Sunday, May 28, 2023

Speaking in All Tongues: A Homily for Pentecost Sunday

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, on Sunday, 28 May, 2023.   Readings for this Sunday:  Readings - Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104 24-35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

“And how is it that … each us … in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2.7-11) 

For the first apostles, the ability to speak a foreign language was the gift of the Holy Spirit. For those of us who aren’t similarly gifted, it takes hard work to learn another language, which is why an old commercial that Berlitz, the language school company, ran in Germany was so funny. 

A young, very nervous man in uniform is on his first shift monitoring a radio. Immediately it starts crackling and an urgent voice says “Mayday, mayday, can you hear us, we’re sinking, we’re sinking”. The young man says with a heavy accent: “Hello … this is the German Coast Guard.” The voice comes back, even more urgent:  “We’re sinking, we’re sinking!” 

“What … are you sinking about?”

The commercial is funny to those of us who grew up speaking English, which thanks to history and economics is the language that the rest of the world wants to learn. Most English speakers don’t feel much pressure to learn another language, but if you’re an immigrant or you’re forced to work in another language, you take the learning very seriously. 

When I served in the Canadian Forces, I was always impressed by the young Quebecois service men and women you’d occasionally find on bases in western Canada who quickly learned to speak English quite passably, because they needed to. In contrast, some of those Anglos who took mandatory French classes only for promotion weren’t all that serious about learning. 

So consider the situation of these first disciples in Jerusalem on the Feast of Pentecost. Many of them were hicks, humble fishermen from backwoods Galilee, and they people around them knew it because they spoke Aramaic with a rustic accent (see Matthew 26:73 and Mark 14:70). They were the last people you’d pick to speak to a crowd gathered from across the known world. But, they had three things in their favour: they had been given a message, they had a promise, and they had been given a plan. 

The message was the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ died for the world and rose from the dead, proving that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, so that as Peter says, all that call on him may be saved (Acts 2:21). 

 The promise was made by Jesus, that just as he had been their companion on earth, now the Holy Spirit would be their companion (Jn 14.15), travelling with them out into the world, that the Spirit would giving them words of truth to share (Jn 17.8), and that the Spirit would protect them in their travels (Jn 17.11).

The plan was given to them by Jesus at the end of Luke’s gospel, that starting in Jerusalem, they would go out into the entire world with a message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins .. to be proclaimed in [Jesus’] name to all nations” (Lk 1.47). 

So what happens in the Pentecost story is the arrival of the Spirit promised by Jesus, settling on the disciples and giving them the ability to start God’s plan into motion. It all may seem random and chaotic to those who happen to hear the disciples speaking — we are told that the crowd is “amazed”, “bewildered”, “astonished”, and 
“astonished” - (indeed, it is chaotic, for Jesus told Nicodemus that the Spirit blows at will) but the story also shows how deeply purposeful God is. 

Peter senses this purpose when he quotes the prophet Joel, who had described a day when God “will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2.17, Jl 2:28-29) and now this day has arrived! But Peter could have pointed to other verses of the Hebrew Scriptures, such as the prophet Isaiah, “out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”, so that “all nations shall stream to [the Lord’s house] (Is 2.2-4). The Pentecost story thus has its roots deep in Jewish prophecy. 

And what the prophets were saying, put simply, is this, God has a plan because God wants to be known. By everyone. Known by every nation, for the list of peoples here, which always challenge those unfortunate enough to read the first lesson on Pentecost Sunday, is a highly rhetorical passage that basically means - everywhere, the whole wide world. And while those gathered at Jerusalem are Jews, for the Jewish race had been scattered by conquest centuries ago when the First Temple fell, the word will spread to others.   

The word will go to synagogues across the Roman Empire, and from them, often via fierce debates, the word will spread out into Greek and Roman communities, so that by Acts 10, the first gentiles will be baptized and a Jewish Jesus movement will begin to evolve into the Christian church. Israel will become a blessing to the world. 

Furthermore, the word won’t go to governors and nobles, though they will hear of it. The word will go to markets and houses and dwellings where rich and poor will gather, men and women, slaves and free. Again this was foreseen by the prophets, for Joel had talked about “sons and daughters” prophesying, the Spirit coming to all ages and classes. Across an Empire where only a lucky few were considered truly human, the word will come to everyone, as we might expect of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all may be saved. 

Two thousand years later, it is tempting to us to look at this story and see it as the birthday of the church, which might make us nostalgic or at least might make us think that the Holy Spirit was a thing of history. In fact, it’s anything but. The Spirit is not trapped by history, it’s alive and moving still. Just think of the remarkable spread of the bible across the world’s languages today, I read recently that the Christian genius for translation has been a boon for the Artificial Intelligence industry. AI needs datasets so that the systems can learn to process words, grammar, and syntax, and one AI team has used 1,100 different translations of the New Testament as a machine language learning model. I’m not sure if the end result will produce AI preachers that will put seminaries out of business, but it is wonderful to think of how far the Spirit carried the Word out of Jerusalem and into all the world, as Jesus said it did. 

 Besides the persistence and purposefulness of God’s plan, I think we can also note the grace and generosity of God’s plan. No race or nation was meant to be deprived of the gospel. No one group or class would be given elite or preferred status in the kingdom of God. Joel’s prophecy that the Spirit would come to all, regardless of class or gender or age, shows God’s abiding commitment to diversity. The parable of the Sower and the Seed (which became the logo of the Canadian Bible Society) comes to mind as an image for God’s generosity. I think it’s important to keep God’s generous and wide-ranging purposes in mind when we hear voices preaching Christian nationalism, the idea that one race or people is preferred by God and exceptional compared to others. Quite the contrary. Our good news is for all. 

So like the first apostles, we’ve been given a message, the good news of Jesus Christ. We’ve been given the Spirit, which gives us hope, peace, and the promise of Christ among us. The Spirit also gives us gifts of creativity to spread the word in new ways - using technology as well as good old human relationships And we’re part of God’s plan, for despite our fears of decline, our church still has a role to play in making the kingdom of God visible to those around us. 

As May winds down, the wardens and I are grateful to all of you who have filled out the survey we’ve distributed. If you haven’t yet filled it out, there’s still time. Your comments will help us determine how All Saints will play its Pentecost role in spreading God’s message of good news to those around us. On Saturday, 2 June, we’ll be inviting you to a session where we will summarize the results of the survey and ask you to help us put them into perspective. That will help us go on to think through all our messaging, our website, the stories we tell and the way we seek to be relevant to the community around is. 

Pentecost happens when a church lets the Holy Sprit move through it and renew it. Pentecost happens when a church trusts the Spirit to lead us, and Pentecost happens when the church grows and attracts new people with a message of hope that they can understand. So while we’re still an Anglican church, we want All Saints to be a Pentecostal church.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Book Review: Repentance and Repair by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg


A group of us at All Saints, Collingwood, recently completed a study of this book and I compiled a summary of it for our parish newsletter, passed on in hopes that this post stirs some interest in the book.  Michael+



“In a moral universe, there is work to do whenever harm is inflicted”.  Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg


Through Lent and into the season of Easter, a number of us read a book called On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends In An Unapologetic World.   The author, Danya Ruttenberg, is a young American rabbi and scholar who has thought long and hard about why we as a society have such a hard time truly saying that we are sorry.  For example:


  • Individuals hide behind anonymity to be horrible on social media;
  • Celebrities are caught being abusive and sexist and then complain that they have been cancelled; 
  • Corporations make mealy mouthed statements about their misdeeds, vetted by lawyers and PR departments:


  • Governments struggle to right old wrongs.  


As Ruttenberg carefully and passionately explains it, anyone who has committed harm has work to do to fix it.  She defines harm as “hurt, injury, or damage of some sort, whether mental, emotional, or physical, which may be sustained for a brief amount of time or across generations”.  

The only remedy for harm, she writes, is the hard work of repentance.    Repentance involves the offender recognizing, naming, and owning the harm they’ve done, doing the hard soul work necessary to change their character and behaviour, and making a sincere apology that includes, if necessary, offers of compensation for loss and injury. 


 A true apology, she writes, “is about trying to see the human being in front of you, to connect with them … to make it clear - abundantly, absolutely, profoundly clear - that … their feeling better matters to you”.


As Christians, we found some of the book challenging, as Ruttenberg reports that the Jewish tradition does not place the same emphasis on forgiveness as Jesus did.   Forgiveness, she writes, should never be required of the victim if the offender is not truly penitent, or if the offence is unforgivable.     While nursing a grudge can be harmful, and sometimes forgiveness may be someone saying “I’m going to forget an offence you caused me even if you’ll always be a horrible person”, the decision to forgive is always the victim’s.


Forgiveness is also not required if there is a power imbalance and where forgiveness might simply continue patterns of injustice.  For example, she notes the habit of reporters asking African American families if they forgive the police for unjustified shootings of their loved ones.  Do expectations that families will apologize merely perpetuate cycles of violence and police brutality?


Finally, Canadians may find the book challenging because, even if successive governments have apologized to indigenous communities for longstanding injustices, Ruttenberg challenges the validity of these apologies if these communities still don’t have good drinking water and still languish in poverty.  As she writes, “The [Canadian] government is still committing harm, environmental injustice, colonialist land theft, and more”.   Apologies only matter if there’s change:  “Without transformation, there’s no repentance”.


While most of us found this a hard and challenging read, I think we all felt better for it.   Repentance is part of our vocabulary as Christians, and we can always use a bracing and  honest account what hard work it can be, and how necessary it is.  Thank you, Rabbi Danya, for calling us to the work of being better people.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Talking to Modern Day Athenians: A Homily for the Sixth Sunday After Easter


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 14 May, 2023.  Readings:  Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21 

15”Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3.15).

This verse for 1st Peter is often quoted in discussions about evangelism because it shows how the early church felt that it had to explain itself to a pagan world in order to sell the good news about Jesus Christ.

Now most of us aren’t really good or confident about talking about our faith outside (or even inside of) church circles.  We feel that it’s a matter of privacy, we want to respect the autonomy of others and not “shove faith down their throats”.   But think of how good you are at being an evangelist for other things.   Is there a favourite recipe, show, or household brand that you’re happy to about?  A favourite vacation spot that you will readily wax lyrical about?

In my case, I can go on at tedious length about this new machine that’s in the church kitchen.  It’s a gadget called LOMI that turns food scraps and green waste into compost and soil for the garden.  Joy got me one last year because I go on about composting, and now I can happily try and selll others on LOMI without even a commission.  Anyone who’s passionate about something can be an evangelist.

But Christian evangelism is different from talking about your favourite brand.   People get composting and everyone wants to be green, but not everyone gets Jesus or wants to be a disciple.  Last week I was speaking about how we as Christians, when we try to reach out to the community around us, need to take into account the fact that many people around us, who are basically unchurched, may not have the slightest idea what we are talking about.  That doesn’t mean that they are bad people.   It doesn’t mean that we have to think of them as pagans.    It just means that we have to work hard to be understood, and we want to be understood, because our message is good news.

One of my professors in seminary used to say, that evangelism was finding some way to relate to people, establishing some common ground, before you started talking about Jesus.   So, when I was a military chaplain, I’d always ask people what hockey team they cheered for, and then I’d say that as a person of faith, I was naturally a Toronto Maple Leafs fan.   And you know what?  That joke still hasn’t gotten old!

The same professor encouraged us to read books with titles such as The Gospel According to the Simpsons o What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide.   These books were attempts by Christians to use iconic television shows to try to explain our faith using ideas and characters from popular culture.   The only problem with using TV shows as illustrations in sermons is that they often don’t age well and they don’t translate well across generations.  One parishioner may love The Simpsons, whereas another may think television went downhill after The Ed Sullivan Show.     Even so, pop culture references can help make a point (I referred to the film Apollo 13 in my Easter Sunday sermon) and in general it’s always a good idea to try and meet people where they are.

Today in our first lesson from Acts (and during the season of Easter, our first lesson is always from Acts) we hear how Paul tries to find common ground with the Greeks in Athens.   Paul is doing a sort of tour of the cities of Greece, “telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17.18), and he’s been invited to a place called the Aeropagus, near the Parthenon, to explain his teaching because, as Acts tells us the Athenians love to debate new ideas.

Paul knows a few things about the Athenians because he’s been wandering around their city and noticing their spiritual habits.   Acts tells us that Paul is “distressed” because the city is “full of idols” (kateídōlos), idols in New Testament Greek meaning “false gods”.   Worshipping idols made from human hands was as much a sin to the early Christians as it was to the Jews since the days of Moses (remember the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus), except that Paul, who is both a Jew and a Christian, does not go ballistic on the Athenians.

Instead, Paul chooses to engage his audience where they are.  He begins with a polite phrase, “I see that you Athenians are very religious” which then leads to what I think is a somewhat tongue in cheek compliment to their “having an altar to an unknown God”.  From there he goes on to a simple statement that gods are not created by humans, but that we are created by a God who loves us, who wants to know us, and wants to be known by us.

24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.

To further connect with the Athenians, Paul quotes a verse from a Greek poet (Aratus of Tarsus, the poem being the Phenomena) who wrote that “‘In him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 7.27).  Never mind that the Greek poet was writing a hymn to the Greek God Zeus, but Paul borrows the verse to talk about how the Christian God gives us life.    

So Paul’s teaching isn’t welcomed by everyone.  Acts goes on to tell us that some Greeks “scoffed” at it, but others were willing to hear more and some even came to believe.   Paul will go on to say elsewhere that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to Greeks to value reason, but we know that his message did lead to churches being planted across the Greek speaking world, spiritual homes to people who wanted more than what the brutal world of the Roman Empire could provide. 

I think we can learn something from Paul’s approach to the Athenians.  I said last week that we are surrounded by people, neighbours, friends, coworkers, our adult children, who will say that they are not religious but will claim to have some sort of spirituality.  I think we can take these claims at face value but, when the time is right and there’s a chance of conversation, we can ask questions, such as:

Tell me about your spirituality.  I’d like to know more about it.

What gives you hope?  What comforts you?  What films, books, or practices help you develop your sense of the spiritual?

What is your idea of a good life?  A purposeful life?

I think we may find that if we enter into these discussions respectfully, we may find there’s some substance to discuss.  Or, it may be that claims of spirituality are vague and undeveloped, like the Athenians’ altar to an unknown God.  Either way, door may open to a discussion where we might find similarities, like, “your idea of being one with creation isn’t that different from what Jesus says about never leaving his followers alone and always being present with them through his Spirit”.

 We may be challenged to explain our faith, but more likely we can share our faith through conversations that are gracious, open ended, and which meet people where they are in their spirituality, however undefined.

Let me finish with a little infomercial for an upcoming book study.  C.S. Lewis wrote the Narnia books as a way to give an accounting for his Christian hope.   While he wrote them as novels for young children, they offer a winsome and accessible introduction to core Christian ideals, such as using Aslan the Lion to explain who Jesus was.   Who knows, but maybe talking about Narnia at your next book club, or offering to read it to your grandchildren (as a break from the latest Disney or Pixar movie), might be a way to open a conversation that allows us to share our faith.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Out of Darkness Into Light: A Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on 7 May, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  Texts:  Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14 

9But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9)

I want to come back to this verse from 1 Peter shortly but first let’s talk about the questionnaire that you received with your service bulletin this morning.   Why a questionnaire, you may be asking, which is a fair question, because we are bombarded with customer surveys and “rate this app” popups online. I have two reasons why to offer you.

First, this seems like a good time for you and I as people and priest to figure out where we want to go as a parish for the next five or even ten years.  I feel like I’ve gotten to know you fairly well in the last eight (!) months and I would like to stay and take this journey with you.   And, when Bishop Riscylla comes next month for my service of new ministry, I hope you will tell her that you want to keep me.

Second, I think this is a good time to take stock of who we are and where we are, and then to start thinking of where we want to go.  

The who we are is complex.   Around our nucleus of long-term parishioners whose memory and contributions go back decades,  we have a growing number of new members, many of whom are relatively recent arrivals in Collingwood.   So we have newer folk who can benefit from the perspectives and traditions of our longterm members, while they in turn can benefit from the ideas and energies of our newer members.   

What unites us all, new and old members alike, is that the same gracious God called us.  We are, as I like to say, all saints.   We heard in First Peter that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people”.     Jesus asked us all to follow him.  All of us, old and new parishioners, are trying to learn what it means to be Jesus’ disciples and friends.  That’s a lifelong project, and it’s good that we learn this in community.

The where we are is complex.  The where involves time and place.  As for time, as we now speak of “pre” and “post Covid”, this is a time when we can take stock of how the pandemic changed us as a society, as a church, and as peoples.   There’s a question specifically about that, which allows us to think about how we as church have changed, how we should change, and what we should keep.

 As for the where of place, you’ll notice on your questionnaire that many of the questions are outward facing, in that they ask us how we as church relate to our civic community.   These questions are important.

 We know that we sit on some nice real estate in one of Canada’s loveliest towns.   We know that here in Collingwood there are enormous differences in wealth and advantage, and we know that many of our ministries involve the less fortunate among us.    This is a good time to think about our local ministries, both in terms of what we are doing, what we should be doing, and what it’s possible to do.  We want to hear your ideas and suggestions about what sort of ministries we should be pursuing.

Here’s a few more things about the “where we are part”.   We know that the society around us is increasingly unchurched and many simply don’t have a clue about what we believe.  Here again our reading from 1 Peter can be helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Gods own people”  and why were we chosen?  We were chosen so that “[we] may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light”.

Let me point out two key parts of the second half of this verse.  The first is the phrase “called us out of darkness”.   God’s people are a saved people.  Thanks to Jesus we have joy, hope and peace in a world where these qualities are often lacking.    

We’re a people in whose lives Jesus has made a profound difference.    Maybe not all of you feel that you’re there yet, maybe you feel that you could use more joy, hope and peace in your lives, and that’s a conversation you and I, or you and Rev Sharon, can have one on one.  But the key point is that we want to be a church that embodies love, peace, and joy of Jesus and offers them to those who are looking for these things.

The second key part is the word “proclaim”.   It’s a fancy word that basically means “tell a story”.    The questionnaire you’re getting today is from our Mission and Communications Team, and you have the opportunity to help them think of how we can do a better job of telling people about All Saints.

We want to tell people about our beautiful church, its many programs and its lovely worship, but also want to tell people about the why of All Saints as a community.  Now there are lots of communities in Collingwood, but what makes a church different from, say, a Probus club, is that we are a community of faith and hope.  We want to talk about how this faith and hope are rooted in our relationship with Jesus.  We are Jesus followers and we want to share our peace and hope with others.

Last night Joy and I were chatting with a waitress who who said “I think a lot of people are struggling”.  She didn’t have to say more.  Our mission as a Jesus-centred community is to attract those who are struggling, befriend them, and help them, so that Jesus can befriend them and help them.

I think I’ve said enough about they why of the questionnaire and I hope I’ve convinced you of it’s value.  Let me finish by talking about the how of the survey.   We want to get as many responses in as possible by May 28.  We will them compile the results and share them with you in two sessions on Saturday June 3rd here at the church.  

We’ll have a morning session and an afternoon session. You can come to either. Our mission and communications team will present the results to you and give you a chance to discuss the findings.   After these sessions, a small group will use the survey and these discussions to rethink our parish communications (our mission statement, website, newsletters, advertising), and more importantly, help us make a roadmap to plan the next decade of All Saints.

Our goal is a strong and vibrant parish that is here long from now, so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.   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.


Blog Archive