October 21, 2018
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
THE HOODED MEN
In today’s Gospel from Mark we hear that the disciples argue about which of them is the greatest. We read that two members of the inner circle, James and John, ask a favour of Jesus: they seek positions of special dignity. Jesus responds by saying,“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Jesus answers, you do not know what you’re asking for.In the Old Testament, one’s “cup”is one’s lot assigned by God, be it blessing or condemnation. To be “first”, one must serve even more humbly, as a “slave”. Jesus continues to repeat himself on this subject to the disciples as they walk with him to Jerusalem.
What about special status in the Christian faith today? You will probably expect most priests to have one or two stories about their lives or the lives of others that would make you think twice; this is one of them about myself which I told for the first time this past week to group of parishioners. When I was very young, two years at the most and possibly younger, I remember being visited by what I called “the hooded men”. They looked almost what like monks would look like. I was too young to know or to have seen monks before. They would usually appear in the morning in those moments when you are between sleeping and waking. They were looking down over me and although I wouldn’t say that their presence frightened me, it was just to me as a child what happened and they became a part of my life at that time. I subsequently read about similar in Betty J. Eadie’s book about her near-death experience, “Embraced by the Light” where she described them as her guardian angels (pg. 30). I have not, as you know, lived a special or blessed life because of the visitation of these beings. Eventually, and I don’t know exactly when, they disappeared. I only started to think about them in the last year or so. I don’t know why, as they have not reappeared.
This story could lead me, or others, to think that I have special status, but I don’t believe that my life journey is any more significant that yours. The disciples would have been in the presence of Jesus and therefore thought that they deserved special status when they reached heaven. The disciples eventually understand that to do God’s will, would mean giving up on trying to impress God, impress Jesus, impress the Holy Spirit with what they have done, or seen and experienced and simply believe in his grace, follow him and serve others which I all and all of us strive to do. Amen.
OCTOBER 7, 2018
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Let the little children come to Jesus
I recently read a story about a mother with a fidgety seven year old boy who finally got her son to sit still and be quiet in church. About halfway through the sermon, she leaned over and whispered, ‘If you don’t be quiet, the preacher is going to lose his place and will have to start his sermon all over again!’ Some of us, or even many of us, have had moments like that in church. Today’s reading reminds how Jesus welcomed children into his presence. I remember when I was at a family wedding and my brother and I, aged three and five respectively were assigned to sit with our grandmother. My mother asked our grandmother how we behaved after the service and she replied, “If there had been a pole dear, they would have climbed it”.
You have probably noticed how short the gospel was today. I took the liberty of not preaching on the entire passage. The passage actually begins with Jesus’ teaching about divorce which I will leave to another time. I mention that only because there is a clear contrast between the intentions of the Pharisees to test Jesus and are who unwilling to learn from him and the people coming to have their children blessed by Jesus. In Jesus’ time people had a very negative attitude about children. Children were seen as undisciplined and spoiled and often considered to be a hardship to a family in poverty. With that attitude, it isn't hard to understand why the disciples thought it best to keep the children away from Jesus.
This problem of Jesus’ followers keeping children away from church persists today. I remember many years ago at a church I served in where a young family came to church. They sat near the back and tried not to be the centre of attention because their children moved around and made noise doing so. There was a parishioner who eventually told them that they either keep their child quiet or go to another church. They made their decision and never returned. I have heard stories like that from parishioners in every church I have served in. There has been an ongoing tension about the place of children in the church going right back to Jesus’ time. There is a range in churches today from the children being involved in all parts of the service every week with a play area for the youngest at the back of the church to them having they own place of worship in a separate space in the church building. No matter what we do I will always remember one parishioner responding to the statement that children are the future of the church by saying, they are the church. If you don’t have a growing children and youth program now you won’t have a church in the future.
We have a stained glass window at the back of our church that has Jesus holding children in his arms. The caption states, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”. Suffer means to let or allow and has nothing to do with suffering. Jesus becomes indignant about the disciples preventing the people bringing their children to him that he might touch them. Every other time, there are nine of them, the word "touch" (apto) is used in Mark, it is part of a healing (1:41; 3:10; 5:27, 28, 30, 31; 6:56; 7:33; 8:22). It would therefore make sense that these children were being brought to Jesus because they were sick and in need of heeling. Jesus continues by saying, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
I am sure that we have noticed how children receive something with a smile; a smile that is genuine and gladhearted. At a school I taught at there was always one morning in the year where the teachers would switch classes. I would take the Grade 1 class and the Grade 1 teacher would take my Grade 8 class. It was for both of us, the most nerve-racking day of the year. My advice to her was to hold her ground and she would say to me, always smile. And that is what I did, always smiled. Children are aware if they are wanted, needed, loved or not. Many years ago when I was serving at St. James in Port Colborne, Elizabeth and I went to hear the late Stuart McLean, the CBC host of the Vinyl Café for his annual Christmas show. Rebecca was with us and she begin to get fidgety and so we decided to leave. As we got up to go Stuart McLean stopped us and said, “Don’t worry, you’re welcome here, this is a family time, it’s Christmas.
Today we give thanks for our country, for the farmers, for harvest, for our families, for our friends, for the children of God. All of those will come together at a dinner table sometime over the course of this weekend. May we give thanks for all that God has done for us, for Jesus, for his love and his acceptance of all us. Amen.
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 9, 2018
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has p romised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? 8You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 9But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
Faith without Works is dead
The Letter of James comes up from time to time in our lectionary. It is, in fact, the second reading for the whole month of September and so we hear some of the most important passages from this letter this month. It is believed to be one of the earliest texts in the New Testament. Although Martin Luther called it an “epistle of straw” in his original preface to his New Testament translation, he left out the comment in later editions. And yet, it has the memorable and oft quoted,“Faith without works is dead” The letter, written to Christians, begins with statement, My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? This sets the tone for the final verse, “Faith without works is dead”.Can it been seen that we believe in Jesus and his teaching in how we live our lives?
James opens by giving an example of two people entering the assembly of believers, one is rich who is dressed very well with gold rings and another who is poor in dirty clothes. James is writing his fellow Christians to correct their behaviour of making distinctions. This is because they showed favouritism to the rich in their assemblies, had judged people with evil intentions hoping to get their money. Have we judged people, showed them favouritism because they are rich? At the very least, society has shown a greater interest in the rich.
Does anyone remember Robin Leach? I suspected that one or two of us might have even watched his program on T.V. Robin Leach died recently and I read his life story in an article in the Globe & Mail. He was the brains and front man of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, a T.V. show that ran in the 80’s and 90’s. The show got quite a following in the heady days of the Regan era when even Donald Trump made several appearances. When challenged about the show and its content, he once quipped, “No one would watch Lifestyles the poor and unknown. Does the church have a fascination with the rich and do we treat them with more respect?
The church in James’ time would have had very few rich people in its assemblies according to biblical scholars. The people in James’ time were showing favouritism when a rich person entered the gathering of the faithful for worship. The church has been challenged with this issue through the ages. When I served at St. James, Port Colborne I remember being told that before the church was built, its future parishioners had one condition before they gave any money. Many of them were associated with the shipping industry on the Great Lakes and it still has a Mariner’s service each service to this day. Their one condition was that they would only give if the pews were free. This is because before this, you rented a pew, which meant it was your property. The best pews were those closest to the pulpit, while there were pews at the very back for those who could not afford one. The rich were the very people, James says, who were oppressing them, dragging them into court and blaspheming Jesus’ name. Why would you show them favouritism, James asks.
It is not what we think or say, but what we do, that matters to writer of James. James reminds his readers to follow the golden rule for whoever comes into your church whether they are rich or poor. He reminds them that if they break one law, it is as if they have broken them all. He reminds them it is all very well and good to have faith, but if someone who is without clothing and food and just told to go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill, what is the good of that?
I remember some time ago being at a party in Toronto and meeting someone who had learned that I was an Anglican Priest. She came out and said forthrightly that she was spiritual, but not religious. I asked a simple question, how did want she believe shape her life? She said that she didn’t understand what I meant. I rephrased the question, and asked how has how what she believed had changed her life. She said she didn’t know. I tried again by asking, how do live out what you believe? She didn’t have an answer.
Can we answer the question? How does what we believe shape our lives? This passage is clear about what it is saying to Christians and how we live our lives. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”James is one of many early Christian writers who said in so many words, we are to talk the talk and walk the walk. The summer has ended and school has begun and now many church ministries begin again. It is a time of year, amongst others, when we can get a fresh start on our lives and our faith and to remember that faith without works is dead. Amen.
The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 26, 2018
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Who are we following anyway?
There was a woman who was at the induction of her new parish priest and the Bishop of the diocese happened to be there. She went up to the Bishop after the service at the reception and complained that she did not like the incoming Rector. The Bishop replied that she should give him time to settle in and she may well like him. Not being happy with that response she added that she was, in fact, not impressed with any of the priests that they had had as their Rector. The Bishop paused, and then said, I understand what you are saying, but all we have to choose from are from the laity.
In today’s reading we hear two things: that Jesus’s words are hard to accept and that Jesus is hard to accept. This may make us think of those God sends to do his work and even the acceptance of our ministries before God within the church. Jesus says that offers his "flesh and blood" to be eaten and drunk and his followers find that impossible to understand and accept because it is in conflict with what they believe.There are many proclamations of Jesus that are hard to accept: "Take up your cross and follow; love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; forgive those who have wronged you, sell your possessions and give to the poor”.The problem with Jesus as the Son of God is that he was, as I read somewhere, in the wrong packaging.
There is some truth that "packaging is everything." Some may remember when money was spent on pet rocks. Why would someone pay for something that could be picked up in their yard? The instruction manual was the real product which contained lots of jokes, and several commands that could be taught to the new pet. While "sit" and "stay" were easy to accomplish, "roll over" usually required a little extra help. "Come," "stand" and "shake hands" were found to be almost impossible to teach.However, "sic ‘em" was fairly simple with some additional help from the owner.Jesus from Nazareth was seen to be the wrong package for one coming down from heaven. The people were expecting someone to overthrow the Romans, a mighty warrior who would save them from their oppressors. Jesus came to save us not from the Romans, which really wouldn’t matter now, but from our sins, which always matters.
We might seeeven those who God sends to be in leadership as not the right people. I have had this feeling myself about some of my fellow leaders in ministry. I remember someone at Wycliffe College where I went to seminary who irked me.How could God send him I asked myself. At the end of the day he went on to have a good and long ministry The question really is, who are we are following anyway? The passage ends with Jesus asking the twelve if they want to join the others and leave to which Peter responds, “Lord, to whom can we go You have the word of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” That’s what counts and may we, no matter how hard we may think some of Jesus teaching is, do that. Amen.