The Thundering Almighty

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t especially appreciate being blasted by the Almighty when I come to church. Yet, that’s what God is doing through Isaiah’s words this morning. Those words from the Holy Book remind me of Annie Dillard who wrote the following words:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so innocently invoke?! People in church are like children playing with chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet bonnets to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

I feel like saying, cool it, Holy One, at least we show up! Maybe we should have chosen to celebrate All Saints instead this morning. In Annie Dillard’s words, and in Isaiah’s words, the sleeping God is awake this morning, calling us to account. So what about us? Are we awake??

This morning’s harsh words from Isaiah come from the very first chapter. Shocking really … for we tend to associate Isaiah with lovely poetry, with a vision for a world in perfect harmony and peace, with beautiful words promising a Messiah. And yet we hear today: What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?! I have had enough of burnt-offerings … I do not delight in the blood …Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.

But here’s a peculiar thing though: the people to whom Isaiah’s words are addressed are appropriately … pious … They are performing the required sacrifices; they are attending to their religious obligations. They are not worshipping other gods. They are law-abiding worshippers of Yahweh … or at least they think they are…

So what’s the problem for the Almighty? Why this fury and fire and brimstone from on high? And Isaiah isn’t the only one aflame with God’s fury. Amos, one of Isaiah’s contemporaries, lashes out in similar fashion:
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. (Amos 5:21-24)

Here’s the thing that ticks God off. While the well-off and comfy ones of Israel spent fortunes on performing the required temple sacrifices and rituals, the poor and destitute couldn’t even rub two pennies together to provide the basics of life for themselves and their loved ones. What infuriated the Almighty was the extravagance of the religious requirements and rituals against the abysmal destitution of countless poor within their own communities, sometimes even within their own families. That’s what infuriated the Almighty!

Worshiping God is not an end in itself nor to gain brownie points for ourselves. Worship is to lead to God-like action and God-like relations of justice and reconciliation, of mercy and grace. If worship does not do that, it’s meaningless, and God’s voice will thunder. Listen to words from a few others, prophets in our time:

Liturgy forces us into social justice. But this poses an immense challenge. We are to worship in ways that changes not only the hearts of worshippers but, through them, the ways of the world – and of the church. shipers but, through them, the way the world – and the church – are organized and function. ~ The Liturgy that Does Justice, James L. Empereur, SJ, and Christopher Kiesling, OP. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1990

Our habits and predetermined ways, … have fastened such blinders on us that, as a whole, Christians and Christian churches have not even the foggiest notion of any moral imperative flowing from the Sunday worship in which we celebrate God’s word of human liberation and solidarity and then act it out in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. As obvious as those ethical demands are, they do not get through to us. ~ Robert Hovda in Let’s Put the Eucharist to Work, US Catholic, June 12, 2008.

Why is it that in spite of hundreds of thousands of Eucharistic celebrations Christians continue as selfish as before? Why is the gap of income, wealth, knowledge, and power growing—in favour of the Christian peoples? Why is it that persons who proclaim Eucharistic love and sharing deprive the poor of the world of food, capital, employment, even land? ~ Sri Lankan Bishop, in Gabe Huck’s Let’s Put the Eucharist to Work, US Catholic, June 12, 2008.

The Eucharist, whether seen as Holy Communion or as the Mass, can become a kind of product for individual spiritual customers. It’s supposed to have a transforming effect on us so that we leave church determined to do something. We should be seeing the world in a different way and have different priorities because of the Eucharist. It should affect what we do with our time, how we spend our money, how we look for a job, how we vote. ~ Gabe Huck,  Let’s put the Eucharist to Work, in US Catholic, June 12, 2008 .

Anyone who celebrates the Lord’s supper in a world of hunger and oppression does so in complete solidarity with the hopes and suffering of all people, because he believes that the Messiah invites all to this table and because he hopes they will all sit at this table with him.
Christ’s messianic feast makes us one with the physically and spiritually hungry all over the world. ~
Jurgen Moltmann, in Liturgy, Justice and the Reign of God, Frank Henderson, Stephen Larson, Kathleen Quinn, 1999

As Jesus went out to publicans and sinners and had table-fellowship with them during his earthly ministry, so Christians are called in the Eucharist to be in solidarity with the outcast and to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all and now gives himself in the Eucharist. … ~ BEM, par. 20 & 24, World Council of Churches, 1982

Here are some words from longer ago: When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore,
or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship… all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing.
You must fight, work, pray and – if you cannot do more – have heartfelt sympathy.
~ Martin Luther

Do you wish to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in temple silk only to neglect him outside where he suffers cold and nakedness. He who said: ‘This is my body’ is the same One who said … ‘Whatever you did to the least of these you did also to me.’ ~ St. John Chrysostom, 349 – 407 AD.

If a poor man or a poor woman comes, whether they are from your own parish or from another, above all if they are advanced in years, and if there is no room for them, make a place for them, with all your heart, even if you yourself have to sit on the ground. You must not make any distinction between persons if you wish your ministry to be pleasing before God. ~ Didascalia of the Apostles, 230 AD

Isaiah and Annie Dillard rightly pose the thundering question: Does we really have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so innocently invoke?! Well, there’s one here this morning who does …
When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Oh my … Did you hear that? Did you hear Zacchaeus’ response to Jesus? Do you hear the difference between God’s thundering complaint and Zacchaeus’ response? Zacchaeus got it – Zacchaeus got it! He knew instinctively that encountering Jesus was a radical experience of transformation, turning his comfortable, greedy world upside down. He felt the change in his bones the moment Jesus set eyes on him: “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”

Wow … Jesus called Zacchaeus to dine with him. In that call to eat and drink together Zacchaeus became a changed man, a transformed person, with a new heart and a clean conscience, well before Jesus himself made any demands on him other than welcoming him in his humble abode! In a few minutes, we too are invited to dine with Jesus, here at our Communion table. In this bread and this wine, Jesus has come down to our level, God has become flesh, taking on our human existence. A popular children’s book If Jesus came to my House begins like this:
“If Jesus came to my house and knocked upon the door,
I’m sure I’d be more happy than I’ve ever been before.
I’d run downstairs to meet him, the door I’d open wide,

and I would say to Jesus, ‘Oh won’t you come inside?’

Are we ready? Are we ready to let Jesus into our house, and into our hearts? Are we ready to let him in even if we are short of stature, or ignored or scorned or bullied? Are we ready to let Jesus in, even if we walk around with heavy burdens  or with doubt or with pain too deep to speak? Are we ready to let Jesus turn our lives upside down, to let him clean our heart and purify our conscience? In the words from Paul to the Thessalonians, let us pray that we will be worthy of the Lord’s call and that we will, like Zacchaeus, let the Jesus effect transform our mind, our heart, our conscience, our spirit, so that we can fulfill by Christ’s power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the Great Almighty doesn’t have to yell and thunder at us like he did through Isaiah, but instead that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in us, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

So tell me, do we have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so innocently invoke on a Sunday morning …?? AMEN

Homily preached on November 3, 2019
Isaiah 1:10–18; Psalm 32:1–8; 2 Thessalonians 1:1–4, 11–12; Luke 19:1–10

  • Some of the above quotes were published in a previous blog post which can be found here.
  • Photo credit: Jesus and Zaccheus

Dear John Henry

The joint letter published by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Anglican Church of Canada on the occasion of Cardinal Newman’s canonization is prompting my reflection on this new saint’s legacy, and on the inspiration and guidance I have drawn from him in my own spiritual and ecclesial journey. If I sound like bending his insights and contributions to justify my own needs, choices and understandings, then may I ask: do most of us not do this without much thought? I make no claim to speak with any formal authority or ecclesial sanction. I am merely engaging Newman’s witness to increase understanding of my own spiritual and ecclesial paths. Interpretation through the lens of our own life is simply the pair of glasses our minds and hearts wear. In using my particular glasses on John Henry Newman, I would like to think that he could indeed be the patron saint of today’s ecumenical movement.

I know, O my God, I must change […]
Oh, support me, as I proceed in this great, awful, happy change,
with the grace of Thy unchangeableness.
My unchangeableness here below is perseverance in changing. JHN

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. JHN

But what kind of ecumenism would John Henry have embraced? Would he agree with the sharp analysis of Professor Merrill Tenney who wrote in his book The Gospel of Belief: “Unanimity means absolute concord of opinion within a given group of people.  Uniformity is complete similarity of organization or of ritual.  Union implies political affiliation without necessarily including individual agreement. Unity requires oneness of inner heart and essential interest or a common life.” So, when Jesus prayed that we “all may be one” (Jn. 17:21), he certainly was not praying for unanimity or uniformity.  Even the Roman Catholic Church does not have that.  Nor was he praying for union, otherwise his prayer has been unanswered for at least a thousand years since Rome split with eastern Orthodoxy.  Rather, Jesus was praying for true unity which all Christians (already) have, East and West, by virtue of our common confession in the early creeds and outward conduct of love manifest to all (Jn. 13:35).  (pg. 248)

Dear John Henry,
How impressive — you made it to the highest honour in the Roman Catholic Church, official sainthood. One, holy, catholic and apostolic church is what you lived, loved and died for. Church relations were very different in your time, coloured as they were by a spirit of animosity and scorn, infected with political maneuvering and ploys. It would still take another century before Rome could write declarations such as Nostra Aetate, Lumen Gentium and the Decree on Ecumenism. Paradoxically, it is in part thanks to your ground-breaking and intense scrutiny of the Christian tradition, John Henry, that Rome could, at Vatican II, say: “Many important elements build up and give life to the Church itself, and can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit….Our separated brothers and sisters also carry out many liturgical actions of the Christian religion…these liturgical actions most certainly can truly engender a life of grace, and…are capable of giving access to that communion in which is salvation” (#3, Unitatis Redintegratio).
I am inclined to concur with RC Bishop Fintan Monahan who wrote in the Irish Times earlier this week: If Newman was an Anglican today he may not have seen the need to convert, but would have worked quite happily in dialogue between the two churches.

Your sermons and tracts, books and other writings, John Henry, continue to animate invigorating debate and edifying discourse in church halls and colleges. By far your greatest contribution to the life of the church was undoubtedly your Essay on the Development of Doctrine and your conviction of the primacy of one’s personal conscience above all else. Both these contributions played key roles in the deliberations and developments that arose from the Second Vatican Council. Apparently Pope Paul VI described you as an “invisible presence at Vatican II.”  Both contributions also played a key role at crucial spiritual and ecclesial intersections of my own life journey with God and with the church.

While you, John Henry, moved from the Anglican to the Roman Catholic tradition, I made the same move in reverse. While you felt a deep pull to the Roman Church because you recognized in her the fullness of faith in Christ Jesus, despite its historical wanderings and occasional missteps, I felt a strong divine call to the God-given Anglican charisms and its particular ethos of discipleship, to bear ecumenical fruit in the Anglican household of God, bringing the best from my Catholic formation with me. To this day, many still follow our example in a distinctly two-way flow of denominational traffic between our two traditions.

In both of us the ecclesial move was a slow but sure ripening over time, engaging both mind and heart, stirring our deepest levels of being. Your insistence on and utmost respect for the primacy of conscience made both our moves possible.** Moreover, my move into the Anglican tradition occurred without negative reasons to leave the RC fold, but instead sought to wed the two households of God in my own being. Like you, I continue to cherish all that is holy and good and beautiful and sound in my ecclesial family of origin.

We do not see the truth at once and make toward it, but we fall upon and try error and find it is not the truth. We grope about by touch, not by sight, and so by a miserable experience exhaust the possible modes of acting till naught is left, but truth, remaining. Such is the process by which we succeed; we walk to heaven backwards; we drive our arrows at a mark and think him most skillful whose shortcomings are the least.” JHN

Ordaining women to the priesthood was nowhere on the horizon in your time; you had very different fish to fry. Even though Rome has spoken clearly on the matter of priestly ordination for women, I hope and pray with all my heart that this might be reconsidered someday, especially through applying your principles for sound doctrinal development. From where I stand, the discernment principles you formulated could help to trace a certain view of today’s priestly ordination of women as latent in the tradition, as your First and Second Note state, most notably through the creation account and in the Incarnation itself. The notion of a female priesthood can also be grounded in the Biblical witness of prominent women in the Hebrew Scriptures (Ruth, Deborah, Hulda etc.), the Apostle to the apostles Mary Magdalene, this first witness to the resurrection of Christ, and women leaders in the early church as listed by name in Acts. Despite this evidence much resistance occurred when the Anglican Church began to ordain women to the priesthood, and now to the episcopate, and still exists in some parts of the Anglican Communion. I hope and pray that some day your criteria for testing doctrinal development can verify in this controversial decision a continuity with tradition and preservation of the principle of the priesthood. If this development turns out to be erroneous, this too will show over time (see Newman’s Note #7:  Corruption cannot be of long standing; and thus duration is another test of a faithful development). All I know for certain is that I feel deeply called to live this development at this time in the history of the church, allowing it to verify either its authenticity or its error in and through my Anglican priestly ministry. In either case, I, a sinner in daily need of mercy, surrender myself to God’s service in this matter.

You displayed an enviable surrender to the Holy Spirit in your intellectual as well as your spiritual pursuits. This was most evident when scrutinizing the Christian tradition against Scripture and the early Church Fathers. A sure sign of your grounding in God was your acumen in debates and dialogues. Your unwavering spirit of respect for the other, including your opponents, infused your search and research, your tracts and writings, with ruthless honesty and humility, including and especially in your own self-examination as you diligently sought God’s will and truth. You lived in your bones what St. Thomas Aquinas stated several centuries before you: “We must love them both: those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have laboured in search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” It is this striking posture of yours, sadly uncommon, that now makes Prince Charles, an Anglican who will be attending your canonization in Rome on October 13, write without hesitation in today’s edition of VaticanNews: (Newman) “could advocate without accusation, could disagree without disrespect and perhaps most of all could see differences as places of encounter rather than exclusion.” In today’s conflict-ridden world and scandal-ridden Church, we desperately need your example, your intercession and your guidance, John Henry. And is it any wonder that your canonization is taking place amidst the Synod on the Amazon?

Reading your journals and correspondence reveals the emotional agony you felt over leaving behind the beloved Church of England, the ecclesial womb which had so nourished your spirit, and in whose bosom your keen mind, pastoral heart and deep love for God in Christ Jesus grew an ever greater pull to Rome. While you concluded that the Church of England had erred and existed in a state of schism, you continued to hold dear all that was good and holy and beautiful in her. As for me, I will always hold dear the Mother Church in whom my faith in Jesus was nourished and my priestly call was born. In fact, I experience a deep spiritual unity in my own heart and mind that weds both of our traditions in love and mercy, grace and joy. This may well echo Newman’s Fifth Principle on doctrinal development, i.e. anticipating our future, if not on earth, then surely in heaven. Moreover, this ecclesial unity in my spirit reflects in no small measure my own earthly marriage of 40 years to my RC husband Jim.

And so, as the joint Anglican–Roman Catholic Letter states, rejoice with us in heaven as we now rightly claim your legacy and witness as the foundation for the recovered kinship and growing affection, mutual understanding and appreciation between our two traditions: “Though Newman’s life has at times been a source of tension between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the past, today we are able to affirm together that Newman is a figure whom all of us can celebrate in common; a brother in Christ Jesus, in whose formation both our churches had a share. Indeed, we can even see in his legacy the planting of many seeds in both communities which later contributed to the ecumenical fruit which has grown between us at the global and local levels.”

  • The above usage of John Henry might have some humorous connotations to the expression “put your John Henry there,” meaning put your signature there. This popular expression, derived from cowboy slang, has no relation to Cardinal John Henry Newman, but originated from John Hancock signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
  • Here is a thoughtful piece on Newman’s canonization, continuing to challenge us all in today’s changing landscape for both church and world.

    **There will be readers who might question the claim that my move to the Anglican tradition is on par with Newman’s decision to join the Roman Catholic Church. Here is a thoughtful read on Newman’s understanding and respect for personal conscience, an understanding that is now reflected to a great extent in Pope Francis. I am struck by the last line: The Catholic tradition of conscience is in a time of renewal. The canonization of Cardinal Newman confirms the sound theological depths of this turn.

Stormy Weather

After focusing on Oceans and the fauna/animal world, the third Sunday in this year’s Season of Creation focused on Storms. In the wake of Dorian the Horrible, the strongest hurricane on record, the words of the Holy Book take on an extra punch.

Psalm 29 expresses genuine awe of the mighty forces of nature that can break trees and cause the wilderness to shake, as we just witnessed in the Bahamas and even in our Maritime provinces. But there is also a feeling of comfort in Psalm 29, as the reassuring voice of God is heard over the waters. The psalmist recognizes that nature gives testimony to God’s ultimate power over the forces of nature. In the temple of Earth, all say, “Glory!”—both humankind and other-kind.

Well, insurance agencies and power company crews have a less positive view of these forces of nature. Interestingly, when major weather events happen we call them – “acts of God.” Do we still refer to storms and natural disasters as acts of God? But when we do, our attitude is far from a reverend one. When those broken trees fall on houses and cars, snapping power lines and cutting electricity, very few are singing “Glory.” More likely we will hear cursing or lamenting, weeping and wailing, over the destruction left behind, as is the case right now in the Bahamas and in parts of the eastern US and our Maritime provinces.

Something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms. Something is happening that is fundamentally changing the nature of weather systems. Hurricane Dorian is only the latest of example of this drastic change. Weather systems are more unpredictable, more volatile, and more intense. So are today’s destructive weather systems really “acts of God”? Or should they be more accurately called results of human-induced climate change? Some are still waving away the new climate realities as just part of the planet’s natural cycle. But what if we indeed need to entertain a different question: what if … climate change is caused by humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels which leads to greenhouse emissions that warm the planet and significantly contribute to the intense and volatile nature of today’s Dorians, causing unprecedented destruction and suffering?

No doubt, we are aware of the power of God in storms. But maybe it’s our own negative power that magnifies, intensifies and worsens the storms. Maybe it’s time to recognize our role in causing ocean waters, tornadoes and hurricanes to become more violent and more destructive. Our addiction to modern living disconnected from creation, our addiction to a consumer lifestyle, is now fueling wildfires and changing the content of clouds, creating feedback loops that in some way are affecting not only insurance premiums but our farmers and food prices, our safety and the sustainability of the earth itself in all its diversity and beauty. We are not merely victims or innocent bystanders in this complex and interrelated system.

But that, more than ever, might make us ask about the place of God; where indeed then is God in the midst of the storms? This, of course, is Job’s question. In Job, chapter 28, verses 28:20—27, Job trusts that there’s some divine wisdom in the storms, a decree and shape for winds and lightning bolts, some kind of divine plan that directs the waters. Job declares that even Death and Destruction, while having an inkling, don’t understand this. Maybe this means that storms aren’t only the work of punishment or disaster, but something more.

So what is the voice of the Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate crisis? Where is that Lady Wisdom when we need her most? At a time when our little boat of Planet Earth is more threatened than it has ever been – by a storm of our own making—it seems that Someone is blissfully asleep on the deck below.

The Gospel account of the calming of the storm (Luke 8:22—27) provides us with two alternatives. On the one hand, if the storm is allowed to wreak havoc, if the waves drown us and if danger threatens our existence, if we are in some figurative or actual way sinking to our end, then for sure God must be asleep at the wheel, and Jesus is snoozing in the back of the boat, oblivious to our trauma or terrors. The version of this story in Mark’s Gospel has the disciples begging the urgent question, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing?!”

The second alternative is that maybe in that particular instance on that particular body of water, in that particular storm, (at least) God cared. Jesus woke up and with power rebuked the winds and the water, and the raging waves ceased. Maybe those disciples were lucky to have the flesh-and-blood Jesus in their boat.

Yet, we too have the flesh-and-blood Jesus in our lives. Through faith, through our baptism, in our discipleship, in worship and Holy Communion, we too have Jesus in the boat of our lives. And we have the privilege of carrying everything to Jesus with the promise that Jesus hears us and will respond. Still, we must ask about these storms, these alleged acts of God. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that my frantic prayers would make the tornado or the hurricane skip my house just to hit somebody else’s house instead.

Is it possible that nature, weather and storms have within them the equivalent of a free will, subject to the laws of nature? God still interacts with us, responds to us and strives for us, but the forces of nature have the power to destroy when the God-given boundaries are crossed and natural laws are violated. Just as we are simultaneously as sinners and saints, there is the complexity of evil versus righteousness even within the elements of nature.

So where indeed can we turn for a word of reassurance and hope? This is where Paul’s stunning words that begin his first Letter to the Corinthians provide another perspective, a third alternative, and maybe even the most reliable and radical alternative. This is the message of the cross as God’s wisdom. In this alternative vision, storms aren’t the “acts of God” spreading indiscriminate destruction, much less inflicted as punishment. And God’s presence is neither ignorant of our concerns nor simply magically lifting us out of risk and worry. Rather, in the cross, we have the peculiar evidence of God with us in suffering and even through loss.

Paul’s words to the Corinthians are also addressed to us. Paul reminds us that we are called. How are we called as Creation-caring Christ-followers in the wake of environmental chaos and climate change? We’re the ones blissfully asleep in the cruise ship of affluence and consumerism, while creation is screaming out to us with urgency: Don’t you see that nature itself is perishing, paying a high price for the comfort of the rich??

None of us are bigwigs on the world stage, none of us are of noble birth or have the ear of today’s emperors (1 Corinthians 1:21—31). It can feel intimidating to stand up to the mighty Goliaths of industry who laugh at our tiny, insignificant voices. But now it’s our children who are calling attention to the plight of God’s creation. Last year, a 15-year old teenager stood alone outside of the Swedish Parliament in demonstration, calling for drastic change in politics and economics to fight climate change. Since that day, countless youth all across the world, inspired by this young girl, have followed her lead and skipped school for the same cause. Far from being of noble birth or highly educated, Greta Thunberg has shaken the world in holding corporations and policy makers accountable. Later this month she will address the United Nations Climate Change Summit.

We are beginning to see the connections between our purchases, material pursuits and energy consumption with the storms and droughts that ravage island nations, communities and lives. We are rousing from sleep, as it were, at times dragged from our sleep. Called by the voice of our children who yearn for and deserve a bright future, we are finally taking up the work of changing course, to rebuke the economic systems that cause the raging wind and waves.

Perhaps that is how today we are to understand the story of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm. Maybe Jesus’ actions were a kind of parable: “The kingdom of God is like waking from sleep to confront the storm.”

The cross reveals a God who won’t miraculously still every storm at our beckon call, certainly not the storms caused by our own greed and selfishness. But even more miraculously, the God who raised Jesus from the grave won’t abandon ship or leave us alone in our fears. God in Christ is not indifferent to the storms of life. This incomprehensible and awesome God did something much more revolutionary. In Jesus Christ, God entered our humanity, storms and sin and death and all. That radical identification in Christ, which we call Incarnation (God becoming flesh), now gives us a God who is mightier than a hurricane and more persistent than the dangerous floodwaters:
Fear not, I am with you, oh, be not dismayed,
for I am your God and will still give you aid.

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through fi’ry trials your pathway shall lie,
my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply.
The flames shall not hurt you; I only design
your dross to consume and your gold to refine.

(Hymn: How Firm a Foundation)

Homily preached on September 15, 2019 as part of the Season of Creation: Job 28:20—27, Psalm 29, 1 Corinthians 1:21—31, Luke 8:22—25.
With thanks to the Season of Creation Resources
The Season of Creation runs from September 1 (World Day of Prayer for Creation) to October 4 (Feast of St. Francis of Assisi). Church leaders summon the churches to observe this season in their worship and preaching. Pope Francis’ 2019 letter for the occasion can be found here.

Old Wineskins

The other day I fell off my bike — landing gently in soft grass, thank God. The earth’s bump hiding in the grass kissed my head, causing a bump of my own. It was a humbling reminder of a slowly aging body — less flexible with a diminishing aptitude for quick reaction and good balance. The physical changes are ever so subtle yet ever so poignant. And I began to wonder if sometimes an aging body parallels an aging mind, less flexible and struggling to integrate new realities around us.

As if the good Lord overheard my grumbling over the fall, not soon after the Gospel in my morning prayer time was Luke 5:36–39 in which Jesus tells this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.”

Without giving in to defeatism, I began to wonder. I know plenty of inspiring and robust elders who possess an puzzling amount of physical energy, a healthy constitution, and a quick wit to boot. These old wineskins have no trouble storing , and even generating, new wine. On the other hand, I know elders who diminish sooner than their chronological age would suggest, becoming old wineskins before their time without much capacity to accommodate the new wine of change and transformation. But often such diminishment is beyond our control.

Many cultures, including our Indigenous people, convey great respect towards their elders. Drawing from a lifetime of living, learning hard lessons through trials and challenges, elders are considered a source of wisdom and advice, tradition and knowledge. In some cultures, grandparents live with their children’s families, contributing to the household as they are able. All this assumes of course that the old have lived a virtuous life that is worth emulating. This also assumes that grandparents are in reasonable health, remain of sound mind, and have learnt to love generously without being possessive or authoritarian. In other words, old wineskins need to maintain a certain “souplesse” and grace. But if the physical and mental faculties of elders no longer function in healthy ways, trouble can arise when families insist on maintaining ancient traditions of inter-generational care, however noble this may be. Then the old wineskins of tradition or rigidity can burst, causing heartache and desolation.

While all cultures include many dutiful and loving children who will do almost anything to help their parents and other seniors, growing old in western cultures sometimes does not come with this type of respect and honour, quite the contrary. An article published last year claims that people who associate old age with uselessness or senility are more likely to develop dementia than people who associate it with positive attributes, such as wisdom and respect.

So where do I find myself? The line between senility and wisdom seems thin some days. I feel like an old wineskin unable to contain new wine when I struggle to grasp new concepts and realities, the kind that the young embrace without much effort. I admire the idealism and passion of youth — hey, I was there once –, but worry about its occasional naivete and arrogance (I was there too!). I feel there’s still some good wisdom wine in my wineskin, seasoned through years of living and laughing and suffering. I crave quality time with my children and their loved ones, but cringe at the thought of permanently moving in with any of them. Sometimes I wonder whether my wisdom wine is still relevant and meaningful and wanted in a world where elders are parked in nursing homes and often dismissed, judged or belittled for their clinging to deeply cherished values and beliefs. And yet, when walking closely with others in their seasons of pain and transition, the seasoned, sacred wine of compassion, caring and understanding flows richly from my heart. So old age does not automatically equal old and cracked wineskins. There is still much wine left in my heart, seasoned in six decades of life lessons, eager to be poured out for another’s healing and consolation, guidance and admonishment.

But I’ll be honest; I worry. I worry about so much tradition, wisdom and history being ignored or outright considered useless by the new generation. The young possess an enviable zeal and passion for what is noble and right and just — I remember the season well. But sometimes the young also suffer a certain over-confidence in their own right, thus risking to dismiss the wisdom of age — been there, done that, the shoe’s on the other foot now. The world’s enthusiasm for all things new can come with a loss of honour and respect for elders, in both secular and religious spheres. God may be doing a new thing in the young (Isaiah 43:19), but to then make an absolute claim “out with the old, in with the new” is a stretch too far, me thinks.

I derive a deep sense of belonging by being part of God’s story throughout time and space. The most meaningful and life-giving story is Jesus Christ. I feel part of the universe through Christ, I look to him as a pattern for how to live each day, how to engage relationships in love and mercy, and I seek Christ in times of uncertainty and struggle. I also need the fellowship of the church, the family of faith, to help and guide me on this path of discipleship and mission.

But this kind of deep connection to faith, spirituality and community seems to become a rarity, and that concerns me. How and where will future generations anchor their existence in a source beyond themselves? For sure, new wine belongs in new wineskins, but please, beloved young ones, be gentle and slow in discarding any old wineskin. God might be doing a new thing through you, but God also graced this brave new world with elders to love, to cherish and to learn from. And who knows, some of these elders might still contain some seasoned wine of wisdom and affection you might need along the way, even from those who are not as steady on two wheels anymore as they used to be.

Of Velcro Curlers and …

So there’s this table with household items for the taking, discards that have seen better days. But my two granddaughters disagree; they see a treasure trove. The girls insist on bringing home a curling iron with a broken plug-in, an ugly candlestick, a roll of tensor bandage, a well-worn snowman stuffy in Christmas decor, and a massive container of velcro curlers. I’m rolling my eyes — really, girls? Their ear-to-ear grins keep my mouth shut, lest I deflate their victorious spirits as they bring home the spoil.

I have a category for such things — junk. I also know exactly what each item is supposed to be used for. And I honestly did not think that my 8 1/2 and 7 year old granddaughters would know what to do with most of their treasures, let alone need them. Well, I was wrong.

On the drive home my assumptions were, well, thrown out the window with the kind of light-hearted ridicule only granddaughters can get away with. In the rear view mirror I saw the tensor bandage being strung from the car’s ceiling, held in place by — what else? — a curler! Then curlers were hurled onto it, sticking to the bandage, causing giggles and bursts of excitement. Look, Oma, we’re playing a game! Who would have thought velcro curlers and tensor bandage could generate so much fun and joy?

Clearly, young minds display a limitless curiosity, not to mention boundless energy to explore and invent, to engage and to create. My old adult-mind thinks it knows everything — well, on some days anyways. But my two girls refuse to think in boxes and rigid categories. Instead, they give their imagination free reign to discover new purposes for grown-ups’ discards in startlingly fun ways.

As the days rolled on, their energy-level sharply contrasting with mine, and their physical flexibility stretching my rickety, aching bones beyond their limits, the girls’ ability to see beyond the surface of things was ever so evident, to the point of creating their own humour. “It’s complicated to say complicated!” said the younger one in frustration. She stopped, realized what she just said, and the two burst out laughing, repeating the phrase over and over sprinkled with contagious giggles. Strangers and dogs drew their heartstrings, turning them into friends and objects of affection. Even the bumble bees who have made their home under our front step were greeted with vintage Franciscan-style affection and respect. The girls saw toys and friends and games where grown-ups see annoying bugs and caterpillars, dead sticks and branches, leaves and rocks, unapproachable strangers and dogs, useless string and ugly candlesticks, spoons and tensor bandage and, well, velcro curlers. Wow, to go through life like that all the time …

The world is a magnificent place, with places to explore and people to meet and things to discover, only limited by our own imagination. Who would want to curtail or even destroy such childlike trust, unbridled joy and freedom of spirit? Sadly, too many harmful events are suffered by too many children, equally deserving of the boundless trust and enthusiasm my dear girls exuded. No wonder Jesus favoured children and condemned those who harmed them: He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. … If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones (…), it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:2, 6) Childlike trust and wonder make it obvious that the kingdom of heaven is indeed a present reality, here and now. Because the kingdom of heaven is a quality of seeing and loving and engaging and cherishing and playing.

How do we as grown-ups foster an ongoing, childlike openness of vision and a vibrant imagination? Why do so many of us lose that capacity along the way? Not only children suffer harmful effects of the sins of others inflicted upon them; too many adults go through life never tasting fullness and wholeness, never trusting and loving, never coming to full bloom. Too many adults live under the burden of sins, their own or those of others — betrayal, abuse, abandonment, neglect, violence, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, persecution. There are kids, too young for the task, who are forced to look after parents, robbed of a carefree childhood. Other kids see and hear and feel things no child ever should, scarring their fragile spirits with a pain they don’t understand. Still others are on the run, with or without parents, dreaming–longing–deserving the safety and love my granddaughters take for granted. Such children have trouble seeing the fun and games in an ugly candlestick, tensor bandages and velcro curlers. I have come that you may have life, says Jesus, and have it in abundance. (John 10:10). When you’re 8 1/2 and 7 years old, and have been blessed with a safe home and a loving family, Jesus’ words are a no-brainer. But when the bruises of living cause permanent, gaping holes in our spirit, and build concrete walls of protection around our heart, Jesus’ words sound ludicrous and unattainable.

The week of my granddaughters’ visit saw our house turn into a war zone, with household items baptized into prized toys and games, and harmless garden bugs scurrying into hiding places. It saw quiet evenings turn into an exciting, sometime quarrelsome, competition over who’s first falling asleep — me every time, while Grandpa policed them until 11pm most nights. These little monkeys saw me drive a round-trip of 500km to take them half-way home where they fell into Dad’s loving arms with glee, not to forget their teacup Yorkie who came along to greet them.

The giggles, the twinkling eyes, the infectious curiosity and imagination have left the house; everything’s back into its place or cupboard, category and box. My body is in recovery mode, sleeping non-stop for nearly ten hours on the first night after their departure. My days are slowly resuming a regular routine, and I am returning to work. But the joyful witness of these amazing little people lingers in my heart and in the rooms of our home, their giggles still sounding off its walls.

The well-worn snowman stuffy stayed at our house, waiting for the girls’ return at Christmastime. Oh, the ugly candlestick? We adorned it with a candle, lit it in the dark at bedtime while saying thank you to God for the blessings of the day, including for the times we argued and managed to make up with one another. Their young eyes glowing in candlelight sang more hymns of praise than any words could capture.

Drawing from that twinkling glow in those young eyes, my heart prays for all, young and old, who deserve love and mercy, for all who are weighed down by pain and distress, for all whose life history has slammed shut doors of freedom and happiness, for all who long for the unbridled joy and freedom of spirit which my dear granddaughters live with such abandon and unselfconsciousness.

And the curling iron? Well, let’s put it this way. Certain things are simply much less versatile than bugs and caterpillars, tensor bandages and velcro curlers, better kept in their particular category of use. With all due respect to my lovely girls’ innovative ability to re-purpose junk, the curling iron with the broken plug-in magically disappeared, never to be found again.

Marika (left) and Kiana (right) in front of Oma’s church

Transubstantiation Revisited

An article in a well-reputed Catholic publication caught my eye recently. It reported from an extensive survey among Roman Catholics that a significant majority no longer believe the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, i.e. that the bread and wine in the Eucharist actually undergo a permanent change into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same article quoted Bishop Robert Barron, who has posted a video-response to these survey results.

Pity, really. As an Anglican, I say pity, really. As a woman priest, I say pity, really. For many reasons, I say pity, really. From the very beginning of our formal ecumenical dialogue, Anglicans and Catholics have shared a significant agreement on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, forming deep connective tissue between our two traditions. On the other hand, this increasing variance in belief among Roman Catholics on the Eucharist is not unknown to Anglicans. The Anglican large-tent ethos means that there exists the entire spectrum of Eucharistic understandings, from mere symbol to literal notions of the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread and the wine. To Roman Catholics this is most disconcerting, to Anglicans this is a fact of life. “Feed on Him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving,” says the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

Some people argue we should do away with the term transubstantiation, as its original and precise meaning in philosophy is so little understood today. But instead of discarding it, can we expand its meaning? Is it possible to rescue the term and infuse it with fresh insight, so that it comes alive anew for today’s faithful?

We speak of transubstantiation when referring to ordinary food and drink — bread and wine — being transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Eucharist. If we are willing to play with expanding the term, what about this: women engage in a type of biological “transubstantiation” every time our bodies grow another human being. The new life generated by the marital union is literally fed by the mother’s own body and blood.

In her yes, Mary became the first person to offer to the world God’s holy body and blood through the birth of her son Jesus, our Messiah and Lord. Through God’s gift of growing new life in her womb and nourishing it with her own body, every woman knows something about the mystery of transforming ordinary food and drink into new life – a profound Eucharistic transformation, culminating in the great Eucharistic Sacrament of the Incarnation of God’s own Son Jesus. Have we really tapped the sacramental significance of this glorious and mysterious wonder of biological transubstantiation called pregnancy?

God deems both male and female bodies worthy sacramental vessels, capable of transforming ordinary food, ordinary events, and ordinary situations into the radiance of the risen Christ present and active in the world. Without negating the reality of sin, our bodies are created to be living sacraments; both male and female bodies are created to make God physically present in the world through word and deed, just as our Lord Jesus Christ revealed. We make God in Christ present every day when we make giving ourselves to another a gift of love, mercy and beauty. Long before any of us end up in a marriage bed, and those who never do this in a marriage bed, we gift the world with our very selves in the quality of our love, our compassion, our forgiveness.

In one of his Lenten sermons a few years ago Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, urged all of us to offer our bodies and blood as a daily Eucharistic sacrifice and gift to the world, thereby transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary presence and action of God:
Let us try to imagine what would happen if the laity, at the moment of the consecration, said silently: ‘Take, eat, this is my body. Take, drink, this is my blood. A mother of a family thus celebrates Mass, then she goes home and begins her day made up of a thousand little things. But what she does is not nothing: It is Eucharist together with Jesus! A [religious] sister also says in her heart at the moment of consecration: ‘Take, eat …’; then she goes to her daily work: children, the sick, the elderly. The Eucharist ‘invades’ their day which becomes … Eucharist. (Zenit, March 12, 2010)

Every time we drink the cup of blessing that we bless, we share in the Blood of Christ, thus committing ourselves to be poured out in love for others. Every time we eat the Body of Christ, we are called to offer our own bodies in sacrificial love for the healing of the world. Daily gifts of self redeem relationships – with one another, as well as with creation and with God, whether in the marriage bed, in school or the workplace, at the recycling depot, in the dance recital or the communion procession. Our body is an integral expression of our personhood, thus affirming creation as male and female in the divine image as “very good.”

In the Eucharistic Prayer the priest prays,
by your Holy Spirit graciously make holy these gifts . . .
that they may become the Body and Blood of your Son . . .
But that’s not all:  “grant that we, who are nourished
by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit,
may become one body, one spirit in Christ.

Here are the words that signify the double transubstantiation. This transformation into oneness, into communion, is a thread that runs through the whole Eucharistic liturgy. We, being made one, pray the Lord’s Prayer, to “Our Father.” We share the sign of peace, and pray “grant (the church) peace and unity.” We approach the communion table together, joining our voices in song to express our spiritual union, to show gladness of heart, and to bring out more clearly the community character of receiving the Eucharist as one unified body.

All of this – the praying and singing, the sharing and processing – has but one major goal: This motley crew of saints and sinners is being transformed into the Body of Christ – transubstantiation. The Body of Christ receives the Body of Christ in order to be the Body of Christ in the world. We … are changed … This is the ultimate purpose of Eucharist: to change us! We say Amen to the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, and to our own reality as Body of Christ. We say Amen to letting go of anything that would keep us from being the Body of Christ in our world.

Pope Francis echoed St. Augustine when he stated: 
Christ gives himself to us both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, to conform us to him. This means to allow oneself to be changed as we receive. Just as the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist. You become the Body of Christ. This is beautiful, very beautiful. … We become what we receive!

Really? Do we really … become … what we receive? As a people of the breaking of bread, we are a people of eternal life – life in its fullness. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, challenges self-examination, as Paul urges. How do we express such an abundant gift of life day to day as we live in hope and joy as well as in difficulties and pain? In spite of the daily challenges and trials, we learn to draw hope, joy and courage by living the Eucharist in daily service to those most in need among us. It is in daily service and gift of ourselves that we can stand shoulder to shoulder in a Eucharistic gesture of compassion, solidarity and justice.

Who among you is in need, asks Christ through the Lord’s Supper. Examine yourselves, and only then eat and drink, says Paul. How beautiful indeed and how powerful if this was really happening! Do most Catholics and most Christians take the discipleship challenge of the Eucharistic table into daily life, literally? Do most Catholics allow transubstantiation to occur in their own bodies–minds–spirits as a result of their eating and drinking at Holy Communion? Could a lack of taking seriously the obligation in discipleship that partaking in Holy Communion places upon us contribute to the erosion of belief also? It is curious that the comments following Bishop Barron’s video-response almost all blame the loss of reverence and solemnity in the liturgy itself. Hardly any pick up on Bishop Barron’s last words: “You take away the central teachings of our church at the doctrinal level, and trust me, you will take away our commitment to the poor. It belongs together as a whole.”

In response to Bishop Barron, and with all due respect, Christ is so much bigger than our human limitations in believing. While Bishop Barron makes a good point, I pray that he might find some consolation in the fact that other Christian traditions draw on a wide range of inspirations to sustain their commitment to the poor, including Scripture itself, the witness of Jesus, the cloud of witnesses (of which he mentions some significant ones), prayer and worship. While good catechesis and expanding our understanding of transubstantiation would greatly help, we can sustain one another in many different ways so as to keep our Christian discipleship fresh and faithful, accountable and open to continued perfecting. Let that ecumenical support become ever more real among us.

  • Part of this reflection comes from a retreat I developed entitled: Become what you Eat … Really? For more information, click here.
  • For more Roman Catholic responses on Transubstantiation from RC theologians (and one Anglican), click here, here and here.
  • This interview with Dr. Brett Salkeld is a fascinating read for ecumenical reasons.
  • To respond to a question from a reader, my personal theology on the Eucharist and my faith in the Real Presence of Christ has not changed from my RC days. And the Anglican tradition is not a different faith; it is another expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. For more on this question, click here.
  • A wealth of information and all the official agreements between Roman Catholics and Anglicans can be found here.

Forgiven the Inexcusable

Imagine that today’s Scripture readings were proclaimed on the Sunday of our recent Anglican General Synod:
Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five? …. Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.’ And God answered, ‘I will not do it, if I find thirty there.’ So suppose …. only twenty are found there ... Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose only ten are found there …’ (Genesis 18:20—32)

Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened … (Luke 11:1—13)

In light of the intense emotional roller-coaster that was the recent Anglican General Synod, these examples and instructions about prayer sound like …. what? Foolish and unrealistic, as many went away with broken hearts and conflicting feelings. Some felt betrayed by God and by fellow Anglicans, as they asked and did not receive, searched and did not find, knocked and the door remained closed.

Whether on a grand scale such as General Synod or in the privacy of our own lives, when things don’t go our way, we feel betrayed and let down, discouraged and in doubt. We can easily feel that God is not listening, that other people are preventing God to answer our prayers. When we feel deeply about something, we crave and need not only God’s own blessing; we crave acceptance, recognition and respect from our communities of faith, from our church. The question is: how do we know we are praying for the right thing? And why does God not answer prayer, or so it seems? It is said that God always answers prayer – always. The answer can be yes – no – maybe – wait – or … something different, something we would never think of on our own.

No doubt, Abraham was scandalized by the sins of Sodom. Abraham could have, in great righteousness, prayed the whole city to hell. But … he didn’t. Abraham did something much more scandalous: from a deep well of compassion for the people, Abraham pleaded … with God … to spare the city, despite its transgressions. So God, what if there are only 40 good people in it? What if there are only 30, or 20, or only 10? Imagine that… bargaining with none other than the Almighty! I wonder if Abraham already had a premonition of God’s saving work in Jesus and what C.S. Lewis would say millennia later: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in one another because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.”

The present pain in the Anglican LGBTQ+ community over feeling rejected by our church is enormous. On the evening of the vote on the Marriage Canon, when the results showed that the motion to redefine marriage had failed, the air was sucked out of the room, and quickly filled with weeping and wailing, esp. of the young delegates present.

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion?

That night, our young people were crying, and many along with them across the country. While that same Synod made great strides in reconciliation with our Indigenous sisters and brothers, through a formal request for forgiveness for the spiritual abuse inflicted in the name of God, another group experienced deep spiritual harm. While that same Synod made great strides in ecumenical and interfaith relations, dialogue and alliances, another group felt cast out into the cold, bereft, robbed, of all that their hearts yearned for.

Teach us to pray, O Lord, into the tears and agony of this moment … What can we do? How do we pray into this painful space and into the many painful spaces of our lives and of our world? And how can we remain open to divine answers, answers that we could never think of on our own? God always reserves the right to provide answers that we cannot possibly ask for or imagine. Many times in my own life, I have stood at crossroads, wondering which way God wanted me to go. Some of those crossroads were pretty painful, caused by major melt-downs and crises. Times of betrayal, hurt and rejection are painful; they feel like God is hanging us out to dry…

But our God is a God of life and love. Our God is a resurrection God. First, by becoming one with us in Christ Jesus, taking on the human condition, becoming part of creation itself, God says in a loud voice: all that I create is good and destined for goodness and love. Yes, free will, that greatest of gifts from our loving God, did come with the rather distasteful side-effect of sin. But in Jesus, God showed us by example how to live in grace and how to stare down our own sinful patterns of behaviours, motives and actions. In Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, God has declared once and for all: there is nothing that I cannot redeem, save and transform. In Jesus, even death was killed by love eternal.

In one of my own melt-down moments, caused by a brutal and abrupt termination of a pastoral position, a dear friend and mentor gently said: “I know your pain is real and raw, and it deserves to be honoured and respected. But I just want you to know that, once you are ready, our Saviour is eagerly waiting to teach you many things through this pain.” And indeed, our Saviour did, once my heart was ready and open …

So I got thinking: what can our Saviour possibly teach us in this moment of pain in our church? What does our Saviour teach us in all seasons of pain – in our church, in our lives, in our world? Is rejection and abandonment by God the only way to interpret seemingly unanswered prayers? Sometimes the no is indeed from God, because God has something else in mind. Other times the no is caused by our blindness and obstinacy. Still other times, what looks like a no in fact conceals another way, a way that is hard to notice if we are fixated on only one desired outcome. In the midst of our melt-downs how can God open up another, deeper answer, an answer we cannot possibly dream up ourselves, an answer lived out in the witness of our Lord Jesus?

Christ himself was no stranger to rejection, scorn and judgment. And yet, Jesus refused to let that rejection define him or define his acting and speaking in this world. Deeply anchored in his God-given identity of love, he carried the tension … He carried the tension of rejection and misunderstanding and scorn without letting it define or destroy him or fill him with rage (except for a temper tantrum in the Temple). Jesus took within himself the anger and hatred and injustice and bitterness, and gave back … graciousness, blessing, mercy and love. Like a water purifier, Jesus carried the tension and injustice … holding the dirty, murky water of our sin, letting it pass through him on the cross, and returned the pure and safe, healing and cleansing water of God’s mercy …

Whew … Impossible? Yep. Impossible on our own? Yep. That is why now, more than ever, we need one another. Our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers need us. They need our unconditional love and mercy to lean on, so that their spirits can grow strong and resilient, so that they do not let rejection have the last word. For it is in community that we grow strong in our identity as God’s beloved son and daughter. It is in community that we confess sins and receive God’s healing. It is in community that we grow into God’s answers to life’s dilemmas. It is in community that God feeds our bodies and spirits with Christ’s own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. It is in community that our spirit can grow in safety and beauty. It is in community that we can say to one another: let my faith and love carry you for a while as you weep and heal. It is in community that we plead with God, like Abraham, will you not save us, O God, even if only a few of us are righteous in your sight?

Listen to Paul’s words from his letter to the Colossians: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving…”Because, “When you were dead in sin, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross… “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable in one another because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.” In Christ, God has indeed … forgiven … the inexcusable … in us all.

This extravagant grace from a foolishly generous God eventually broke through at General Synod through the Indigenous presence. For many years now our church has been profoundly blessed by the faithful leadership of Indigenous elders who have tenaciously continued to walk with us, despite the historic spiritual and cultural harm we have caused them. While struggling to overcome their own inter-generational trauma Indigenous Christians have been diligent in pursuing reconciliation with the colonial church, even though the spiritual oppression inflicted upon them does not make us deserving of such a gracious pursuit. Why are they so persistent? Because of Christ…

Because despite all the harm we have inflicted, they have grasped the heart of Jesus, a heart that reconciles and heals. Our Indigenous sisters and brothers could have, in great righteousness, prayed the whole church to hell. But they didn’t … instead they are in the business of forgiving the inexcusable in us all, because like Abraham, they have found a handful of righteous ones among us and are pleading on our behalf. And through that extravagant act of pursuing reconciliation, our Indigenous sisters and brothers are revealing the face of our merciful God. Despite the condemning headlines in the secular media about the intolerance and exclusion of the Anglican Church, the healing features of God’s mercy and grace entered the real and broken hearts of those gathered in the Synod hall …

All throughout Scripture God’s primary concern is clear: God is in the business of saving us from ourselves, time and time again and again, especially when we have reached the dead-end of our tricks and tactics, and are face to face with our own brokenness and mess. God is still in the business of pulling blessings from curses, love from hate, peace from violence, life from death. And God will do this again, can do this again, with our consent, and with our willingness to surrender.

And so yes, Lord, … teach us to pray, show us a way forward, a way that we cannot possibly ask for or imagine. Teach us to forgive … teach us to carry one another in love.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will our heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.

Homily preached on July 28, 2019
Genesis 18:20—32, Psalm 138, Colossians 2:6—15, Luke 11:1—13