Wednesday, December 23, 2020

What Is This Good News? A Sermon For Christmas Eve

Preached online to All Saints King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 24 December, 2020.

Readings for Christmas Eve:  Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 97, Titus 2.11-14, Luke 2.1-20


“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2.10-11).


In past years it was all to easy to start a Christmas sermon with a lament about the business of the season, by condemning the secularism that has reduced the Christian festival to “the holidays”, by urging people to resist the consumerism and to preserve room in their hearts to adore the Christ child.

This year, preachers don’t have those cheap rhetorical crutches to fall back on, and honestly, good riddance to them, because this Christmas we have precious little to do except pay attention to the message of the angels.

This Christmas, if there’s anything and anyone in Luke’s nativity story that we can relate to,  it’s the shepherds and their fear of the angels.   Their attention is drawn up, to the unearthly glory of the heavens, while our attention has a very earthly focus, but the element of fear is the same.

We’re scared, and we’ve been running scared since February.   We’re scared of crowds, scared of going shopping, scared of strangers coughing, scared of that unexplained sore throat in the morning and what it might mean.    We’re scared of losing businesses and jobs, scared of shortages, scared of people being stupid and willfully ignorant and of the harm they can do.  We’re scared of ending our days in an ICU bed, without the touch of a loved one’s hand to comfort us.

This Christmas Eve, the angel comes to we, the fearful, and says “Do not be afraid – for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”

What is this good news?  This good news is that God knows how scared we are, and has pity on us.  The good news is that God sends his Son to save us.

Just as this good news came to lowly shepherds, drawing them out of their isolation in the darkness, bringing them into the presence of God there in the manger, so this good news comes to us.  This good news draws us out of our isolation, draws us out of quarantine, draws us out of the loneliness of our homes and apartments, and brings us into the light and life of Jesus.

This good news draws us out of our isolation and into communion with God and with our neighbour.  This good news gathers us together in the grace of God, it holds us in the compassion of Jesus, making us new together as new creations in Christ.   This good news will hold us safe in the mind of God after we pass over into the company of the faithful departed and the company of the saints.   The good news is that Jesus, who went down to the grave and back up to the Father in heaven, will not leave us in our dark loneliness and isolation.

This good news is not just a sentimental or fond idea – it wouldn’t be good news if it were not real.   The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived in the darkness of Nazi Germany, said that an idea cannot save us.  Only Christ, he wrote, “who must be understood as having become human”, can save us, for “only he can redeem real human beings.  Everything depends on Jesus’ existence in history”.

This good news is that Jesus is as real to us now, in the time of Covid, as he was to poor shepherds in the time of Caesar Augustus.    His salvation is real, real to us stuck here in lockdown, real to us who can’t go to church, real to us who can’t be together in warmth and joy with friends and family.  

Like the shepherds who go back to their dark fields, we must remain in the isolation of lockdown for some months to come.  But, like the shepherds, we have heard the good news and we know one great thing.  We know that Christ is real, that Christ has come into our world, that we are not alone, but always in the presence of the one who loves us, calls us, and saves us.



Saturday, December 19, 2020

The God Who Tents With Us: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent



A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  Preached 20 December, 2020, via Zoom to the Parish of All Saints, King City, Ontario, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto.  Texts for this Sunday:  2 Samuel 7.1-11, Psalm: Canticle 18 The Magnificat, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38.


I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.” (2 Samuel 7.6)



So once again we gather by Zoom, as the coronavirus once again banishes us from our church.   It may feel like we’re in a kind of exile, cut off from the sacraments, apart from one another, our community of All Saints dispersed.  Strange to think of a Christmas without the church full of families,  their out of town members gathered together again, holding candles and singing Silent Night.  


We’ll miss all that, just as we missed Easter, and just as we missed so much more this year.    But don’t worry.  We haven’t left God behind, locked up in All Saints until we can visit him again.  God isn’t waiting for us in a closed and silent church.   That’s not God’s way, as the Christmas story reminds us.


We’ll get to Mary and the angel in a moment, but first let’s give some attention to our first lesson.   King David has vanquished his enemies and things are going well for him, comfortably settle in his palace, until he remembers that God is outside, “in a tent” (2 Sam 7:2).  So David plans to build God a proper church, a fine temple, and is presumably quite pleased with himself, but that night God troubles the dreams of his counsellor, the prophet Nathan, and says “did I ever ask you to build me a house?”:


“Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.” (2 Sam 7.5-6)


The idea of a God on the move, tenting with his people, came naturally to the Jews as a nomadic people.  God didn’t need a church when he led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt.  He didn’t need a church when they crossed the Red Sea just ahead of Pharaoh’s army.  God didn’t need a church when he went out into the fields to find the shepherd David and make him a king.  Why, says God, should I need a church now?  Did I need a church to save you guys?


The story of Israel since then is a cycle of temples built, temples destroyed, exile, return, and rebuilding.   Jesus stands before Herod’s second temple in Jerusalem and warns the disciples that the cycle will continue and this temple too will be torn down (Mt 24: 1-2).  What the disciples don’t realize as they listen to Jesus is that they are looking directly at the Word made flesh, the Son of God living and dwelling amongst them in Jesus the man.


At the beginning of John’s gospel, in that lovely phrase “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1.14), the verb in Greek that the King James version translated as “dwelt” is “skenoo”, meaning “to tent”.  It’s the same word, and the same meaning, as Nathan hears in his dream from our first lesson, of God “tenting” with his people (ἐν σκηνῇ).


In saying yes to the angel, Mary gives her womb to serve as a tent of flesh, a temporary dwelling for the God who is coming into the world.     In choosing this humble girl from a backwards village, God signals his determination to send Jesus to dwell among the poor and downtrodden, the poor and the ignored.   Jesus, the tenting God, will shortly travel with the holy family as they flee Herod, taking the road that countless refugees have taken since then.


This morning, as I breakfasted comfortably and safely in my bed, I read of hospitals so overwhelmed by those sick and dying of the coronavirus they are setting up tents to serve as a triage space for those racked by coughs and short of breath.   Surely the God of tents and tabernacles will be moving in tents such as these, just as the poet Malcolm Guite described the Jesus of this Easter, trading the locked down and empty churches and going to hospitals 


“To don his apron with a nurse: he grips

And lifts a stretcher, soothes with gentle hands

The frail flesh of the dying, gives them hope,

Breathes with the breathless, lends them strength to cope.”


(Photo -



This Christmas season, I see Jesus in other places where the tents are humble and cold.   I see Jesus in the encampments and tarp villages of the homeless.  I see Jesus in refugee camps and detention centres across the globe, where, to quote another Malcom Guite poem, he “pitch[es] his tent in our humanity”.   



So yes, this Christmas, Jesus is not in the dark and empty churches.   Our tenting God is where he always is: in the shelters and prisons where few care if the poor get the virus, in the long term care homes where the families can’t visit, in the homes of of the widow, the widower, the lonely.  Our tenting God, who willingly entered the womb of a humble girl to give dignity to all humanity, is in all these places and more.   Let the churches rest and await our joyous return.  Until then, Jesus is where he needs to be.  


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Conversation with Brian Bork: Celebrity Pastors, Cultural Sorting Mechanisms, and Where Are the Eagles When We Need Them?

My friend Brian Bork is a Christian Reformed Church pastor living in Waterloo, ON, and his ministry focus is as chaplain at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.  We caught up yesterday for a wide-ranging discussion on church culture and ministry styles, the advantages and perils of being a celebrity pastor, whether Jordan Peterson is still relevant, and a host of other issues.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Witness to Miracles: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent


John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,” (Jn 1.26) 

Preached at All Saints, King City, ON, the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on December 13, 2020, the Third Sunday of Advent.


Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 61.1-4,8-11; Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24, John 1.6-8, 19-28


My first parish included a few of those legendary bachelor farmers that Garrison Keillor loved to write about.   These men were soft spoken and gentle, in their eighties and still hard-muscled and lean from lifetimes of work.   I wasn’t expecting one of them to turn into John the Baptist.


One Sunday in summertime, Bill wasn’t in church, which was unheard of, so his nephew drove to his farm and noticed uncle Bill’s truck by the woodlot out back.   There he found his uncle, lying on the ground, barely alive.   The Friday before, Bill had taken his ladder and his chainsaw to go limb some trees.  Of course, the ladder slipped and thankfully, he and the chainsaw went their separate ways as they fell quite a distance.


Bill broke his hip and some ribs in the fall, and lay on the ground for three days.   A few times it showered, which saved him from dehydration.    Sunday afternoon his nephew called me and I met them at the hospital.   Bill was well medicated by then and dreamily spoke of seeing guardian angels in the sky above him.  His nephew looked at my sideways.  “Those were buzzards”.


Uncle Bill fully recovered, and the taciturn farmer was transformed into a loud and enthusiastic evangelist.  Bill had prayed constantly lying in that wood, and he firmly believed that Jesus had saved him.   Bill’s story became his testimony, and he testified in churches, in the community, and in his family.    After a while, many hoped that he would settle down and lose his enthusiasm.  Why was that?


In many churches, especially African-American ones, giving testimony is a common part of worship.  As Prof. Courtney Buggs writes, in these churches, “congregants can’t keep it to themselves just how good God has been”.  I saw the same thing with the young Christians I taught in Ethiopia earlier this year.  They would joyfully speak, sing, and clap, saying how good and powerful Jesus is, and how much they loved him.  They believed that Jesus was the most powerful, most wonderful thing in they lives, and they weren’t afraid to say so.  These are Christians who fully identify with John the Baptist.


We think of John as “the Baptist” or “the Baptizer”, but he should really be thought of as “John the Witness”.   His job in the gospels to tell people about Jesus, the Messiah, the one promised by prophets like Isaiah.   In today’s gospel reading, John denies being anything but a witness, a herald, the voice crying in the wilderness.   Hence the tradition in medieval and Renaissance art of depicting John as literally pointing to Jesus, as in the famous Eisenheim altarpiece.   The theologian Karl Barth kept a reproduction of this work on his desk, and said that John and the church shared the same role - both exist only to point to Jesus and see “he is the one, the Saviour”.

Why were my parishioners reluctant to witness to Jesus like Bill? Why did they seem to find it awkward to listen to his testimony and why didn’t they want  to share their own stories? As I think about it years later, I think there was also another reason for their discomfort.  I think they were held back by a lack of confidence in  the idea of God being active among us.  Did God answer Bill’s prayer?  Did Jesus save Bill in that wood, or was that going too far?  After all, there were other non-religious explanations - an atheist might well say that Bill survived because he had a strong constitution for an older man, he was lucky it rained, and lucky that his nephew arrived in the nick of time. 


As Christians in the 21st century, Anglicans who value reason and critical thinking, we kind of straddle a fence between faith and science.  We may well be more comfortable speaking about coincidence than providence.   We may be reluctant to say that God answers prayer because how can you find evidence for that claim?   We may be reluctant to be thought of as credulous or superstitious in a society that prizes education and rationality.  We’re reluctant to say that Jesus saves people, because our age is pretty secular and we don’t want to sound too crazy and whacky Christian.  It might seem nervy to say “God saved Uncle Bill” without being able to prove it.


In C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles, he writes that that there are two ways of seeing the world, which he calls Naturalism and Supernaturalism.  Naturalists see the world as a closed system, where every action and every thought can be explained as a process using disciplines such  as physics, chemistry, or biology.  If we accept that Naturalism is everything, then as Lewis says, there are no doors into this world because none are needed.  There is no reason for the Supernatural, in our case God, to get in and nothing for God to do even should God exist (and naturalists would say God doesn’t exist).  


To believe in miracles is to believe that there are doors into the natural world, that there is a transcendent or supernatural reality that can get into our natural world and work there.   I actually believe that many do believe this, which is why we have a category of persons who are “spiritual but not religious”.   I see lots of people on social media who say things like “I’m having a rough time, please send kind thoughts and good vibes”.  What do they believe when they say things like this?  How is this different from Uncle Bill lying broken on the ground?  The only difference, it seems to me, is that Bill knew who he was praying to.


John the Baptist tells the Pharisees that “Among you stands one whom you do not know” (Jn 1.26).   The same is true today.   We live in an age when many people are dissatisfied, even despairing, of a world that is just mechanical process or even worse, just meaningless chaos.    They want something more, they want hope and meaningful life, but can’t see or can’t make the connection with Jesus.    The church’s job as always is to point to Jesus and say “He is the one, the Messiah, who brings life and light and hope and meaning”.  


Last Friday night, a bunch of parishioners and a few neighbours stood outside the church and sang carols through our masks.  We didn’t sing well, it wasn’t pretty, but we were there as a witness.   We weren’t just trying to keep some old carols alive, though it was fun to sing them, fun to sing anything together.    In fact we were witnessing, we were pointing with our bodes and our voices to the Messiah who comes.   

Witness is not just about miracles or answered prayers.  I’ve seen Christians with terminal illnesses witness about God’s love and faithfulness.  Witness for them was a kind of steady and visible faith that God was with them, that Jesus loved them, and that they would get to a good place on Jesus’ love and care.   In the Christmas season our witness is of the presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us.


Christmas to be sure is also about miracle.  We are two weeks from Christmas Eve, the time when the doors between world open, when Jesus comes, when the Word of God takes flesh and lives in the world.   Jesus comes, as he always does, to save us, just as he saved Uncle Bill in that wood.    My prayer and hope for All Saints is that, like Bill, we never lose our faith and hope in miracles, for what greater miracle is there but the coming into the world of the God who loves and save us?  May we witnesses to this God of Christmas and God of miracle.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday Thoughts On Luke 22, The Words Of Institution, Sacrament and Meaning

This week's Friday thoughts: an expanded take on a short piece I write for a friend's devotional email.  While thinking about Jesus' words of institution, I discovered a book by a Canadian Roman Catholic theologically, Brett Salkeld, that I can't wait to dive into.  Links below. 
Cheers and blessings,

Links: Paul VanderKlay and Brett Salkeld Discussion: Brett Salkeld's book Transubstantiation on Amazon

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Theology Drop - Hyper-Objects as a Theological Tool and a Canadian Case...

Hi friends:

I recorded this video last Friday and only now posting it here.   It's a brief attempt to describe a concept called Hyper-Objects (H-Os) and to explore its utility for theology as a way of understanding the cosmic dimensions of sin.   I'm making some connections between the idea of H-Os as described in a recent YouTube video (Paul Vanderklay et al) and in a recent podcast (Paul Anleitner), which I came across at the same time as my parish was wrapping up a bible study on the Revelation.  In the latter part of the talk I try to see whether H-Os explain the symbols that John of Patmos uses to describe Rome, Sin and Death as cosmic adversaries of God, and then try a case study using the Reconciliation attempts with indigenous peoples and the Canadian churches to understand our complicated entanglement in the settlement of Canada.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Jordan Peterson As Avatar And Bridge to Faith

Tara Burton's piece on Jordan Peterson (no relation) in Religion News Service appeared just as I've started making my way through his YouTube series on the Bible (start here if you're interested).   

Burton covers some of the reasons why JP is in the news at the moment - the controversy inside Penguin Canada regarding the publication of his new book, his personal issues regarding addiction,  and his popularity with a largely male right wing fan base.

I don't have a huge amount of data points assembled on him yet, though as I get to know more about him, I am less interested in his status in the culture wars than I am in the way he points to the Bible as a profound source of meaning, even while refraining from making any theological truth claims for it.

I'm interested in how a professor of psychology can command the attention of packed theatres to talk about the bible and meaning, in a way that most preachers would give a limb to be able to do.   Clearly there's a bridge between his work and Christianity, a bridge that people seem to be finding on their own, as I don't think JP's expressed goal is to be an evangelist of anything except a commitment to meaning, truth and freedom as he understands it.   As Peterson says in his first Bible video, "how do we live in the world properly" in a meaningful way that minimizes suffering and maximizes our good and the good of others is "the eternal question of human beings".

Others have described Peterson as a modern version of a Stoic moralist.  Does his brand of moralism appeal more to men than to women?  Burton writes that Peterson's "battle of good against evil pits brave truth-tellers such as himself against the insidious forces of the social-justice-industrial-complex, with his very person as both celebrity spokesperson and the commodity. His life is a fantasy of heroism for alienated young men encountering the fundamental brokenness of modern life, just as their feminist progressive counterparts are."

There may well be some truth in this final sentence about Peterson's appeal to younger men, something confirmed to me by friends and fellow clergy.   I have at least one dear friend who credits JP with bringing him to Christian faith, for which I'm profoundly grateful.   Paul Vanderklay, a Christian Reformed pastor with a substantial (for a pastor) YouTube following has done a lot of thinking about the connection between JP and faith, and has dialogued with a lot of younger men on this subject.  He's a good person to subscribe to on YT.

All of this to say that I'm deeply interested in JP within the parameters described above, and not that keen to get dragged into the culture wars.  Is that possible?  Watch this space.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Jesus Won't Cancel You: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent



Preached at All Saints, King City, Ontario, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 6 December, 2020.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent:  Isaiah 40.1-11, Psalm 85:1-2,8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8


John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 


What is the good news in Mark?   It is stated at the very beginning: “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1.1). 

Who tells us this good news?  It is John the Baptizer, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (Mk 1.3).  John is as we can see from our first lesson the one promised by the prophet Isaiah, so we know that John fits into God’s plan.  John is thus a sign of grace, proof of the faithfulness of God.

Where do we hear the good news?   We hear it “in the wilderness”, as do the throngs of others, including those who come from the city of Jerusalem (1.4).   To hear the good news, we must go to John, trading the security and comfort of our usual surroundings for a place that seems dangerous and inhospitable, only to learn that the wilderness is where we find out true selves.

We have this opportunity to find out true selves because John comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (1.4).  Repentance means honest self-examination,  the admission that we have done things we are not proud of, things we might not want to come to light.   It means that we like ourselves less than we might want to.   It means a desire that in forgiveness we might be changed, made better, receive a fresh start

How would this opportunity not be good news to our society? Lots of people want to improve themselves – just go on a website like Amazon, search for “self help”, and you’ll find a mountain of books.  The problem is that not many of them address the idea of sin, or even seem to dwell much on a secular understanding of imperfection, hence the many books with titles such as Good Vibes, Good Life: How Self-Love is the Key to Unlocking Your Greatness.   To admit that we are sinful is to say something more profound than to simply say we could be improved by some new habits or lifestyle choices.   To say that we are sinful is to admit that we are deeply flawed and profoundly in need of help.

While we as a culture aren’t much inclined to dwell on our own flaws or to call them sins,  we are quite willing to recognize that sin exists in others, as  “cancel culture” attests.   We’ve developed rituals to shame and disgrace adulterous politicians and fallen celebrity pastors, who hang their heads and confess their “serious errors in judgement”, and yet we don’t really forgive them.   We shake our heads at actors and producers whose sordid pasts are exposed and whose careers are ruined.  As the psychologist   Jonathan Haidt notes, these head-wagging and tongue clucking rituals are useful because they bond us together in a smirking disapproval of others.   Once we cast someone out of group, once a celebrity topples from their pedestal, we aren’t generally willing to rehabilitate them. 

Jesus isn’t interested in our disapproval of others.   He often says things like why does that speck in your brother’s eye bother you when you’ve got a plank in your own?  Jesus’ point is that focusing on the flaws of others is hypocrisy, because we never look inside and realize that we too are flawed.    Our disapproval of others keeps us from ever being honest with ourselves.

If we were more honest with ourselves, we would be less likely to ignore our flaws while feasting on the imperfections of others.   This honesty is what the Book of Common Prayer gets at when it says that penitence, the act of being sorry for our wrongdoings, begins with “self-examination” (BCP 612).    The fact that repentance is built on honesty may explain why John preaches and baptizes in the wilderness, a place where we are exposed and vulnerable, where the props of our old and familiar lives can’t sustain us and where we are dependent on another for help. 

Honesty is thus a pre-condition for spiritual growth and transformation, which is the goal of the Christian life, what St. Paul calls our life in Christ or sharing in the mind of Christ.   This idea of attaining a whole new identity is much bigger than the idea of sin and repentance often taught by much of Protestantism, which focuses on feeling sorry for individual misdemeanours.   Repentance is thus far bigger than feeling sorry for specific bad things that we may have done.  Repentance leads to a more Christ-like place where we can look charitably on others and want the best for them, pray for them, see ourselves in them, which is far better than wanting others cancelled for their crimes.

Finally,  John’s baptism involves the confession of sins (1.5) but does John have the power to forgive these sins?   Whatever power John has comes from another, as he admits.   John’s good news is that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit.  John’s baptism may be a sacrament, a sign of God’s grace, but Jesus’ baptism IS God’s grace, God’s plan and God’s power to remake us into the beloved children God always wanted us to be.

That’s the good news of Christ, that even though we are called into the wilderness, even though we are called to look deeply and honestly into ourselves, when we look back at Jesus we see only the transforming love of God.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

"Reaching For The Miracle": A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent


Preached at All Saints Church, King City, Ontario, Anglican Diocese of Toronto. 

Readings for this Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent:  Isaiah 64.1-9, Psalm 80.1.7,7-19, 1 Corinthians 1,3-9, Mark 13.24-37,

"And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”  (Mk 13.37)

“Keep awake” says Jesus, and it might be puzzling advice to those of us who have roused ourselves and made our way to this church.   We may not all be scrubbed and pressed and starched (honestly, I wouldn’t blame you if you rolled in here in sweats or PJs) but hopefully we’ve all had a hot caffeinated beverage and are ready to face the day.

And yet here we are, being told to keep awake.  We’ve heard these words before, quite recently.  The gospel for the second Sunday of this November was from Matthew (25.1-13), the parable of the bridesmaids roused in the night by the unexpected arrival of the bridegroom, which ends with Jesus’ warning, Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25.13).  

What is the risk in falling asleep?  Why does Jesus insist on our wakefulness?   Jesus was warning the disciples that the future was unknown to them, that they would miss some profound truth about him if they drifted into inattention and slumber, and this was exactly what happened.    We merely have to turn the page in our bible and such is Mark’s fast-paced gospel that we find ourselves in chapter 14, and Jesus is in Gethsemane with his disciples, the night of his arrest.

“Keep awake”, Jesus tells them, not once but twice (Mk 14.33, 14.38).  Even after swearing that they will stand by Jesus and die to defend him, the disciples drift off.   It’s almost as if the Garden is enchanted with some spell of slumber that overcomes them.  Jesus does not ask them to stay awake for a third time.  It’s too late.  The soldiers come with weapons.  The disciples run away.   Darkness seems to have won.

Perhaps it just wasn’t possible for the disciples to stay awake.   The gift of wakefulness hadn’t been given to them yet.    What do I mean by “gift of wakefulness?”

Mark’s chapter 13 is sometimes called the “the little apocalypse”.    It begins with the disciples oohing and aahing over the grandeur of the Temple of Jerusalem, leading Jesus to predict its destruction (Mk 1-2).   Naturally the disciples want to know when all this will be (Mk 3), and Jesus predicts a whole series of terrible events, calamities, and false prophets, but none of these will be predictive of anything (Mk 13).  The only sign that will mean anything, Jesus says, is his coming, “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 26).

Note how the Son of Man comes in a time of darkness:  “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven” (Mk 13.24), and yet “they will see him coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mk 13.26)  so how will anyone see him?   The only answer is that Jesus will be seen in and by his own light..  This idea is fully developed at the end of the Book of Revelation, when John tells us that the New Jerusalem will have no need of “sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of the God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb” (Rev 21.23).   

Last Monday our bible study group finished the Book of Revelation, and we were reminded that despite its strange events and mixed reputation, the book is properly called the Revelation of Jesus Christ.   Its subject is Jesus, the fully revealed Son of God, the one who conquers the powers of evil and death in the name of God the Father, the Alpha and Omega who lives outside of history.  The poor disciples never had a chance to stay awake in the garden because they were on the wrong side of the resurrection, with only a partial understanding of who Jesus was or what he meant to do.  The gift of wakefulness is thus the revelation of Christ crucified and resurrected, the one whose own light and life banishes the darkness of sin and death.  We are, to paraphrase J.S. Bach, as sleepers awakened by the light ofChrist.


We, the church, live on the right side of the resurrection.  We know who Jesus is.   We know because as church we are fed by scripture and the by the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist.    As church we live in a community formed by the Holy Spirit.  As church our values, habits, and actions are guided by our understanding as disciples of the kingdom of God.   As church we look around and realize that we have at least one foot in a new world, the world that the resurrected Christ proclaims when he says at the end of Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev 21.5).   As church our posture is wide awake, upright, straining forward to better see and grasp that new creation; as the Anglican theologian John Webster said, the church reaches out toward the miracle of Christ.

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”    I asked earlier, what is the danger if we fall asleep?   The danger is forgetfulness.    In the ancient idea of the underworld, one of the rivers that the dead crossed was called “Lethe”, named for the goddess of sleep and forgetfulness.   Sleep for the church means forgetting who Jesus is.  Sleep takes us out of the new creation and out of the light of Christ.  Sleep puts us back in the garden, where we are like people who are medicated, not knowing who we are and what we are about.   In sleep we are prey to the dreams, and nightmares, that our culture might send us, and as Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, in the sleep of death, what dreams may come?    In sleep we are off our feet, unable to reach for the miracle of Christ, and so we settle instead for the worldly dreams, or nightmares that obsess and torment our human culture.

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”  What provisions do we need for this long watch, this time of waiting?  Some might say we’re tired, we’re old, there aren’t as many of us as there used to be.  Some might say there’s this virus, Christmas won’t be the same, church isn’t the same.  My friends, we have all that we need.   Writing to the church in Corinth, we hear St. Paul tell them that “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”.    Like those long-ago saints in Corinth, we have light, we have hope, we have a God who is faithful in all things.   We have all that we need.

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”  We light candles one by one, week by week, to show our wakefulness and our anticipation.    We make ourselves ready for the guest who is at our very gates, the king who will come to the stable.  Today, at the start of Advent, we are awake and on our feet, so that we too can reach out for the miracle of Christ. 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday Thoughts: Luke and Jesus' Entry in Jerusalem, Tim Keller, Cancer, and the Sovereign Will of God

A brief meditation focusing on Luke 19:28-40, Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Topics covered: Lordship of Jesus / Reign of Chist Hermeneutics Sovereignty of God Timothy Keller Nicky Gumble Salvation

Links: Tim Keller in conversation with Nicky Gumbel: Tim Keller on God's Sovereignty:

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Theology Drop: Michael Di Fuccia on Owen Barfield, the Value of Humility, and Attending to Transcendence

Hi!  Here’s a brief post to say that I've recently discovered a theologian, Michael Di Fuccia, who has some interesting things to say on spirituality, the contemplative life, and spiritual development.   Here he is in a Sept 2020 conversation with Michael (sorry, don’t know his last name) from a YouTube channel called The Meaning Code.  It’s a dense and far-ranging conversation.  If you only can give a few minutes, pick it up at 103:10 until about 1:09.  Michael Di Fuccia talks about how, if we want to attend to transcendence and be instructed to it, then that posture will entail a fair degree of humility.    That’s a stance that I think we could all take more consistently on our social media platforms.

Michael Di Fuccia was a student of the Anglican theologian John Millbank (co-founder of the Radical Orthodox movement), and has recently published a book on Owen Barfield, who travelled in the same Oxford circles as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.      Barfield is not someone who was on my radar screen - he is briefly mentioned in Humphrey Carpenter’s book The Inklings (1978) as a student of Coleridge and of a German early 20th century spiritual and philosophical movement called Anthroposophy.  You can find some of Barfield’s writings here.

Di Fuccia is also associated with The Martin Institute, an organization inspired by the Christian writer Dallas Willard and dedicated to spiritual formation; it hosts an interesting site called Conversatio Divina: A Centre for Spiritual Renewal.  

On that site you can find a resource called 12 Spiritual Practices For A Pandemic, which looks fascinating - I’ve bookmarked for further study.

I pray that this is helpful and that God goes with you today.

Cheers and blessings,


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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Making the Kingdom Real ; Remarks for FaithWorks Sunday and the Reign of Christ

 This Sunday in the church year is known as the Reign of Christ the King.  It marks the end of the liturgical year, and is always followed by the first Sunday of Advent.   The readings for Christ the King are eschatological, in that they point to the final establishment of Christ's promised kingdom.  While my efforts today focus more on a diocesan initiative than they do on this occasion, I commend to you this very fine sermon by Brother Jim Woodrum, SSJE, although it focuses on slightly different readings for Christ the King.

For this Sunday, 22 November, the Diocese of Toronto is asking its parishes to focus upon FaithWorks, the Diocesan annual appeal to fund specific ministry partners supporting a wide variety of clients - the homeless, at-risk youth, refugees, newly released convicts, and many more.  The video below is part of my appeal to the parish of All Saints to meet and exceed its support total fo last year's Faith Works total.  It's not much of a sermon and it likely won't interest those of you outside the parish, but it is, as I say towards the end, an opportunity for us to live out the charges that Jesus gives his church in our gospel reading from the end of Matthew 25, in which Jesus spells out the criteria by which he will judge the nations on his return.

It's remarkable how these criteria - welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, feeding and caring for the hungry, visiting the prisoner - match the various goals of our FaithWorks mission partners.  Supporting the work of FaithWorks aligns with our vocation as disciples, to participate with Jesus in making the kingdom of God visible to the world.   Jesus says in Mt 25 that the full reality of the kingdom will come into being on his return, but he also says that in the temporal space between the now of these last words before his arrest, and the full glory of his return or parousia, there is ample opportunity for his disciples to make the kingdom real in their acts of charity.

The final collect in our Book of Common Prayer for the Sunday before Advent prays that God will "Stir up ... the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of thy good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded" (BCP p. 259).  Our reward doesn't have to wait until the return and judgement of Christ.   Our reward can amply found in doing the things Christ asks of us, such as supporting our FaithWorks partners, and thus finding the joy of serving a ruler far more real and more satisfying than any other the world may offer us.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday Thoughts on Psalm 102, What Penitence Looks Like, and Smol Owls

I've been doing these Friday thoughts based on assigned readings from the Daily Office Lectionary for four weeks now - in some quarters, that might count as being enough repetition to merit the term tradition!  At any rate it's becoming a habit, and not a bad one, I think.

References for today:

I hope this is helpful to you and that you find it worth sharing.   God be with you today.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

You Are God's Investment: A Sermon on the Parable of the Talents for the 24th Sunday After Pentecost


Preached Sunday, November 15, 2020, at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, the Diocese of Toronto.Readings for this Sunday, the Twenty Fourth Sunday After Pentecost:: Judges 4.1-7, Psalm 90.1-8,12; 1 Thessalonians 5.1-11, Matthew 25.14-30

14 “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.


Today’s sermon is about the Parable of the Talents and how Jesus wants us to use the time we’re given to help him to make the world a better place.   But first, let’s reframe the parable into today’s terms.


Without any instructions, God gives you a bag of gold.  Or, more usefully, because gold is hard to spend, without any instructions,  God transfers millions of dollars into your account, because talents in the ancient world represented a lifetime’s wages for most people.   So what would you do with it?

I think that if you knew God, and if you understood your vocation as a disciple of Jesus, then you wouldn’t treat this windfall like you would treat Lotto 649.  So you wouldn’t buy that Porsche, or that cottage up north.    You might talk to Carol Ann at the King Food Bank, or talk to Dave Gordon about clean water in Pikangikum, or put the money to some other use that might serve the purposes of the kingdom of God as you understood them.

This sermon is not, by the way, a stewardship sermon.   If you read the letter I sent out last week along with your statements of givings to this parish, you know how grateful I am for all that you contribute to All Saints.    The people of All Saints understand the purposes of the kingdom of God, and do what they can to further those purposes.

In fact, this is not really a sermon about money, because I don’t think the parable of the talents is really about money.   It is certainly not a celebration of capitalism, as some have suggested over the years, because the master is treating the three servants as his wealth managers.  

Yes, the master wants a return on his investment, and he says as much to the third servant (25.27).  But the master knows how bankers work!  He could himself go to the bankers with his wealth, which he instead risks with these three untried people.  It’s a very strange degree of trust, especially as he doesn’t seem to give them any instructions.  Focusing too much on the master’s need to accumulate wealth also seems to ignore his notable generosity to the first two servants.   The master seems more compelled by the pleasure of giving and rewarding than he is by gathering even more wealth.

I think the parable only makes sense if we understand the master as Jesus, who here in the final chapters of Matthew is predicting his departure for a time until his return.  So if the master is Jesus, then what is he using the parable to say to his disciples?

The parable comes just before Jesus’ words about how we will come to judge the nations.  What will the nations be judged on?   All humanity, Jesus says, will be judged on how they have treated others.  Did you care for the hungry and thirsty?  Did you clothe the poor?  Did you visit the prisoners?  Welcome the stranger?   Those who did these things, Jesus says, will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25.34).   The language of reward here is very similar to that employed in the parable, when the first two servants are invited to “enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25.21, 23).

Understanding the parable involves understanding the master’s motives, which as I’ve said are primarily generous.  The master wants to share, wants to reward those who have helped him make the world a better place.    The master’s anger seems to be reserved only for those who do not share in this spirit of generosity and charity.   How does it benefit anyone for the third servant to hide the wealth, and merely return it out of fear of punishment?     While the third slave is punished, it seems that his punishment began the moment that he chose to hide and guard what he was given, out of misplaced fear of a master who is fundamentally and extravagantly generous.  What a squandered opportunity!  

Finally, we come to the thorny issue of judgement.    As we get to the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear what he wants of his disciples, and makes it clear that there will be consequences for those who do not meet those expectations.   If you fear the final words of the parable, the “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, always remember that these words are spoken before Jesus dies on the cross, before Jesus fully opens a new era of grace and mercy.   We need not fear God.  As I said last week, the gospels should never inspire fear at the prospect we all face, that one day we will stand before God and we will be asked, “what did you do to serve the kingdom of my son?  What did you do to make the world a better place?” and Jesus, in his love and mercy, will stand beside us before God as our advocate.

Today this parable comes to many of us who are late in life.   You might say, “have I done enough in my life”?  “Is there time to do more?”  “What more can I do?”  It may be that our gifts, our energies, our disposable income are not what they once were, though surely God, who gives us what we have, knows this fully.    Even so, I think of two elderly men who in the last years of their life used their gifts well.  

Mel was a greeter at my last parish, always at his post in a sharp suit and a broad smile and a bulletin.   Even when he suffered the embarrassment of waiting for his dentures, and was too embarrassed to smile, he still smiled with his eyes as he gave you a bulletin.  Brother David was ancient and stooped, but whenever I visited his monastery on retreat he would stand at the entrance to the dining room, silently and warmly greeting each guest as they passed.   Both men had rich lives, and even at the end of their lives, used their gifts well and richly repayed their master.   I like to think that I will see them again, and that they will greet me with love and warmth when I am called to face the master in my turn.    

May it be with us as it was with Mel and David, so that in our turn we may hear those words, “enter into the joy of your master”.the third person (24.27).

Friday, November 13, 2020

Why Psalm 88 is Better Than Just Screaming in Pain

Friday Thoughts on suffering and why Psalm 88 is better than screaming into the void.

This video is a longer version of a reflection I write each Friday for a friend's parish devotional email.  
This week I talk about our various approaches to our experience of suffering (I'm a little biased, as I say at the end, because I watched my wife die slowly of cancer and it has given me some time to think about this issue).

Other thinkers drawn on:

Please leave a comment if this made you think and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel if you would like to hear more.  

Be well,


Thursday, November 12, 2020

N.T. Wright's God and the Pandemic: A Short Review and Resonse


 Our parish recently completed a reading and study of Bishop N.T. Wright’s short book, God and the Pandemic, and the following is a brief distillation of the notes I wrote for those sessions.  (If you don't have the time to read the book, you can find one of many interviews with Wright here).

Wright approaches the pandemic as a problem of theodicy, and his resource for answering this, not surprisingly, is as a biblical scholar.   He rejects any idea that the coronavirus is sent by God as punishment or curse for sin.  In times such as this, he argues, that church has no easy answer to explain the pandemic, and the only thing we can say is already complained in the psalms of lament (eg, Ps 22, 44, 73) of the innocent sufferer.

The question of “why”, Wright says, is essentially the wrong question.   The innocent sufferer’s question of “why” has already been asked by Jesus on the cross, and has been already been answered in the revelation of the new creation that we see glimpsed in the resurrection.   Since the question has already been thus answered, Wright argues, it is fruitless and even pagan to ask why a sovereign god would do or permit such things and how can we appease that god?

The question the church needs to answer, rather, is what Wright calls the “spirit-driven imperative” of “what”, as in what can we, the church, do when people are in deepest need?  A biblical-historical example of such a practical response is found in Acts 11, when the church in Jerusalem debates how to address a coming famine (Acts 11.27-30).    Their response is to focus on a practical, boots-on-the-ground response, by asking who can we send and how can we help?  This approach shows “one of the great principles of the kingdom of God – the principle that God’s kingdom, inaugurated through Jesus, is all about restoring creation the way it was meant to be.  God always wanted to work through loyal human beings(32). 

Not surprisingly for anyone who knows his work, Wright invokes Romans 8 and Paul’s description of creation groaning to be free from its suffering (Rom 8.19-25).  Rather than endure this time of groaning with “Stoic resignation”, the church works with God even as it shares in creation’s groaning, sharing the tears of Christ and also the hard work of Christ.

Besides the work of Christ (healing, feeding, caring, as per Matthew 25), the church’s work is also to hold the world to account.  This truth-telling could include speaking about our misuse of creation (did we eat things outside the food chain that caused this pandemic?) but also addressing our tendency to idolatry (how many of the poor will be sacrificed to the economy in the recovery from the pandemic?).  What we think of as secularism may actually be a time when certain “pagan subtexts” (wealth, medicine, sex, even war) are elevated at the expense of a vision of all of God’s family, regardless of wealth or race, which Wright argues is the original vocation of the church as a model of a new and diverse creation.

In his final paragraphs, Wright expresses some frustration with the restricted role of the church during the pandemic, as shutdown restrictions stifle its voice and witness.  While not dissenting from the public health need for such restrictions, Wright argues that “Public worship of the Triune God, in a public place, - observing whatever security measures are appropriate – has always been a major part of sending out that signal to the watching world” (69).  

I was interested that in reading this book with some parishioners, they were not deeply interested in the biblical framework of Wright’s book.   Rather, their response was to go straight to the practical, asking what we as a church can do in our community, which I suspect, given his reading of Acts 11, would gladden Wright’s heart.

Recently I listened to a discussion between two pastors, Paul Vander Klay and Paul Anleitener, that included their churches’ response to Covid 19.  Anleitener noted that he didn’t think the North American church, which was still in survival mode, had begun to think how to understand the suffering that the pandemic has brought, though he noted wisely that this may not be a problem in the developing world.   If he is correct, then Wright’s wise and Christocentric approach to theodicy is something that the church needs to understand clearly.

 I commend this little book to you as a kickstarter to your own theological and pastoral responses to Covid 19.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

Being Lightbearers. A Sermon for the 23d Sunday After Pentecost.


“Lightbearers.”  A Sermon for the 23rd Sunday After Pentecost.  Preached at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, Diocese of Toronto, 8 November, 2020.

Readings for this Sunday:  Joshua 24.1-3a,14-25; Psalm 78.1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18; Mathew 25.1-13

6 But at midnight there was a shout, "Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.

From my first day of Basic Training, the Army taught me to be ready and on time.   Preparedness, or readiness, as the military calls it,  is taken to sometimes comical lengths.   If the Major wants the troops ready to board the trucks at 06:00 with all their gear, the Captain will order them to form up at 05:30, and the Sergeant will have them up for a gear check at 04:30 and then out and waiting for the trucks at 05:00, because sergeants believe you can never be too ready or too early.

Today’s gospel reading, the parable of the bridesmaids, is about being ready and prepared, but ready and prepared for what?   How do we interpret this parable? 

We can start with context, noting that this parable occurs in the middle of two chapters (Mt 24 and 25) where Jesus speaks about his death and his return.   He warns repeatedly that the timing of his return will be unexpected and unpredictable:  “you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24.44).  

He also warns that his return will be a time of judgement, when he will hold his followers accountable for their actions.  He makes this point implicitly in the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25.14-30) and explicitly at the end of Mt 25 when he says that he will judge people by whether they treated others well or poorly (Mt 25.31-46).

In this context, the parable seems to warn us, don’t be like the foolish bridesmaids.  Don’t be unprepared for Christ’s return, because then you’ll be punished.  You’ll be shut out of the banquet, you won’t get into heaven, which is the punishment in this section of Matthew’s gospel for those who aren’t found worthy on Christ’s return (Mt 24.51, 25.46). 

The problem with this sort of reading, other than inspiring anxiety and fear of judgement in those who hear sermons of this type, is that it doesn’t tell us what we’re supposed to do?  What does it mean to have be a wise bridesmaid?   What does the lamp in the parable signify, and what am I supposed to do with it?

So if you’re hearing this and worrying that you might be found wanting when Jesus returns, that you might be locked out of the banquet, well don’t be.  The gospel shouldn’t inspire fear. 

Following a long tradition of seeing the church as the bride of Christ  (Eph 5.22-23, Rev 21.2.9-10), we might see ourselves as bridesmaids, and we might see the lamps as our vocations as disciples and followed of Jesus, as his light bearers in the world.   That light was symbolized in the candle that we give to parents and godparents at baptism., when we quote Jesus words at the end of the Beatitudes:  

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

We, the baptized, are all wise bridesmaids.    So what is a wise bridesmaid to do?  We are to be lightbearers.  We show the light of Christ to a world that knows too much darkness.  We become a beacon of hope in a dark Covid winter (though winter is decidedly late this year!).   We shed light on injustice.  

As lightbearers, our good works give glory to God.   As lightbearers we feed the hungry,  care for the lost, clothe the poor.  We use gentle speech, we model a kindness and love for others that the world needs to hear more often.   We explain as best we can who we are and what we believe, for those who need to hear it (1 Pet 3.15).  We bear our trials with patience, like this pandemic, and we help others with the same trials.  That’s what we do as wise bridesmaids and lighbearers.

This winter you’ll hear me talk a lot about light and about our role as lightbearers.   We as church have been entrusted with showing the light of Christ to the world, a light that will be sorely needed in this Covid winter of cold and isolation.  

As church, we need never worry about this light going out.  All we need to do as church is hold that light as high as we can, and let the bridegroom do the rest.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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