Sunday, March 27, 2022

The Hard Work of Being Friends Again: A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent


Fourth Sunday of Lent.  Preached at All Saints, King City, 27 March, 2022.  Readings for this Sunday:  Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Cor 5.16-21, Luke 15.1-3,11b-32

18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Cor 5:18-19)

Today I want to speak about the ministry of reconciliation and what it means in our lives as church and as followers of Jesus.  We hear the word reconciliation every Sunday at the start of our 10:30 liturgy, as we pray for reconciliation with indigenous brothers and sisters.  We pray it daily, so it’s important that we understand it and that we sincerely commit ourselves to it.

Reconciliation literally means to make people or parties friendly again.  It’s from the Latin words “re” (again) and “conciliare”, meaning to unite.   To reconcile therefore means to bring together in harmony those who were once estranged or hostile.   As anyone who has been through marriage counselling, or who has tried to bridge some form of estrangement, reconciliation is hard work.    It involves honest speech, genuine sorrow for past offences, and new forms of being together.

As an example of how difficult reconciliation may be, let me share a story from a friend of mine, an academic who specializes in contemporary Rwandan literature.    You will recall that in 1994, the African country of Rwanda suffered a terrible spasm of genocide in which at least half a million of the minority Tutsi tribe were killed by the majority Hutus (Rwandan genocide - Wikipedia).   A civil war followed, and eventually both sides had to learn to live with one another again.

How do you reconcile with a neighbour who has killed and raped your loved ones?   That was the problem all over Rwanda, because the killings happened in villages, in churches, and in schools.   People often knew their killers.  You could take the leaders to the Hague and prosecute them in the International Criminal Court, but millions of people had to find their own ways to overcome hatred.

My professor friend studied a process of reconciliation where those who had participated in the genocide were sent to live with the survivors.    They moved in, helped to work the farms and businesses of those they had killed, and helped support the families of their victims.    As you can imagine, this was a hugely difficult process for all involved, it required long and difficult conversations, tears, and forgiveness begged and given.  The result was that people who had demonised and killed one another were able to break the spell and see one another as fellow humans, all bearing the image of God.

We are made in the image of God as an act of friendship.   God wants our friendship.  As the American theologian Dallas Willard says, God likes us, that’s why he invested in us and made us to friends.    The Genesis story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, whether we choose to understand it literally figuratively, s about humanity choosing to walk apart from God and go it’s own way.   The way we chose is called sin, it began with Cain’s murder of Abel and it stretches all the way to Mariupol, the videos and images from which serving to remind us that sin is an objective reality.

The story of our faith, ever since Genesis, is the story of God pursuing our friendship, through the prophets, through his Son, through the cross, and beyond to our present day.   Over and over, God reaches to us the hand of friendship, and, if choose to accept that hand in good faith, then we are called to stretch out our other hand to someone else.   As Paul says, this is the “ministry of reconciliation” that God calls us to in Christ.   As we are loved, so are we to love.  It’s that simple.

One of the things that I give thanks for in the life of our Diocese is that we are beginning to take this ministry of reconciliation seriously.   Faithworks is reconciliation because it makes us friends with those who have been estranged from society by poverty and neglect.   Our educations around race  and indigenous relations are reconciliation because they call us to be friends with persons of colour from whom we have been estranged by history, colonialism, and indifference.    Our work around creation is reconciliation because it calls us to be friends with those who are most at risk from climate change, and indeed to be friends with the planet God has given us.

All these causes are worthy ones, but let us be wary going forward that we see them only as political or social projects.    This Fourth Week of Lent, as the cross comes more clearly into focus, let us remember the great cost God paid to reconcile with us,  to put our sin and hostility aside so God could again be friends with us.   Let us remember that God’s love and friendship come to us at a price that God paid freely and gladly.   And let us remember that, if we accept God’s friendship, we must pay it forward if are to truly live in God’s kingdom.


Saturday, March 26, 2022

A Funeral Homily For Edward Van Ginkel


Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Saturday, 26 May, 2022


“I am the resurrection and the life.   Those who believe in e, even through they die will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”


Where are we?   This may seem like an odd question with some obvious answers.  We are in a church.  We are at a service of thanksgiving for Ed.  We are with Aileen and her family to show our love and support for them.  Yes, all these things are true, but more can be said about where we are. 

We are in the love of God.  We are in the presence of the living Christ.  We are in the church, the gift of the Holy Spirit.   In short, we are in the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is unlimited love, unquenchable life, and inexhaustible power.  The kingdom of God is where Jesus speaks the good news of the Gospel.  The kingdom of God is a place where death has no dominion.  

That there is no place for death in God’s kingdom can be a difficult truth for us to grasp.    Even for those of us here today who are believers, knowing as we do that Easter is just a few weeks away now, this truth is difficult for us to grasp.   It’s difficult to grasp for poor Martha, in our gospel reading.  When Jesus asks her if she believes that he is the resurrection and life, she responds somewhat evasively.   “I believe you’ve come from God”, she says in effect, “I believe that you’ve been sent to do something”, but she can’t quite make the connection that she is standing in front of Jesus.  She doesn’t seem fully aware that she is in the presence of the inexhaustible and all sustaining life and love of God.

We can afford some pity for Martha.   Martha is crushed by the enormity of her brother’s death.  A faithful Jew, she would have known the bleak honesty of the psalmist, who we heard say that our life is a fleeting thing, that our days “pass away quickly and are gone”.   Such was the understanding of the Hebrew scriptures.   The prophet Isaiah wrote that we are grass, and we wither when God blows on us.  Isaiah and the psalmist would have agreed that only God’s word is eternal.

Today many find it difficult to believe in God, but we still believe in death.   Like Martha, we can be crushed and oppressed by our own experiences of loss.   Our culture sees death as an ending, the cessation of life, the end of embraces and loving words and glances, the ceasing of habits and rituals and all the things that make us love those dearest to us.   We are taught that death is an awful thing, a terrible tragedy, and so the culture does its best to hide death from us.

Jesus tells us differently.   He speaks to us from the kingdom of God.   Jesus reframes the words of the psalms and the prophets.    Jesus replaces the bleak honesty of Psalm 90 with good news.   His breath is not death but life, the very breath of life that Ezekiel saw being the valley of dead bones to life.  The very speech of Jesus is life, his words are, as John noted at the start of his gospel, the eternal word of the eternal Father who comprehends and inhabits the whole cosmos, from whom everything came into being.   Earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus says that 51Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.’ (John 8.51). 

Later in John’s gospel, Jesus tells his friends “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.”.   As always Jesus is speaking from the kingdom of God.  His father’s house is the whole cosmos, it is the vast eternal domain of God, the source of life.   We need to always remember this essential truth about Jesus, that he is the all-sustaining, all-nurturing, all-renewing life of God, was clearly understood by the first Christians.   Paul writes that “all will be alive in Christ” and that Christ came to destroy the last and final enemy, death.   In Second Timothy we hear that (2 Tim 1:10) Jesus has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”.  

At this point it’s fair to ask, if Jesus is resurrection and life, who stands to receive this gift?     Since Jesus asks Martha if she believes, is there a minimum level of belief that Jesus is looking for?   When Jesus says “whoever keeps my word will never see death”, what sort of commitment is Jesus looking for?    Asking these questions is fair game, though the questions themselves come from a place of anxiety, certainly made more anxious by the psalmist’s fear of God’s wrath and indignation.

Again, we need to keep in mind that the psalm is paired today with the good news of the gospel, that the psalmist’s own anxious questions are answered out of the fullness of God’s love.   Why does Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead?   John never tells us anything about the extend of Lazarus’ belief or the depth of his faith.  He only tells us that Jesus loved his friends, Lazarus and his sisters, and had compassion for them.  Dallas Willard is surely right when he says that love and life begin from God and come to us as God’s initiative.  As Willard says, “God has invested in us, has a purpose for us, and likes us.  God has the resources to keep us in existence and to cause us to thrive”.

Today there is no need for anxiety on Ed’s behalf.  I don’t believe that God for a moment denied him God’s endless love and inexhaustible life.   I can’t speak from any knowledge of Ed, whom I did not know, though I love and give thanks for the story of Ed’s final reconciliation with God.   Whatever issues Ed may have had with God and the church in his earthly life, I am confident that Ed’s reconciliation opened into an even more profound and complete understanding of God’s love and God’s friendship as Ed was transformed from an earthly existence into a spiritual one.

Where are we?  We are in the kingdom of God, a place of God’s inexhaustible love and eternal life, where death is no more.  My prayer for us all is that God in Christ Jesus grant us the understanding to know that death, our final enemy, is no more, Mau God grant us the grace to live and grow old without fear, knowing that we will be united with Ed and with all those we love in the fullness of God, who is life and love without end.  


Saturday, March 12, 2022

God's Guideposts: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

 Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 13 March.   Readings for this Sunday:  Gen 15:1-12,17-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 13:31-35

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.  (Phil 3:17)

You’ve probably noticed that shortly after I joined you as your interim priest, I’ve started referring to you collectively as “saints”.   I say that to remind you of the generosity of God, who in Christ wants us all to be transformed and made better.    The Greek word “hagios” means holy ones, and when Paul would write his letters to various churches, he would address them as “holy ones”.   Today’s second lesson from Philippians begin with this greeting:

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Phillippi, with the bishops and deacons:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 1.1-2).

Paul was using the term “saints” in part to compliment these new Christians and to encourage them to continue in the faith, but he was also using the term to remind these congregation were being remade in the new life and new identities that God in Christ had called them to.   The same applies to us.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that God has plans for us, that God wants to improve us and bring us closer to God’s self, and so I like that this parish is named “All Saints”, because the name reminds us that we God has God’s sights on all of us, that we’re all part of God’s improvement plan.

So there are saints – all of us – and then there are “Saints” with a capital S, the heroes of our faith.    How do we in the Anglican tradition understand this latter group of saints.   Our understanding of them is a little different from that of our Roman Catholic and Orthodox friends, who see them as means or channels of God’s grace.   

As Anglicans we think of the saints as role models, as people that we should imitate.    One of our prayer books explain it this way:

“… the history of God’s mighty acts of salvation is always a personal history. The Church believe that the divine purpose of justice, mercy, and love is revealed in the story of particular persons.   Indeed, it is through the stories of individual saints that the Almighty renews and strengthens the witness of ‘the holy people of God’ (For All the Saints 11).

This idea of the role model is absolutely behind Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Philippi to “join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us”.  This statement might strike you as being quite egotistical, as many often perceive Paul to be.   But think about what we all expect of coaches, mentors, and role models.   Don’t we want such people to be examples of good practices and skills that we want to adopt?

Imagine if you were going to a gym and wanted to hire a fitness instructor.   Wouldn’t you want to hire someone who was clearly in good shape, who had studied disciplines such as anatomy, and who had the experience and the skills to improve you?  Just as the same is true of music instructors and college professors, it’s also true of fellow Christians who can be role models of our faith for us.

Before Covid, Joy and I liked to go to the monastery of the Society of St. John in Boston to participate in one of their weekend guided retreats.  One of the monks would lead us in several sessions over the weekend, helping us to pray, meditate, and listen to God.   That a person would give up their worldly life and travel to devote themselves to prayer and spiritual disciplines gives the brothers authority and credibility.

Paul had the same credibility.  Whatever you may think of him (as a Paul fan, I’m in a bit of a minority), remember that Paul used to be Saul, a persecutor of the church, until he was literally transformed by Jesus into Paul, the teacher and evangelist and church planter.   When Paul told the Philippians to imitate him, be was pointing to himself as a sign of how God could turn a life around.

If you don’t want to imitate Paul, there are lots of other Christians you can turn to as role models.  Some are long dead, such as those we call the Communion of Saints, those Christians whose lives across the centuries have been memorable for their piety, their charity, their bravery, and even their eccentricity!  Some of us are currently playing a game called Lent Madness, where we get to learn about 32 saints from across the centuries and vote for our favourite.   You can learn more and play along at our parish Facebook page or at

Your own saint may be someone who was a role model to you in your own life, perhaps a Sunday school teacher, a grandparent, or your confirmation teacher.  It may be someone who is sitting here today, who models a particular aspect of the Christian faith for you.  For all you know, you may have helped someone else as a role model of the faith.  These personal saints can play as transformative a role in our lives as any saint n a stained glass window.

 Here's a final thought on why we need saints as role models.   Paul tell the Christians in Philippi to “stand firm in the Lord” (Phl 4.1).  Another variant of this thought occurs in our Lenten prayer for the Breaking of the Bread: “if we hold firm, we will reign with him”.  What does standing firm mean? 

In this season of Lent, we are encouraged to think about the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and scripture reading that bring us closer to God.   We also acknowledge that there are lots of things that are trying to pull us away from God.  

Recently I read about a spiritual retreat where “the retreat leader led participants in discerning formational forces at work in our lives. Churches, schools, families, friends, neighborhoods, media, advertising, employers, professional organizations, etc., affect us daily, for better and for worse. At the end, the leader reminded participants, “Remember that as you leave, you will renter the multibillion dollar formation machine that is American media and advertising.”

The leader’s point was that we are exposed to many influences that try to shape our opinions, our personalities, even our souls.  Not all of these influences are necessarily what Paul would call “enemies of the cross of Christ”, but many of these influences seek to align us with selfishness, materialism, hatred, and violence.   

Looking to the saints is one way of re-aligning ourselves with the values of our faith, whether the saints are historic, stained glass figures, or personal saints who have shaped our lives.  In an age where so many forces try to pull us away from God, the saints are like those radar beacons that guide aircraft at night and in fog.   In short, the saints are guideposts that lead us home to Jesus.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

The Almsgiving Challenge: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

Preached at All Saints Anglican Church, King City, Sunday, 6 March.  Readings for this Sunday:  Dt 26:1-11, Ps 91:1-2,9-16; Rom 10:8b-13; Lk 4:1-13

Ukrainian children being fed at the Hungarian border.  The Scotsman: Ukraine refugees: Where are Ukrainian refugees going, Ukrainian refugees in the UK, and how to help Ukraine refugees | The Scotsman

"So now I bring the first fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me." (Deut 26:10)

Amidst all the chilling images and videos we’ve seen from the Ukraine war this last week, we’ve also seen some that inspire us with scenes of courage and compassion.  I’ve been given hope by the Romanians and Poles driving to their countries’ borders with supplies and rides for Ukrainians fleeing the fighting.   Likewise in Germany people are showing up at train stations, greeting the shellshocked refugees and offering to put them up in their homes.   It’s said that the sheer numbers of refugees will exceed the wave of Syrians who came to Europe in the last decade, so compassion and money will be in high demand for months to come.

Refuge and refugee seem like two poles of the modern human experience.   Those living in security and safety can suddenly find uprooted strangers on their doorsteps.   One of the tests of a society is how it deals with those in need.   Are the refugees turned away, like the ships of Jews in the 1930s who were denied ports in North America and were sent home to the coming Holocaust, or are they welcomed, fed, and housed? 

Refuge and refugee.  Today’s first lesson from Deuteronomy speaks to a people who have found refuge and who remember their past as refugees.    As is often the case with the Hebrew Scriptures, our biblical ancestors are reminded that they were once slaves in Egypt, that they were rescued by their faithful God, and given a land of their own.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me” (Deut 26.10).  This is the “all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee” sentiment of the old Prayer Book.  It is the same spirit that animates our stewardship and giving today.   The theology is simple:  as we are blessed, so may we be a blessing to others.

Refuge, and refugee.  Today is the first Sunday of Lent, a season when we the church go back to basics.   Lent calls us to return to those basic practices that mark us as disciples of Jesus.    The liturgy of Ash Wednesday, which we prayed here, calls us “to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God” (BAS 282).  These words identify “almsgiving” as a core Christian practice.   The word “alms” is from an old English word that ultimately comes from the Greek word “Eleos” meaning “mercy”.  To give alms is to show mercy, to give as an act of charity in its original meaning of love for others (Latin caritas).   The call to show charity and to give alms is found all through the Old and New Testaments, perhaps most notably in Matthew 25:31-46.

Today, on this first Sunday of Lent, I am asking you to consider making almsgiving one of your spiritual disciplines.   I realize I will only be your interim for a little longer, and could be considered a “lame duck”, so I may have depleted my stock of moral authority.  However,  I’ve challenged your hearts and wallets before and many of you have stepped up, so here’s one last challenge.   If it is within your means, I’m asking you to figure out your daily income over the course of a month, and then try and set that much money aside over the course of this Lenten season.  If that’s not within your means, then set your own goal. I’m calling this the Almsgiving Challenge.

Who will receive this money you set aside?  That’s up to you.  Part of the Almsgiving Challenge is for you to choose a charitable organization to receive the money you set aside during Lent.    By charitable organization, I don’t mean All Saints.    It’s true our parish is running a deficit, and that needs to be addressed by regular weekly and monthly giving and through our PAR program.   Sustainable finances for our parish should be our baseline, not our stretch goal.  This Challenge is about a donation outside our walls, in addition to what you normally give to All Saints.

You’re free to use the Almsgiving Challenge to benefit any agency or charity you wish.   If you want to support the Red Cross appeal for Ukraine, or if you want to support Ukrainian refugees through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or some other related cause, go for it.   For our part, Joy and I are going to give a day’s income to support our Diocesan Faith Works 2022 program, which starts this week. 

We’ve chosen FaithWorks because this is a terrible time to be poor, to be food insecure or marginally housed.    Inflation is climbing, the cost of food and shelter and transport and energy are only going to increase.  I’m acutely aware of how ridiculously privileged I am, and I don’t think my soul could find peace if I didn’t do something.  This year Bishop Andrew has also allowed FaithWorks to raise funds for indigenous reconciliation, including a memorial garden in Toronto to help us remember the Residential School children.  So we’re going to write a cheque to FaithWorks but as I said, you’re welcome to choose your own cause.

I don’t want to track donations, I’m going to leave this entirely to you as the Spirit moves you.   In the spirit of the gospel reading for AshWednesday, this is private, between you and God.  I pray that this practice of intentional almsgiving will empower us all through a sense that we are working with God to bring about God’s purposes in an increasingly grim world.

May God bless you this Lent, and may God bless your almsgiving and those who receive it.



Wednesday, March 2, 2022

God Loves Humans: A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Cross outside the SSJE Guesthouse, Cambrige, MA

Brother David Vryhof, a member of the monastic order called The Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE), has written a far better homily for today, Ash Wednesday, than anything I've ever written.  I love how he digs into the traditional gospel text, from Matthew 6, and presents the cross of ash not as a sign of piety (thus dispensing with all the tired arguments for and against wearing ashes on our foreheads in public) but as a sign of profound need.  

Brother David's Ash Wednesday sermon can be found here.

May you have a blessed and holy Lent.  MP+

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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