Sunday, April 25, 2021

Lost and Found Sheep: A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter


Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday 25 April, 2021, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

Texts for this Sunday:  Acts 4.5-12; Ps 23; 1 John 3.16-24; Jn 10.11-18

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  (Jn 3.16)

Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the choice of the scripture readings, and it invites us to draw strength from the powerful image of Jesus as a shepherd.    In describing himself as a shepherd, Jesus was drawing an image that was much beloved in the Jewish culture of his day.  It wasn’t just that sheep and shepherds were part of the landscape and fabric of that society, they were also embedded in it’s theology.  King David before him had been a shepherd before he ruled Israel, and the prophet Isaiah spoke of how God would come to rescue “his flock” Israel “like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isa 40.11).    The figure of the shepherd was a powerful image of God’s protection and guardianship, a mantle of leadership that Jesus was consciously assuming to show himself as the promised Messiah.

We all have own ideas of what a shepherd is, even if we know nothing about farm life.   These ideas range from the cute and cuddly – the little lamb held in loving arms -  to the fierce and protective guardian of the flock.   The latter idea animates the recent film Greyhound (, where Tom Hanks portrays a Navy captain guarding his convoy of helpless merchant ships from a menacing “wolf pack” of enemy submarines.  The film was based on the C.S. Forster novel The Good Shepherd, a title which was perhaps too religious for the studio, but the idea of the shepherd, vigilant, fierce, self-sacrificing, and protective, is on full display in the film.

Frankly, I find it more interesting and more inspiring to think about shepherds than about sheep.    I know that sheep are stupid, helpless, dirty, and vulnerable, and I know that’s me, I know that’s the state of my soul, I get it.   That’s why I know I need Jesus, because I understand that I need a guardian to keep me from wandering away and getting jumped by whatever spiritual wolves are out there.   Jesus has the qualities a shepherd should have – brave, compassionate and fiercely dedicated to his charges, and always on the lookout for the lost and helpless - because that’s who this gospel story is about, the lost and helpless. 

Because the gospel reading is often read in worship out of context, we often miss or forget the wider context.   Why is it that Jesus here is talking about good shepherds?   It’s because he’s talking t bad ones.  Jesus is actually speaking here to the Pharisees who he’s been sparring all through chapter nine of John’s gospel.   That controversy began when Jesus met the man “blind from birth” and healed him. 

This miracle triggers a long debate between the man and the leaders in charge of the synagogue he belongs to. Was this really a miracle, if he really was blind, and if Jesus really did heal him, then is Jesus from God?  If so, how can Jesus be from God since he healed the man on the sabbath and is therefore, according to the Pharisees, a sinner?    The man insists that Jesus must be from God, because otherwise, as he states reasonably, “he could do nothing” (Jn 9.33),and for that the Pharisees kick him out of the synagogue and deprive him of his community.  

People like this outcast man is whom Jesus is speaking of when he tells the Pharisees that “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (Jn 10.16).   In other words, this is what a good shepherd does.  He finds the strays and the lost, and gathers them together into his safekeeping – such a powerful and concrete image of God’s grace!  These lost sheep, like the formerly blind man, will recognize the shepherd’s voice because they recognize the one who loves them and cares for them.  Surely this is where faith begins, not in the intellectual acceptance of theological propositions or dogmas, but in the grateful recognition that we have received love and grace that can only come from God.  The Pharisees, who are locked in a defensive and suspicious crouch, are unable and unwilling to see Jesus for who he is.

“The hired hand does not care for the sheep”, Jesus says.   So there can be bad shepherds, like the Pharisees, but can there also be bad sheep?   I suppose the sheep safely in the fold might say, “Hey, we’re safe, we’ve got it figured out, we’re in the right place, the shepherd clearly loves us best”, but that would be self-congratulatory, even Pharisee thinking.   In reality, there are just two kinds of sheep, lost sheep and found sheep.  

“I once was lost, but now am found” says the hymn, or in the prophet Isaiah’s words, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Is 53.6), and we still would be lost without Jesus.  Which is all a poetic way of saying that churches are just a place for lost and found sheep, and there’s always room for more.  In another place, Jesus tells the disciples that just one lost sheep out of ninety-nine is too many for God:  “the will of your Father in heaven [is] that not one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18.12-14).   None of us are here because we’re better than others.  That’s not grace. We’re just here because the shepherd’s already found us, and is now off looking for others.

Here’s a final thought which I hope is encouraging.  Jesus says that the sheep need their shepherd because otherwise “the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (Jn 10.12).   A year into Covid, we all feel a bit like a scattered flock.  Our churches are closed, we’re scattered across the internet, and while we still hear the shepherd’s voice, sometimes that voice seems pretty faint and distorted during a Zoom call. Not everyone comes to Zoom church.  A lot of God’s people are somewhere out there, managing Covid as best they can.    We don’t always know how they’re doing.

This pandemic time, we need our good shepherd more than ever.   We need to remember that Jesus didn’t stop until he found the man who was exiled from his synagogue.  We need to trust that Jesus, fierce, protective, keen-eyed, is out there looking out for us and for others.    The Lord’s our shepherd.  We shall fear no evil.   Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, we’re thankful for you, our good and faithful shepherd, who watches over us and cares for us.  Give us the faith to trust in your care, especially when fears and loneliness threaten to overwhelm us.    Give us your compassion, so that we may also remember and reach out to those with whom we’ve lost touch.   Give us gratitude to welcome those you bring to our fold, to join us, who were lost and now are found.  Amen.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"Anything to Eat?" A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter


 A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter.   Readings for this Sunday:  Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3.1-7; Luke 24.36b-48.   Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 18 April, 2021.


Video Version:

41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.  Lk 24.41-42

Why does the risen Jesus ask the disciples for a piece of fish?   Maybe because he wants to put them at ease and help them get over the shock of seeing him.    Maybe it’s because he wants to prove his physicality to them (after all, he’s just appeared among them, as if out of thin air!).  Or, maybe because he’s just hungry.

As in all the post-resurrection accounts in the gospels, all three things seem to be at play.  In each appearance Jesus strives to calm and reassure the disciples (his “peace be with you” (Lk 24.36 in today’s reading), while also nudging them into a new awareness of God’s kingdom that will equip them to become the resurrected body of Christ on earth, namely the church.  And, in these accounts, eating and shared meals are important.  So today I want to talk about how these stories, and particularly food, give valuable lessons in what it means to be church.

Besides the broiled fish in today’s gospel, there are two other such episodes that I can think of, the shared meal at Emmaus that happens just before this one (Lk 24.30) with its obvious Eucharistic overtones, and the breakfast that Jesus prepares for the disicples while they are fishing at the end of John’s gospel (Jn 21.12).  In all these cases, something more than just eating is going on.  We also see hospitality and sharing, we see an awareness of what it means to be God’s people, chosen and forgiven by God, and we see a movement out into the world to share God’s blessing with the world.  In other words, we see the church in action.

Let’s start with hospitality.   In today’s gospel, Jesus models what it means to be the hungry guest, calling on the gathered disciples for food.   This is something more than friends getting together for a bite.  Once Jesus taught his disciples that the kingdom of God was given to those who care for others:  “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink , I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25.35). 

Perhaps this isn’t a test, but it’s an intimation of the work of the church, that the disciples of Jesus are a community that exists to care for others.   We saw a bit of that vision of that church taking shape last Sunday in our reading from Acts, when the early church pooled their goods  and “distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4.32-35).   The lesson seems clear: for the church to be church, it must be a community that practices hospitality.

Let’s move to what it means to be God’s chosen and forgiven people.  When Jesus appears, he says “Peace be with you”.  Why does he say that?   Well, yes, because he should be dead, and it’s unnerving that he just appears seemingly out of thin air, but also because these are his friends that abandoned him in the garden and denied him.   Jesus chose these people and they betrayed him – as if that’s the first time such a thing has happened. 

God’s people Israel did the same thing, rather frequently, really, but when he “opened the scriptures” (meaning the Hebrew scriptures), Jesus is pointing to this same story of God calling and forgiving God’s people, only this time putting the story in a new frame and new covenant.   We see the same dynamic in our first lesson today, when Paul tells the people of Jerusalem that even though they gathered recently to call for Jesus’ death, God offers them forgiveness and reconciliation (Acts 3.19).   Our faith is always about new beginnings.  God is loathe to close the door against us.

Just as Jesus extends his peace to the disciples before eating with them, so is forgiveness built into our very worship.   As church, we can only gather for the eucharistic meal after we repent and receive forgiveness.    As called and forgiven followers of Jesus, we view each other across the Lord’s table as equals, invited only because of God’s grace.   Here is the corollary to our call to feed the stranger – we do so because we are fed by Christ’s body and blood shared in love and grace.  We have no right to expect this meal, which we receive in gratitude, and so we are reminded not to be condescending or ungracious to those we feed, for all of us are fed by God.

 Finally, we are invited to share what we have received with others as part of our calling to be God’s blessing to the world.   Our gospel ends with Jesus calling on the disciples to share “that repentance and forgiveness of sins” are to be shared with “all nations” (Lk 26.48).   How does a small church do it’s part in this?   Locally, and starting with food. 

At All Saints we have abundant opportunities to do this, either by contributing to the King Food Bank (currently looking for tinned fruit or, as always, money), our monthly meals for the CrossLinks community (always ways to help there by offering to pay for ingredients) or to the larger communities we care about, including clean water in Pikangikum or the many local agencies we support through FaithWorks.   When we talk about our mission as a church in these contexts, we are talking about an ethic of love and care that Jesus models in his simple words to the disciples, “Have you anything here to eat?”

Let me close with a word about Covid, which sadly is not going anyway anytime soon.   While Covid prevents us from gathering together to share eucharist or church meals, it does not impede us from doing the missional things I just mentioned.  We can still give and still donate and still find ways to help.    We can still check on one another and make sure that those of us who are vulnerable have enough to eat and are looked after.  But at the same time, we are lonely. 

Many of you, I know, live alone.  Our Bishop Andrew realized this when after he urged us to take comfort in our shared family meals, only to apologize when many in the Diocese reminded him that they eat alone.   The single, divorced, widows and widowers, can’t share meals in this time of pandemic and quarantine.   Nor we can we go to church and share in the Eucharist, as our Collect today painfully and unintentionally reminds us.    So what personal comfort and solace is there for those sitting along at the dinner table?

“Oh that we might see better times!” says today’s Psalm.  That lament rings true for us now, as does the reassurance of the psalmist, that God hears  the calls of the faithful – and of the lonely.  Get the vaccine, pray for our leaders to muddle their way out of this, but at the end of each day (for Psalm 4 is a nighttime prayer), let’s trust in the Lord who makes us dwell in safety.

And each day, as we sit down to break bread, imagine our risen Lord, who walks through walls to give peace to his followers, imagine that same Jesus sitting across from you.  Draw comfort and strength from his presence, for no grave and no plague can keep Jesus from his people.  Remember that we are church, and that we will gather again, to see our God clearly in the breaking of bread, in the teaching of the scriptures, in the sharing of bread and wine, and in the mission which he calls us to.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Five Faith Facts About the Late Prince Philip

I never realized that the late Duke of Edinburgh was a convert to Anglicanism, that his mother became a nun in the Greek Orthodox Church, or that his mother's aunt converted to the Russian Orthodox church, married into the Tsar's family, and was a canonized martyr of the Revolution, or that HRH was committed to interfaith dialogue.

These and more details here.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Wounds That Heal: A Sermon For the Second Sunday of Easter


Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, ON, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 11 April 2021.   Readings for this Sunday:  Acts 4.32-35; Psalm 133;  1 Jn 1.1 - 2.2; Jn 20.19-31.

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” (Jn 20.25)

Video version:

When I was a child growing up in the church, I used to dwell on this verse from John’s gospel around Eastertime.     Just how big were these wounds, that Thomas could put his fingers and hands in them?  It was gross but strangely fascinating, as the macabre often is to children.

As we grow up in the faith, I think that we have a tendency to spiritualize the story of Thomas, so that we downplay the physical reality that the doubting disciple demands to see.  Instead, we place the emphasis on how Thomas gets past his doubt.  When he meets the risen Christ, he does not seem to want to touch anymore, and says simply “My Lord and my God!” Jesus seems himself to make this point when he says "Blessed are those who have not yet seen, and yet have come to believe".

The story is often taught in moralistic terms as a parable of faith.  Don’t be a doubter like Thomas, it is often said, but rather have faith in the resurrection and the spiritual reality of Jesus.  As N.T. Wright notes in his commentary on John, the story of Jesus and Thomas is “an encouragement to those of us who come later, to people of subsequent generations … [who} are all ‘blessed’ when, without having seen the risen Lord for ourselves, we nevertheless believe in him” (John for Everyone 2.154).

The architecture of Protestant churches, which typically feature an empty cross behind the altar, make this point as well.   The absence of a body on the cross points to the resurrection and the presence of the risen Jesus somewhere in the world.   As the angel says to the women at the tomb “He has been raised; he is not here” (Mk 16.6).  Perhaps its fair to say that Protestant devotional practices have led us away from thinking of the physical reality of the resurrected Jesus (dwelling on the Wounds of Christ was a common focus of prayer in the medieval church),  and to focus more on Jesus as a spiritual presence in life.

Sometimes the best theological answers use the word “both”.  Jesus is both a spiritual presence (he gives the Spirit to the disciples in his first post-resurrection appearance, sad that Thomas wasn’t there! Jn 20,22), and a physical presence.  John is very clear that Jesus is there in bodily form, bearing the grievous wounds of nails and spear.  These wounds, which Jesus offers to Thomas, who now seems abashed by their reality, speak profoundly to who Jesus is.

In his very perceptive commentary on this gospel reading, Jin Yin Choi notes that the wounds themselves become a testimony to Jesus’ true identity.  Pilate tried to capture that identify, mockingly, in the words he put on the cross, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews”.  

Normally a king in the ancient world would have an elaborate tomb and monuments with inscriptions describing his deeds and glory.   Instead, Jesus comes with wounds inscribed on the body which God has raised from the dead.   Jesus could have appeared in some blinding and radiant form, as he did in the Transfiguration, to show the glory that the Son shares with the Father.  Instead Jesus appears to show his wounds, horrifying and graphic, which testify to a different understanding of God’s glory.

I said on Easter Sunday that John’s gospel begins with the Word/Spirit of God which takes flesh, and dwells among us.  Now, at the end, Jesus remains very much in that same flesh, though his body has been sorely abused.    Just as Jesus at the tomb told Mary that he would ascent to “my Father and your Father”, here Jesus is once again showing God’s solidarity with the humanity God loves.   It is as if Jesus says “Look at my body – here is proof that I am in this with you”.  The glory of God is thus seen in Jesus assuming our wounded and broken human condition, the fullest expression of his servanthood.   This pierced and broken body is the one that God chose to raise.   This pierced and broken body stands for our broken bodies.

As we grow older, one of the things we learn about our bodies is that the wounds accumulate.   Bodies that we know and in the case of our families and partners, that we love, become battered and diminished over the years.   We learn to trace the scars of accidents and surgeries on our loved ones, even come to terms with ostomies and amputations and all the many ways our bodies become roadmaps and books speaking of pain and sadness, while becoming graceful and beautiful in ways that those who still love them could not once imagine.   We also learn that not all scars – of trauma and abuse and loss – are visible.   Thus, as Jesus holds out his maimed hands to his friends, he is God saying, “I chose to bear and share this,  all this trauma and loss, with you that I love”.

This Easter, before we talk of new growth and new beginnings, let’s take a moment to think of the scars and wounds that we carry, inside and out.    Jesus, who healed so many in life, stands before us in his very particular, very broken, very resurrected body to show that nothing in human experience and human suffering is beyond the knowledge and power of God.    St. Paul writes in Romans that all creation groans for its healing and restoration.    Here is where that groaning is answered, here in a room whose door could not keep Jesus out.    Here is where our healing begins, in the outstretched and pierced hands of the one who death could not hold.    

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The Need to Touch and Hold: A Sermon For Easter Sunday


Preached on Easter Sunday, 4 April, 2021, to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.  Texts:  Ps 118.`-1,14-24; Acts 10.34-43; 1 Cor 15.1-11; jn 20.1-18.

Video version:

17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  (John 20.17)


There’s something unbearably poignant about Mary’s desire to reach out to Jesus and to be comforted by him, to hold him, to hug him, and then to be rebuffed.  We’ll consider why Mary can’t hold Jesus in a moment, but for now, let’s just dwell in her thwarted desire to hold on to her teacher and friend, miraculously returned to her.

Haven’t we all felt that thwarted longing in this last, long year of pandemic?   How many grandparents have longed to hold grandchildren, and how many visits have been conducted through windows at nursing homes?  How many friends have not been able to hug one another?   How many have died without holding a hand, save for the brief touch of a rubber-gloved nurse?   All of us, in this year of stasis and isolation, have known something of Mary’s longing to reach out and hold on to life.

I can’t explain why Jesus refuses to let her hold him.   He has previously allowed his body to be touched – by those seeking miracles, by those seeking to adore him and anoint him, by those seeking to arrest him, to harm him, and to kill him.    Perhaps something has changed in his resurrected form – the last chapters of the gospels hint as much in their references to a Jesus who mysteriously comes and goes, passing through locked doors.

And yet Jesus is not a ghost.   In the same post resurrection accounts, he eats breakfast with his friends, breaks bread with them, and allows Thomas to touch his wounds.   The resurrected Jesus is still embodied, as he has been since the beginning, when as St. John tells us, “the Word took flesh and dwelled among us” (Jn 1.14).

The new post-Easter order is not some triumph of spirit over matter, it’s not some transcendent escape from the gross, physical world as some have believed in the history of the church.   On the contrary.   The Resurrection is about God’s commitment to the flesh.  Jesus showed us the Father’s commitment to us when he called Lazarus from the tomb.   Likewise the God who raises Jesus from the dead, and who wishes to be our Father as he is Jesus’ Father, this God is totally committed to us.

Like Mary, we crave reassurance.   Like Mary, we want things to return to normal, to be like they were.  We want the damned pandemic to be over.   We want the churches to be full of people and song.   We want to hold our grandchildren and hug our friends.

Like Mary, we want to cling to Jesus.   Even if Jesus keeps a distance, and says “don’t hold me”, we need to hear his promise.  ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”   The promise of Easter is that the God who raises people from the dead is our God, our Father.  The same care and power that God uses to raise Jesus from the dead is given to us.

We can’t hold one another yet, and we can’t hold onto Jesus.   We don’t know when the pandemic will end, or what the future will hold.   However, Easter comes as it always does and reminds us of God’s commitment to us.   Our God, our Abba, our Father, who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise us from pandemic and lockdown.   Our God will raise us from our sins and from the pasts that may haunt us. Our God will reunite us with those we love and long to hold, now and when we arrive in the company of the saints.   Nothing – not plague, not fear, not death - can keep us from this God is life and love.   Happy Easter.

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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