Saturday, August 12, 2023

A Homily for the Reaffirmation of Vows of Jane and Kim

A Homily for the Reaffirmation of Vows of Jane and Kim

All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 12 August, 2023


And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13.13)


Today we gather to give thanks for the work that God has done thus far in the union of Kim and Jane, and to ask God’s blessing that this good work will continue.  It’s been my honour to get to know this couple over the last year, and it’s our pleasure to celebrate with them as they reaffirm their vows and have the wedding day that they’ve always wanted.


I have to say that today is a first in my career as a priest.  I’ve married people before, but they’ve always been a man and a woman.    Now Kim has graciously told me the she’s ok being called a dude, but this service did involve some careful rewording of the marriage ceremony, because it is a reaffirmation of vows that have already been made, and, well, let’s face it, there is no real dude involved.   It was a bit of three-dimensional chess getting to this point today.


I thought it was a wonderful coincidence that we celebrated Jane’s bridal shower next store at the Rectory the day of Collingwood’s Pride Parade.   Well, maybe that wasn’t a coincidence.  After all, God does have a sense of humour!


One of the slogans you see associated with the Pride movement says, simply, “love is love”.   Canadian society understood this truth faster than many Christians did, and it’s taken the church a while to catch up.   In the Anglican Church of Canada we’ve had decades of debates about who can get married, and what marriage is for, and most of us would consent to what happens here today.    


I’ve been ordained for twenty years, and like the Church I serve it’s taken me a while to figure our what God is doing with marriage.   I think the witness of faithful couples like Jane and Kim has helped me arrive at a position where I too can say “love is love”.  Just now I listened carefully to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, and I didn’t hear anything about which kinds of couples can enjoy love.   Love as the church understands it is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and as we know from St. John, the Holy Spirit blows where it will.


So what do we mean today when we talk about Pride.   As Canadians, we talk about Pride as our determination to protect people from hate and discrimination.    As a Church, we have our rainbow Safe Space signs at our doors to show we also are determined not to give hate a home within our community.    But, maybe there’s a danger in our church patting itself on the back and saying, “See how diverse and tolerant we are”, because I think Pride as God understands it is bigger than we can imagine.


I believe that God takes pride in any couple that shows in their lives together something of the selfless devotion that Kim and Jane, at their best, show to one another.   God takes pride in all marriages that aspire to live out Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians, regardless of gender.  Kim and Jane don’t have some of the advantages of health and wealth that we would all like to have, but they understand something of the selflessness of love.  We as a community take pride in them, as we do in all marriages that show this devotion.


Kim and Jane, you are blessed with friends and family that have gathered with you today as a community to celebrate your love for one another.  We are all proud of you, as you are in one another.   May God bless you in the good work that was begun in your marriage, and may God give you many years together to love one another and to be proud of one another, as Christ love you and is proud of you.



His Strong Grip: A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

His Strong Grip:  A Homily for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday August 13 2023 

Readings - Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45c; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33 



But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt 14.27)

Today’s gospel reading is one that is perhaps most well known for spawning legions of corny church jokes.

You know the ones, like the church bulletin that says “This week’s sermon:  Jesus Walks on Water.   Next week’s sermon:  Searching for Jesus.”

Perhaps the humour is inspired by the sheer implausibility of the story.   Walk on water?  I can barely stay seated in my kayak without falling into the drink.

Perhaps as well the humour is driven by fear of our spiritual inadequacy.  Many sermons I’ve heard, and some I’ve preached, assume that the central character in this story is Peter, and so we compare his faith, his doubts, and his fears, to our own, and the conclusions we draw can be pessimistic.

If the point of the story is about the necessity of faith, and if Peter, the best of the disciples, the one chosen by Jesus to be the rock of his church, well, if Peter fails, what hope is there for us?

When such thoughts assail us, I always think the best way to read and think about these gospel stories is to remember that they are about Jesus, and not about the disciples.  

First, it’s helpful to think about the context of the story, about what Jesus has already done and what we should remember about him, even if the disciples forget.   Today’s story begins with Jesus sending the disciples on ahead in a fishing boat, sending away the crowds, and then going “up the mountain by himself to pray” (Mt 14.23).

I said in last week’s homily that Jesus often goes up lonely mountains to pray and to recharge through his connection with God his Father.   So why does Jesus need to recharge?  Because immediately before the walking on water story, Matthew has told us how Jesus attracted crowds, cured them, and then miraculously fed them because "he had compassion on them” (Mt 14.13-21).

So it seems odd that Peter sees Jesus “walking on the sea” and, with all these miracles fresh in his mind, says to Jesus “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Mt 14.28).   Why the “if”?  Why the doubt?   Why would Jesus walking on the water be any more miraculous than Jesus healing and feeding people from food he has created on the spot?

Perhaps the answer lies in the panic of the storm, the crashing waves threatening to swamp the boat.  It’s in such moments that our fears rise and our doubts make us want to put Jesus to the test:  “Lord, if you can get me out of trouble, then I will believe in you”.   

So why doesn’t Jesus just tell the storm to stop, as he’s done before (Mt 8.23-27)?  Why does he walk out into the storm, across the waves, to be with the disciples?  Here it’s worth remembering that it’s in our worst moments that Jesus comes to us.   Our challenge in our own lives’ storms is to see and trust that Jesus is with us.

Also, the fact that Jesus chooses to walk on the water in the storm is another sign of who he is.  I said last Sunday that the Transfiguration story connects Jesus with the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and the same is true here.

Biblical scholar Nicholas Schaser notes that the Greek words used by Matthew (Jesus “went (elthen) to them, walking upon the sea (peripaton epi tes thālassa Mt 14.25)” are the same words that God uses when he asks Job “if he ever “went upon (elthes… epi) the springs of the sea (thalāsses) or walked (periepātesas) in the recesses of the deep” (Job 38:16 Septuagint).  

Likewise, when Jesus tells the frightened disciples,  “It is I; do not be afraid” (Mt 14.27), Schaser reminds us that these are the same words that “God says to Moses at the burning bush according to the Septuagint:  ‘I am’ (egō eimi)” (Exodus 3:14 Septuagint).   As Schaser notes, “If walking on water weren’t enough to reflect his divine status, Matthew’s Jesus repeats the very words of God”.

So Jesus in today’s gospel speaks the same words, with the same authority, as God his Father.    It is on of those moments, like the Transfiguration, where we see the full authority and power of Jesus, the same power by which God brought order out of the “darkness [that] covered the face of the deep” (Gen 1.1).

So while I’ve called attention to the divine power of Jesus, which I hope will comfort us in our moments of extreme anxiety and need, there’s also an aspect of vulnerability to Jesus in the larger context of Matthew 14.   Remember the crowds that were mentioned at the start of today’s story?  Their needs and wants distracted Jesus from his original intention of being alone in prayer because he had just learned that Herod had executed his cousin, John the Baptist (Mt 14.1-12).   

Jesus could have laid low at this point to avoid further attention from the authorities, but he is determined to heal and feed the crowds, and he is determined to go to Jerusalem, even if that means that he too will be killed.  Indeed, the last words of today’s gospel, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Mt 14.33), are essentially the words of the Roman soldier at the cross, “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54).

So the larger message of this story is not just that Jesus is truly the Son of God with power over the waves and winds.   That is something that we, like Peter, should know and believe.   The good news in this story is that this all powerful Son of God is willing to die for us to save us out of his love and compassion for us.    Think of that strong carpenter’s hand reached out to clasp and save Peter from the waves, and imagine that same hand gripping your hand in your moments of need.  Jesus won’t let you sink.

In our second lesson, we heard Paul say that the role of the church is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ (Rom 10:12-15).   I maintain that if our church believes that this strong and compassionate Jesus died to save us, and will save us, and if we are willing to share that message, then we need not fear the future.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

Freeing the Tyranny of Self Help: A Homily for The Feast of the Transfiguration


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, on The Transfiguration of the Lord, Sunday August 6 2023; 

Readings - Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28-36 



“And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  Luke 9.29

Today’s gospel reading is one of two times in the church year when we hear the story of Jesus’ startling and brief alteration into something more glorious.    We call this story The Transfiguration, and this year the fixed date of the Feast, August 6, happily falls on a Sunday.   If for some reason we don’t hear the story in August, we usually hear it in February, on the last Sunday of Epiphany.  (For more on why we hear the story twice during the liturgical year, click here).

It’s a story that’s important and worth hearing twice because it tells us who Jesus is.  It connects the Jesus we are familiar with, the human preacher and teacher, with the figure of mystery and majesty described by the prophet Daniel, “one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven” (Dan 7).  If the gospels tell us how Jesus become flesh and dwell among us, then the Transfiguration story reminds us that Jesus came from God in heaven.

It’s called the Transfiguration because Jesus is, albeit briefly, changed into something better, something glorious.    It occurs to me with some amusement that if people aren’t interested in the theological meaning of the story, they will at least understand the idea of transfiguration and would like to experience it themselves.   People want to be transfigured.  Just look around our town of Collingwood and it’s easy to find cosmeticians, aestheticians, plastic surgeons, Yoga studios, orthodontists, gyms and fitness centres, all focused on offering a newer, younger, fitter, slimmer, more peaceful and more attractive you.

Or, go into a bookstore or go onto Amazon and do a search for “Self Help” books and you’ll find countless titles that will guide you to becoming happier, healthier, fitter, more efficient, more positive, and more popular.   I find it amusing, by the way, that in our local used bookstore, the few Christian titles there, including a copy of our own Mary Lou’s history of this parish, are included in the “Self Help” section.   I haven’t really figured that out, because Christianity has nothing to do with self help, and has everything to do with relying on God’s help. 

Indeed, this whole story is about reliance on God.   Jesus does not transfigure himself.    It’s telling that the story, is as Sarah Henrich puts it, “embedded in prayer”.   Jesus, along with three of his key disciples, has gone to a mountain to pray (Lk 9.28) and this is a pattern with Luke.  On three previous occasions that Jesus withdraws to pray on key occasions such as after acts of healing or after choosing the twelve disciples (Lk 5.16, 6.12, 9.18).  Throughout the gospels we see Jesus nurturing his relationship with his Father, and his miracles and acts of power seem to flow from Jesus’ prayerful obedience to God’s will.

Likewise, the choice of the mountain is significant, as mountains are places where God reveals God’s self and speaks to those chosen by God.   In the Hebrew scriptures, both Moses (Exodus 19) and Elijah (1 Kings 19) spoke with God on mountain tops, and Moses himself is transfigured on Mount Sinai so that his skin is shining (Ex 34.29).   It’s often said that the the presence of Moses and Elijah, often shown just slightly below Jesus in icons of the transfiguration, show that Jesus sums up the Law and the Prophets, that he embodies all the teachings and all the hopes of Israel.  The sheep in our cartoon today also make the lovely point that whereas Moses and Elijah could not in their lifetimes bear to see God in all God’s glory, now they can see the face of God in Jesus - as can we!


Perhaps the most important detail in Luke’s version of the Transfiguration story (it occurs in the three Synoptic gospels but not in John) is Luke actually tells us what Jesus is discussing with Elijah and Moses:  “they were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Lk 9.31).   The words “accomplish at Jerusalem” seem to point to the cross and the resurrection that will follow, though all this is still unknown to the drowsy disciples below.    What’s most interesting is that the Greek word Luke uses for “departure” is “exodus”, which is the same word used for the name of the second book of the bible.  It’s the only time in all four of the gospels that the word “exodus” occurs.  Why is that?

I think the likely answer is that Jesus, like Moses before him, will come down from the mountain and lead his people to freedom.   The word “exodus”, for the Jews and for us (think of Dr King’s use of the exodus imagery in his “I Have A Dream” speech) speaks of escape and release from slavery.   Jesus will be a second and a greater Moses; his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross will lead his people out of the land of sin and death.   Jesus lives, dies, and rises again so that his people, us, can be free from the guilt of sin and the fear of death.   As the Collect for Peace in the Book of Common Prayer puts it, in serving Jesus we know “perfect freedom”.    As Sarah Henrich observes, the promise of the Transfiguration story is that Jesus will come off the mountain to lead us to safety: “God will deliver God’s people from slavery as often as God must do it”.  That promise alone is why the Transfiguration story is worth hearing twice a year.

The story ends in a somewhat muted way.  The glory fades away, Moses and Elijah vanish, the three houses that the disciples want to build are not needed because Jesus must go and his friends must follow.  They don’t understand yet and so they keep silent, but surely they must have left with greater hope and faith in Jesus.  And the words from heaven, the same words heard at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  apply just as much to us as they do to the disciples.  Our calling today, our vocation, is to follow Jesus, to listen to him, and to fix our hope on him.

For me, I find this story incredibly liberating because it frees me from the burden of self-help.   At the end of the day, we don’t have to rely on ourselves to improve ourselves.   All the self-help books on Amazon aren’t going to make me younger or healthier, at least not for long.   As Marilyn Monroe once sang,  “Time rolls on, and youth is gone, and you can’t straighten up when you bend”, as I think many of us here today know all too well!   Likewise those of us who carry burdens of guilt or shame know that therapy and counselling have their place, but the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus will set us on the road to being a new creation, alive and happy as God always wanted us to be.    In other words, it’s not diamonds but Jesus that is our best friend, and in his glory on the mountain we see something of the same glory and radiance that is ours if we wish to follow Jesus.

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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