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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Same as it ever was: reflections on General Synod

As you may have heard, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada recently passed a pretty momentous vote.  We voted in favour of changing our canons to allow for same-sex marriage.

Ok, you could accuse us of being a few years behind the time, but given the relative speed with which the most religions embrace change (which borders on inertia), this is actually not a bad lapse of time for the church to catch up with.

I should explain a couple of things about this whole process, because it was actually a pretty exciting Synod.  For those of you who have ever attended a Synod or the equivalent of your church or workplace, I realize this isn't much, but this was actually a nail-biter with some pretty profound implications for the Anglican Church in the future.

Briefly, Synod is like the annual general meeting for the church.  Synods are held yearly on a Diocesan level (a diocese is kind of like provincial politics), but every 3 years, we have what is called General Synod, and that is a meeting on a national level (kind of like federal politics).  In other words, at GS we discuss things that affect the entire Canadian church.

Arguable the most important topic of discussion at this Synod was one which has been festering literally for decades: whether or not to change our canons (church laws) to allow for same-sex marriage in our churches.

I will spare you the details, but suffice to say the motion was at first defeated by a narrow margin, then it was found after a recount to have passed by an equally narrow margin.

I should add that this does not mean that the Canadian Anglican Church is immediately going to start doing same-sex marriages.  This vote bought a second reading at our next GS in 2019, where it still runs a chance of being defeated.  If it passes a second time, THEN we will have to look at making some changes.

Almost immediately after the vote, myself and many of my colleagues had to respond to a number of concerns from our parishioners: What does this mean for our church?  What happens now?  Will our church be different?  What is going to change?

The short answer is: absolutely nothing.

Come to church next Sunday.  The building will still be the same.  The liturgy will still be the same.  The hymns will still be the same.  The prayers will still be the same.  Your neighbour next to you in the pew will probably be the same.  The sacraments will still be the same.  God will still be the same.  Christ will still be the same.  The Holy Spirit will still be the same.

We worship communally: we get together, we pray together, we sing songs of praise, we share the sacraments and fellowship, and in that sense, absolutely nothing has changed.  But we also have personal and individual relationships with God and Christ, and I honestly don't think these relationships have changed because of this vote, either.

Don't get me wrong, the vote is momentous, and I'll be honest, I am happy about the vote.  I think this is a victory for human rights and for the church.  Although I would never claim to know the thoughts and will of God, I also personally think that this decision that is in keeping with the will of the Holy Spirit moving in the world today.

I am aware that not everyone agrees with me, and that is OK.

We don't actually have to agree, and that is something that some church folk seem to forget.  We don't have to have the same thoughts, share the same heart or mind on every single topic.  I would argue that conflict and the successful navigation thereof is actually the only place we as people and Christians can possibly experience growth.

We have actually disagreed on a lot of stuff in the past few decades: women's ordination and the new prayer book spring immediately to mind.  And if we look back, we survived that.  We felt the Holy Spirit was leading us down those paths, and we learned and changed and grew together.  We did not give up on each other, God or the church.

Let us learn and change and grow together still.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Why the world needs Christianity

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 10: 25-37.

To download an audio of my sermon, click here.

Yup, you read that title right.

Even as a priest, I sometimes get bummed out and I start wondering, "Why do I do this?  What is the point of faith, religion, Christianity?  What does Christianity have to contribute to the world?"

The last few weeks have been particularly difficult ones in terms of the news.  The shooting in Orlando, cops shot in Dallas, yet two more examples of police brutality leading to the deaths of black men, bombs in sacred places during holy festivals in the Middle East, and those are just the atrocities that have managed to make it onto Facebook's newsfeed.

I can't speak for anyone else, but sometimes I am just overcome with so much grief for the state of the world and it's peoples.

And then I read the story of the Good Samaritan, and I am reminded that Christianity has stories that I need to hear, and that the world needs to hear and know.

The Good Samaritan is familiar to most people, churchgoer or not, but few of us understand all the implications of the story.

Jesus is preaching and teaching, and a lawyer asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life.  In other words, what must he do to lead a good, moral and virtuous life.  Jesus asks him what is written in the Law.  The lawyer responds with what is the beating heart and soul of Christianity, THE Great Commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself".

Jesus affirms that this is correct, but perhaps wanting to appear clever, the lawyer asks, "But who is my neighbour", to which Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan.

What we have to understand is that Jesus' audience was 100% Jewish, and Jews and Samaritans hated each other.  Sparing you the details, both groups felt that they were the true religion and the other were heretics, such that violence was common between the two groups, and they were forbidden from fraternizing with one another by their respective religious leaders.

So for a Jew to be told that there could be such a thing as a "good Samaritan" would have been as shocking as if someone told us a story of "The Good Nazi" or "The Good KKK Member" or "The Good Westboro Baptist Church-goer".

The story is pretty well-known, as I mentioned.  A Jew going from Jerusalem to Jericho is set upon by bandits who beat him, strip him, rob him and leave him near death on the side of the road.  What rarely gets mentioned is that these bandits are likely Jewish as well, and were probably beating on a fellow countryman, but thieves know no honour, so that is often glossed over by the preacher.

The first person to come across the man is a Jewish priest, a person one would think and hope would be inclined by his vocation alone to be merciful, but he crosses to the other side of the street and passes him by.

I have heard it suggested that perhaps the man was ritually unclean, and that the priest was fearful of becoming ritually unclean himself, but either way, this does nothing to exonerate him.  I think we can all agree he should have stopped to help.

The second person is identified as a Levite, one of the 12 Tribes of Judaism.  The theory is that in describing the man as traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, Jesus is trying to indicate that the man who was beaten is himself a Levite, and a fellow countryman, perhaps even a distant or not-so-distant relation.

Either way, the man passes him by on the other side of the street.

The one person who stops and helps, and who bends over backwards to help by the way, is a Samaritan: the one person who by rights should have actually passed the man by, perhaps even spitting on him as he went.

The man disinfects and bandages his wounds, puts the man on his own animal, ventures into enemy territory to take the man to an inn, pays the innkeep to tend to the man, and promises to return with more money to pay for his treatment.

Look, I am not proud of this, but when I hear stories of Muslim bombers both here and abroad, my first impulse is to be angry at and afraid of Muslims.  When I hear about mass shooters, my impulse is to be afraid of and be angry at gun owners.  When I hear about yet another example of police brutality, my impulse is to be afraid of and angry at cops.

And this is exactly why I need Christ and the story of the Good Samaritan.

Because when I check my reality, I have to confess I have never met a bad Muslim, a bad gun owner or a bad cop in my life.  Sure, I am sure they exist, but I have never personally met one, so I have no actual reason to be angry at or afraid of them.  When I get overcome with the fear, anger and paranoia that actions like those mentioned above are designed to create, I need to be reminded there is good in the world, and in fact more good than bad.

I need to be reminded that as a Christian, hearing the story of the Good Samaritan, I am actually called to a higher moral standard than other people, not a lower one.  I am called to overcome my own personal prejudices and preconceived notions to see the suffering of all of God's children, not just the ones who think and do as I do.

That means gay or straight, black or white or any other skin colour, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, whatever, I am bound by my faith to love you.  That is what the story of the Good Samaritan is about.

I would like to end with one of my favourite prayers by St. Francis, who may have been inspired by the story of the Good Samaritan:

"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy."

Let these words penetrate our hearts, and let all our thoughts, words and deeds be informed by them.