Tuesday, 13 June 2023

The Venerable (then merely Rev) Noel Wygiera preached this sermon 24 years ago today on the occasion of my being formally induced into St Barnabas Anglican Church, Medicine Hat—thank you, brother Noel­čÖĆ‼️

In the officiant's words which open a service of Celebration of a New Ministry, we hear that such an occasion is a new beginning because the new minister brings certain gifts to "our ministry together." This is a very appropriate and important sentiment because it both speaks of gifts brought, and it speaks of ministry which is a shared responsibility. As we look at the first ten verses of Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians, it becomes clear that we are in good company when we speak of such things and that we can set a context for Gene's ministry in this place by understanding the context of the ministry of Paul in this letter to the Church at Corinth. I want to look first at this idea of what Paul calls "this ministry" and then at the gifts that one might think support it, but really flow from it. And how all of this is related to Gene Packwood's new ministry at St. Barnabas, Medicine Hat.

Paul starts this passage by saying, "Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not loose heart." Paul says, we have "this" ministry and I suppose this is why this is a suggested reading for occasions like these. It refers to ministry. However, if we were to look only at this passage and not locate it in the context of Paul's wider letter, we might be tempted to look at only what this ministry means to us or to someone like Gene who we expect to engage in "this ministry" in this place. In reality, there is something bigger going on here. Paul was making a comparison by using these particular words. He was actually comparing "this ministry" to something which is implied and we might identify as "that ministry." And this comparison is very timely for the Church in the late twentieth century as well.

In this Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul is having to deal with some real problems that have arisen in the Corinthian Church. We're not talking about finances or fights over hymn books or prayer books—somehow, in light of what he was up against, I think he might have looked forward to those kinds of battles. Rather, he was dealing with something much heavier, and far more destructive. He was having to deal with doctrinal error and with the false teaching that was promoting it. Mixed up with these things was the fact that those who we might identify as the false teachers also put a lot of effort into slandering Paul and they attempted to make him look bad, both in the eyes of the Corinthian Church, and in light of the corrupt gospel that they were proclaiming. With this in mind, we can note that Paul's comparison identifies the teachings of the false teachers with "that" ministry, and that through God's mercy, we have "this" ministry.

Without actually discussing what these other missionaries were teaching, and noting that the specific issues are not necessarily the same, let me warn you- the spirit of "that" ministry is alive and well, and is making a real comeback at the close of this millennium. We need to so fully understand "this" ministry that we have been given so that we can tell the difference so as to boldly proclaim the truth that we have received in God's Word. 

I heard a great story in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago which I think really draws a line between "that" ministry and "this" ministry. The story was told by Paul Barnett, the Bishop of North Sidney who was co-leading a preaching course that I attended at Regent College. He said that there was an American bishop who felt called to go to Africa to straighten people out on a few matters of Christian belief. As you may well know, the Church in Africa is experiencing enormous and rapid growth at this time. I suppose this bishop was feeling a little frightened by this as the Gospel being proclaimed in Africa is different than the one that his own "enlightened" mind was starting to comprehend. So he thought he needed to do something about it.

In one speech, standing before thousands of new Christian converts, and speaking through an interpreter, the bishop proclaimed to the ignorant masses that they needed to reject what they had been taught; that the Bible needed to be seen as allegory; and that the Resurrection was simply a metaphor for something that happened in the distressed minds or in the collective psyche of the disciples after Jesus died. The bishop paused to allow the interpreter to translate his words into the language of the people. The interpreter, in a tongue that everybody except the bishop could understand, simply said, "So far he hasn't said anything worth repeating!" The interpreter obviously understood the difference between "this" ministry and "that" ministry, and whether he was assigned to do a particular job or not, he was not about to proclaim "that" ministry.

So what is "this" ministry that is ours through God's mercy? What are its distinguishing features? And even more importantly, does Gene Packwood know anything about it? The ministry that these other teachers proclaim, according to Il Cor. 3:7, is a continuation of the ministry of Moses which, although not denying Christ, certainly downplayed salvation through Christ, and therefore according to Paul would lead to condemnation and death.

On the other hand, "this" ministry that we have through God's mercy is a ministry of righteousness. In 3:9, we see that Paul, when he speaks of "this" ministry, links the words "ministry" and "righteousness." Therefore, "this" ministry has something to do with our moral standing in the eyes of God who created us. In "this" ministry, we become new creations; adopted children of God; worthy to stand in his presence, inheritors of his kingdom.

It is also a ministry of reconciliation. In chapter 5, verse 18 Paul says, "All this from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." "This" ministry recognises that there is a gulf separating humanity and God. This gulf is the result of sin, and only Jesus' sacrifice on the cross could close it. It is the work of the cross that reconciled us to God. We then have this ministry of reconciliation where we proclaim Jesus so that others might also be reconciled to God.

Chapter 3 verse 8 identifies "this" ministry as a ministry of the Spirit; the Spirit who is the Comforter; the one who empowers us for this ministry. The Spirit makes us bold in "this" ministry. 3:12 says, "Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold!” In 3:17-18, we read that we also have freedom through the Spirit both to turn to the Lord and also to be transformed into his moral and spiritual likeness. All this comes from the Lord who, as Paul says in 3:18, "is the Spirit." Therefore, since this ministry is one of righteousness, reconciliation, and the Spirit, we can conclude that it is a ministry which is concerned with relationship. Specifically, it is concerned with our relationship with God the Father, through the saving work of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And since we have this ministry through God's mercy... we do not lose heart, for it is the most precious treasure we could ever possess.

This man named Gene Packwood that you claim as your priest today; your rector or your incumbent, is not here to do this ministry for you. Listen to Paul's words, "since through God's mercy we have this ministry." The letter itself is not addressed to an individual in the congregation, and it is certainly not addressed to the rector or the incumbent. It is addressed to the whole church of God in Corinth and to all the saints throughout that region. And by extension as the Word of God, it is addressed to each and every one of us here. "This ministry" is not the exclusive territory of clergy; it is the responsibility of the whole Church. Gene's role is to be a sign of this ministry in your midst; a visible reminder of what God is calling the people of St. Barnabas to. And he will be this sign in your midst in three ways that are identified in this passage from II Cor. 4.

First of all, through his preaching. Paul says in 4:5, "For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…” The word that Paul uses for "preach" doesn't refer to standing up on Sunday morning and delivering a sermon, although that can be part of it. It is a word that means to proclaim or to herald. In the context of this ministry, we proclaim Jesus as Lord, not only with our lips but through our actions as well. Gene should therefore be a sign of proclamation in your midst by all that he says and does. I know he will do this because it was during my internship time with him that he taught me that I have to strive to be sinless because the devil looks for whatever cracks he can find so that he can tear us apart when he sees that we have set our hearts on "this" ministry. Walking the walk should proclaim the same message as talking the talk.

The second way that he will be a sign in your midst is that the content of the message that he proclaims should be "Jesus as Lord." This also we see in 4:5. I have great confidence that he is not very likely to deviate from this message. The first time I ever met Gene was in my home congregation of St. Cyprian's, Didsbury. Gene was a guest preacher one Sunday and he was telling us about a document signed a hundred or so years ago that stated five fundamentals of the Christian faith and that people who ascribe to this document are what we call Christian fundamentalists. Just as people were starting to form stereotyped images of such people in their minds, Gene dropped a bomb shell on us. He asked how many of us believed the Creed that we recited each week. When everybody put up their hand, he declared that we were all at least 80% fundamentalist as 4 out of 5 statements on the document are contained in the creeds. I know that Gene Packwood takes his creeds very seriously and therefore is at least 80% fundamentalist himself. As such, I have great confidence that he will always proclaim Jesus as Lord.

The third way that Gene will be a sign of this ministry in your midst will be in the way that he helps you to focus on the glory of God. Throughout chapters 3 and 4, Paul is very concerned with this word "glory;" and in 4:4 he connects the glory of Christ with the image of God, and in 4:6 he connects the glory of God with the face of Christ. I've seen Gene in action. He will try very hard to point you toward the glory of God. You'll hear this when he preaches, you will understand it when he teaches, you will love it when he sings about it, and you will be blessed by it when he prays with you. My favourite memory of Gene pointing to God's glory comes out of the middle of the eucharistic prayer, when in the Sanctus he raises his hands to God as he says "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts..." I would always get this mental image of Isaiah's vision of seeing the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filling the temple, and the seraphs calling to each other saying, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."

And so these three ways of being a sign in your midst are connected; the proclamation of Jesus as Lord gives us access to the glory of God. This is what you can expect of Gene. This is how he is called to share in "this" ministry with you.

So what is his credential to do this? What gift is it that he brings that will allow him to be such a sign in your midst? It’s not that he'll be some sort of superman; his strength does not come from his abilities as a hospital visitor, social worker, or Bible teaching, guitar playing, tea drinker extrordinaire. In fact I happen to know he prefers coffee anyhow. His gifts come right out of "this" ministry that I have been talking about. He knows that "this" ministry is the greatest treasure he could ever possess. He also knows that its best expression does not come from his strengths, but through his weakness as a frail and fragile human being because this serves to point out that the power of "this" ministry is from God and not from us. And so Paul refers to this ministry that we express through our frailty in 4:7 as treasure in clay jars "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."

You will be able to count on Gene Packwood to be a humble sign of "this" ministry in your midst because I know him to be well aware of his frailty and his dependence on God. Knowing these things, he will be able to encourage you by being a reminder that because we have "this" ministry we do not lose heart; through this ministry we have hope. As Paul says, "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." You will hear Gene say and sing things like, "find me in the river, find me there; find me on my knees with my soul laid bare." And when you do find him pouring his heart out through his weakness, don't pity him and don't lose heart. Join him, and thank God for the precious treasure he has given you--the treasure of "this" ministry that is yours through God's mercy.

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.


Sunday, 14 August 2022

A Short Funeral Sermon with Reference to 2 Corinthians 5.1-9, John 14.1-6 and Muscular Prayers: for Ken and Victoria Gair on Saturday 13 August 2022 at St Barnabas Anglican Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta


Jesus is The One through whom are all things—all the lives and deaths and loves and relationships that bring us together this afternoon. Jesus is The One, the Bible tells us, through whom we all exist. (1Cor8.6) Jesus. Full of grace and mercy. Exemplar and perfect embodiment of the Father’s love. Jesus. He brought Ken and Victoria together in the first place, made them one flesh, and—just as we heard in the reading from John’s Gospel—went on ahead to prepare a place for them where they will always be with him where he is. With Jesus himself in that “house in heaven…made…by God himself and not by human hands,” (2Cor5.1) we heard about in the first reading from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians—“wearing heavenly bodies like new clothing.” In death, “swallowed up by life”! At home with The LORD forever and ever. Amen. 

Good to know. Together again. In the presence of God. We don’t have to worry about Victoria and Ken any more. 

Ken once told me that he’d built a house, all with hand tools. I love that idea that he will now, or soon, be living in one he didn’t have to build or buy himself! 


But what about us? Still weary, groaning and sighing in these earthly bodies, and living in earthly tents, as St Paul put it in that first reading. How can we have the confidence he describes, “even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord”? (2Cor5.6) “We live by believing,” writes Paul, “and not by seeing.” Walking by faith, not by sight. 


Jesus says something similar in the second reading: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled,” at times like this, he said. Just trust because, even though you might not see it right now, especially if you’re grieving and in pain, and somebody you loved very much dies there is a heavenly and spiritual reality that will swallow up these earthly bodies—as fearfully and wonderfully made as we are—with a such a splendour of glory and beauty that our earthly understanding can only barely, scarcely glimpse let alone comprehend. Because, “There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.” More than enough—for Victoria and Ken and you and me. 


You know the way, Jesus said. Thomas said, No, we don’t. We don’t know where you’re going so how on earth can we know the way? 


Believe, wrote Paul. Trust, said Jesus. This is how, wrote Ken in one of his wonderful poems (did you know Ken was no mean poet?) called Ordinary Time (which is the church calendar season we’re in now)—written at a different time of year—one snowy, pre-Lent, February: 


This is no festal day; 

no saints nor martyrs

of any note have glorified this day 

living or dying. 

The season plods toward

the long deep valley of Lent.

Snow obscures 

the end of a late February

afternoon, stopping vision, 

wrapping us

in a white robe of anonymity. 

- Now may whatever martyrs and saints there be

preserve us; may the God

whom we glimpse only dimly, 

now and then,

through the frosted windows, remember our names,

bring us safely to our rest, 

and pardon us

if we should celebrate 

this day our own 

small saints: the woman who with grace endured 

martyrdom by cancer; 

the man who smiled through a lifetime’s petty chores; 

the father who built with quiet hands a workman’s muscular prayers; 

the mother who loved us, 

against all odds.


On days like this, believing and trusting, we, too, can celebrate our own small saints (like Vic and Ken), celebrate the grace to endure suffering and cancer, celebrate those smiles through our lifetime’s petty chores, pray muscular prayers (there are some in this service) and love one another against all odds—like that mother in Ken’s poem and the Father Jesus tells us about, 


These are all wise ways to live the way, the truth and the life Jesus provides. Look him up if you haven’t already. Believe and trust in him. Be confident in his promises—good ways to honour Vic and Ken, too. Then these dying bodies of ours will be swallowed up by the abundant and eternal life that can only come through Jesus. 

Friday, 15 April 2022

Look and See (Lam 1.12)


A few meditations on the cross over the years to look at before another Good Friday passes by: 

here

here

here

here 

and here

Love in Jesus, 

Gene



Monday, 4 April 2022

On One Thing after Another



Something to gnaw on as we put some effort into the Passiontide upward call of God in Christ Jesus. The bones of a Passion Sunday sermon with reference to Php 3.13-14 and the Lenten spiritual disciplines: self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and reading and meditating on these few verses of God’s holy Word in particular: 


But 

one thing 

I do:

forgetting what lies behind

and straining forward to what lies ahead,

I press on toward the goal

for the prize of the upward call of God

in Christ Jesus. 

(Php3.13-14)




SELF EXAMINATION


But the Lord answered her,

“Martha, Martha,

you are anxious and troubled about many things, but 

one thing 

is necessary.

Mary has chosen the  good portion,

which will not be taken away from her. 

(Luke 10:41–42)



REPENTANCE


Whether he is a sinner I do not know. 

One thing  

I do know,

that though I was blind,

now I see.

(John 9:25)



PRAYER

One thing 

have I asked of the Lord, 

that will I seek after: 

  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord 

all the days of my life, 

  to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord

and to inquire in his temple. 

(Psalm 27:4)


FASTING


A person cannot receive even 

one thing 

unless it is given him from heaven.

(John 3:27)



ALMSGIVING


When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 

One thing 

you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)


The full sermon can be found at 0:59:15 here









Sunday, 13 February 2022

Here and NOW: a Short Funeral Homily with reference to 1 Corinthians 15:20-58—for Kathleen Carlyle

 “NOW is Christ risen from the dead” wrote St Paul in that passage Gillian just read. NOW. It’s built right in to the Order for the Burial of the Dead. Page 595 in the Prayer Book.  

NOW. It was NOW when Paul wrote it. It is still NOW. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) and he is risen from the dead. NOW. 


And by the power of that resurrection, Kathleen, even though she has died, has been made to live on in Jesus. NOW. So although we miss her, we don’t have to worry about her. She, along with her sisters, Marjorie and Dorothy—the Three Graces, as they were called, (and Bill, Kathleen’s beloved husband)—are those “that are Christ’s” as St Paul put it. They belong to Jesus. How do I know this?


Marjorie and Dorothy told me that they gave their lives to Jesus while listening to the Sunrise Gospel Hour—now the Oldest Gospel Radio Broadcast still produced in Alberta, seventy-seven years straight, by the way—they were too far out in the country for regular Sunday Church going. Kathleen told me, their mother would regularly call the three girls in from whatever they were doing in the yard to listen to hymn sings on the radio. Kathleen also told me she didn't start going to church until she was twenty. And yet the seeds had been well sown, and with the help of their parents, roots were solidly established in Jesus. And those beginnings led to them, all three, becoming  followers of our Risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and stalwart members of St Barnabas.


So. NOW, I think it’s safe to say, in the words of one of the hymns Dorothy chose for her funeral, these three faithful women are Safe in the Arms of Jesus. 


But we—are all left behind in this here and NOW.  Not that I’m complaining. But what do we do NOW? What do we do when a dear friend, aunt, cousin, sister, saint, like Kathleen has died? And what do we do NOW with something else St Paul wrote in that same passage: that in Christ Jesus all shall be made to live? 


What do we do NOW if we want to get safely from the corruption, dishonour, weakness, earthiness, sin, mortality and death in the here and NOW of this life as listed in 1 Corinthians 15—to the life we’re REALLY made to live in INcorruption, glory, power, with spiritual bodies, heavenliness, inheritors of the kingdom of God and enjoying victory through our Lord Jesus Christ? 


St Paul tells us how. Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. 


What is the work of the LORD? The disciples asked Jesus the same question in John chapter 6. “What must we do, to be doing the works of God? (v28). Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (v29). 


So believe. God loves you Be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in belief that Jesus is your Lord and Saviour. We’ll all get an opportunity to confess that belief out loud in the Apostle’s Creed in a few moments. If it’s your first time or if there’s been some slippage or drift in your life, find someone to help you begin the journey or get back on track. Reverend Oz would be happy to help. 


The important thing is to do it NOW because just as St Paul wrote, such labour is not in vain in the Lord. And tomorrow might be too late. We don’t want this holy NOW provided by Kathleen who is NOW in Christ, to become never.


So my sisters and brothers, look at the last sentence in our reading from 1 Corinthians, “be stedfast, unmoveable, always—not just NOW and then—but always! abounding in the work of the Lord.”


Here are two good reason why it’s worth the effort:  


  • Such work of the Lord will affirm and show respect for what was important to Kathleen and will honour her memory. 


And


  • you can be absolutely confident that your labour will not be in vain because it is in the Lord here and NOW, and in the NOW and forever to come in Jesus! 
Here are links to the funeral sermons for Kathleen’s sisters:
and her husband, Bill.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

The Last Time Boxing Day Was Also the First Sunday After Christmas—a Short Sermon with reference to Real Life, Is 63:7-9; Heb 2:10-18 and Mt 2:13-23

 


The last time the First Sunday after Christmas happened on Boxing Day was 2010. Possibly the lowest of all low Sundays. As I listened to this morning’s sermon, I wondered what I’d said on that day eleven years ago. So I looked it up and here it is:

After the midnight service and all, I got to bed around 130 Christmas morning. At 330am the dog we are dogsitting decided she wanted to go out and bark at passing reindeer or anything else she imagined was there. I lay awake trying to think warm thoughts and was just about ready to go back to sleep when at 430am granddaughter Samantha woke, calling her sister Emily. I got in there as quickly as I could to try and head off the house being awakened that early. Samantha told me she had arranged to wake Emily if she woke up first. I told her it was still the middle of night.

I lied to my granddaughter on Christmas morning!

She seemed happy with that and seemed to settle down again. I got back to sleep for another couple of ours. We had a lovely day of gifts, lazing about, good food, family (including Skyping Okotoks and NZ) and naps. And shot through it all was aching fatigue (strenuously denied, of course, by the children) and the emotional hyper-rawness that comes with it plus some grief and anxiety over some family health issues. I’m sure all of you have experienced the same kind of thing. 


This is the context in which the first Christmas happened only, judging from this morning’s readings, more so. Listen to some of the words and things we heard about in the readings: affliction, suffering, death, the devil, flee, destroy, a furious king, dead babies, weeping, loud lamentation and fear. On top of that there was God’s wrath. 


From our Hebrews reading:


Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb 2.17)


…“to propitiate,” relates to putting away the divine wrath. When people sin, they arouse the wrath of God (Rom 1:18); they become enemies of God (Rom 5:10). One aspect of salvation deals with this wrath, and it is to this the author is directing attention at this point. Christ saves us in a way that takes account of the divine wrath against every evil thing. ( Gaebelein, F. E., Morris, L., Burdick, D. W., Blum, E. A., Barker, G. W., & Johnson, A. F. (1981). The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 12: Hebrews Through Revelation (30). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


All this is the context in which every celebration of Christmas has happened since, including yesterday. And, try as we might, we can’t make it otherwise. There’s not enough tinsel or Christmas lights or candle-light services in the whole world to do it. We simply cannot manage life well enough. We need help. Which is the point of Christmas. In Jesus, God the Father, comes to his troubled people, hopelessly tangled in their own sin, so vulnerable to effects of the sins of others, to suffering and death. And he did it supernaturally. 


The angel of his presence saved them

in his love and in his pity he redeemed them

he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isa 63.9)


The only way to get out this life alive is accept the redemption the Father offered supernaturally in Jesus. 


For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist. (Heb 2.10)


The only way to get out this life alive is to acknowledge with faith who made us and for whom we therefore exist. 


Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb 2.14-15)


The only way to be set free from that lifelong slavery get out this life alive is to ask for and receive that deliverance. 


But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” (Mt 2.19-20)


It might not be the only way to get out this life alive, but it helps to believe in an enchanted creation filled with wonders like dreams sent by God, angels, a virgin birth and resurrection from the dead. 


I wish you all a Merry, Bright and enchanted Christmastide.