Saturday, July 24, 2021

Do We Need A Bigger Boat? A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at All Saints, King City, July 25, 2021.   Readings for this Sunday (Proper 17B): 2 Samuel 11.1-15; Ps 14; Eph 3.14-21; Jn 6.1-21.


When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (Jn 6.15)


This week I was listening to two men talking about their boats, as people here on the edge of cottage country often do.  Specifically they were speaking about Georgian Bay and how treacherous it can be, with strong winds and high waves blowing up without any warning.   They both agreed that it was best to put your trust in a big boat.

In today’s gospel the lesson seems to be, either get a bigger boat, or, better yet, put your trust in Jesus.  In today’s gospel, as we move from Mark to John, there’s a lot going on, and Jesus is doing many things – he’s testing the disciples, feeding a crowd, then evading a crowd, then walking on water, and then somehow rescuing the disciples from the storm.   In the midst of all this action, we notice several things about Jesus.  The first is that, as we saw in Mark 6 last Sunday, he is always caring for and protecting his people, in the tradition of the shepherd kings of Israel.  The second is that he does these things entirely on his own terms, as if refusing to be drawn too far into human affairs.

What do I mean by “on his own terms”?  Let’s start by looking at his question to the disciples: “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jn 6.5).  The answer of course is “nowhere”.  First, they’re on a mountain, and second, as Philip notes, even if there was a bakery nearby, they don’t have the money to feed five thousand people.   Jesus then dismisses human economics, with its built in scarcities and inequalities, and turns to a boy with a little barley bread, the food of the poor, and some dried fish.  In the kingdom of heaven there is always more than enough, because the economy of the kingdom of heaven works on grace, not on scarcity.

Now let’s turn to the crowds that want to make him a king, Jesus flees to the mountain.   The clue here is “take him by force” (Jn 6.15).  Force is the currency of the economy of power and politics.  Jesus certainly knew how much force belongs to kings like Herod, who murdered his cousin John the Baptist.  He also certainly knew the story of David that we heard in our first reading, of how he used force and power to abduct and rape Bathsheeba and then arrange to have her husband murdered.  By escaping the crowd that he ha just fed and then retreating to a lonely mountain, Jesus is again signalling that he’s not going to be drawn into human affairs.  The kingdom of heaven cannot be captured, or manipulated, or used to advantage, no matter how many still try.

Instead, Jesus comes to us on his own initiative, on his own terms, as he comes, walking mysteriously on the water, or as he does when he feeds the crowds.  It’s often noted that while in the feeding miracles of the synoptic gospels Jesus has the disciples pass out the food, here John tells us that Jesus “distributed [the loaves] to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (Jn 6.11).  Both these episodes I think tell us the same thing – that Jesus will come to us, feed us, save us, entirely on his own terms, terms that we call “grace”.

Grace is underserved goodness.  Jesus, even as he tested Philip, knew exactly who he is dealing with, just as God knew what King David was capable of when he declared him to be “a man after God’s heart” (1 Sam 13.14).  This is the God who knows exactly who we are, how broken and fallen we can be, Jesus, “to whom “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden”.   Grace is that Jesus, knowing everything about us, “has a heart for us, comes to us, feeds us and saves us.

These last many months, as our churches have been closed and out lives put on hold, we’ve probably all felt that this pandemic was one long storm.  It sure felt like a storm, for how many times during Covid has the news reported that we’re in “uncharted waters”?  We may have wished that we had a bigger boat to put our trust in.   But it was never about the boat.  It was always about Jesus, who always watched over us, and who comes to us today, caring, not about what we deserve, but what we need.  Jesus comes to us again today, giving himself for us, feeding us, caring for us, saving us. 

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, thank you for feeding us, caring for us, and saving us, out of no agenda other than the love you bear for us.    We pray that your agenda, that of the kingdom of the heaven, may become the only one that matters in our hearts and lives.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Where the Need Is Greatest: A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost


A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost, 18 July, 2021. Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.  Readings for Proper 16 (B):

2 Sam 7.1-14a; Ps. 89:20-37; Eph 2.11-22; Mk 6.30-34,53-56.

34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; (Mk 6.34).

I’ve mentioned before that I am profoundly grateful for the prayer time we hold every Friday morning, and how I attend because of my own needs and not because I’m a priest.  This last Friday during our prayer time I was struck by the extent of the needs that we brought before God.  There seemed to be more than the usual people undergoing medical procedures and with a whole raft of personal issues, as well as a seemingly unending torrent of disasters in Canada and around the world to pray for – tornadoes, wildfires, floods, refugees, wars, whole governments and countries in collapse, and of course the ongoing ravages of Covid in various places.  That’s a lot of human need happening all at once.   As Leah wisely said, in the storms of life, what can we do but face them and trust in God?

Likewise there is an overwhelming amount of human need in today’s gospel story.    By this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has become so well known for his teaching and miracles that it is impossible for him to find a deserted place to pray and rest.  By the time that their boat gets to their intended refuge, the spot is overrun with crowds.  Presumably these people have come for the same reason that Mark describes a few verses later, to bring their sickened loved ones in the hopes that Jesus will heal them.  Jesus isn’t fazed or petulant that the spiritual retreat he has planned has been ruined by all these needy people.  Instead, Mark tells us in an absolutely lovely line,  “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6.34).

This verse says a lot.   It underscores Jesus’ role as the good shepherd, and which evokes a long tradition in Hebrew scripture of depicting the leader of God’s people as a shepherd.  In Numbers, for example, Joshua is appointed as a leader after Moses asks God to “appoint someone … so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd” (Nu 27:15-17).   King David, who began his career as a shepherd­­_, came the closest to this ideal of Israel’s ruler.  Marks touching on this theme of the royal shepherd is all the more interesting in light of where we see kings in this part of Mark’s gospel, because we don’t see them here, where the people have need of one.

We did see a king just a bit earlier, Herod Antipas, the Roman puppet ruler of Galilee.  We met him earlier in Mark chapter 6, and were told of how he had arrested John the Baptist.   Herod was feasting in his palace, giving a banquet for his “courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee”, at the birthday where John’s head became a party favour.   Jesus’ comment about “sheep without a shepherd” tells us a lot about the difference between earthly kingdoms and the kingdom of heaven. 

While Herod is feasting with his henchmen and murdering God’s prophet John, Jesus goes to meet and serve God’s leaderless people in the wilderness.   Jesus’ feeding of the crowds (Mk 6.35-44), which is skipped over in the lectionary’s arrangement of our gospel reading today, also reminds us of the many references in the Exodus story of how God sustains his people in the wilderness (Ex 16.13-35, Nu 11.1-35).  Jesus is thus exactly where a proper king and shepherd of God’s people should be, caring for the many and not in a palace with an elite few.

In fact, everywhere Jesus goes in this gospel reading, he is met, even besieged, by human need.  You might recall that three Sundays ago we heard of how one sick woman dared to touch Jesus’ cloak in the hope of healing (Mk 5.27-34).   Now it seems that everywhere Jesus goes, everyone wants to touch his cloak, and Mark tells us that “all who touched it were healed” (Mk 6.56).  Once again, I think, Mark is telling us something vital about the kingdom of God, that it is seen wherever the needs of God’s people meet the love and care of God and of God’s representatives, because it is not just Jesus that shows this love and care.  Remember that at the beginning of our gospel reading, we heard of how “the apostles gathered around Jesus” (Mk 6.30).   Just a little earlier we heard about how Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, and how they preached “and annointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6.13).

Thus, we shouldn’t be dismayed or lose heart at the enormity of the needs we are faced when our prayer group meets, or during our Sunday prayers of the people.   Until the kingdom of heaven is fully restored in this world, as we say in our creeds, there will always be an enormity of human need for the church as God’s modern apostles to pray for and to serve.   We should not be discouraged by the vast needs we see around us.  Rather, we should be encouraged in our prayers, in our ministries, and in our outreach, that where the need is greatest, there we already find Jesus, present in the hungry and desperate places, waiting for us to join our love and our prayers and our service to his.

Let’s pray:

Gracious and loving God, the headlines, the many stories of sickness and need that we hear of even in our own congregation and families, threaten at times to overwhelm us.  Give us the grace to remember that you, Jesus, are there already, as you always have been.   Give us the hope and strength to remember that where human need is greatest, there your kingdom, and our vocations, can be seen most clearly.  Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The God in Our Midst: A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost.


The God in Our Midst: A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost.  Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 11 July, 2021.

Tests for Proper 15(B):  2 Sam 6.1-5,12b-19; Ps 24; Eph 1.3-14; Mk 6.14-29.


David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. (2 Sam 6.2)


Returning to gathered worship, in what we devoutly hope is the endgame of Covid, is I hope a source of joy and elation to all of us.  Perhaps not the tambourine shaking, dancing in the streets elation of the Israelites in our first reading (that would be rather un-Anglican!), but still an uplifting experience.   I wonder though if, after long months of sitting in front of a screen to go to church, do we feel closer to God now that we are back in church?   Today’s first reading from 2 Samuel invites us to think about how and where God is present with us, and what that presence might actually mean should we take it seriously.

Today’s story of David triumphantly bringing the ark into Jerusalem is a powerful story of feeling closer to God, even to having God in their midst.  By this point in the story of Israel, the ark had long been the most powerful symbol of God’s presence among God’s people.  The book of Exodus tells of how God instructed Moses to make the ark, as both a repository for the stone tablets of the law and the covenant, as well as a sort of throne for the divine presence from which “I will deliver to you all my commands for the Israelites” (Ex 25). 

David, now the king of Israel, has just captured Jerusalem and brings the ark into his new city as a sort of capstone to his success, marking his partnership with God as the ruler of God’s people.  Sadly, David’s reign goes wrong, as human endeavours do, his heirs don’t measure up, Jerusalem is captured and the ark is lost to history (thus paving the way for the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark plot).  God does not abandon Israel, and sends his Son, the true heir of David, to be king and saviour of the new Israel, the church.   This time there is no second ark, no physical reminder of God’s presence.   The presence of God this time is spiritual, as found in the many spiritual gifts that Paul joyfully lists in our second reading from Ephesians. These gifts – blessings, redemption, adoption, forgiveness, redemption – don’t have a physical dimension, but they live within us just the same.

All that being said, as human beings, created of the earth, we seem to be hardwired to need physical connections with the divine.  Certain things focus our attention on truths that we can barely express or articulate.  To be sure, it’s not just churches that focus us on the transcendent – we are strangely moved by the beauties of nature, the innocence of children, and by music, art, and architecture.  But churches have a special appeal to point many of us to the divine.

Throughout Covid I’ve considered myself truly fortunate that I could walk into our two sacred spaces here at All Saints and bask in their beauty and stillness.  An empty church seems to whisper to us, saying something barely audible about the beauty of God’s holiness and the witness of generations whose prayers and hymns still seem to echo from the walls.

Of course, those of you whose ministries involve the maintenance and care of the church buildings and features may not have much time for mystical appreciations.   Your thoughts go all too readily to  wet drywall, aging wiring, fading fabric, leaking roofs, and a myriad of other cares and concerns.   These practical concerns remind us that the church is just a building, and theologically we know that our faith is about far more than just buildings.  Jesus, like the prophets before us, called us to serve the poor and seek justice, which is wy we leave church “to love and serve the Lord”. Church is thus a way station, a safe harbour where God’s people find their bearings and get supplies to continue their voyage.

So the church building, and the objects within it, like King David’s ark, is a physical thing that points God’s people to the divine.   It’s like a hyperlink on a webpage that takes us somewhere else, as could be said of many sacred objects.  But before we grow too dismissive and say, “Oh, holy things are just _things_, just symbols”, let’s take a moment to think, with some caution, of holiness itself.   Do you remember towards the end of the Raiders of the Lost Ark film when the Nazis dare to open the ark and die horribly because they never understood it and thus profaned God’s holiness?  The idea behind the film is the Old Testament theme of no one being able to fully see the holiness of God and live (Ex 33.20).

It’s worth taking a moment to think about the sheer holiness and awesomeness of the God in our midst.  This God could never be confined to a church building, waiting for us to return after lockdown.  This God is everywhere because this God is the creator of all things, the righteous one who hates evil and injustice, dwells among us.  It’s fortunate for us that this God loves us.  As I like to quote from C.S. Lewis, God is like Aslan the Lion in the Narnia books, loving and kind, but still a lion, and still potentially dangerous.  

We know this dangerous and yet loving God in a different way than David and his Israelites did.  As Christians we know God as Jesus, the Word who took flesh and lived among us as child and man, and who as Paul says in Ephesians rescues us and adopts us into God’s family.  We should celebrate this God with fear and joy, mindful of this immense power which, “working within us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine”.


Saturday, July 3, 2021

"Lord Have Mercy": How Psalm 123 Speaks to Canada Today, A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost


Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, July 4, 2021, the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost.

Lections for this Sunday, Proper 14, Yr B:  2 Sam 5.1-5, 9-10; Ps 123; 2 Cor 12.2-10; Mk 6.1-13.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.  Psalm 123.3

This Sunday being so close to Canada Day, I wanted to offer some comments on our readings that also reflect what seems to be our national mood on a holiday that hasn’t quite felt like a holiday.   There was the usual fusillade of fireworks on Thursday night, but elsewhere, and you could really see this on social media, many people were ambivalent about Canada Day.  

Something has changed since the discovery of the first unmarked children’s graves in Kamloops, with more being discovered almost daily.   People feel thoughtful, mournful, penitent.  Others are angry enough to burn churches and topple statues.  Perhaps reconciliation needed to bring us to this place, a place from which we can’t go back to the old Canada that we were taught about in our childhoods.  Something new needs to come, some new and better sense of ourselves.

Psalm 123 feels like a blessing and an encouragement spoken to us at this strange and sad juncture.  It begins by connecting us to God, our eyes turned up like those searching for help and rescue.   God is depicted as our biblical ancestors understood God, powerful and lofty, and yet God hears and responds lovingly and kindly: “our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us” (v. 2).

 The merciful character of God needs to be understood clearly here, lest we be distracted by the imagery of master and servant.   A certain deconstructive way of reading this psalm would discard the entire thing because of the power differential baked into it, and yet two things need to be said about this imagery.

 First, casting us into the role of servants of God is totally in accord with the Jewish and Christian tradition.   God is mighty, God is creator, God is redeemer.  We are none of those things, and we are needful of them.   Second, the servants look to God’s hand, not in fear of punishment, but in hope of help.  God’s hand in the psalm is a helping hand.

 The heart of the psalm, which speaks to us most clearly now, comes in the third verse: “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.”  With thousands of children in unmarked graves waiting to be discovered, and with generations ravaged because we tried to “kill the Indian in the child”, what can we as a country say to God but “Lord have mercy”?  What better prayer can we say for our beloved country of Canada than “Lord have mercy”?

 The psalmist says, “we have had enough of contempt”.  Indeed we have.   The psalms often call for the punishment of those who hold the God of Israel in contempt, but here the punishment should be ours.   The residential schools were built on contempt, scorn, and pride.  My generation inherited a legacy of contempt for indigenous Canadians.  Indian jokes were common in my school years.   “Lord have mercy”.

 A final point about the relevance of this psalm.   Psalm 123 is one of the “Psalms of Ascents”, so called because they are thought to be songs of the exiles who returned from Babylon to rebuild a ruined Jerusalem.  As such the psalms are aspirational, a hope that God would help a lost people build something better and lasting.  

Let’s pray and act for a better Canada, with our hands reaching out to God’s hand and to the hands of our indigenous brothers and sisters, “for we have had more than enough of contempt”.

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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