Saturday, October 31, 2020

Just Ordinary Saints: A Sermon for All Saints Day

Preached on All Saints Day at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, Ontario, Diocese of Toronto, 1 November, 2020.

Readings for this Sunday:  Revelation 7.9-17, Psalm 34.1-10. 1 John 3.1-3, Matthew 5.1-12

"These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.”  (Rev 7.14-15)

 Vincent Loquès probably didn’t think of himself as a saint, but it seems that the people who knew him would have called him one.   For ten years he was the sexton of the Roman Catholic basilica in Nice, France, charged with looking after the building and welcoming visitors in this popular tourist city.    Parishioners remembered him as a devout Christian, with a ready smile, who fed refugees and dedicated his life to serving the church and looking after his family.

Likewise, Simone Barreto and Nadine Devlillers probably didn’t think of themselves as saints.  Simone was a mother of three and worked as a caregiver to the elderly, and had gone to the basilica to pray last Thursday morning.   Also there on Thursday was Nadine, another devout parishioner, described by friends as kindness incarnate.   

All three were brutally murdered, just before the morning mass, by a man with a knife who seems to have gone to the church just to kill Christians.

Vincent, Simone, and Nadine were not saints as the term has been traditionally defined.  They performed no miracles of note, and were not known for their teaching.   They seem to have been ordinary, faithful persons who had answered a call to put God in the centre of their lives.   In this respect, they were saints.

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a motley group of followers of Jesus in a distant city.   He addressed his letter “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.”   Writing in Greek, the word he used for saints was hagios (ἁγίοις) which means set apart or holy.  In Latin the word hagios became sancti or holy ones, and so to English as saints.

In St. Paul’s theology, one was made holy, one was made a saint, by answering the calling of God.   It wasn’t that God called only the perfect or the pretty good to be saints or holy ones – Paul was clear that, left to our own devices, humans can act quite awfully.   Rather, answering God’s call to live a life of devotion and love allows us to become holy.  Thus the lives of the faithful, even ordinary people like Vincent Loquès, show admirable qualities that pointed others towards God.

Another way to think of saints is as friends of God.  Friendship means a personal connection, both between the believer and God, and between fellow believers.   All of us can think of special people in our lives who seem to have embodied some spiritual gift or quality that inspired others.  As good friends do, these people were there for us in hard times, they taught us, they helped us, and made us better Christians and better people.    They are and were our friends, and they are and were God’s friends, and so we think of them all, across the ages, joined together in a great communion of saints, a great company of friends of God.

Vincent, Simone, and Nadine were friends of God, and they have gone to join a particular group of the saints that we call martyrs.    Today “martyr” is a loaded word that we need to use with great care.  Thanks to terrorism, it has come to mean somebody who seeks a glorious death through violent action for the sake of a cause.  This is not how the early church understood the word.

Martyr comes from a Greek word meaning witness.   Martyrs were those who were persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ, and thus testified to Jesus through their suffering.   The historian Tom Holland writes that the courage and faith of the early Christians, decent, harmless people, inspired revulsion against Roman persecution and led many others to Jesus.   Our brother and sisters in Nice likewise appear to have been ordinary, decent, faithful people.  They did not seek to be marytrs, but by their lives and by their deaths, they point us to God.

One more thing needs to be said about how we understand martyrs.   God does not demand martyrdom or sacrifice.   God never wants violence met with violence.  As Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the peacemakers”.    God loves his friends.  God gathers his friends and comforts them.   Thus, in the vision of the martyrs that we hear today from the Book of Revelation, the martyrs are rescued from their “great ordeal”, they are gathered around the throne of God, and there they are comforted.

There is no easy theological answer to why God allows suffering.   We cannot tell why good people experience horrific deaths as the three in Nice did.  Neither can we say why our loved ones suffer cancer, or why we lose them to dementia.  However, the Book of Revelation promises that God will come again and set all things right.   Pandemic and cancer, war and hunger and injustice, all these things persist for now.   We can only trust that they will be swept away when Christ returns to perfect God’s work of creation, which as Paul writes in Romans, groans in distress as it awaits its rescue.

Likewise, we trust that God’s friendship remains with us and with all the saints, even in our distress.    God sees the suffering of all his friends.   Jesus in the Beatitudes blesses the suffering, the ignored, the inconsequential, the mournful.   God does not abandon God’s friends.   

Perhaps, then, it is helpful to think of martyrdom as taking many forms.   We can be called to be hagios, friends of God, and still suffer with cancer, or dementia, or poverty.   We can experience crippling loss, can mourn a loved one who has left a huge hole in our life, and still be called to be a friend of God.  God’s friendship does not buy us immunity from suffering.   God’s friendship means that we won’t be alone through suffering, and so we can still bear witness to God, still be a saint and an example to others, eve in the midst of our suffering.

Without God in our lives, we might default to some idea of stoicism, to getting through the pain and indignity of a meaningless life as best we can, with whatever dignity we can manage.   Christians on the other hand, following St. Paul, use terms like patience, perseverance, and endurance (eg, Heb 12.1) because we see beyond pain to something better.   Thus Jesus in today’s gospel speaks of the how God will “reward” the blessed who suffer (Mt 5.12), and St. John sees the martyrs comforted and sheltered at the throne of God (Rev 7.17).

The saints and martyrs who have gone before us are now in the care and keeping of God.  We say as much at the end of every funeral service, when we commit or give the loved on into the keeping of God.  They have not ceased to exist.     The holy dead are with Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and thus they exist outside of time as we know it.  

My late wife Kay liked to say that she loved receiving the eucharist because at that moment Christ is most present, and in taking communion she had, as she liked to put it, crossed the space/time barrier. and briefly entered eternity.   She put it well.   Receiving the eucharist, even in this attenuated, pandemic form, is to briefly step outside of time, and into the eternal company of the communion of saints.  

So, as you come forward today, know what you stand in the company of the dear and faithful ones you miss.  You stand with the faithful who built this church 160+ years ago.  You stand with Vincent, and Simone, and Nadine, and all the saints and martyrs who have gone before us.   We will stand with them again, on another shore, in the full presence and love of God and the Lamb.


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Pandemic and Promised Land: A Sermon for the 21st Sunday After Pentecost

A Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday After Pentecost.   Peached at the 8:00am service, All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, Diocese of Toronto.


Readings for this Sunday:  Deuteronomy 34.1-12, Psalm 90.1-6,13-17, 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8, Matthew 22.34-46


4 The Lord said to him, "This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, "I will give it to your descendants'; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there."  (Deut 34.4)


This week a friend told me how she had arrived at the nursing home where she had settled her father, after much heartache, and found out that her father had been placed into isolation because the staff feared he had the C-difficile bacteria and was infections.  No one had bothered to tell her.   As if the rigours of the coronavirus precautions weren’t restrictive enough, now my friend finds herself totally cut off from her father in what are likely the last months of his life.


There are countless such stories of isolation, disappointed, and unfinished stories in these days of pandemic.   Many of us feel caught up in a long journey where we are aren’t sure where we’re going, when we’ll get there, if we’ll get there, and who will cross the finish line with us.   The times feel indeterminate, and disappointment hangs in the air.


The beauty of the lectionary is that it has a way of speaking into the context of the day, if we listen.    The story of Moses and his end, cut off from the people he’s lead and denied the reward of the promised land, seems especially apt for today.


Moses is told by God that he won’t share in the reward of this long march out of Egypt.    After all that he’s done, dealing with the complaints and betrayals of his people, standing between them and God, he’s told that he won’t cross the river Jordan.   All he gets is a vision of the promised land from a mountain top.


He passes away, and even though he’s praised for his “signs and wonders” and “mighty deeds “ (Deut 34.11-12), his grave in the wilderness is forgotten and unknown.  His people take time to mourn him, and then they move on.


The Lutheran scholar Matt Skinner notes how this story and the way Moses is dropped from the great story of the Exodus feels right at a time when death is all around is, and when we are cut off from our loved ones.  The incompleteness of Moses’ story and his being left by the wayside may remind us of the ones we are cut off from, of the ones who died and who will die without friends and family.  Moses’ lonely and unknown grave may make us think of  the funerals and memorial services we can’t attend in this time of plague.    The seeming injustice of Moses’ death is thus mirrored in all sorts of small ways in our own life.


And yet, God is faithful.   It is called the Promised Land for a reason.   God is faithful to his promises, and it’s ok to trust in good.   Dr. Martin Luther King knew that when he drew on the story of Moses for his I Have A Dream speech.   Just days before his murder, King seemed to sense that he wouldn’t finish the civil rights journey with his people, but he had faith that God who freed African Americans from slavery would not abandon his people


God was indeed faithful.  Another leader, Joshua, was appointed, and in the generations to follow, when Israel was settled, and then lost, and resettled, and lost again, God sent prophets and a Messiah.   God’s people were never abandoned.  God’s faithfulness remained active in their midst.


We have no guarantees of when this time will end, and when we can see loved ones, when we can see relatives in hospitals and care homes, when we can visit graves that we never had the chance to mourn at, when we can see children and grandchildren far from us.    But we have faith that those days will come, because the Lord is with us.   

The Promised Land is out there. 

 God will bring us to it.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Dual Citizens: A Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost.


  Preached at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, Diocese of Toronto, on Sunday, October 18, 2020.

Readings for today: Exodus 33.12-23, Psalm 96.1-9, 1 Thessalonians 1.1-10, Matthew 22.15-22.


“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22.21)

This is the time of year as winter approaches when, at least before there was Covid, many of made sure that we kept our passports up to date and looked forward to using them to go somewhere nice and warm.   

A Canadian passport marks us a fortunate person, a citizen of one of the freest and most prosperous countries in human history.    We get a passport because we are a good citizen, law-abiding and of good character, and we agree to use it lawfully.

Somewhere in your house, you may have your baptismal certificate, probably from long ago, but you probably don’t take it with you when you travel.   You don't even need it to get into church!  It never expires, and even if you lost it,  you still have a cross on your forehead, , marked in holy oil by a priest who is likely long dead,  a cross, which, as our baptismal liturgy puts it, “marks you as Christ’s own forever”.   That cross wasn't put there to fix your original sin, or to be a ticket into heaven.   Rather, it was the sign of a vocation that we spend our lives trying to understand and to live out, our vocations as citizens of the kingdom of God.

Passport and baptism therefore are a kind of dual citizenship, showing that we belong on one hand to a nation of the earth, but also making us a citizen of the kingdom of God.   Generally we tend to hold these kingdoms of earth and heaven apart, as secular and secular, having little to do with one another, and yet in the Lord’s prayer we acknowledge that God’s kingdom has an ultimate claim on our loyalty when we say “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven”.    Baptism reminds us that we ultimately belong to God’s reign, started here on earth in Christ and fully brought into being at the end of time in the New Jerusalem, when the nations of the earth have passed away.

Jesus was born into a people who believed that they were first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God.  They believed that God lived among them, in the Temple in Jerusalem, and claimed every aspect of their daily lives and obedience.   In today’s gospel that view is represented by the Pharisees, while the other group mentioned, the Herodians (of whom little is known today), seem to have felt that faithful Jews had to give a little in order to get along with the ruling Romans.

The problem was that Roman rule was an insult to the Israelite’s view of the sovereign authority of God.    Jews had to pay a tax to support the operations of the Temple with a Roman coin showing the image of the Roman EmperorTiberius, and the coin was stamped with the words TIBERIUS CASESAR SON OF THEDIVINE AUGUSTUS, thus claiming that the emperor was the son of a god.   The coin used to pay the temple tax, a denarius,  thus invalidated the whole point of the Temple, which was built to house and honour Yahweh, the one true God, whose law prevented the worship of idols and images of other gods (Deut 5.8).

The obvious trap for Jesus then is to force Jesus into either supporting rebellion (don’t pay the tax) or blasphemy (pay the tax with the idolatrous coin) but in asking his adversaries to produce a denarius, Jesus not only uses it as an object lesson in the two kingdoms but also, as is often noted, implicates them by making them find the coin in their own pockets!   The move effectively says, “OK, smarty pants, tell me how you can even ask me this question when you’ve obviously found a way to live with this pagan idol in your pockets?”  Jesus thus shows his adversaries that even good Jews have to find ways of remaining loyal citizens of the kingdom of heaven while living within the Roman empire.

It’s significantly easier for us to be citizens of Canada and baptized subjects of God.   That loonie or toonie in your pocket or purse is in itself idolatrous.   It bears the image of the monarch, whom our Prayer Book calls “thy chosen servant”, and for whom we pray that she “may above all things seek thy honour and glory” (p 70).     The Queen embodies lawful authority for her subjects, including myself when I served as an officer in the Forces and held the Queen’s commission.  However, as Christians, even as we give thanks that we live in a country as peaceful and well regulated as Canada, we recognize that there is, in Jesus’ words, a difference between the things of the emperor and of God.

In my first sermon to you, I used the example of our church and our government’s historic roles in the native schools as an example of systemic sin, so that even well-meaning people could at the time participate in a system set up to wipe out a whole culture, and in my opinion, “cultural genocide” is an appropriate term for what happened.   Our church’s involvement in supporting the people of Pikangikum in northern Ontario is part of our witness that our country has often failed indigenous people who fully share with us the image of God and the face of Christ.  It is precisely when our citizenship in our earthly country of Canada is unequal that we should fully engage in our common baptismal citizenship with our indigenous brothers and sisters and their ministries,  while calling our earthly nation to repentance and renewal.

It has been often thought that Jesus’ words about the coin give the emperor a free hand to do what he wants in the world, while consigning the things of God to some vague spiritual realm that has nothing to do with earthly things.    Even worse, some churches wrap themselves in flags and say that God actively blesses the Caesars of the day and cheers them on.     Nothing could I think be further from the truth.   Our baptismal status, our second passport if you will, means that we are not just citizens, but we are also called to be prophets.

Our baptism calls us to speak God’s truth when our country needs to hear it.   For example, as we seem to be heading into a second lockdown, I’m reminded of something someone said about the first, that it was never really a lockdown, but rather it was rich people staying home and buying things that poor people delivered to them.   Once again it seems we will be heading into months where those of us who can afford to work from home celebrate the “essential” and “frontline” workers who are paid little and who face greater risk.   Meanwhile refugees, such as the families that we and other churches were trying to bring to Canada, continue to be locked down in camps in dangerous third world countries.

The English theologian and bishop N.T. Wright reminds us that just as after the financial crisis of 2008, when “the banks and the big businesses, having accepted huge public bail-out money, quickly got back into their old ways, while the poorest … just got poorer and stayed that way”, the same can and will happen again if the church remains silent and lets Caesar and Mammon, the idol of wealth, have their ways.     Speaking as citizens of God would mean that the church returns to texts like Psalm 72, where “The righteous ruler] delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. / He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy”.    Wright’s vision is for the church to help the world and its leaders, to call them to “wise human leadership” that “bring about fresh and healing policies and actions across God’s wide and wounded world” (God and the Pandemic 75).

As we move out of the season of Thanksgiving and into what appears to be a difficult winter, let’s always thank God that we live in such a peaceful and prosperous country as Canada.   Let’s continue to pray for our Queen and for all our politicians, that God lead them and inspire them to do the most good for the most people.  But, as God’s baptized citizens, let’s help our fellow Canadians see and honour those who are not always seen and honoured --  the poor and the marginalized, migrant and trafficked workers, indigenous Canadians and refugees – because we can be sure that they are loved and honoured in the kingdom of God.






Friday, October 16, 2020

Friday Theology: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Covid, and Community


Psalm 133

1 Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when kindred live together in unity!

2 It is like fine oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard,

3 upon the beard of Aaron, and runs down upon the collar of his robe.

4 It is like the dew of Hermon that falls upon the hills of Zion.

5 For there the Lord has ordained the blessing: life for evermore.



In September 1938, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a short and influential book on Christian community called Life Together.    He began this book with the first verse of Psalm 133, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”   In a time when the Nazi authorities were increasingly oppressing churches, Bonhoeffer wanted to define what authentic and essential Christian community looked like.  He chose Ps 133.1 to show just why it is not just a happy thing -  “good and pleasant” - for Christians to be together, but that community (Gemeinsames leben) is necessary for our flourishing and for our existence as the people of God and the Body of Christ.

Christian community for Bonhoeffer is a place where we experience grace through the Word, the gospel of Christ, which we tell to one another, both in our worship as well as in our friendship and encouragement to one another as we face the challenges of our daily lives.    Our community is totally dependent on the Word.  Without Jesus Christ in our midst, we can not know God or call on God, and nor can we know other Christians.   Christian community, in short, is where we experience Christ, and is the place where the world can see Christ.

The great challenge of this pandemic is that it hinders the church’s freedom to live together.   Some buildings stay shuttered, and others have cautiously opened but constrained in what they can do.   Many of the faithful rightly choose to stay home and protect themselves and others as they need to.    While these limitations are regrettable, they scarce compare to those imposed on the church in times of persecution, yet Bonhoeffer knew that the church was most real in times of hardship.  In such times, he wrote, the mere presence of other believers is “an incomparable joy and strength to the believer”.  Why not then choose one person you haven’t seen face to face in a long while, reach out to them, tell them that they are blessed and loved.  Let that moment be a place where you can both experience and know Christ.



Saturday, October 10, 2020

Authentic Gratitude: A Sermon for Harvest Thanksgiving


 A Sermon for Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday (the Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost), Preached on 11 October, 2020, All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, Diocese of Toronto


Exodus 32.1-14, Psalm 106.1-6,19-23,  Philippians 4.1-9, Matthew 22.1-14



Thanksgiving, the time when we take stock of our blessings, traditionally thought of as blessings of the earth, and when, ideally, we think of others as ourselves.   Thanksgiving can be thought of as an attitude that is sometimes expressed in prayers and hymns.   I want to suggest today that thanksgiving is best thought of as the church’s posture, as a spiritual default position.

The Christian write Anne Lamott has written that the best prayers she knows are ‘help me, help me, help me” and “thank you, thank you, thank you”.     It’s a wise observation.   We might go beyond it to say that all prayers, or at least, all prayers that we typically pray, fall into the two categories of “please” and “thank you”.

In their everyday use, both prayers are born out of urgency.   We might pray “please help me” when we are racing to the hospital after receiving terrible news, or when we want the pain to stop.   We might pray “thank you” when we receive a clean bill of health, or when we get to the hospital and find that our loved one is ok.    I can’t prove it, but I think that we are more likely to pray “please help” than we are to pray “thank you”, because I think that fear is a stronger motivator than is gratitude.

 The Israelites in our first lesson certainly seem to be fear motivated.    One would think that they would be in a place of gratitude, having been freed from slavery in Egypt, but that was a long hard journey ago, and now they are in the wilderness, and their leader Moses left them to go up Mount Sinai to speak with their terrifying God, and who knows what happened to him?  The Israelites want security, and if they have to make a God to deliver it, especially a God they can comprehend, then so be it.

 It’s often said that the story of the Golden Calf is about idolatry, but it’s also a story of a Thanksgiving celebration that goes horribly wrong.  What’s particularly tragic about this episode is that it is an example of misplaced gratitude.   Not able to trust or understand the God they have, the Israelites make a god themselves and then thank them:  “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”.   The Israelites want to give thanks on their own terms to gods of their own making, who will ask nothing of them in return.  It’s left to Moses to literally beg the true God of Israel, the terrifying God who freed his people and promised them a great future in return for their loyalty.  Being thankful to a God who makes demands on us is authentic gratitude.

 Like the Israelites in the Wilderness, we as a people resist authentic gratitude because of the vulnerability that it entails.   It’s enormously tempting to turn away from the God that might make demands on us, and to place our faith in things that ask nothing of us.   It’s easy, especially at Thanksgiving, to be grateful for the things we have, especially in a wealthy and beautiful place like King Township.   We may not make golden calves, but we are inclined to put our trust in gods that we can comprehend and which seem to offer security – prestige cars, ostentatious custom houses, private education, healthy lifestyles of cycling and hiking, and so on.  These things offer a sense of security and satisfaction, they tempt us to give them our trust and even gratitude that we have what others lack.

It may be tempting to say that we have nothing to learn from the Exodus story because its God is unlikeable – jealous and manipulable..  Moses’ appeal to God to think of his reputation (what will they say about you back in Egypt if you wipe out your people?) makes God seem petty and cranky, a king who must be managed by his advisors (sound familiar?).   If we can recognize this aspect of the story as being to some extent a literary device, we can see beyond the narrative aspect to the essential theology – that this is a God who hears prayer, who chooses mercy over justice, and who sets aside his anger at the shocking ingratitude and betrayal of the people God created.    We can see that the God of Exodus is one and the same with our Christian God.

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas has written that “God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt. There is no God but this God”.   This is a God who can be trusted in every sense, because this God is in the rescuing business.   This God is in the resurrection business.   This God is all about creation, life, freedom and renewal.   Why would we feel the need to make another god when we have this God?  Why would we feel anything but gratitude for this God?

 It can be especially challenging to feel gratitude to a God who might not give us ironclad guarantees of security, who might not answer every “please help” prayer with the prosperity that we might wish.  There is one place in the old Prayer Book service For the Blessings of a Harvest which I find helpful in this regard.  The authors of that service wisely included a prayer to be used if and “when the harvest has been defective”:

 Almighty God and everliving Father, who hast in wisdom seen fit to withhold from us at this time thine accustomed bounty: we most humbly praise thee for still bestowing upon us far more than we deserve.  Make us truly thankful for our many blessings; increase in us more and more a lively faith and love, and a humble submission to thy blessed will; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (BCP pp. 619-620)

This prayer is remarkable in that it says “thank you” when it really still wants to say “help”.   The harvest has not been good.   All is not safely gathered in.  Meals may be plain and infrequent this winter.   Even so, it says “thank you” for our real gifts:  faith, love, life, and even for God’s claims on our freedom to just look after our own interests and not share with others.  In times of scarcity, after a bad harvest, it would be all the more important to look after one’s neighbours, and all the more tempting to ignore them and hoard the little one has.

This prayer brings us back to gratitude and the difference between authentic and false gratitude.   Maybe the greatest difference between “help me” and “thank you” is that while the former is often simply primal, just pure raw need, “thank you” can sometimes be calculated in favour of our own interests and advantages.  Like the Pharisee (Lk 18.9-14), it can be tempting to say “thank you that I am not like” … like this person who has less than I do, like people who live in this war zone in this crappy country, like people who I see as being less important.   Idols and golden calves can seduce us into this kind of false gratitude.

Authentic gratitude is challenging because it makes us vulnerable – it exposes us to the needs of others and it does not meet every one of our perceived needs.  Authentic gratitude takes us away from ourselves and towards God, which is why in our prayer books we combine our thanks AND our praise.  Authentic gratitude means that we are grateful for the things that we hold in common with all humanity – the ability to love and be loved as creatures who all bear the image of God and who thus deserve equal dignity– and thus share what we have.


This Thanksgiving, may our gratitude be properly placed, with thanks and praise, in the living God who rescues us from sin and death, things that no god of our own making can do.    May our prayers of  “help me” be answered as we need and not as we deserve, and may our prayers of “thank you” be born of authentic gratitude which sees the love of God for all his creation and which compels us to love and share with our neighbours.





Friday, October 9, 2020

Are You In? A Short Friday Meditation on the Who's With Jesus in Luke 8.1-3

Hello and welcome to Mad Padre.

Sadly, the demands of the parish have forced me to curtail the daily devotions I was posting here this summer.  I regret that but there is only so much one can do in a day.

However, I have continued contributing a piece on Fridays for a daily devotion email that is sent out to members of my former parish, St. Margaret of Scotland in Barrie, and it occurred to me that these pieces may merit posting here on Fridays.

Each piece follows the daily office lectionary from the Canadian Book of Alternative Services, and today's assigned gospel text is from St. Luke's gospel as follows:


Luke 8:1-15

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.


When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”


Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that ‘looking they may not perceive, and listening they may not understand.’


11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.



(Fr. Michael)


There’s always a stock scene in an action movie, just before the final clash, which shows the heroes striding forward, usually in slow motion, stirring music playing.  They have determined expressions and hold their weapons confidently, telling we the viewers that the bad guys have no chance in the battle to come.  (Note - as en example, here's a scene from one of my favourite action films, Guardians of the Galaxy, starting at 2.10).  As I read verses 1-3 of today’s excerpt from Luke, I thought of what a good slo-mo film scene this would make, as Jesus, flanked by his twelve disciples, strides confidently towards the camera.  But wait!   Mixed in among the twelve men are some women – Mary, Joanna and Susanna, among others – their faces equally confident, just as much members of this team as the men are.


It’s interesting to speculate on why Luke broadens the focus on Jesus’ followers beyond the twelve male disciples.  Perhaps Luke, traditionally thought to have been a physician, marveled at how Jesus had restored them to health when human doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t touch them.   Think of the woman with the hemorrhage that Jesus meets shortly after this, who “had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her” (Lk 8.43).  Perhaps more interesting is the mention of “evil spirits” (Lk 8.2).  I wrote last Friday about the fact that Jesus is involved in a cosmic struggle as he faces down the evil powers who, as our baptismal rite puts it, “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (BAS 154).  These women know firsthand how Jesus has vanquished every foe in his path, including the evil spirits and diseases that plagued them.


Finally, we can note here in these three short verses a sense of how comprehensive and inclusive the kingdom of God is.    The gospel comes to all people – to insignificant villages as well as cities.   The gospel is proclaimed by a backwater rabbi and his ragtag band of humble fishermen, pariah tax collectors, former madwomen and housewives, thus proving the strategy that the seed of the kingdom should be scattered as widely as possible, to grow wherever it finds honest and good hearts to thrive in.   Here they all are now, striding purposefully forward in that big cinematic slo-mo scene.  Just imagine how good you would look in that big scene, striding purposefully along among the disciples.    Fortunately for us, Jesus is still casting, still looking for heroes to join the ranks, no auditions necessary.  Are you in?



Saturday, October 3, 2020

Being A Good Vintage: A Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached on Sunday, 4 October, 2020, the Eighteenth Sunday After Penecost, at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, ON, Diocese of Toronto

Readings for this Sunday: Exodus 20.1-4,7-9,12-20; Psalm 19, Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46



Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom  (Mt 21.43)

Last Sunday we talked about Jesus’ authority.  Today’s gospel, assuming that we accept Jesus’ authority over our lives, asks us to think about our accountability to Jesus.

Let’s begin though with noting the central metaphor of the parable in today’s gospel reading, the vineyard.    Jesus employs the vineyard parable frequently in these latter chapters of Matthew’s gospel (Mt 20.1-16,Mt 21.28-32), so it’s worth taking a moment to think through what the vineyard represents in terms of Jesus’ expectations of us as his disciples.   In asking what is rightfully owed to the landowner in the parable, Jesus is inviting us to think about what we owe to God.  What does God expect from us?   What do you think God expects to find when he visits our hearts?   Our church?

First, let’s think about vineyards.    Drive three hours south from here and you will find yourself in the Niagara wine country, a very pleasant destination in the summer.    If you are fond of these places, as I am, why do you go?  What do you hope to gain by going there?  Besides the stunning views of the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario, we go because we hope to come back with a few bottles of delicious wine.   We would most probably stop at those vineyards that look prosperous, have rows of well-tended grape vines, and staff that seem to know what they’re doing, who understand the science of soil and plants and the craft of turning grapes into wine.  Such a vineyard would seem to deliver on our expectations of that delicious wine.

In today’s gospel reading, the vineyard seems to have everything it needs to produce good wine: vines, a wall to protect them, the right equipment, and people to run it.   The landowner thus has legitimate expectations of receiving the fruits of the harvest.  But there’s a human resources problem.  The people in charge of the vineyard don’t care about the landowner’s rights.  They want the vineyard for their own, and kill everyone the landowner sends, even the landowner’s son.  

Who is the landowner?  As in last Sunday, the owner of the vineyard seems to stand for God.   Jesus’ original audience would have easily made this connection because of the many images in the Hebrew scriptures comparing Israel to a vineyard planted by God for the benefit of God’s people.   The prophet Isaiah for example uses an image that Jesus is surely drawing on in his parable:  For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting” (Isa 5.7). 

In Isaiah, God wants his vineyard Israel to grow good grapes that can make wine but all he gets are “wild grapes” (Isa 5.4).  The good grapes are the results of God’s people living by the covenant, the long agreement that God’s people would live well and respect God’s law, but instead, the elites of Israel care only for themselves.   As Isaiah explains it, God  “expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”(Isa 5.7).   

Here in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is having the same conversation with the elites of Israel, the ruling priests and elders, and by tricking them into siding with the landowner in the parable and agreeing that the tenants are in the wrong, Jesus gets them to admit that they are in the wrong.   Jesus is also predicting his own death – like the landowner’s son in the parable, he will be killed by the chiefs and priests, the tenants who have forgotten that God owns their vineyard.

How does all this relate to us?  In several ways, I think, beginning with the idea of accountability.    The covenant idea of Israel as God’s vineyard does not apply to us directly, but I think it is helpful in understanding God’s expectations of u as beings that he has created. All that we are and all that we have is a reflection of what God has given us.   Our individual lives as disciples and our collective lives as church are vineyards that God has given us to tend.  The season of Thanksgiving, which we celebrate next Sunday, reminds us that our relationship to God is always grounded in gratitude.  As the Prayer Book reminds us, quoting the Hebrew scriptures (1 Chron 29), “All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee”.

There are lots of passages in the gospels where Jesus speaks of his expectations if what he wants of us as disciples – the parable of the talents (Mt 25.14-30) being one example of the general idea that Jesus expects us to be his disciples in deeds as well as in name. As disciples, we are expected to help Jesus show the kingdom of heaven to the world.

This expectation is often summed up in the metaphor of being fruitful, as when Jesus tells the chief priests that “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21.43).   If we want to think of our own lives are vineyards that God has given us to tend, then God expects that we will be spiritually fruitful.   St. Paul uses this imagery most  famously in Galatians, when he describes the Christian virtues as fruits of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5.22-23).

Our accountability to God can seem daunting if we think of it as a series of good deeds that we must produce, like some spiritual quota that we have to achieve, especially as we are far short of perfect.   We can dispel this fear when we realize how badly God wants us to succeed and flourish.  In Isaiah 5, God sings a “love-song” to his vineyard, and asks “What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?”  Creating the vineyard is God’s dearest project, and in Jesus’ parable, the landowner pours everything he can into saving the project, including sending his Son.  

The parable shouldn’t make us anxious when we realize that the son comes to us as the gardener, someone who wants us to thrive and bear good fruit.  We only bear good fruit because of Jesus.  We couldn’t do it without him.  In John’s gospel, Jesus says “I am the vine; ayou are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15.5).   

If being a whole vineyard is too much to take in or feels overwhelming, it might be more helpful to think of yourself as a single branch in God’s vineyard, a branch connected to Jesus the vine.   However we think of it, let’s remember that the goal of the Christian life is to be fruitful.  Traditionally the church saw fruitfulness as being expressed in acts of charity and piety.  A fruitful life was expressed in acts of love and kindness to the poor and in acts of devotion and worship to God. 

These definitions remain valid and worthy but today we might add to them – we can also see fruitfulness as the absence of racism and hatred, as healthy community, and as a care for the environment and the earth as part of God’s creation.  Fruitfulness can be expressed in a hundred small and practical ways, and like a good perennial plant it should be deeply rooted in our lives and sustained by our relationship with Jesus.  Jesus deeply wants us to be fruitful, to show something of the kingdom of God to those around us.   Being fruitful is to live our best life, to flourish as God intended.

My prayer for All Saints is that we can be a fruitful vineyard, whose wines are as varied as our personalities and talents, perhaps ranging from dandelion and ice wine to crisp chardonnays and rich merlots, but all of us deeply rooted in Jesus, all of us a good vintage that will be pleasing to God and to others.



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.


Blog Archive