Saturday, September 30, 2023

Who Should Shovel The Snow? A Homily on Humility fo the Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 1 October, 2023.  Readings for the Eighteeth Sunday After Pentecost (Yr A):  Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32 


Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  (Phil 2.3)

I’d like to tell you an uplifting story about the most humble person who ever lived, but other than Jesus, I don’t know about that person.   We will never meet that person his side of heaven, since someone who is really good at being humble will never tell you about it and you’ll never notice them.   I can however tell you an autobiographical story about the absence of humility.

My first parish had a scarcity of resources, so that in winter, when I arrived on Sunday at 8am, the walkway and doorstep was often deep in snow and I’d be the guy to shovel them, which exasperated me because I thought I had better things to do with my precious time.

One day I said to my wife, “I’ve got four university degrees and I’m shovelling the snow.”  At which she fixed me with a piercing gaze and said in a cold voice, “And what is your point?”  

At which I quailed and realized that I had no point, other than that I was too good for this work.  And I realized that I my sin in that moment was pride, which is not becoming in a minister.

Now there are some things that I as a pastor should never be allowed to do in church - electrical wiring and accounting come to mind.  But I have come to believe that a good pastor should never be afraid to get their hands dirty, because what is a church, but a collection of disciples who serve Christ and serve others?

The virtue that describes this mindset is called humility, and it’s not a fashionable word today.    In an age of social media influencers, and bullhorn politics that despises “losers”, the idea of humility is completely unfathomable.   

Humilty would have been equally weird to many in St. Paul’s world.  Last Sunday in the first part of this sermon series, I described how the northern Greek city of Philippi had become a Roman colony, with all the trappings of Roman power and its state religion.   

Some members of the Philippian Christians would have had some status, such as Lydia, the cloth merchant who along with her household were baptized by Paul (Acts 16:11-15).  However, it’s most likely that the members of this little church would have mostly been lower class Greeks, including slaves and servants (Lydia’s “household” would likely have included some of these).  

Such folk would undoubtedly have been captivated by Paul’s preaching that Jesus as the Son of God would, in this splendid and beloved phrase, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2.6-7).    

The word that Paul uses for slave is doulos, which can mean slave, servant, or any person of menial or “humble” status.  A Roman victory parade would have been led by generals and nobles, and the slaves and captives (douloi) would have followed in the rear.  Such was the Roman world.

It’s worth noting that Paul planted these first churches as or even before the gospels were being written, which means that the first Philippian believers would not have known the stories that we know.  For these first Christians, it was enough to know that Jesus, the Lord (kryios) of Heaven, became a servant (doulos) for their sakes.  That in itself would have been good news aplenty in Roman Philippi.

The Philippian believers of this letter would not have known St. John’s account of the last supper, of how Jesus “tied a towel around himself” and washed his disciples feet (Jn 13:1-15) as an example to them.  They would not have known this story, but it would have fit perfectly with Paul’s teaching.

Likewise the first Philippians would not have known Jesus’ parables, such as the parable of the wedding banquet  and its teaching that guests should take the lowest seats, so that the host can honour them with a better one.  They would not have heard Jesus’ conclusion to this parable, ”For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Lk 14.11), words which Jesus repeats three times in the gospels.  The Philippian’s didn’t know these words, but they would have fully comprehended and endorsed them.

If we understand humility as a willingness to be a servant, without the trappings of human accomplishment and status, then we understand much of Jesus’ teaching.   As Jesus said to his disciples, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20.25-26).   

Across the centuries there have been many who have rejected or even scorned this teaching.  Philosophers like Nietzsche have rejected Christianity as a “slave morality” because it undercut his belief that the strongest should rule and impose their will on the weak.   

Today, as strongmen and authoritarians seem more and more acceptable to many, the church needs to guard against and reject this belief.   Jesus came down to earth to serve others, and taught us to follow his example.  That’s gospel.

We also need to realize that the church always needs to guard against the emotions and customs that lead us away from humility.   For some churches there is pride in having the right doctrine and teaching, which is a kind of Pharisee mentality.  For other churches there is a pride in status and accomplishment, which is a particular Anglican vice.

For example, our Diocese can’t seem to manage to put together an event without listing which participants have the Order of the Diocese of Toronto.   Clergy love their titles and honours, and I confess, there are times when I think it would be nice to call myself a Canon, which is a conspicuous failing of humility in itself!

Humility is a gift that each believer should strive for, myself included,  which is why Paul encourages us to grow into the mind of Christ (Phil 2.5).   The pursuit of humility is I think a constant direction of our faith lives, one that keeps us from becoming self-righteous Pharisees.   

The American pastor and author Chris Hutchinson recommends three ways in which we can grow into humility.

The first is reminding ourselves that we are saved by grace alone and not by own our own efforts.   last Sunday’s parable of the vineyard, in which the owner gives all the workers the same wage despite their efforts, is relevant here.   If taking pride in something, ask God for more humility.

Second, if we wondering how to proceed in our faith lives, simply ask God how we can be a servant, how we can put others first.  We would do this daily, just as the Lord’s prayer teaches us to ask for our daily bread.

Finally, we should ask how we are I serving my church.  Are we seeking to burnish our reputation for holiness? Do we seek recognition for our ministries?  When we are in a dispute about church matters, how important is it that  we win the argument?  Or, can we learn to see the point of view of others and thus grow in grace?

Chris Hutchinson also poses the same challenge to churches as a whole.   How can we grow in grace as a church?  Can we, to use Paul’s language, boast in our faith in Christ and not boast in ourselves?  Can our websites and our messaging feature our humility rather than how great we are?   

So let me leave you with something to ponder.   We are currently designing our website.   How could our new website show, without boasting, but with appropriate humility, that we be a servant church?

Monday, September 25, 2023

In Praise of Church Music (?) Thoughts on a Beloved and Sometimes Vexing Topic In Praise of Church Music (?): Thoughts On A Beloved and Vexing Topic

I wrote this piece recently for our parish newsletter.   Your thoughts/responses are welcomed.  MP+



Recently a dear friend gifted me with a stack of tattered music books that had belonged to her pious grandparents.  The books contained old four part psalm settings, Victorian hymnals, and Hymns and Songs of the Church of England Temperance Society.  These old books hint at a lost world of church music, one so different from the Christian praise anthems of contemporary megachurches.    Any Christian encountering these old books could either pine for a golden age, or think good riddance to fusty old tunes, depending on their taste in worship.


But maybe changing tastes in music have always been thus?  While reading the introduction of the 1938 Anglican hymn book (the old blue book), I came across the rather startling admission that hymn books have a relatively short life span of twenty five years:  “Each generation, with its problems and outlook, must seek new ways of expressing its ideals and aspirations.  Taste in literature and music changes.”


And music did change.  Perhaps you can remember that red hymnal produced jointly by the Anglican and United Churches in 1971 (who can forget “God of Concrete, God of Steel”?) which gave way to our current hymn book, Common Praise (1988), which tries to please a wide variety of tastes, combining Taize songs, Wesleyan hymns, and contemporary songs from the African church.   Tastes and books change, but the changes are often messy and fractious.


In the latest issue of The Anglican (Sept 2023) there is a fascinating interview with Robert Busiakiewicz, former music director at St James’ cathedral in Toronto.   He has spent his life in church music and has seen his share of fights, though none so bad as when an 11h century Abbot had his monks killed because they wouldn’t sing psalms the way he wanted them to!


For Busiakiewicz, our conflicts over church music stem from two causes.  On the one hand, many of us think church music should be sacred, a sacrifice of our best skill and talent to God (complex harmonies, soaring organ fugues, that sort of thing) whereas others are suspicious of music that is too formal, too much like a performance.   This second way of thinking wants church music that involves us and makes us happy, so for example a jazz vespers service or a Christian rock concert, old bible camp songs or even just “Shine Jesus Shine”.


So what makes for good church music?   I’ve been ordained long enough to know that ten Anglicans will have at least ten opinions:   Traditional?  Modern?   Accessible?   Serious?   Folksy?   Organ?  Guitar?  Reverent?  Happy?  At the end of the day, Busiakiewicz muses in the interview, maybe we can just be honest and say that it’s ok to sing and play something in church because we like it.


For my own part, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  My soul is attracted to four part psalms, chanting, Latin anthems and the Merbecke Tudor communion setting.   But, I also realize that those are my tastes, and I wouldn’t inflict them on you (at least not all the time!).    At All Saints, I think our music is a bit of a conversation between different ways of thinking about church music.    


For example, last Sunday, Barry offered a piece, “Streets of Our Town”, which was inspired by the 1969 folk song “Streets of London” by Ralph McTell.  Each verse offered a vignette of characters we see around Collingwood.    The tune was compelling, and the lyrics painted stories, but what made it work, and what saved it from being merely maudlin, was that the song led us as disciples to think about our Christ-given duty to “the least of these”.  Within the context of our worship, the song made us think about the gospel, and so I thought it worked as church music in a very creative way.


So maybe we can agree that our worship music is an offering to God, so we should try to do it well, and we can agree that different times in the church year work well with certain kind of music (so Good Friday, for example, will have sombre music that draws us to the cross).   However, at the end of the day, maybe we can also give ourselves the freedom to say that church music, like music generally, is aesthetic.  It exists to make us happy.   And seeing as music makes us happy in different ways, since we are all different,  maybe we can see church music as  conversation rather than as conflict.


Father Michael

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Let Us Trust Life Because God Lives It With Us: 1 of 3 Homilies on Philippians


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, September 24, 2023, the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost.  Readings for this Sunday:   Exodus 16:2-15; Psalm 105:1-6,37-45; Philippians 1:21-30; Matthew 20:1-16. 

“Only live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1.27)

A minister writing to his or her congregation is a fairly normal thing.   In fact, on Thursday I sat down and wrote you my Thanksgiving letter, which like the Christmas letter and Easter letter is a regular part of a priest’s yearly routine.  The seasonal letter is a good chance to take stock of how a parish is doing, to highlight new initiatives, address any problems, and hope that some folks return those little envelopes with some extra givings for the parish bottom line.  All fairly normal stuff. 

But yesterday, as I was thinking about our second lesson, I found myself wondering, what would I write to you about if I was writing to you from prison?   I’m not talking about being in prison for having done something nasty, but I’m talking about being in prison for preaching and for living out my faith in Jesus Christ.  What would I say about my situation, and what words would I have for you as church?


Which is exactly the situation behind the writing of Paul’s letter Philippians.   Since I have the pulpit for this and for the next two Sundays, I intend to use this time to speak about the context and message of Philippians.  I’d like to talk about how it is a letter from prison, and how Paul’s hope in Christ sustains him in what may well be his last days, which will lead me in the next two sermons to talk about how wonderfully Christ is presented in Philippians.


Maybe the first thing we should say is that Paul was no stranger to prison.  The book of Acts tells us that Paul was imprisoned three times, the final time being in Rome where he met his death sometime around 60 CE.   In fact, the first of these occasions happened in Philippi some years earlier, when Paul and Silas had made a disturbance after curing an enslaved woman who gave prophecies, thus depriving her owners of their income.


You may recall the wonderful story (Acts 16: 16-41) of how Paul and Silas are singing and praying in prison when God sends an earthquake to free them, but they remain where they are and as a result the jailer and his family come to believe and are baptized.    It’s out of that story that the Christian church in Philippi, the one that Paul is now writing to some years later, was founded.    So let’s take a moment to think about Philippi and what it would have liked to have been a believer there.


Philippi was a Greek town on a trade route between Asia and Europe, at the northern part of the Aegean Sea.    The Roman civil wars, as described in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, ended with a large battle at Philippi in 42BC, after which much of the good farm land was taken from the Greeks and given to Roman veterans as a reward for their services.  


Chances are then that the members of the church in Philippi were Greeks whose livelihoods had suffered in the decades following the Roman takeover.  Perhaps their poverty and lack of status had led them to follow Jesus, though there may have been some Roman believers among them.    So the first thing we can say about this church is that is a church that needs hope.


Besides their economic struggles, the Christians in Philippi would have risked suspicion and persecution.   Philippi was a Roman colony, and we know from archaeology that there were many Roman temples and monuments built there before Paul’s time.    As Jesus followers, the Philiippian church would have ben conspicuous in a landscape of official Roman religion.  The early Christians put themselves in jeopardy by placing Christ above the Roman gods and divine emperors.


I’ve taken some time to describe the context of this letter because the context helps us understand the similarities that Paul sees between his situation and that of the church that he is writing to.    Paul knows that the believers in Philippi could face the same things he is facing - poverty, persecution, imprisonment, and death.   Thus, at the end of our first reading, he speaks of how God has “graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well”, and of how they have this in common.


And what’s perhaps most surprising about this letter is how positive it is.  Paul uses words like “joy” and “rejoice” and “be glad” over and over again, so that we sometimes forget it is a letter written from prison.   Paul says, for example, that he hopes to be released from prison so that he can “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith” (Phil 1.25).  For a saint who has a reputation as a finger-wagging scold, Paul here is full of kindness, love, and encouragement for this church, and in my experience as a priest, parishioners generally appreciate love and encouragement.


I wonder if, as he was in his cell in Rome writing this letter, Paul remembered being in a cell in another cell with Philippi years ago, singing hymns and songs of praise, because that’s what this letter feels like.  We’ll see that particularly next week in the beautiful and soaring hymn to Jesus in Chapter 2.   And I am sure that subsequent Christians writing from prison over years have found the same joy and sense of freedom that Christ can bring even in a cell.


One of my Christian heroes is a Jesuit priest named Alfred Delp.  He was imprisoned in 1944 for his resistance to the Nazi regime, and was hanged in prison just months before the end of the war.   Like Paul, he spent many months in prison wondering if he would be spared, and drawing closer to God in the process.  In one of his final letters, he wrote this:


“one thing is clear and tangible to me as never before:  the world is so full of God.  This realization wells up towards us as it were from all the pores of things."


In another letter, Delp wrote “Let us trust life because God lives it with us.”   Remarkable words for a man who had been tortured and was awaiting death.


Or, as Paul says, “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.   Perhaps if I was writing to you from prison, dear saints, knowing that you too were facing hardship, I would say something like this.   “Put the gospel at thee centre of your life.  Live in joy because Jesus loves you.   Live in hope because Jesus is always with you.  Act accordingly.”


You and I will (God willing) never be imprisoned for our belief, though many of our fellow Christians do suffer for their faith.   But  will and do experience moments of darkness and despair.  Philippians reminds us that those are just moments.  St Paul and those faithful men and women, like Alfred Delp, reach their hands out to us across time and say “take our hands, for the Christ who was faithful to us is faithful to you.  Now it’s your turn to be faithful.”


In the next few weeks of this three part sermon series we will look at how Paul shares Christ with the Philippians, in some of the most wonderful passages in the New Testament.  I think you’ll be inspired.   The book is quite short, so feel free to read all of Philippians between now and then.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Stephen Andrews On What Is Anglicanism

There are countless definitions of Anglicanism, but these seven points by the Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews, the current principal of Wycliffe College in Toronto (my alma mater), are quite succinct and sound.  Taken from Principal Andrew’s comments on the opening of Wycliffe’s fall 2023 term.

  • It is a Reformed tradition – Anglicanism is a product of the sixteenth-century Reformation that sought to redress erroneous doctrine and the abuse of power invested in the Pope. Its Protestantism is, however, eclectic, borrowing as it does from other traditions like Lutheranism and Calvinism, and adopting the humanism of scholars like Erasmus and Zwingli. One of the consequences of this is that the Anglican tradition is not confessional. While being thoroughly creedal, no adherence to anything like the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Catechism or the Augsburg Confession is required for membership in the Anglican Church.
  • It is a biblical tradition – The Reformation is itself a product of Bible reading and the conviction that holy Scripture is “God’s Word written.” Anglican reformers believed that the Bible should become the possession of the whole Church and not just the priesthood. Tyndale’s determination to ensure that “the boy that drives the plough [should come to] know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself” led him to translate the Bible into plain English, and this is one of the reasons more Scripture is read in Anglican worship services than in many other Christian traditions.
  • It is a liturgical tradition – The English reformers rejected erroneous Roman Catholic doctrine, but they kept many of its forms of devotion, and some of the prayers most familiar to Anglicans come from the earliest days of the Church’s existence. While the shape of modern liturgy has evolved – to the extent that there is now very little uniformity in Anglican worship – a family resemblance can still be recognised in the focus on the ordered reading of Scripture (often including congregational responses), in standardised forms for confession of sin and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in the offering of absolution and blessing, and in the observance of a liturgical calendar.
  • It is a continuous, episcopal tradition – While the Church in England broke politically from Rome, it nevertheless retained an episcopal order and thus traces its genealogy to the practices of the ancient Church. At the same time, as the Wycliffe College Six Principles state, “Non-Anglicans should note that [subscription to the principle of the historic episcopate] does not assert the exclusive validity of an episcopal polity." Consequently, Anglicans respect and enjoy fellowship with a number of non-episcopal traditions.
  • It is a synodical tradition – While the Anglican Church has not been immune to the abuses of clericalism, its governance is undertaken by synods in which the laity take an active role in the Church’s administration.
  • It is an intellectually curious tradition – Anglicans are drawn to historical and theological debate because of a conviction that “truth is larger and more beautiful than our imperfect minds are able to apprehend or to conceive," states Stephen Neill. One of the greatest virtues of Anglicanism therefore is what J. I. Packer called “a rational temper,” a willingness to stay in dialogue with those from whom we differ, until intellect, conscience, and will become persuaded that we have reached a better understanding of the mind of Christ.
  • It is a global tradition – The product of a Catholic mission from Rome to the British Isles in the seventh century, Anglicanism has an evangelistic legacy. Wycliffe College itself has played an important role in the global reach of the gospel, and today the Anglican Communion is the largest Christian fellowship after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, with 85 million members organised into a web of 42 autonomous and independent – yet simultaneously interdependent – churches spread across the globe, and each in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The national, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity of its members makes for a rich engagement with the work of God’s Church around the world.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Ben Crosby on the Benefits of Praying the Daily Offices

Ben Crosby is a young Anglican priest and theologian based in Montreal.   In this short Substack essay, he describes how the part of the Anglican tradition known as The Daily Offices (Morning and Evening Prayer, plus Compline before retiring) benefited his prayer and faith life.     You can find that essay here.

Here’s an excerpt from Ben’s piece:

"Being steeped in Scripture, especially the psalter, organizing my days around time with God, taking time every day for confession, for praise, to hear God’s word, and to petition him for my own needs and those of others – all these have been so vital to me. They have been so important for keeping me anchored through health crises, international moves, struggles in faith, the ordination process, disappointments in ministry, all the changes and chances of this fleeting world. The words of the psalter have sunk into my bones, becoming the words I use to express my deepest aspirations and profoundest distress. In the moments where my heart is full to bursting with gratitude for all that God has given me, the office is there. In the moments I am in despair, with no words to come before God, the office is still there."

Video of My Homily on Matthew 18:15-20 From Sep 10/23


Saturday, September 9, 2023

From Slavery to Perfect Freedom: A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost

From Slavery to Perfect Freedom:  A Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost (Yr A).  Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, September 10, 2023.

Texts:  Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 148; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  (Matthew 18:18).

God wants us to be free, but what does God’s freedom look like?  That’s the question I want to explore today.

Martin Luther’s last speech in Memphis, TN, ended famously with a premonition of his assassination the next day.   King said that even if he didn’t live long enough to get there, he like Moses had reached the mountaintop and seen the promised land.  And by the promised land, of course, he was talking about the long struggle of African Americans to be truly free in the country that promised equal rights to all its peoples.

So a political speech, to be sure, but King as a black preacher was interlacing his politics with his theology.  His words and his imagery - the mountain top, the promised land - were drawing on the Exodus story from the Hebrew scriptures, a story that resonated with King and his people since they were first brought to America in slave ships.

And just to make his point crystal clear in the Memphis speech, King invoked the Exodus story specifically and spoke of how Pharaoh could not prevent “God's children” from making “their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt …toward the promised land”.

Our first reading today takes us right to the eve of deliverance from slavery for the children of Israel.  It is the story of the Passover, which some All Saints folks may remember from when this parish used to do seder suppers.   It is the story of how God gathers the people of Israel together on the terrible night when God punishes the Egyptians for the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh.

There have been hints and foreshadowings of this story before now:   Joseph sold into slavery but raised up so h can save his brothers;   infant Moses in the rushes, saved from Pharaoh’s order to kill the firstborn of the Israelites so could lead them to freedom.   And now here the Israelites are, eating their last meal as slaves, dressed to make their escape, with Pharaoh’s army soon to be in hot pursuit until horse and chariot are washed away in the Red Sea.

The Exodus story thus reminds us that God will not tolerate slavery.   It tells us that God will show up as often as needed to free the people that God created, to free that people that God has chosen, and to free the people that God loves.    That’s the God that Dr King put his faith in.

The ending of today’s psalm underlines this point that God wants freedom for his people.  It warns us that kings and rulers who oppress God’s people will themselves become captives; God will “bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron” (Ps 149:8). This vision of tyrants like Pharaoh themselves in chain perhaps anticipates Paul’s words of how Jesus takes captivity captive (Eps 4.8), and how in Revelation Death and Hell themselves are destroyed.  In other words, don’t mess with the God of Freedom.

But, when God’s people are free, how shall they live?  What does freedom mean for God’s people?  For us?  That is the question that Paul in Romans and Matthew in today’ gospel takes up.  I think how we answer that question might be found if we consider this verse:”whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

There’s that contrast between “bound” and “loosed”, between “enslaved” and “free”.   What are we to make of this, and what power does the church have in these ways?  That’s a whole sermon in itself, but let’s briefly think about what freedom does and doesn’t mean.

During Covid and its associated protests, we saw a certain way of thinking that defined freedom as being able to do whatever one wants.  This way of thinking is personal, individualistic, and denies obligations to the needs and well-being of others.  

Others wore masks and closed churches because our public health authorities and our bishops asked us to consider the needs of the vulnerable.  It was unpleasant, but we complied.  We lived without certain freedoms because we cared for the vulnerable among us and wanted to protect them.  But what seemed like the behaviour of good neighbours and citizens to some looked like slavery to others.

Perhaps the Covid time was a blessing for the church because it reminded us that freedom as Christians understand it is a bit of a paradox.   Freedom for us isn’t about doing what we want.  When we accept the responsibility of loving our neighbour, as Paul tells us to in Romans, then certain restrictions on our freedom follow.   These restrictions take their form in specific injunctions which uphold the Hebrew commandments but Paul wraps them all up in one command, “Love your neighbour as yourself” and, to make the point, Paul says that this is the sum of the commandments and “the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:8-10).  In other words, if you want to be a Christian, then loving and caring for others is not an option.

So in a very real sense, we as followers of Jesus are not free.  We’re not free to ignore one another’s needs.  We aren’t free to put ourselves first.   We aren’t free to pursue gain at the expense of others.   To be a serious, intentional member of a Christian community, means that we are bound to one another in chains of love and concern.   

In our gospel reading, Jesus makes it clear that we are church must also restrict our freedom in that we must subject ourselves to the judgement of other disciples if we do wrong to them.   I think the binding and loosing language here has to do with how we manage sin in the church, given that a church is just a collection of sinners wanting God to help them.

So,  if someone does wrong to us (sins), we are to gently confront them, with witnesses if necessary, and if the offender isn’t willing to make amends and be forgiven (loosing), we must hold them to account (binding). Likewise, if we offend, we must be willing to be held to account by our fellow church members. 

Sadly this process can go off the rails.   I can remember one very difficult conversation where one church member found the courage to say that another had been abusive to her, and it did not go well.   I’ve seen churches that spent money on conflict resolution facilitators because they haven’t been able to solve bad conduct on their own.   Perhaps if those churches truly believed that Jesus was in their midst, “where two or three are gathered in my name”, they would not need conflict specialists.

Gossip, temper, jealousy, pride, abuse and sexual misconduct - these are all the things that we bring to church because we come to church bound by our sins.  If we thought we were free before we turned to God, then we were only kidding ourselves.   We all come to church as sinners, we come in chains, bound by our sinful, imperfect natures. If we don’t take our conduct as Christians and our obligations to one another seriously, if we don’t truly believe that Jesus us among us, hearing our words, seeing our conduct, judging us, then churches will be messy, hurtful and toxic.   If we don’t give ourselves to Jesus, then we will always be in chains and we’ll never be free.

However, if we as a Christian community take our conduct and our obligations to one another seriously, then we have the hope and the promise that we will no longer be slaves to our sin.   In the Prayer Book service of Morning Prayer the Collect for Peace has this prayer:  “O GOD, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom” (1962 PB,   ).

The great paradox of Christianity and its wonderful promise is that if we let Jesus cut away the chains of sin that bind us, and if we with Jesus bind ourselves to one another in chains of love and concern, then we can and will be truly free.

A Funeral Homily For Ann Bye

A Funeral Homily For Ann Bye

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Saturday, September 9, 2011


Today’s service is a first for me.  I’ve helped with many funerals over the years but never until today have I been at the funeral of writer of hymns.    The words of two of the hymns in this service were written by Ann, and they are full of a lively love for God and trust in God, two ingredients that make for a good hymn.

As the new priest here, I only had the pleasure of meeting Ann a few times at Pine Villa (where she was well cared for), so I don’t know the story of her life very well.   In our first hymn Ann gives thank to God the “lessons learned along the way” and I would have liked to asked her about those lessons and what she learned from her long life.

I suspect however that I have my answer in the four pages of notes that she left for her funeral.    Ann saw Christ as the light the guided her footsteps, she loved Jesus and she wanted to share her faith with others.   In her first hymn she speaks of her her praise is offered in “humility” and I love her for that.  Ann wanted this service to be about Jesus, and not about herself.

The Bible doesn’t say much about heaven.   Jesus says he goes to prepare a place for us, so we can be sure that heaven is a good place.  Sometimes when we imagine heaven, we think of it as a place where we have all eternity to do the things we loved to do on earth, which for some people I’ve met usually involves things like golf.    

In fact, the only thing the Bible is clear on about what we do in heaven is that when we will get there we will want to spend eternity being with and praising Jesus.  The Book of Revelation talks about the worship and singing of heaven:

“I heard the voice of many angels … [and] every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth ad in the sea, and all the is in them, singing “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev 5.11-12).

So really, Ann got it right and I’m sure she is delighted to now be one of those voices.   Today Ann teaches us that all out worship, all our lives, and all our music should be dedicated to God, and for that as a priest and as a believer, I’m very thankful.  I look forward to one day hearing her voice in the heavenly choir.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

A Funeral Homily for Bruce Mackison

A Funeral Homily For Bruce Mackison


Texts:  1 Corinthians 15, Mark 15:33-39, 16:1-7


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 6 September, 2023




It is my great honour to preach at the funeral of my parishioner and friend,  Bruce Mackison.  My instructions for this funeral were that there would not be a eulogy or tribute, but I hope I can be forgiven for saying a few good words about Bruce.  After all, when the queue to get into heaven brings us face to face with St Peter and he opens our file, don’t we hope that he will read a few good things about us?


Joining a parish with a long history is like coming late to a party that’s been going for many hours already.   And, if All Saints was a party, then every good party has decorations, and you know that Bruce was behind all of the decorations - boxes and boxes of them - decorations are stashed away in various rooms around here.   So many boxes!


Once, when I asked Bruce if we could spare some Christmas decorations for the rectory, he just smiled and said, “Michael, just say how many you want, we have enough decorations.”


That was one of Bruce’s ministries, decorating All Saints for the seasons of the church year, enhancing the social life of our parish and helping this church be a community.   It was a ministry that was sadly bought to a halt during Covid, but this winter Bruce picked up his glue gun and turned out Remembrance Day wreaths and Christmas ornaments until his health began to decline.   


Bruce’s artistic devotion to this church could be summed up in the words of the Psalmist, “Lord, I love the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwellers” (Ps 28.8).


Just as Bruce expressed his love of thus church through art, he also expressed his devotion through his study of history, and Bruce will likewise be missed in his role as parish archivist, as well as in his wider roles with the Collingwood Historical Society.


Whenever I had a question about how things were done at All Saints, or how a certain event had been done in the past, I would always seek Bruce’s counsel, and he helped me as the new priest understand this place better.  


Just as he often decorated the walls of this church, Bruce also knew the backstory of every fixture, plaque, and piece of furniture in this place, and he loved to share that knowledge in his talks and writings.    Those of us who attended the welcome event for new parishioners this spring were lucky to hear Bruce here in the church, holding court, animated and enthusiastic as he shared his knowledge with us newbies.


Sometimes there’s a tendency to dismiss the past as so much trivia and to think that only the present and the future are important.  Bruce would have emphatically disagreed, and he would have been in good company.


In his book Why Study the Past, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, writes that that for Christians, history is more than just a list of facts and dates.  Church history, says Williams, is a history of God’s action in the world.  Just as Christ established his church and the Holy Spirit spread it through the known world after Pentecost, so those ripples of God’s action spread throughout the centuries and throughout the world out to the shores of Georgian Bay.


Those first Anglican services in a Collingwood tavern, the first wooden church, those six bewhiskered, faithful  Victorians who mortgaged their wealth to build this stone church and all who have built on it since - should we not say that God was at work in those years, just as God has been at work through Bruce’s life and through our own? 


Human history has its beginnings and its endings. I remember sitting with Bruce in December, watching him struggle to put another Christmas wreath together, and he told me how he hated growing old and the way it was curtailing the work he loved to do.   There was real anguish in his voice, an anguish surely heard by Jesus, who as we heard in Mark’s gospel today uttered his own words of despair from the cross:  “My God, my God, why have forsaken me?”    I thought of that moment again in the hospital last week as I said good bye to Bruce in hospital, as he spent his final hours in his old earthly body.


“My God, my God, why have forsaken me?” Those are Christ’s words, but they are also human words,  our words as the scope our lives narrow and as everything becomes more difficult, more painful, and more frustrating.  I chose Mark’s gospel because those words from the cross are not the last ones.   The angel shows the women at the empty tomb a new reality of life beyond death.


Likewise Paul says that this life beyond death is the essential Christian hope.   The mortal body fades, but a new life, a new reality, awaits us.   So we may think that Bruce the historian has gone into the past, but our faith tells us that he has actually passed into the eternal present of God in Christ, the alpha and omega, who is beyond all time.    



Bruce has been released from the his mortal body and he has left human time and human history.   Bruce is now beyond the reach of time and is safe in the presence of God. Bruce has taken his place in the company of the saints, that great host, with whom we the faithful join hands in our prayers and at the communion rail, and whom we shall one day join.    So for Bruce, and for all the saints who have lived, who from their labours rest, and who now live in Christ, we give thanks and praise.  Amen.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Must It Be An Empty Cross? A Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Back from Holidays and Back to Preaching.  Which is a good thing.  :)

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, 3 September, 2023.   Lessons for this Sunday (Yr A):  Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 105:1-6,23-26,45c; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16: 21-28


“… Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering … and be killed, and on the third day raised” (Mt 16.21)


For Christians, the cross has been a symbol of our faith almost back to when the church first began, but there are different crosses and some are easier to look at then others.   I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first let me tell you a brief (and I hope relevant) story about my time as a military chaplain when I was confronted with a certain cross.


If you drive out of Medicine Hat, Alberta, and head west on the Trans Canada Highway, in about forty kilometres you’ll come to a small military base called Suffield.  I was posted there in the summer of 2010, and when I arrived, I was shown the chapel where I would conduct Sunday services.


The chapel was an old, long rectangular hut.   At one point it had housed the Protestants at the south end and the Roman Catholics at the north end, but in the years after mandatory church parades had thankfully ceased, changes came.   The Roman Catholic wing was deconsecrated and turned into an army wives club, and all of the furnishings ended up in the Protestant side.


When I went there to get my handover from the outgoing padre, he opened the chapel doors and the first thing I saw behind the altar was a large wooden cross, about six feet tall, and on the cross was carved the lifelike body of the suffering Christ, what our Catholic friends would call a corpus christi.  The padre explained that the cross was carried over from the Catholic chapel, along with the stations of the cross and the statues of Mary and Joseph, and had all stayed there.  


It was a bit of a shock to see that cross there, because it’s not something that Anglicans, or Protestants generally, are used to seeing.  The crosses we put in our churches, or which some of us wear around out necks, are almost invariably empty.   Now my congregations were temporary, and tended to change as people came and went; there were some Catholics who thought an Anglican eucharist was close enough, there were British Army Fijians and Africans who just wanted to sing, but there were always some protestants, pentecostals and Mennonites, who were just a little freaked out by that body on the cross.


As one said to me, “Padre, we need to get rid of that cross, we’re not Catholics”.    To which I said, “That’s not a good enough reason, that’s just tribalism.  You’ll need a better reason than that to make me change my mind.”  I never did hear a better reason, and I could never think of one.  


I have heard the argument that Protestants display empty crosses in our churches because we are a people of the resurrection, but that’s just tribalism with a little theological window dressing.    All Christians are properly people of the resurrection, but some of us may prefer the empty cross because we like Easter better than we like Good Friday, or some of us may just have trouble looking at that body on the cross.   And if that’s true, then maybe we are in good company and may we have more in common with Peter in today’s gospel than we might care to admit.


Poor Peter.  In mid August we heard how Jesus pulled him from the water and hauled him to safety, and I guess Peter had some time to think about that, because last Sunday we heard him tell Jesus “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  (Mt 16.15), which earned him a blessing and the title of the rock on which Jesus would build his church.   Well done, Peter.  Top marks.


Sadly, today Peter goes from Hero to Zero.   He simply can’t accept Jesus’ teaching that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer, be killed, and rise again.   It’s as if Peter is so appalled by this prediction that all he heard was “suffering” and “be killed”, and so couldn’t hear the words “rise again”.   You can’t blame him, really, because the resurrection was so far beyond Peter’s understanding that Jesus’ friends at fist couldn’t believe that he’d risen.

I think for we who know the whole story, it’s easier to think about the risen Christ than it is to think about the suffering, dying Christ.   I well recall watching the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ” and being repulsed by it’s stomach-turning, graphic scenes of Christ’s flogging and crucifixion.   It’s a film I would never watch again.    Once was enough.


But there was a time when Christians made the body of the suffering Christ a key part of their piety.   Where in the early centuries of the church the figure of Christ on the cross was serene, by the later Middle Ages His tortured body was depicted realistically.   The topic of the Five Wounds of Christ became central to poems and mediations to inspire the faithful to love and adore Jesus for suffering for them.  It’s this old tradition of piety that Gibson as an extremely traditional Catholic was mining in his film.


Now you don’t have to wear a cross at all, or if you do, it doesn’t have to have the body of Jesus on it, and don’t worry, I’m not about to put one in the church.  But, just as Jesus scolds Peter and tells him to pay attention to his prediction of his death, so must we not look away.    We may be Easter people, but we can’t airbrush the body of Jesus off the cross.     What happened on the cross, however horrible, was necessary and good, an extraordinary act of God’s love for us.


The theologian Karl Barth wrote that all that happens in the gospels, the whole story of our salvation, “is essentially the history of the passion” (CD IV.1.167).    The cross is the great moment in the gospels, the hinge on which everything happens.   


Think about where we are today in the story.  Think about everything that’s happened so far in Matthew’s gospel.   All the teachings, all the parables, all the miracles, everything that has led up to this moment where Jesus has revealed himself to the disciples as the Son of God, and Jesus doesn’t mention them now.   It’s as if his achievements thus far are unimportant compared to what he must do.



What he must do.   Notice that Jesus says “that he must go to Jerusalem” to die and suffer.   That word “must” speaks of something unavoidable, something essential, something that absolutely has to be done.   Jesus is speaking of nothing less than the Father’s plan to save us.   To save us from the judgement. that we deserve.   To save us from the collective guilt of our sin.  


It is as if Jesus is already seeing the people of Jerusalem before Pilate shrieking “Give us Barrabas” and “We have no king but Caesar”.   And don’t we on Palm Sunday see in these words our terrible human frailty, our tendency to go off the rails and put our faith in idols and bad causes?  Isn’t this exactly what the Prayer Book means when we confess that “there is no health in us?”  Jesus knows that he must die if we are to be saved from our selves.


The theological word we need here is “atonement” which basically means how God saves us from the judgment that we deserve.   Jesus saves us by taking on the judgement that we deserve, but as he says to Peter and the other disciples, if we want this salvation, then we must be willing to be changed,  even die.


“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

These are hard words and time doesn’t permit me to speak much to them, but here’s what they don’t mean:  Jesus isn’t saying that suffering is good.  Jesus isn’t saying that everything about our lives up to now was bad and must be cut loose. I think what he’s saying is that if we want to follow Jesus, then we must want to be changed.


Here’s the essential way in which Christianity is different from the religions that went before it.   Barth wrote that until Jesus, humans prayed to gods to give them more of the same:  more fertility, more power, more crops, more wealth.   But Jesus says, no, I’m not going to give you more of the same.  Jesus says, I want to change you.


Any maybe that’s the scary thing about the cross for us.  Maybe it’s not just Jesus’ body that we see there, maybe it’s our body.   Maybe we’re afraid of the price Jesus might ask of us, maybe we’re afraid of change.    But if so, this is the same sort of fear that we have before going to the doctor and hearing about a difficult surgery or course of treatment.   At the end of the day, don’t we want to be better?


And that’s the thing about our call as disciples, that  if we want to follow Jesus, if we want to be at peace, then the way leads to the cross.  As Paul writes in Colossians, it’s though the cross that we find peace, peace with one another, peace with God, pave with useless:  “through him God was pleased to reconcile us to himself in all things, whether in earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (Col 1:19-20).


This is the peace that comes when we let go the old selves that we don’t much like.   Our selfishness and suspicion?  Jesus says, let them die on the cross.   Our fear of the stranger?  Jesus says, let it die on the cross.  Our dislike of the homeless and the poor?   Our prejudices and our angers?  Jesus says, let them die on the cross.   Our shame from the past and our inabilities to forgive or to ask forgiveness?,  Our resentments, our jealousies, our petty intrigues?  Jesus says, let them all  die on the cross.


The cross is our way to new life as disciples.  There is no other way.   And it is a good way. It’s a peaceful way.  It’s the way of life.


So at the end of the day, does there need to be a body on the cross?  Well, it depends what you want to be grateful for.   If there is a body, it is Jesus who died for us because he was faithful and obedient to God who loves us and who wants to save us.  And if the cross is empty, it is because Jesus has gone ahead, to invite us into the new life that we were always meant to enjoy.  


Maybe the cross is like a coin.  Full or empty, both are valid, both are signs of God’s love in Christ, and both should inspire our love, our gratitude, and our adoration of Jesus who saves us.

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