The Reign of Christ (B): A Sermon

A sermon delivered on Sunday Nov. 22 at Christ Church (Tara).

Texts: 2 Samuel 23.1-7; Revelation 1.4b-7; John 18.33-38a


“What is truth?”

Although Pilate posed this question to Jesus during Jesus’ first trial with Pilate, it is a question that echoes some 2000 years later. Indeed, the question ‘what is truth’ is one with which humans have wrestled with throughout human history. Despite the seeming simplicity of the question, it continues to challenge and confound us. One need only consider the myriad of answers suggested by various philosophers and theologians over several millennia to underline how difficult a question ‘what is truth’ truly is.

Of course, there will always be those who insist that truth is simply the way things are and have always been. Others will challenge this by suggesting that truth is always a matter of perspective, that truth depends on how I see the world from within my particular place in the world. Still others will assert that since our finite minds simply cannot grasp the complexity of the world, truth is merely an illusion.

So, the question remains: what is truth?


While it is possible that Pilate is genuinely interested in seeking an answer to this question, it seems more likely Pilate’s response to Jesus is born of entitled cynicism, the same kind of entitled cynicism that one often hears intoned today by those who can afford to leave this question unanswered insofar as the answer does not threaten to change their way of life. Pilate’s tone, I think, is rooted in his own entitlement as a political ruler, one who has the power to bend the truth favorably in his direction.

We know very little about Pilate. Outside the Gospel accounts, there is scant archaeological and textual data to flesh out Pilate’s identity. We know that he was a Roman prefect; his primary job was, therefore, to provide military control over Judea, including the collection of taxes of the subjugated residents of the area. You can imagine how and why taxes were such a contentious issue at the time and why Jewish tax collectors were seen as traitors. Pilate also had limited judicial oversight; Jesus was sent to Pilate by the high priest under the pretense of Jesus being a traitor, someone who not only refused to give proper fealty to Rome but who also had revolutionary aspirations of driving out the Romans by force.

Pilate was well aware of the Zealot faction and other revolutionary groups that would be more than happy to get rid of the Romans. And although their concern was with ritual purity and zealous piety, the Pharisees also reviled Roman rule and saw here an opportunity to manipulate a fragile political situation to their own end: getting rid of someone who posed a direct threat to their teaching and publicly ridiculed them on more than one occasion. This is precisely why Pilate’s first question to Jesus is “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18.33). Are you the King of Israel? Are you the heir to David’s throne? Are you a political and military threat to Roman rule?

In today’s Gospel reading, we are witnessing a direct confrontation between two rulers, between two kingdoms.

On the one side, we have the Empire of Rome, an empire whose conquests, military prowess, civil engineering, and duration of rule has few historical rivals; if we were to compile a top-ten list of the most powerful empires in human history, Rome would almost certainly hold the top-spot. Pilate has all the power in the world on his side; he can be rid of Jesus with one simple word or gesture.

On the other side, we have a kingdom “not from this world” (John 18.36) lead by an itinerant Jewish preacher and miracle worker, who has a core group of twelve followers, with at least one of whom has some serious misgivings about Jesus and the rest who are confused about what exactly Jesus is doing and what his kingdom is like. This is hardly a recipe for world domination.

Is Jesus a deluded madman, as seems to be the case with the rather ridiculous answers he offers Pilate? Is Jesus a genuine threat to Roman rule in Palestine? Although Pilate’s motivations are never clear, he seems amused and, perhaps even intrigued, by Jesus. After all, craziness is not a punishable offense and Jesus offered no resistance when he was arrested, hardly the behavior of a revolutionary bent on overthrowing Rome. Although Jesus’ aspirations for kingship were laughable to Pilate, nevertheless, Pilate sees to it that there is an inscription placed on the cross reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jesus”, written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, the latter two being the lingua franca of the time. When some of the leaders of the temple read this, the rejected the word, demanding that the sign say “This man said, I am Kind of the Jews” (John 19.21), a demand that Pilate immediately rejected. Pilate uses his power to unwittingly to publicly underline the truth of Jesus’ identity.

The irony in these events is thick: Pilate asks ‘what is truth’ to the one who is the embodiment of truth; the truth of God’s kingdom is most clearly revealed on the cross. Indeed, the military might of Rome, cruelly displayed through the crucifixion of political insurrectionists is unveiled as utter weakness on Easter Sunday when Jesus’ tomb is found empty. The power of the kingdom that is not of this world is revealed to be the power over life and death itself. The cross and the empty tomb demonstrate that the truth of the world is utter foolishness.

The question is, therefore, not what is truth, but who is truth? Truth is not a matter of correct and verifiable statements; truth is not enforced through physical power; truth is the person of Jesus Christ, the God-made-flesh who came and died to set us free from the curse of sin and death and promises to return to establish his kingdom on earth where justice and peace will reign. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life not in an abstract way, contained in propositions about him; rather, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life insofar as he is the God who calls us to repentance and offers us forgiveness and new life. Jesus is Truth because he is Lord over all creation, the one who by death defeated death.

The entirety of the Christian faith can be summarized in the simple phrase: Jesus is Lord. Indeed, it was this phrase that the early Christians used as confession of faith. Moreover, if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not. Pilate did not realize just how Jesus truly is a revolutionary. Though the Roman Empire had power over life by the means of death, it did not have the power over death; this is a power that no human empire can or ever will have.


Today the Church celebrates Christ the King Sunday. Aside from Easter, Christ the King is probably the most counter-cultural feasts in the church calendar. The focus of this feast is the claim that Christ is King and Lord. Moreover, this claim runs counter to and challenges everything else that lays claim to my life, be it my family, my work, my hobby, even my church.

If Jesus is Lord, then nothing else can be.

If Jesus is King, then I am not.

If Jesus is Lord, then death and sin are not.

If Jesus is King, the kings and rulers of the world are not.

However, if Jesus is King, where is his kingdom?

Christ the King Sunday is the final Sunday in the Christian calendar, the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent, we prepare for the arrival of King Jesus. We prepare for his arrival in the straw-filled manger of Bethlehem, hardly the birthplace of a king. But during Advent, we also prepare for the second coming of Christ, when he will return to establish his kingdom on earth.

In the Lord’s Prayer, one of the petitions is: your kingdom come, your will be done; we are asking for God’s kingdom to be manifest in our world. God’s kingdom is most clearly visible in the transformed lives of forgiven sinners as they extend forgiveness to others in Jesus’ name. God’s kingdom is most clearly visible when the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, and the stranger is welcomed in Jesus’ name. God’s kingdom is most clearly visible when the church, a community of broken and restored people, gather together around Scripture and sacrament to be united with our risen and ruling King who promises to meet us in the opening of the Word and in the breaking of bread. God’s kingdom is most clearly visible as Christ’s ambassadors who proclaim in word and deed that Jesus is Lord!

When the Church prays “thy kingdom come”, we are praying for Christ’s second coming. We are also praying that the church would, through the power and prompting of the Holy Spirit, anticipate and prepare for Christ’s coming through the way the Church is and acts in the world.

This requires that the Church, both local congregations and individual believers, continually ask ourselves: is Jesus the King of the kingdoms of our lives? Does he alone reign in our hearts and minds? Is Christ’s kingship reflected in our decision-making, in our budgets, in our relationships with others, and in our day-to-day lives? Are we witnessing to the reconciling love of the King who hung upon a cross, defeated death itself, and promises to return again to reconcile all things in heaven and earth?

Come, let us worship the king of kings and be ambassadors of the one who is the Truth, publicly proclaiming the good news of his kingdom. Amen.

A Sermon for the 25th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

A sermon delievered on Sunday Nov. 15 at St.Paul’s (Southampton) and St. John’s (Port Elgin).

Texts: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2.1-10; Hebrews 10.11-25; Mark 13.1-8



Christians maintain that Holy Scripture is a unified whole. Of course, we also know that the writing of Scripture took place over hundreds of years and the compilation of what we now know as the canon of the Bible was not settled until the 5th century A.D. However, none of this diminishes the fact that Holy Scripture is a central element in “the drama of God’s redeeming and communicative self-giving”.[1]

If revelation is God making himself spiritually present, and if God reveals himself to us through Scripture, then it is through attending to the words of Scripture as a unified whole that we, the Church, are brought into fellowship with God and come to “know, love, and fear [God] above all things”.[2] The various genres within the Bible and the different time periods in which they were originally written, find their unity and coherence in God’s decision to reveal himself to his people.

This means that the Church must carefully attend to Scripture every time we are gathered, putting ourselves under its authority and, in so doing, putting ourselves under God’s authority. Now, putting ourselves under someone else’s authority is something which we modern Western folks tend to resist; after all, aren’t I the master of my destiny, the captain of my fate? Don’t I get to decide what is best for me, what I like and dislike?

This is part of the problem that modern Christians face when we assume that we have the final say about Scripture and its meaning: I don’t like the text, so I am going to ignore it; this text seems culturally backwards, so let’s skip it. The truth is that the modern church, indeed the modern Anglican Church, seems to have forgotten how to read Scripture, unable to allow Scripture to both comfort and challenge us. At most, we seem tolerate Scripture as part of our tradition, however, we don’t necessarily assume that God reveals Godself to his people through Scripture.

We assume that this leaves us stuck to choose between two extremes: of fundamentalism, which obsesses over the Bible to such an extent that the Bible becomes an idol, and progressivism, which insists that Scripture is a purely human construction that merely reflects the beliefs of ancient cultures and therefore has little value for us today. Both poles fail to account for the breadth and depth of Scripture as God’s self-revelation to his people and cannot account for the thematic echoes and figures that reverberate throughout. Consequently, both fundamental and progressive views of the Bible fail to see the underlying unity of Scripture as it testifies to Jesus Christ.

Indeed, the overarching unity and final meaning of the Bible is Jesus Christ. This conclusion is essential to the church’s careful attention to the text; we read Scripture as a whole, unified by and pointing to Christ. We read Scripture not first and foremost as a spiritual or ethical guidebook, but as God’s self-revelation in Christ; Christ comes to meet us in and through Scripture. In some texts, this Christological focus is easier to discern, in others, it is more difficult. This week’s lectionary readings, I think, offer us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the unity and coherence of Scripture.

Because God reveals Godself through the entirety of Scripture, the themes and figures in Scripture echo and reverberate. This is why the Church reads from the Old and New Testaments alike; in reading the Bible as a whole, we get a clearer picture of who God is and how God acts in the world, culminating in the life and ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ. There are a number of interrelated themes in today’s appointed scripture readings that reverberate with each other that I would like to briefly explore.


Hannah is a woman who is dedicated to God. She is also a woman who longs for God to deliver Israel. While 1 Samuel immediately follows the book of Ruth, the context of 1 Samuel is the conclusion of Judges, a book that ends in chaos, summarized in its concluding verse: “in those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). From her song in chapter 2, it is clear that Hannah is longing for God to deliver Israel, longing to deliver the world from chaos.

So, Hannah praises God; however, she does not sing when her son is conceived, but when she hands over her long-awaited son to the temple. It seems rather odd for a woman who was desperate to have a child to sing praises to God when she entrusts him to the care of Eli, the priest, only to see her son once a year. He song is born of hope and trust in God’s faithfulness, even in the low-points of life. Hannah sings “my heart exults in the Lord…the Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exults. He raises up the poor from the dust” (1 Sam. 2.1b, 7-8a). Her song is a forward look in hopeful anticipation of God’s deliverance of his people, caught as they in the machinations of power and living under the shadow of sin and death.

Mary, like Hannah, is a woman who is dedicated to God, as evidenced by her song. Mary’s song, known as The Magnificat, directly echoes Hannah’s song. Listen: “my soul magnifies the Lord…for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant….he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he was filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Lk. 1.47-48a, 52-53). Do you hear the echoes between Hannah and Mary’s song?

In the stories of Hannah and Mary, we see God bringing life so that his people can live. Moreover, these women stand, as “a type of the church”;[3] their singular dependence on God, especially during the turmoil of life, anticipates the faith of the church. The worship and the witness of the Church stands in direct continuity with Hannah and Mary, indeed with Israel itself, people chosen by God to play integral roles in God’s deliverance of his people. [PAUSE]

Both Hannah and Mary’s sons, Samuel and Jesus were children born of God’s promise. Each one also had intimate relationships with the temple. Although the temple in Samuel’s time predated the great temple in Jerusalem built by King Herod in Jesus time, the function of the temple remained the same: the temple was a microcosm of the entire created order and it was the place where priests offered sacrifices in order to atone for the sins of the people.

Hannah dedicates her son’s life to serving as a priest in the temple. God calls Samuel to be the new high priest. Samuel serves God as both priest and prophet and, as chapter 3 describes: “the Lord was with [Samuel] and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3.18). Through his life, Samuel served God’s people, prophetically speaking God’s truth, even when it meant confronting kings. In many ways, the life and ministry of Samuel stands as a figure of and in anticipation of Jesus’ life and ministry. In other words, Samuel points to Jesus.

Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus prophetically spoke and enacted God’s truth. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus remarks that the temple will be destroyed. Earlier in Mark, Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers and in last week’s Gospel reading, we heard of how Jesus called the teachers of the Torah hypocrites for their exploitation of the weak. Now, Jesus says the whole temple system, including its very centre of gravity, will come crashing to the ground.

Jesus himself is the end of the sacrificial system that the Temple represents. The curtain of the temple tearing in half while Jesus hung on the cross is a symbol of the end of this system and the opening of a new way (cf. Heb. 10.20); Christ himself is the “single sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10.12) who ascended to sit at the right hand of God the Father where he serves as our heavenly high priest, offering himself to us through Scripture and sacrament. Christ’s death and resurrection are birth pangs that reverberate with those of Mary and Hannah; Christ’s death and resurrection are the birth pangs of the renewal of creation and the nativity of the church.


The church is the new temple created by God (cf. 1 Cor. 3.16), a people chosen by God and dedicated to participating in Christ’s priestly ministry, serving as agents of God’s reconciling love. Therefore, the church is rightly called a royal priesthood, a priesthood whose origins can be traced back into the Old Testament, through Samuel, culminating in Jesus Christ; the church is a priesthood baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and liberated from the bondage of sin and death.

So liberated, the Church meets every week to remember Christ’s death and resurrection and to sing praises to the same God praised by Hannah and Mary for his promised deliverance of his people and of all creation. Because God is faithful, from beginning to end, we have hope and assurance that the future is firmly in God’s hands. However, we so easily forget this amidst the turmoil of life, amidst “wars and rumors of wars” (Mk. 13.7), which is why the author of Hebrews enjoins his readers to continue to gather to be reminded through word and sacrament. The life of the gathered and worshipping church is non-negotiable for the life of the sent and witnessing church; we worship and we witness to the God who is faithful to his promises, the God who has power over life and death.

Therefore, the church also meets to “provoke one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10.24). What a great phrase – “provoke one another to love and good deeds”! Not politely remind or gently cajole or passive aggressively guilt-trip, but provoke. Because our faith is rooted in God’s faithfulness, we are free to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. This is not the drudgery of religion or the vacuousness of ‘spirituality’, but life lived in the presence of God in community and as a community that shows Christ’s love to others and tells of what God is doing in and through Jesus Christ. This is part of our priestly and prophetic vocation: provoking others, both inside and outside the church, to worship the faithful God of Hannah and Mary and to follow Christ’s way of love.

Provoking others to worship and to Christ’s way of love is risky business because it means that we move out of our comfort zones. It also requires that we are continually nourished by Christ’s self-giving love in Scripture and Sacrament. It also requires that we do not get caught up in building temples or kingdoms of our own glory, but that we encourage and provoke one another to fix our eyes on Christ alone. So, let us together faithfully read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Scripture so that we may hear, know, and meet Christ on every page and provoke each other to love. Amen.

[1] John Webster, Holy Scripture, 42.

[2] Webster, 13.

[3] St. Cyprian of Carthage, as cited in Francesca Aran Murphy, 1 Samuel, 21.

A Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost (B)

A sermon delivered at Christ Church (Tara) and St. Paul’s (Chatsworth) on Sunday November 8, 2015.

Texts: Hebrews 9.24-28; Mark 12.38-44.


The Revised Common Lectionary follows a three-year cycle. That means we read the same texts once every four years and, assuming the preachers focuses on the Gospel text, we hear roughly the same sermon based on that text once every four years.

So, following this logic, then:

  • This is the sermon where I am supposed to tell you that we all need to be like the widow and give money to the church, even if we have very little to give.
  • This is the sermon where I am supposed to cause you to feel a little bit of guilt about how much more you should be giving the church.
  • This is the sermon where I warn against the dangerous of consumerism as we head into the Christmas season (and it’s not even Advent yet!) and implore you not to spend all your money on unnecessary gifts.

However, this is not the sermon I will be preaching today.

Yes, following the Old Testament instruction of tithing our money, that is giving 10% of our income to the church, is an appropriate rate of giving. Stewardship of our God-given financial resources is important.

Yes, vigilance against the consumerist excesses of our culture is an important way of guarding against greed and the accumulation of stuff.

But, our Gospel reading is not concerned with tithing or stewardship.

Rather, Jesus is focused on justice, particularly justice for the poor. Jesus is not centering out the widow as an exemplar of generosity; he is condemning the religious elite for their exploitation of the poor.


At this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has already ridden into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. His triumphal entry is not what the crowds were expecting; you see, the Israelites were expecting their Messiah to be a military ruler who would overthrow the Romans. However, the only thing Jesus overturns is the tables of the money changers in Jerusalem. Prior to cleaning out the temple upon his arrival to Jerusalem, Jesus is challenged about whether or not people should pay taxes to Caesar. While those who asked this question were trying to trap Jesus in order to create a reason to arrest and kill him, Jesus out maneuvers them by giving an unexpected answer. Jesus is clearly not the Messiah the people were expecting, which is why their cries quickly turned from ‘Hosanna!’ to ‘Crucify him!’

Prior to Jesus’ remarks about the widow’s offering, Jesus was also asked “which commandment is greatest of all?” (Mk. 12.28) To which Jesus replied: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…and strength” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.

You see, the author of Mark’s Gospel is setting the stage to describe the kingdom Jesus will inaugurate. God’s kingdom is not inaugurated with military power of extensive wealth; it is shaped and determined by God’s love and justice. Jesus is God’s kingdom in the flesh.

God’s intent for the temple was that it was to be a place where all people could worship (cf. Mk. 11.17a); however, when Jesus arrives on the scene, the temple is a place of economic exploitation and probably has been for some time.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus observes “the crowd putting money into the treasury” (Mk. 12.41a). He notices that “many rich people put in large sums” (12. 41b) and that “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny” (Mk. 12.42).

Having prophetically enacted God’s judgment against the economic exploitation practiced by the money lenders in the temple by overturning the tables of the money changers, Jesus now turns his attention to the temple leadership, placing them under God’s judgment: “Beware of the scribes…they will receive the greater condemnation” (Mk. 12.38a,40b).

The scribes were the temple lawyers; they were the ones who arguably knew the Torah inside and out; they were the ones who should know what God’s law expects, particularly as it relates to the care of widows, orphans, and the poor. And yet, they were the ones, who, according to Jesus “devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearances say long prayers” (Mk. 12.40a). Jesus is saying that these pious men are hypocrites who use their power not to defend the weak but for personal profit.

Therefore, Jesus is not commending the woman’s offering and he is not contrasting her piety with that of the scribes. Rather, Jesus laments what he sees: “she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk. 12.44). Jesus laments that those whom God has called to be a blessing, are using their calling for their own glory.

Jesus completely exposes the situation as that which should not be: the temple should not be a place of economic exploitation; the religious leaders should not be abusing their power at the sake of the weak; the poor should not be expected to give everything they have. Jesus is not pleased by what he sees; what he sees falls under his condemnation and judgment.

This serves to underline not only the plight of the widow, ensnared in an unjust system, but also the plight of the entire human race, ensnared in sin. Sin manifests itself in a myriad of ways, but always results in brokenness, injustice, and suffering.


We want to applaud Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes – Let ‘em have it, Jesus! They are despicable so-and-sos! Indeed, the language of judgment and condemnation is in three out of four of this morning’s readings. We assume this language is always directed at others, but certainly not ourselves, after all, we go to church, we give to good causes, we are decent people.

Kinda sounds like what the scribes might say, eh?

When God’s judgment and condemnation are directed toward us, we object, saying “well, this kind of language can be a bit much! God is speaking metaphorically, of course. We certainly don’t want to make God too extreme!” However, these objections are often rooted in the deep-down realization that if we were honest with ourselves, we too stand under God’s judgment along with the scribes, the unrighteous and the wicked. Deep-down we know that we are ensnared in sin; deep-down we know that our world is broken, that we ourselves are broken, in need of salvation from our own desires and devices.

This is why we want the focus of today’s Gospel reading to be about tithing and stewardship because it means we do not have to take a hard look at the systems that perpetuate injustice and our involvement in them. Like the scribes, our piety can easily blind us to our complicity in injustice, whether intentional or unintentional; we become self-righteously indignant: “I deserve what I have, it’s mine and I’ve earned every penny”; or complacent: “Let the poor take care of themselves, God knows their poverty is their own fault, the way they waste what they have”; or self-righteous: “I give enough of my time and money to the church; I am tired to being asked to give more to everyone who asks”. However, these responses serve as weak moral justifications for our refusal to consider the ways in which we are perpetuating injustice.

So, where does this leave us? Our ignorance and justifications will only exacerbate the problem. Furthermore, our attempts to ‘fix’ the world, despite their noble intent, cannot liberate us from the injustice wrought by sin. These attempts often leave us exhausted and cynical, paralyzed in the face of the enormity, indeed the impossibility, of the task. As if we could end suffering and injustice by sheer force of will.

The good news is that it is not ours to save the world; the world has already been saved by Jesus Christ. It is only through his death and resurrection that the world is saved. The Church is raised with Christ, but it is not raised as Christ. The Church is not in the business of completing what Jesus started; that task belongs to him alone for he alone is the only one who can complete it. Rather, the Church, goes into the world as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1.23), as a community that is filled by the Holy Spirit. The world is not ours to save – and this is good news because it liberates us to participate in the new thing that God is doing as he redeems and restores creation.

Therefore, we cannot sit idly by; with Jesus we are called to grieve the plight of the poor and to demonstrate the same righteous anger at systems of exploitation. However, it also means that we confess our own involvement in these systems and accept that we cannot save the world, be it through our piety, our ‘good intentions’, or our good deeds.

It is not our hands and actions that save the world, but rather the one who “has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9.26b).

The church is called to be Christ’s earthly body and continue his earthly ministry, but we do so in remembrance of what Christ has already done to defeat sin and in anticipation of Christ’s second coming (cf. Heb. 9.28) when he will establish God’s heavenly kingdom on earth where justice and peace for all peoples will be established, where the hungry will be fed, the low will be lifted up, and where strangers, orphans and widows are swept up in God’s loving embrace (Cf. Ps. 146-7-9a).

The world is not ours to save, so let us work for justice and for the common good in joyful anticipation of Christ’s return.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks that you are not a passive observer of human affairs, but that you are intimately involved because of your love for what you’ve created. We confess that we are entangled and complacent in the injustice of the world. We confess that in an attempt to justify our behavior and ‘fix’ the world’s problems that we lose sight of what you have already done through Jesus Christ. Remind us that the world is not ours to save so that we may enjoy the liberation that Christ’s death and resurrection brings us, freely serving the world with the same self-sacrificial love of your Son, in whose name we pray, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

All Saints Day Sermon, November 1, 2015

A sermon delivered on Sunday November 1 at St. John’s (Port Elgin) and St. Paul’s (Southampton)

Texts: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44


The narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead has all the elements of a great screenplay: a depth of human emotion, moments of heightened tension, and a climactic finale with an unexpected twist. Indeed, it is these elements that make Jesus’ raising of Lazarus one of the enduring episodes in the Bible.

The themes of life and death, of faith and doubt, and the range of emotion draw us in, not as passive observers but as participants in the unfolding drama. Moreover, like those who were part of the actual event, we have the choice as to how we will respond to what we have witnessed: will we be critical of Jesus’ apparent inability to prevent the tragedy from occurring in the first place, will we incredulously insist that this account is a fabrication, a myth, because raising the dead an impossible feat for any mortal, or will we, like Mary, fall at Jesus’ feet and believe that he is the one with power over life and death itself?


The very purpose of all four Gospels is to not to objectively narrate the events of Jesus’ life on earth; the authors of each Gospel are painting a picture of who Jesus is. Yes, each Gospel has its own idiosyncrasies, yet, this serves to underline the fact that the authors were not trying to corroborate with each other to create an objective report that would pass the scrutiny of modern historians. They are, each in their own distinct ways, telling us who Jesus is.

The author of John focuess his attention on Jesus as the Word, the Light, and the Life. The well-known first chapter of John is essentially a re-telling of the creation story of Genesis 1. What John 1 seeks to make clear is that the very God who created the cosmos is the same God who became human and lived as one of us.

John 11, the chapter in which today’s Gospel reading is located, is the culmination of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry; indeed, chapter 11 is a microcosm of the entire Gospel of John. Moreover, John 11 portrays Jesus humanity in a way that stands in stark contrast to the description of Jesus’ divinity in John 1. Indeed, Jesus humanity is nowhere more clearly on display in what is commonly referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept.

Here we see the full humanity of the Incarnate God. Jesus does not weep at what some considered his inability to prevent his friend from dying (cf. 11.32, 37). Rather, Jesus cries because his friend is dead. He cries because of the devastation that death brings on God’s good creation, on His good creation.

We know from our own experiences that the world is everywhere marked by suffering and death, undoing the goodness God has made. We have all shed tears born out of this reality; tears of frustration, sadness, and loss. Because Jesus is the word made flesh, our tears become his tears; the tears he sheds are tears he sheds alongside Mary and Martha amidst their grief. The tears Jesus sheds are tears he sheds with us in the face of suffering and death. However, Jesus’ tears are not born of hopelessness, this much is abundantly clear when he raises Lazarus from the dead. The Word of God speaks three simple words – Lazarus, come out – thereby demonstrating his power over death.

At this point, our modern sensibilities start to take hold and the poignancy of Jesus’ tears begins to erode under the weight of our suspicion. However, let us not fall into the trap of assuming that our modern scientific worldview is more advanced than that of first century Palestine. After all, once a person is dead, they stay that way, whether in the first or 21st century. Our reaction today would be no less different than that of the crowd who witnessed Lazarus walking out of the grave: utter shock! The following verses in John chapter 11 tell us that many who saw this believed in Jesus. Nevertheless, there were those who simply refused to accept the miracle as a sign of who Jesus is. Their reaction was to plot Jesus’ death, despite their witnessing the impossible.

In this way, the author of John’s Gospel is using Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead to set the stage for what happens in the rest of the book, namely Passion Week, the Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead is anticipation of his own resurrection; it is the beginning of the end of death’s hold on God’s creation. Jesus’ power over death is not limited to his own resurrection; it extends over all death. All people are offered God’s promise of resurrection.

The tears Jesus sheds in response to Lazarus’ death and the tears Jesus sheds in the Garden of Gethsemane are not final; Jesus’ victory over death is final. Yes, we will undoubtedly shed more tears in our lives. However, in the light of Christ’s resurrection, we have the promise that Christ will return to live among us once again and that upon his return “he will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev. 21.4). Christ’s resurrection is the foundation of Christian hope. The human story does not end in tears; it ends with God reconciling heaven and earth. Now that is good news worth sharing!


Today the Church celebrates All Saints Day, a day on which we commemorate the faithful witness of apostles and martyrs who’ve gone before us. We do not remember and celebrate them simply because of their good deeds or ethical example; we remember and celebrate them primarily because their lives stood as witnesses to Jesus Christ – their lives are a powerful example of how God uses simply and ordinary people to cultivate God’s heavenly kingdom on earth in extraordinary ways; their lives remind us that God alone brings dead things back to life.

However, the Saints are not simply religious superstars from a bygone era. Sainthood is not for the spiritually elite who have their lives all together and know the answers to life’s mysteries. Rather, sainthood is for outcasts and misfits who realize their utter dependence on God; sainthood is a life of one’s continual conversion back to Christ and acceptance of the new life he offers. Sainthood begins with baptism and continues through one’s life as they participate in the life of the Church as it witnesses to Jesus Christ and the life he brings. To be baptized is to enter the life of sainthood; to receive Christ at the altar is to receive new life. As my friend [Jonathan Turtle] recently said, “Saints are those who, like Lazarus, have been summoned out of death and sent out”.

Yes, every one of us will physically die one day. However, the Church is tasked and sent out with the mission of proclaiming that does not get the final word. Our hope for the future is rooted in Jesus’ raising of Lazarus form the dead and in Jesus’ resurrection. When the saints confess to “believe in the resurrection of the body”, we are confessing not only our belief in Jesus’ resurrection, but also hope in the resurrection of our bodies, hope in the restoration of God’s good creation.

Christian hope is not wishful thinking in the face of death; rather, it is a lived reality, a way of life practiced in light of Christ’s resurrection and promised return, a way life that seeks to bring God’s promised future into the present. Indeed, the mission of the Church can be summarized in two words: Practice Resurrection.

Practice Resurrection.

The Church practices resurrection every time she gathers for worship, every time she tells others of what God is doing through Jesus Christ, every time she feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the prisoner, and welcomes the stranger. In word and deed together, the Church practices resurrection.

Practicing resurrection is not a spiritual path to enlightenment and cannot be reduced to a church program or event; practicing resurrection is living in the muck and mire of human brokenness, weeping with those who weep. Practicing resurrection is following in the footsteps of the God who became human in order to restore and reconcile his broken creation.

Practicing resurrection is what saints do as they testify about and embody Christ-centred hope in anticipation of the day when God will wipe away every tear and renew all things.

Practicing resurrection is bold and risky business, especially in our culture where political correctness is the norm and where it is expected that religion be relegated to one’s private life. Moreover, the Church often excels at finding distractions and reasons why it cannot practice resurrection, be it bottom lines, in-fighting, apathy, or fatigue. Yet, the very life of the church is rooted in new life in Christ; a Spirit-led, mission-focused church is in the business of resurrection.

Today, we have the privilege to hear about an opportunity for our parish family to practice resurrection by supporting a Syrian refugee family. Not only is this a huge undertaking, it is also risky and, to some controversial. Nevertheless, it is a way for God’s saints in Saugeen Shores to practice resurrection. So, as we listen to Katherine’s presentation, let us seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we reflect upon ways in which our parish can practice resurrection.

Let us pray.

God of light and love, as we celebrate All Saints Day, we give you thanks for all your saints who’ve been faithful witnesses of your Son. We give you thanks for the saints in our lives who’ve shared the good news of your love, mindful of the fact that it is because of their witness that we are here today. Thank-you for the work of Katherine and the Saugeen Shores Refugee Fund. Continue to bless their work. When doubts and distractions pull us away from worshipping and following you, call us back to new life. When we weep amidst our suffering and in the shadow of death, remind us that Christ shed tears with us and for our sakes. And as we leave this place today, grant us strength, and boldness to practice resurrection as a way of saintly living. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

22nd After Pentecost (B) Sermon

A sermon delivered at St. Paul’s (Chatsworth) on October 25, 2015

Lectionary Readings: Job 42:1-6; 10-17; Hebrews 7.23:-28; Mark 10:46-52.


Jesus said to Bartimaeus: “Your faith has made you well” (Mk. 10.52).

Wait a minute: this is a rather strange thing for Jesus to say, isn’t it? I mean, it sounds like something one of those so-called ‘faith-healers’ you see on television would say: if you simply have enough faith, your sickness will vanish; if you believe strong enough, you will be given your heart’s desire.

If this is true, then the implication is that if you remain sick or poor, then you simply do not have enough faith; your belief is not strong enough; you did not pray hard enough.

But is this what Jesus means? Is Jesus suggesting that faith-healers and prosperity preachers are telling the truth: that the fervor of one’s faith will heal them and grant them wealth? Was Bartimaeus healed because he reached a superstar level of faith that only ‘true believers’ can attain? Of course, the answer to this question is a resounding ‘No!’ Jesus is neither a faith-healer nor a prosperity preacher.

Nevertheless, the popularity and influence of faith-healers and prosperity preachers who claim to teach and act in Jesus’ name remains. Some of the largest congregations in the world are led by such people. Stadiums are filled with tens of thousands of people who are desperate for healing, desperate for financial security, desperate for hope. They are told that all they have to do to receive the healing or financial windfall they so desperately need is just to give what little money they have to the super-star healer or preacher and just believe enough that their desire will be granted.

The problem is that faith-healers and prosperity preachers peddle a view of faith that is completely at odds with the kind of faith that Jesus is talking about.


Too often we assume that faith is a kind of “special power or faculty” that we have, or, at least we should have.[1] If only I had more faith, I would be a better Christian; if only I had more faith, then I would be able to tell others about Jesus. I have too many questions and doubts, so I guess I just don’t have enough faith like so-and-so. Faith, it seems, is something that is quantifiable, depending on the ‘spirituality’ of the individual believer.

However, the problem with this kind of thinking is that is starts on the wrong foot: it begins with us: “with our attitudes, our emotions, our inner lives”.[2] The assumption is that faith is “basically a matter of figuring ourselves out”, a kind of naval-gazing for the spiritually inclined.[3] The ‘spiritual’ among us are those who’ve reached a level of self-understanding to the point that they appear to be thoroughly in control of their own lives. But, can faith be measured? Is faith really all about me and my spirituality?

Today’s Gospel reading makes it clear that faith is not a subjective turning-inward; rather, faith is objective. In other words, faith is directed toward the object of faith. This means that “what matters about faith is…not us but God the object of faith”.[4]

The object of Bartimaeus faith was Jesus Christ. Bartimaeus does not identify Jesus as yet another faith-worker who promises to work miracles if the price is right; Bartimaeus identifies Jesus in three ways.

First, he names Jesus as “Son of David” (Mk. 10.47; 48). Even when the crowd tries to quiet him down, Bartimaeus’ cries become all the louder. Bartimaeus sees that Jesus is the Son of David, the one who will restore Israel’s fortunes and return her to glory. Living under Roman rule, the Israelites were once again a subjected people living in the shadow of empire, desperate for liberation. Bartimaeus’ claim that Jesus is the Son of David is politically subversive; it directly challenges Roman rule. No wonder the crowd wanted this old blind man to be quiet: he could get them all in a lot of trouble if any Romans or sympathizers to the empire where listening, which they undoubtedly were. Bartimaeus is not simply trying to get Jesus attention by saying something shocking: he is publicly and fearlessly proclaiming who Jesus is. Jesus is the object of Bartimaeus’ faith.

Second, Bartimaeus identifies Jesus as one who will extend mercy. The Romans were known for their harsh subjugation of those whom they conquered; they enforced the Pax Romana with an iron fist, destroying all opposition. Jesus, on the other hand, already named by Bartimaeus as the heir and true king of Israel, is also identified as a different kind of king: a merciful king, one who exercises his authority with compassion. Bartimaeus is identifying Jesus in stark contrast to Caesar: here is a king completely unlike the kings of earth. Look to him and he will give you mercy!

Third, Bartimaeus calls Jesus “my teacher” (Mk. 10.51). He does not identify Jesus as a teacher, one among many other teachers. Rather, he claims Jesus as his teacher; I am a student of this teacher. Jesus is not a good religious or ethical teacher that sits among the pantheon of other teachers in human history. Bartimaeus says I follow him and he alone because he is truth embodied.

Bartimaeus does not yell provocative things in order to get Jesus attention and he does not flatter Jesus in order to get what he wants. Though he is physically blind, Bartimaeus fixes his sight on Jesus. When his physical sight is restored, Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way”, as it says in verse 52. Because Bartimaeus’ faith is focused on Jesus, his life is dedicated to following Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Jesus response to Bartimaeus that his faith has made him well is not about the restoration of his physical sight; Jesus is telling Bartimaeus his ability to see Jesus as the promised Messiah means that there is nothing wrong with his sight; Bartimaeus is able to see what others cannot. Though Bartimaeus is physically blind, when it comes to Jesus he has 20/20 vision. Yes, the restoration of Bartimaeus’ sight is miraculous. However, it is not the focal point of the story. Indeed, the healing is almost an afterthought; the focus of the story remains on Bartimaeus’ faith as it saw and proclaimed Jesus’ identity. Bartimaeus’ faith made him well not primarily in terms of the restoration of his physical sight but because he could see the one who will restore all things. Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus is an affirmation that underlines the truth of Bartimaeus’ confession of faith.

Furthermore, when this story is place within its larger context, it seems as though the author is suggesting that despite his physical blindness, Bartimaeus’ could see what others could not. You see, the story of Bartimaeus takes place within a set of stories that demonstrate the disciples’ blindness. Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ disciples are portrayed as completely blind to what was happening around them. Last week’s Gospel reading is a direct counter point to this week: the disciples were arguing about who would hold the place of honor in God’s kingdom. They were essentially blind to the radical nature of God’s kingdom where the first are last and the last are first, where sinners are shown mercy and the spiritual elite are rebuked.

The first 10 chapters of Mark seek to demonstrate Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (cf. Mk 1.1) and the Messiah by focusing on Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry, culminating with the story of Bartimaeus. Following this, the author of Mark narrates the events of Passion week. You see, Bartimaeus’ faith acts as a hinge in the Mark’s Gospel; it anticipates Jesus’ identity as it will be fully revealed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday as echoed in the words of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross: “Truly this man was God’s son” (Mk. 15.39). Bartimaeus fixes his sight on the one who is truly human and truly God, the one who will restore all things, and will bring his healing mercy – spiritual and physical – to all of creation.


Faith is “the way in which we meet and response to the God who sets himself before us” most clearly in Jesus Christ. (Webster, 193). Therefore, faith involves the process of learning to take God on God’s terms. It is the height of religious hubris to demand that God fit our expectations of what God should be like before we are willing to trust him. Indeed, this demand is indicative of our need for healing, the need for our sight to be restored. When faith becomes focused on ourselves and our demands, we cannot see the healing that Jesus offers us, we become blind to God’s kingdom.

When the church does not place the Triune God at the centre of its faith and becomes fixated on other concerns, be it bottom-lines or attendance lists, the church cannot perform its God-given mission to follow the example of Bartimaeus in shouting out the identity of the one in whom it moves and lives and has its being, proclaiming the good news of the healing that Jesus offers, and helping others to see Jesus in our words and deeds.

So, let us ask ourselves: who or what is the object of our faith? Upon who or what are we focusing our eyes?

Come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, and accept the healing that he offers us by setting aside our demands and laying our burdens at his feet.

Come, let us call out to him now, ready to hear his voice.

Come, let us with eyes of faith see that Christ comes to meet us in the bread and wine of Communion, offering to restore us to relationship with God and each other.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we confess that we allow our faith to become focused on ourselves. We confess that we are often blind to who you are and to the life you offer us. By your Holy Spirit, help us in faith to take you at your word, the same word spoken to us who is Jesus Christ. Equip us by the same Holy Spirit that we might fearlessly and publicly proclaim that Jesus is Lord, keeping our eyes fixed on him and ready to receive his healing mercy. We pray this in the name of Christ, our heavenly High Priest. Amen.

[1] John Webster, The Grace of Truth, 189.

[2] Webster, 189.

[3] Webster, 189.

[4] Webster, 190.

A Harvest Thanksgiving Sermon

A Harvest Thanksgiving sermon offered on October 11, 2015 at St. Paul’s (Chatsworth).

Texts: Joel 2.21-27; 1 Tim. 2.1-7; Matt. 6.24-33.

I speak to you in the name of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


Linus turns toward his friend, Charlie Brown, and says “You look kind of depressed, Charlie Brown”. To which Charlie replies “I worry about school alot. I also worry about my worrying so much about school. My anxieties have anxieties”.

One of the things that makes ‘The Peanuts’ an enduring comic strip is its almost prophetic description of modern culture. Ours is an anxious culture. Not only are we seemingly anxious about everything, there is also a myriad of medications, therapies, and self-help books available to help us cope with our endless anxiety. It’s as if our anxiety is  manufactured and manipulated for profit. Indeed, our culture excels at creating an urgent sense of desire so that we chase after and buy things we don’t really need. We accumulate goods at such an enormous rate that we need to rent storage units to store our excess stuff. We spend at such a rate that the average Canadian household consumer debt, that is debt that does not include mortgages, is nearly $30,000. $30,000 in the red, plus accruing interest, just so that I can have the biggest television, the newest model car, and go on the best vacation? And this is to say nothing of our culture’s obsession with success where personal value is calculated on the basis of one’s fortune and fame.

No wonder ours is an anxious culture.

This seems like a bit of a negative way to start a Harvest Thanksgiving sermon, doesn’t it?

Yes, we have much for which to be thankful: a steady income, food on the table, warm and dry housing, and clothes on our back. Thanks be to God for these things!

What I am suggesting is that the priorities of our thanks are often misplaced; when we limit the focus of our thanks to material things, we end up perpetuating and participating in the materialism of our culture. The solution is to prioritize our gratitude, not simply by directing our thanks to God for our material things, but by being thankful first and foremost for God’s kingdom. It is only when we put things in proper spiritual perspective that we are able to truly give thanks for God’s abundance, given to us most fully in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that we are able to truly enjoy and share everything that God gives us. It is only when the Church, as a community of believers, focuses on God’s kingdom that it is able to fulfill its God-given mission to be Christ’s body on earth.


In our Gospel reading, Jesus is in the middle of his ‘Sermon on the Mount’. We can summarize Jesus’ sermon very simply: “nothing matters but God’s kingdom; but because of the kingdom, everything matters”.[1] Jesus wants his audience, both then and now, to see the world through a kingdom-lens, to see things from a heavenly perspective. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus exposes the so-called wisdom of the world as folly, flipping it completely on its head. According to Jesus, God’s kingdom is completely at odds with the wisdom of the world: the meek inherit the earth and enemies are loved. I am sure you can imagine the thoughts going through some of his listeners’ heads: Jesus teaches the impossible. Yes, what Jesus teaches is impossible from a worldly perspective; but all things are possible from a kingdom perspective.

Seeing the world through a kingdom-lens requires that we have our priorities straight. Earlier in the sermon, Jesus says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6.21). In other words, what matters most to you will directly shape the way you live your life. As Jesus makes clear, only one thing can take ultimate priority in a person’s life: “no one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6.24a). There are only two options for what takes ultimate priority in one’s life: created reality or the Creator of reality. Therefore, one’s perspective and actions in life is shaped by who or what they worship, by who or what they desire and value above everything else.

When Jesus says “you cannot serve (or worship) God and wealth” (Matt 6.24c), the Greek word  translated as ‘wealth’ is Mammon. The word means possessions of money, but it has direct spiritual connotations in the way Jesus frames his statement. Jesus is saying that a person can only worship one god; it is impossible to serve two because at some point the two will come in conflict and a person must decide who they will follow. Jesus “does not want us to waste our lives practicing the impossible”.[2] Rather, Jesus is encouraging his followers to put their total trust, their final allegiance, in God, to give him alone their worship; Jesus is asking his followers to become atheists who deny the gods of the world; gods that are never satisfied, gods that demand more than we could possibly give. Jesus is saying that our lives must be rooted not in created things, but in the Creator God who gives creation as a gift. There can be only one bottom-line in a person’s life.

So, the question Jesus poses to us on this celebration of Thanksgiving: for what are you most thankful? What is your bottom line?

Jesus’ words about possessions are challenging and unsettling. Jesus’ words make us uncomfortable because we are often directly implicated in his remarks about giving priority to the acquisition of unnecessary material goods. In order to assuage our guilt, we turn our attention to the poor: aren’t Jesus words not to be anxious about food, clothing and money unfair to those who have so little? However, Jesus is not suggesting that things like food, clothing, housing, and money are unimportant; Jesus’ whole life and ministry was an example of feeding the hungry and healing the sick. Rather, Jesus’ is commanding his followers to “to take our eyes of our selves, off our lives, off our own selfish anxiety for things for ourselves”[3]; Jesus is commanding his followers to fix their eyes on God and God’s kingdom. It is only when we see the world through a kingdom-lens that we learn the way of self-lessness and joyful gratitude.

Jesus’ offers us liberation from our anxiety, freedom from the gods that enslave us, freedom from the myths of scarcity that manipulate and paralyze us. Jesus restores us to God, to life lived in fellowship with Him where our tears of sorrowful fear and anxiety turn into shouts of joyful gratitude for our liberation and new life! Jesus helps us to take our eyes off of our own lives and its obsessions with popularity and possessions in order to see all created reality not as a possession to be hoarded, but a gift to be freely shared. Jesus shows us a new way of seeing the world, a world where God’s beauty, abundance, and providential care are evident everywhere we look.

Overall, a kingdom-vision is utterly and completely fixed on Jesus Christ, the one who is God’s kingdom in the flesh. He alone is the one mediator between God and humanity, the one who gave himself as a “ransom of all” people (1 Tim. 2.7) so that all people may turn to him. We worship a God who gives good gifts; more importantly, we worship a God who gives himself. In the Trinue God, the Giver and the Gift are one in the same. Furthermore, God gives of himself without remainder and yet without diminishing himself; God’s giving is abundant and everlasting. We see God’s generous self-giving most clearly in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.


If only the Church had the audacity to see with kingdom-eyes! No longer would it be bogged down by bottom-lines and attendance lists, no longer would it worry about whether or not it has a future. With kingdom-vision, the Church will see that everything it needs to worship and witness to Jesus Christ is already provided by its loving Father, our Father, the God who will abide with us through the highs and lows of life. Only with such a vision will the Church be liberated from its fear and anxiety and free to proclaim the good news with reckless abandon, putting its future firmly in God’s hands.

As Christ’s earthly body, the Church is called to follow his example of selfless giving. In order to do this, we must first receive God’s gifts, primarily trough baptism and the Eucharist. One of the ways in which we demonstrate gratitude is in the way we receive gifts. In the Eucharist, we offer ourselves, our entire lives, to Christ and Christ unites himself with us through the Holy Spirit. It is precisely through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the life of our parish that we can say that the kingdom of God is within us, the same kingdom that we are called to embody and share with the world.

The most important gift the Church is called to give the world is Jesus Christ. We do this primarily by being the Church – through our worship and in our witnessing in deed and word, by sharing our material blessings and by sharing the good news that through Jesus Christ God is reconciling all of created reality to himself. It is through the Church’s worship and witness of Jesus Christ that the Church becomes God’s gift to the world as Christ’s earthly body.

In order to equip the Church in its calling, God gives us spiritual gifts. The first of these gifts is the gift of the Holy Spirit who transforms our vision, turning our eyes away from the gods of the world and toward Christ. The Holy Spirit in turn gives individual believers gifts, each of which are meant to help the Church fulfill its God-given purpose to show the world the love of God. Everyone of us, young and old, clergy and laity have a role to play as we cultivate God’s kingdom, as we embody God’s peace, as we share God’s gifts.

This Thanksgiving, let us prioritize our gratitude by giving thanks to God first and foremost for his kingdom, shown to us in Jesus Christ. Let us give thanks for the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruit they bear in our lives. Let us give thanks for the Church, that community of believers transformed from the inside out by the abundant love of God and liberated from the wisdom of the world, as it joyfully moves into God’s future.

Let us pray – Heavenly Father, you are the Giver of all good gifts. We confess that in our anxiety and fear that we are often blind to the gift of your kingdom. Set us free and give us eyes to see your Son so that filled with joy and gratitude we, your people, may show Him to the world. We give you thanks for all the gifts you give us, for material blessings and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Help us to use these gifts wisely and generously to the glory of your name and for the cultivating of your kingdom. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, your kingdom-in-the-flesh. Amen.

[1]Quotation attributed to Gordon Spykman.

[2]Frederick Bruner, Matthew: The Christ Book Matthew 1-12, p. 327.

[3]Bruner, 329.

Witness, Worship, and the Holy Spirit

A sermon offered on October 4, 2015 to the Parish of Saugeen Shores.

Texts: Psalm 150, Ephesians 4.1-16, 1 Cor. 12.1-13, Matt. 28.16-20


Rev. Carrie and I decided to go off-lectionary this week. Don’t worry: I assure you this doesn’t mean that you have a rogue priest and curate. There is method behind our madness!

Thanksgiving is a week away. During Thanksgiving, we tend to focus on giving thanks to God for material blessings. However, how often do we reflect on the spiritual gifts God gives us? Of course, we are thankful for the people, programs, and buildings of our parish. But what about the spiritual gifts that God gives the people of this parish? Are we giving thanks for the fruit they are bearing?

As we move forward with the new thing that God is doing in our midst, it is essential for us to be firmly rooted in understanding our shared identity and purpose. This requires discerning our gifts, both as individuals and as congregations within our newly formed Regional Ministry. How are we as a Holy Spirit-created and Holy Spirit-filled community fulfilling our God-given mission to make disciples?


Before we can answer this question, we need to be clear on who we are talking about when we are talking about the Holy Spirit. Is the Holy Spirit merely to be associated with religious feelings ranging that from ecstatic fervor to a subtle sense of there being ‘something bigger than me out there’? Who are we talking about when we talk about the Holy Spirit?

The simple answer to this question is that we are talking about God: the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not a vague force that we can ‘tap into’ depending on our personal predilections for spiritual experiences. Rather, the Holy Spirit is “the agent of the kingdom of God…[who] keeps pointing us toward the truth” embodied in Jesus Christ.[1] The Holy Spirit draws us, God’s people, into the divine life of the Trinity. This is not the kind of vague spirituality peddled by the plethora of modern self-styled spiritual gurus who exploit the spiritual vacuum of our culture. Rather, this is the kind of spirituality by which the church lives and moves and has its being. The Holy Spirit does not exist ‘out there’ in the ether; the Holy Spirit “rests upon bodies, first on the crucified body of Jesus, then on the often full-of-holes and beaten body of Christ, the church”.[2]

In other words, the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church; Christians are literally born of the Spirit. Indeed, “Christians are nothing without the Holy Spirit”.[3] This means that “the Holy Spirit is nothing less than a life-and-death matter for the people of God”.[4] When the church seeks to live life on its own terms by protecting itself against all that threatens to unsettle the status quo, it is safe to say that the Holy Spirit has left the building and the church is merely an altruistic social club. However, when the Church dares to “live in the power of the Holy Spirit”, it learns to joyfully and gratefully receive the abundant gifts of God, including the Holy Spirit itself, in fulfillment of the purpose to which God calls the church.[5]


One of Paul’s most used images of the church in his letters is the church as a body. Furthermore, Paul makes it clear that the body of Christ cannot exist separate from the Holy Spirit that unites the members into one body; baptism is the only way in which a person becomes part of the body and, therefore, baptism is the primary means by which one receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This is precisely why Jesus commanded his church to baptize people: baptism is the marker of one’s identity as a member of the body of Christ, as a disciple of Jesus who has heard his call to “come and follow me”.

To be baptized into the body of Christ does not mean that I’ve joined the ‘spiritually elite’ or that I have my one-way ticket to heaven. To be baptized into the body of Christ means participating in the mission to which the body is called and finding my role within this mission.

In order to help us further grasp what Paul is getting at, let’s use a different metaphor: the church as an orchestra with the Holy Spirit acting as the conductor.

Orchestras are comprised of many different musicians playing many different instruments; each instrument offers a distinct sound that contributes to the music being made. In this image of the church as orchestra, the different musicians are individual Christians and the instruments we play are the gifts given to us by the conductor, the Holy Spirit.

The music we play is God’s symphony of love and reconciliation. The symphony is comprised of various movements that convey a range of emotions, from anticipation, to sadness, to jubilation. The repeated theme throughout the symphony is Jesus Christ; the music is all about him. And the orchestra will continue to play its music until Christ’s return.

Now, if the church is an orchestra, this raises some important questions:

– What if some musicians refuse to follow the sheet music and decide to improvise instead?

– What if some if the tuba players said they were tired of playing the tuba and decided to switch with the cello players?

– What if some musicians decided to form their own orchestra and left?

– What if a musician decided that she was a better conductor and pushed the conductor of his platform?

– What if the choir decided they would rather have tea and cookies rather than sing?

– What if the percussion section assumed they were the best section of the orchestra and together decided to play at the tempo and volume that they feel is best?

I am sure that we would all agree that any of these situations would make for a rather terrible orchestra and horrendous performance. One can imagine that there would be no encore or repeat performances.

And yet, I am sure we can all identify the ways in which the church throughout history, and indeed in the history of our own congregation, has embodied these very situations.

When the orchestra refuses to listen to its conductor, the result is cacophonous disharmony where the music of God’s love is ear-splitting and obnoxious.

However, when the orchestra plays its sheet music as written and follows its conductor, the result is awe inspiring; the audience wants to hear more! Caught up in the joy of listening, the audience wants the music to continue; caught up in the joy of performing, the musicians want to continue playing!

A good orchestra knows that each of the instruments has an important part to play in the making of music, yes, even the bassoon.

Now, I suspect some are saying ‘wait a minute, we are not professional musicians! You can’t be so hard on us!’ You’re absolutely right – we are all amateurs, even those of us who went to seminary. And yet, I am sure you would agree that the only way to get better at an instrument is practice, practice, practice!

Yes, practice can be tedious. Repeatedly running scales is not fun. However, it is precisely through the practicing of our faith that we learn to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit gives to us. God abundantly gives us everything we need to make beautiful music; yet, we must be willing to practice, practice, practice and follow the direction of our conductor, even when we don’t want to practice or when the conductor seems to be asking too much of us.

You see, God’s purpose for the church is to twofold: to play God’s symphony of love and to invite others to join God’s orchestra so that the whole world can hear and enjoy this symphony.

The two-fold purpose of the church is clear in today’s Gospel reading: the disciples worship the Triune God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ and they are sent to be witnesses to this God. God’s purpose for the church is fundamentally about worship and witness.

Worship reorients us toward this God and reminds us that we are called to be a living sacrifice to God in all we do, think, and say. Furthermore, it is under the authority of this God that we are sent into the world to make disciples through baptism and teaching. We are sent as witness to testify in both deed and word to what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ.

Some of you might be getting uncomfortable at this point, thinking “but evangelism is not a gift Anglicans have. We just aren’t very good talking about our faith”. Yes, some people are natural evangelists. However, we must remember that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given for the purposes of worship and witness. And, I am happy to remind us that two of the foremost evangelists in the 20th and 21st century are Anglicans: C.S. Lewis and Bishop N.T. Wright.

Worship and witness each flow from and into each other; they are the two sides of the coin of the church’s mission. Too often we get stuck on the ‘how’ questions: how we worship and how we witness. However, the primary question that should inform our worship and witness is ‘who’. Who is the God we worship? Who is the God to whom we witness in the world? When we can answer ‘who’ clearly, our worship and witness will be robust, compelling, and inviting. We worship this God; we tell the world the story of this God.

This is why Paul reminds us of the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the church’s worship and witness: it is only through the Holy Spirit that we are able to answer the ‘who’ question by proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord”; it is only through the presence of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is able to offer comfort to his disciples that we will be with us always, even though we are amateurs.

As we go into the world to play God’s symphony, we perform not as soloists, but as an orchestra. We have each other and we have our conductor to guide us as we play so that the music of our lives, as individuals, as families, and as a congregation, resounds with the great themes of God’s symphony: the lost are found, the broken are mended, sinners are forgiven, and the outcasts are welcomed; so that the music of our lives tells of the great love shown to humanity in the life of the God who took on human flesh and lived among us.


So, as the newly formed Regional Ministry of Saugeen Shores, Tara, and Chatsworth, it is essential that we ask ourselves: do we know what our instruments, our spiritual gifts, are? Are we playing God’s symphony of love to the best of our ability as we worship and witness? Would our community miss the symphony if we stopped playing? Are they asking for encores?

As we move into God’s future for our parish, let us with joy and gratitude play the instruments we have been given and let us follow the direction of the Holy Spirit that we might play the most beautiful music the world has ever heard: the music of God’s symphony of love! Let us join in the music of creation in singing praise to God, joining with “the melody and cadence of the cosmic elements” as they sing of God’s glory.[6]

Are you ready to pick up your instrument, follow our conductor, and play?

The world is waiting to hear God’s symphony of love.

Let us play!


[1] Hauerwas and Willimon, The Holy Spirit, 30.

[2] Hauerwas and Willimon, 31.

[3] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[4] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[5] Hauerwas and Willimon, ix.

[6] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 276.