Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Faith of the Aged and of the Ages: A Homily for the First Sunday After Christmas

Preached at St. Luke’s, Creemore, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on the First Sunday After Christmas, 31 December, 2023.  Readings:  Is 61:10--62:3; Ps 148; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:22-40


34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  (Luke 2:34-35)

Over my years of ministry in the Anglican Church, I’ve learned to appreciate the wisdom of the elderly faithful, saints of the church who have lived their lives trusting in the goodness and good intentions of a faithful God.   Which I think is one of the reasons why I love Luke’s gospel and its account of the birth of Jesus.

Luke gives us two elderly couples, four wise and faithful people who see God’s work in the miraculous birth of Christ.  In Luke’s first chapter, they are Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.   Zechariah is a priest in the Temple who is told by the angel Gabriel that his aged wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a child, John, who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Lk 1:17).

Poor Zechariah, his only fault is that he could not bring himself to believe the angel, and so he was struck dumb until the time that his son John was born and ready to be named (Lk 1:630.

Bracketing the birth of Jesus in Luke’s account are two other old people, the prophet Simeon and another prophet, a widow named Anna.  Simeon and Anna are present when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple to be circumcised according to Jewish law.

Unlike Zechariah, Simeon has no doubts as to what God is doing.   Luke tells us that Simeon is “guided by the [Holy] Spirit”, and because he is granted this wisdom by God, as soon as he sees the infant Jesus he recognizes the full extent of what God is doing.   Simeon praises God for letting him live long enough to see the the beginning of God’s plan of salvation, for he recognizes that this child will bring all peoples to God (Lk 2.32).

It’s wonderful to imagine Simeon’s aged face, full of wonder and joy, as he looks down into the newborn face of the child he is cradling in his arms.   His words of thanks to God (Lk 2:29-32) are used in Christian liturgy as one of the great nighttime prayers, the Nunc Dimittis, used in the Anglican offices of Evening Prayer and Compline.  Simeon’s prayer of praise has thus comforted countless generations of the faithful as they prepare for sleep and for death, trusting that God’s good purposes will continue to work in the world.

But Simeon goes on to say some words that did not become part of our liturgy.  He makes a prediction that “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Lk 2:34-35).  What are we to make of these words?

The first, and perhaps the most important thing we can say here is that these are words of prophecy, not in the sense of a prediction of the future, though that is part of it, but in the wide sense that a godly person is speaking for God and pointing us to God’ plan.   Hence the word “destined”, which in the Greek can mean “prepared” or”intended for” or “prearranged”.   In other words, Simeon is announcing that this child is part of God’s plan and purpose, that this child has a destiny.

The idea of destiny is worth pausing and thinking about, because I think the idea of destiny has gone out of fashion, replaced by worldviews that see the world as random and contingent.  I don’t wish to elaborate too much on this point in the time allowed for a modest homily, but as proof let me offer these lyrics from a song that you’ve no doubt heard a few times this season:

Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now


These of course are words from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, first heard in the 1944 film, Meet Me In St. Louis with Judy Garland.  Perhaps a Hollywood film doesn’t bear too much scrutiny, but the phrase “if the fates allow” conjures up an ancient, pagan idea of humans subject to the arbitrary whims and chances of an arbitrary world.   

There is I think a difference between the idea of “fate” as some outcome that might or might not happen but which can’t be avoided, versus “destiny” as the plan of a benign and loving God which is for our best interests. Fate is essentially random, whereas destiny is a future prepared for us by a God who has our best interests in heart.   Zechariah and Simeon both recognize Jesus as the fulfilment of destiny, the Saviour whose coming was foretold by prophets such as Isaiah.

It’s also worth noting that Simeon’s revealing of God’s plan is honest in that it promises conflict and trouble as well as salvation.  His words about  how “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel” echo the words of Mary’s Magnificat about how God has “brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52).   Both visions of the future speak of how the Saviour will be opposed by those within Israel who have power and who claim to speak for God.  Given that Simeon's words are spoken within the Temple, the centre of Jewish religion of the day, they offer no comfort to those who will claim to be upholding that religion when they sentence Jesus to death.

Likewise, Simeon’s words of how the Saviour will bring about the “rising of many” prepares us for the calling of humble fishermen and lowly tax collectors as disciples, for the healing of lepers and unclean women, for the Beatitudes and the faithfulness of a God who sees, loves, and champions the meek, humble and poor of heart.  

Finally, we should note that while Simeon praises a God who will plan and work to save God’s people, he also recognizes that God’s plan is not free of pain.   In telling Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul too”, he seems to be pointing to her mother’s pain as she sees her own son’s death on the cross.  (I write this on the Sixth Day of Christmas, of which the traditional carol on the joys of Mary says 

The next good joy that Mary had,
It was the joy of six;
To see her own son, Jesus Christ
Upon the crucifix:)

For those of us who know the entire Christian story, the links between the birth of Jesus and his death hide everywhere in full view.  The Virgin bending over the manger in Bethlehem becomes the sorrowful Pieta, holding her son’s broken body when it is lifted down from the cross.   The gifts of the Magi speak of the death of a king, “sealed in the stone cold tomb”.   Mary’s words tt Gabriel, “let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:37) echo Jesus’ words in the Garden (“not my will but yours be done” Lk 22.42).

The good news that Simeon recognizes in the infant Jesus is a promise that will be opposed by some but welcomed by the lowly ones whom God truly favours.  Simeon offers no guarantee to Mary to anyone else that God will shield them from pain, but he does promise that the child is born so that, as St John promises in Revelation, tears and pain will one day be no more.  In a world which many see as random and inexplicable, Simeon assures us that God’s will is loving and tbenign and God’s plan will unfold for our benefit.

As Christmas fades away and it’s joy gives way to uncertainty as to what the new year will bring, Simeon’s promises are for us to cling on to and take comfort in.   For many of us who have grown old in our faith and bear our years as best we can, we may look forward to our own departing with the same peace and assurance as Simeon.  But, in the time remaining to us, may we also be granted opportunity to speak our faith and our belief in God’s plan to those who follow, so that we may comfort them, as these old saints of Luke’s first two chapters have comforted us and countless others over the centuries.  Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

In Praise of Christmas Carols: A Homily for Christmas Eve





Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Christmas Eve, 2023.    Texts:  Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-20; Luke 1:26-38 


On Mondays our three year old granddaughter Lucy spends the day with us, and while we usually try to limit her screen time, we usually let her watch a movie midmorning while we get lunch ready.   Lucy’s film choice are predictable.  This fall, “Moana” and “Frozen” have been in heavy rotation, but lately she’s been clamouring to watch The Grinch (the 2018 animated version with Benedict Cumberbatch).


I was doing something nearby in the house when I realized that I was hearing carollers singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.  I was surprised that a fairly secular seasonal film would include the  words “Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray”.    It’s a comic scene, as the carollers break into a jazz tempo and pursue an increasingly frantic Grinch through the pristine streets of Whoville.


The carol’s words promise salvation for those caught in “Satan’s power” because Christ has been born to save humanity, and while the Grinch is a fairly harmless example of sin, he will be redeemed by the end of the story, brought out of isolation, made whole, and restored to community.     Even in the midst of the highest grossing Christmas film ever ( , this snippet of a carol does exactly what a carol should, it does the work of the gospel, announcing to the good news of Christ to those in darkness, which explains the power and persistence of the old carols.


The word “Carol” probably first meant dance music, but the term became associated with Christian belief and worship, particularly in the seasons of Advent and Christmas.   Perhaps we can distinguish between hymns and carols in that while hymns are usually sung in churches, carols can be taken to the streets and other public places.   In my first parish, the choir would lead a carol sing in the village pub every December.    While there are many lovely medieval carols that tell biblical stories (Angelus ad Virgenem tells the story of the Annunciation, the haunting Coventry Carol tells of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents), perhaps the most well known carols are the Victorian ones such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing with their robust four part harmonies and unapologetically evangelistic themes.  Which is why, for me at least, modern Christmas songs like “Blue Christmas” or “I”m Dreaming of a White Christmas” are not carols.


The persistence and power of the old Christmas carols appeals even to those who don’t really believe in Christmas itself.   Recently I read a column entitled “I Want Carols - Not to Be Converted”.  The author, a self-described “faithless caroller”, described attending a carol service at a Church of England parish in London which featured an advertisement for the Alpha program and where “the priest tried to make evangelical Christians of us all”.   The author was offended and “three of the group we’d come with left – two atheists among them”.  What the author had been hoping for, she said, and what she found the next night, was a traditional service with old carols, a choir in full regalia, and a proper organ.


I think we need to resist the temptation to sneer at such sentiments, and to look charitably on what attracts the “faithless caroller” to these old songs at this time of the year.  Is it just nostalgia, the desire to hold on to a cultural tradition in an increasingly secular world?  Or, is there something within the carols themselves, some power within them that comes from their subject matter, the salvation of a world by a gracious God who loves us enough to share our human condition and to die fo us? 


Sister Carino Hodder is that rare thing, a young Roman Catholic nun in a western country.   In a recent essay, she describes being raised in a non-believing family who never went to church, but she credits her coming to faith with the Christmas carols that she learned in her grade school.  As a teen and young adult, she writes that she had no connection to or affection for the Christian faith, but the carols she learned as a child continued to speak to her and to draw her towards God.


I was well aware, of course, that Christmas was really just the credulous pilfering of a pagan winter festival. And I’d been told the Virgin Birth was a fabrication based on a deliberate mistranslation of an Old Testament prophet. And yet I couldn’t walk the snowy paths home from school or watch Christmas lights go up in my town without hearing a refrain within me, subtle and deep-seated as a heartbeat: O come, let us adore him; O come, let us adore him.

I would want to say that the power of Christmas carols comes not just from some cultural nostalgia, nor only from some deep rooted childhood memory, but from their witness to Christmas as God’s loving and saving action.   


The carols acknowledge our human anxieties and insecurities, “the hopes and fears of all the years”.  The carols allow us to sing what St. John speaks of the in the mighty prelude of his gospel: :”very God begotten not created / Word of the father now in flesh appearing”.   


The carols speak of God’s willingness to live amidst us, amidst the greatest poverty of our existence, for “his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall”.  


The carols likewise acknowledge the poverty of our resources to properly acknowledge God’s coming amongst us:  “What can I give him, poor as I am”?     The carols explain the mystery of the incarnation and how our human condition is dignified through childbirth and a mother’s love, as Mary “worshiped the beloved with a kiss”.


Finally, the carols help us to understand that through the birth of this child, the heavens and earth, eternity and temporality, sacred and secular, are united.  The “glories [that] stream from heaven afar” are received here on earth, guiding shepherds and kings alike to the manger.  The heavenly brightness and the angel choirs are signs of the divine “love [that] imparts to human hearts the blessings of God’s heaven”.


It is through this love that we are changed and rescued by “Christ the saviour [who] is born that “man [we] no more may die”, and the carols tell us that in this child God’s covenant with humanity, a covenant as old as Abraham is renewed, so that “good will from henceforth from heaven to earth begin, and never cease”.


The carols are echoes from Bethlehem, seismic shock waves emanating from the manger, travelling from the Christ event to the present, knocking down the walls built around our hearts, banishing darkness and death, assuring us of God’s love and presence.   The carols are calls to rejoice, they promise joy to all the world, they call us to be as glad as Christians of old who have received this message and sung these songs before us.


So no wonder these old songs have power.  No wonder they persist.   The carols chase us across time, they lure ‘faithless carollers” to evening services, they whisper of divine love and they plant seeds in the hardest of hearts, even in the dark and hardened hearts of Scrooge and Grinch.  They are calls for help, cries of longing, love poems and shouts of joy.   Open any of the great carols and you’ll find all these sentiments addressed to the one who was born, who died, and rose again for our sakes.


O holy Child of Bethlehem,

descend to us, we pray;

cast out our sin and enter in;

be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels,

the great glad tidings tell;

O come to us, abide with us,

our Lord Emmanuel!

Saturday, December 23, 2023

The Play of Heaven and Earth: A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Adveent


Preached on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 24 December, at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto.   

Readings - Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-20; Luke 1:26-38


“Adoration of the Shepherds” by an unknown artist a part of the Google Art Project. Wikimedia Commons.


Today I want to offer my thanks to everyone, adult and child, who was a good sport and took part in our Christmas pageant.


The Christmas pageant or nativity play is a curious sort of church ritual, isn’t it?   I wonder sometimes why we put such effort into them when there is so much else to do at Christmas?


Surely the nativity play is an expression of our sheer delight at having children present with us at Christmas time, as families reunite over long distances.   That delight is especially poignant and bittersweet in a church such as ours which remembers crowds of children and now sees them but seldom.


So we want the nativity play out of a sense of nostalgia, a desire for things as they were, but we also do it out of a sense of duty, for the psalmist tells God’s people that we must teach the next generation “so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God” (Ps 78:6-7).   And what can story is more important to tell our children than that God loved us enough to be part of our human family?


The Christmas story is an ideal lesson for the young because it is full of things that children understand: family, parents, babies, love, gifts, animals.   It’s a solid foundation on which to raise children in the faith, and it’s a place for we adults to return to when our faith is shaken.  


The nativity play is a classroom for all of us, young and old, that teaches us the mystery of the incarnation, and reminds us that God loved us enough to become flesh and dwell us.   We need to be reminded of this truth when God seems distant in our darker moments.


If there is a danger in the nativity pageant, it is that we adults become patronizing and think that this is  merely an activity for children.   But even when it’s just as adults present here on Sunday, what is our worship but big children at play?   Liturgy is when we as adults imagine the glory of heaven and try to recreate it as best we can through songs, vestments, altar hangings, and rituals.   Liturgy is us giving what poor gifts we can find, gifts that in no way match what we have received from God.   Worship is us imagining, as best we can, what the kingdom of heaven might look like, in the same way that CS Lewis created a magic realm called Narnia in order to show us what a divine realm might look like. 


The nativity play invites us to see our world as being open to God’s action and presence, when “heaven and nature” can be unite and sing together.   That angel may be a child with tinfoil wings and a tinsel halo, those shepherds may just be awkward fellows in bathrobes, but seeing them together before us reminds us that the God who sent an angel to a humble peasant girl also delights in and inhabits our ordinary lives.   As I said earlier, the nativity play is a classroom of the incarnation, and we come away learning that we can find mystery in the ordinary.


Others have learned these lessons before us.   In England in the later middle ages, people would reenact biblical stories in dramas that scholars call mystery plays.  One of these plays, about the birth of Jesus, is called The Second Shepherds’ Play, and I confess that this play helped inspire the simple rhymes used in today’s pageant.   This medieval play is about three simple shepherds, country men with thick rural accents, and there’s a comic first half about how they outwit a thief named Mak and his wife.   This villainous couple steal a sheep and try to disguise it as a baby in a cradle, but the three shepherds finally see through this ruse:



(The other SHEPHERDS come back.)

Give me leave him to kiss, and once lift him out. What devil is this? He has a long snout!


He is marked amiss. Let's not wait about!


The ill-spun weft always comes foully out. Aye, so!

He is like to our sheep.


In the second half, the three shepherds are awakened by an angel, who tells them:

Rise, gentle shepherds, for now is he born

Who shall fetch from the fiend what from Adam was torn. God is made you friend now at this morn,


So the three shepherds go to the manger, apologizing that because they are poor men (“we're rough all three”), they can only offer simple gifts:  a bird, a few cherries, and a ball to play with.   The play ends as the three shepherds leave rejoicing:



Lord, well is me.


In truth already it seem to be told Full oft.


What grace we have found!


Let's make a good sound, And sing it not soft.



I’m sure that the medieval audiences appreciated the two-part structure of the Second Shepherd’s Play.  The thief disguising the sheep as a baby in the cradle in the first part is a comic expression, whereas in the second half, the baby in the manger is not only the Lamb of God but also the Lord as shepherd who will protect his flock.  And so, the play tells us, we are saved from the evil one:



(They enter stable.)

Hail, comely and clean! Hail, young child!

Hail, maker, as I mean, of a maiden so mild!

Thou has cursed, I believe, the warlock so wild;

That false guiler of vexation has himself been beguiled


Likewise, our nativity plays announce good news, that the babe in the manger was born to save us from ourselves, from evil, and from death.   We could tell this story in so many ways, in soaring music like Handel’s Messiah, in elaborate Renaissance paintings, and in high liturgy amidst chanted psalms and liturgy.    However, we can also all this story as an ordinary church nativity play, with adults and children in their bathrobes and tinsel wings, awkwardly and playfully telling the story about how heaven and earth comes together.   


And maybe a simple nativity play is a more honest gift to our saviour because we’re not trying to impress anyone with our skill and talent.   We’re as artless as children playing dress up.  We offer this simple play to the child in the manger, because like the three medieval shepherds, we give what simple things we have.    Our nativity play is a simple gift, but it’s heartfelt, and it’s joyous, because today is a story that children can understand and mystics can forever ponder, that the God of love and majesty came among us a child, to save us.  What can we give him?  Poor as we are?  What we have we give him, our hearts, our selves.  These are gifts enough.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Advent Highway: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Advent Highway:  A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent.  Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday December 10 2023 

Readings - Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8 



A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  (Isaiah 40:3)

Throughout Advent, the voices we hear from scripture urge us to prepare, to be ready for comings and goings.   

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus say in a parable in Mark’s gospel (Mk 13:24-37) that he would come again like the master of a house, unexpectedly, at any time of the day or night.   We in the parable were the master’s servants, expected to be ready and to the house ready and in good order.    Thus, when the Advent hymn tells us to “trim the hearth and set the table”, it is urging spiritual preparation, and not just home decorating.

So comings and arrivals we can prepare for.   We know the date, we prepare to welcome the babe as God made flesh, and with the Spirit’s help we do what we can to set our souls and lives in order.

But what of Advent goings?  There’s that highway that Isaiah speaks of.  What must we take with us?  When must we leave?  Where will it take us, and what will we find there?

Now as Canadians, we don’t know much about highways in the desert, but we know something of preparing for travel at this time of year.  In the warm months, as we drive about in the highlands and see those signs that say “Road Closed When Lights Flashing Due to Winter Conditions”, we may not think much about them at the time, but we know that in a few months, it will be time to prepare for travel.

We know when it’s time to put on the snow tires.   We fill up with winter window cleaner, stock the car with blankets and, as Rev. Sharon said in her homily last Sunday, a candle or two for warmth.   Mostly we do a good job of getting ready, though there was the guy in the rectory driveway on the first icy day of winter, scraping his windows with a wooden spatula.   The less said about that guy, the better.

While we can try to imagine the dangers of a travel in the desert - getting lost, thirst, wild animals - we know all too well the dangers of winter travel.   Who hasn’t been caught in a snow squall, gripping the steering wheel until the knuckles ache, peering through the whiteout to try and discern the road ahead and the terrifying ditches on either side?  Who hasn’t breathed a sigh of relief to see the blue lights of a plow up ahead, and followed the plow like a gosling follows its mother?  And who hasn’t thanked God when the lights of home or hotel finally come into view and the long scary trip is done?

Our words from Isaiah today are words of promise and freedom to a displaced and captive people.   Israel has served its sentence for disobedience, its time in Babylon has come to an end.   But how will the exiles in Babyon get home to Jerusalem?  The good news that Isaiah holds out is a metaphor that sounds like a miraculous engineering, a highway through the desert, level and smooth, an easy way for God’s people to go home and be free again in their own land.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Perhaps if we wanted to transpose Isaiah’s metaphor to a Canadian context, keeping in mind our earlier thoughts about winter driving, it might go something like this.

A voice cries out:  “In the winter prepare the way of the Lord, plough the highway for our God.   All the black ice will be sanded, every drift shall be cleared, the snow fences shall be fixed firmly in place, and the hills and corners made safe.”

But where will these now safe winter roads bring us?  Will they lead us back home to our old lives and comforts, or will they bring us to some new place where we are willing, even brave enough, to find a God who will make us new?

Isaiah promised a day when the exiles would return home to a new relationship with God.  The people had been taken to Babylon because they had forgotten their covenant with God.   They would return as a changed and redeemed people.  Thus when Isaiah uses the word “comfort”, as he does repeatedly, it means more than just “console” or “cheer”.   As the biblical scholar Anathea Porter-Young notes, the Hebrew word naămû has a range of meanings including “change”, “be sorry”, and “repent”.   Thus the road home to Jerusalem will be road to a restored and repaired relationship with God.

 In today’s gospel, the cry of Isaiah is taken up anew.  Now the voice has a name, John the Baptizer. He is dressed like one of the great prophets (Elisha) and he speaks with the words of another.  John tells us that the highway is open, the road is ploughed, and again God’s people can travel, which they do:

And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (Isa 40:5)

Mark, ever laconic, doesn’t tell us what sins the people want to confess.  Their particularity doesn’t matter.  What matters is that there is need and urgency; tthey desperately want what John promises.  

And what does John promise, but Jesus, the one far greater than himself, the one  whom John isn’t even worthy to stoop before as a servant?   John admits that his baptism is water, a temporary cleansing.

By contrast, Jesus offers a baptism of spirit, an internal cleansing, a remaking, a new beginning, and a making clean of what has gone before.  Confession, baptism, forgiveness, making clean, new beginning - these are all bound up in the first words of Mark’s gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk 1.1).    The good news is that we the Advent highway brings to the one who knows us, hears us, judges and forgives us, and makes us new.

Rowan Williams has written of Advent that it is about our need to know that we are not alone.   “We live as human beings, in an enormous hunger to be spoken to, to be touched, to be judged and loved and [forgiven]”.    We cannot judge ourselves.   Who can judge us and forgive us for homelessness and poverty, for war and genocide, for environmental and nuclear destruction?  We cannot forgive ourselves, and yet without the voice of God we are left alone in our flawed humanity.

And so we long for a God who restores our humanity and makes it new.   The Advent highway brings us to this God, whether it leads us through the desert or through the winter storm.   The Advent highway brings us to Jesus, who knows exactly who and what we are, and who, nevertheless, offers us absolution and new life.

Shortly in our worship today, when we get to the Confession and Absolution, I invite you to imagine yourself having driven safely through a winter storm.  The danger’s past.  You’re safe.   You can unclench your hands from the wheel.  Outside the car is light and warmth.  The Advent Highway has brought you home to Jesus.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Benjamin Crosby On Being A Young Priest In a Declining Church

Benjamin Crosby is a voice in the Anglican church worth attending to.   In a new article in Plough (another voice worth attending to), Benjamin speaks about being a young (thirty two year old) priest in a declining denomination, and feeling like a lookout in the Titanic whose reports about icebergs ahead go ignored on the bridge.

Nevertheless, his faith is encouraging, and his faith is in the clear and unambiguous proclamation of the gospel that matters because: "everyone is beloved of God, who sent his Son to bring good news to a fallen and suffering world. There can be no doubt this world is suffering from evil and despair. So why on earth would we, who have been entrusted to share the hope of Christ, withhold or obscure it where it is so clearly needed?"

In a church where some of my clergy appear comfortable with having questions rather than answers, I appreciate Crosby’s faith in a gospel of life, resurrection, and hope.   In the words of the singer Jason Isbill, I’ll work hard till the end of my shift, and then I’ll go to my rest grateful that younger clergy like Crosby will lift high the cross when my generation is gone.   It will be a very different church, but as Crosby notes, it will the church of God who "is good and he is faithful, even when we are faithless”.

Friday, December 1, 2023

Advent Badgers and Hedgehogs: A Parish Message for Advent

 This text appeared in the latest issue of our parish newsletter, All Saints Alive.



Every Advent, two tunes compete in my head.  One is the bouncy and uplifting “People Look East”, which uses the language of many parables to encourage us to prepare our souls for the coming of Christ (“Love the guest is on the way”).   This hymn was a favourite of my mother, a cheerful soul who usually began singing it sometime in August.


The other tune competing for my mental real estate is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”.   This ancient tune, in a medieval minor tone, is sombre and austere, full of biblical imagery that longs for the promised Saviour whose coming is foretold in scripture.


Both hymns embody the essential Advent themes of preparation and expectation, though neither may satisfy those who come to church in early to mid December hoping to hear Christmas carols!


In a recent essay in the Christian journal Plough, Claire Coffey makes a tongue in cheek distinction between “badger-like stalwarts who point out that Advent is its own season” and “jolly hedgehogs” who want to spread the Christmas spirit as far and wide as they can.


Liturgically speaking, I tend to be a bit badger-ish when it comes to Advent, though I have nothing against jolly hedgehogs and, personally, if you want to keep your Christmas lights lit all year long because they cheer you up, then more power to your elbow!   I myself wait to hang the lights until just before Advent, when the darkness and chill creep in earlier each day.  In doing so, I find myself agreeing with Claire Coffey that “Advent is the final phase of spooky season”.


By spooky season, Coffey means that Advent is in many ways connected with Halloween, when we bid adieu to summer’s glories, when the fields and the trees turn bare and brown, and we walk a little more nervously at night amidst the rustling leaves.    We think of the dead on All Souls, and we think of our sins and guilts and grievances.   In church through November, our gospel readings warn of the return of the lord who will demand an accounting.   We ask ourselves, are we ready for his coming?


Advent is expectation and hope, but it can also be a time for remorse, repentance, and self-examination.   This is a time when we may need to curb our hedgehog enthusiasm for Christmas and tune in to the more disciplined badger side of our personalities.    Remorse, repentance, and self-examination as spiritual disciplines can be demanding, but they lead us out of gloom and into  joy.    One of our most beloved Christmas tales is a ghost story that leads from remorse, repentance, and self-examination to a new life and joy.


 So yes, Advent may indeed be part of the spooky season, but it ends with church bells ringing clear and bright on a frosty morning, ringing to banish the ghosts and to tell us that we need not fear the Lord’s return.   In the words of the ancient hymn,


O come, Thou Dayspring from on high

And cheer us by Your drawing nigh

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadow put to flight


Happy Advent, dear saints.  May this time be one of good preparation for us as we put our homes and hearts in readiness for the coming of the king.


Claire Coffey’s piece may be found at



Sunday, November 26, 2023

Seeing the King: A Homily for the Reign of Christ


Preached on Sunday, November 26, 2023, at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost: The Reign of Christ.

Readings - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46


Today in the life of the church  and in our church calendar is called the Feast of the Reign of Christ.  It’s a day that invites us to think of the authority of Jesus Christ over our lives, our church, and our world.   


“Reign of Christ”.  The word “reign” is a verb, meaning to exercise power and authority as a monarch.   As a noun, “reign” means the dates between when a monarch is crowned and, typically, when they die.  Thus, the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was from 1952 to 2022.


As Christians, a day called “The Reign of Christ” begs some questions.   Has Christ’s reign started, or will it begin on some future date when, as today’s gospel promises, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory” (Mt 25.31)?  


What will the reign of Christ look like?   What sort of authority will Jesus have as our king?   Do we even want Jesus to be a king, given that we have so many other ways of thinking about him, as friend, as brother, as radical or revolutionary.  There are many ways of thinking about Jesus, and not all of them align neatly with our human ideas about power and authority.


For us as 21st century Christians living in a democracy, we may have trouble conceiving of Christ as a king because terms like monarchy and reign are archaic and may even have negative connotations.  What does a monarch look like today?  How do we recognize one?    


It may be an odd question to those of you here today who are ardent royalists.  Of course we know what King Charles looks like, because he’s deeply familiar to us as a celebrity.  Tabloids, Netflix series, and the like have the British royals duly familiar to us, if not all deeply revered.   We recognize them as people, but how do we see their authority (such as remains) in a confusing and increasingly disordered world where postmodernity has made the idea of authority deeply suspect.


In the ancient world, kings and emperors were distant figures, and few of their subjects would have known them by sight.  Thus, coins were used symbols of authority, each bearing the likeness of the ruler and showing his power by a crowned or wreathed head.     Coins spoke of an earthly authority that Jesus never claimed.


You may remember how, when Jesus was asked about paying taxes, and asked for a coin, he pointed at the image of Caesar and said “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22.21).   Jesus cleverly implied that the emperor’s human authority had limits within and beneath the authority of God his Father.   


Likewise, when Pilate asks Jesus if he is a king, Jesus points to a different reality and a different understanding of authority:  “My kingdom is not from this world”, Jesus says (Jn 18.33-38).  When Jesus is convicted and killed, his crown of thorns and the inscription on the cross, “The King of the Jews”, are mocking gestures of contempt, but perhaps they also show traces of fear, an awareness that there is an unworldly kingdom that will ultimately judge the kingdoms of this world.


And he will judge them, as our gospel reading promises:


32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25.32).  

Matthew’s does promise that Jesus will come again as king and judge, and in that respect, today’s gospel functions as a yellow highlighter, underscoring these words of the Creed:  “And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead”.   Matthew imagines Jesus as a king returning in glory, surrounded by angels, in the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic prophets like Daniel, so the glory is there in full view, but the underlying authority, the underlying values of the kingdom, are not obvious at first. 


Matthew imagines that on the day of judgement, even the righteous will be puzzled.  


Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” (Mt 25:37-39)


They are puzzled because Christ the King was with them all along.  He was the hungry and thirsty stranger, he was the cold person shivering in rags, he was the prisoner.    The king’s crown was his poverty, the king’s throne was the piece of cardboard on the pavement.  The King was there all along, and while nobody recognized him, the righteous were the ones who bothered to show love and care to him and to the least amongst them.


And if the King was there all along, when did the king’s reign begin?   The King’s reign began in service.   Earlier in Matthew, two disciples, James and John, want the best seats  in God’s kingdom, on either side of Jesus.   Don’t think that way, Jesus scolds them.   That’s gentile thinking, he says; their rulers lord it over them as tyrants.   Jesus says that his kingdom is built on service.


“whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:26-28).

The Reign of Christ begins in every action of love and charity.   Christ the King is seen in the faces of those whom we might otherwise pass by and ignore.   Christ the King is served at the tables of our Friendship Dinners and in the hot meals our Five Loaves team sends out the door.   Christ the King is served by those agencies who receive Faith Words funding, and my thanks to you for dedicating part of our recent Pub Night proceeds to Faith Works.

Today, as we prepare our hearts for Advent, we pause to understand better the King and Saviour whose coming we eagerly expect.  We recognize that our King’s authority is not always understood by the rulers of this world, and is sometimes feared by them, for that authority rests on love and willing service, values that tyranny and coercion will never overcome.    We know our King because he does not lord it over us.   Jesus calls us friends and invites us to follow him.  We wait for him, but we know that he is already here, in the ones we are called to serve, and in serving them, we help show Christ’s kingdom to the world.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Video of our Anglicanism 101 Series: Fr. Michael on Church History

 Here is the complete video of Fr. Michael's talk on church history from our Anglicanism 101 series.    

When time next permits I'll post Rev. Sharon's talk from the same series on How We Worship.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Good Words: Brother David on Honesty in Prayer

Good words in this meditation by Brother David Vryhof (Society of St. John the Evangelist) about how we can be honest with God in our prayer lives, because God knows us better than we may know ourselves:

"The Triune God sees and knows everything about us, even what we keep hidden from others.  When we realize that God sees it all and still loves us with an unwavering lovewe can risk being honest in our prayer.  God does not want to hear from us lovely platitudes or empty promises or carefully crafted words; in prayer God desires our honestyGenuine prayer is always truthful and real.  We can pray the truth about ourselves because God is trustworthy and faithful.  Because of this, we can bring to God the whole of our lives, not just our ‘spiritual selves.’  As we say in our community’s Rule of Life:

The life of prayer calls for the courage to bring into our communion with Christ the fullness of our humanity and the concrete realities of our daily existence, which he redeemed by his incarnation…. We are to bring him our sufferings and poverty, our passion and sexuality, our fears and resistances, our desires and our dreams, our losses and grief.  We must spread before him our cares about the world and its people, our friends and families, our enemies and those from whom we are estranged.  Our successes and our failures, our gifts and shortcomings are equally the stuff of our prayer…

                                       (The Rule of the Society of St John the Evangelist, chapter 22, page 45)  


Brother David’s complete message and an audio recording of it may be found here.


Sunday, November 19, 2023

The Coin of the Realm of the Kingdom of Heaven: A Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 19 November, 2023, the Twenty-fifth Sunday After Pentecost.  Readings for this Sunday: Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

There’s an old, slightly archaic English phrase called The Coin of the Realm.   This phrase means the legal currency of a state, or more generally just means something like “the genuine article”.

Recently the Canadian mint unveiled a facsimile of the new dollar coin, bearing the image of our new king, Charles III.  As is custom, the head of the new king faces left, whereas his mother Queen Elizabeth looked to the right on coins, the difference signifying the end of one reign and the start of the second.

I recall when the loonies and toonies were first introduced in the 1980s, and how my American friends were fascinated with them, not only as the idea of a dollar coin was strange, but also that the coin had the Queen’s head on one side!   Strange to Americans at the time, perhaps, but for us, we adopted the loonie and toonie as coins of the ream, even if their weight was hard on our trouser pockets!

Coins of course figure prominently in today’s parable, usually called The Parable of the Talents.  In this story, Jesus describes three servants whose master entrusts them with considerable sums of money,  talents, in the expectation that they will increase his wealth during the master’s absence.  The parable ends with rewards for two the servants, but has scary imagery of punishment for the third servant who does nothing to increase the wealth given to him, and merely buries it for safekeeping.

Biblical scholars agree that the sums of money given out by the master were ridiculously large, fortunes even by today’s standards.  A talent in the ancient world was often a unit of measurement, the weight of many gold or silver coins, so the third slave probably dug a pretty deep hole to bury a LOT of coins.   However, since we know that parables are stories offering insights into the value system of God, I think we can safely say that the parable is not really about money or about investment strategies.

Jesus often begins his parables with the phrase “the kingdom of God is like” and then uses a powerful figure - a master, a king, and landowner - to represent God, while the servants, slaves, or employees in the parables represent us, God’s people.  At the end of these parables the master holds the servants accountable.  Those who have done well are rewarded, and those who have acted selfishly are punished, and for the wicked servants the parables often end with “weeping and gnashing of teeth”.

So, if the parables are about the kingdom of heaven and how it works, and if we want to understand and learn from the parable of the talents, then a useful question might be,  what do the talents represent in this parable?  Or, to put it another way, what is the coin of the realm of heaven?

There are abundant places in Matthew’s gospel alone where we could find answers to these questions, and many of them we have visited recently during this church year.   Two weeks ago, on All Saints Sunday, we heard the Beatitudes, from the Sermon of the Mount, and Jesus’ list of those who are blessed (Mt 5:3-12):

  • Those who aren’t full of themselves, the humble and meek
  • Those who want to see justice and goodness done in the world
  • Those who work for peace and reconciliation
  • Those who are merciful

In showing God’s love and regard for these sorts of people, Jesus reveals that the coin of the realm of the Kingdom of Heaven are the things that make that kingdom manifest in the world: peace, love, a fierce desire for justice, generosity of spirit, and perhaps above all, mercy.

Jesus teaches these qualities in many parables, like the king who forgives his servant an impossibly large debt, and then becomes angry when that same servant will not forgive the minor debt that another servant owes him (Mt 18:21-35).  In another he compares the kingdom of heaven to a vineyard owner who pays everyone the same, regardless of hours worked, because it is his right to be generous (Mt 20:1-16).  

And after another parable, Jesus teaches that “the kingdom of God will be  … given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (Mt 21.43).  That last teaching reminds us that Jesus is a teacher who expects results, who wants his disciples to learn and then do what he has shown them.

So what if the talents in today’s parable are the coins of the realm of the kingdom of heaven - generosity, justice, mercy, and love - the very things that we receive from God?   And what if the duty of the servants is to invest them in a world that needs more generosity, mercy, and love?  In other words, to take the gifts that God has given us and pay them forward?

The third servant in the parable is punished because he won’t do anything with what he’s given, which begs the question, what good is love if no one is loved?  What good is justice if no one receives it?  What good is mercy if no one is shown mercy?   How can justice, love and mercy do good if they are buried in the ground?

Let me finish with a few words on the ending of the parable, all the scary stuff about outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Should the third servant have been afraid of the master?   No, not if he had understood what he had been given as a gift rather than as a menacing burden.  Likewise, it does us no good to hear this parable and then conclude that we should be afraid of God.

Jesus has chosen us to be workers in the vineyard, partners in the kingdom of heaven and friends of God.   As always, he asks us to follow him, and in return he promises us that he will return to restore God’s kingdom, at which time there will be judgement.  Those who have shown mercy, love and justice will be rewarded, and those who chose not to will not have a place in the kingdom of heaven (Mt 25.32-46).

The kingdom of heaven rests on the foundation of God’s justice.   We trust that goodness, light, and right will be upheld on the last day, and we especially need that assurance in these dark and uncertain times.  But we need not fear that justice.  In our second lesson, we heard St Paul remind us that we need not fear God’s anger: “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 These 5.4).

Soon we begin the season of Advent.  The days will grow even shorter and colder.  Our scripture readings through Advent will speak of the coming of the king from his long journey.   We will light candles, we will keep watch and be ready like good servants, and we will await our king with joy and expectation.  And in the meantime, we will use the gifts we have been given - love, justice, and mercy - for the sake of the world God loves, because love, justice and mercy are the coins of God’s realm.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Guest Homily: The Rev. Canon Gordon Mintz on Remembrance Day Sunday

The Rev. Canon Gordon Mintz is a retired Canadian Forces Chaplain and part of our clergy team at All Saints, Collingwood and our Regional Ministry of South Georgian Bay.    Here is the text of the sermon he preached here at All Saints for us last Sunday.


The texts read for this Sunday:  Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 78:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13


Today we gather in a world rife with conflict in the Holy Land, Ukraine and many other places and yet in the midst of this trial, tribulation and angst - part of what we do today is remember and give thanks. We do not glorify war or the human lusts for power and prestige that that are often behind oppressive conflicts. But we do commemorate the selfless commitment and dedication shown by the soldiers – Canadian daughters and sons who fought so bravely at places like Afghanistan, Korea, Passchendaele and Vimy Ridge.  As Christian this is so much more than an act of remembrance.  Our scriptures today invite us to delve into a belief that shapes us, a gratitude that molds us and a faith that re-members us, that reconstitutes us, and forms us as Christ-followers.


This has echoes of our great remembrance in the Eucharist. When we remember the sacrifice of Christ and what He did for us, we partake in its deep meaning and the real and life-giving presence of Christ in which our faith is re-membered, re-appropriated, and entered into fully shaping us, our belief and therefore our choices and behaviours psychology tells us.   Eucharist means giving thanks. When we remember the sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors and air women and men we fully partake in the gift they have given us - the freedom they fought for that we are the beneficiaries of.  That belief, that faith, was their driving motivation.


Belief is so important. Psychologists know that Belief informs and shapes behavior – you will likely have heard that phrase that “perception is reality”. Of course, this kind of relativism is not a truism. It is true that while our internal perception does not define external reality, one’s perception can become one’s reality. This fact makes theology and faith even more important in shaping our worldview and especially what is ultimate reality and we see this theme in our scriptures this morning.  What we believe about the world and ourselves and the meaning of it all is the framework from which we choose how to behave and our emotional responses to the journey before us. 


This perception and reality tension was perfectly illustrated for me by a young airman I was deployed with on Op Unified Protector. This was the UN mission to protect the Libyans from the violence being perpetrated by Gaddafi. It was James’ job to go out and paint the bombs dropped in combat on the nose of the fighter jets which is a long-standing tradition. He was so enthused for this task at the beginning of the deployment, but remarked one day, “Padre, this is not as fun anymore”. The reality of the destruction and collateral damage changed his perception even in what was seen as a just cause. It yielded a great opportunity to have a significant conversation about values and purpose and what motivated him. 


What did our veterans believe they were fighting for?  That was clear – they fought as gift for us - a gift of a free world.  They were inspired by the firm belief that God was calling them to stand against tyrannical forces to give us a better future.  Some would say it is and was all such a waste.  Unfortunately, to see Afghanistan return to many of its previous ways reinjures our soldiers who fought and were affected by that way and seems to negate the sacrifice of our soldiers. This is exactly what our scripture from Wisdom refers to in verse 2 In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster.

However, we are reminded that though it was a great sacrifice it was not at all a waste  

1 - But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. And verse 9 continues Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect. 


This is the belief that shapes us and the gratitude that re-members us and reorients us to divine things and ultimate realties.  Matthew reminds us that we will hear of wars and rumours of wars; (6:24) and exhorts us saying see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place. Wars, famines and earthquakes will all happen and are called the beginning of the birth pangs (v.8). We can hear the sense of expectancy, something new coming, a divine purpose unfolding.


Our opening hymn picked up on this theme as well with its imagery of another country, another ultimate reality, and did you notice its notable properties - her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering; and soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase, and her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace (opening Hymn – I Vow to Thee, My Country, words: Cecil Spring)


The psalm (116) also echoes this theme of belief that shapes us:

3 The snares of death encompassed me;

   the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

   I suffered distress and anguish. 

And here we have the hinge of belief where this passage turns

4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:

   ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’ 

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,

   my eyes from tears,

   my feet from stumbling.


The fruit of belief couldn’t be clearer. Continuing our tour of this theme in this morning’s readings, we jump to 1 Peter where Paul talks of the fruit of belief as the outcome of your faith:

8 Although you have not seen[b] him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.


The re-membering and shaping function of faith and gratitude is explicit and is ours to grab hold of as the fruit of faithful yearning for Christ, for truth, for justice and for peace. 

Finally, our gospel highlights the same redemptive theme of belief being the key to our salvation and changing of our worldview and eternal circumstance.

John 6.40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”


The reality is we live in a broken world that can be painful and even violent. But our spiritual resilience, like that of our soldiers, is buttressed by having our perception informed by the reality, the fact, that God is still on the throne. There is a Divine purpose unfolding no matter how chaotic our world looks. Perhaps most importantly, you and I are invited and even called to be instruments and participants in God’s plan of salvation and victory. We don’t need an army to do that – we need the fortress of a faithful heart. 


God’s ultimate promise for us is that God will dwell with us – Immanuel – God with us. There will be no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain. We will get out of our cycles of violence and war because all of that both has been, and will be, gathered up in Christ the Prince of Peace. Right remembering is about more than setting aside a day in a year to remind ourselves of the historical facts. Remembering rightly is about what we believe and how we live and in the light of the gifts of sacrifice at Vimy, Passchendaele, Juno Beach and so many others.  And even more importantly, remembering is about appropriating anew the victory Christ won for us against sin and oppression.  Because that my brothers and sisters is the foundation of the redemption and purpose laid out in our scriptures this morning.  That is the “so what" of this remembering. It is so much more than a poppy worn in gratitude and remembrance. It is a thanksgiving that shapes us and draws us back into God’s plan and purpose for a world where swords are beaten into ploughshares and tyranny and oppression are forever defeated. But this is a costly victory. Many have given their lives for it including our Lord and Saviour. 

We will remember them! Amen.

Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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