Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lent Madness: Battling Bishops

 In yesterday's matchup, Zita handily disposed of her fellow Italian saint, Rita.    I confess that I didn't have much enthusiasm for that particular faceoff, but I'm still hoping for the sitcom.

Today the mitres are mixing it up and the croziers are clubbing as two Victorian bishops of the US Episcopal  church put up their pious dukes.  I think this is the first matchup of the year featuring two bona fide Anglicans in the ring.

In this corner, Bishop Henry (The Whip) Whipple.

Like his Canadian contemporaries such as Bishops Moutain and Strachan, he was not only a church builder, he was a diocese builder.   He spent most of his adult life (42 yrs) as the first bishop of Minnesota, and was a fearless advocate for the indigenous people that most American settlers and politicians saw as a nuisance at best, and as inhuman at worst.   For that, he deserves the church's gratitude and memory.  Fun fact, there is a massive government structure, the Henry Whipple Federal Building, in Minnesota.

When I was a divinity student at Wycliffe College, we used to hear about Isaac Stringer, the Archbishop of Rupert's Land, also known as "the Bishop who ate his boots" because once, trapped in a cave during a blizzard, he boiled and ate his deerskin boots.    Jackson Kemper was a bishop of that ilk.  Not sure what he ate during his long travels through the largely unsettled Northwest US, but he seems tireless.     

Fun fact, both contestants had a role in ordaining Enmegahbowh, the first American indigenous Episcopal priest and a contestant in Lent Madness 2023 who made it to the Saintly Sixteen.  Kemper ordained him a deacon, and Whipple ordained Enmegahbowh a priest.

For that, don't they both deserve a vote?

Vote here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Lent Madness: Sounds Like A Sitcom Matchup

 Greetings Halo Hopers:  

I was a little surprised that William Byrd played some sour notes and was voted off the stage in favour of Ambrose of Milan.   That takes my record to 3 wins and 6 losses.    

Very pressed for time today so nothing to add in the way of witticisms, except that "Rita and Zita" sounds like the title of a TV sitcom.  Hard to choose between them, as Rita's life seems unbearably sad, but I suspect that Zita will win because a) her name is cooler and b) we all lose stuff, including me, the guy who asks my wife to call my cell phone so I know where it is.

Vote here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Lent Madness: The Reluctant Bishop vs the Discrete Musician

 Welcome to our second full week of Lent Madness 2024.     In our last matchup on Friday, I was surprised that the North African theologian Cyprian of Carthage beat Pachomius, one of the founders of monasticism.  That takes my record of predictions to 3 wins and 4 losses.

I didn't post on yesterday's matchup between Andoman and Joseph Vaz, and didn't have thoughts on who would win.    Anyway, congratulations to Andoman, our second Irish saint in this year's Lent Madness.    

In today's matchup, Ambrose of Milan squares off against William Byrd.   

It's always a good rule to be suspicious of clergy who desperately want to wear a purple shirt.  Ambrose, by contrast, wasn't even baptized before he was chosen by the faithful of Milan to be their bishop.  He would go on to be a fearless opponent of tyrants and heretics, and like his opponent today, managed to write a hymn or two, some of which survive today and which you might hear in church during Advent.

If Ambrose was reluctant, William Byrd was discrete.  He managed to keep his head down (and on) during the tumult of the Tudor period, even though he was a Roman Catholic.   Queen Elizabeth I was a fan.    Like that of his contemporary, Thomas Tallis, Byrd's music has a haunting beauty and took advantage of the taste in complex polyphony (multiple voices and parts) of the time.   Here's a taste.

I'm a fan of Tudor church music, so I'm going with Byrd to win.    We'll see if other birds of a feather flock to him.

Vote here.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Same Hope: A Homily for Vestry Sunday


Preached on Vestry Days, Saturday, Feb 24, and Sunday, Feb 25, at St. Luke’s, Creemore, and All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto. 

Readings: Gen 17:1-7. 15-16; Ps 22:22-30, Rom 4:13-25; Mk 8:31-38. 

”Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again" (Mk 8:31)

Imagine that you’re invited to be part of something – a new business, a political campaign, a romantic relationship – wouldn’t you want to know that all would turn out well?   Would you accept the invitation if you knew that it would all come crashing down and that your hopes would be dashed?

I’m sure that at this point in Mark’s Gospel, Peter and his fellow disciples were completely blindsided by Jesus’ prediction that he would undergo rejection, suffering, torture, and a terrible death.   Think of all that they had seen and done with Jesus thus far – demons put to flight, lepers cleansed, crowds fed from scraps of food, storms calmed by a word from Jesus.   Sure there had been bumps along the way.  They had seen Jesus scorned and rejected in his home town, they’d seen the Pharisees become increasingly hostile, and they’d heard of the arrest and execution of John the Baptist.

Even so, Peter’s shocked reaction to Jesus’ prediction shows that the disciples expected a triumphant outcome, that Jesus would fulfil their expectations of the Messiah and be a conquering king, a second David, who would drive the Romans from the land promised by God to Abraham and his descendants.

It’s almost as if Peter was so outraged at what sounded like a prediction of defeat and crashing ruin that he did not hear Jesus’ last words,  that “after three days [he would] rise again”.   And really, who can blame him.  

We all want the future to be bright and to keep our hopes intact.  We don’t want the pain of disappointment.  We don’t want to admit that we’ve failed.   I think that’s true of life and, I would say, it’s also true of churches. 

Today and tomorrow we’re having vestry meetings at two historic churches, St Luke’s, Creemore, and All Saints, Collingwood.   The people who dreamed of these churches, built them, paid for them, looked after them, they have long since gone to their reward.   If they were here with us today, would they be disappointed by what they would see?

Would they be disappointed by the general decline of Christianity in a country that’s become increasingly secular?  If they asked where the children were and we said, most of them go to hockey on Sunday mornings, while congregations got smaller and older and clergy got fewer, what would they think?   If they saw that famous Anglican Journal newspaper saying that our church will go extinct by 2040, would they think they’ve failed and that founding these churches was in vain?

No.   I think that if they were here with us today, they’d say no, it was all worth it, because here you are, acting in the present and planning for the future.   Here you are, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.   Here you are, living out the hope of our faith, inspired by the same Holy Spirit that inspired us to build these churches.  It was worth it then.  It’s worth it now.

I said earlier that Peter didn’t hear or understand what Jesus said, that “after three days [he would] rise again”.   Peter and the disciples couldn’t understand those words at the time.  None of Jesus’ friends were prepared for the reality of the resurrection.  It wasn’t until they saw him, heard him, broke bread with him, that they began to believe.  And it wasn’t for years thereafter, as they started to travel and preach throughout their known world, that they began to realize that Jesus had empowered them to build his church.

The same is true of us.   We dedicate considerable time, energy, and wealth to keeping these churches going, which is good thing if these buildings bring people closer to Jesus.   When things go wrong, or as we get older and fewer, we can lose sight of the promise of the resurrection that Jesus promised.

But here we are, still going.  Our ministries have changed.  We run foodbanks and we feed people.  We see society fragmenting and we care for the lonely.   We see the housing crisis getting worse and we are called to speak out to those in power, as you will see in our social justice motion.   That’s the spirit of the resurrection, leading us to follow Jesus in new ways and to adapt the mission of the church.

So let’s remember, in our vestry meetings and in the year that follows, that we continue to be church because we follow the same Lord, and hold to the same promise of the resurrection, that animated the first disciples.     We keep faith with the generations before us that built these churches and served these communities and worshiped this God.   Some of what we do – prayer, praise, and worship – hasn’t changed.   Some of our ministries have evolved and changed as we follow the Holy Spirit.     We do all these things because we believe the mystery of our faith – Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again – and that gives us our hope.   Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Lent Madness: Out of Africa

 Judging by what the host site, Blogger tells me, these Lent Madness updates are read by a depressingly small handful of people, but I shall forge on.

In yesterday's matchup, Lazarus was buried under the pile of votes heaped on Joseph of Arimathea,  so Jesus' secret disciple goes on to face the redoubtable Kassia, while Lazarus goes back to sleep.

I'm calling this the Out of Africa matchup, because that's all I've got that's clever, and Egypt is technically in Africa.  In one corner is Saint Pachomius, looking rather dismayed at the reading assignment given to him by the angel.

When I was an undergrad, a history professor liked to go on about how the monastic movement was a cop out.  Believers, he said, should be out in the world preaching and evangelizing (he was a Mormon), not holed up from the world praying.  Fortunately, faith is not a binary choice, and needs all sorts of ways of belief.  Bishop Andrew, in today's letter to the Diocese, talks about how he and his fellow diocesan leaders always make a Lenten pilgrimage to a monastery.   Monasteries and convents are sanctuaries for the weary, places of retreat and restoration, and send prayers aloft daily for the world.   We should be glad to have them, and grateful to St. Pachomius for being a founder of monasticism.

In the other Cyprian of Carthage was one of those North African theologians and church leaders most famously represented by Augustine of Hippo, whose early life and conversion Cyprian closely resembles.  He had a fine legal mind,  and was a fearless leader of the church, who like many of our Lent Madness Halo Heroes embraced a martyr's death.

Cyprian famously said that "He who does not have the church as a mother cannot have God as a father", which those who profess to find God on Sundays on the golf course may disagree with, but it's a good sentiment to think about on the eve of our parish vestry meeting.

I think I'm about 3 and 3 for my predictions, and this time I'm going with Pachomius on the grounds that he's an old soldier, like me, and I'm fond of monasteries.

Vote here.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Lent Madness: Graves and Graces


It wasn't even close.  Poor Polycarp was a catch and release contestant, while Andrew the Fisherman filled his nets with votes.  Andrew will go on to face Hyacinth.  We will see which one will blossom.

Today's matchup points us towards Easter because both saints represent empty tombs.

In one corner, looking a bit like The Mummy, is Lazarus of Bethany,

I've always felt a little sorry for Lazarus, because he had ample time to enjoy the pleasure of heaven, assuming that we go there and don't just sleep until we are called awake on Judgement Day (both are attractive prospects; the first sounds a lot like the wonderful ending of CS Lewis' The Last Battle, the second sounds like a good rest).

What makes Lazarus human as well as miraculous is that he and his sisters were friends of Jesus, who knew their house and welcomed their hospitality.  May our Lord always be welcomed under our own roofs.

In the other corner, we have Joseph of Arimathea.

All the gospels agree that Joseph was one of the friends of Jesus who care for his body after his death on the cross, selflessly giving up his own tomb for our Lord.  As someone who had his own tomb, Joseph must have been a man of substance,  He must have been notable in his community, because he was allowed an audience with Pilate the governor and requested that Pilate release Jesus' body.  Notable or otherwise, that must have taken courage on Joseph's part.   John's gospel also tells us that he was a Pharisee but secretly recognized the truth of who Jesus was.    That makes him very human.  Not all of us have the courage to give up our security for our beliefs, and so we try to do the best we can under the radar.

So an interesting choice.  Lazarus was the recipient of grace, while Joseph was an active benefactor of Jesus.    Your choice.

Vote here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Lent Madness: The Carp and the Fisherman

As I predicted (correctly, for a change), in our Lutheran Lashup, Henry Muhelenberg was soundly defeated by Albert "Out of Africa" Schweitzer, proving that a handsome moustache can give a saint an edge.     Albert will go up against Thomas the Apostle and that will be an epic challenge.

 Was Polycarp burned wearing his bishop's vestments?  Mitre been.

For today's Saintly Scrapple, in one corner we have Polycarp of Smyrna, a bishop, theologian, and martyr of the early church.  He joins Thomas Cranmer in this year's Lent Madness roster as a bishop who was sentenced to be burned at the stake, though his executioners found that task harder than expected.

Polycarp was a defender of what we would today recognize as credal Christianity and orthodoxy, though in his lifetime at was a massive dragout debate.   He is famous for embracing his martyrdom serenely at an advanced age, saying  to his Roman persecutors, "Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian".  That's a good sermon for this coming Sunday's gospel reading, in which Jesus tells us not to ashamed of him or of his words (Mark 8.38).

Polycarp.s opponent is the fisherman, disciple, and apostle, Andrew the Fisherman, who is one of the characters of the popular series "The Chosen".

If learned and wise people like Polycarp kept the faith, it was simple and brave people like Andrew that established the church.  Both Polycarp and Andrew deserve honour and veneration, and both were willing to die for their master in hope of the resurrection that he promised his followers.    Hard choice. 

Andrew apparently went everywhere in his career as an apostle, so players of Lent Madness with Scottish, Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian descent will likely tip the balance in is favour.

My prediction is that Andrew will come out of today with his net full of votes.

Vote here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Lent Madness: Grappling Germans

Our last matchup saw the Irish saint Canaire skipping across the waves while "Boom Boom" Barbara came close but ultimately flamed out.   I'm always a sucker for an Irish accent, so I backed Canaire and now my prediction record is 2-2.

Today's matchup features two Teutonic titans, two grappling Germans, zwei disputing Deutschers. 

Henry Muhlenberg looks to me a lot like the Anglican missionaries and clergy who came over to Canada and America in the 1700s to found the church here.   It's interesting to note that other Christian denominations were doing the same here, and the German diaspora would have had it's share of Lutherans coming to minister to them.    (Fun fact:  it wasn't just Lutherans, our friends in Collingwood at New Life Church can trace their roots back to Low German settlers in Pennsylvania who were Anabaptist, and who became known as Brethern in Christ.  Christianity then as now was quite diverse). 

I almost feel sorry for Henry, he has a sweet kind face, but he doesn't have the awesome moustache or reputation of Albert Schweitzer.

Pastor, theologian, musician, doctor, missionary, author - is there anything that Schweitzer didn't do better than almost anyone else?   Fun fact, Schweitzer makes a cameo appearance in Young Indiana Jones, a TV series aired in the early 1990s.  You can see a brief clip here.

I'm willing to bet that Schweitzer will handily win this battle of the Dueling Deutschers,  but he'll go on to face Thomas the Apostle, and that will be an epic battle.

Vote here.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Forged in the Wildnerss: Gospel and Homily for the First Sunday of Lent


Lent Madness: Duelling Mistresses of the Elements


I hope that if you're reading this, you're enjoying Lent Madness 2024 and have learned something about some of the strange and wonderful figures of our faith.  To track the progress of our Halo Heroes, there are two "leader boards" in the church where you can track their progress.

Progress was one thing that poor Casimir conspicuously lacked.  Even with three hands, he was unable to stop Kassia from sprinting to the finish line.  She'll be a strong contender.

Today's matchup features two ladies who feel like they might be at home in a Marvel superhero film because they have control of the elements.

Saint Canaire, an Irish saint, is famous for walking (some say on water for part of the way) from Bantry Bay in County Cork, 182 kns north to Inish Cathaigh, now named Scattery Island.  She was then an aged woman who had spent her life as a holy hermit, and had a vision that Inish Cathaig would be where she would die and await the resurrection.  Cathaig was occupied by a grumpy monk, St Senan, whose monastery had a "no girls allowed" policy, but Senan was impressed by Canaire's insistence that God loved women and men equally.

There is a wonderful account of her life here, and I feel like Canaire's last journey would be an excellent pilgrimage route and a great excuse to visit the beautiful south of Ireland

When I was a military chaplain, I was always fascinated by the tradition that certain branches of the military had their own patron saints.  Barbara is the patron saint of artillery, or gunners as they like to call themselves (army joke:  how do you know that someone is a gunner?  Answer:  what?  eh? speak up!).   

Barbara's association with explosives and fiery ends comes from the story of how her pagan father was punished for murdering her.   Once again we note the theme of embattled chastity in the lives of the early female saints.

So today's matchup features a fiery lady vs a water walking hermitess.    My money's on St Canaire just because my heart's in Ireland, but my prediction record thus far is 1 win, 2 losses, so there you go.

Vote here.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Forged in the Wildnerss: A Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

(This week was especially busy, and after preaching last night, I decided to find a sermon from three years ago, which had pretty good bones, but needed a new intro and conclusion.  So apologies to longstanding readers of this blog who may find this somewhat familiar.  Also, it was fascinating to reflect on the pandemic time we were in three years ago when I first wrote this, and how far we have come since then, gratia deo! MP+)

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 18 February, 2024.

Readings for this Sunday: Genesis 9.8-17, Psalm 25.1-9, 1 Peter 3.18-22, Mark 1.9-15

“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark 1.13

This verse from today’s gospel reading, told in Mark’s typically laconic style, feels like a test or preparation, doesn’t it?  It reminds me somewhat of films or books about someone preparing to do something heroic, who must first learn a skill and prove themselves.   Think of Rocky preparing for a big match in the ring, or Luke Skywalker learning how to use the force, or the Soldiers in Band of Brothers going through basic training before going overseas to fight. 

The fact that the synoptic gospels all begin with the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness makes me think that something similar might be going on in the gospels.  It seems as if Jesus can’t begin his ministry until he proves himself in some way, and the importance of this time of testing is underscored by some significant details.  

The testing occurs in the wilderness, where the Israelites wandered and where they didn’t do very well (that whole golden calf episode, for example).   Jesus is tested for forty days,  which is one of those significant numbers in scripture -  Moses led the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, the early church saw Jesus as a new Moses who would save God’s people.  Our church calendar also points to the importance of forty:  Lent is forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter and it’s a traditional time to fast like Jesus and think about our faith, our mortality, and our dependence on Jesus.   

I think that because we associate Lent with some kind of privation and personal sacrifice, and because the temptation stories in the gospels are always heard on the first Sunday of Lent, we can conclude that be Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness somehow it explains Lent.  I don’t think it has anything much to do with “Jesus suffered for forty days, so we can give up chocolate to honour his sacrifice”, which is how I’ve sometimes heard it explained.   What I want to do today is think about how the start of Lent helps us understand who Jesus is, what he does, and why we follow him, and I think today’s gospel reading is a good place to dig into that.

Now it may seem as if we’ve been stuck in the opening chapter of Mark for weeks now.  We heard the baptism story a few weeks ago, and you may be wondering why we’re going back to it today.  There are three events in today’s gospel:

1) Jesus is baptized and identified as God’s son

2) Jesus is tempted in the desert

3) Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God

Mark doesn’t tell us why (1) or (2) are necessary.  They just happen.  Mark’s whirlwind storytelling style is to throw events at us and leave us to make sense of them as best as we can, but they all seem connected.

A few weeks ago I spoke about the baptism of Jesus – I talked abut how Jesus shows God still engaged in God’s work of creation – that Jesus’ baptism in the Spirit shows us a new way of being in which we can be God’s children by adoption, to be God’s beloved sons and daughters.   Fair enough, but why is Jesus then immediately sent to the wilderness?  In Mark’s telling, the Spirit “drives” (the Greek word is ekballo, which can mean “to thrust” or “expel”) Jesus into the wilderness – it’s an urgent verb which suggests a crisis or an emergency.

So what is this all about?  If it is a test, why does Jesus have to be tested?  Is God not sure of his ability?   Considering that the voice from heaven has already named Jesus as “my Son, the Beloved” (Mk 1.11), I don’t think Jesus has anything left to prove.   Rather, I think Jesus goes to the wilderness to confront something.   The wilderness as Mark describes it is a place of spiritual extremes – angels are there, but so is Satan , and the beasts are wild, suggesting something that is untamed and even deadly.  Mark suggests that Jesus must go to the wilderness to confront something.

Typically, Mark doesn’t say anything about how that confrontation went.  There is no climactic, Hollywood style battle.   Sometime after these forty days, Jesus replaces John the Baptist, who has been God’s messenger, and announces the coming of the kingdom of God and the need to repent and put trust in the good news.   

Next, to show us what  the kingdom of God, we see Jesus curing people and driving out victims (Mk 1.21-34), and the demons screaming with the knowledge that Jesus has come to destroy them (1.24).  The kingdom of God is thus revealed as healing, life, and freedom from the things that oppress the people of God.  Mark does not make the connection explicitly, but it seems that the confrontation between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness prepares Jesus to face sin and death.   If Jesus is tested, then, it’s not see if he is sinful, but more like being tested in the way that a weapon is tested.

And what a curious weapon God forges in the wilderness.  Demons fear him, even his disciples fear him when they see him transfigured, but whole towns bring him their sick.   Jesus’ power will be shown in acts of compassion and healing.   Just as angels served him in the desert, so will serve others.  As Jesus says “the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).  

Here is the lesson of Mark, that Jesus goes into the desert to confront Satan to show God’s love for us.  Jesus demonstrates the Father’s love by rescuing us from sin and death, by taking our place on the cross.  God tried to defeat sin with raw power once, and that didn’t work so well.

Our first lesson reminded us of the Flood story in Genesis, which, whatever you think about it’s historicity, is a story about the problem of evil and how God ultimately chooses to address it.   In promising never to destroy the people God has made, God decides to find some other way to deal the evil things that offend his perfect sense of justice.  

God’s decision to save Noah, his family, and their descendants is, if you like, a parable showing that God commits to seeing his great project of creation through to a happy end and a grand conclusion.   God, who has the power to create and destroy the earth, resolves instead to save humanity because the whole story of scripture tells us that God is, first and foremost, love.  In the Flood, God tried to use power to get rid of sin and evil and it nearly destroyed humanity.  Now, God will use love instead.  That’s why the journey of Lent leads to the cross, because to save us, God must give himself in our place.  That’s how love works.

Lent has traditionally been a somber time in which the faithful are urged to reflect on our sins and to express our penitence in acts of sacrifice and austerity.  I was looking back at some of the Lenten sermons that I preached during the height of the pandemic, and I was reminded of how much that felt like a wilderness time, making sacrifices, living with fear and isolation.  Austerity is our daily lot.  Lent during Covid became a way of life.  We had a lot of time to think about what we had been forced to give up.

Now that things seem more or less back to normal(ish),  I propose that this Lent we dedicate ourselves to gratitude.  We can be especially thankful for the business of our parish life, for our ministries and friendships.  We can be thankful for our communities and for the ways we are called to contribute to them.   We can be thankful for the little rituals that give our days and our lives.

If there is a spiritual practice that you want to rediscover, then try thinking back to the pandemic, when we were less busy and had more time for stillness, more time to listen for God’s voice that speaks most clearly in silent moments.  Let’s try to be more attentive to the friendship God offers us in Jesus, who emerged from the wilderness greater than any action hero.  Let’s meditate on the fact that the God’s great love and power came together in the one who was proven ready to save us, while at the same time befriending us and inviting us to walk with him.


Saturday, February 17, 2024

Eternal Light: A Final Epiphany Homily

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, as part of our  Saturday Apres Ski series.  March 17, 2024.   

Text:  Mark 9:2-9

 "And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them." (Mk 9.3)

Tonight is the last night in our Apres Ski series that we will look at one of the themes of the Epiphany season,  even if that means looking back over our shoulder, since we are of course now in the season of Lent.

The climactic and final reading in Epiphany is usually the story of the Transfiguration, that moment in the synoptic gospels when Jesus goes up a mountain with three of his disciples and is momentarily seen in an unearthly brightness and glory.   Most commentators would agree that the Transfiguration story is intended to remind us that before Jesus became the incarnate Word made flesh, he was one with the Father in the glory of heaven.

The story is called The Transfiguration because that is the word that English bibles, since the King James version, have used to translate the Greek word used by Mark and Matthew – metamorphoo (Luke uses another Greek word that means “altered”).    We of course know the word “metamorphosis” from grade school biology, for example as when we learn how pupae turn into butterflies, but what if Mark is saying something different, that Jesus is not showing us a future state of being, like the butterfly, but rather showing us something from whence he came, his eternal and Trinitarian being with God the Father?

Since the Season of Epiphany is about the revealing of Jesus’ true, let’s think a little about what the Transfiguration story tells us about what Jesus turns into.   In fact, we aren’t told a lot, Mark merely says that Jesus’ clothes became an unearthly, “dazzling white” (Mk 1.3) whereas Matthew tells us that Jesus’ face “shone like the sun” (Mt 17.2’ Luke repeats the “dazzling white” but only says that Jesus’ face “changed” Lk 9.28) .   So all we really have is the impression of lightness and brightness, qualities which are consistently associated in scripture with God and the divine.

A short service like this does not allow time for a deep dive, so one example, from the prologue of John’s gospel, might suffice.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (Jn 1.1-5)

St John tells us, in so far as we can comprehend it, that Jesus came from the Father, from an existence before creation and created being, from the source of all light and life.   We also know that God is the source of life thanks to the creation story in Genesis, where the first thing that God says is “let there be light” (Gen 1.3).  The fact that the first thing God creates is light, I think, says something profound about the character and good purposes of God.

However, there is something even more profound going on.  The light God creates in Genesis is created, it is second order, it is not God itself, in the same way that the earth, or you or I, are created by God but are not God.  The light that belongs to God, the light that I think we see in the Transfiguration, belongs to God, it is the uncreated, self-sufficient essence of God, it is the glory of God, and the glory that we see revealed glory in Christ is what Epiphany is all about.

If Jesus remained in his transfigured state, there would be no gospel, and no salvation.   If Jesus is fully God and fully human, then the human Jesus must be the lens through which we can see God the Father. 

Indeed, this is one of the great themes of John’s gospel, where Jesus several times explains to his disciples that since they know him, Jesus, then they also know and have seen the Father (Jn 14.7).  This knowledge is made possible by the incarnation, by God’s graciousness in sending the Son in human form, so that relationship, friendship, teaching and salvation through death on the cross are possible.   Otherwise there would only be the inaccessible glory of God that we see in the Old Testament in places like Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain (Ex 33:18-20).

This is all very abstract stuff, so let me address the “so what” question with some brief, concrete and (I hope) hopeful thoughts.

We know that our lives take us by and through some dark places, be they guilt, despair, loneliness, or even mortality, the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death.  Our hymns and prayers around evening time, including the ones we sing regularly at his service, address our need for light in the midst of our darkness. 

What better light can there be to guide our feet, and our lives, than Jesus, our friend and our brother, who with his Father shares and is the eternal light from whom all evil things are revealed and vanquished?    What better guide and guardian can we ask for than the gracious light of Jesus, who will accompany us until we reach the heavenly city glimpsed in Revelation, the city which “has no need of sun or moon to show on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21.22).



Lent Madness: Kassia vs The Pious Pole


Today's Lent Madness matchup feels a little one-sided to be honest.    In one corner, we have Casimir, the national saint of Poland and Lithuania, whose biography doesn't exactly make one want to run to the voting both and mark your ballot for him.    Other than being learned, pious, and possibly having three hands (which would make him the patron saint of multitaskers), Casimir's life could be summed up by the motto "Die Young, Stay Holy".   Mind you, there is a Polish-Canadian Roman Catholic parish named after him, so I wouldn't want to denigrate him, because, well, have you met Poles?

In the other corner, we have St Kassia, a strong-willed and learned nun who also appears as a character in the TV series, The Vikings, where her behaviour is, well, somewhat less than saintly..

Kassia's music is still sung in the liturgy of the Orthodox church, and she was a prolific composer, poet, and theoligian, not unafraid to stand up to the Emperor of  Byzantium.  The Emperor was an "iconoclast", an opponent of religious imagery called icons,  Kassia was willing to be beaten for her opposition to the Emperor, saying that "I hate silence when iut is time to speak", which is a good motto for anyone of integrity, really.  The next time you're in All Saints and see the icons by the votive candles in the east transept, say a prayer of thanks to Kassia.

My predictions thus far have been rubbish, but I'm willing to say that Kassia will beat Casimir in a landslide.

Vote here.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Lent Madness: Floral Faceoff

Today is the second contest of the Halo Heroes that we will be following this Lent.    Yesterday in the battle of the Thomases, our Anglican champion, Thomas Cranmer, got burned by Thomas the Apostle, whose chances no one should have doubted.

In our second matchup, in one corner we have St Hyacinth of Poland, who fans of Keeping Up Appearances might have thought had a girl's name, but in fact, judging from the artwork online, was a handsome and buff young fellow, which might explain why he is the patron saint of weightlifters (see the story at Lent Madness to find out why he is associated with lifting heavy objects).

In the other corner is St. Rose of Lima, whose images online remain resolutely beautiful, despite her biography which describes how she disfigured herself so that her beauty and the suitors it attracted would not distract her from the religious life.

It's not uncommon in the lives of the women saints to find that they felt the need to hide or veil their beauty in order to lead a spiritual life.    Some see this stories as proof of the misogyny inherent in Christianity (going back to the temptation of Eve) but Lent Madness reminds us that the desire to love and serve God transcends time and gender.     We should revere these saintly women for hearing and following God's calling, even at great price.

My modest prediction is that St Rose will win and bloom in the next round.

Vote here.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Lent Madness First Matchup: Duelling Toms

Lent Madness begins with the Battle of the Thomases.   I'm partial to both as Thomas is my middle name.   In one corner, we have one of the Twelve Disciples, Saint Thomas the Apostle.   He can certainly claim seniority in this matchup, though there are a LOT of biblical saints in this year's competition.

In the other corner we have  Thomas Cranmer, the first Archbishop of the English Church under Henry VIII, and one of its first martyrs, as Thomas lost his job, and then his life, when Henry's Catholic daughter Mary took the throne.   However, Cranmer left a lasting legacy in his Book of Common Prayer, which we still use today in various forms.    

One of the things I like about both these saints is their humanity.  Thomas the Disciple of course earned the name Doubting Thomas for wanting proof that Christ rose from the dead. Imprisoned under Queen Mary, Thomas Cranmer tried to save his life by signing a letter recanting his protestant faith, but when the sentence of death was passed and he was burned anyway, he is said to have held the signing hand out to the flames as a sign or remorse for his weakness.

Both are saints that we can see something of ourselves in.

I predict a narrow win for Thomas Cranmer because this is Lent Madness is an Anglican thing, but I've been wrong before!

Vote here.

Lent Madness Starts Today!

 Lent Madness Is Back!

 Last year you will recall that our parish engaged in a silly and fun exercise called Lent Madness, an annual competition which teaches us about some of the heroes of the Christian faith.   Lent Madness is back, and this year is full of interesting saints who could easily go all the way to win The Golden Halo.

Lent Madness is run by Foward Movement, an American Anglican publisher, and while they didn't produce the Saintly Scorecard booklet for this year's LM that they've done in past, this year's edition is available online as a free download at the Lent Madness website. 

This year's crop of blessed contenders has some potential champs.

Always a fan of a good Irish saint, I like Adomnan of Iona, the 7th century biographer of St. Columba and who is credited with some of the first rules to try and make warfare more civilized by protecting non-combatants.  We could use him today.  The Emerald Isle is also represented by St. Brigid of Kildare, who may have started her career as a Celtic fire goddess, and by Conaire, the patron saint of stubborn women.

Biblical saints are well represented by Andew the fisherman and apostle,  Cornelius the centurion who welcomed Peter, Joseph of Arimathea who gave his tomb to Jesus and his grieving friends, Thomas the apostle, and Lazarus, who presumably forgave Jesus for recalling him from the joys of heaven to emerge from his tomb.

Anglican contenders for the Golden Halo include the “Tudor Duo”, the church musician William Byrd (actually he died a Roman Catholic but he wrote lovely music for Queen Elizabeth) and Thomas Cranmer, the father of our Book of Common Prayer.  The Two Thomases go head to head TODAY so be sure to vote!  

Other Anglicans include two US bishops of the 1800s, Jackson Kemper, who crisscrossed the US Midwest, sometimes by foot, and whose  mileage claims must have been exorbitant, and the delightfully named Henry Benjamin Whipple, an outspoken critic of the wars against the US indigenous peoples.

Some dark horses that could go far this year include a pious and learned nun, Rafqa of Lebanon, Joseph Vaz who went poor and barefoot among his people in Sri Lanka, and the indispensable Zita, patron saint of lost keys, who, of course, goes up against Rita.

So how do you play?  Simply start going to where you will find a new matchup each day in Lent except on Sundays.     You can also follow Fr. Michael’s blog at www.madpadre.blogspot for his commentary and predictions.

As always, Lent Madness is simply an opportunity to learn, to pick your favourites, and maybe boast to your friends at your skill in picking a winner.   



Wednesday, February 14, 2024

What the Ashes Say: A Homily For Ash Wednesday

Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 14 February, 2024.  

I suspect that there are a lot of preachers like myself today struggling with the fact that, thanks to the vagaries of the lunar calendar that determines the date of Easter, this Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day.

Indeed, one Anglican preacher I follow described a debate he’d had with his wife about the juxtaposition of these two dates:

“Valentine’s Day should trump Ash Wednesday,” she declares and earnestly believes. She plans to prepare a festive dinner for the occasion in celebration of love. However, I will lead the 6:00 p.m. Ash Wednesday service at our parish, reminding our parishioners of their upcoming death!

I see the point of their debate, and I concede the priest’s point, that Ash Wednesday is about our upcoming deaths.   Indeed, the words spoken during the imposition of ashes, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (BAS 285), remind us of this very fact.  

For me, those words will always remind me of the day I sat in my kayak and gently tipped my late wife’s ashes into her favourite lake.   The sun had just come out, and for a second a brief cloud of dust floated above the water like smoke, and then all was still.  

And had my wife’s story ended there, it would have been a tragedy, or perhaps it could have been reframed by some words about the circle of life, or maybe that poem that you hear now at funerals which says that death isn’t a big deal and the dead person isn’t gone.

Our Christian faith, however, reminds us that death is real.   The words that we hear as we receive the ashes are the same words that God speaks to Adam and Eve when God passes sentence on them for their disobedience:

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat your bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3.19). 

So the words we hear spoken over the ashes are ancient, ancient words, and however we understand the Genesis story of the fall, they remind us that we as humans are always prone to disobedience and to wandering far from the love of God.

And yet the ashes whisper to us that the love of God is never far from us.  The ashes are the remains of plants, palms, things sprung from the earth, and they tell us that love of God created us from the very earth that we return to.  The ashes are signs of penitence, telling us that, the love of God waits us to return, like the father in the lane watching for his wayward son. 

As a sign of death, the ashes remind us that the love of God became flesh and dies for us, for as Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  The ashes promise us that God’s love will go with us through the gateway of death to new creation and new life with God in Christ.  My late and faithful wife knew and trusted that truth long before her ashes floated about the lake.

So yes, the priest is right in that the ashes are about death, but his wife is also right about today being about love.    She would be right even if today wasn’t Valentine’s Day, because the ashes that will mark us are a sign of love.   The sign of ashes leads us on a journey through the season of Lent that ends at the empty tomb and then through the garden to our risen Lord, Jesus.    And just as there is no risen Lord without the cross, the sign of the cross on our heads remind us that we are Christ’s own, claimed by him through great cost and through greater love. 


The journey of Lent may begin in sorrow and penitence, but it ends in joy, because we see in the resurrection the new life that God calls us to.   Let us walk joyfully through Lent towards that new life.


Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Glory of Service: An Epiphany Homily


Text:  Mark 1:29-39

During this series, we’ve been looking at the various themes of Epiphany, the miracles and signs that reveal Jesus in his glory as the Son of God.  Tonight we will take a look at last Sunday’s gospel, which never got a proper sermon, poor thing, on account of my absence sick, and we will talk about healing as one of the signs of who Jesus is and what he has been sent for.

Last Saturday we looked at a kind of healing, when Jesus in Capernaum frees the man of the unclean spirit (Mk 1:21-28). That was an act of healing in that the man was made whole again, but as I said last Saturday, that healing needs to be seen as a kind of cosmic confrontation, as Jesus routing the evil powers that occupy the world and frustrate his Father’s good purposes.

As we continue with Mark’s gospel, the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law doesn’t have any cosmic overtones.  It’s not an exorcism, there is no evil spirit, just a woman with a fever.    There’s a few things we can say about this story of healing.

First, it’s intimate and domestic, whereas the healing of man with the spirit in the synagogue was very public, in the synagogue.   This story should comfort us in that Jesus comes into a home, bringing love and healing with him.  It shows Jesus’ interest in us and love for us, wherever we are, especially for those of us who think that we can only find God in a church.

Likewise there is something comforting in the intimacy of touch and contact in this story.  Jesus taking the woman by the hand and raising her up reminds us of how Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead later in Mark’s gospel (41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age).”   That Jesus should bother with this physical, comforting gestures, rather than airily waving his hand, says something profound about the incarnation and about a God who cares to be with us in the midst of our lives.    Anyone who has felt sick and frail can I think relate to this idea of Jesus’ healing touch and proximity.

There’s two more important things we can say about this healing miracle.  The first is that, like the other Epiphany signs, it functions as a revelation of the glory and power that the Father has given to the Son.   People throng the streets to see Jesus in hopes that he will heal them and their loved ones.    If the turning of the water to wine at the Wedding of Cana was a miracle of creation, then the healings are miracles of restoration, showing Jesus sharing in the creative power of the God, restoring people to wholeness.

The second thing we can say about this miracle is that it shows us that at it’s heart, the Kingdom of God is about service.    Healed of her fever, Simon’s mother in law can return to her vocation of hospitality to her guests. We might think it sexist of Mark to give her a name, and to think that her only role is to make sandwiches, but in Mark the word “serve” is vitally important.   The Greek word, diakaneo, is the origin of word “deacon”, one of the three holy orders with a specific focus on ministry to others.   It’s the same word that Mark uses to describe how the angels wait on Jesus after his time with the devil in the wilderness.

Jesus himself uses the word diakeno to describe his mission: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).   In our culture, the words “serve” and “service” can often have a menial connotation – think of how little prestige we attach to jobs in the “service industry” – but for Jesus, the kingdom of God is about service as a vocation, about a purpose in life.   Healed, Simon’s mother can resume her proper vocation which includes offering hospitality to her guests.   Hospitality and service are what makes community and communion with others possible.   Likewise, in your food ministries, you the people of All Saints rightly see service to others as vocation.  Service is an action that unites heaven and earth, service binds the kingdom of God together.

Jesus in Mark is thus revealed as someone who wields so much power that demons fear him, and yet he used that power to heal and restore.   Jesus’ message is that we see the kingdom of God most fully when we are in community and communion, with God and with one another.   In this communion that we find our healing, and our saved from the forces that would refocus us selfishly on our needs and our desires, a kind of possession that can only lead us to the despair of our inadequacies.   Epiphany is about the glory of God revealed in Christ, as we see tomorrow with the Transfiguration, but amidst all this bright glory is the simplicity of service that restores us all to wholeness.


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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