Sunday, May 23, 2021

Five Marks of a Spirit Community: A Sermon for Pentecost Sunday


A Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, 2021.  Preached via Zoom to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.


Texts for this Sunday (Yr B):  Acts 2.1-21, Ps 104.25-35,37b; Romans 8.22-27, Jn 15.26-27,16.4b-15



"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. John 15:26-27


 Someone once wittily said that the Holy Spirit to Christians is a lot like Ringo Starr is to Beatles fans.  Either you take Ringo for granted and kind of forget he’s there, or you madly obsess about him as your favourite Beatle.   While some parts of the Christian family – Pentecostals and charismatics - are like Ringo fans,  very attuned to the Holy Spirit and its gifts and presence, I think most Anglicans tend to regard the Spirit as the most mysterious part of the Trinity.  We acknowledge the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but generally the Spirit is a bit of a stranger to our church, which is unfortunate, because the Spirit has never been a stranger to God’s people.


In our Monday bible studies, we’ve seen in places like Proverbs (Pr 8.22-36) and the Wisdom of Solomon (Wis 7.22-30) how God’s spirit of wisdom has been God’s partner since the creation of the world.   Prophets like Ezekiel recognized the spirit as the life-giving breath and force of God.  Peter in his sermon to the people of Jerusalem recognize the spirit as the gift of revelation, of God wanting to be known in dreams and prophesy.  Jesus, as part of his long farewell to his friends in today’s gospel, says that the Spirit will take up where he, Jesus, left off, as the presence and voice that speaks the Father’s words just as Jesus the Son spoke them.     The Spirit, then, is merely the continuation of God’s presence and speech to God’s people, but now at Pentecost the spirit is given a new task, namely the building of a new community, the church.


 Peter recognizes this new work of the Spirit in his speech to the people of Jerusalem.  Just as Jesus built a community of friends of God out of tax collectors and fishermen and faithful women, now the Spirit expands that community to include all races, men and women, slave and free.   That community becomes the church, and so this Sunday, Pentecost, is about how we are here because God is always building community.  The story of the appearance of the Holy Spirit is a story of God creating a community with a certain shape and character - let’s call it a Pentecost community.   What are the hallmarks of a Pentecost community?   


First, it’s a diverse community.    It’s gathered up out of all sorts of people, different languages and backgrounds, different walks of life.  The Pentecost community is not Wonder bread.  It has the same diversity that we see at All Saints, old Ontario families and new Canadians, settlers and refugees,  very different people indeed, who are all here because God wants us to be here.


Second, the Pentecost community is a called community.  It began in a core group of disciples, who were all called by Christ, but different people are constantly being added to the story, like the crowds attracted to the disciples in Acts.  Think back to when you first came to All Saints.   What was it that brought you here?   Whatever stage in the story we arrived at, we were called to be here.  And why were you called?  You were called because God loves you and delights in you and wants you to be fully alive.  Think of our Psalm and God delights in the leviathan  of the deep.  If God can love a giant sea creature, how much more does he delight in you, made in God’s image, adopted into God’s family as Christ’s brother and sister.


Third, the Pentecost community is a gifted community.  The Spirit was incredibly generous to the disciples, equipping them with gifts of languages so they could be heard by people from all over the known world.  We too have gifts and talents, even if they’ve felt buried away since Covid. way.  But think how people of this parish have faithfully turned out for Zoom church, of how the Friday prayers of a few have upheld the many for months now, or how we’ve kept up our ties with the Crosslinks community through cooked meals, love, and concern.  Even through Covid, the Spirit’s abundance works with our gifts in so many ways in our community, if we care to look for it.


Fourth, the Pentecost community is a community with a story to tell about God.  In Acts the people in the crowd say that “we hear [the disciples] speaking about God's deeds of power”.   This gift of tongues and gift of communication is in keeping with what Jesus ways of the Spirit in John: “he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27).  A Pentecost community tells people about God and about our hope in God.  I think of Harry and Judith faithfully updating our sign on Keele Street, or Kristen’s role in revamping and updating our website so people now that All Saints is still open for business.   In telling our story to the wider community, we are also telling God’s story.


 Finally, the Pentecost community is a hopeful community.   Peter says to the crowds in Jerusalem that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.  We are here because our Saviour rose from the dead.   The resurrection tells us that death will not have the last word, that plague and pestilence won’t last, and that God can’t be locked down.  We may be well schooled in death looks like.  Many of you are widows and widowers, and I grieve with you.    We grieve, but we come to Pentecost by way of Easter.  We are a resurrection people because, like it did with Jesus, the Spirit raised us to life.   We know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and we know that death will have no dominion.  We believe that God is not finished with us, that his work of creating the world is not yet done. 


So we don’t know when Covid will end, or what the world will be like, or what the church will be like.   What we do know is that God is determined to create a new world, one without Covid, without sin and death, without depression or cancer, without war or poverty, or any of the other things that we struggle with.  We know this because the resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s determination to rid us of these things.  


We may not know clearly how this will happen, but Paul says in Romans 8, in one of the most wonderful passages in scripture, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:22-23).


So we are a Pentecost people.  Our community is the church, which has carried on across the centuries, forming and reforming, speaking to us in our time.    And so we say, as a Pentecost community, as we do each Sunday, Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine.  Glory to God from generation to generation, in the church and in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Notable Quotable: Living your Neighbour Means Caring About Climate Change


From Dianne Randall, a US Quaker church leader, on how living our neighbour means loving our planet, on which all our neighbours:

 "As I wrote in June 2020, the Quaker call to love thy neighbor speaks more broadly to the world than it does to our immediate neighbors. We believe loving our planet first means loving its people. Earth, as Pope Francis wrote, is “our common home.” Therefore, we are all neighbors.

An Earth restored, a Quaker tenet of faith, recognizes that climate change has created global imbalances, resulting in unprecedented climate events. The negative impacts they spawn — from stronger hurricanes and flooding to long-term drought — are most often borne by the people not responsible for them and least able to adapt to climate change.

This inequity cannot be allowed to continue for future generations. We have to look at climate change through the lens of justice to stop the degradation of our planet."

Read the whole piece here.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Peace of Jerusalem: A Sermon for Jerusalem Sunday


Sunday, May 16. The Seventh Sunday of Easter and Jerusalem Sunday.  Readings for Today:  Acts 1.15-17,21-26; Psalm 1; 1 John 5.9-13; John 17.6-19


Since 2013, when the General Synod of our national church voted to affirm our solidarity with the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, thisSunday in the life of our Canadian church is known as Jerusalem Sunday.  It’s been a day when local churches across Canada are called to learn about our Anglican brothers and sisters in the Middle East, to pray for them, and to assist them in our ministries.

This year Jerusalem Sunday falls in the middle of an especially horrific cycle of violence in the region.  Disputes over evictions of Palestinian families from houses in East Jerusalem, as well as new security restrictions against Palestinians in Jerusalem, escalated into full-fledged exchanges of fire across the border of the Gaza Strip between the Israeli military and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group.   In Israeli cities, violence between Jewish and Arab groups threatens to destroy the multifaith and multicultural community and neighbourliness that has been a hallmark of Israeli society at its best.

In the midst of this conflict is the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem, made up of almost thirty parishes, 30 priests and more than 7,000 church members in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.  Besides its parish ministries, the Diocese is active in education and health care, and operates clinics and hospitals, including the Al Ahil Arab Hospital in Gaza City.  One can only imagine what the scenes in that hospital are presently like.   The Diocese also offers a ministry of hospitality to pilgrims to the Holy Land, including St. George’s College in Jerusalem, a place of learning, rest, and prayer.  The current bishop of Jerusalem is Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the fourteenth Anglican bishop of Jerusalem and the fourth Palestinian bishop.

On this day of prayer, in the middle of what may be a new war, the Diocese of Jerusalem reminds us of the role of the church as a witness to God’s commitment to love and peace.  As a minority in the middle east, the Diocese tries to model peaceful and respectful relations and dialogue between the nations and religions.   Now, more than ever, we need to pray for God to keep them strong, to protect them, and to bless their efforts to show the love of Christ to their neighbours.  In fact, this crisis invites us to think about why we are called to pray for other dioceses and regions of our Anglican Communion.

As part of our prayers and intercessions, it’s customary for us to pray for whichever part of the Communion comes up in the weekly cycle of prayer.   Sometimes these names are hard to pronounce and they are distant – there are so many Anglican dioceses just in Kenya and Uganda, and how can we meaningfully pray for them or know anything about them?   Here I would say two things.

The first is that today is an opportunity for us to think about how we are part of a much wider church.   All Saints may be just one of many diocesan churches, part of one of many dioceses in our national church, which is in turn just one of many national churches in our Anglican Communion, and so we are just a very small branch on a very big vine, to borrow Jesus’ words from two Sundays ago.   What unites us is that all of these churches exist to serve God, to be the presence of Christ in service to their parts of the world, and we all as churches have a duty to pray for all.

  On Friday for our Compline services, we recorded the nightime hymn, “The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended”, which includes those wonderful lines of how, as the sun marches across the earth, a part of the church is always awake to praise and pray:  “As over each continent and island each dawn leads on another day, the voice of prayer is never silent, nor do thy praises die away”.  We may never know those people and parishes we pray for on any given Sunday, and neither do they know us, but we pray for one another and for the fulfillment of Jesus prayer to the Father, that God guards the church as Jesus did on earth.  Because we exist in a companionship of prayer, we are reminded that our shared identity as Anglicans, as disciples, as proclaimers of Christ to the world, transcend any of our particular differences.   We are, in the words of that old hymn, “one in the spirit and one in the Lord”.

The second point I want to make is that the Diocese of Jerusalem, while it is no holier than any other part of the worldwide church, has a particular role in connecting us with Jesus and the physical and historical substance of our faith.   The Diocese, like all Christian churches in the middle east, lives and walks in the streets and fields where Jesus and his disciples and apostles lived and walked.   It reminds us that our faith is not some vague otherworldly piety or spirituality, but is rooted in the world that Jesus knew, that Jesus blessed, and in which Jesus called his disciples to continue his work in that same world.  

In today’s gospel, Jesus prays to his Father that “As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world (Jn 17.18).  So Jesus knows that his disciples belong in the world, even if they are not worldly, which is why he prays to the Father to protect them from the Evil One.  The Evil One can mean anything that seeks to undermine and corrupt the children of God – anything that has to do with lies, violence, corruption, and human power.  We are seeing the effects of systemic evil in this current violence.  I say this without wanting to portray one side or another as evil.  I have nothing to say to you about the rights and wrongs of what is currently happening in Israel and Gaza today.  I would merely say that both sides are enmeshed in a process that is evil because it is contrary to peace.  Peace can only come when men and women who are serious about dialogue, compromise, and truthfulness can sit down and reach a settlement.   

Until then, this is why the witness of the Diocese of Jerusalem is so important.  Jerusalem is the ground zero of our faith.  It’s the breaking of bread, Jerusalem is death and resurrection, it’s the coming of the Holy Spirit, it’s diverse people made the church in prayer and faith and miracle.  In its stewardship of the place where it all began, the Diocese of Jerusalem points to hope, to God’s life, to God’s promises and God’s faithfulness.  In its dialogue with its Jewish and Muslim neighbours, it is the model of what peace, God’s shalom, can look like.   We need to pray that the Diocese can continue to do and be these things, just as we need their prayers, for together we are the church, the companionship of disciples that together shows Christ to the world and to one another.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Books on the Go: The Fighting Padre, the Great War Letters of Pat Leonard

 I made the mistake of browsing the excellent Pen and Sword website recently and in due course three books arrived in the post (trans-Atlantic mail has improved remarkably since the start of Covid) including this collection of letters from a British infantry chaplain of the Great War, Pat Leonard.


Leonard was a young Anglican clergyman whose youth and vigorous physique (he was an accomplished boxer, hence his nickname “The Fighting Padre”) allowed him to thrive in the trenches when older clergymen quickly broke down under the physical demands of frontline service.    He was attached to a British Army infantry brigade, and later in the war transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, supporting a number of different squadrons and aerodromes and earning a respectable amount of flying time in the observer’s seat.

Chaplain memoirs and letters are a fairly niche subject.   For the clerical reader, it’s always interesting to see how frontline padres tried to support the men under their care, often travelling long distances between units to bury the dead, offer the sacraments, counsel and encourage.  For the general reader, they offer a fascinating look at daily life in a war zone, in and behind the front lines, and glimpses of the culture of the men they served.  Chaplains were almost all civilians before the war and thus lacked much military knowledge, but they were observant, intelligent and articulate, and so they offer a great “fish out of water” look at the war around them.

I wanted to read this especially because Leonard was friends with a chaplain hero of mine, Philip (Tubby) Clayton, who ran “TocH” or Talbot House, a soldier’s rest centre in Poperinghe, a town within the Ypres Salient.  Tubby’s picture is on the left of this blog’s header - his own memoir, “Tales of Talbot House”, is a brilliant book in is own right.  

I’ve just started and haven’t met Tubby or any aircraft, but have found Leonard an engaging and friendly guide to life in the trenches.  I've just finished a difficult account of him having to break the news to a soldier that a court martial had sentenced him to death for murder, and spending the night with him before his execution - a remarkably common account in Great War chaplain memoirs, I find.  Leonard praises the man for his courage in turning to God and facing the firing party, but the story interrupts the generally cheery tone of his letters and for a moment we see the cost that this young men of faith had to bear.  I doubt I could have born such a cost for any length of time.  Huge respect for these Great War padres.

Cheers and blessings,


Sunday, May 9, 2021

True Friendship: A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter


Preached to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, via Zoom, Sunday, 9 May, 2021.

Readings for this Sunday:  Acts 10.44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5.1-6; John 15.9-17


15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.


As we think about what Jesus means in today’s gospel reading, I think it best to start by admitting that friendship ain’t what it used to be, at least in terms of how the word friendship is used today.    For starters, think about Facebook friends.   Are they really friends, in Jesus’ use of the word, if we can unfriend the people that annoy us on Facebook, or perhaps just limit the amount of posts we see from them?   What about the friends we make in the work world – would you choose to associate with them if it wasn’t for the workplace?   Are the people we meet from networking (think of LinkedIn, for example) really friends, or just people who might give us a leg up if we’re nice to them? 

A lot of modern friendship has a mercenary quality to it that seems rooted in that old Dale Carnegie book, How to Make Friends and Influence People, and let’s face it, no one ever read that book unless they wanted to make more money.  Of course, there are real, true, trusted friends, the kind that would take your call at any hour of the night or who would be on your doorstep in an emergency, but I think their number is far fewer than the number of “friends” we might have on Facebook.

I say all this as a short ground-clearing exercise, because to understand what Jesus means by friendship, I think we need to largely discard our contemporary understandings of the term, which are pale shadows of what Jesus means.  Today I want to focus on three aspects of what Jesus means by friendship: 

1)  Friendship is doing God’s will;

2)  Friendship is self-sacrificial;


3)  Friendship with God and God’s people gives us true joy.

I want to briefly unpack these three points, and then close with a suggestion of how a concrete action in our lives might meet all three categories of friendship.


So what do I mean by how friendship comes from doing God’s will for us?   To understand that, we need to get over some hurdles that might lead us to turn away from Jesus’ teaching, especially his statement, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (14).   We might balk at the qualifier there, “if”¸ since we think of friendship as a relationship of equals.    Can you be friends with someone if you have to take orders from them, or vice versa?    Those of us who have been in positions of authority know that it’s difficult to be a manager and a friend.   If you try to be both, it never ends well.    Can we whole-heartedly sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” if Jesus makes his friendship conditional on doing what he tells us?

That sounds like a difficult thing to ask of a friend, but as we read on in the gospel, we realize that Jesus is not making his friendship conditional.   In fact, in his next breath, Jesus says “You did not choose me but I chose you” (17).  Jesus is saying these words as part of his long goodbye to the disciples in the upper room, as part of what is sometimes called the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel.   Jesus has chosen friends who will do anything but what he commands them to do.   He has chosen Judas, the friend who will betray him, and he has chosen Peter, the friend who will deny him, and he has chosen the rest, who will abandon him.

Why does Jesus choose the disciples as friends, these losers who can give him no possible advantage, and who do not reward him in any way for his time and effort?   The only possible explanation is that Jesus gives his friendship because he is doing his Father’s will.   Repeatedly in the Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells the disciples that the very words he speaks to them come from the Father:  “The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works” (Jn 14.10).   Jesus befriends the disciples because he is fully obedient to God’s will, and it is God’s will that the disciples know they are loved:  “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God” (Jn 16.27).   Friendship in John’s gospel is thus rooted in obeying God, who wants nothing more for us than for us to know that we are loved, and to allow that love to work in us and through us to others.

 Jesus’ choice of the disciples illustrates the self-sacrificial aspect of true friendship.     They are like the helpless, foolish sheep that the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life to safeguard (Jn 10.9)>  Here is the cost of obeying the father’s will, as seen in the bloody sweat of the Garden of Gethsemane as Jesus asks, even                             momentarily, if the cup can pass by him.   We should not be surprised if friendship with Jesus is self-sacrificial.    If we are the friends that Jesus wants us to be, then this sort of friendship will have a cost.   The cost may not be drastic – few of us will be asked to die for a friend, though we might be called on to pay a steep price – an organ donation, a call to some extravagant generosity, even (God forbid!) being asked to be an Anglican church warden!  We will certainly pay a price in our time, talent, and treasure.   We will certainly have less as a result, if we measure our goods in material things.    Let us remember that the Farewell Discourse starts with Jesus paying a price, in setting aside his authority as “Teacher and Lord” to wash his friends’ feet:  “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (Jn 13.12-14).  Friendship in the kingdom of heaven is costly, yes, but it’s only costly if we stop thinking of friendship as something that ultimately works to our advantage (The Win Friends and Influence People school of thought).   Jesus is however clear that friendship with God has its rewards.

Do you think of God as someone who is stern and unapproachable?  Jesus tells the disciples:  “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (Jn 15.12).   Here is a variation on the “abide” language we heard last week:  if we stick close to Jesus, we share in his joy (and if Jesus’ words are the Father’s words, then his joy is the Father’s joy), and we become joyful.   What does “joy” mean here?  Mirth and merriment?   Perhaps, but could it also mean “contentedness” or “fulfilment” or even freedom from the destructive things that pull us away from God, namely sin and death?  

John’s gospel is clear that joy comes from doing the Father’s will.  Even in the midst of this long and sad farewell before his death, Jesus repeatedly talks about wanting to give his friends joy: “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16.22).  Imagine knowing a joy that isn’t just a mood swing or some temporary string of things going right, but a deep down, soul sustaining happiness in knowing that you are loved and that everything will ultimately be ok because the good shepherd will never abandon you?   That’s the same joy that the disciples feel when they see their friend on the other side of the grave:   “he showed them his hands and his side.  Then the disciples rejoiced when they say the Lord” (Jn 20.20).


Today I’ve spoke about the true friendship which comes from being a friend of God in Christ, and the joy that comes from doing the will of Jesus without counting the cost.   Let me finish with a practical example of what that friendship might look like.  Next week we will send out our quarterly givings statement, and it will have some frank talk about our fiscal situation.   All Saints has suffered financially during Covid, and our offerings are down this year.   As you know, our offerings do more than pay for my salary.  They keep our church beautiful and in good repair, ready to reopen to show God’s love and grace to King Township post-Covid.  We are also a missional church.  All of these things require self-sacrificial giving.

It’s also tax return season.    So, if you got money back from CRA this spring, and if you can, I’m challenging you to give 10% of your tax return to All Saints, as I have.   I did so because I could afford to, and I know that some of you on fixed incomes and tight budgets won’t be able to.   That’s fine.  You probably know more of God’s joy than some of us do.   But, if you can, I’m challenging you to tithe 10% of your tax return, as a friend of Jesus.    They say that money can’t buy you happiness, but giving freely will make you joyful.


11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Growing in the Sun/Sonshine: A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter


Growing in the Sun(Son)shine:  A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  Preached to All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, via Zoom, 2 May, 2022.   Readings :  Acts 8.26-40; Psalm 22.24-30; 1 John 4.7-21; John 15.1-18. 


“Abide in me as I abide in you.   Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (Jn 15.4)

Our young grandson was visiting and was in the yard, looking at the back of our house.   “Why is your house covered in dead sticks?”   It took us a moment to realize that he was asking about the ivy that covers our house.   In the spring and summer, the front and sides are covered in lush leaves, but for some years now the green growth no longer returns to back wall, leaving only bare branches there.   We had hoped that the back growth might return, but last year an arborist  told us something that we should have realized.   “Those trees in your backyard have grown so tall that they block the sun.”   Denied the life-giving influence of the sun, these branches have indeed died and will one day have to be pulled down and disposed of.  

Our grandson’s question helped me understand what Jesus meant in today’s gospel reading.    We all have the capacity to have rich and flourishing lives, so what are the influences that sustain a healthy spiritual life?  Just as the sun sustains the growing part of our ivy, so the Son sustains us, hence Jesus’ words “Abide in me”.

 While it’s not a commonly used word today, “abide” has a particular spiritual resonance for 

“Live in me as I live in you”.

John’s gospel makes it very clear that Jesus was us to live our best life.  “I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10.10).  It’s significant, I think, that Jesus says “life” rather than “eternal life”.   In this statement, Jesus seems very much focused on our daily lives, as he is with the vine imagery in today’s gospel.  Abundant life, bearing fruit, whatever image you choose from the many rich word pictures that Jesus offers us, all of them speak of the here and now.  

 The image of the vine and the branches also helps us understand two other aspects of the Christian life.   One of them is fruitfulness – “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit”.   We understand bearing fruit as being personally virtuous in the Pauline sense of the Christian virtues – kindness, forbearance, charity and so forth (1 Cor 13; 1 Thess 1:3; 5:8; Gal 5:5-6; Col 1:4-5, 23; Heb 10:39; 11:1 )– and we also understand it as good works or service or ministry.  I’m impressed by how our life at All Saints is fruitful in this sense – I think of Cross Links, our commitment to the people of Pikangikum, to Faithworks, and other individual projects that some of you pursue.

 The other aspect of the Christian life that we see in the vine and branches imagery is community in Christ.   Jesus describes us as branches, as part of the whole, meaning that we aren’t to think of our spiritual lives as isolated potted plants.  Our flourishing is dependent on the flourishing of others, and our health stems from the health of the Christian community.   If we’re not part of a vine that is nourished by the sun/Son, then we all wither and die.   A good example of this mutual flourishing for me is our Friday prayer time, when some of us gather together online to pray and be prayed for by fellow disciples.    I depend on that time to help keep my own spiritual life healthy, which is something that I can’t do myself.

 Let’s finish by thinking of how we can apply this idea of the flourishing spiritual life to our own work as a missional parish, because the idea of a fruitful, abundant life can be profitably teased out in conversations with those who might be new to or curious in faith.   Abundant, fruitful life could be meaningful connection with and service to others, a healthy freedom from the demands of the ego, a sense of awe and gratitude for the gifts of our life, or resilience and meaning when our lives take adverse turns.    Perhaps most importantly, and this can speak to many people in today’s world, abundant life can mean that our lives have a destiny, an arc which follows the loving purposes of God, so that we’re not just bits of debris caught up in a meaningless current.  I believe that this conversations can influence and attract others if they see that we are a church that is in a healthy relationship with Jesus and with one another.

 What happens if we don’t live in Christ and how might we explain that to others?  Jesus said, “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (Jn 15.6).  That can sound a lot like hellfire and damnation language, which can seem a lot like extortion to those exploring faith (Join us or go to hell).   I think we can take another, more helpful tack, because we know empirically what lives look like when they aren’t flourishing, whether we use the Christian tradition to speak about types of suns (selfishness, despair, anger) which just produce bitter and rotten fruit, or whether we use contemporary language about what happens when a life lacks any significant meaning and drifts from crisis into ennui, nihilism, or other destructive spiritual waters.   Lives that don’t flourish wither and die, and end up, like the dead ivy on our house, just a bunch of dead sticks.  That withering is not some curse or threat  of God’s, rather, it is a sorrow that grieves the heart of Christ for each life that is not opened to his life-giving influence.

“Live in me, as I live in you”.   Jesus wants us to grow and flourish, and we can if we open our hearts and lives to him.   Those of you who have flourished through these long months of Covid understand this.   It’s why you’re here.  My hope is that we as a parish have learned lessons from this time of digging into and relying on our lives with Christ that will make us more missional and more attractive when we come out of Covid, so that we can share this abundant life with others.  Let’s pray.

Jesus, we thank you that you are the Son of God and the sun of life that allows our spirits to thrive and flourish and grow.  Free us from the withering notion that our lives our ours to manage, without care or concern for others.  Remind us that we are part of your vine, part of the whole.   Give us grace to flourish, as disciples and as a community, for the love that you bear to King Township and to the whole world you created and gave to us.   Amen.

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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