What’s Your Super Power?

A Sermon Preached on The Eighth Sunday after Trinity
(the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost)
July 28, 2021, at 11:00 am
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete.

The readings we used were Ephesians 3:14-21, Psalm 14, and John 6:1-21.

What’s your super power?

We all know that Superman can fly, in invulnerable to bullets, has x-ray vision, and spectacular strength. The Flash can run very quickly. Peter Parker, thanks to being bitten by a radioactive spider, has acquired heightened athletic abilities and can cling to walls. Batman doesn’t have any super powers, but he is fabulously wealthy, so he can create or purchase all kinds of tech that makes it seem like he has super powers.

In popular culture and in social media, asking someone, “What’s your super power?” is a way of asking what it is that which sets you apart from other folk and sets you up for greatness. And so, the Washington Post, writing about Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek basketball player on the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, said that his “superpower is that he possesses the kind of short-memory fearlessness required for greatness. He won’t be shamed into the shadows. The possibility of conquering those challenges and shining is much more appealing.”

People on internet talk about more mundane things as if they were super powers. On Twitter some people said that their super power was:

  • “I got adopted by a dog!”
  • [I am] “Efficient, practical, and a master in the art of lipstick.”
  • “I can scroll the internet for hours!”
  • “I make spanakopita, lamb and cute kids.” [obviously a Greek American]
  • “The Oxford comma.”

A medical doctor wrote, “My superpowers are empathy humour, and perfectionism. These are also my weaknesses.”                                 

So, how would you answer the question? What are your super powers?

Divine Powers       

In our gospel reading today Jesus walks on water and multiplies bread. Those miraculous acts might look like super powers, but to call them such is a genre error. Super powers are almost always acquired by otherwise ordinary people. The miraculous abilities of Jesus merely attest to who Jesus is: the son of God, the Messiah, the prophet promised of old who is to come into the world. His powers are inherent in who he is as the one who is fully human and fully divine – he is like us in every way but sin, and yet is also the one through whom all things were made and for whom all things were made. Thus he can command the winds and the water, and multiply material things. The disciples are terrified by Jesus walking on the water, and merely confused by the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus calms the disciples with his words, “It is I; do not be afraid” and goes on i the Gospel of John to explain what he has done. Perhaps we can consider his calming presence and ability to instruct super powers as well.

So, what are your super powers? 

As Christians, our super power is that we can do more than we can ask for or imagine. Paul in Ephesians writes:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3.20- 21 NRSV

In the Anglican Church of Canada this doxology, in slightly different wording, is used at the end of the Holy Eucharist: 

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation, in the Church and in Christ Jesus, for ever and ever. Amen. BAS translation

All ow me to describe three examples of this.

  • Our parish vision is to radiate God’s love in Jesus Christ on this island and beyond. We are radiating beyond the island via Zoom, something that we never imagined when putting this vision statement together just before the pandemic. The power of God is at work in us, doing more than we can ask or imagine.
  • I just heard that my friends Zak and Hind, living in suburban Vancouver, have just become Canadian citizens. Zak and Hind were in Mosul in northern Iraq when ISIS came and took over the city, incorporating it into their supposed caliphate. Zak was a pediatric nurse, but was confronted at gunpoint and told he must now work at their soldiers’ infirmary. They immediately left the city on foot, leaving everything behind, crossed over into Jordan, claimed refugee status, and in time were sponsored by a congregation in the Refugee Program in my old diocese of British Columbia. Now they are employed in fields related to what they were trained for, paying taxes, and have a new son. I had a small hand in helping this come about. They and we could never have imagined this course of events. The power of God is at work in us, doing more than we can ask or imagine.
  • Do you remember the Millennium Goals? These were a set of eight goals to be achieved by 2015. Goal One was: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. As you may recall, an intense effort achieved spectacular results:
    • The proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined by half at the global level.
    • In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010, five years ahead of schedule.

That said, while the proportion of undernourished people globally decreased from 23.2 per cent in 1990-1992 to 14.9 per cent in 2010-2012, this still leaves 870 million people—one in eight worldwide—going hungry. There is still work to do but these achievements demonstrate that the power of God is at work in us, doing more than we can ask or imagine.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Although we are Christians, too many of us miss the fact that God is at work in us – that the same power which raised Christ from the dead is at work in us individually and collectively, as the body of Christ. By the power of the Holy Spirit all of us have been given gifts, perhaps for the building up of the church, the body of Christ, but also to carry out the ministry entrusted to us by Jesus at Easter: “As the the Father sent me, so I send you.” Today we are faced with many challenges. They might seem overwhelming. They might not seem directly related to the church, as they are environmental, political, and economic. But by the Spirit of God we have this power to do more than we can ask or imagine. Let us use them to radiate God’s love on this island and beyond.

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Some Notes on Philippians

A page from Papyrus 46 (abbreviated as “p46” or “{\mathfrak {P}}46″), containing part of the beginning of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. It is dated between 175 and 225 CE. Its precise origin is not absolutely clear, as it was sold by a dealer in Cairo in the illegal antiquities market in the 1930s, but it is undoubtedly from Egypt. Papyrus 46 consists of ninety-six pages from a codex (a bound book) of Paul’s letters, estimated to originally have been 104 pages long. P46 is divided between the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour.

The Small Group Bible Study of the Anglican Church of St Thomas met last Thursday (June 16, 2021) and read through the whole of the letter. We made some general observations about the “who, what, where, why, when, and how”, as revealed by the text. Here they are, with a few additions, in summary form.

What

Paul’s Letter to the Philippians comes to us as a “book” in the printed, translated Bible. According to one source, it is 2183 words long, in one-hundred and twenty-four verses spread across four chapters. In my NRSV large-print Bible it takes up five pages of double columns. We read it aloud in English, as a group, in about twenty minutes, I think. So it is not long – about the length of this blog post, in fact!

Originally the Letter to the Philippians was not in English, nor did it have chapters, verses (a medieval addition), and section headings. For the first 1400 years of its existence it was not typeset, but rather it was copied laboriously by hand.

Above you can see one of the oldest manuscripts preserving part of it. It is likely a copy of a copy, many times over, and just as a photocopy starts to degrade over multiple copies, so errors and omissions enter in. Textual scholars, comparing many old versions, note the presence of several copying errors already in this manuscript.

The text is in Hellenistic Greek (also called Koiné Greek), and it is undoubtedly the language in which it was composed. If you can read the Greek alphabet you may be able to make out a few words of the first two lines in the photograph above. It reads,

οὖν αὐτὸν ἐν κῷ μετὰ πάσης χαρᾶς,
καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἐντίμους ἔχετε ὅτι

or in English translation

him then in the Lord with all joy,
and honor such people because

In the manuscript the words all run together, there is no punctuation, it is all in capitals, and the script uses abbreviations such as κῷ for common words like κυρίῳ. Nevertheless, it is plainly from Philippians 2.29-30.

Scholars and preachers today use printed critical editions, such as the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament. While such critical editions notes variant readings across hundreds and thousands of manuscripts, they do express opinions on what the original reading probably was. The English translations we use today are based on these critical editions, and generally seek to express the sense of the Koiné Greek as directly as possible.

Who

As 1.1 states, it is a letter from Paul and Timothy to the church in Philippi, σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις (“with the bishops/overseers and deacons/helpers”). In all probability the church to which Paul wrote was small, perhaps no bigger than our own church at St Thomas’s. They likely met in private homes, or maybe a rented hall, or a courtyard. You can see that we are already into issues of translation with this first verse – do we see the words used by Paul for leadership in Philippi as technical terms, early versions of our own orders of ministry, or as something different?

A reconstruction of ancient Philippi and the modern, excavated ruins

Philippi, about 160 km east of Thessaloniki and 20 km inland from the sea, is now in ruins, but in Paul’s time it was a major city in eastern Macedonia. It had been founded in the 4th Century BCE by settlers from Thasos, itself a colony from the Cycladian island of Paros in the 7th Century BCE. Its original name was Krenides, meaning “fountains” or “springs”, but it was almost immediately renamed by Phillip II of Macedon after he conquered it in 360 BCE. Philip II was the father of Alexander the Great, and consolidated Macedon and extended his control over Greece. It was on a strategic route between the Adriatic and the north Aegean, and after the Romans conquered Macedon, they rebuilt the road as the Via Egnatia (parallelled today by the modern highway E90, the Egnatia Odos). It was also close to gold mines, making it a wealthy city. Octavian (later known as Augustus) fought a major battle here against Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. He then settled many legionnaires there, and it was rebuilt as an echo of Rome. While the population probably spoke mostly Greek, in Paul’s time I imagine that there were still many there whose first language would have been Latin. In the course of time Christians did build structures in Philippi, but they date from centuries after the time of Paul.

While the letter is from Paul and Timothy, it is very much in Paul’s voice. Timothy was with Paul, and Paul talks about someone named Epaphroditus who had travelled from Phillipi to wherever they were. Paul mentions Clement as well, who is not much more than a name in the New Testament; he appears to be in Philippi with two women named Euodia and Syntyche.

Why

Why is Paul writing the Philippians?

  • Essentially, the letter is a thank you note. In 4.18 he notes that the church there has sent gifts to Paul.
  • The verse at 4.2 reads, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” and this echoes 2.5, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” It may be that Paul had heard from Epaphroditus of some minor disagreement between the two women, and in as positive a way possible was trying in the letter to help them get along.
  • The Philippians are worried about Paul, and so he writes to try and reassure him that he is fine. He is quite ambivalent about whether he lives or dies: “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better;  but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (1.23-24).
  • In chapter 3 there is some invective against “the dogs, . . . the evil workers, . . . who mutilate the flesh” who are probably conservative Jewish Christians who believe that Gentile followers of Jesus must become Jews, and the males must be circumcised. These opponents of Paul also show up in the letters to the Galatians and in 1 & 2 Corinthians. Some scholars have suggested that this is a fragment of another letter that got inserted here, but the change in tone may just be Paul trying to say to the Philippians what he has said to other churches.
  • Finally, this is a letter full of joy. Paul was simply expressing his joy in Christ and the fellowship he had with the church in Philippi.

Where

We know where Philippi is, or at least where it was. But where was Paul when he wrote the letter?

In 1.13 he refers to the good news of Jesus becoming known τῷ πραιτωρίῳ to the Praetorium, or the “Imperial guard” as the NRSV translates it. It originally referred to the tent of the commander of a Roman army in the encampment. It is derived from the word”praetor”, which in Latin was the equivalent to “general”. As the Romans established a permanent presence in various territories, it also referred to the governor’s headquarters. Thus, in the gospels, Pontius Pilate rules from the Praetorium in Jerusalem. The penultimate verse of the letter reads, “All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household.”

In 1.7 he describes himself as being imprisoned, and in 4.14 he describes his situation as being “in distress”. This is no metaphor, then – he is a “guest” of the Roman army – in a prison. He is awaiting judgement; prison was not punishment, put the prelude to it. Punishment involved a different range of things – it might have involved physical beating, execution, exile, loss of property, and so forth – but not jail time. As well, the Romans would not have done much to make Paul comfortable, so the gifts sent by the Philippians by Epaphroditus undoubtedly did much to make Paul’s situation livable. Presumably it was money, and so Paul was probably able to have food brought to him by Epaphroditus and Timothy.

Where was he? Some have suggested Ephesus, in what is now the south-west coast of Turkey. Another suggestion is that he was in Caesarea Maritima, the great Roman port built in Judea by Herod the Great for his imperial overlords. Acts tells us he went to Rome for judgement by Caesar, and that

He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance. (28.30-31)

So, he may have been in Rome. We cannot be sure, but he was in prison, and while he depreciates how horrible it is for him, the reality is that wherever he was it was awful.

How

We are so used to sending messages by email or SMS that we forget that it would have been difficult to communicate in the 1st Century. There was no internet, no telephone, and no Royal Post or ΕΛΤΑ to carry letters and packages. Rather, if you wanted to get something like money or a letter to someone, you had to personally engage someone do it for you, and to make the journey. In this case it is obvious that Epaphroditus was the person who carried the money, and it is likely that he brought the letter back with him to Philippi.

Paul probably dictated the letter, as he expressly did in other cases. In one or two of the letters he notes that he is writing he conclusion with his own hand, in big, big letters. Perhaps this indicates a visual problem, or just that he is not that used to writing compactly. While the original letter is long gone, it undoubtedly looked much like the copy in the photograph above. This made it challenging to read, so Paul probably coached Epaphroditus in how to read it aloud to the community, if he was in fact the person who read it to them there on his delivery of the letter.

The letter would have been read aloud to the community when they assembled, presumably on the Lord’s Day when they gathered for their communal meal held in memory of Jesus’s death and resurrection. While a fair percentage of the population may have been literate, books were expensive, and most interactions were done orally. So one must imagine this being read aloud.

Paul dictates a letter.

I do not know enough to know whether this would have been on a scroll, written on one side of a long strip of paper, or on several pieces of papyrus, using both sides. Certainly by the the time that the earliest copies we have were made, dating from more than a century after it was written, the letters were already collected together and being published in bound manuscripts, or codices, and not scrolls.

When

Establishing a timeline for Paul is fraught. It used to be that scholars would fit the historical evidence of the Letters into the Acts of the Apostles. Then, as historico-critical methods were applied to the New Testament, it was pointed out that the Letters are the primary historical documents, and Acts is the secondary history, written thirty to forty years later. It would be like reading a history of the Second World War written in 1980 and ignoring things written in the 1940s, such as Churchill’s directives and other archival documents. You don’t get the full history from the archival documents, but if the 1980 book is to be accurate, it should be based on those pieces of paper. The author of Acts seems to have based his narrative on oral traditions, and gives no indication of knowing that Paul wrote letters. Because of the gap in time, there are a number of discrepancies.

The good news is that most of this is irrelevant to the interpretation of the Letter to the Philippians. Interestingly, the letter does not seem to be aware of the collection that is being taken up for poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, which is mentioned in Galatians and in 1 & 2 Corinthians. So, either Paul is writing before the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15), during which he was asked to “remember the poor”, or he is writing some time after he went to Jerusalem to deliver the money.

We know that Paul is an adult, and a contemporary of Simon Peter and James the brother of the Lord. Thus, he might be roughly the same age as Jesus, perhaps younger, perhaps older, had Jesus not been crucified. Paul was not in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified, which suggests that he was a younger man, having not yet left Tarsus to make his name in the City of David. However, we really don’t know.

Jesus was executed in the year 30 CE – maybe 33. The Jerusalem Conference was held around 49 CE or 50 CE. If Paul was writing before it, then he was writing in the mid to later 40s, perhaps. If he was writing after it, it would have been in the 50s, probably.

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“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”

A Sermon Preached on The Seventh Sunday of Easter
(following the Julian Calendar used to calculate Easter in Greece)
June 13, 2021, at 11:00 am
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings we used were Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, Psalm 1, and John 17:6-19.

Obsolescence

It is a truth generally acknowledged that many of the great products of the world become obsolescent.

How many of you ever had a typewriter? When was the last time you used it? We have the one on which Frances’s father’s PhD dissertation was typed out – by her mother.

When was the last time you used a phone book? I don’t even know if there is one for Apokoronas. I sometimes dream about them, but I haven’t used one since moving here.

Speaking of phones, how about rotary phones? I remember last having one in the early 1990s. I got really good at using a pen or pencil to dial.

How about cameras with film? The Eastman Kodak Company last made film in 2009. Remember going to photo shops to get film developed? Do you want doubles?

I think music has gone through more formats than just about anything. 78s, 45s, and 33s, then reel to reel for the real aficionados, eight track for folks in cars, then cassettes, CDs, and finally MP3. And those are just the main ones – I haven’t even talked about cylinders or player piano rolls.

Even books change. In the first few centuries after Jesus there was a huge technological change when people stopped using scrolls and started using codices – a codex being a bound book, with writing on both sides. Much more efficient. Then came printing, and suddenly books were less expensive, and more people could own one or two. Literacy went up. Nowadays books come in digital form that you can read on a Kindle, or a Nook, or even your phone. So long as you have internet access, in theory you can read almost any book ever published.

The Twelve and Obsolescence

I say all of this to preface the fact that the Twelve Disciples did not plan for their own obsolescence. In the days after the Ascension they undoubtedly thought to themselves, “Well, Jesus called twelve of us, one of us is now gone, so we need a replacement.” So they found two candidates from among the one hundred and twenty of them, drew lots, and Matthias was the lucky winner.

And then, if you have paid attention to Acts, quick as a flash, we never hear of him again. Indeed, we hardly ever hear of any of the Twelve again apart from Simon Peter and James, the brother of John. Yes, later on pious legends came to be affixed to the Twelve, especially around how they each died – Thomas went to India, Simon and Andrew went to Georgia in the Caucasus – but in the New Testament they just kind of never get mentioned again. After Simon Peter escapes persecution in Jerusalem the church there is led by a brother of Jesus named James, who is not the same James as the one in the Twelve, the brother of John. Acts talks extensively about Simon Peter, and a bit about Philip, and the death of James the brother of John, but from chapter 10 to the end, the story is dominated by someone who is not even one of the Twelve, namely Paul of Tarsus. It’s as if God looked down from heaven and saw what the Twelve were up to, or rather, what they were not up to, and so recruited Paul – and this time it worked.

In other words, while Matthias may have been a wonderful person and a fervent disciple of Jesus, this is the only time the author of the Acts of the Apostles mentions him. His interest lay elsewhere.

The truth is that Christianity was already spreading across the eastern Mediterranean without the Twelve, and before Paul. Before Paul got to Damascus, there were already Christians there. Before he went to Rome there were already Christians there. When he arrived in Corinth, there were already Christian refugees from Rome there. How did the faith get to all these places? We do not know their names, but somebody obviously took the faith there. This bizarre new group grew because of countless unknown Christians sharing their faith wherever they went. The Acts of the Apostles highlights Paul, and Paul is remembered because of his letters, but he was not the first evangelist or the only one.

Arguably, the Twelve were already obsolescent by Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene, we are told, was the one who first saw Jesus and brought the good news to the rest of the followers of Jesus. On the Day of Pentecost he Holy Spirit came down upon all of the church, not just the eleven, as Peter, quoting the Book of Joel, notes:

and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit

Are We Trying To Hold Onto Something That God Has Already Moved On From?

Some things stay the same. The centrality of Jesus. The importance of scripture. The two sacraments. Bishops, priests, and deacons.

But beyond these things the Church of England has moved on in so many ways. The Church of England now relies on the over 7000 retired clergy with PTO and some 3000 unpaid clergy to supplement the 7700 of us who are paid; it is hard to imagine how the work of the church would get done without them. A third of the clergy are female, ranging from our own curate to the Bishop of London – and this is but a recent development. The centre of the Anglican Communion, as well that of Christianity in general, has moved to the Global South. We no longer need to evangelise Africa; they are sending evangelists to England.

Things change. What do we need to let go of? Here are some controversial suggestions.

  • Nationalism, perhaps? Is Anglicanism really about “national” churches? Our own Diocese in Europe is anything but “national.” It covers forty nations and most congregations are cosmopolitan, made up of multiple citizenships and ethnicities. Increasingly the clergy and laity are not English, or British, but from all over the world.
  • Buildings? They are both historical treasures and awfully useful. But they are also a burden, and the early church seemed to get by for three hundred years without any permanent abodes. In France any churches more than 120 years old belong to the state, who then give them to churches to use. Notre Dame in Paris is being rebuilt by the French Republic, not the Roman Catholic church. Can we let go of our historic buildings?
  • Establishment? Does it benefit the Church of England in its mission to be the national church of one part of the UK, when it is demonstrably in decline? Is it one big distraction? I grew up in a church that was not established, and the growing parts of the church around the world does not need government endorsement?
  • Education? Does our involvement in schools build up the faith, or does it merely inoculate a generation into thinking they already know enough about the church to reject it?

Many people would describe the above as core characteristics of ministry in the Church of England. But are they really part of the mission of God that has been given to us, or obsolescent vehicles for the gospel?

Are we continuing to appoint Matthias to the Twelve, when God has already moved on to pour out the Holy Spirit on everybody? If Jesus says, “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”, are we not all, in a sense, apostles?

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“. . . that your joy may be complete.”

A Sermon Preached on The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(following the Julian Calendar used to calculate Easter in Greece)
June 6, 2021, at 11:00 am
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings we used were Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, and John 15:9-17.

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” Jesus at the Last Supper, according to John 15.11

Are you feeling joyful?

Maybe. Maybe not. We are here, we are alive.

Some of us are in pain, and rightfully so. Some of us are mourning the dead, whether they left us a few days ago or whether it was years ago. We are sad. It is hard to sing alleluia when we are spiritually at the graveyard, when we are lonely and bereft.

Some of us are traumatized by past and current events. A physical or sexual assault, perhaps. Perhaps we were verbally abused as a child or as an adult. While we did our best to put a bright face on things, and not appear as a victim, the scars are still there.

Some of us are worried about our loved ones – our spouses, our children, our elderly parents. Some of them have physical illnesses, some are sliding into dementia, others are having money problems, or personal conflicts.

Some of us grieve broken relationships – with our former spouses, our friends and families. We grieve our part in the breakdown, and we lament the part we did not contribute. And even if we remember the good things, they seem overshadowed by tragedy and suffering.

Most of us are just plain sick and tired of this pandemic, and what seems to be a lost year – or will it be two – of what limited time we have on this good earth.

I looked up antonyms to “joy” and here is what I found:

misery, agony, anguish, cheerlessness, dejection, despondency, disheartenment, dispiritedness, doldrums, downheartedness, gloom, gloominess, plaintiveness, unhappiness, woefulness, despair, ill-being, sadness, wretchedness, grief, sorrow, tribulation, depression, discouragement, dislike, melancholy, lethargy, listlessness, sluggishness, apathy, dullness, lifelessness

So many words to describe the opposite of joy!

So what is this joy that Jesus talks about?

The Greek word used here is χαρά, and I do not get the sense that the meaning has changed much in 2000 years.

However, in the Gospel of John everything with an ordinary everyday meaning always has a deeper level. For Jesus joy is achieved in his union with the Father, and is expressed in his obedience and love. Jesus gives his disciples his joy, and we express it by our obedience and love. It is a deeply mystical thing, which may be characterised by emotion, but goes far beyond that.

  • It is a joy that begins in baptism and is celebrated in Holy Communion.
  • It is communicated to us in the words of scripture, in our prayers and in our meditations on it
  • by the Holy Spirit flowing from accepting a relationship with Jesus as the risen and ascended Lord.
  • It is expressed in praise, in hymns and music, in approaching God in prayer, in working with others in ministry and the ordinary things of life.
  • It is seen in creation and in the renewal of creation begun in Jesus.
  • It is found in our hope that after death God is not done with us.
  • It is seen in the repentance of a sinner and the restoration of an outcast.
  • It is acted out in being hospitable, especially to strangers.
  • It is heard in the bells of a church and in the telling of tales about people.
  • It is knowing that service to God is perfect freedom.
  • It is in the smile of a child, and the snuggle from a pet

Joy in the Midst of Despair

The reality is that the joy described by Jesus is something we can experience even as we undergo sorrow, depression, or other forms of sadness. It is hope in the midst of calamity and joy undermining despair. It is laughing while crying and somehow going on when one is utterly wiped out. It is taking up one’s heavy cross, and finding that the great weight is at the same time mystically light. It is the antidote to the depravity of the world around us, allowing us to see its beauty. It is awe in the mundane, it is wonder at the ordinary.

So have this joy. It is ours, just as it is God’s. It is being completed in us, slowly, quickly, step by step, suddenly making great strides. Hold onto your agony while telling out your joy for all to hear.

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“For God so loved the world . . .”

A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday of Lent
(following the Julian Calendar used to calculate Easter in Greece)
April 11, 2021, at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings were: Numbers 21:4-9 (the serpent of bronze); Psalm 107.1-3, 17-32 (“Those who go down to the sea in ships”); Ephesians 2:1-10 (God made us alive together with Christ); and John 3:14-21 (the Son of Man must be lifted up).

This may not be the most effective way to spread the gospel.
However, it is a great way to get tasered!

Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλὰ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3.16

Let us parse this well known verse.

The words are familiar, but we may not be reading them the way the author intended.

The Son here is Jesus of Nazareth. We already know from the first verses of the first chapter of John’s gospel that the Word is divine, and is God, and the Son here is the Word made flesh.

God here means God the Father. So we see the first person of the Holy Trinity giving the second person of that same Holy Trinity to the world.

Giving in John means the incarnation, the Word being made flesh, so that we can see the glory of God. When Jesus speaks, when he heals, when he turns water into wine, and when he drives out demons, we are seeing the glory of God in the human being called Jesus. When Jesus is lifted up in his crucifixion, it as similar to the bronze serpent that was also lifted up, and was held to have healing powers.

Love in the gospel of John means that selfless offering of oneself. It is not an annihilation of one’s self. It is a sharing that transforms a person, that adds to one’s life, that completes you.

“Only,” in the term “only Son,” refers to the unique relationship Jesus has with the Father. We are told that we can only know the Father through the Son. Jesus, then, is a special revelation, apart from the revelation given to us in scriptures or in nature.

The world in John’s gospel is not all of creation, but the human world, which can respond to the Son who is given.

Belief is mainly a response to seeing the glory of God. It is not so much giving acknowledgement to a proposition as it is to respond with trust and worship. It is fundamentally relational, and should be understood as full of praise and thanksgiving. It is rooted in the Incarnation, in the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, as well as what Jesus taught and what he did, and how we read the Hebrew scriptures in relation to him and how we see the history of the church and humanity since then.

Perish could also be translated as “lost.” It refers to what happens when one sees the light of God in Christ, but rejects it. One is lost to God, to the true nature of creation, and one’s place in it.

Eternal life in John does not refer to heaven, but to the life of the divine, in which we can share. Obviously, God does not live the way we do, as biological creatures, so this is an analogous meaning. But the Biblical witness is that God is the life-giver, the one who breathes life into the primordial human being named Adam. Jesus says elsewhere that he came to give life, and that those who have it might have it in abundance (John 10.10). Faith in Jesus, responding to his glory, and trusting in him gives us access to this eternal life, this life of God. It is not something that is “pie in the sky” but something we can access right here and now. The fullness will come later, but we can begin now.

This is reinforced by the passage in Ephesians which states:

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ

We are alive now. We have already been lifted up into the heavenly places with Christ. In the times to come we will see what the riches of that heavenly, eternal life are. And all of this is the free gift of God, given to us in Christ Jesus, not on the basis of anything we do, but out of absurdly generous, forgiving, desperate and spendthrift love.

How Big is God’s Love?

Consider the revelation of God in creation.

  • Up until the 1920s it was thought that there was only one galaxy, our own, the Milky Way, which is in itself an amazing sight. But we now know that there are 200 billion galaxies. TWO HUNDRED BILLION. Each one of those galaxies contains billions of galaxies. The small ones, dwarf galaxies, have only a few billion. Some massive elliptical galaxies have over one hundred trillion stars. The number of stars in the Universe is beyond human imagination. That’s how much God loves you.
“This . . . image [from the Hubble Deep Field], consisting of a region of space barely a thousandth of a square degree on the sky — so small it would take thirty-two-million of them to fill the entire sky — contains a whopping 5,500 galaxies, the most distant of which have had their light traveling towards us for some 13 billion years, or more than 90% the present age of the Universe. Extrapolating this over the entire sky, we find that there are 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe, and that’s just a lower limit.” Ethan Siegel
  • The earth we walk on, the bodies we have, every living creature around us, and the planets and even the Sun – all were forged out of the material of stars that exploded billions of years ago and then, under the force of gravity, came together again to make our solar system and this planet earth. Except for hydrogen and helium, all the elements were created in the hearts of the sun using fusion, at 16 million degrees. That’s how much God loves you.
The core of a high-mass star creates elements by fusion, the result of a combination of gravity and heat; the deeper in the star, the greater the capacity to create elements with higher molecular weight.
  • It is thought that on earth there are some estimated to be between 8 and 8.7 million species. This includes everything from the bacteria that turns goat’s milk into yogurt to the bugs living in your intestine and helping you to break down your breakfast. They are the fish at the bottom of the ocean withstanding massive pressures, and birds that fly eleven km in the air. They make cute pets and ferocious apex predators. Of these 8 million or so species, only about 14% of these had been described by biologists. This incredible diversity – that’s how much God loves you.
  • The human brain is the most complex thing on earth. There are 86 billion nerve cells in the average human brain, giving us the capacity to speak, to work, to dream. While we have made great strides in understanding the brain, we really have no idea how this conglomeration of nerve cells allows things like consciousness or language to emerge. And yet, this 1.3 kg lump of flesh has given rise to the drama of a Shakespeare, the compassion of a Florence Nightingale, the brilliance of an Albert Einstein, the mysteries of Agatha Christie, the depravity of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, and the ordinary love of a parent for a child, or exhilaration two people who have just discovered each other. That’s how much God loves us.

As Christians, as a people journeying to Holy Week and the narratives of the Passion of Christ, we believe that God loves us so much that in Christ Jesus he was reconciling the world to himself. We believe that in Jesus we see the Father, and that in his death and resurrection we have already died to sin and death and are raised to eternal life. That’s how much God loves us. May we respond with faith and praise.

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The Foolishness of the Commandments

A Sermon Preached on The Third Sunday of Lent
(following the Julian Calendar used to calculate Easter in Greece)
April 4, 2021, at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings used were: Exodus 20:1-17 (The Ten Commandments), Psalm 19 (The Torah Reflects Creation), 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom) and John 2:13-22 (Jesus Cleanses the Temple).

If you are looking for an Easter sermon, here is the one I would have preached last year had we been allowed to gather in churches, and if we had started to do services online by then. Since it never actually was preached, I may use it this year, when we in Greece get to Easter on May 2, 2021!

The Ten Commandments in St Anthony’s Church, Cartmel Fell, Cumbria, England

The Ten Commandments are not what they used to be.

Did you have to memorise the Catechism? Many older Anglicans did. It was, and still is, the expectation in the Book of Common Prayer, that people preparing for confirmation would learn it by heart. It used to be the practice that

The Curate of every Parish shall diligently upon Sundays and Holy-days, after the second Lesson at Evening Prayer, openly in the Church instruct and examine so many Children of his Parish sent unto him, as he shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism.

And all Fathers, Mothers, Masters, and Dames, shall cause their Children, Servants, and Prentices, (which have not learned their Catechism,) to come to the Church at the time appointed, and obediently to hear and be ordered by the Curate, until such time as they have learned all that is here appointed for them to learn.

So soon as Children are come to a competent age, and can say, in their mother tongue, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; and also can answer to the other questions of this short Catechism; they shall be brought to the Bishop: Book of Common Prayer (1662), p. 296

This is why one finds in old churches boards with the Ten Commandments and the Apostles Creed and the Lord’s Prayer – to assist those who could read in memorising them. Today, though, I suspect relatively few people learn the Ten Commandments in the way they did a hundred years ago. I expect that if you were to ask the average person in England to name them they would remember only some of them.

For many modern people the Ten Commandments is an old movie with Charlton Heston, and not much more. The commandments sound quaint, well-meaning, perhaps patriarchal, and not terribly relevant.

Not Charlton Heston

There is an old joke about them. Moses comes down from the mountain, and he says to the Children of Israel, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is that I got ’em down to ten. The bad news is, the one about adultery is still in there.” We laugh, of course, because we know all too well the predisposition of people to ignore the bonds of matrimony. However, we do not see it as criminal, but rather, as something between consenting adults. Since 1970 adultery is no longer a crime under English Law, and it is no longer a crime anywhere in Europe; it comes as a shock to some that in many jurisdictions in the United States it remains on the books, including in the military, and there are still occasional prosecutions. However, it is no longer a bar to success, or even to highest office in the land, whether the UK or the USA.

And, more obviously, we do not observe the Sabbath. As we know, living in Greece, το Σαββατο is Saturday. The Greek’s took the name directly from Hebrew and gave it to the seventh day of the week. And in Hebrew it is תבש, the root of which simply means “cease”.

Some of us see Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, but this is a late development, associated with the Puritans and some parts of the Reformation. Sunday was always a feast day, a day to cease work to go to church, but if one had to work, one could. And I do not see any footnote in the Ten Commandment allowing us to transfer the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week.

And as for the other commandments? Well, consider the prohibition of idolatry. I grew up in a church that, under Calvinist influence, was hesitant to ever allow any depictions of Jesus. That was something Catholics did, with their statues and stations of the cross. Indeed, it was only a few years before I was baptised that my home church even had a cross in it. The prohibition against depicting God was taken seriously in the late Roman Empire, in the Iconoclastic era of the 8th century when most icons and church decorations under the Byzantine Emperors were destroyed or replaced. Nowadays, of course, most of us have icons, this Tabernacle has icons, and many Protestant churches use them as means to contemplate God. And as for the tenth, the prohibition against coveting something – isn’t our whole economy based on wanting things that our neighbours have? Aren’t we supposed to keep up with the Jones?

So what are we to do? Are the Ten Commandments irrelevant?

Counter-Cultural Commandments

I suggest to you that, for us as Christians, the value of the Ten Commandments is not in the literally following of them, but in the recognition of justice that is inherent in them. We are called to apply the principles in them for our times.

God begins with the reminder that as YHWH he redeemed the people of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. YHWH is a God who liberates, who frees slaves, and is opposed to the imperial forces of Egypt, just as Jesus called into question the arrogant claims of the Roman Empire. God claims the people of Israel, and God, through Christ, has a claim on us by virtue of our baptisms. The relationship is not just that of the Creator – it is special – God is the redeemer of this particular people. As Paul puts it, we have been bought with a price, and we find in service our perfect freedom.

If you don’t have a large container ship handy, this is another way to cross over to Sinai.

This sounds like foolishness to much of the world. Real freedom is not in religion, but is in being unencumbered by rules and regulations, eschewing dogma and doctrine, and acknowledging no greater authority than one’s own self. But we who are known by God in Jesus find in Christ a wisdom beyond that of the sages of this world.

The real idols in the world today are not made with paint and wood or stone, but are constructed in more subtle ways.

  • The nation-state has been an idol, one to which too often we sacrifice our youth.
  • If you are a Marxist then one’s idol is history as worked out by class conflict. Individuals cease to be terribly important in the grand scheme of things as history marches forward to the glories of communism.
  • If you are an old-fashioned Tory, the idol is the maintenance of the class system, with aristocracy, landed gentry, and the peasantry – the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate.
  • The superiority of one “race” over another has justified theft and economic exploitation, and in some cases has led to genocide.
  • If you are an old-fashioned economic liberal, the idol is the invisible hand of God in the free market, which supposedly benefits everybody, and the most vulnerable simply have to put up with the costs of creative destruction.
  • In the 1930s balanced budgets and the value of the currency served as idols, which resulted in a depressed economy and widespread unemployment.
  • In Canada the idol was the culture of the settlers, in whose image the churches and governments sought to remake the Indigenous peoples through the Indian Residential Schools.

All of these idols are false, and our worship of them has not served us well. So, the second commandment, the one against idolatry is still valid – we just need to apply it differently. This is God the liberator telling us to watch out where we put our values.

What about number four, the one about the Sabbath? Notice that it says nothing about going to the Synagogue or the Temple – it’s all about stopping work. Someone once suggested that this is a commandment about justice – that the person in power has to make sure that everybody gets at least one day off out of seven – one’s children, one’s servants and slaves, and even the animals. While the property owners and slave owners could choose to work or not, the slaves and hired hands had no choice. This was God the liberator telling the powerful that even the least among them deserved one day off in every seven.

The fifth commandment says to honour one’s parents – and this is likewise a matter of justice. In ancient times there were no pensions, and so children were expected to take care of the elderly, and to respect their wisdom. Today we live in a society that fetishizes youth. The elderly are often excluded from ordinary life with other generations. The great thing about churches is that we are typically intergenerational, with children, people in their early careers, young parents, singles, and the elderly all together in one messy mess.

The Seventh Commandment (1961) is no cinematic masterpiece.”
“The acting is not as bad as you’d expect in an early 60s low-budget movie.”
From here.

The seventh commandment, the one against adultery, may not just be about breaching solemn contracts, but it, too, may be a matter of justice. The Ten Commandments come from an extremely patriarchal world. Men enjoyed privilege and power; they could divorce their wives if they wanted to, and there was not much that the woman could do. However, men could also try to have their cake and eat it, too. The prohibition against adultery may have been a means of protection for the woman in the relationship. If the man could commit adultery with impunity, that means he could cast the woman aside, and still enjoy all the benefits of matrimony – which involved control of any property she brought into the marriage, something he would have lost with a divorce. As well, if the man had slaves, he could have sex with them and there, again, the slave could not do much about it – the slaveowner in that patriarchal, slave-owning society, could assault their human property with impunity. So the prohibition against adultery may also be a protection for the slaves from sexualized violence. We are a long ways away from the modern understanding of marriage centered on love and equality, but behind this ancient commandment is a God who liberates and protects the vulnerable.

Even the tenth commandment is relevant. If you covet something of your neighbour’s, then you have misplaced desire. Your desire should be for God. Desire for God translates into desiring the best for one’s neighbours. The problems with our society almost always revolve around misplaced desire, or the fear that we do not have enough, or that someone else has what we ought to have. The only thing we do not have enough of is the desire for God. The problem with the money changers and people selling animals in the Temple was that they were more interested in profit than in God.

God’s Foolishness

Psalm 19 has two parts, one in which is sung, “The heavens declare the glory of God, * and the firmament shows his handiwork” and the second in which the psalmist proclaims, “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; * the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.” God’s “law” – the word in Hebrew is Torah – compares and elevates together the “heavens” and the “instruction” of God. Both reveal who God is, as Creator and as the Righteous One. Many people find the divine in nature, and some seem to rely on revelation alone, but the scripture here argues that we need both. Working from the revelation of both scripture and nature, and using our God-given minds, we can see the glory of God before us.

The Ten Commandments are foolishness to many, a set of rules whose time has passed. May I suggest to you that in them we see the wisdom of God, the way in which God wants us to become the beautiful, amazing creatures that we were made to be. That wisdom took on flesh and lived among us in the person of Jesus Christ, who called attention to the one who sent him, and in whom we find the divine life. As we continue our journey from Ashes to Easter, may we continue to

proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

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An Unsettling Lent

A Sermon Preached on The First Sunday of Lent
March 21, 2021 at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings used were: Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-9, 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15.

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.. Mark 1.12

Driven

This morning I want to talk about the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit comes upon people, and very often they act in unexpected ways, and peculiar things happen.

  • In our gospel reading today the Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus, and he is driven out into the desert.
  • In the Acts of the Apostles the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples in the upper room, and they begin to preach the good news in a variety of languages, prefiguring the spread of the gospel to all nations.
  • Paul experiences the Holy Spirit and has a multitude of gifts, including speaking in tongues, in the language of angels, as he puts it.
  • A thousand years before Jesus Saul the king of Judah and Israel is driven into ecstatic dancing and prophesying.
  • Ezekiel in the spirit sees the glory of God descend from heaven.
  • And, ultimately, driven or guided by the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes to Jerusalem, and is arrested, and dies.
  • But even then, the spirit is not done. In death Jesus goes and makes “a proclamation to the spirits in prison” according to the First Letter of Peter.

What is the Spirit Calling Us to Do?

Some of you, I know, have had a very powerful experience of the Holy Spirit.

Others of us discern God’s activity in our lives only after the fact. So, I, for example, experienced the Holy Spirit drawing me

  • into refugee work back in Canada,
  • into advocacy against legislation that harmed the lives of sex workers,
  • into acting to locate a community food bank in the church building,
  • into working to establish a centre for at-risk youth,
  • into dealing with sexual misconduct and bullying, advocating for complainants and victims,
  • and being slightly involved in advocacy for the homeless.

None of this was work that I looked for, but God brought it to me. It was all utterly unexpected. I was driven to it by the Spirit.

My dissertation is called Unsettling Theology. It is unsettling because I wanted to write about how Christians can decolonise their thinking, to stop unconsciously oppressing Indigenous peoples. It is also unsettling because it is not comforting, but rather it causes people to be restless and ill at ease with the legacy of the past and its manifestations in the present. I think the Holy Spirit drove me to write this very unsettling dissertation.

Sometimes the Spirit calls us into conflict – as Jesus was called into temptation, and was with the wild beasts. And yet we are ministered to by the angels with all kinds of unseen help.

Lent is often viewed as a season in which we let of things in order to discipline ourselves. And yet, this year, we have been driven into the wilderness of the pandemic, confronted with: lockdowns; solitude; loneliness; for many, reduced income; and being forced to learn new skills, like Zoom. What, if anything, are we learning in this desert?

  • Have we learned to take time to pray?
  • Do we notice our breath?
  • Do we notice the breath of God in our own?
  • Have we appreciated the beauty of creation around us, and the divine reflected in it?
  • Have we reckoned with the shortness of life, and the precious nature of each moment, as a gift?
  • Are we grateful for the people who have reached out to us?
  • Do we appreciate the restless nature of God’s time, which allows us to call into question the ways of the world?
  • Have we found our rest in God: the source of all being, the Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit?

This Lent

My hope and my prayer is that we will be ministered to by the messengers of God.
My hope and prayer is that we know that in Christ we are loved and God is pleased with us.
My hope and prayer for this Lent is that we are all unsettled by the Holy Spirit, and driven to overcome all that threatens us.

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Resources for Mothering Sunday 2021

These are worship resources for Mothering Sunday 2021, held on the Fourth Sunday of Lent. The resources are gathered from a variety of sources and, while assembled mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, others may find them useful.

My mother, when she was still Mary Ardelle Burns. This is her graduation photo from Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, circa 1948, when she was 22.

A Note on Mothering Sunday

Hot on the heels of International Women’s Day this year comes Mothering Sunday, which is celebrated in the United Kingdom and Ireland, but very few other places. It is held on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, and so is a moveable feast. The very similar Mother’s Day is held on the second Sunday in May, which this year is May 9. Mother’s Day started in 1908 in the United States, and has since spread to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In reaction to a perceived secularism and commercialism of Mother’s Day, Constance Penswick Smith in England started the Mothering Sunday movement in 1913, claiming roots in medieval and early modern traditions. The Fourth Sunday of Lent was supposedly a day when servants would go home from their places of work and visit their mothers and attend church in which they had been baptised – their mother church. Presented as a revival in 1913, by the 1950s its observance had become quite common in Britain and Ireland and some commonwealth nations. The Book of Common Prayer knows nothing about it, but Common Worship has a wealth of resources for us, which are incorporated in our worship this Sunday online at St Thomas’s,

Share

We will be observing Mothering Sunday on the same day as people in England. This will be a Zoom-only service. Please join us by clicking this link or by entering the following into your Zoom application:
Meeting ID: 850 4483 9927
Passcode: 010209.
We will be joined by our Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Rev Dr Robert Innes, who will lead parts of the service and preach.

An Order for Mothering Sunday can be downloaded below. It has the lyrics of the hymns we will be singing, as well as the readings. You do not need to download it, though – whatever will be said by the people in the service will be shared on the Zoom screen.

Read

The readings appointed for Mothering Sunday are: Exodus 2.1-10, Psalm 127.1-4, Colossians 3.12-17, and John 19.25-27.

Reflect

Last year on the Fourth Sunday of Lent we were under a lockdown, but had not yet begun to do services on Zoom. Instead I directed folks to bigger churches that were doing pre-recorded services or livestreams. I did write some thoughts about the readings for Mothering Sunday, which you can find by clicking here.

You can listen to a pre-recorded sermon by Fr Leonard Doolan of St Paul’s Church, Athens here:

Fr Leonard Doolan – Mothering Sunday 2021

Pray

The Collect
God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

An Intercession.
As children of a loving God who always listens to our cries,
let us pray to our Father in heaven.

The person leading the prayers may add particular requests and thanksgivings to the following.

Loving God, you have given us the right to be called children of God. Help us to show your love in our homes that they may be places of love, security and truth.
God of love,
All   hear our prayer.

Loving God, Jesus, your Son, was born into the family of Mary and Joseph; bless all parents and all who care for children; strengthen those families living under stress and may your love be known where no human love is found.
God of love,
All   hear our prayer.

Loving God, we thank you for the family of the Church. We pray that all may find in her their true home; that the lonely, the marginalized, the rejected may be welcomed and loved in the name of Jesus.
God of love,
All   hear our prayer.

Loving God, as we see the brokenness of our world we pray for healing among the nations; for food where there is hunger; for freedom where there is oppression; for joy where there is pain; that your love may bring peace to all your children.
God of love,
All   hear our prayer.

At the end of which we pray:
Praise God who loves us.
All   Praise God who cares.

For the care of mothers;
All   Thanks be to God.

For their patience when tested;
All   Thanks be to God.

For their love when tired;
All   Thanks be to God.

For their hope when despairing;
All   Thanks be to God.

For their service without limit;
All   Thanks be to God.

Biddings
I bid your prayers for the Church:

I bid your prayers for the leaders and people of the nations; especially

I bid your prayers for the sick and suffering and all who minister to their needs;

  • remembering the over twenty-one million active cases of the novel coronavirus, giving thanks that this numbers are beginning to go down in some countries; has begun to go down;
  • mourning with the families of the over 2.61 million who have died in the pandemic;
  • for the 820,000 people in the UK with active cases of covid-19, the over 124,500 who have died of it there, and the 23,406 active cases here in Greece, and the families of the over 6797 dead here;
  • remembering those ill with other diseases, and those whose operations have been postponed;
  • all those having issues with mental health;
  • those suffering from addiction, and those in recovery;
  • those who have been affected severely by the economic effects of the pandemic, especially in food services and tourism;
  • and giving thanks for the efforts of researchers in finding vaccines, and for the rollout of vaccines across the world.

Sing

Hymn: God of Eve and God of Mary    Tune: Love Divine by John Stainer   

1 God of Eve and God of Mary,
God of love and mother-earth,
thank you for the ones who with us
shared their life and gave us birth.

2 As you came to earth in Jesus,
so you come to us today;
you are present in the caring
that prepares us for life’s way.

3 Thank you that the Church, our Mother,
gives us bread and fills our cup,
and the comfort of the Spirit
warms our hearts and lifts us up.

4 Thank you for belonging, shelter,
bonds of friendship, ties of blood,
and for those who have no children,
yet are parents under God.

5 God of Eve and God of Mary,
Christ our brother, human Son,
Spirit, caring like a Mother,
take our love and make us one!

Fathers and Mothers

1 Fathers and mothers,
sisters and brothers,
     all those who love us,
          for whom we care:
help and befriend them,
keep and defend them,
     Jesus our Saviour,
          this is our prayer.

2 And for those others,
fathers and mothers,
     children who hunger,
          they must be fed:
we would be caring,
readily sharing,
     one with another
          our daily bread.

3 Sisters and brothers,
fathers and mothers,
     we who together
          offer our praise:
hear our thanksgiving,
God ever living,
     may we walk with you
          all of our days.

Hymn: Canticle of the Turning
A Paraphrase of the Magnificat, The Song of Mary
https://youtu.be/F9QeTmRCpW4

1 My soul cries out with a joyful shout
that the God of my heart is great,
and my spirit sings of the wondrous things
that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight
and my weakness you did not spurn.
So from east to west shall my name be blest;
could the world be about to turn?
Refrain:
     My heart shall sing of the day you bring;
     let the fires of your justice burn!
     Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
     and the world is about to turn!

2 Though I am small, my God, my all,
you work great things in me,
and your mercy will last from the depths of the past
to the end of the age to be.
Your very name puts the proud to shame,
and to those who would for you yearn,
you will show your might,
put the strong to flight
for the world is about to turn.
Refrain

3 From the halls of power to the fortress tower
not a stone will be left on stone.
Let the king beware, for your justice tears
ev’ry tyrant from his throne.
The hungry poor shall weep no more
for the food they can never earn;
there are tables spread, ev’ry mouth be fed
For the world is about to turn.
Refrain

4 Though the nations rage from age to age
we remember who holds us fast.
God’s mercy must deliver us
from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that out forebears heard
is the promise which holds us bound
’til the spear and rod can be crushed by God
who is turning the world around
Refrain    
     My heart shall sing of the day you bring;
     let the fires of your justice burn!
     Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
     and the world is about to turn!       

        

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A Few Thoughts About Discipleship

A Sermon Preached on The Second Sunday Before Lent
March 7, 2021 at 11:00 am
for an Online Service with The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
.

The readings used were 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, and Mark 9:2-9.

I could preach about the Transfiguration today – but the readings are taking me in a different direction: discipleship. So here are a few thoughts about that.

The Discipleship of the Twelve

Let’s first think about the Twelve, the first disciples. Of course, they were not the only ones – we read that there were maybe 120 at the time of the resurrection, and this included many women, and, of course, Jesus sent out the Seventy, But let’s think about the Twelve, those people chosen by Jesus to symbolise the twelve tribes of Israel. We read in Mark:

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Mark 9.7-8

“Listen to him!” Christian discipleship is fundamentally about listening to Jesus. “They saw . . . only Jesus.” The centraility of Jesus and paying attention to his teaching seems like the obvious centre of being a disviple, but so often we get distracted. We allow ourselves to procrastinate about paying attention to Jesus, or we get caught up in the secondary details of a text. Perhaps we try and explain away the hard things he says. Passages like,

  • You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:24
  • But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5.39-42
  • I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5.44
  • Do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” Matthew 6.31

And that’s just a bunch from the Sermon on the Mount. There’s more from where that came from. But we are called to listen to his words, and then apply them. It is a process, and we make progress.

A second aspect of discipleship is that it is about proclamation. As Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “We proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ”: that the creator of all things is not indifferent, but loves us, and wants us to become more like his Son, and that we can do that by the power of the Holy Spirit. We proclaim Christ in word and deed.

Finally, discipleship is not about getting it all right. This is obvious from the way the gospels describe the Twelve Disciples.

  • Especially in the Gospel of Mark they always seem to be a bit dense, constantly asking Jesus to explain things.
  • In today’s gospel, the top three of the Twelve – Simon Peter, James, and John – do not understand what they are seeing and say silly things, like, “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
  • When Jesus says that the Son of Man will be betrayed and executed, and then rise up after three days, the disciples try to stop him from saying this.
  • Despite the predictions, the resurrection seems to come to them as a surprise.
  • Certainly not well-educated or part of the elite.
  • One denies him, another betrays him, and the rest all abandon him, except for the women (and, in the fourth gospel, the disciple whom Jesus loved, traditionally identified with John).

Intensity & Continuity

Let’s broaden this to think about the work of Paul, and the efforts of Elijah and Elisha.

Discipleship is an intense thing. Look at how Jesus is with the disciples. See how Paul is with the Corinthians. See the close relationship Elisha has with Elijah. To be a disciple is to be in that intense kind of relationship. Now, one cannot be that intense all the time – but there are times we need to work on that relationship, when we have a steep learning curve about what it is to follow Jesus.

There is also a cost of discipleship, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it. Elisha loses his master, but receives a double share of his spirit. Lent is traditionally a time to intensify that relationship; we give things up, or adopt a discipline, in order to draw closer to God in Christ. Paul describes himself as a slave to the church in Corinth, but the payoff is that the church members grow in faith. Peter, James, and John are terrified, confused, but they eventually become the means of proclaiming the good news.

Discipleship is also about continuity in the midst of change. Elijah is succeeded by Elisha. He is very different from his master, but continues proclaiming that only the Lord is God, and challenging the unfaithful monarchs of Israel. Paul, the apostles, and all the anonymous bearers of the gospel are followed by generations of Christians in all kinds of different churches spreading east and west from Judea. And so we find ourselves in a chain of transmission.

We are About Disciples

Our calling as Christians is to proclaim the good news, make disciples by teaching them everything we learned from Jesus, and baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And this we do by listening to his voice. We don’t always get it right. Things may not be intense enough. But we continue, to the glory of God.

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Resources for the Second Sunday of Lent

These are worship resources for The Second Sunday of Lent, 2021. The resources are gathered from a variety of sources and, while assembled mainly for The Anglican Church of St Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, on the island of Crete in Greece, others may find them useful.

Abraham and Sarah (1956) by Marc Chagall

Read

The readings appointed for the Second Sunday of Lent are Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Psalm 22:22-30, Romans 4:13-25, and Mark 8:31-38.

In the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Crete, we are observing Easter on the Orthodox date – thus February 28 is for us the Third Sunday before Lent, and the readings are 2 Corinthians 4.5-12, Psalm 139.1-5,12-18, and Mark 2.23 – 3.6.

Share

Please join us by clicking this link or by entering the following into your Zoom application: Meeting ID: 850 4483 9927 Passcode: 010209. This will be a Zoom-only service — we may start having Zoomed service in the church in the next few weeks, involving the leaders in the church with three or four congregants, and the rest of you joining in remotely on your computers.

The Order of Service for the Third Sunday Before Lent can be downloaded here:

Reflect

Here is a sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, riffing off of the Genesis reading, by the Very Reverend Sam Candler, the Dean of Georgia and Rector of the Cathedral of St Philip, Atlanta.

This is a sermon for February 28, 2021 by Fr Leonard Doolan, the priest at the Anglican Church of St Paul, Athens. He uses the same gospel as we will use, Mark 2.23 – 3.6, but for the first reading he is using 1 Samuel 3.1-10.

Pray

Collect
Almighty God,
you show to those who are in error the light of your truth,
that they may return to the way of righteousness:
grant to all those who are admitted
into the fellowship of Christ’s religion,
that they may reject those things
that are contrary to their profession,
and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(or)

Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Biddings
I bid your prayers for the Church:

I bid your prayers for the leaders and people of the nations; especially

I bid your prayers for the sick and suffering and all who minister to their needs;

  • remembering the nearly twenty-one million active cases of the novel coronavirus, giving thanks that this number has begun to go down; but mourning with the families of the over 2.51 million who have died in the pandemic;
  • for the 1.3 million people in the UK with active cases of covid-19, the over 122,000 who have died of it there, and the 14,964 active cases here in Greece, and the families of the over 6410 dead here;
  • remembering those ill with other diseases, and those whose operations have been postponed;
  • all those having issues with mental health;
  • those suffering from addiction, and those in recovery;
  • those who have been affected severely by the economic effects of the pandemic, especially in food services and tourism;
  • and giving thanks for the efforts of researchers in finding vaccines, and for the rollout of vaccines across the world.

Intercession
We come before the Son of God, crucified and risen,
who eternally intercedes for us to the Father, saying:
turn our hearts again.

Son of God, you came into the world to save sinners:
All  turn our hearts again.

You became poor that we might become rich:
All  turn our hearts again.

You have taken on yourself all our sufferings:
All  turn our hearts again.

You loved the Church and gave yourself for her:
All  turn our hearts again.

For the joy which was set before you,
you endured the cross:
All  turn our hearts again.

King of the ages, you brought us the gift of life
and opened the way to unending joy:
All  turn our hearts again.

Sing

To Abraham and Sarah

1. To Abraham and Sarah
the call of God was clear:
‘Go forth and I will show you
a country rich and fair.
You need not fear the journey
for I have pledged my word:
that you shall be my people
and I will be your God.’

2. From Abraham and Sarah
arose a pilgrim race,
dependent for their journey
on God’s abundant grace;
and in their heart was written
by God this saving word:
that you shall be my people
and I will be your God.’

3 We of this generation
on whom God’s hand is laid,
can journey to the future
secure and unafraid
rejoicing in God’s goodness
and trusting in this word:
that you shall be my people
and I will be your God.’

In love you summon, in love I follow,
living today for your tomorrow,
Christ to release me, Christ to enfold me,
Christ to restrain me, Christ to uphold me.

1 At the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now:
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

2 At his voice creation
sprang at once to sight,
all the angel faces,
all the hosts of light,
thrones and dominations,
stars upon their way,
all the heavenly orders,
in their great array.

3 Humbled for a season,
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed:

4 Bore it up triumphant
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures,
to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead,
to the Father’s breast;
filled it with the glory,
of that perfect rest.

5 Name him, Christians, name him,
with love strong as death,
but with awe and wonder
and with bated breath:
he is God the Saviour,
he is Christ the Lord,
ever to be worshipped,
trusted, and adored.

6 In your hearts enthrone him;
there let him subdue
all that is not holy,
all that is not true:
crown him as your Captain
in temptation’s hour;
let his will enfold you
in its light and power.

7 Surely, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory,
with his angel train;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.

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