not always seen or recognized, Jesus is present. He promised to be. With us always and to the end of the age he said in Matthew 28 (Mt 28.20). Jesus is Lord of all time and ages including ours. We need to know that in this time of transition.

Let’s pray a prayer from the Church of England’s Easter Prayer During the Day acknowledging that:
Christ yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega,
all time belongs to you,
and all ages;
to you be glory and power
through every age and for ever.
Amen. (from Prayer During the Day: Easter Season)
This risen and glorified Jesus is not only present, but as we heard in Revelation, he is making all things new (Rev 21.5)—all the time. Jesus was making things new here at St Barnabas all the way back in 1884 when the Reverend Hugh A Tudor came to found this parish. He was still making them new when Ivor and Hilary arrived in 1977, when Jude and I arrived in 1999, when Dustin and Jolene arrived last year and he will continue making all things new when Oz arrives next Sunday.

Change can be difficult. But if it’s true that Jesus is making all things new, that means there will be lots of change. We’ll be changed from glory to glory (2 Cor 3.18) as we’re renewed. So will St Barnabas.

I was a different priest from Ivor. Dustin was different from me. Oz will be different again. He’s supposed to be because Jesus is making things new around here. I was supposed to be different, so was Dustin and so is Oz because the newness Jesus brings means we all need to develop new spiritual muscles. You all got to develop a new set of muscles when Ivor was here, once they were fit and working well, Jesus made things new by bringing me here so we could all develop another new set of muscles. He did the same with Dustin and will do it again with Oz. Things will be made new.

Using muscles we’ve never used, or haven’t used for a while, can hurt. I’m tearing out the old tile and drywall from our ensuite shower so I can put in a new one. I haven’t used my tile and dry wall tearing out muscles for a while. I’m a bit stiff and sore this morning, but if we want a new shower it has to be done.

Some of the new things Jesus will bring with Oz might cause me and you to use some spiritual muscles we’ve never used, or haven’t used for a while. Some of the new things Jesus brings may be just as disturbing as the “four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air” (Ac 11:6) the Lord showed Peter on that large sheet in Acts 11. And, like Peter, we might think them gross or inedible and will be tempted to resist. Some of you might even be tempted to say, “That’s not the way Dustin did it,” or “You’re just not Gene!” But, you see, that’s exactly the point. Oz isn’t supposed to do things the way Dustin did them, or to be me, because Jesus will be making things new in ways that Oz is particularly tuned and gifted. Oz is coming here because there are certain things for which Oz, in particular, is needed at St Barnabas at this time. It was the same for Dustin and me and Ivor and John Way and John Carter and Hugh Tudor and on back through the ages. After all, as all things are being made new, all the time, for ever and ever, amen—as we prayed earlier, all time and all ages belong to Jesus!

In the meantime, Jesus has told us the best way to get through all new things and the changes they bring in a new commandment. “Love one another”, he said. How? “Just as I have loved you,” he said. How does Jesus love us? 1 Corinthians 13 has a good list. Jesus loves us patiently, kindly, bearing all things, believing in us, hoping for the best for us, enduring all things for us (1 Cor 13.4-7). He also loves us fiercely, self-emptyingly, to death and for always (1 Cor 13.8).

And he shows us his love by including us and our parish in all the things he’s making new. So, following his example and just as Jesus commanded, let’s continue to love one another so Jesus will continue to be glorified and so that Oz and his family will feel warmly welcomed and will know we are, indeed, his disciples (John 13.35) who are being made newer and newer by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus.

Gene+


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Taking It Between the Shoulders: The Holy Spirit in the Prayer Books: Part Three

This was published in the Spring 2016 issue of Anglicans for Renewal, the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine—follow the link the ARM Office to subscribe here

In his farewell blessing to the tribe of Benjamin, Moses said,
The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders. (Dt 33.12)
That the High God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ dwells between their shoulders struck me between the eyes when I read it in Morning Prayer the other day. I’d not noticed it before. I hope he dwells between mine, too.

A good way to remind myself of holy possibilities like that is to pray the Anglican daily offices of morning, evening and night prayer (midday, too, if I’m especially keen). It’s also a good way to keep my heart, soul, mind and body (head, heart and shoulders) centred in the crosshairs of God’s amazing grace and empowering Holy Spirit.

Consider THE ORDER FOR MORNING PRAYER DAILY THROUGHOUT THE YEAR in The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) (Anglican Book Centre, 1962) for example. The opening sentences for Whitsunday and Embertide are:
The love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us. (Romans 5.5) 
and
Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. (Acts 1.8) (p2)
Wonderful reminders with which to begin a day. The love of God has been “poured into our hearts” (ESV), in other words, right between our shoulders through the working of the given Holy Spirit. What a gift! Love and The Comforter shed abroad, poured and given. And not only that, power was received when the Holy Spirit came upon us.

When did the Holy Spirit come upon us? For most of you who are vintage BCP Anglicans, it was before you knew it. Just before you were baptized the Priest prayed that you would be baptized and sanctified with the Holy Spirit (BCP, p523), that the Holy Spirit would be given to you (BCP, p525) and that you would be regenerate with the Holy Spirit (BCP, p529). And power was received, whether you knew or not. Then, with Confirmation, came the Bishop’s prayers that you would be strengthened by and daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more (BCP, p560).

Or, for those baptized and confirmed according to the BAS rites, “Fill them with your holy and life-giving Spirit,” the celebrant prayed, and “Teach them to love others in the power of the Spirit” (BAS, p155), “Anoint them” (BAS, p157) and “Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit” (BAS, p160). The bishop then confirmed it all when s/he prayed,
by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service. Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at their baptism. Send them forth in the power of that Spirit to perform the service you set before them. 
The bishop also prayed that we would be strengthened, empowered, sustained and would
daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more (BAS, p628). 
Empty prayers? I suppose they could be if we let them be. I say, fill them! Why not follow Epaphras’ example and so some struggling in our prayers (Col 4.12) for the Holy Spirit to come upon us all, right between the shoulders, and fill us so that all those prayers prayed over us when we were Baptized and Confirmed would come true to the honour of God’s holy Name, and the good of his Church and people. After all, if we who are so scattered, careless, sinful and easily offended,
know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Lk 11.13)
Gene+



Monday, 11 April 2016

Good Fruit: Healthy Living in the Spirit (Part 5)


The following appears in the Spring 2016 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).

Fruit is important to ARM and to the Church because it is sweet and tasty, spiritually nutritious, refreshing, and it makes Jesus present to the people among whom we live and move and have our being. 

And so we come to our fifth and final consideration of the Galatians 5 Fruit of the Spirit and the final two fruits: gentleness and self control.

Gentleness

Jesus, as usual, is the model. Jesus did all that he did and said all that he said in the power of the Holy Spirit. That meant he always confronted people’s sin and told them the truth with Fruit of the Spirit gentleness (Mt 11.29; 2 Cor 10.2). He still does. 

If I, with God’s help, follow Jesus’ example and use Paul’s curriculum for life in the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14 as my guide, Fruit of the Spirit gentleness is inevitable. 

Paul’s curriculum in a nutshell? Drink of the Spirit constantly (1 Cor 12.13)—open wide (Ps 81.10), pray it in, worship it in, read it in and serve it in, all the while earnestly desiring the greater gifts (1 Cor 12.31), following the excellent way (1 Cor 13), building up, encouraging and comforting (1 Cor 14.3) as we go. 

That is how gentleness is to be pursued (1 Tim 6.11). When you get right down to it, Fruit of the Spirit gentleness means no hitting; not with the fist, or the tongue, or the Bible. It doesn’t mean we can’t speak the truth. Jesus did it all the time. It’s just that, like Jesus, we have speak it with Fruit of the Spirit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control. Even opponents can be corrected with gentleness (2 Tim 2.25) and the hope that is in us is best shared with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3.15).

Self Control

Fruit of the Spirit self control is, simply, to control oneself in the power of the Holy Spirit. “It involves moderation, constraint, and the ability to say “no” to our baser desires and fleshly lusts” (http://www.gotquestions.org/fruit-Holy-Spirit-self-control.html). “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh,” writes Paul in Galatians just before his list of Spirit Fruit, “for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5.17). Self control is to resist doing some things I might really want to do but which I know are not helpful or are downright sinful.

John 3.16 is a key verse for most Christians. Luke’s gospel has a key 3.16, too, especially for those interested in charismatic renewal. In it, John the Baptist says Jesus would be the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. I wonder if Paul had that idea in mind when he wrote to Timothy, “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6–7). 

Following Jesus’ example and Paul’s curriculum for life in the Spirit fans the gift(s) of Holy Spirit into flame. Notice how self-control goes with power and love in 2 Timothy. One of the things we have to control in ourselves when being open to and operating in the power and love of the Holy Spirit, is fear. Fear can turn healthy Fruit of the Spirit self-control into fleshly self-ish control so the Spirit is quenched. The gift(s) of the Holy Spirit may be fiery and powerful, but never destructive, other than of sin. Exercising Fruit of the Spirit self-control sometimes means acting with courage when God is moving in power. It is worth noting that, often, when God and his messengers show up in the Bible, the first human reaction is fear and the first words from the messenger are, “Do not be afraid.” 

God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, still comes to his people today in the power of the Holy Spirit. Do not be afraid. His gifts are good, powerful and loving. The Fruit of his Spirit are good and sweet. Enjoy them. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

From the ARM Chair

My first Anglicans for Renewal magazine (Spring 2016) message as interim Chairman of the Anglican Renewal Ministries Canada Board.

This is my first “post” from the ARM Chair. As I write I am gratefully conscious of the faithful chairmen who have gone before; all of whom have led wisely and served well; most recently The Venerable Perry Cooper from Central Newfoundland. The seat has been well warmed.

ARM Board Prayer Retreat

We’ve just finished our second annual ARM Board prayer retreat in Okotoks, Alberta, at which we welcomed our newest member, The Reverend Robert Porter, from the Diocese of Ontario. His arrival dropped the average age of ARM board members by a gratifying decade, or two. Welcome Robert.

Both prayer retreats have been valuable opportunities for the Board to focus on the LORD’s promptings and direction for ARM without having to do any “business.” We deal with that at our monthly board meetings and at our Annual General Meeting, which this year will take place in Miramichi, NB, on Friday, May 13, 2015. This time Board Prayer Co-ordinator, Jane Jones, reminded us that at our last retreat we were given the necessary “keys” (Isa 22.22; Mt 16.19; Rev 3.7) for our ministry, now we need to learn how to use and develop them well so the necessary doors will be opened.

Those keys for ARM are three:

  1. Schools of Renewal Ministry—with Jane Jones responsible for content and curriculum
  2. Missionary Outreach Family Nights—an exciting new intergenerational initiative headed up by ARM Board member, The Reverend John VanStone
  3. Social Media and OnLine Presence—the development of which I am responsible.

We enjoyed two special visits during this retreat. The Reverend Chris Nojonen, of Oasis, formerly Lutheran Renewal Canada, joined us for a few hours to share what they’re up to, pray and talk about ways in which we might work together. The Most Reverend Greg Kerr-Wilson, Metropolitan of Rupert’s Land and Archbishop of Calgary also joined us over a meal. He and our Episcopal Visitor, The Right Reverend Fraser Lawton, Bishop of Athabasca, gave us some valuable insights on how ARM might serve dioceses and parishes better.

Bright Wings

Personally, apart from the rich time in prayerful and worshipful community, two things have stuck in my mind. One from the day before the retreat, the other, a phrase from a Gerald Manley Hopkins poem that came to mind a few days after. The first, a passage of Scripture from Morning Prayer on the Sunday before the retreat—The Baptism of the Lord—Acts 19.1-7 in which Paul found some disciples in Ephesus, ‘And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”’ (Acts 19:2 (ESV) We Anglicans say the words Holy Spirit repeatedly during Sunday worship. But saying it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re hearing what we’re saying and who he is. Holy Spirit can all too easily become liturgical background noise as we follow our habitual well-worn path through the familiar words. ARM exists to help open the ears of Anglican hearts so the Holy Spirit can reclaim his rightful place in the foreground, with the two other persons of the Holy Trinity, so we can be reminded of who the Holy Spirit really is and what he is saying to the church. We want every Anglican to hear clearly that there is, indeed, a Holy Spirit, and to be refreshed and empowered by his presence,
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(Gerald Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur)
We came away from this retreat Holy Spirit refreshed, encouraged and with new God-given avenues to explore.

As we continue to seek new opportunities for refreshing, Holy Spirit filling ministry, we’d like to hear from you. What can we do to help you to hear anew that there is a Holy Spirit who helps, comforts, empowers, guides us into all truth and always glorifies Jesus? We’d like to help you experience the refreshing, bright-winged Holy Spirit in your parish, district, deanery or diocese in a new way. Please email me through the ARM website with any requests or ideas and we’ll do our best to help.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Easter Empties: Thoughts and a Link Including a Short Easter Homily with Reference to John 20

Empty became an Easter theme for me over the last few years. Empty cross, empty tomb, often running on empty, myself, by Easter Sunday morning because of all the Holy Week activities, the intensified emotional and spiritual disturbances  that always seemed to brew up (the period leading up to Christmas was the same), and the, for me, often draining push to make the Easter celebrations as rich and full as possible. It was wonderful and fraught, exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time—rather like the lead up to opening night for a stage show. 

I can certainly relate to the following liturgical fragment some wag conceived on the subject: 

Amen. 

And today I also discovered another riff on the empty theme from Matt Marino's most excellent THE GOSPEL SIDE blog on Easter's Empty Promises—empty cross, tomb and burial clothes. Read it all here

Yesterday, presiding again at StB on Easter morning, I got to continue on the theme as follows: 

Jesus wasn’t in the tomb when Mary Magdalene went there early on that first day of the week while it was still dark. She thought someone had taken his body. She ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple. It must have been very disturbing, especially after what they’d all just been through in the previous week from hell. The tomb was empty.

In 2006, the Archbishop Of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi began his Easter Message like this (I’ve shared this before, but I love it, so I’m going to share it again):
When we are told the water tank for the Archbishop’s Palace is empty (which it often is!), we say, “That is not good.” When my wife, Mama Phoebe, discovers that the food store is empty, we say, “That is not good.” When my driver tells me that the fuel tank in my vehicle is empty, I say, “That is not good.” 
If you are like me, most of our associations with the word ‘empty’ are negative. We think, “empty is bad, and full is good.” 
Yet, Easter challenges that assumption, because it is an empty cross and an empty tomb that are central to our faith. The resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ sets him apart from all other human beings throughout history and especially all other religious teachers. Buddha is dead. Confucius is dead. Mohammed is dead. Jesus and Jesus alone has returned from the grave, never to die again. Jesus is alive today! Empty is good!
Empty didn’t appear to be good to Mary in our Resurrection Gospel reading this morning. Mary Magdalene must have felt as if she was “running on empty” in a bad way as she ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple that Jesus was gone and the tomb is empty. Jesus wasn’t there (except he was, but they couldn’t see him yet). But Jesus is here for us now (except we can’t see him either). And then when Mary did see him, she didn’t recognize him (John 20.14). Amazing. She must have known him so well—every line on his face, every mannerism. He even spoke to her to ask her why she was crying and who she was looking for (John 20.15)—as if he didn’t know. She thought he was the gardener. She still didn’t recognize him. Until he said her name.

And suddenly, empty was good. Wonder of wonders, because the tomb was empty Jesus could fill the dark, empty void in Mary’s grieving heart with the goodness of his presence and she knew the empty tomb was a good thing; a very good thing, indeed.

“I have seen the Lord!” was the next thing she said to the disciples. Her heart was full. Empty, she had discovered, was good.

The tomb was empty because Jesus had conquered sin and death. The empty tomb means the world is full of the resurrection power of God Almighty. The tomb was EMPTY. Jesus is FULLY and wonderfully raised from the dead.

Jesus is here now. The tomb is still empty, so this church isn’t. No Christian church is. This church is full. Jesus fills it by his Holy Spirit. He just does, because he is God which means he is omnipresent, that is, he is everywhere at the same time. Not only that, he is omniscient, in other words, he knows everything—past, present and future. Jesus is also omnipotent, or all powerful. Those three attributes mean that Jesus can be fully present to everyone, everywhere, all the time, but especially in his church.

He is here. Like Mary, I might not recognize him. He might look like a gardener, or one of you, or like bread and wine, or like a church full of flawed people like you and me. “Now you are the body of Christ” wrote Paul to the Christians in Corinth, “and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 ESV) So are you. You and I are all the body of Christ, the Church, in the world and individually members of it. This is the best place in the world to look for Jesus and to listen for when he might say your name as he did for Mary. This is the best place in the world to bring our empty bits for him to fill with his Holy Spirit—this is the place to bring any of our empty, grieving hearts, like Mary’s, to be filled with the goodness of his presence in the worship and in the bread and the wine. If this is where Jesus is, this is the best place in the world to be as often as possible.

Alleluia! The tomb was empty. Empty is good. In Jesus, God the Father has made empty good enough to run on. Running on empty is good because of Jesus.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Leaning Into Lent: Day 40—Digging Deeper

There. Forty days. It’s all gone quiet. Spear heads wiped clean, hammers and nails put away until the next time. Jesus’ body is safely in a tomb, stone rolled into place. His seditious, maddening talk and histrionics silenced, his magic tricks stilled by rational politics.

I love the way Professor John Stackhouse describes it in The Subversiveness of Easter:
Then he is buried. Gone. Out of sight, out of mind.
Like a ticking bomb.
Heh, heh.

Tomorrow we celebrate, but before that, I wonder what the forty day attempt at observing a Holy Lent has done in me. I certainly don’t feel like I’m about to go down off a mountain, like Moses. Nor do I feel like I’ve just completed a forty day battle with Satan in the wilderness, like Jesus. What has it all achieved?

First an insight from a book. In The Cloister Walk (New York: Riverhead Books, 1996) Kathleen Norris described her time with the Benedictine monks like this:
I should try telling my friends who have a hard time comprehending why I like to spend so much time going to church with Benedictines that I do so for the same reasons that I write: to let words work the earth of my heart. (p144-145)
That’s what’s happened to me, too. God’s words in Scripture and Daily Prayer have worked the earth of my heart these forty days. A holy rototiller.

Finally, an insight from THE book. Back on Day 24 the second reading in Morning Prayer was Hebrews 10 which is about how Jesus’ sacrifice was bodily, once and for all and which includes this verse:
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,  “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me” (Heb 10.5)
The writer is quoting Psalm 40.6:
Sacrifice and offering you have not desired, but you have given me an open ear. 
…the original Hebrew literally means, “ears you have dug for me.”

Most of the time Leaning into Lent is the unspectacular, earthy spiritual work of making myself available and attentive so God’s words can work the earth of my heart as he digs my ears clear, so I can hear the bodily risen Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. Year after year.

Gene+


Friday, 25 March 2016

Leaning Into Lent: Day 39—Majestic Submission

Lean closer. Listen. The city hums. The occasional motorcycle from the new spring crop rumbles by. The furnace hums. Purple finches squabble over bird seed at the feeders. Cars pass. Maddy, the dog, twitches and whimpers in her dreams on the sofa. Railway locomotive diesels throb through the coulee. Life goes on around me. Most people are enjoying a holiday. Most are oblivious to what we Jesus followers are up to on Good Friday just as they must have been in Jerusalem when Jesus drank the cheap sour wine, said "It is finished" and gave up his spirit. Life went on all around as "he poured himself out to death" (Isa 53:12); so many oblivious, then and now, to the final fight to the death for their souls and ours.

Lean even closer. Listen. Nothing seems to have changed.

I don't feel the anguish that Jesus felt. My life is not in danger. I can't crank the feelings up at will. But that's not the point. It really is finished. The point is to listen to the words of Holy Scripture, and to remember and to honour Him for—to give him worth for who He is and what He completed. I remember at an Evangelical Association city wide Good Friday service a few years ago, now retired Pastor Mark Bolender called what Jesus did, "majestic submission."

When I lean close and bow, my all too frail, willful and sinful humanity is brought into distressing relief when compared to His majestic innocence and submission.

And yet, I keep leaning in—listening. What makes Good Friday so very good is the way that through that majestic submission, "God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor 4.6)

My heart cannot but glow in the face of such knowledge.

From Night Prayer:
Almighty God,
as we stand at the foot of the cross of your Son,
help us to see and know your love for us,
so that in humility, love and joy
we may place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Amen.
Gene+