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Monday, June 24, 2013

The fine art of leaving

Well, this was my last Sunday at St. Bart's, and as I am 98% packed up and ready to move, I seem to have packed up my recorder, so this Sunday, I'll have to give you a written version.

This week's Gospel passage was Luke 8:26-39 which tells the story of Legion, the man who is possessed of many demons, and who Jesus exorcises.

Now, the concept of possession and exorcism and demons and so on cause great difficulty for the modern church (and well they should).  Most of the conditions which were thought to be caused by demonic possession we have now identified as a variety of psychiatric and physical ailments that require professional medical care.

To this day, for example, we still use phrases like "What possessed you to to that?" and we refer to "confronting our demons".  It is understood that we are not talking about demons per se, but of personal issues or challenges we face.

But I don't necessarily want to argue about whether or not possession and exorcism are a genuine phenomena, but I would like to point out something that never fails to move me about this story.

When Jesus asks the man his name, he responds that his name is Legion.  He had no other identity left than his "demons", his personal problems, the negative aspects of his life and personality.  He does not even seem to have his own life or identity any more.  How sad is that?

Are we like Legion in any way?  I hear people refer to themselves most often by using negative terminology about themselves.  I hear people most often talking about what they lack or dislike, more than what they have or like.  It is entirely possible to become so involved with and consumed by our negativity and problems that we cease to have any other identity.  Maybe we should spend a little more time taking an inventory of positives rather than taking an inventory of our negatives.

The other thing that strikes me about this passage is that Legion asks Jesus to take him with Him as he leaves the area.  Jesus declines, telling him to return to his home and declare what God has done for him.

This makes me think about the transfiguration, another instance where something really awesome happened, and the people who witnessed it wanted to stay in that moment as long as possible.  But the problem is that when we experience something really life-changing, we are called out of that moment of comfort and revelation.  We are called out into the world to try to bring that experience to others.

St. Bart's has been like that for me, I am sad to say that this was my last Sunday there.  I am excited to be moving on to my new parish, but I am sad to be leaving a situation that I enjoyed and was comfortable with. It is gratifying to know that that feeling was reciprocated, and I think we might all have wanted to stay in that for a while longer.

But we have had this great experience together and we are now to part ways, hoping to share those experiences with others.

I wish all my St. Bart's family and the wider community of the Sunshine Coast the best, and blessings to all my colleagues in the Diocese of New Westminster.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The unlevel playing field

Someone asked me the other day "Why do you go to church every Sunday and talk about the same stories you've been talking about for 2000 years?"

Because the world still hasn't got it yet.

I do not mean that I think everyone should convert to any one religion.  What I mean is that religious or not, much of scripture from every world religion evokes wisdom and lessons that it would behoove us to learn and to practice.

Today's Gospel passage (Luke 7:36-8:3) tells one such story.  It is the story of an unusual encounter between Jesus, a Pharisee and a woman who is identified only as "a sinner".  Tradition hold that she was a prostitute, even though Scripture does not actually specify what the nature of her sins were.  But let's just proceed under that assumption, because it adds a great deal of meaning to the story.

The woman, believing Jesus to be at least a prophet of God, is seeking forgiveness for her sins, which he freely gives.

But the Pharisee is actually the subject of the Gospel passage.  Ironically, the Pharisee does not seem to realize that he stands in need of Jesus forgiveness as well, and on a much more personal basis: the rules of hospitality in ancient Jewish culture were well-established (foot-washing, the kiss of welcome, anointing), and the Pharisee had shown Jesus none of those courtesies.  Furthermore, he apparently had no remorse for his lack of courtesy.

Why was this?  Perhaps because the Pharisee saw himself as superior to Jesus, and therefore he did not have to show those courtesies to an inferior.  He certainly saw himself as superior to the woman sinner, and he judges her accordingly.

But Jesus, in that uncanny way he had, turns social convention on its head and says that the woman has been forgiven much, and therefore loves much and is much loved.  He flips the tables and lets the room know that the woman is therefore more important and blessed than any of them.  Not the wealthy, the respected, the well-to-do, the pure.

No, the blessed are the poor, disrespected, hard-luck, the impure.

Have we really come that far since Jesus' time?  We still see wealth and social standing as an objective measure of importance.  We still make detours around street people rather than reach out to them in compassion.  Education and pedigree makes us more worth listening to.

Jesus would (and did) tell us that this is rubbish.

One day, maybe the world will get it.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The "trick" miracle

Superficially, today's Gospel (Luke 7:11-17) tells the story of what seems to be a pretty straightforward miracle: the resurrection of a dead man by Jesus.

Sidestepping the issue of whether or not we believe in miracles for a moment, I propose that this passage is not that straightforward after all.

The problem is this: who is the miracle actually happening to in this passage?  Who, for lack of a better word, is the recipient or beneficiary of the miracle?

I think most people would say that the resurrected man is clearly the person upon whom the miracle is "performed".

But read the passage again: "When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep”(13, italics mine).

Without one mention of concern for the dead man, the motivation for the miracle was actually Jesus' compassion for the bereaved widow, and she is essentially the recipient of the miracle.

Widows had a particularly tough time in Jesus' day.  As women could rarely retain property and wealth of their own, a widow who had no male children to support her in her old age could find herself destitute.  So Jesus' miracle of resurrection is less for the sake of the dead man, but much more about her.  Christ was concerned for her well-being and security.

What can we learn from this passage?  Perhaps a number of things.  First that God is not only a principle of life, but also a principle of compassion.  God embodies that principle of concern and compassion which we all should show to one another.

Granted, no one I know can bring people back from the dead, but we can support one another in our times of grief and sorrow, equally in times of joy.

To download the podcast of my sermon, click here.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A miracle you can perform

I have often expressed a certain ambivalence about the Biblical miracles.  They are, by their very definition, difficult (if not impossible) to believe.

But this in and of itself is not the problem.  The problem is that I can't perform them.

It is all well and good to report on the miraculous activities of Jesus and the other Biblical "biggies", but when it comes down to living out our faith in the real world, how are you and I as normal, non-miracle-performing people supposed to proceed?  How can we possibly emulate or repeat miracles?

I have a theory: behind every impossibly flamboyant Biblical miracle lies a deeper message, a deeper miracle, a miracle that you and I can, in fact, perform.

Take this week's Gospel passage, for example.  Luke 7:1-10 tells the story of Jesus healing the centurion's slave.  We could read this superficially and still be impressed with Jesus' abilities and leave it at that.

But there are actually a few things going on in this passage that go unspoken, unnoticed by readers in our time and culture, but which would have been no less miraculous to readers in Jesus' time.

The first being that the centurion cares enough about a slave to seek Jesus out to help him.  The second is that the Jewish elders in the story actually admire and respect the centurion, even though he is part of the Roman occupation forces.  The third is that the elders would seek Jesus out, even though his message essentially undermines their whole structure of authority.  The fourth is that Jesus, himself a Jew, would go out of his way to help a Roman slave.

At every turn in this story, you have people seeing past race, creed, colour and class.  You have people looking past prejudice and intolerance.  You have people valuing and caring for one another despite the cultural norms of the time.

This is truly a miracle, more impressive to me than parting a Red Sea.  And furthermore, it is one that you and I can do ourselves.

To hear my sermon, click here.