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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