Anti-Christ Politics vs. the Politics of Jesus

“Everything Jesus said was exactly the opposite to the political environment in which we find ourselves.” – Jim Wallis

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Jim Wallis is the editor of Sojourners, a justice oriented Christian magazine in the United States. Here is a column in which he sums up the antagonism against Jesus in the United States today. Yes, he’s flogging his book, but the points he makes are good ones. The column is here.

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Kefalas Calling

A Sermon Preached on The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
August 25, 2019,  11:00 am

Readings: Jeremiah 25: 4-10, Psalm 71: 1-6, Luke 13: 10-17

telephone-operator

What are you called to? What are we called to?

When I was young I often wondered about what I would be when we grew up.

I thought that I was going to be a physicist and a science fiction author, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for work I would do in my mid-twenties, as well as Hugo and Nebula prizes for my writing. I sustained this delusion through high school, but it fell apart in my first year at the University of Toronto. There were two reasons for this. First, I discovered beer, and I was far more interested in it than PHY 150 and CHM 150. Second, I realized that I was only above average in scientific smarts, and that there were lots of students who were much brighter than me. As a result I failed two courses, lost two scholarships, and was on academic probation for my second year.

That second year I started taking courses in philosophy, knowing that I would probably never become a professional philosopher. In due course my interests shifted to The Meaning of Life and God and Other Big Things, and some people suggested I could be ordained. And here I am, some thirty-eight years later, thirty of them as an ordained minister in the Anglican Church of Canada and one as a priest in the Church of England. It thought I had a call to be a priest, pastor, and preacher, and this call was affirmed by various committees and individuals before and after my ordinations.

Institutions talk about their calling, often in the language of vision and mission. What is the mission statement of this company? What is the vision of this leader for this corporation?

This congregation – the Anglican Church of St Thomas, Kefalas – has a mission statement, but it is now some nine years old. While it was undoubtedly accurate when it was written, I believe it is time to consider our vision and mission as a church now. To that end the Church Council has agreed to begin working on that with a season of prayer and reflection.

For four Sundays in late October and through November we will consider four  statements or questions that will lead us into prayerfully thinking about what it is God is asking us to do. The first two will be October 27 and November 3. We will take a break from this for the observance of Remembrance Sunday on November 10 down at the Souda Bay Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, and then start up again for November 17 and 24. Then, on December 1 – the First Sunday of Advent – we will have a day of reflection in the context of the day’s liturgy. It will make for a different experience – we will be seated around tables and we will consider questions about what we like about church, why we are a part of it, what we are passionate about, and what God might be saying to us about being a church in Crete – but we will get important information about who we think we are and how the Holy Spirit is working through us. After we have some clarity about our vision and mission, we can set some measurable goals and objectives, and settle down to implement them.

We are, of course, a small church community. We can probably only do two or three things really well. One of them is probably worship, I hope. Another might be restarting home groups (church growth gurus says that if a church does nothing else other than starting home groups or small group ministries, you will grow). however, we cannot just sleepwalk our way into growth, but intentionally direct ourselves, so that when God chooses to surprise us with new opportunities, we are ready for them.

We are all called by God in our baptism, and confirmed in the promises and actions we take.

Prophetic Calling

In scripture there is a a pattern to the call to prophets.

  • The call is made.
  • The person being called tries to get out of it.
  • God affirms it.
  • Sometimes there is a purifying act.

HestonMoses is the paradigm. In Exodus 3-4 we hear Moses’s objections and God’s response:

  1. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
  2. “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”
  3. “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, “The Lord did not appear to you.”” Staff that becomes a snake, and the hand that becomes leprous but is then healed.
  4. “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” “Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”
  5. Send someone else! “Your brother Aaron will speak for you.”

The call of Samuel is a little different: As a young boy he hears a voice calling for him in the night. “Samuel, Samuel” He thinks it is Eli the priest calling him. After three times of Samuel hearing the voice calling him, and then waking Eli, the old priest tells Samuel to say. “Here I am!” (Hineh” in Hebrew.) ”Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

The call of Isaiah is as an adult in chapter six of the Book of Isaiah: He is a priest, serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he has a vision of the Almighty, with Seraphs flying around and singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy”. He says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” An angel takes one of the coals that is burning incence, and touches it to Isaiah’s lips, and says, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then he hears the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And he says, ‘Here am I; send me!’

Then, a few generations after Isaiah, comes Jeremiah, a few years before the conquest of Jerusalem and Judea by the Babylonians, and who lived and prophesied through the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the elite of Judea into exile. He is called by God, and he objects, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God basically tells him to be quiet, and somehow puts out his “hand” and somehow touches Jeremiah’s mouth, and says to him

Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

How are we called?

Fundamentally our call is the same, only we hear it mostly through scripture, through the voices of others, and through the traditions and liturgies of the church.

First and foremost, we receive our calling in our baptism. If you were baptised according to the rite in the Book of Common Prayer 1662 we are commanded to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and to fight against sin, the world, and the devil. In Common Worship we have what is sometimes called the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
                  With the help of God, I will.
Will you persevere in resisting evil,
and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
                  With the help of God, I will.
Will you proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ?
                  With the help of God, I will.
Will you seek and serve Christ in all people,
loving your neighbour as yourself?
                  With the help of God, I will.
Will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society,
by prayer for the world and its leaders,
by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?
                  With the help of God, I will.

No matter what rite we are baptised with, we have the opportunity of affirming it and being empowered allover again  every time we gather around this table and partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Our callings may also be made in other ceremonies. We make it by particular by the vows we make. So, in marriage we promise to to love and to live with a particular person, in these impossible vows:

I, N, take you, N,
to be my wife/husband,
to have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death us do part . . .

I say these are impossible vows because who knows what they are getting themselves into in marriage. And yet we as Christians have these high standards to which we aspire.

Some of us are called to be ordained, in which we carry out servant ministries to empower all the baptised in their work. Some take vows in Religious Orders, in which men and women are set aside for particular types of prayer and ministry in the context of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

Sometimes our callings do not have any special religious rites or secular rituals. Instead, we just take them on. For some of us that is the having children, a vocation which, by the time we have it figured out, we are out of a job. For others it is taking on animals as pets, which has its own blessings and a few curses.And then, of course, for many of us, our jobs are not just a means to earn money, but something which gives our lives meaning. This, I find, is especially true of professions such as teachers, doctors, nurses, counselors, other helping professions, and lawyers and politicians (yes, really), but also carpenters, artists, builders, cooks, gardeners, those in the armed forces, and so many others. For many of us our profession is our identity, and it becomes a real challenge when we retire! We then find new vocations.

So . . .

I believe that all of this is the action of the Holy Spirit, whether explicitly identified as such or not. We have many callings, sometimes obviously so, and sometimes more subtle.

And so I return to the questions at the beginning of this talk:

  • What is God calling you to do?
  • What is God calling us to do?

May God in Christ lead us into some understanding of this. Amen!

 

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Signs of the Times

A Sermon Preached on The Ninth Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
August 18, 2019 11:00 am

The scripture readings were: Hebrews 11:29-12:2Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18, and Luke 12:49-56.

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Jesus said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” Luke 12.56

What time is it?

We are inured to the precision of modern time. If a clock is off by a minute or two, we notice it. It wasn’t always this way.

Time used to be something local, and defined by what the sun was doing. When the sun came up, people woke up, and when it set, people went to bed. The day was broken up into hours and the night into watches, but the length of the hours and the watches varied by the season and who was keeping track of it. Events started when people arrived and all was ready, which could vary by hours, days, or in some cases, months. In some places the middle of the day would be signified by a cannon firing, or the drop of a ball on top of a pole or a building.

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John Harrison’s second sea watch (H5), which was tested by King George III himself, and found after ten weeks to be accurate to 1/3 of a second per day.

Then, as society became more global and intertwined, establishing precise and accurate time became important. Shipping required ships to know where they were so they could avoid hazards and take the most expeditious routes. Latitude was easily reckoned, but longitude, the distance east and west, was difficult. Only when accurate chronometers were created, by 1760s, tough things that were portable and could be used in conjunction with astronomy, could position be established accurately. That happened in the 18th century. Then, in the 19th century, with the advent of fast travel on rail, the need for a standard time in a country or jurisdiction became important. If Cork had a noon time that was fifteen minutes later than Dublin, when did the train get in? This led to the twenty-four time zones being set up. Shortly after the Second World War atomic clocks came into use, and Universal Coordinated Time came into being. Now, with the use of satellites and adjusted for the effects of relativity, GPS allows us to be just about anywhere and know where that is, and what time it is.

Time Zones

Time Zones in Europe. Time zones and Universal Coordinated Time were proposed by the Scotland-born Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming in 1879.

But what time is it for God?

Human timekeeping is not God’s time. God is both outside of time and inside it, as the Creator. Outside of time God is eternal and non-temporal, and inside of time God is everlasting and behind all events. So the perspective is a bit different.

From the perspective of God, as given to us in Jesus Christ, we are living in the Last Days. We have been in the Last Days since the coming of Jesus. This is not something new in this generation or century. The Last Days have been two-thousand years long, and they will continue until the kingdom is here in its fullness. That’s as precise as we get.

And what are the signs of these Last Days? Throughout the Gospel according to Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles, and paralleled throughout the other gospels, letters, and Revelation we find:

La-Pentecoste

  • The Holy Spirit come upon people, seemingly indiscriminately. Mary, a young peasant from Galilee, of all people, is chosen to bear the Messiah by the power of the Holy Spirit, and full of the Holy Spirit she proclaims the Magnificat. Paul, who persecuted the early Church, is transformed into a preacher of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, and filled with the Holy Spirit he speaks in tongues, prophesies, and preaches (and writes letters that are recognized as spirit-filled, and so become scripture). On the Day of Pentecost it is given to everyone who follows Jesus:

In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    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;
        and they shall prophesy.

The Spirit compels people to be as Jesus in the world: proclaiming the kingdom, healing the sick, and driving out evil.

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The Food Pantry at the Episcopal Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco CA. It is located in the same space as the table that is used for communion.

  • The kingdom has not arrived, but the people of God live as though it has, because of the Spirit. In stark contrast to the world around it, justice is lived out by the Christian community. This is seen at that most basic thing, food. We read in Acts how goods are shared, so that none go hungry. The sick are cared for and healed. Sins are forgiven, people repent and are changed, and old enemies reconciled.
OnesimosEnglishsmall__69838.1561594695

A modern icon of St. Onesimus. He was a slave of Philemon of Colossae (in what is now Turkey), who ran away to be with Paul in Ephesus. Paul, in his “Letter to Philemon”, tells him to free Onesimus. Christian tradition records that Onesimus became a bishop in Ephesus.

  • There is a radical inclusiveness. The Spirit is given to anyone who seeks it, including Greeks and Barbarians, and not just the people of Judea. Women in the early church appear to have been co-equal with the male disciples – Mary Magdalene is the first entrusted with the gospel of the resurrection. Slaves are considered to be the equal of their masters within the church, and as a logical consequence of this Paul encourages Philemon to free his slave Onesimus.
whitfield2

Simon Whitfield winning the gold medal in A Very Long Race, namely, the triathlon (swimming, cycling, and running) at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. I ran a race with him (well, me and a couple of thousand other people), the Canada Day 10K in Victoria BC back in 2008; he was somewhat faster than me.

  • All of these things are signs of God sanctifying and acting in the people of Jesus – and this is the fulfilling of God’s promises. As the author of Hebrews puts it, we are being made perfect, and we are running with perseverance the race set before us.

But there is a downside to this.

  • Persecution, beginning with Jesus and continuing with his disciple, initially within the varieties of Judaism compromised by alliances with Roman Imperium, and then later by pagan Roman rulers all on their own. This persecution has continued to this present day.
Westminster_Abbey_-_20th_Century_Martyrs

Statues of 20th-century martyrs on the façade above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. Those commemorated are Maximilian Kolbe, Manche Masemola, Janani Luwum, Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, Martin Luther King, Óscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Esther John, Lucian Tapiedi, and Wang Zhiming.

  • Jesus says the gospel will set
    father against son
    and son against father,
    mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
    mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.
    Of course, some people would think that this is just the way things are, but in many societies family is everything. First century Palestine was like that, and so Jesus’s words were even more shocking then. Jesus here is not advocating division for the sake of enmity, but simply stating the fact that in a broken world we should not be surprised that we bring our brokenness into families. When it comes to the gospel, many within families would resist its radical call. This division extends to the family created by baptism, the church.  Some estimate that there are now some 43,000 different denominations of Christianity.  The letters of Paul and the John, as well as Revelation, all witness to these schisms from the beginning.

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  • The power of the gospel has too often been allied with the powers of the world, beginning with Constantine the Great and through to the present day. This has led to imperialism, colonization, the justification of violence in ungodly pursuits, genocide, and support for violent and oppressive regimes. Church dignitaries have prefered to cover up abuses within the institution rather than bringing them out into the light of day.

And yet, despite all this,

  • The church perseveres and grows. While we might wonder about the future of Christianity in England and Europe, where “none of the above” is the fastest growing faith, the church is nevertheless growing by leaps and bounds in Africa and Asia.
  • The church reforms itself. It did this in the 3rd and 4th century, when Christianity had grown so much that it was becoming a means of social advancement. People like St. Antony heard the gospel as a call to renounce the world and live in the wilderness. He and those who followed him began monasticism. In the 12th and 13th century Dominic and Francis began preaching orders that were oriented to bringing a lively faith to ordinary people. In the 16th century the Protestant reformers went back to the Bible to transform the church into something more Christlike. In the late 19th century radical Christians called into question slavery and campaigned for its abolition. In the 20th century the Social Gospel movement advocated for the poor and the common person. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights movement, condemning segregation. Oscar Romero challenged despots and death squads. Desmond Tutu condemned apartheid as a heresy, and following its end, led the process of reconciliation in South Africa. Much of the church, in the wake of the Holocaust, has repented of its anti-semitism and supersessionism.

What do these signs say to us? How do we read them?

Rather than tell you how to read them, let me ask some questions.

  1. First, are we open to the Holy Spirit working within us? The foundation and growth of this little church seems to be an example of the Spirit – where will it drive us next? As our Church Council looks as our mission and tasks for the next few years, have we sought the Spirit?
  2. Second, are we living the kingdom of God now? Are we radically inclusive, and do we welcome and actively solicit the involvement of all sorts of people in our congregation and in our lives, and not just people who look and sound like us? Have we reached out beyond our ethnic group to invite others and make them feel welcome? I come from a part of the Anglican Communion (the Diocese of British Columbia in the Anglican Church of Canada) where we have married clergy in same sex unions, where we hung out rainbow flags over the front door, the Bishop marched in Pride parades,  and same-sex weddings are permitted. Now, I know that the Church of England has a different policy on this, and thus this congregation, being part of the Diocese in Europe, so do we. However, the three other Anglican churches in the British Isles – the Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales, and the Episcopal Church of Scotland – have all moved to be significantly more open on the marriage of same-sex couples. Do we need to look at this as well?

    Logan in Pride

    Some members of the Diocese of British Columbia preparing for the 2019 Pride Parade in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. At right is the Right Rev Dr Logan McMenamie.

  3. Third, where are we with justice, and how do we fit that into our lives?
  • In the United States, Canada, and Ireland the largest denomination, the Roman Catholic Church, is in disrepute because of sexual scandals. On a smaller scale various provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, have been dealing with sexual abuse. We have had a good response, but it could be better. Are we not only safeguarding, but are we being seen to be doing the right thing, so that the possibility of abuse of the most vulnerable among us by our entrusted leaders is made as difficult as possible? When will safeguarding be seen not as a bureaucratic add-on, but a central part of evangelism?
  • The American conservative evangelical movement is now strongly identified with
    • the denial of science and facts around climate change and gun violence,
    • the disparaging of non-white immigrants and refugees,
    • a rollback of achievements for gays and lesbians, and
    • the demeaning of women.

Many Christians in the historically African-American denominations no longer want to call themselves evangelicals because of the antagonism they receive in attacks from their white brothers and sisters. Furthermore, there is a growing movement of young ex-evangelicals who see themselves as Christians but cannot abide the narrow hypocrisy of their home churches. They love the people in the churches they have left, but they can no longer abide the debasement of ethics and morality in the name of political goals.

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The situation is different here in Europe and in the Church of England, and Evangelicals are not so likely to be aligned with one political party or set of social goals. That said, the challenge of the gospel – to show our faith in our works, by care for the poor and disenfranchised as if they were Jesus himself – remains. Our words must match our deeds.

And in the end . . .

Are we walking by faith, as our forebears did, as described in the Letter to the Hebrews, as Jesus and the disciples did? Are we Christ centered, seeking to conform our lives to his? Do we know what time it is?

May the words of the Psalmist be our prayer:

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven,
behold and tend this vine; *
preserve what your right hand has planted.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; *
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

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Prayer and Forgiveness

A sermon preached on The Sixth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 28, 2019 11:00 am

The readings for the day were Colossians 2:6-15, Psalm 85 and Luke 11:1-13.

kneeling

Well, given these readings, shall I talk about prayer and forgiveness?

The disciples ask Jesus about how to pray. In the Gospel according to Luke he responds with one of the two version of the Lord’s Prayer. There are two versions in the New Testament, the one here in Luke, and another in the Gospel according to Matthew, and while they are not exactly the same they are close enough, and the slight differences suggest that they are rooted in an oral tradition that probably goes back to Jesus. The traditional form of the Lord’s Prayer which we use is a merger of these two, and in the English language tradition we add a doxology: For thine is the kingdom the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.

Postures

There are traditionally two positions for prayer, as described in scripture.

  1. On one’s knees. It is a position of humility and vulnerability. You cannot see well, your hands are fixed and you cannot defend yourself. It is very similar to kneeling before one’s lord and sovereign. One demonstrates one humility because when the Queen (or perhaps, more often these days, the Prince of Wales) knights you, a sword goes on either shoulder – when presumably the Sovereign could just as easily chop off your head. There is vulnerability, but also a possibility of receiving honour. From being vulnerabile one is open to things, to being taught.
  2. Standing with hands outraised. This is a position of receptive power, of joy and praise. It is something both Catholics and Charismatic Protestants do.
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Of course, nowadays, we most often pray sitting down, it seems. It used to be that Anglicans were distinguished for the amount of time they spent praying on their knees during the liturgies, but a more relaxed attitude has emerged. Where we used to claim we had callouses on our knees, old age and a lack of kneelers leads many congregations to adopt being seated as the norm.

For What Do We Pray?

And what do we pray for? In Luke we read:

  • Your kingdom come. We are not satisfied by what the world gives us, whether it is politicians and liberal democracy, economic well-being and the consumer society, or the distress of the world around us. Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O God, as St Augustine put it in his Confessions (written 397-400 CE). The kingdom comes in Jesus, the kingdom of God is at hand, but it is not to be identified with the kingdoms of this world, nor is it identical with the institution of the church (although the kingdom is active within it). It is present whenever two or three gather in Jesus’s name, but it is also at the same time not yet here. In Matthew we also pray that God’s will would be done on earth as in heaven, and that implies that God’s will often is not done. So as Christians we are uncomfortable, restless, strangers in a strange land, legally citizens of the UK or Greece or Ireland or Canada, but in reality citizens of another place.
  • We pray for daily bread – minimal sustenance. We also have confidence that it will come. We are no longer faced with famines. We do not pray to be wealthy or powerful or famous.
  • We ask to be forgiven, about which I will say more in a moment, and God’s forgiveness of us is paralleled by our forgiveness of others.
  • Finally, in Luke we ask God to not bring us to the time of trial. Reframing this, we ask that those soul-challenging occasions where we are tempted are avoided, that we are not pushed to the breaking point.
  • Jesus then tells his disciples, in a brief parable and a few illustrations, to persist in prayer – presumably for these things.

The Power of Prayer

I often hear people talk about the power of prayer, as if it is the case that if we have enough faith God will do anything for us. But prayer is not about manipulating God, as if the Almighty is subject to the whims and will of human desires. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is positive, and they are granted. As often as not, the answer is a no. And then there are all those situations in which the answer is vague and uncertain. It is because we project our human malleability upon the divine, when it is in fact quite wholly other. No, the power of prayer, in my experience is different from this.

  • Fundamentally, the point of prayer is that it changes us. It may sound as if we are trying to change God’s mind, but it is actually our minds which will be transformed.
  • It is a spiritual habit and a practice. Just as if you change your diet you will see a change in your body, so if we pray we will see changes in our selves, our souls and bodies.
  • If we kneel in prayer we will feel humble and vulnerable, and open to teaching.
  • If we enter into contemplative prayer or meditation we will find ourselves becoming all too aware of the narcissistic monkey chatter of our minds. If we persist, we quiet the voices, and perhaps become attentive to the still, quiet voice of God.
  • If we pray for our enemies we will find ourselves moving from anger and vengeance to dispassionate analysis and wishing their welfare. This is not to say that we give up on bringing the consequences of their action upon them, but we so in order to force them to refrain from malevolent action, and perhaps to turn and repent.
  • If we meditate and reflect on the words of Jesus and the prophets in scripture, and think about the stories we hear and read about them, we will find our hearts shaped like that of the prophets and Jesus.
  • If we stand to praise God in Christ in voice and action we will find ourselves moving into joy and gratitude.
  • And so, forgiveness becomes a spiritual practice, similar to and complementary to that of prayer.

Now of course, many of us have been grievously hurt by others. So how can we forgive our offenders, especially if they do not acknowledge their suffering they have caused, if there is no repentance? Let me tell you a couple of stories.

[Trigger warning] A friend of mine back in Canada was sexually assaulted by her father, and needless to say, this was deeply traumatic. She told me about this – how she made a complaint to the police, and he was tried and convicted and sent to jail for a time. Then, after this, she said that she was able to forgive him?. “How?” I asked. “I had to forgive him, or else that suffering would continue to keep a hold on me. Only by forgiving him was I able to be free from the awful effects of his abuse.” Forgiveness is about us dealing with the past, not forgetting it but reducng its destructive power over us.

amish-school-shooting

A funeral procession following the West Nickel Mines School shooting in 2006.

One of the more horrific aspects of American gun culture is the frequency with which people kill children in schools. One example is the West Nickel Mines School shooting back in 2007. It was no different from so many other of these school shootings, except that in this case the victims were all Amish children, between the ages of 7 and 13. The Amish are a type of radical Anabaptists. While many of them accept some modern technology for farming and carpentry, they reject much that we take for granted – electricity, smartphones, television, automobiles, and factory-made clothing. They drive horse and buggies. They are radical pacifists, speak a form of German, and do not participate in national programs of social welfare.  When this tragedy came upon them they responded with sorrow and grief, and tore down the school and built a new one. The perpetrator, who was not Amish but was known to them, killed himself after shooting the children. Astonishingly, many members of he Amish community, including parents who had buried their daughters the day before, attended the funeral of the murderer, and expressed forgiveness. They even raised some money for his widow and children. A counselor who worked with many of those grieving, believes that

because the Amish can express that forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.

This forgiveness is rooted in the Amish knowledge of Jesius’s teaching about forgiving others, and the fact that any undertaking begins and ends with the Lord’s Prayer.

The Power of Forgiveness

We are changed by God’s forgiveness given to us in Jesus. Likewise, we are changed by forgiving others.

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This became an influential part of modern political life with the rise of  “Truth and Reconciliation”. While it arose in parts of Latin America, it became very prominent when  a commission was set up in South Africa by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the request of Nelson Mandela. As the Wikipedia article states, its purpose was to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims. It was grounded in the Christian principle that a confession of violence could be forgiven, and it was a means for the nation to heal beyond the traumas of apartheid and violence committed on both sides. This became a model for other nations, including Australia, Chile, and Germany. My home country of Canada has had one as well, relating to the genocidal traumas of the Indian Residential Schools. An apology is not enough – there needs to be some form of reparation, to make things right, and an intention to do things to make sure that the damage is never done again. It is a slow, painful, and challenging process, and often fraught with controversy. That said, most places that have had one affirm the importance of truthtelling in the process of achieving justice.

Some people cannot see themselves as forgivable. And, indeed, it may be that some people will not forgive others. But God will always forgive us, and will not deny us. It does not erase the sin, there’s no forgive and forget, but there may be forgiveness and transformation.

Some people they read the version in Matthew quite literally – forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are indebted to us. Whether in the ancient world or the 21st century, the chronic persistence of debt is seen as an injustice. Bankruptcy was a novel concept that only came about in the modern era, and allowed individuals to get out from under the crush of owing money – or avoiding debtors prison, or quite literally becoming slaves.    or simply the redistribution of accumulated wealth, there is a sense in which our relations with others cannot be defined by economics. While now it may seem to be associated more with crooked politicians and large corporations, bankruptcy was originally an act of justice and forgiveness.

And so . . .

God calls us to pray, as Jesus prayed.

God calls us to be people of healing and reconciliation, grounded in being forgiven and forgiving others.

By the grace of God’s Holy Spirit may we be remade in the image of God, may we be vulnerable enough to be teachable, so that we may be living icons of the kingdom of God to this broken and fragile creation.

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The Eagle Has Landed

A Sermon Preached On The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 21, 2019 11:00 am

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Well, fifty years ago yesterday humanity arrived on the moon, and today, going by Greenwich Mean Time (which is God’s time, right?), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out and walked on the lunar surface. It was my was seventh birthday that July 21, 1969, and it was a thrilling thing to watch. I had grown up with the Space Race, following the exploits of the Gemini project and then the Apollo.In 1967 I went to Expo 67 in Montreal, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Confederation, and there I saw in the US pavilion artifacts from NASA.

The moon landing was the culmination of a decade’s incremental advances in astronautics, involving 400,000 people, from the human calculators such as Katherine Johnson, featured in the movie Hidden Figures, to Chris Craft, the ubiquitous head of Mission Control in Houston, Texas. The computer software on the spacecraft was built from the ground up by a team headed by Margaret Hamilton, and never demonstrated any bugs or errors – which was a good thing, as there was little margin for error.

It was a tremendous achievement. While many people criticized it then and now as an unnecessary extravaganza, for others it demonstrated what humanity was capable of doing when it put its mind to it. As a child born in the ‘sixties it was a symbol of progress and human ingenuity. While an American endeavour, there was a real sense that all humanity was involved. It still fills me with wonder every time I look at the moon over these Cretan hills and thing, “Wow, we really went there.”

But first things first. When the Eagle had landed on the Sea of Tranquility the first thing Buzz Aldrin did was take communion. He had brought the elements from his Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder, and gave thanks to God for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Later, on Apollo 15, astronaut David Scott left a Bible on the Lunar Rover Vehicle, where it remains today.

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The Bible left by David Scott is shown in the red circle. Photo: NASA via St. Christopher Episcopal Church

 

These things came to mind this week as the media was filled with the fifty year anniversary, and I came across the story of Martha and Mary in the Gospel of Luke, our gospel for this day.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Doesn’t that sound familiar? It is so easy to be distracted from the divine. Do we pray? Do we meditate? Do we read our scriptures? Do we reflect on our faith in Jesus Christ? Do we attend to Jesus and rest in his presence? It is commendable that in the midst of the moon landing that some of the astronauts took the opportunity to focus on God, in the person of Jesus Christ.

But the optimism and excitement I and so many others felt fifty years ago is a stark contrast to the way we feel today. different today.

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Taken aboard Apollo 8 by Bill Anders, this iconic picture shows Earth peeking out from beyond the lunar surface as the first crewed spacecraft circumnavigated the Moon. NASA

  • From Apollo 8 we saw the photograph of the Earth-rise and realized in a single picture, just one glimpse, the interconnectedness and fragility of creation. And today we find ourselves spoiling our planetary home, as the climate gets warmer and the weather more unpredictable. Politicians argue as they deny the science or acknowledge it, and find themselves trying to balance the immediate concerns of economics and jobs versus the long-term issues of global warming. And this comes home to us. Will we pay for the billion-euro power line to connect Crete to the continent of Europe, so that our power will not be generated by the burning of oil? Will we pay carbon taxes to encourage us to shift to renewable resources? Are we willing to forgo our flights on jets?
  • Or think of the leadership in our nations. I was probably naive then, or maybe I am getting old, but it did seem we had better politicians in days past. The words of the psalm might have been written today about them, rather than 2700 years ago:

Your tongue is like a sharpened razor, * O worker of deception.
You love evil more than good * and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that hurt, * O you deceitful tongue.
“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, *
but trusted in great wealth
and relied upon wickedness.”

Or the words of the prophet Amos:

you that trample on the needy
and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

  • Or consider the role of religion in our societies, so long in decline:

The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea,
and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.

To address all of these we need to keep first things first. God calls to us, in the midst of all of our distractions , not to simply dwell on these things and run to and fro trying to fix these things, but to set time aside to attend to God. There is time enough to attempt great things, necessary things, but as Christians we begin with Jesus, by gathering here, by listening and reflecting on scripture, by praying to God, and by sharing the meal that Jesus his son left us. Then, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we pray and read and preach the gospel in word and deed throughout the week.

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The recently communicated Buzz Aldrin.

We do these things, and through the faith that is in us we are changed, and so we are made capable of doing things that would have seemed impossible for us. And yet Jesus said in the Gospel of John that we would do greater things, and Paul writes that God, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine.

So, while we may want to be Marthas, may we, for a time, be Marys, that the better part may not be taken from us.

 

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“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

A Sermon Preached on The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 14, 2019 11:00 am

One of the nice things about living in a small village in Crete is that we have the opportunity of getting to know our neighbours. I know by name the folks on either side of the house in Gavalohori, and the folks I meet along the roads all seem to know me. This is such a difference from any decent sized city where people are anonymous and our relationships are so often merely transactional, where a bank teller is indistinguishable from an ATM. In multidimensional relationships we know people as living, breathing human beings, and we go beyond the instrumental. We get together not just to achieve ends, but simply to enjoy each other’s presence. It was like this in the town I grew up in, in Quebec, and it was like this in the small island parish I worked in when I was in my thirties. The bank teller was not just a source of money, but the parent of a child who was friends with my kids, nd someone involved in the community choir with me, and I knew where she lived and who her parents were. It was like this back home for many of you, I know, and I imagine many of you live here in the villages of Apokoronas for just that reason.

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Capernaum

It was the same in Jesus’s time. In the villages of Galilee everyone knew each other. But there were outsiders: the Greek-speaking settlers of the empire that were set up in the twons founded by Herod Antipas, Sepphoris and Tiberias. There were the people down from Jerusalem, the scribes and the pharisees sent by the Jewish rulers in Judea to ensure their influence over the peasants of Galilee. And it was one of those who approached Jesus in today’s gospel reading, a lawyer, not as we might understand a barrister or a solicitor, but someone trained in the Law of Moses as understood by the Pharisees.

Was it a serious question? “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” “And who is my neighbor?” Was he trying to find out whether Jesus was orthodox? Was he trying to find a way to trap Jesus? We do not know. Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan:

 

But what is most interesting is how, at the end, Jesus turns the question around from, “Who is my neighbour?”, to “What kind of neighbour are you?” And just as the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor are connected, so the lawyer’s failure to know who his neighbor is, suggests that he did not really know who his God was, either. In the parable Jesus suggests:

  • True neighbourliness jumps in the ditch to be with the wounded.
  • True neighbourliness is sacrificial, offering to pay the cost without expectation of recompense.
  • A true neighbor is not valued in terms of money, but by what they will do from compassion and concern.
  • A true neighbor breaches the apparently major difference between a Samaritan and a Jew.
  • A true neighbor lets go of their positions of privilege – even if they are a priest or a Levite – to help another.
  • In the end, a true neighbor is someone like Jesus, who in his self-giving discloses to us the nature of God.

 

We are not always good neighbours, of course. The power of darkness and the kingdom of this world is so very seductive. It tells us that the other is dirty and diseased and will distract us from our real work or God. It fills us with fear of our neighbours, so that we no longer see a common bond but rather something different and alien from us.

The worst situation is when the ways of the world overcome otherwise good people, so that they think they are doing God’s work when in fact they are simply justifying abuse and even genocide with theology.

  • My dissertation on the Indian Residential Schools deals with just this issue, and names seven ways in which Christian theologies were used to justify the taking of land and power from indigenous peoples and then used again to try and eradicate them through assimilation or death.
  • We submit to the idol of nationalism, fearing our neighbours rather than getting to know them, much less helping.
  • We become more focused on our own security and comfort rather than the needs of others, or deny that we have any responsibility towards anyone else. The heresy of libertarianism raises the value of property and self so high that the other is nothing but a threat.

Of course, some Christians are like this. They follow a gospel that is all about fear. Jesus is not like this. As the American pastor John Pavlovitz recently said, his Jesus is

  • the one who touched the hand of the leper,
  • the one who fed a starving hillside multitude
  • the one whose family fled political genocide soon after he was born,
  • the one who said he and the forgotten prisoner were one in the same,
  • the one who dined with both priest and with prostitute,
  • the one who lived off the kindness of those he met as he traveled,
  • the one who said our neighbors and enemies, deserve the same love we give our families and ourselves,
  • the one who preached the scandalous goodness of a despised Samaritan.

 

The love of God works in us to give us faith, and it is so great that it cannot help but continue to pour out of us.

We hear the words of the psalm:

3 Save the weak and the orphan; * defend the humble and needy;
4 Rescue the weak and the poor; deliver them from the power of the wicked.

And our faith, inspired by love, responds with works of love, and through these works we come to know eternal life, the divine life, a Christ-shaped life, in this very broken and fragile world.

As we heard from Colosians, it bears fruit among us from the day we heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.

So, as Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” – may we hear and be doers of the word.

 

 

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Until the Apocalypse

A Sermon Preached on The Third Sunday after Trinity
The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete
July 7, 2019 11:00 am

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I have two pieces of good news about the coming Apocalypse (and when I say Apocalypse, I mean it as a good thing, the Christian Apocalypse, which is the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God in his return to Earth, and his establishment of the kingdom of God – not the various other types of apocalypses, such as global warming, nuclear disaster, Brexit, Trump, or anything written in the “Left Behind” series).

First, when the Son of Man comes in power and glory and the Kingdom of God is established, there will be no need of preaching, because everyone in the kingdom will already know God and will not need to have anything explained to them. There will simply be praise. Yay!

Second, for much the same reason, there will be no need of evangelism. Again, there will simply be praise.

But we’re not there yet. Until then, we will need evangelism and preaching.

So how do we do it?

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How not to be before or during the Apocalypse

First, the simpler the implementation the better. There is a blessing in having buildings and paid staff, but that is not the essence of church. The essence of church is people entering into relationships with other people, and into a relationship with God in Christ.

When the Communists took power in China in 1949 one of the first things they dd was force all the foreign missionaries out. There was great concern across North America and Europe that the Communists would try to destroy the Christian faith in China, and, indeed, many were persecuted, and Mao Tse-Tung and the Communist Party sought to erradicate all religion, including Buddhism, Taoism, and traditional Chinese religions grounded in Confuscius. When China began to open up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the western world was astonished to find that not only had some Christians persevered, but they had thrived. They did not have buildings and clergy as we would know them, but they did meet in small groups in private homes. Whenever the churches got too big for the house, tempting attention from the Communist authorities, they would split up. Thus, over time, the Christian communities, without seminaries or General Synods or parsonages or endowments, slowly grew, so that they were more in the 1980s than in 1949. Some estimates put the Christian population in China at up to 80,000,000 people.

So, while having a priest, these buildings, and a car is all helpful to the mission of the gospel, those are not the things that make up the gospel. Proclaiming the kingdom of God is.

Second, real evangelism deals with the evil in the world.

  • There are wolves out there who would attack the lambs of God.
  • Satan has fallen like lightening from heaven, but is active here on earth in the lies told by the powerful, in the comfort so many have with oppression and violence, and that tells us that we just need to take care of ourselves and not pay attention to the needs of others.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is no hope, and that creation is doomed, whereas we proclaim a new creation beginning with Jesus and acting is us, the body of Christ.
  • The powers of evil tell us that there is nothing but cold chaotic matter with no rhyme or reason to human life, whereas we celebrate the world transfigured by the Spirit and the offering of Jesus in the world, no matter how much that world rejects him.

Finally, we work in pairs, or larger groups. I’ve never really understood why clergy are sent singly into parishes and congregations – I’ve always preferred working as part of a team. In a sense, with the ordination last week, we have returned to a biblical model. As laity, too, we need each other when witnessing to the gospel in word and in deed.

So, as we enter these summer months, let us not just rest and be complacent, but may we consider the tasks before us. May we work together, keeping the gospel simple and straight forward, and not shrink from facing up to the evil that would thwart us.

As Jesus has done, and as the disciples did, so may we continue.

 

 

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