Friday, November 26, 2021

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

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

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

Predicting the future is a difficult business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Revealing The Kingdom of Heaven: The 2021 FaithWorks Appeal


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

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

Where is the Kingdom of Heaven found?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 13, 2021

The Duty of Memory: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

The Duty of Memory: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Two Widows, a Farmer, and the Purposes of God in the Book of Ruth

Two Widows, A Farmer, And The Purposes of God.  Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 7 November, 2021, All Saints Sunday.

(In order to complete this two-part sermon series, I’ve slid the first reading for Proper 32 (B), Ruth 3.1-5,4.13-17, into the readings for All Saints Sunday which we are using today.)


(Jean-Francois Millet, The Gleaners)

Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life” (Ruth 4:14-15)

Last Sunday I began this two-part sermon series on the Book of Ruth, that wonderful little book of the Bible, and I spoke primarily about what it has to say about hunger and how God calls usacross the centuries to care for the hungry.  Today I want to look at what Ruth has to say about the faithfulness of God and about how God’s good purposes for us are shown by the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz.    When the women celebrate Ruth’s child at the end and say to Naomi that God “shall be to you a restorer of life”,  I think they say more than they might realize.  As our other lessons for All Saints Sunday remind us, God is indeed the “restorer of life”, God the faithful one who lifts us out of sorrow and death, and that is the same message we hear in Ruth.

I said last Sunday that the Book of Ruth is a kind of miniature Book of Job, in that it follows the same trajectory from tragedy to restoration and renewal of fortune and happiness.   It begins with disaster, thr famine that in the first five lines takes away Naomi’s husband and sons, leaving her and her daughters in law as destitute widows.    We get no theological explanation for this catastrophe, it simply happens as a fact of life, but we do get Naomi’s interpretation, which is that “the hand of the Lord has turned away from me” (1.13).

One of the biggest difference between Job and Ruth is that whereas God acts in the former and speaks (a lot! – as in the voice from the whirlwind), God is silent in Ruth.   There are no miracles, no “thus saith the Lord” moments, and the only answer to Naomi’s lament is the promise of her daughter in law, Ruth, that “Where you go, I will go .., and your God my God” (1.15).    It is the faithfulness of a foreign woman, one who doesn’t yet no the God of Naomi and of Naomi’s people, that is our clue to where God is in this story.    We see God in the faithfulness and kindness of people, like Ruth and Boaz, who see the need before them and whose actions represent  God faithfulness and God’s good purposes.

The Lutheran preacher Caroline Lewisurges us not to rush immediately to the happy ending of Ruth but to actuallyspend some time listening to Naomi and to remember the times when we might haveshared her feelings of loss and emptiness.  The story begins  with famine and empty bellies, but it moves to Naomi’s inner hunger.    She finds herself old, embittered, living the precarious life of a widow.   She’s come back to her late husband’s town, Bethlehem, which name in Hebrew ironically means House of Bread, but she has no bread, no security, no future, and she concludes that God has abandoned her.  

Naomi, or Mara (Bitterness as she now calls hersef) embodies a state of despair where we give up on life, give up on ourselves, even give up on God.    Caroline Lewis invites us to think of how God can be there even in such moments of despair:

What if today—and if it’s not today, the day will come—is that place and time when the only thing you can say about love is how you are not worthy of it? So, today—and for the sake of your tomorrow—just for a few minutes, just for now, maybe you can hear God saying, every so softly and maybe just barely, “Do not push me away. Do not deem yourself unworthy. Do not think that I do not want to be with you. Wherever you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; you are mine. Who you are, who you have been, and who you will and can be, I love, with my whole heart, forever and always.” Then maybe today, even if it’s only for a moment, maybe all of us Naomis out there might hear, know, and feel hesed (faithfulness)..

We can also think about how the character of Ruth might help us help those in despair.  A key difference between the Books of Job and of Ruth is that the latter is marvellously helpful to those of us who want to come alongside others in distress.   Whereas Job’s friends are pompous, unhelpful windbags, Ruth is simply there for Naomi.   She hears the full lament of her mother-in-law, without trying to explain away calamity or justify God’s purposes to her.   Through her loyal companionship, she finds a way to show God’s love to a person who feels cut off from God.  For those of us who might be nervous around those experiencing grief and sorrow, lest we do or say something wrong, the lesson of Ruth is simply to be the good friend who walks with another through grief and sorrow.  Ruth is the stalwart companion whose faithfulness points to God’s faithfulness.

Boaz, Naomi’s kinsmen, is the other character in this book that embodies God’s faithful purposes.   We first meet him when he leaves Bethlehem to go visit his farm, because it’s the time of the barley harvest (1.22).   The first thing we hear Boaz speak is his greeting to the reapers, “The Lord be with you” (2.4), which may seem like something you would expect to hear in church,  but not as a greeting to the hired help.    However, this prayer and the reapers’ response, “The Lord bless you”, in its liturgical quality, is perhaps a hint that we are not just at a farm, but we are also somewhere in the Kingdom of God.   I mentioned this last Sunday, when I spoke of how Boaz promises to Ruth that his farm will be for her a sanctuary, a place of “the God of Israel under whose wings you have come for refuge” (2.12).   Let’s spend a moment considering why Boaz should think and say this.

It’s worth noting that Ruth goes to Boaz’s farm to scrounge for scraps.  She wasn’t hired as a farmhand.    Instead she “gleaned in the field behind the reapers” (2.3) meaning that she gathered what fell to the ground and was left behind by the men who gathered the harvest.   Boaz, who appears as a faithful Jew here, was surely aware of what the law of Israel said about gleaning:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God” (Leviticus 23:22).

As explained in Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures), the law was God’s instrument to make Israel a unique nation, a place where people lived different and better lives than the peoples around them, so that the neigbouring nations would in time come to be blessed by the God of Israel.  Boaz’s kindness to Ruth is thus rooted in God’s law. Today we think of books like Deuteronomy and Leviticus as dry books of religious laws that have largely been replaced by Jesus’ gospel of love.    However, passages like last Sunday’s gospel, where Jesus tells the scribe that love of God and love of neighbour (Mk 12.29-32) are the greatest of the laws,  are not new in the life of Israel.  Boaz would have well understood Jesus, I think.

So Ruth is allowed to glean and is treated generously by Boaz (2.14-16), but gleaning is just subsistence, and Naomi wants more security for her.   We thus come to Naomi’s instruction to Ruth to use her charms to entice Boaz into marrying her.   This may well seem manipulative to us.   An older bachelor, put at ease after the wine and food of the harvest celebrations, will surely fall for an attractive young woman at close quarters (pray do not ask me to spell it out for you more than that!).    But let’s step back and think about all the possible earthy human circumstances in which marriage can take root.    And let’s think about the blessings that marriage offers – acts of love and joy, home and children and grandchildren and years of companionship and friendship.  How can God not be at work in these things, as God is at work in bringing a lonely old man and a destitute young foreign woman and her mother together?

It’s passed over in our lesson, but in the book, in the bridge between chapters three and four, Ruth most leave Boaz’s side in the morning, trusting that he will keep his promise to marry her, and trusting that that God, who had shown her faithfulness, would be faithful still, and in these hopes she is fully answered.   While the happy ending here is far less extravagant than in Job, it is still an ending that is full of grace and goodness.     The famine is banished; the threshing floor where Boaz and Ruth come together returns Bethlehem to its meaning of “House of Bread”.  Boaz’s loneliness is banished in marriage and family.   Even Naomi’s old age (“I am too old to have a husband” (1.12) seems banished in the strong implication that she is given milk to nurse her grandson (4.16). 

Most important and revealing of God’s promise is the startling and lovely revelation that Obed, the son of Boaz and Jesse, will be the father of Jesse.  Jesse will remain in Bethlehem, and as an old man, he will be chosen by God to bring his sons before the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16).  Sameul will select the youngest of those sons, David, as the future king of Israel, and all this genealogy will be remembered by Matthew at the beginning of his gospel, which tells of the king and Messiah born in Bethlehem.    Thus this simple story tells of how the purposes of  God are achieved in the lives and actions of ordinary people like Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, and you, and me.

“He shall be to you a restorer of life.”  These words of the women of Bethlehem to Naomi are true on many levels.   God in Christ is the restorer of life who finds those to walk with us in our darkest times.   God in Christ is the restorer of life who achieves in our ordinary lives things that we can’t yet imagine.   God in Christ is the restorer of life who brings churches our of the deep freeze of Covid.  God in Christ is the restorer of life who can still find purpose and hope and a future in churches that may be old and tired and uncertain – never forget that as you wait for your next priest.  God in Christ is the restorer of life who is the babe born in Bethlehem that we shall joyously await in a few weeks.  God in Christ is the restorer of life who walks with us to the grave and who meets us on the other side, as he meets and unbinds Lazarus.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Honouring Canada's Indigenous Veterans


One of our parishioners at All Saints has reminded me that November 8th is National Aboriginal Veterans' Day.  Over the next few days, I've set myself the task of learning more about our indigenouos veterans and telling some of their stories here.

Here's a resource from Veterans' Affairs Caanda if you would like to learn more.

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.


Blog Archive