Saturday, December 25, 2021

New Clothes for Christmas: A Sermon for the First Sunday After Christmas


Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 26 December, 2021.

Readings for this Sunday:   1 Sam 2:18-20,26; Ps 148; Col 3.12-17; Lk 2.41-52.


As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Col 3.14)

Reading this verse put me in mind of clothes, and how treacherous they can be at this time of year, for of all the Christmas gifts we can give, it seems to me that clothes are the most likely to disappoint.  What if they don’t fit?  What if the recipient doesn’t like them?  Or worse, what if the recipient wanted something more exciting?  We joke about the boring aunts or uncles who give yet another pair of socks at Christmas, or the poor dad who gets yet another ugly tie.  

 And yet at the same time we do feel the need to dress to celebrate Christmas.  “Don we now our gay apparel” says the old carol, and many people do just that, even if it is with tongue firmly planted in cheek.   Some wear ugly Christmas sweaters, Santa hats, reindeer antlers and Christmas ties to work.  Some of these items were even spotted on our All Saints Christmas Day Zoom service!

 What if God’s Christmas present to us was new clothing, not tacky, but stylish and comfortable?  What if these were clothes we would want to wear everywhere we go?

 Our reading from Colossians tells us to put on new clothes as part of our new life in Christ.  Of course the author of Colossians (who may or may not be Paul) is using a figure of speech.  He is using clothing as an image of how our relationship with Jesus has the power to change us and the way we live with and treat others.

 “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, [clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”.

 There are two things I’d like to focus on in this verse.  Both of them, I hope, will shed light on the Christmas mystery that we have just celebrated.

 The first is that God has reached out to us.  Colossians calls us “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved”.  Those words help us understand why Gabriel came to Mary and why the baby in the manger came to be born.   God reached out to us, stood with us, because he cares for and loves those who he created. Nobody was expecting this.  In the ancient world, the gods were lofty beings, sometimes cruel and uncaring, who had little to do with the physical world.  Even Israel, which had been chosen by Yahweh the living God, could not imagine that he would come to earth this way.  

 Peter Wehner, an ethicist and former politician, once said that Christmas was a revolution in human existence because it gave humans a dignity that they did not give one another.  “Christmas teaches us that human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences — love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears.”  

When you think about, this explains the preaching of someone like Pope Francis.  If God loves us, he loves everybody - you, me, the poor, the homeless, the refugee.  And if God loves all of us, how can we not love one another?   And if we love one another, how can we care for one another?

 The second thing I wish to point out is that we can care for one another because God has changed us.  Colossians not only calls us “God’s chosen ones” but it also says that we are “holy”.  How did we get to be holy?  Was it because we did something to impress God?  Well, no.  Someone once said that God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbour does.  The gift of Christmas is also the gift of a new way of living that makes it possible to love our neighbour as much as ourselves.

 One of the main ideas in Colossians is the idea of the new life in Christ.  Col 3:9-10 says that as followers of Jesus we have “stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self”.  This is the same idea that we hear in our baptism service.   In our passage today, Colossians goes on to describe some of the things that make up our new self, our new identity as Christians.  It would take too long to go through each of them, but let me point one thing about the new identity behind this figure of speech of new clothes.  

 “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.”  These are all social virtues.  By that I mean that you don’t practice compassion in solitude.  You don’t go off somewhere private to be kind and humble.   These are all things we do around other people.  We are compassionate and kind to those who are in need.  We are modest because arrogant and proud people think of their own needs way ahead of the needs of others.  We are patient with other people because, sometimes, other people take up our time and energy.    

 So, if compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience are the Christmas clothes we find under the tree, then they are clothes that are meant for wearing wearing in public.   We are kind to others.  We are humble and meek with others.  We are patient with others.  These are clothes to wear wherever we go, whatever we do. They are work clothes, lounging around the house clothes, Sunday best clothes.  And, in a very real sense, they are work clothes, because its wearing these clothes, acting this way, that others see our faith.

 Frankly, people need to see and to benefit from how we live out our faith.

 This Christmas Eve, an American psychiatrist and blogger named Scott Alexander posted an essay called “How Bad Are Things?”  He was reflecting on the human misery he saw in his practice, and he got to wondering, how many people out there have the problems I see? Is it just that only the most miserable people see psychiatrists, or is that many many people are miserable and only tell their troubles to psychiatrists because nobody else cares?

 As an experiment, Alexander studied the probability that people might have a problem that would make their life miserable, including but not limited to poverty, mental illness, abuse, or imprisonment, and then ran the numbers.  He concluded that our of every 20 people, 11 out of 20 have some problem that would make their life miserable.  That figure does not count all conditions that might make for misery, or the many people too shut in, poor or isolated to ever seek help.  Alexander’s conclusion was that “ The world is almost certainly a much worse place than any of us want to admit. And that’s before you’ve even left America.”  

 Alexander’s concluded that if you accept that things are this bad, then you should practise charity and philanthropy.  And this is from a man who isn’t arguing from a Christian point of view.   As Christians, these figures remind us that the incarnation is a gift for each generation of the faithful  to take up every Christmas.   We are all chosen.  We are all holy.  live the gospel together.   We are called to be part of a community of the faithful that is kind and compassionate, not just to our fellow believers, but to all those around us. 

 Let me finish with a final thought about Christmas clothes.  In my family the classic Christmas film was A Christmas Carol, the black and white classic with Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  In the opening scenes Scrooge is in black, sombre clothing, like the undertaker he sees waiting for his lonely, miserable death in the vision shown to him by the third spirit.  At the end, as Scrooge is a changed man, reentering the world, we see him pay a visit to his nephew’s house, and it’s a shock and a joy to see Scrooge in warm, festive clothing, and to realize he’s been transformed into a Victorian dandy.  It’s a visual way of showing Scrooge’s return to society and his discovery of the importance of human life.  

 The same is true of the Christian clothing given to us.  If you look under the tree you won’t find a tacky Christmas sweater.  You’ll find beautiful, comfortable, festive  clothing, far more costly than any designer label would be, clothing that will be a delight to us and to those around us.   So, on this First Sunday of Christmas, let us consider the gift of new life that God has given us.  Let’s put on this new life, wear it with pride, and show it to others who need that new life.  Amen.


Friday, December 24, 2021

Heaven and Earth: A Sermon for Christmas Eve

Preached on Christmas Eve, 2021, at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.   Lessons: Is 9:2-7; Ps 96; Tit 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Lk 2:13-14)

This Christmas Eve, in the second year of the pandemic, may seem diminished to those of us who were hoping for more:   more reunions with friends and family, more travel, more guests around the Christmas table.   We can take some comfort that we can gather together tonight for worship, a welcome step forward from last year’s Zoom Christmas Eve, even as we miss those of our parish family who can’t gather with us tonight.   Whatever your disappointments, whatever your fatigue at the end of this exhausting and unnerving year, take heart and take comfort from knowing that God is with us.

God is with us.  Isn’t that the distilled message of Christmas?  All through Advent we have heard the promise that God will come, a promise given to unlikely, ordinary people.  Tonight, in the old hymns and nativity stories, we hear that promise fulfilled.   Tonight relives us of our anxieties and small griefs that Covid has deprived us of a proper Christmas.   Tonight, we are reminded that Christmas is not something we do ourselves.   Christmas is God’s, Christmas is God’s love and abiding friendship and love, and Christmas comes to us and for us.    Tonight, heaven touches the earth, and especially those places that are darkened, sad, and lonely.  God is with us.

The nativity story from Luke’s gospel reminds us of who God particularly favours.  In a world run by emperors and kings, God arrives in a humble stable.  Outside the royal city of Bethlehem, angels are sent, not to comfortable, prosperous homes and palaces, but to shepherds in a dark field.  The good news of God’s favour is announced to all creation, to all humanity, and especially to those who need God most.   As the biblical scholar SarahHenrich puts it, Heaven and earth meet in obscure place The light came in those dark fields and that dim room in Bethlehem because God longs, has always longed, for us to know and love God”.

Tonight this message of good news comes to those in lockdown and isolation.   Heaven and earth continue to meet in obscure places, in nursing homes where residents are unable to see loved ones and great grandchildren, in hospitals where exhausted staff take their short breaks.  Heaven and earth continue to meet in obscure places, in the shelters and meager encampments of the homeless, in remote First Nations, and in lonely fields where the graves of residential school children wait to be discovered.  Heaven and earth continue to meet in obscure places, in the frontlines of Ukraine and Ethiopia and Taiwan and every other place where strong men bluster and threaten war.  Heaven and earth meet in our homes, even if they are not as festive or crowded as we would like them to be. 

Tonight we are reminded that God loves us, God favours us, and God’s peace is given to us.   May this good news comfort us, may this gift of God’s fill our hearts and give us peace and strength, whatever this new year may bring us.   Take heart and be joyful, my friends, for heaven and earth meet tonight.


Saturday, December 18, 2021

Pentecost at Christmas: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 19 December, 2021.  

Texts for this Sunday:  Mic 5:2-5a; Canticle: Luke 1:47-55; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-55.

41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  (Luke 1.41-42)


I love how the meeting between Mary and her relative (an aunt or cousin, possibly) Elizabeth brings together the very ordinary and the utterly extraordinary.    On the one hand, it’s a simple visit, two expectant mothers getting together to catch up and compare notes on their pregnancies.  Somewhere in that “Judean town in the hill country” is Elizabeth’s house.  In the cinema of my mind’s eye I can imagine Elizabeth bustling around a very ordinary kitchen, perhaps with a cat curled up near the window, and something fragrant simmering in a kettle on the fire.  Maybe Elizabeth drops something and clutches her swelling belly in joy and surprise as she hears Mary’s voice and the child “leaped in her womb”.   And that’s the point when we realize that there is really nothing ordinary about this scene.

Strange and miraculous events have brought these two women together.  In fact, God is everywhere in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, with its long (eighty verses!) prologue to the birth of Christ.   God is everywhere in this first chapter, doing impossible things, beginning the work of salvation.   Our clue to this presence of God is in Luke’s many references to the Holy Spirit, the agency or force by which God sets things in motion.   Elizabeth is “filled with the Holy Spirit” when she hears Mary, as if to underline not only the miraculous nature of these two women’s pregnancies, but also, in Elizabeth’s enwombed child’s activity, the relationship of these two sons yet to be born, the one, John, who will be the herald of the Messiah, Jesus.    Such is this strange and wonderful first chapter of Luke, chock a block with miracles.

It’s not that we’re not used to miracles (we hear about one or more in pretty much every Sunday’s readings) but I’m not convinced that as Anglicans we think enough about the Holy Spirit.   We think about the Holy Spirit mostly at Pentecost, or sometimes on Trinity Sunday if we actually listen to the preacher trying (and mostly failing) to explain the Trinity, but for most of the rest of the year we’re content to think about God, or Jesus.   And yet, something I’d never really thought much about before this week is how prominent the Holy Spirit is in Luke’s gospel, being mentioned four times just in the first chapter.  It’s like Pentecost takes over the Christmas story!

First, the angel tells Zechariah that his son John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit” and “will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God” (Lk 1.15-16).   Then, the same angel, Gabriel, tells Mary that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Lk 1:35) and she will conceive Jesus.   Next, as we have seen, when Mary visits her, Elizabeth “was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry” (Lk 1.41).  Then, after his son John is born, Zechariah is “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy”, which we know as the Benedictus (Lk 1.67), in which Zechariah describes how these two boys, John and Jesus, will respectively be messenger and bringer of salvation.   Finally, though it’s a bit of a stretch (the word “holy” isn’t used), Luke ends his first chapter by telling us that John grew up “and became strong in the spirit” (1.80).   Thus, four (five if we count the last) mentions of the Holy Spirit in this opening chapter.

 So what does all this mean and how is it relevant to us as we approach Christmas.  Here are three things that seem worth noting.

The first thing we can say is that God chooses ordinary people to save, to bless, and to work as part of God’s plan.  Considering that Luke 1 begins with a mention of “King Herod” and Luke 2 begins by naming a whole list of VIPs starting with “Emperor Augustus”,  God is wholly concerned with humble people going about their business.  At the heart of today’s gospel is an aging, infertile woman, a clergy wife, and her relative, a young girl from a little town in the sticks (Jerusalemites regarded Galileans as country folk with funny accents).  God chooses precisely these two to be the mothers, one of the man who will bring knowledge of salvation, the other to the man who brings salvation.  As Mary says, God has “looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant” (Lk 1.48).

The second and related thing we can say about the Holy Spirit in Luke is that it shows how God’s kingdom works by who it chooses to work with.   We see this most clearly in Mary’s song of praise that we know (and indeed, will sing today) as the Magnificat.    Mary’s song tells us that God is not that interested in “the powerful” and indeed has toppled them from their thrones.    God’s salvation, God’s love and concern, are for the “lowly”, for the poor, for those who have little food, no power, and scant future.    Mary’s song tells us that this Christmas, God’s heart and care is for those on the streets, for those priced out of the housing market, for those struggling to feed their children, for those on reserves without decent drinking water.    Mary’s song tells us that God is with those who benefit from the work of agencies like FaithWorks or some other worthy cause, and if you gave to FaithWorks this year, then thank you and bless you. 

The third thing we can say about the Holy Spriit is that it is not just something we wait for and hope for.  Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit is here, is with us, and has already acted.   Look at the verbs Mary uses in her song of praise.  They are in the past tense (there’s a longer Greek explanation for this).   God “has done great things”, God “has shown strength”, God has “lifted the lowly” , God “has filled the hungry” and has “sent the rich away”, God has “helped his servant” and has “remembered” his promises (Lk 1.49-55).  All of this gets back to what I said a few Sundays ago about how Christmas, in a very real sense, has already happened.   I think this insight can give us assurance and hope as we nervously watch the progress of the Omicron Covid variant and wonder if Christmas will happen this year.  No, Christmas will not be cancelled or robbed if its magic.  Christmas has happened.  The child was born.  He lived, died, and rose again.  We are saved.  The Holy Spirit is given to God’s church.  We are the body of Christ.   Christ is in the midst of us.   All of these things are predicted in Mary’s song.

For we the faithful, isn’t the true magic of Christmas is that, perhaps more than at any other time of year, we sense the miraculous and the ordinary mixed together.  Here in Elizabeth’s little house in the hills, in this meeting of two women touched by God, we see something of the pattern of our own lives.   We realize that we too have been chosen by God to fulfil God’s purposes, and equipped to do so by the same Holy Spirit.   In Mary’s song of praise, we hear our own calling to God’s justice and kingdom.  In the joy of these two women, we see our own freedom as disciples and followers of Mary’s son, our Saviour.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Joy Vs. Brimstone: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 12 December, 2021, The Third Sunday of Advent.  Texts for this Sunday:Zeph 3:14-20, Canticle 3 (Isa 12:2-6); Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:7-18.

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 

Today I want to talk about joy and how it is, and should be, a major part of our relationship with God.

There are other things we should take joy in, of course: our families, our skills, our hobbies and crafts, and our friends, even those friends that we sometimes find annoying.  You must have a few friends like that.

I met up with an old friend recently, someone who doesn’t seem like much of a believer, but who is fascinated by the fact that I’m a minister.   “Have you preached any good fire and brimstone sermons lately?”, he asked me.  “I like a good fire and brimstone sermon.”

I replied that fire and brimstone sermons weren’t really my style, and that as an Anglicans, we don’t go much for talk of God’s wrath and judgement.    “Pity,” said my friend.   “As a Scots Presbyterian, I like a good fire and brimstone sermon.”

 Well, if my annoying friend could be here today, I’m not sure I could find much in our lessons to satisfy him, because there just aren’t the makings of a fire and brimstone sermon.  I went through the lessons and highlighted what seemed to me to be the key words, as I often do.  I noticed a lot of verbs, telling us what to do and feel as God’s people.  Here’s what I found.

 From the prophet Zephaniah, and you’d think an Old Testament prophet would be good for some wrath of God stuff, I found these verbs:  “sing”, “rejoice”, “exult”, “renew”, “gather”, “save”, “praise”, “bring home, and “restore”.

 From our canticle, from Isaiah, I highlighted “saves”, “trust”, “sure defence”, “give thanks”, “cry aloud” and “ring out your joy”.  From our epistle, from Paul who is sometimes caricatured as being as dour as any Scot, we find “rejoice” (repeated twice), “do not worry”, and we are told to show our “gentleness”.

 The closest we come today to a barnburning sermon is John the Baptist, frightening the heck out of the crowds in the wilderness with his talk of the axe at the tree and the coming fire.  But here’s the thing about John as a preacher.  His message is, fundamentally, optimistic.   Luke says that John “proclaimed the good news to the people” (Lk 3.18).   John preaches that if we repent, meaning if we turn our hearts and lives to the one who is coming, to Jesus, then we will bear good fruits (Lk 3.8).

 In the dialogue between John and members of the crowd, we see what those good fruits might look like.   We see glimpses of a world where those who have share with those who don’t.  We see a world that isn’t run by corruption, fear, and brute power.   In this respect, John is preaching from the same script that Israel’s prophets all preached from.   In the short book of Zephaniah, which begins as a real fire and brimstone sermon, Zephaniah says that the doom of unfaithful Israel can be averted its people “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the lord, who do his commands, seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zeph 2.3).  

 The thing that the prophets all understood is that justice, hope, peace all come from answering the call of God’s kingdom.   It’s the call of God’s kingdom that gives rise to our deepest joy and wellbeing.   That’s why today, the Third Sunday of Advent, is still sometimes called Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word “Gaudete”, meaning “be joyful”.

Sure, there are plenty of things to worry about.  The word has plenty of messages that are, in effect, fire and brimstone sermons, using the “if you don’t do X, then terrible thing Y will happen” structure.  You know them:

 “If we don’t get Covid under control, more people will die.”

“If we don’t address the opiod crisis, more people will die.”

“If we don’t get global warming under control, the planet will die.”

 Absolutely, there are lots of things we should care about and fight for. Indeed, as subjects of the kingdom of God, we should fight for the poor, we should feed the forgotten, we should do our part to save creation.   But my friends, of all the things we should worry about, we should never, ever, fear an angry god.  That’s not the god of Israel, or the God of Jesus.

Advent is about preparing for the coming of the God who dwells among us, who stands with us, and who dies for us.   Advent is about opening our hearts to the one who loves us and rescues us.

 Let me close with this wonderful quote from Martin Luther King, from his “Sermon on the Afternoon of Christmas Day”.   Dr. King said, For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know and feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. 

My friends, this Advent, let us make ready to go to the manger with nothing but laughter and joy in our hearts.  Amen.


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Knowledge of Salvation: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent.

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, December 5, 2021.  Texts for this Sunday (Yr C): Mal 3.1-4; C 19 (Lk 1:68-79); Phil 1:3-11; Lk 3:1-6.


76And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. (Like 1:78-79)

“To give knowledge of salvation”.   These words are given by the Holy Spirit to the priest Zechariah after the birth of his son John, who we know as John the Baptist.   Now the birth of John to two aged and infertile parents was miraculous enough, but, says Zechariah, an even greater miracle is coming and John will be its messenger.    John will bring “knowledge of salvation” to his people by the forgiveness of their sins”.

Advent is, as I said last Sunday, many things besides a Christmas countdown.   Chiefly, I think, it is when we the church celebrate the message of the John, spoken in the wilderness, that we “shall see the salvation of God” (Lk 3.6).   Advent is about salvation, and Advent tells is that salvation is something real and certain and factual, something that we can have knowledge about and something that we can see with our own eyes.

Salvation is what we celebrate.   It’s what we’re all about as church and as disciples of the one we call our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  So what does “knowledge of salvation” mean to you?   What does salvation look like to you.   Do we understand salvation?  Can we be certain of our salvation ?   Can we explain salvation to others?

This last week I had the amazing experience of being in a room full of people who know what their salvation looks like and who can talk about salvation with confidence.

I met these people at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the first one I’ve ever attended.   Someone who is dear to me had asked me to come as a guest and see them receive their One Year Sober medallion.   I was not prepared for what a powerful experience this would prove to be. There was so much spirituality, honesty, courage and love in the room that I walked away thinking, “if church was like this, we’d have standing room only on Sundays”.

Here's three things that I admired about these people.  

First, I admired their total honesty.  Every one who speaks has to begin by admitting their addiction: “Hello, I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic”.   Each time someone introduced themselves that way, it didn’t seem rote to me.   Each speaker seemed to recognize that they had been in the thrall of something dark and powerful that had blighted their lives.   Often they spoke with a fearlessness that took my breath away. 

The guest speaker, a former policeman, told of how he had hit bottom in his career, about to be fired as a hopeless drunk, and one night he found himself on a meaningless duty in his cruiser with his gun in his mouth while trying to pray the AA serenity prayer.  As he said in his simple, matter of fact way, he felt that prayer was answered, and day by day since then he turned his life around.  That man knew about salvation.

Secondly, I admired their belief in a higher power.  You don’t have to be a Christian to be an AA member.  In fact, the person who invited me calls themselves an atheist.   However, if you know addiction is a power that can control you, as every AA member is painfully aware, then it stands to reason that you believe in a higher power (addiction), and so you believe only an even higher power can save you. 

In place of our psalm this morning, we heard the Canticle from Luke’s gospel, when old Zechariah blesses his son John the Baptizer and Herald of God.  Zechariah says “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shone on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1.78-79).  That cop with the gun in his mouth eventually passed out, and woke in the morning with his gun on his lap.  In his despair he had reached out to the God of compassion and in the breaking dawn he found a new life waiting for him.  That man knew who had saved him.

Finally, I admired the love in that room.    Everyone in that room showed obvious and sincere love and support for one another.   I don’t think you could stand up and speak with such vulnerability and honesty without that love and support.  People spoke with pride of how far they had seen one another come, and what a difference they had seen AA make in one another.   I saw this especially in the sponsors, for every AA new AA member is paired with an experienced member, usually an older person, who promises to be there day and night to offer support, help, and advice. 

I think that of that night when I hear St. Paul in our epistle today pray that God make the Philippian church “overflow more and more with [love] and knowledge and full insight” (Phil 1:9).   I think had Paul been there, he would have thanked God for what he saw in that AA meeting.  In fact, another invited guest there with me, a person who knows nothing about church or faith, said afterwards, “I don’t drink but I want to join this group, just because they’re such nice people!”  These people took joy in their salvation.

In summary, these people knew they needed saving, they knew who it was who had saved them, and they took joy in one another’s salvation.   I came away grateful to God for this experience, but as I said I also left wondering how attractive church would be if church people acted this way.

There are reasons why we don’t act this way, of course.    Some are just cultural.  Anglicans are usually restrained people, we let the liturgy carry our emotions and feelings for us, and we don’t use the language of “being saved” or “being born again”.   Fair enough.   Christianity is a big family, and different denominations have different spiritual gifts and languages.

I wonder, though, if we just haven’t thought enough about what salvation really means.    Do we think of salvation as a customs inspection, where our passport of faith and good deeds on earth are checked before we can enter heaven?  If so, then I suggest that this afterlife-based understanding of salvation is impoverished, and ignores Jesus’ many calls to think about the kingdom of heaven as happening in the here and now.

One of my favourite ways of thinking about salvation comes from Jesus’ words in John’s gospel: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10.10).    There are so many dark things and forces in our world that steal and destroy the best things in life.  Addiction is one, as our AA friends know all too well.  But we can find ourselves also hurt and isolated, distrustful, without meaning or purpose or hope, overwhelmed by guilt and self-hatred and doubting that God, if God exists, could ever love us and forgive us.

My friends, this Advent, I encourage you to ask yourselves, what does salvation mean for me?    What is it that I can’t control or handle by myself that I need God’s help with?   Have you asked God for help?  Have you prayed, simply and urgently, for salvation?  I believe that salvation is there for the asking, and there are lots of people in our church who could help you pray for it.

If you know what salvation looks like, if you’ve experienced God’s help and power, then I encourage you to ask yourself,  do I show joy in my salvation?  Do I rejoice that others are here with me, here in the family of God?  Have I done what I could to come alongside someone who is seeking salvation, to be a friend, mentor, and companion?

Let me finish with the same thought I finished with last week.   A church that could talk about salvation with the same confidence and knowledge that an AA meeting talks about salvation would be an awesome and attractive place, because joy and confidence in salvation is the best form of evangelism.


Friday, November 26, 2021

Heads High and Joyous: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, 28 November, 2021.  Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto. 

Readings for this Sunday:  Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:1-9; 1 Th 3:9-13; Lk 21:35-36

Predicting the future is a difficult business.

Every year at this time, smart people fill influential magazines and journals with predictions for the coming year.    To borrow Jesus’ words, this year’s crop of forecasts are full of “fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world”.     

According to The Economist magazine, in 2022 we can look forward to more tension and rivalry with China, more armed conflict, more Covid, more economic disruptions, more climate change catastrophes, less political stability, more dictatorships, less democracy, and so it goes.  

  You can tell times are bad when the editorial cartoonists drag our the “Four Horseman of the Apocalypse” theme, and it certainly seems like those dreaded riders will be busy in the year to come.  It can seem tempting to simply tune out the news and hunker down defensively (and truth be told, doomscrolling is never good for one’s mental health).

Perhaps even worse than anticipating a dimly seen future is getting mugged by a totally unanticipated future, lurking around the corner.   In his charge to Synod this week, Bishop Andrew noted that in March 2020, all of the carefully laid plans, budgets, and assumptions of our Diocese were thrown out the window by COVID.  But guess what?  Covid wasn’t the doom of the Anglican Church, which the pollsters and demographers said would be extinct in a matter of decades.

Well, guess what?  Since COVID started, we’ve been doing church in entirely new and unexpected ways, learning phrases like “Zoom”, “pivot”, “double vaccinated”, “livestream”, and of course, “you’re still muted”.   Unexpectedly, we learned new ways of bringing the gospel to the world outside our church walls.    Even throughout this pandemic time, we’ve seen that God has remained with us, showing up in phone trees, Zoom worship, and outdoor activities.  In the images shown this weekend at thus year’s virtual synod, I saw a wide variety of young people, of many different skin colours, doing innovative and passionate ministry all over the Diocese.

Why has our church kept going?   Our church keeps going because God keeps showing up.   God will keep showing up.   That’s what God does.  That’s what gives the church hope.   We have God’s promise that we will get by, even flourish, even in scary times.  That’s Jesus’ promise to us in today’s gospel.  In the parable of the fig tree, Jesus compares the coming of the kingdom of God to trees sprouting with the coming of summer.  It’s hardly a terrifying, apocalyptic vision of the future.  On the contrary, it’s a beautiful, reassuring promise that God wants God’s people to thrive and prosper.  God’s people are not meant to cower in some shelter.  Instead, Jesus says,  “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Lk 21.28)”

Today we start Advent, a time of joyous waiting.    What do we wait for?   This season, Advent calendars not withstanding, is not a Christmas countdown.   Bethlehem has happened.  The babe has been born.   The angel song has sounded and continues to sound.  As Isaac Watts wrote long ago, the world “Repeat(s) the sounding joy” of the angel choir.   Joy is the Christmas emotion, as the old carols tell us:   “joy to the world”, “glad tidings of great joy”, “tidings of comfort and joy”.  We don’t wait for Christmas to be joyful.   We are joyful that God in Christ is with us in the world, in the church, and in our lives.  We are joyful that the babe of Bethlehem will return as the king of life in glory, for as we say in the  Eucharist, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again”.

As Christians we are called to be a joyful people.    Our joy is a gift from God, a sign of God’s work in our midst, and that joy should be a source of inspiration to others.   When Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, he asks how he can thank God enough for “the joy that we feel before our God because of you?(1 Th 3.9).  Paul is joyful because of the work that he sees God doing in this church, making them grow in love for one another and in holiness. 

Note that God’s work is not finished.   The church in Thessalonica is not a perfect church.   Paul prays that God “restore[s] whatever is lacking in your faith” (1 Thess 3.10).  Our joy comes from God’s determination to keep working in our midst, to keep adding to our faith, to keep adding to our happiness, to keep increasing our devotion to our ministries of service to those around us.  We are very much a work in progress, but it’s good work, and it takes us in a good direction, towards our completion in Christ, whenever God finishes that work in the world.

Until God finishes that work, let’s not be fearful of the future.   Don’t lose hope in where God is bringing us.  Don’t doubt God’s ability to increase our love, our faith, and our purpose.  Don’t give in to pessimism or fear.  God’s people don’t crouch defensively.  They stand upright, heads held high, looking to the good future that is God in Christ, who is, and was, and will be.  And my friends, here’s a clue for how to do evangelism:  when people stand upright, joyous and unafraid, others notice.  


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Revealing The Kingdom of Heaven: The 2021 FaithWorks Appeal


Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 21 November, 2021, The Reign of Christ.

Readings for this Sunday:  2 Sam 23:1-7; Ps 132:1-13; Rev 1:4b-8; Jn 18:33-37.

Where is the Kingdom of Heaven found?

When telling parables, Jesus often begins them with the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like ….”.    In these parables, Jesus tries to use ordinary images and simple stories to describe an alternate reality, something beyond the world his audience knows, where values, actions, and results are different from the realities of everyday life.  Think of the Kingdom of Heaven as a gospel reality, what the world would can look like when we as disciples of Jesus put our faith into action.

Today in the life of the church is called The Reign of Christ, the last Sunday before the new ecclesiastical year that always begins with Advent.    Our readings and prayers remind us that Jesus, that wandering and homeless teacher from Galilee, is the Son of God, the Word that was with God before all things, the Alpha and Omega of Revelation who is outside of time and yet who comes to every generation in our time to live and walk and comfort us.   

Today we remember who rules the Kingdom of Heaven, and who calls us to be his subjects.

What a fitting Sunday for our Diocese of Toronto to choose as FaithWorks Sunday.   FaithWorks is the charitable work of the Diocese and its congregations that for twenty five years has supported agencies that make the Kingdom of Heaven visible and real in our communities.   The two words, Faith and Works, together remind us that our belief put into action brings the Kingdom of Heaven closer to earth.

Today we will watch a short video that describes FaithWorks from a high up perspective.   

Next, a short video that takes us to street level and describes the work of one particular FaithWorks supported agency, Samaritan House in my own town ofBarrie.   I’ve chosen to focus on Samaritan House because my wife is a board member and through her work its how I’ve come to understand how FaithWorks funding does God’s work in a community.

Imagine that you and your children experience physical and verbal domestic abuse, so your home is no longer safe.    You may have no control over your finances, no income, few life skills, and no resources.   Where do you go?  Samaritan House’s Executive Director, Kerry Ploughman, explains how her agency helps victims of domestic abuse and violence find their feet in a safe environment so they can rebuild their lives.

How can All Saints help the work of Samaritan House and other agencies supported by FaithWorks?

This year the Diocese has challenged us to meet a target goal of $3800 in a campaign that ends on  New Year’s Eve.  That number is up from last year, and the increase is based on 1% of our envelope offerings from last year.

The good news is that All Saints has already raised $2,551.50 towards this goal, meaning that we only need to raise $1300 by the end of December to reach our goal.    With 73 families that donate to All Saints, we could reach that target easily if every family gave $20.  Of course, we could always give more.

Joy and I have written our own cheque for FaithWorks and put it in this Sunday’s offering.   I’m challenging each of you to write a cheque for FaithWorks for whatever you can manage and feel called to, before the end of this year.   We’ll update the congregation regularly with our progress.

If you’re reading this message in the King newspaper, you can always join us by sending your support to All Saints,12935 Keele St, King City, ON, L7B 1G2, or by calling our parish office at 905-833-5432.

Please contribute to this year’s FaithWorks campaign, and answer Jesus’ call to help make the Kingdom of Heaven visible on earth.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Duty of Memory: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

The Duty of Memory: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 14 November, 2021.



Master Corporal Byron Greff was a handsome young man from Red Deer, Alberta, and had just become a father.   He was part of a Canadian Armed Forces mission to Afghanistan, helping train that country’s National Army.   Just a little over ten years ago, Byron was killed in a suicide bomb blast in Kabul.   He was the last Canadian soldier to die in our country’s mission to Afghanistan.


A dear friend and chaplain colleague was Byron’s padre in Kabul.  I have a photograph of my friend, stone-faced and marching erect, wearing his padre’s black stole, in front of the eight soldiers carrying Byron at the start of his long journey home to Canada.  

It was the last of 159 such ceremonies, one for each of the Canadians killed in Afghanistan, our country’s longest and perhaps least understood war.

At the time, there didn’t seem much to say as these young men and women were carried up the ramps of military aircraft, or as they were buried in places across Canada.    At the military funerals I attended, I remember words acknowledging the service and dedication of the fallen, and promising that their sacrifice would be remembered.   In those same years, hundreds more veterans began long and difficult journeys to recover from life-changing physical, mental, and spiritual injuries.    Because ours is a small military, almost everyone in service at the time lost one or more friends in Afghanistan.   Some men and women I served with carry the names of their dead friends tattooed on their bodies, constant reminders of their fallen comrades.

Ten years later, what do we say to them, the dead, the injured and the grieving of this our country’s most recent war?    What do we say to the parents and families of Byron Greff and those like them?    What do we say to ourselves as Canadians, and, today, here in church, what do we say as disciples and followers of Jesus?

I think the first thing, we can say is that we will remember them, the message currently on our church sign on Keele Street.  We say these words as a promise to the fallen and to the injured, that we will carry their dedication and their memory in our hearts, that we will not do them the shame and insult of forgetting them.   Even masked and distanced, Canadians came to cemeteries and cenotaphs on Remembrance Day.   I also take heart from the growing numbers of Canadians who participated in battlefield tours before Covid, and I hear that these industry is starting up again as people travel.

The second thing we can do, I think, is to honestly grieve, to make room the mourning and sadness at these young lives lost.   Perhaps the sadness is sharper because this war is a recent one, and because its outcome is so tragic.   Recently the Anglican Journal spoke to the Rev. Doug Friesen, a retired Canadian Forces chaplain who served in Afghanistan, and asked him what he felt when he heard the news of the fall of Kabul.  “I was sad and disheartened”, Friesen said.  “We’d all hoped for a different outcome”.

Any war, any loss, even any training accident is sad and disheartening.   In Canada’s past wars, the grief was made a little easier to bear because we took comfort and pride in thinking that these sacrificed lives helped free peoples, end tyranny, and rebuild Europe.


 My father participated in the Liberation of Holland, and remembered crowds greeting his little troop of armoured cars, sometimes the first Allied troops the Dutch had seen.

We also saw crowds on the news this summer, but they were crowds of frightened people hoping to get on one of the last flights out of Kabul as the Taliban closed in.  


 Who can forget those images of desperate parents passing their young children up to the western soldiers on the walls around the runways?  

If there is any comfort we can take in such images, it is that these people wanted what countries like Canada had brought them, briefly, and at great cost.  They were expressing the same thing that the Dutch did in 1945, that they wanted freedom, education, food, dignity, and a future.     They hoped that the last planes would take them to countries where these things still existed.

That our soldiers did some good there, even briefly, should be for us a source of pride and gratitude.  Padre Friesen put it well when he told The Journal what motivated the troops we sent to Afghanistan.

“You meet the people and you see the challenges, and there’s a kind of shift in priorirites.  You go there and you just think, “Geez, I’d really like to help these people.”  I know that was the attitude of a lot of the service members – that they wanted to help the people of Afghanistan build a better future.   … Those Canadians that died in Afghanistan, they were laying down their lives in service of others, literally.  How do you get more meaningful than that?”

As Padre Friesen reminds us, Remembrance Day is about meaning.   The sacrifice of the fallen is meaningful to us because it imposes on us the duty of memory and gratitude.    We will remember them.     Let us also remember the living, the Canadian service men and women who have taken their place as the newest generation of veterans, who, in John McCrae’s words, have taken the torch from failing hands.    Let’s be vigilant not only to honour their service, but to see that those who still struggle are cared for, and kept from homelessness and mental illness.

Let us also remember the living, the people of Afghanistan left behind when the last plane left Kabul.    Since August, western aid has been essentially cut off after the Taliban takeover, a disaster on top of drought and crop failure.  This week, the United Nations World Food Programme reported that 23 million Afghans face acute hunger, and 3m children are malnourished.   


Many will die this winter.   I hope the Canadian government does not forget them.  I hope  that we don’t forget them.    They are, after all, the people that we fought for.  

In his comments to the Anglican Journal, Padre Friesen said that, as a Christian, the hunger and chaos in Afghanistan remind him of Jesus’ crucifixion.   “That looked like a failure, too.  But surprise, surprise, things really didn’t turn out that way.   As a Christian gain, I believe that there’s another forces her that’s not dependent on [military might].  This story isn’t over yet”.

I think Friesen is entirely right in pointing us to the cross.     Aren’t we, after all, people of the cross?   As Christians, we believe that God’s sacrificial love is the strongest force in the world.    As Christians, we understand that God calls us to love, to compassion, to reconciliation, and to peace. These things remain after the bitter cycles of revenge, hatred, and reconquest burn themselves out.  They must remain, if we are to have hope.   There is still hope for the people of Afghanistan, and for us  Indeed, our faith tells us that this is the only way that history can end, in God’s final victory of life and love.  And so we say to Byron Greff and to his fallen comrades without number, “thank you, and rest easy.  We will remember you, and we will remember those you gave your life for.  For God demands nothing less of us.”

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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