Saturday, September 25, 2021

Guest Preacher: The Venerable Val Kerr for Orange Shirt Day

This Sunday, many parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada are observing Orange Shirt Sunday, on the Sunday before Sept. 30, the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.   All Saints, King City, is very grateful to the Venerable Valerie Kerr, Archdeacon for Truth, Reconciliation, and Indigenous Ministry in the Diocese of Niagara.  Archdeacon Val's homily is found half way through this highlights video of our worship for tomorrow.  Thank you so much, Val. +

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Unsung Warrior: A Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

The Unsung Warrior: A Homily on the Good Wife of Proverbs

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 19 September, 2021, the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost.

Lessons for Proper 25 (B): Proverbs 31:10-31; Ps 1; Jas 3.13-4.3; Mk 9.30-37

“A capable wife, who can find?”  (Pro 31.10)

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction“  (Pro 1.7).  That quote from the opening lines of Proverbs sums up the theme of this book of the Bible.  Proverbs, as is often said, is folksy, everyday advice for those who want to live a life that is pleasing to God.  One might even say that every piece of Christian self-help literature ever written, including Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, owes something to the Book of Proverbs.

But then we might ask, how much does folksy, everyday wisdom that thousands of years old apply to my life in the 21st century, particularly when that wisdom is so gendered and so specific, as today’s reading is?   In the King James version, the woman is introduced as “a virtuous woman”,  and for that reason there’s a long tradition of reading Proverbs 31 as supporting Puritan stereotypes of traditional femininity.  According to the stereotype, a good woman raises a family, is modest, hardworking, chaste and loyal to her husband, whereas her opposite, the loose and adulterous woman of Proverbs 5, is a gossipy seducer who brings men to a bad end.  To be fair, these stereotypes are still deployed today in some Christian circles, and they are often seen as being the same kind of narrow view that the Taliban wants to impose on women today.  So what can we get out of Proverbs 31?

First, we need to remember that stereotypes are just that, caricatures that convey value judgements.   Yes, the ancient world had clearly defined roles for men and women, within which some (excluding slaves and the very poor) could lead meaningful and fulfilling lives by the standards of their day.    Two women in the New Testament, Chloe (1 Cor 1.11-12) and Lydia (Acts 26.14-15) were, like the wife of Proverbs, had were women of means  (Lydia was a cloth merchant) with servants.  Evangelists like Paul owed their success to women like Chloe and Lydia, because their households were the nuclei and base camps of the early church.   Countless other women, without the wealth and status of the wife of Proverbs, nevertheless found purpose and dignity in the ancient world, engaged in the countless manual tasks (making clothes as well as meals) that kept a humble family going.    The simple family that Jesus would have grown up in would have been a lot more like Coronation Street than the Downton Abbey-style world of the wife of Proverbs, but perhaps still a good life.    Almost certainly Mary, the Mother of Jesus, would have known this passage from Proverbs, and might well have drawn comfort from patterning her life on it, as best she could. 

Something else Mary would have drawn strength and comfort from is the word first used to describe the wife of Proverbs.  As I said, in King James it is “virtuous”, which conveys morality, and here it is “capable”, which suggests she is to be admire because she is good at her jobs.  But as several Bible scholars note, the word in Hebrew us chayill¸ meaning “brave” or “courageous”.  In the Hebrew scriptures, it is often used to describe warriors, who of course were men.   So how does seeing her as a “courageous” wife change our view of things?  

Let me conclude by suggesting that it’s through the idea of the courage of the faithful life that we can recover the Good Wife of Proverbs as an exemplar for women and men.  Think of how brave anyone like her would have to be to get through a typical day.   Think of the courage it would take to trust in the vagaries of ancient agriculture, to raise a family in an age of conflict and wars between petty kings, to trust the promises and faithfulness of the God of Israel in the hard working, daily grind of a world where all labour was done by hand.

Beyond those matters of historical context, think of the courage it would take to try and be the person that the wife of Provebs is.  Think of the courage to be the kind of person that one’s children truly admire.  Think of the bravery to not worry about the future, knowing that one has done enough for the day.  Think of the everyday faithfulness to give to those less fortunate, without worrying that the generosity will detract from what you have?   Think about the everyday determination required to choose only words that are kind and wise.  Think about the struggle to take to set aside those lesser qualities in one’s self that would prevent you from reaching these goals?  That sounds like a struggle for which one would indeed have to gird one’s self with strength.

Seen in this light, this passage suddenly seems like a goal that anyone of us would want to aspire to.   Suddenly the wife of Proverbs embodies a whole raft of virtues that we are all called to in our discipleship, no matter how poorly or partially we attain them. No longer an ancient feminine stereotype, this reading from Proverbs suddenly seems to point to the kind of transformation that a Jesus follower could grow into if they had the strength, and the courage, to do as Jesus said and take up one’s cross, and follow, man and woman alike.  And isn’t taking up one’s cross, in its own humble way, the way of the warrior?


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Blessing or Burden? A Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

A Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost.  Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 12 September, 2021.

Texts for Proper 24 (B):  Pr 1:20-33; Wis 7.26-8:1; Jas 3.1-12; Mk 8.27-38.


"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Mk 8: 34)

“Such and such is my cross to bear”.  I’m sure you’ve heard people use this to describe a chronic condition, or a problem child or relative, or a boss from hell. Even in our secular world, the phrase "the cross I have to bear" still carries meaning an involuntary and unwelcome condition of suffering, and I am sure that the expression is rooted in today's gospel reading and its parallel texts in Matthew (16:24) and Luke (9:23).

How many people, yourself included, hear or read those words of Jesus and conclude that Christianity is about suffering? It certainly seems as if this text is the call to a self-inflicted, seriously bad time.   I try to ensure that our sign on Keele Street has upbeat, inspiring messages such as “God is nearer than you think”.  I doubt I would choose “Suffering is next to godliness” for the next sign slogan, because I don’t think an emphasis suffering is the best possible marketing strategy for our church!

Certainly there is a strain within the history of Christianity which seems to see suffering as a path to closeness with God.   One things of stories of medieval saints with their hairshirts and fasts.   A favourite of mine is the Celtic Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, who stood by the cold North Sea to pray, though he may have cheated a bit, as there are legends of God sending otters to keep his feet warm!  We have these stories because Christianity first flourished in a worldview called dualism, which saw the physical realm as being inferior to the spiritual realms, and which thus held that the body needed to be punished or denied for the soul to flourish.   Some austere Christian devotional practices, such fasting and self-imposed abstinences during the season of Lent, are survivals of this idea.

I think we can let go of the idea that good Christians must somehow suffer without ignoring or downplaying Jesus’ words about how his followers must take up a cross.   We don’t want to be like Peter and tell Jesus what he should or shouldn’t say.   We need to listen carefully to Jesus, and to understand this gospel reading, we need to better understand what the cross means.

What if we heard today’s gospel, not as a call to suffering, but as a call to obedience?   What if it’s not about how our life ends, but about how it is organized?   C. CliftonBlack, a Methodist and blbilcal scholar, offers another translation of a keytext in today’s gospel.

“For whoever would save her life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a person, to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s life? For what can a person give in return for one’s life?” (Mark 8:35-37 my translation). “Life” is an imperfect translation of the Greek term hÄ“ psychÄ“: “the creature’s center; one’s inmost self.”

If we truly want to reorganize and reorient our selves in way that would make us actually listen to and follow Jesus, then we would have to accept that we won’t be winners, masters, or enjoy security as the world understands it.  Peter was rebuked because he wanted a victorious Messiah who could put him at the top, but Jesus never tells his followers to "take up your sword and follow me". That would be a call that people could get behind. It's relatively easy to call people to arms and to battle, especially if they believe that they might win. Following a triumphant king is a feel good proposition, especially if you will be at the king's right hand when the spoils of the post-triumph world are being divvied up.

A call to reorient our selves by way of the cross, as a Jesus follower, is much harder than merely wanting to come out on top.   Again to quite Black,

: “A thought experiment for this Sunday: in what ways do we pretend that Jesus didn’t mean this, or try to be our own messiahs and save ourselves? On what do we stake our lives? In what do we ultimately place our trust? Our bank accounts? (Luke 12:16–20.) Achievements? (See Matthew 7:21–23.) Prestige? (Mark 12:38–40.) Politicians? (Mark 12:13–17)  Run down the entire list of familiar evasions and remember how Jesus locks every escape hatch. Doctrinal confusion is not the Christian’s fundamental problem. Instead, it is disobedience: our refusal to accept Christ’s authority over our lives.  

Lay your ear upon Mark's page and listen for the wail of lament: the steep price paid for following Jesus.   What you won't hear is the yammering of prosperity televangelists who prostitute the Bible with bogus assurances of health and wealth if you'll mail them a check every week. 

As relatively comfortable, safe and prosperous Christians in King Township, taking up our crosses will mean different things to us in our own contexts.  It may well mean asking ourselves how we are aligned.    Do we share the world's priorities about self importance, winners and losers, wealth and power, or do we share the values of the Kingdom of God?   Are we committed just to our own flourishing, or are we committed to the flourishing of all who bear the image of God, and of the creation that God gave to us?   You may not have consciously decided to take up a cross, but you were given one at your baptism, signed on your forehead.  How are you going to take up that cross?  And what would All Saints be like if all of us cheerfully embraced the cross call to truly orient ourselves on Jesus?

Gracious God, give us the courage to understand what your son is calling us to do and be.  Help us see our faith as a vocation to live and grow in.  Give us the conviction to live for your kingdom and not for ourselves, so that the cross we bear will feel like a blessing and not a burden.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Only One Bucket: How We Work With God to Save the World, One Life at a Time

 Only One Bucket:  How We Work With God to Save the World, One Life at a Time.   A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost.

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 5 September, 2021.

Video version:

I’ll begin by saying how good it is to be back with you, dear Saints, after a restful and rejuvenating month off in August.    On my desk when I returned was a letter from the Anglican Territory of the People (formerly the Diocese of the Caribou), thanking All Saints for the money ($1,836.00) we raised for the Lytton Fire Fund.    Also waiting for me was the excellent news that, while I was gone,  All Saints raised $1,665.00 for the “Love My Neighbour” campaign to provide COVID vaccinations for those living in countries far less fortunate than our own.   All of this on top of our ongoing contributions to Faith Works, not to mention your ongoing stewardship that supports the life and ministry of this parish.

All of that is wonderful stuff, truly signs of a dynamic and missional minded parish, of which I’m so grateful to be a part.  But (my sermons usually hinge on a “but”) do you ever think that whatever you do to help others, it’s not enough?   Isn’t there always another good cause with a flyer in your letter box?  Isn’t there always another worthy ask?  My wife Joy, bless her, supports dozens of charities every month, and consequently our incoming mail reflects that.  Every day in the post there’s three or four appeals -  The Scott Mission, Therapy Dogs, World Vision, the Alzheimer’s Society, the United Way – the list is endless because there’s an ocean of need out there.  How does anyone know when they’ve done enough when the appeals keep coming?

Just as a kind-hearted individual can feel overwhelmed, so can a parish.    At All Saints, we have chosen to focus on certain issues, such as refugee sponsorship and reconciliation with our indigenous brothers and sisters.   As part of the Diocese of Toronto, we are also frequently asked to consider and support other causes, including climate change and environmental stewardship, homelessness, low income and seniors’ housing, food insecurity, and race relations.   Some of these issues may not be as visible within our privileged enclave of King, but they exist within the Diocese.   How can a parish know when it’s done enough when the calls for action keep coming?

When we are feeling overwhelmed by this legion of appeals to our individual and collective charity, I think it’s vital to keep firmly in mind the principle that there is only so much we can do to help others.  This principle is not just key to managing our charitable giving, it’s also, frankly, vital to our mental health.   Social media and twenty four hour news cycles can be hugely stressful to human heart and soul.  Do we focus on the fact that the world is literally on fire?   Do we focus on the people of Afghanistan?  Or Ethiopia?   What about indigenous communities in northern Canada that still don’t have running water?   What about saving the Oak Ridge Moraine?  

One of the best things I read this summer was a short piece by the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz Weber on this issue of stress.   She writes that we were made to care about suffering and injustice within our immediate circle, within our village if you will, but not within the world at a whole.   As Bolz Weber puts it, if we think of our available compassion as a finite bucket of water, then there is only so much fire we can put out.

So I try and tell myself that It’s ok to focus on one fire. 

It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about. 

That’s enough.

“That’s enough” is very wise advice, because one of the signs of burnout in our faith lives is what’s known as “compassion fatigue”, the exhaustion of our ability to care about and to help others.  So who should we help?  Or,  to use the question that provokes Jesus to tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10.25).

Tomorrow, Sept 6, is Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year.  RabbiBrad Hirschfield writes that this day is in Jewish tradition the birthday of Adam and Eve, and thus reminds Jews of their common humanity.  Part of this common humanity is the obligation of Tikkum Olam, Hebrew words meaning “repair the world”: all of us share in creation, and so all of us are called to fix it when it goes wrong.  But fixing creation is a big job, and this brings us back to the problem of our human limits.  As Bolz Weber noted, if the world is on fire, and I only have one bucket, how can I put out the fire?

 In answer to this question, Hirschfield points to an ancient saying of the rabbis from two thousand years ago:  “whoever saves one life saves the world”.   So we do what we can, as we can.  And if we are wondering where to find that life that needs saving, Hirschfield cites another ancient piece of Jewish wisdom, “The poor of your village take priority.”   The word “village” today means everywhere and anywhere    Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the global village is truer now than ever.   Helping someone with food security in King Township counts.   Helping a Syrian family get to Canada counts.  Getting hockey gear to an indigenous community counts.  We do what we can, as we can.

Thinking of a global village saves us from being tribal and insular.  It saves us from only caring about people who look like us and think like us.   Perhaps this was something that Jesus learned from the gentile woman in today’s gospel.   She reminded Jesus that she was part of his village because she was, like him, a descendant of Adam and Eve, and so she broadened his view of who was part of God’s family.   May she do the same for us.

So don’t worry if there are limits to your charity and to your caring.   It’s important to protect yourself by focusing on what you can do, as you can do it, so that there will be enough water in your spiritual and emotional bucket to sustain you as you sustain others.  Let’s focus on what we can  do, individually and collectively as All Saints, so that we can partner with God in God’s work of saving the world, one life at a time.




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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