Thursday, March 30, 2023

Lent Madness: Bertha vs Seattle

Sorry, no Lent Madness email from me yesterday, but I did say that I had less and less to say as this goes on.

 

While I felt some sadness for Florence Li Tim-Oh’s defeat, I had a strong suspicion at the start that Jonathan Daniels would take the Golden Halo, and it looks like he’s the favoured one at this point.    

 

Today is a matchup that only Lent Madness could give us, an Anglo-Saxon queen vs a West Coast indigenous chief.  What do they have in common?  They are both friends of God, and it pleases me to imagine their conversations around the heavenly banquet table.   What gifts do they embody that we might ask for?  Would we ask the Spirit for Sealth’s steadfast faith and prophetic voice for his people in the face of adversity, or for Bertha’s determination to win her husband and people over to Christ?

 

Since the final posts at www.lentmadness.org focus on saintly kitsch, and since the saints’ lives are traditionally associated with legend and story to inspire the faithful, I leave you with this spring gift, the story of how the robin got its red breast.  It may be a little kitschy, but as I hear robins at sunrise now, I’m grateful to God for them and for spring:

Read it here:

 

 

 Vote for Bertha or Sealth here:  


Blessings this day,
 
Michael

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Lent Madness: Daniels vs Bakhtia

As we inch closer to the end of Lent, the stakes in our Lent Madness matchups get higher and the decisions get harder.

 

I missed writing on yesterday’s match of Blandina vs Brendan of Clonfert, and sad as I am to see an Irish saint of legend go down to defeat, I wasn’t surprised that he lost to Blandina.   I just finished listening to an interview with Tom Holland, the historian who wrote a cracking book on the history of Christianity called Dominion (you should read this book this summer).  I put the link to the interview below.


Holland cited Blandina as one of the most influential saints and models of holiness in the Christian faith.  One point he made is that while Blandina’s noble Christian mistress also perished in the persecution, history doesn’t remember her name, whereas we know the name of her slave, Blandina.  That says something about the appeal of Christianity to slaves, a class that through all of the ancient world, were considered more as livestock than as humans.

 

Holland’s second point, and this applies to Jonathan Daniels as well, is that suffering and pain in Christianity become meaningful, and even noble, when it suffering is considered an imitation of Christ.  While we all hear sermons about the call to take up our cross and follow Jesus, only martyrs actually do it.  So any Lent Madness matchup, however silly and educational they maybe, that features an actual martyr, triggers our most profound emotions as Christians.

 

Jonathan Daniels may not have started his Christian life choosing to seek a martyr’s crown, but he willingly put himself in a place and position where he received that honour.    The Civil Rights era was a time when some American white churches, particularly Anglicans (Episcopalians),  chose to stand beside their African American brothers and sisters.   Some, like Daniels, could have made a token gesture of youthful solidarity and then spent the rest of their clerical careers in some privileged church.  Daniels saw Christ in Selma and chose to follow his saviour and his cross to go back there.

 

With all reverence to Bakhtia, I think the martyr will win today’s match.

Blessed be their memories.  Vote here.

 

M+

 

51: Tom Holland on the Christian History of Pain

The PloughCast

 

How did the crucifixion of Jesus change how humanity thinks about suffering? Peter Mommsen speaks with the well-known historian about the way that Christianity challenged and transformed classical ideas about suffering and the good life. They discuss the contrast between the story of Laoco├Ân and of the crucifixion of Saint Peter, as portrayed in two contrasting artworks in the Vatican. Then they discuss the nature of crucifixion, how pain was seen by the Romans, and the utterly subversive way in which Christianity transformed the understanding of suffering in the West. They talk about why it took so long for it to become common to portray Jesus suffering on the cross in Christian art, and how late medieval understandings of the self and the body contributed to this, and explore the ways that contemporary political movements incorporate Christian ideas outside of the context of Christianity. Finally, they look at the lives of several exemplary Christians, whose lives of redemptive suffering in imitation of Christ make no sense except under the paradigm of the Christian transformation of the meaning of suffering. 

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-ploughcast/id1555276343?i=1000605273687


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Lent Madness: Hooker vs Bach

Welcome, Halo Hopers, and welcome to Tuesday’s Matchup, after we say a brief prayer for poor Edmund the Martyr King, who will henceforth remember as Totally Dead and Buried St. Edmund, as he was utterly trounced by Bertha’s fans.  The Queen of Kent, or Big Bertha as I hear they’re calling her, goes on to face either Chief Seattle or John Donne.  

 

When I was once visiting a long term care home, I met a lady who had been a professional musician, piano and organ, and I asked her who she loved to play the most.   “Bach, Bach, Bach, Bach”, she said, as a radiant smile spread across her face.   I am sure angels in heaven never looked so beatific.

 

So, with all that good feeling for Bach, let me just put in a brief word for Richard Hooker and Team Anglican.   It so happens that on this date in 1556, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was burned at the stake by the authorities of Mary Tudor, during her brief attempt to return England to Roman Catholicism.   

 

Fast forward thirty years after the death of the founder of Anglicanism, and as we read today on lentmadness.org, a bedraggled Richard Hooker arrives in London as the rector of Temple Church.  There, in a church that was a hotbed of Protestant and Puritan enthusiasm, Hooker preaches that the souls of those who died under Roman Catholicism before the Reformation are saved by the grace of God.

 

Seems an odd thing to think about now, but in an England where memories of “Bloody Mary” and poor martyred Cranmer were still fresh and where Protestant Elizabeth Tudor had enemies all over the place, it was a gutsy and gracious thing for a mild and scholarly man like Hooker to preach.  It’s one of the reasons why I love this unassuming hero of Anglicanism.

 

So, I am sure that Bach will crush Hooker, but today I’m flying the flag for my man Richard.   Vote as your conscience and musical tastes dictate.  Vote here:  https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/johann-sebastian-bach-v-richard-hooker/

 

 

Blessed be their memories,

 

Michael

 

--

Remembering An Anglican Martyr, Thomas Cranmer

 


Today in the life of the church we remember and give thanks for Thomas Cranmer, died this day, 21 March, 1556

Thomas Cranmer was a Cambridge scholar who became arch- bishop of Canterbury in 1533 and guided the Church of England through its first two decades of independence from the Papacy.
When he assumed his office he was already committed to protestant views, but political conditions forced him to keep
hissympathies a secret. For over a decade he studied the issues which divided not only protestants from Catholics, but also the protestant movement itself.
His studies bore fruit when the political situation allowed him to begin serious reformation of the liturgy. He had a large hand in drafting The Book of Common Prayer, which was authorized in 1549. Three years later he oversaw a second edition of this Book, which he revised in such a way as to make its protestant doctrine unmistakable.
Soon afterwards he and his Prayer Book were overtaken by events when Queen Mary I came to the throne and restored England to communion with the Pope. Cranmer was imprisoned and endured a long, humiliating trial for heresy, at the end of which he recanted his protestant opinions in hopes of clemency.
The Queen refused to hear his pleas, and he was burned at the stake on this day in the year 1556. As the flames licked around him, he thrust out his right hand — the hand which had signed his earlier recantations — so that it might be the first to be burned; and that was the posture in which the onlookers last saw him, as the fire engulfed his body.
Collect
O God,
you endued your servant Thomas Cranmer
with zeal for the purity of your Church
and gave him singular ability
in reforming the common prayer of your people. Grant us such courage in our witness to your grace that in our families, communities, and nation
we may become the leaven of your justice and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 
(From For All The Saints, Anglican Church of Canada Publication)

Monday, March 20, 2023

Lent Madness: Bertha the Pious vs Edmund the Pierced

Good morning divine devotees, and welcome to Monday’s Lent Madness. 

 Today we find that Florence Li Tim-Oi has taken her place in the Elate Eight, edging out Enmegahbowh who placed a respectable second. As I mentioned last Friday, we can take solace in that a Canadian would win, either way. Today we’re back to Merrie Olde Anglo-Saxon England, which was generally Merrie except for the Vikings, the massacres, the martyrdoms, the heresies, and all that other stuff. 

 Amidst all this unpleasantness, we find Bertha of Kent, serenely wandering an empty pastoral English landscape, wearing a bright red cloak and listening to a lush soundtrack.

   

 If you want to buy the CD of the full film, you can do so here.

 I liked how Bertha was described as a “silent influencer” of her royal husband. It’s my experience in ministry that behind every *occasionally* churchgoing husband is a pious and prayerful wife. It’s amazing how many Dark Ages queens seemed to have influenced their husbands - St. Margaret of Scotland is another example. 

As for poor St Edmund, the martyr king and patron saint of pincushion makers, I had thought briefly that the English town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk got its name because he was buried there, but not quite. “Bury” comes from the Germanic “burg” meaning fortress, from which we get our modern word “borough”. However, after he was shot full of arrows and then beheaded by the Vikings, St. Edmund was buried there. 

His shrine had a tradition of miracles and was a famous tourist and pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. During the Reformation the shrine of St. Edmunds was torn down and looted, as so many saints’ shrines were, since the Reformers and later Puritans had no use for saints or shrines. Thus our little game of Lent Madness is part of a slow process of recovery of famous Christians whose names are gradually being reclaimed as worthy of memory. So how will you vote? 

Draw you aim, vote here, and let your arrow find it’s mark.

Blessings this day, Michael+

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Being A Sheep: A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto,  Sunday, March 19th, 2023.

Readings - 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41 

 

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1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. (Ps 23:1)

You may recall the lost sheep who was found in Australia in February ’21.  He had once been owned, but had strayed and somehow had survived in the wild for years.  When he was found, he had so much wool that he could barely see or eat, and when he was sheared, his fleece weighed over seventy pounds.  The people at the sheep rescue farm named him “Baarack” (as in Baarack from the Brink).

Which just goes to show, really, that sheep do best when someone looks after them.   They need all the things listed in Psalm 23 - food (“green pastures”), drink (“still waters”), and a guardian whose “rod” and “staff” will protect them from “enemies”.   These are all the good things that, presumably,  Baarack received at the rescue farm.

So even though Psalm 23 teaches us a lot about looking after sheep, it’s not about animal husbandry.  Psalm 23 is about trust in God, which is why it’s such a beloved psalm and why it’s often chosen in hospital rooms and at funerals.    However, if the psalm is really about trust, then we have to hear it and read it in a way that identifies us with sheep, right? 

So just for a moment, humour me and pretend  you’re a sheep.   I know that’s a challenge for most of us, because the thing we value the most as a society is our agency and autonomy.  We want to control our own affairs.  That starts pretty early in life, from the moment a child of two or three starts saying that they want to do things themselves.  And I think that even applies to religion.

A lot of how we think about religion is about the choices we make and the decisions we make.  We shop for churches and evaluate them in terms of how they meet our needs.   Some people say they will let their children grow up and decide if they need religion, which personally, I think is a good way to raise agnostics.  We choose the bits of the creeds we want to believe in, and evangelicals say that we have to decide to accept Jesus as our personal saviour.

So our views on religion today are influenced by consumerism (what we want) and rationalism (what we think and what we’re prepared to accept).  But, if you’re a sheep, you don’ t want agency or rationalism so much as you want a shepherd to care for you and protect you.   And if you want to see what that looks like from the sheep’s point of view, just look at the formerly blind man in today’s gospel.

The blind man only appears in the gospel because Jesus notices him:  “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth” (Jn 9:2).  Jesus sees him and decides to help him because of who he is, “the light of the world” (9.5).  Unlike the other gospels, the man doesn’t even ask to be healed;  Jesus just gives him his sight, sends him to wash, and then Jesus disappears from the middle part of the story.

So for much of our gospel reading, the focus is on the man himself as he gradually understands what has happened to him and as he gradually realizes who Jesus is.  Faced with the hostility of the Pharisees, the man fearlessly says that Jesus has helped him, that he must be a sinless man, and the he must be a prophet.  And the man pays a price for saying these things, for he is expelled from his synagogue community.

In gospel terms, the man is a lost sheep twice over, first because he is blind, and second because he is left without a community.   And he is saved twice, first by Jesus who cures him, and second when Jesus returns to the story, learns about his expulsion, and finds him (9.35).  It’s only in the last part of the story, when he and Jesus talk, that he realizes who Jesus is.  Like last week’s story of the Women at the Well, the whole conversation builds to Jesus saying who he is (the Son of Man is “the one speaking with you”) and the man accepting him (“Lord, I believe”) (Jn 9.36).

So here’s a thought.  What’s the relation between Psalm 23 and today’s gospel?  I would say that Psalm 23 is the song and the prayer of the man who was blind.  He was figuratively, in “the darkest valley”, he was found by Jesus the shepherd, and Jesus protects him from the Pharisees (“you prepare a table before me in the presence of the enemies”).  He recognizes who Jesus is (“The Lord is my shepherd”).   I think we can hear Psalm 23 as the man’s expression of gratitude to Jesus.

Here’s a second thought.   What’s your own personal relationship to Psalm 23?  Do you see it as poetry?  Do you see it as a prayer for help in bad times?  Or could you pray Psalm 23 as your own prayer of gratitude for what Jesus has already done for you you?  Was there a time in your life where you felt lost?

I said earlier that we tend to make religion and faith a matter of our own choices and our own conscious decisions.   Psalm 23 and today’s gospel are kind of an antidote to that way of thinking.  All the man knew was that he was blind, then he knew that someone called Jesus had healed him, and then he realized that Jesus was God.  Like the hymn says, I once was lost, and now am found, was blind, but now I see.   Today’s gospel is entirely about the pure grace and love shown in Jesus that is determined to find and save us.  It’s entirely God’s initiative, and Psalm 23 is our grateful response.  And maybe, at the end of the day, religion is entirely about our gratitude.

For the rest of Lent, I commend Psalm 23 to you as a way of focusing your thoughts and prayers on what Jesus has already done for you.  And, as we approach Maundy Thursday, or as you approach the altar today for communion, I encourage you to think of Jesus, looking after his sheep to the end, calmly and graciously, preparing that table in the upper room for the last supper as his enemies close in around him. That table is prepared for you by the Good Shepherd, the one who loves us, finds us, and dies for us.    

Friday, March 17, 2023

Lent Madness: Florence vs Enmegahbowh

Happy St. Patrick’s day to you!

 

Today, as predicted, the people chose for myrrh of Joanna and less of Augustine.  She will go on to face Brendan or Blandina, so which should be a tight match either way, and we can expect Joanna to show little myrrhcy to either opponent.    

 

When I was in seminary at Wycliffe College, I had the pleasure of studying alongside several indigenous men, one of whom had a distinguished career in street ministry in Toronto, and the other is now Bishop Saskatoon, National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop and Presiding Elder of the Sacred Circle.   We called him Chris back then.   As he would probably say with his deadpan humour, not bad for a former ambulance driver from Onion Lake.  

 

The point is that God calls us all.   As Peter realizes after the Spirit sends him to baptize a Roman soldier,  “‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10.34).  Florence and Enmegahbowh both show us how God is far more disinterested in gender and race and status than we in his churches have been in past  (and Lord knows, we still have some motes in our eyes to get rid of!).

 

So whether you vote by choice or just use a coin toss to decide between these two, just remember that God chose both.  Also, if national pride enters into it all, both have a claim on our Canadian hearts, Enmegahbowh as a member of the Ottawa nation, and Florence who graciously adopted Canada at the end of her long life.

 

Blessed be their memories.

 

You can vote here:  https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/florence-li-tim-oi-v-enmegahbowh/#more-22296

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Lent Madness: Augustine vs Joanna

Greetings Saint Boosters:

 

 

Well, now it gets hard.  With Martin de Porres crushing poor Maximus the Maimed, we now get into the battles of the Saintly Sixteen!  Every one of these contenders has their fans, so someone’s going to lose, though, I hasten to add, thanks to God’s grace and the blood of the Lamb, we are all in the winners’ circle.   Phew!

 

If Maximus’ fate is any indication, then a learned and wise theologian will probably lose out to a simple saint of service like Martin.   So, I don’t rate Augustine’s chances much against Joanna.   I think people will want myrrh of her and less of him (see what I did there?).

 

Fortunately, most theologians are humble folk who know that there is something innately ridiculous about filling pages attempting to capture the essence of mysteries.   Hence,  in today’s Lent Madness post, the lovely story of the boy at the seashore telling Augustine that the mysteries of the Holy Trinity were an “incomprehensible ocean”.   Most theologians, from Thomas Aquinas to Karl Barth, knew that writing books is a way of passing time before eternity, and if those books help the church, then that’s God’s grace at work.

 

So Joanna, a woman who had so much to lose (wealth, privilege, a powerful husband) and who still followed Jesus, will probably get the nod, and why shouldn’t see?  I’m sure that the wise Augustine will smile and step aside, with only the faint envy that of the two them, it was actually Joanna that walked and talked with Jesus.

 

You can vote here:

https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/augustine-v-joanna/

 

While you’re there, why not take a chance on guessing how the rest of the brackets will play out?

https://www.lentmadness.org/brackets/saintly-16-percentage-bracket/

 

 

Cheers and blessings,

 
Michael

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Lent Madness: Diego vs Donne

Welcome to Tuesday’s Lent Madness.    I confess I was a little surprised at how easily Jonathan Daniels won against Rutilio Grande,, but most of the people who play Lent Madness are Americans and Episcopalians, so not really a surprise that they’d go with their home team.  Still, as Saint Abba once said, the winner takes it all.

 

And now, with apologies to Olivia Newton John, let’s get metaphysical,  metaphysical …

 

Fairest morrow to thee, devotees of saints most holy,

To choose betwixt whom is but earthly folly,

For who saves’t but thou, O God, whom thine elect dost know?

For us to choose, tis but vain and silly show.

 

OK, how’s that for my impromptu tribute to one of the great metaphysical poets, John Donne, that most poetic of the saints, and most saintly of the poets, whose merits thou ….  OK, STOP!  ENOUGH!

 

Sorry, start again.   Seriously, all I remember about John Donne from first year English Lit was that he was seriously smart, stupidly handsome, led a wild and romantic youth, and then turned his considerable talents as a (largely incomprehensible) poet of love to the service of Jesus.

 

In contrast, Juan Diego never wrote any poems that I’ve heard of, nor had I even heard of him until Lent Madness this year.  Diego’s simple and sincere love of the Virgin goes head to head with Donne’s education and silver tongue.  Who will win?

 

Blessed be their memories.

 

You can vote here:

 

https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/juan-diego-v-john-donne/

Monday, March 13, 2023

Lent Madness: Daniels vs Rutilio

Happy Monday, Halo Fans, and welcome back to this week’s Lent Madness.  

 

The wannabe Irishman in me was pleased that Brendan of Clonfert navigated his way to safe shores in the Saintly Sixteen.

 

It’s been said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time in American life.  I certainly saw that first hand when my late wife and I would travel to Mississippi to visit her family.    The family church was in an older part of town from which the white residents had largely moved away to newer suburbs.  Nevertheless, the congregation remained almost entirely white.    My first Christmas Eve there I asked Aunt Vera where the African Americans were.  “Oh honey”, she drawled, “they have there own churches”.

 

If church life was that divided in the 1990s, imagine the racial and social forces arrayed against people like Jonathan Daniels thirty years previously.   For liberals in the white American churches of that era, the Civil Rights struggle was the social justice issue of the day.   Doubtless there were people then, as now in our congregations, who said that politics and church should not mix, but I think the testimony of the modern day martyrs like Jonathan Edwards and Rutilio Grande speak to the better angels of our consciences.

 

It’s impossible for me to make any conscious vote today other than to make a coin toss.   But I will say that while Anglican clergy today in North America are safe to go preach and ally with the downtrodden, it is still very different in Latin America.  The two Jesuit priests murdered by drug cartels in Mexico last year speak to the vital role of the Catholic Church as the voice of the poor and the indigenous in a part of the world that most of us only think of when we plan our winter getaways.

 

Blessed be their memories.  

 

You can vote here:

https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/jonathan-daniels-v-rutilio-grande/#more-22249

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Thirst and Good Water: A Homily For The Third Sunday of Lent

 

 

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, The Third Sunday of Lent,  12 March, 2023

Lectionary Readings:  Exodus 17:17, Psalm 95, Romans 5: 1-11, John 4:5-42

 

 


… but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ (Jn 4:14)

 

I once found myself on a mountain without any water. It was summer in the Rockies, and up there on the mountainside, the sun seemed close enough to touch as it burned in a brilliant blue sky.  I had one of those camelbacks, a bladder of water, about two litres, that you wear on your back and suck through a tube.   With the exertion, the summer heat, and the constant wind drying my face and mouth, I got really thirsty, and half way down the mountain my water was gone.  

 

I will never forget those last few hours, stumbling down the mountain, my throat and tongue as dry as old rocks, my legs dragging, and my sight starting to blur at the edges.  If I had found a nasty puddle or some stagnant pond, I would have fallen face down and drunk my fill, but fortunately I made it to the base of the mountain, where there was good water.  But oh, I pray I am never that thirsty again!

 

Imagine now a traveller sitting beside a well under the Middle Eastern sun, at the hottest part of the day.  He is thirsty, he knows there is water down there in the well, but he has no pail.  Then a shape comes between him and the sun, a woman come to the well at noon, when you would least expect someone to come to draw water, and she is looking down at the traveller curiously, for he is out of place here, in her land.  And so begins one of the longest and most wonderful conversations in all of scripture.

 

There are so many ways we could look at this rich passage.  Many preachers focus on its inclusivity, noting how Jesus shows no interest in the traditional barriers of his day – man/woman, Jew/Samaritan – that would normally prevent such a conversation from ever starting. 

 

Others focus on the Samaritan woman herself, noting her keen intelligence, her willingness to talk theology with Jesus, and her role as an evangelist when she goes off to tell her village about Jesus.   Both approaches would note that John’s Jesus does not appear willing to go along with the traditional female stereotypes of his day.

 

While these are two ways of helping understand this conversation, I am interested (as my opening story suggests) in how John uses the ideas of water and thirst.  Like Jesus talking to Nicodemus about being born again (John 3:1-17), as we heard in last week’s gospel, this is a conversation that works on several levels.  Jesus and the Samaritan woman are talking about physical water and physical thirst (“Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’” Jn 4.7) but it is also about something far more – spiritual thirst?  Spiritual renewal?  Baptism?  Eternal life?   Let’s try to sort out these images and see where John is going with them.

 

Like the conversation with Nicodemus, however, this conversation starts to go to unexpected places.  When the woman marvels that a Jew would ask a Samaritan for a drink, Jesus replies that she would be better off asking him for water.  

 

10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’  

 

In his reply, Jesus hints at two things, the first being his identity as something far more than just a random, wandering Jew, and the second being that he, as the Messiah, might actually be the cure for her thirst, by offering her something better than the well water.

 

‘Living water’ in Jesus’ day meant water that moved, as opposed to the still water one finds in a well or cistern.  The advantage of moving water, of course, is that it is fresh and not stagnant.  My first parish was in the country, and there was an underground spring near the church that had been bubbling away since at least pioneer days.  There was always a tin cup beside the spring, an invitation to the passerby to stop and drink, and on a summer’s day the water was clear, cold, and delicious.   This spring and cup, beside a church, seemed like a perfect metaphor for what church should be, a place of refreshment and life for the weary and thirsty.

 

We can imagine  the Samaritan woman now, looking sceptically at this stranger.  “Seriously, random thirsty Jewish guy?   You’re offering me water now, and living water?  Where are you hiding that, huh?”  Jesus’ reply takes the conversation further from the literal to the symbolic.

 

Once again the conversation moves a step further away from the literal to the symbolic.  

 

13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’

  

This answer leads the Samaritan woman into a series of questions and a dawning realization that this stranger might me be more than he says he is.   As she tells her neighbours,  he just might be even be the Messiah (Jn 4.29).  

 

For us, as followers of Jesus, knowing who he is, our questions might be different, in that we might ask ourselves, ‘what exactly is this water that Jesus speaks of?  Is it a symbol of something else?  How are we supposed to understand it?’   Or, perhaps, our question is exactly the same as that of the Samaritan woman:  ‘Ooooh, that water sounds good.  Where can I get some?’

 

I don’t actually think we have to decide exactly what the water is.   I think what’s important, as other scholars have noted, is that the water is a gift from Jesus, it belongs to him and he is willing to give it to us.   It’s also important for us to note that, whatever the gift is that Jesus is offering us, it has something to do with eternal life.  We also note that this gift of water of eternal life is better than anything else we might have or want.

 

By this time in the conversation, it’s fascinating to note that the actual, physical well has ceased to matter.  No one is interested in it anymore.  In fact, the Samaritan woman leaves her water jar at the well because it’s now more important to go tell her neighbours about Jesus (Jn 4.29).  Instead, she has chosen what Jesus has to offer, even if she doesn’t quite understand it, and I wonder if the same is true of us.

 

In his commentary on this passage, the Anglican theologian and scholar N.T. Wright simply notes that the opposite of living water is stagnant water.  Stagnant water can have mud and crud and critters floating in it.  On my way down that mountainside, as I said earlier, I might have been content to fall down beside a puddle of stagnant water and drink from it, but it would have been only from desperation.   

 

Wright is suggesting that far too often people settle for stagnant water because that’s all we get.   Most people today live in a desert of lies, half truths, cynicism and despair,  We as a society take temporary fixes, compromises, half truths, and sometimes we even fall into destructive substitutes for our true needs.   Our souls cry out for something true, something life giving.  People are thirsty for love and acceptance, and instead numb their pain with stagnant addictions and an empty, hollow craving that comes back all too soon.

 

This is the appeal of Jesus, because he offers us living water, he can fill our souls and lives in ways that the world can’t.

 

Time permits me from talking about the conclusion of this passage and Jesus famous remark about how 'the fields are ripe for harvesting” (4.35), which people (rightly, I think) take to be a reference to evangelism.  So let me close be making the following suggestions.   

 

First, how has Jesus quenched your thirst?   Most of us, perhaps not all, but most of us, are here because at some point in our life’s journey our souls got really thirsty and we wanted the living water that Jesus can offer.  Can each of us, in our own words, in our own way, find a way to put into words what that thirst, what that spiritual need, was for us?  What made you decide that you needed what Jesus was offering?  

 

Just think that question through so that you can find some way of explaining it, in the event that you are in a conversation where you can naturally speak about why your faith makes a difference in your life.   We Anglicans don't do evangelism easily, but I think we all have opportunities with friends, family, and acquaintances, to speak about why our faith is real and life-giving to us, and our words may well fall on thirsty ears.

 

Next, ask yourself what it would be like for All Saints to be known as a place of living water, where people who had been desperately thirsty had found what they needed to stay alive?  We already have a reputation as a church that feeds people.  How can we become known as a place of living water, where people had said yes to the gift of eternal life that Jesus offers, and wanted to share that love, that forgiveness, renewal, with others.  

 

Here’s one simple idea.  Soon the snow and cold will give way to warm temperatures.   People on the street are going to be increasingly thirsty.   Clean safe water is going to become essential.   How can All Saints meet that need?    We can’t dig a well at the foot of Elgin Street, and we can’t park a water truck there.   But what if we were to invest in a large stock of environmentally friendly, safe and refillable water bottles?   What if we were to make sure that our local library and other places had a stock of these water bottles to place by their drinking fountains and give out to anyone who wants them?

 

That would be a small and simple offer of kindness.  It wouldn’t be a permanent fix for thirst.  But it would be an act of faith, a gesture pointing to Jesus, the one who offers us all living water.   It would be in keeping with the faith of the Samaritan woman, who wanted to share Jesus with her neighbours.  May we do the same.  Amen.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Lent Madness: Brendan vs David

Good morning hagiophiles and welcome to Friday, as too more saints from from the hotbeds of the early Anglo-Irish church go head to head.  The Saintly Sixteen is fast filling up.

 

But first, we bind a fond adieu to Cuthman of Steyning, and wish him and his mum well.   The wise and learned Leoba goes on to face either Maximus the Confessor or Martin de Porres, the patron saint of fabric cutters (esoteric joke there).

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Irish saints in Lent Madness, and still carry a wound in my heart for how St. Gobnait the Holy Beekeeper of County Kerry  lost out in a previous year.   

 

So another native of Kerry, Brendan, that mad seafaring, exploring Irish holy man and his intrepid crew of monks, deserves our respect and admiration just for his seafaring.   According to one medieval account, The Voyages of Brendan the Abbot, he was in his seventies when he made his longest journey, he and his companions in a curragh, a wooden framed boat covered with oxhides.  I doubt any Diocesan insurance policy would support such a venture today!

 

 

It always amazes me that so many Christians in the dark ages set off in wee boats with only rudimentary navigation and a strong trust in the Lord.    Small wonder that the nave, the main part of the church, was originally called navis, Latin for boat.

 

Brendan may have bitten off a voyage too far going up against St. David.  While there’s a good reason that he’s not the patron saint of church summer camps (his rule of life for his monks was rather harsh), David is of course famous as the patron saint of Wales.  For centuries his feast day was a secret known only to the Welsh, until someone leeked it.   OK, that was a terrible joke, and also unkind to daffodils, which are also associated with David.

 

Of the many legends around his birth, my favourite is that he was baptized by a blind monk, but when water from the font splashed onto his eyes, the monk was given his sight.  Hats off to David’s parents, who entrusted their infant son to a blind monk to hold.

 

So an interesting matchup, as these two Celtic Tiger Monks go head to head.   If I had to put money on this, which would be a minor sin, I’d go for David by a small margin, but my wannabe Irish heart is with Brendan.

 

Blessed be their memories.

 

You can vote here, scroll down for the voting buttons.

https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/brendan-of-clonfert-v-david-of-wales/

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Lent Madness: Cuthman vs Leoba

Lent Madness:  Cuthman vs Leoba

 

No surprise that Chief Seattle has taken his place in the next round of Lent Madness.    Poor Botulph, it wasn’t even close.

 

So another day,, and two wonderful saints that most of us have never heard of until now.  God is indeed good.

 

I can’t add much to the lovely story of St. Cuthman except to say that I discovered he is still well remembered in Steyning Parish Church, a short distance from Worthing in the south of England.    He was also remembered in a play called The Boy With the Cart: Cuthman, Saint of Sussex.  You can hear a short piece of audio from that play in which Richard Burton reads the story of how Christ the carpenter helped Cuthman build his church.  

 

While Cuthman was a simple and holy man, and very much a local saint, Leoba on the other hand was a wise and learned theologian.  If she was alive today, she would doubtless be a respected seminary professor, going to international conferences.    It’s always revelatory to realize that, with the constraints of gender in the early centuries of the church, women could be revered and respected voices.   

 

There’s a slight crossover with JS Bach, in that both have connections to Fulda in Germany.  

 

I have predicted Cuthman to get the win here, based largely on the charm of his devotion to his mom, but we’ll see.

 

You can vote here:   https://www.lentmadness.org/2023/03/cuthmann-of-steyning-v-leoba/#more-22228

 

Blessings this day,  MP+

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Lent Madness: Botulph vs Chief Seattle

Good afternoon saintly supporters:

First, apologies for dropping the ball in the last few days, my own halo has definitely slipped.  

In the last few days, we've seen our first real squeaker of a match, in which Blandina narrowly edged past Simeon Bachos,  AKA the Ethiopian Eunuch, by 1 per cent.   Last we've heard, Simeon has conceded and has not made any accusations of electoral fraud, which was a very saintly thing to do.  Blandina's  victory occurred just on the eve of the Feast of Perpetua and her companions, a young woman who was martyred in 2nd century North Africa during another round of persecutions of Christians by the Roman authorities. Perpetua was a young mother and she and four other believers, two of them slaves, refused to renounce their faith and refused to make sacrifices to the Roman gods.   For this they were tortured with wild animals before finally being executed.  There are thus many similarities between the stories of Perpetua and Blandina, and both show the wide appeal of Christianity in the Roman world to those groups - slaves and women - who had the least value in their world.   

During our bible study today, we discussed yesterday's close race between Eric Liddell and Josephine Bakhita.  Several people said they knew nothing about Liddell except his portrayal in the film Chariots of Fire, and no one had heard of Josephine until Lent Madness.  We all agreed that despite the impossible choices of these matchups, the real fun of Lent Madness is just learning about these extraordinary people.   Eric Liddell, sadly, has booked his fiery chariot to take him home and away from Lent Madness. Josephine's life reminds us that slavery persisted in the West well into the 19th century, and indeed still persists in many forms such as sex trafficking and various forms of indentured work.    I like to think of Josephine watching over and protecting those migrants from North Africa still washing up on Italy's shores today.   

Today's matchup includes Botulph, of whom no one really seems to know much.  I did find an article on this Dark Ages Suffolk Saint which said he was a saintly man and a wise teacher, with a side hustle as an exorcist.  One medieval account reports that when he came to build his monastery on the shores of the River Alde, Botulph first had to evict some demons who were squatting there:

At the approach of our blessed teacher Botwulf, the place breathed out a most acrid black smoke, and, not realising that flight was imminent, [the demons] echoed out terrible cries. ‘We have occupied this place for a long time, thought we would occupy it forever, we have got nowhere else ... When the whole world is lit up by your merits, why do you come poking into our dark corners? You are behaving inhumanely, and neglecting all love, in driving us poor things, exiled by the rest of the world, even from this place of solitude.’

So Botulph gets some marks for being tough on demons, even if the account sounds rather plagiarized from Mark's gospel.
 
Chief Seattle certainly deserves to be better known.   While there are stirring words attributed to his famous speech online, they probably have as much credibility as the account of Botulph's exorcism.  However Sealth, to use his proper name, deserves to be remembered as a representative of all the inddigenous peoples who refused to be erased from our colonial history.  The robust presence of his ancestors in our church, and their demands for justice, are a reminder that God works in human history and bends it to God's good purposes.
 
Fearless prediction:  nobody needs to be sleepless in Seattle over this vote, Sealth will triumph and Botulph will finish on Bottomph.

Blessed be their memories.

Cheers and blessings,

Michael

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Trusting the Keeper God: A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

 

Trusting the Keeper God:  A Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent

Preached at All Saints, Collingwod, and St. Luke’s, Creemore, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 5 March, 2023.  

Texts for this Sunday:  Readings - Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17


7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;
   he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
   your going out and your coming in
   from this time on and for evermore.

 The frequency of the word keep in Psalm 121 today got me thinking this week about this little but important word, one we use in everyday life, but in biblical terms speaks profoundly to how God cares for us. 

But first, when we talk about keeping things, we need to get an important question out of the way.    Are you a hoarder or a declutterer?  The debate between these two tendencies often rages in marriages and households.  Declutters frown on stacks of unread books, old tools stashed in the garage, and messy junk drawers Declutterers are influenced by self-help books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  . They ask pointed questions, like, “Why are you keeping that?”

Hoarders on the other hand are always thinking ahead to some vague future when someone might need that half-used tin of paint or that stack of old National Geographic magazines.   Hoarders keep hobby supplies, or computer cords from long-forgotten gadgets, just in case.   “Those things are useful,” they say, “we should keep them”.

Today it seems to me that we mostly use the word “keep” in relation to possessions or things that have value, whereas its opposite, “discard”, connotes worthlessness.   These meanings are at work in the psalms as well.   Sometimes in the psalms we hear an anxiety that God might be like Marie Kondo and get rid of us.    Psalm 51 includes this plea, “Do not cast me away from your presence” (Ps 51.11), and Psalm 121 addresses that anxiety by assuring us that God will indeed hang on to us because God finds us of value.

The word “keep” in Psalm 121 also has a range of deeper meanings, one’s that we still use today when we use the word in ways that give value to people and customs.   For example, if a friend is in distress, we might say that we will keep company with them, and in extreme cases, as by a hospital bed, we might keep vigil.  Honourable people keep promises.  Observant Jews keep Kosher, Muslims keep the fast during Ramadan, and some old school Christians might still keep the Sabbath.

In Hebrew the word keep is pronounced samar (pronounced shaw-mar).  It occurs three times in Psalm 121, and occurs frequently throughout the Hebrew scriptures.   I was interested to learn that it doesn’t have much to do with possessions.   Rather, to keep something is to look after it, as we see in some of the first appearances of the word in scripture.   In Genesis, God gives the garden to Adam “to dress and keep it” (Gen 2.15), and Cain tells God that he is not his brother Abel’s “keeper”.   Often “keep” is used in Hebrew scripture to mean following the will of God.   In First Kings God promises that his people will prosper if they “keep [my] statutes and judgements” (1 Ki 2:3), and there are many similar examples.

In the case of our Psalm, samar means protect, guard, or watch over.   In the King James Bible, keep is usually translated as “preserve”.    So, verse 7 of our Psalm appears in the Book of Common Prayer as “THE LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: / yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul”.   So in Psalm 121, the repeated promises of God’s protection and faithfulness have made this a particularly beloved psalm in times of trouble and grief, and so it is often chosen for funeral liturgies.

As is often the case in our faith lives, however, God’s promises sometimes feel (and I’m choosing my words somewhat carefully here) less than fully assuring.   If I take Psalm 121.7 as my mantra, and pray repeatedly that “the Lord will keep me from all evil”, does this mean that I will never get sick or suffer misfortune?   No, of course not.   No preacher would promise such a thing, though we often wish we could.   Life teaches us that we can get cancer, we can get fired, we can lose people we love. 

At such times, our prayer might not take the form of Psalm 121.  Our prayer might instead take the form of Psalm 44, which in some ways a mirror opposite psalm.  Whereas in 121 God promises that he “will neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps 121.4), in 44 the psalmist tells God to wake up and quit sleeping on duty because everything has gone to hell in a handcart.

23 Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
   Awake, do not cast us off for ever!
24 Why do you hide your face?
   Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?  (Ps 44.23-24)

So we can either conclude from the contrast between these two psalms either that the Bible (or God) is inconsistent, or something deeper is going on.

You may have heard of the pastor Rick Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life In a recent essay on God and human pain, Warren describes something that his own chronic pain from an illness, and the suicide of his young adult son, have taught him.    As Warren says, there’s a good reason why one in three of the one hundred and fifty psalms, like Psalm 44, are the so-called psalms of lament.  

These psalms can themselves be modes of prayer, ways of giving our pain and anger and sadness back to God, which can in itself be a kind of worship.   Warren writes:  “Worship is not always celebration, praise, and thanksgiving. Expressing every aspect of grief – shock, sorrow, struggle, surrender – can bring you closer to God too”.  (God’s Purpose in Your Pain by Rick Warren (plough.com))

So if prayer part of worship, and worship is giving back to God what God has given us, then the psalms all have their place.  Psalm 121 expresses our trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness, and Psalm 44 expresses our sad longing for God’s faithfulness when we can’t see it.   Both prayers are different sides of the same coin, which we might call trust in God.

One of the things that Canon Martha Tatarnic has taught some of us in our recent book study is that trust in God is complicated.   Trust falls apart if we think that God is there to fulfil our personal agendas and check off our wish lists.    Trust in God is much more complicated because God is not a fairy Godfather.  She write that “Trusting God is surrendering to the whirlwind, the silence, the stranger, the wilderness, the wandering, the cross.  It’s also about surrendering to a supreme mercy and a great love” (Why Gather chapter 17).   Canon Martha’s book comes down to one simple point:  that we gather because we trust God’s faithfulness to us shown in Jesus Christ.

I am sure that during his long forty day fast in the wilderness, or in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus himself prayed Psalm 121 as an expression of his own trust in his heavenly father.    Likewise I would recommend that we pray this psalm when we need to anchor ourselves in God’s love and faithfulness, but with one important difference.   

In verse 1 the psalmist prays “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?”.   The idea that we lift our eyes up to God, that God is somewhere far above us, is very common in the Hebrew scriptures.  Psalm 123 begins with the verse,  “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”  But, as we heard in our gospel reading, Jesus has descended from heaven (Jn 3:13).   The gap between us and God has been closed, Jesus has come to be with us, to stand beside us, and to share in our human experience and pain.  Our journey of Lent leads us to the place where Jesus himself surrenders to God’s love and mercy.  So we don’t need to lift our eyes up to heaven because Jesus is among us and beside us.

I started this homily thinking about the word keep.  Let me return to that idea.  Here in the gospel, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find our most profound understanding of how God keeps us.    In the midst of pain and even death, God who did not abandon his son will keep and preserve us.   We can surely trust God to care for us and keep us in all the seasons of our lives, the good and bad, “from this time on and for evermore”.   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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