Sunday, February 18, 2016
The Baptism of Jesus

Mark 1:9-15

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

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Well, that was quite a lot of story to pack into a few verses. Jesus is baptised, the Holy Spirit descends, Jesus is driven out into the wilderness, John is arrested, and Jesus comes back to proclaim the Good News and the kingdom has come near. Whew! I’m getting tired just thinking about this.

Now, because we’re Anglicans and therefore nobody will sit through a 30 minute long sermon with full exegesis on this passage, we’re going to have to break this down a little bit. Luckily, while this scripture seems to be rapid fire information, it is moving towards a single point. The kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News. Or, get ready, The Christ has come.

And what a message for the first Sunday of Lent. Repent! I should have a big floppy Bible that I could shake at you while I shout repent! That would really complete this picture. Repent! Such a loaded word, at such a loaded time.

Because, isn’t that what Lent is all about? Penitence and repentance, ashes and sackcloth, wailing and lamentation. I think that’s probably the view of many people, that, or deprivation, Lent as a time of fasting and abstaining. Either way, it’s viewed as a time of self-punishment and contrition, remorse, a time of sorrow and atonement.

And yes, it is a time for atonement. It is a time for repentance. But repent does not mean breast-beating and weeping. It really means to re-think. A turning back towards the Lord, a return to our best self, our place as the child of God, His image in the world. This is what Lent is really about. It is a time for God’s incarnational story and presence to come close to us. It is a time for God to come close to us. It is a time to return to Him.

And so, we begin in Lent with a turning to God in the words of the gospel ‘Repent!’ And we find that turning in the wilderness. This is where Lent begins: in the wilderness.
Which is not a terribly comfortable place to be. It’s the place of challenge and struggle, the place of the jagged edges of life.

It’s a place that most of us, myself included, would like to avoid if we could. It’s dark and scary, it’s a place where we don’t know what is going to happen next. And for most of us, again, myself included, it is easy to get stuck in that beginning place, that wilderness, and think that this is what Lent is supposed to be like, what our faith journey is supposed to be like. Just a terrifying, panicked, lost-in-the-wilderness experience that will teach you something, humility or faith or whatever is that you’re missing and need to go outside the bounds of society to find. Like John the Baptist, living in the wild wrapped in camel’s hair eating locusts.

I mean, I can’t even camp. The most ‘roughing it’ I can do is a hotel without a pool and a continental breakfast. So, believe me, when I say I don’t want the discomfort of the wilderness, I mean it. Why couldn’t we start, say, on a nice path, or even better, a highway inside my comfortable heated car, with my iPod on. Then I can just speed along, we’d get there in no time, I have a lead foot.

But, I’m not called to comfort, much to my dismay. I am not called to stagnancy, I am not called to an easy life. I am not called to the bare minimum. You and I are called to follow Christ, and in this season of Lent, we are to follow Christ to the cross. And so, we have to start in the wilderness.

Because we will follow Him out of that wilderness. And where He goes, shalom will follow.. He will touch the unclean and will leave cleanness in His wake. He’ll touch the dead and they will come back to life. He’ll speak to the blind and make them see, to the deaf and make them hear. He’ll enter every crack in our hearts and leave behind hope and faith and love.

Because this Lenten journey is about the reminder that Jesus is transforming the world, He is transforming us. In Christ, God is not unapproachable, but a palpable presence in our lives. He is near. And when He is near, everything can change. We can change.

And we are all gathered here as community to be part of that change. Especially this morning as we celebrate baptism and welcome new members, new life, to this church family. As we start our own Lenten journeys into closer relationship with God, we can share this beautiful moment with new travellers on their own paths towards the kingdom, and set before their feet the lessons we have learned in our own beginnings, the hopes and dreams we have for them as our new family members. Because what better way to begin our repentance, our returning to Christ, our following Him into the wilderness, than to reclaim love and hope in the celebration of new life. To reaffirm our commitment to God and to each other.

This, my friends, can be our Lenten promise. To enter into the wilderness of this world and pour love out in all directions, to be radical in hope, to resist the temptation of comfort and inactivity. To practice the labour of love, which is fierce and imperfect and life-giving. To teach and model and practice this in all ways. To give those who are starting their journey today, a tomorrow we can all participate in.

When we reaffirm our baptismal promise in a few moments, let us take the time to turn our hearts towards the cross, as see our Lenten season not as a dreary time of restriction, but an opportunity to return to our rightful place, a life of natural communion with God, our communities, and creation. Let us reaffirm our commitment to walking the path, whatever wilderness it takes us to, with courage and faith. Let us put God back at our center, and savour this season where we consciously, intentionally, live into God’s grace. Let us join with our new brothers and sisters in Christ in journeying, and let us repent, truly repent, for the kingdom is here, and we can see it in the shining faces of those we celebrate this morning.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, February 11, 2018
Induction Service

Sermon from the Induction of Keith Nethery as Rector of St James Westminster

What an absolute joy it is to be back here again with you all at St James. While it has been a number of years since I stood before you, I continue to carry St James close to my heart; I have thought of you all often and fondly and am honoured to have been asked to share some thoughts with you this evening. I appreciate this opportunity to share in your joy as you take this next step in your life of ministry with Keith at the helm, as he adds his gifts and talents to the many who have gone before, in making St James Westminster all that it is today.

With over 140 years of proclaiming the Gospel from this place, while much has changed all around in Old South and Wortley Village, and different ones have come and gone adding their particular touches to how ministry and service is expressed, through all of that, the heart of this faith community has remained consistent. For at the heart of St James Westminster is an invitation, an invitation to all to come in and experience God, through Christ Jesus, in a whole variety of ways — in what is said, and what is not said, in the words from the pulpit and the words in the pews, in the excellence of the music, in a multitude of gestures and in all manner of faith-filled expressions.

With this invitation has also always come the further encouragement to allow the truth and experience of God to work into those places within us that may need God’s light, God’s life, and God’s love. Having been encouraged and supported, tended and cared for in the faith, we are then able to turn to those beyond these walls, to see just how the Good News of Jesus Christ might be shared with others.

Tonight we gather to mark, to recognize, to celebrate Keith’s taking up of his new role as rector at St James, as he brings who he is and what he has to offer to all that already is here, so that together, this can continue to be a place of invitation to encounter the divine… a place with room for all, where the steps of many are woven into a great dance, a great celebration of all that it is to be disciples and followers of Jesus.

Now when I think of Keith, three words jump to mind: communication, community and commitment. My first encounter with Keith took place about 10 years ago. I was relatively new to the inner workings of the diocese of Huron and as a second year student from Huron, I was attending one of my first Synods having been given the task of writing the Popular Report – a brief summary of the proceedings. As you know, Synod is filled with reports of all different kinds (financial reports, committee reports, special appeals and presentations… just what you’d expect), but as the agenda for the day progressed, I was not quite sure what to make of the appearance of this rather oddly dressed fellow who the agenda indicated was from Camlachie. To this day, I cannot remember the content of what he was saying, but I was impressed with how he brought the gift of humour to communicate, as I suspect that at least some of what he was sharing could best be received only through humour. I would later learn that Keith, having spent his time before ordination in radio, was passionate about communicating and I would go on to see Keith regularly sharing with us through the Huron Church News, and in other ways, intent on keeping information free and flowing.

Community: Anyone who has been part of parish life for any time at all knows that different faith communities have different personalities. Keith has always understood this and has a deep appreciation for the uniqueness, the giftedness of each community. His questions become: how best to support what is already going on, how to draw out those still wondering about their gifts, and how to develop an openness to a God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or
imagine. For as much as tonight is a celebration of Keith’s new ministry, it is also a celebration of what already has been, what is, and what together will be. It’s about Possibilities!

Which brings us to commitment. Quite simply, we know Keith as someone who brings many years of passion and faithfulness to everything that he does; he is committed to seeing and joining in where God is already at work, adding his muscle to the jobs that need to be done, sometimes discerning, sometimes cheerleading … all with the goal of furthering God’s kingdom wherever he finds himself. How blessed you are to have him amongst you.

Turning our attention this Transfiguration Sunday for a few moments to our Gospel reading, I’d like us to think for a moment or two about mentoring. Mentoring, whether in a professional or personal setting, is the practice of a more experienced person taking a person with less experience under their wing, to support and direct them, to share with them what they have learned over the years, and to allow the less experienced person to develop in what is hopefully a supportive environment. Mentors teach, coach about particular skills, facilitating growth by sharing resources and networks, often challenging and pushing the one mentored to move beyond his or her comfort zone, helping them to get and keep the big picture.

We have all likely had mentors. Perhaps they were in our immediate or extended families, in our faith communities, in our school, in our workplace — those who have helped us along the way. Our encounters and relationships with these individuals have changed us and in a very real way, have affected who we are today and even who we will be tomorrow. And really, mentoring just makes sense. Why not glean all the benefits of someone else’s experience, from someone who has already run the race, or who is at least is a bit further down the road than we are? In our reading from Mark this Transfiguration Sunday, we will see another example of mentoring as we see Jesus, Peter, James and John as they ascend the mountain, as Luke tells us in another Gospel, to pray. Mark is a little lean on the details, but we can imagine these three as they leave the crowds and ministry to start the long climb in the fading light of day. Each deep in thought, no talking, just straining of muscles and breathing heavily as they climb. Jesus stops, sits down; they were there to pray and that is what they begin to do. They continue in prayer until the disciples are weighed down with sleep.

The next thing they know they are aware of a light, of a shining that they cannot logically explain. The disciples with eyes fully open at this point, see before them, Jesus, who they thought they knew so well, their mentor and their master, now being transformed, transfigured, gleaming and dazzling before them. But there was more, for it was clear that He was not alone…but how could that be?

Two others were speaking with Him, bathed in this same transfiguring light. They appeared to be Moses, the great law giver and Elijah the prophet, but how could that be? God’s own glory lighting up the sky? Peter’s response… well we are told that Peter was, like all of us would likely have been, terrified, terrified, and so out of that Peter begins to babble something about tents and setting them up … perhaps thinking he is being helpful, but really not making much sense. And then, if they were not dazed enough they are then engulfed by a cloud, overshadowed by it, hearing all around them the words, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” And then … it is all gone!

As I read about this experience of the disciples I was reminded of a recent experience of my own of a cloud of sorts. It was several years ago on one of my many travels between St Thomas and London when I served at Trinity St Thomas. I was making my way home after a Deanery Council meeting
around 9:00 p.m. at night, when I encountered for the first time in a very long time, a snow squall somewhere around the Ford plant, though of course I could not really see exactly where I was.

It was as if I had driven into a closet, a closet that was lit only by the gleam of my headlights, and instead of these lights showing me the way ahead, the density of the snow as it blew and swirled around me, only reflected back its own light so I was travelling totally blind … helpless. I could hear myself running off the road to my right because I could hear my tires connecting with the grated pavement that road makers place on the edge for this very purpose of alerting drivers that they are near the edge. I slowed down, knowing that to stop could have disastrous consequences, and I tried to keep that ‘grrrrring’ of the tires to my right… I was terrified… and I prayed.

I was alone on the road at that hour with no other lights before or behind. After what seemed like an age, though it was likely not very long, from nowhere a windowless van whizzed by me. Was this driver crazy, going this fast??? Yet it seemed to me at that moment that this van offered me my best chance of getting out of this, if I could keep up. It was clear that its driver was very confident and knew where he/she was going, and so with a heart beating a mile a minute, I sped up into the darkness, eyes fixed only on the red glow of those taillights.

Eventually, by following this van I came to a place that was not quite so snowy or blowy, where the visibility improved a bit, and the driving was much easier. As I reflected back upon this experience, I wondered about that windowless white van that seemed to come out of nowhere; I wondered whether God had sent it, and just who was driving it?? On that evening when that cloud of snow dropped down on me from out of nowhere I imagined in a small way Peter’s fear and confusion in the cloud atop that mountain, as his mentor and his master was first transformed and then shrouded.

With this Sunday we leave the Epiphany season, the season of the bright star, the guiding star, and the star that directed the world to Jesus’ doorstep. This season of Epiphany began in one kind of wonder; it ends today in another… in the wonder of the mountain top. On this transfiguration Sunday, we remember, giving thanks, for those who have shown us what it is to live lives of faith, we remember, giving thanks, the brilliance of the gift of God’s Son to us, to our world and we gather up all of this brilliance for we will need to hide it up in our hearts, to keep us through the darker days of Lent before the brilliance returns on Easter morning.

As Lent dawns upon us, we will on Ash Wednesday and in the Sundays ahead be asked to come down from that mountain and to stand with Jesus on the edge of the desert, venturing into it with him, following the example of those who have been our mentors and our masters, knowing that while even there the clouds may kick up every now and again obscuring our vision, making our steps uncertain and hearts pound within us. We remind ourselves, and one another as the need arises, that God is faithful in all things.

Let us pray:

Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond our knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transfigure us into his likeness, so that, as a people changed and changing, we may illumine the world with your compassion. We ask this through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Rev’d Val Kenyon

Rev. Canon Keith Nethery Inducted as St. James Rector

The congregation and guests of St. James Westminster were pleased to participate in the induction of Rev. Canon Keith Nethery as their new Rector. The event was truly an inclusive, community event, welcoming old and new faces.

symbols
The symbols of ministry presented by the children of St. James.
The Gospel reading by Rev. Gerry Adam.
The Gospel reading by Rev. Gerry Adam.
The Homily by Rev. Val Kenyon.
The Homily by Rev. Val Kenyon.
The presentation of the license by Rev. Bill Ward, Regional Dean.
The presentation of the license by Rev. Bill Ward, Regional Dean.
Archdeacon Sam Thomas, who was presiding on behalf of Bishop Linda Nicholls, inducts Keith as the Rector of St. James.
Archdeacon Sam Thomas, who was presiding on behalf of Bishop Linda Nicholls, inducts Keith as the Rector of St. James.
The Venerable Ken Anderson, the Rev. Canon Keith Nethery, and the Venerable Archie Skirving celebrating the Eucharist.
The Venerable Ken Anderson, the Rev. Canon Keith Nethery, and the Venerable Archie Skirving celebrating the Eucharist.
And as always, the music was fabulous, led by Stephen Holowitz and the St. James Choir.
And as always, the music was fabulous, led by Stephen Holowitz and the St. James Choir.

Sunday, February 11, 2018
This is my Son. Listen to Him

Mark 9:2-9: Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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In Mark’s telling of the Transfiguration, we get a more poignant view of the character of Peter. In the verses preceding, Peter had responded to Jesus question about who He was, with the correct answer, the Son of the Living God. And then, Peter wants to build tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. He goes from knowing exactly what his faith is about, to being flustered and saying something silly because he didn’t know what else to say.

But we tend not to talk about Peter’s gaffs. We certainly don’t look to expound upon our own times that we have responded in a less than adequate way because we simply didn’t have a clue what to say. What I want to suggest here is that these moments are key for us to understand our faith and to grow in our faith.

I have always admired Peter, because I tend to think I’m a bit like Peter. Some days eloquence comes from my mouth – other days it is sheer gibberish! But maybe, just maybe I learn as much or more from the latter, as I do from the former.

When we are willing to admit that we didn’t have the words; we didn’t know how to respond, we have an opportunity to learn about ourselves and our faith. When we speak a good word to someone, one that resonates deep in their soul, we can walk away believing we have done well in a pastoral sense. However, there is little challenge in this for us to grow, to go deeper, to reflect on the true justice issues facing people in our community. When we open our mouths to speak and no words come out, we are left asking ourselves why? That helps us to reflect on the issues, ask what we can do to change the situation in a pastoral or faith sense. It helps us remember that we don’t have the answers, but we do have a relationship with the One who does have them. And those answers are only discovered in a long term faith relationship.

I realize this probably isn’t the prototypical Transfiguration sermon, but I do believe it is an important one for us to grow in faith and spirituality.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, February 4, 2018
Casting Out Demons

Mark 1:29-39: After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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Well, this is an interesting continuation in Mark’s Gospel from what we heard last week. Last week we heard of Jesus healing the man with the unclean spirit in Capernaum, and now we hear of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Which I’m sure we’re all thinking, okay, we know Jesus heals people, even sends out unclean spirits or demons or whatever you want to call them. What’s interesting in that?

Well, to me, a lot of things, but I went to school for that boring stuff, so I’m probably not a good litmus test for this. But what I think is fascinating is how Mark’s gospel wastes no time getting to the heart of the action. Before the first chapter is up, Jesus taught with authority, exorcized unclean spirits, and healed a woman near death. This is a portrait of Jesus with a clear mission. His healing, his defiance of Rome, his challenge to religious elites, his temper in the temple (say that five times fast), and even his crucifixion all drive this gospel towards a single purpose: to stand against what impedes human flourishing.

When we read of his actions towards Simon’s mother-in-law, that is what we are reading. This is not just a random act of charity, or even a favour for a friend. This is integral to the very point his death and resurrection make, that God’s creation, including human beings, is good. Not sometimes good, not can be good, is good. And that goodness is our belovedness, it is our mark of our Creator.

Christ’s stand against what opposes human well-being is exactly this. It is healing, in all forms, of all kinds. It is the stand against the reality that we create for ourselves when we build empires built on oppression and progress on domination.

Now, it is hard sometimes for us to still see that working in the world. It seems, sometimes, that things are just getting worse and worse. And we don’t have Jesus wandering around casting out demons, healing the sick, telling the leper he’s clean and the lame he can walk. We just have these stories of what Christ did. And that can feel very far away from us. Foreign even. Because how many in this world of science and technology would recognize the story of Jesus’ healing and exorcisms?  I mean, I love those paranormal ghost hunter shows, but I certainly watch them with a great deal of skepticism and probably more than a little condescension.

And that’s just it. What can this tell us today?  How does this gospel passage matter in our lives right now?

Well, like a good student, I did my research. And oh boy, did it not help at all. I was searching and searching for something profound or revelatory to say about this passage, and nothing. What most sermons and commentaries wanted to fixate on was the response of Simon’s mother-in-law (I really wish she had a name so I could call her that, but Simon’s mother-in-law) to her healing. That she got up, and served them. Now, some writings on this were all about how that is the best response we can give God when we are healed. And, yeah, that’s probably good advice.

When you are healed instantaneously, or, even more likely, slowly and painfully, but no less miraculously, the response to that should be joy, should be an outpouring of gratitude and compassion for others. It should jolt us out of our stupor and into an intimate and loving relationship with the wondrous world around us. It should remind us all of just how much of a gift this all is. And I’m sure it does, and that would probably be a really good sermon, but that’s not the one you’re getting.

And there’s a flip side to this, because most of us when restored to our normal lives, would do just that, go back to normal, go back to stasis, because it is the most comfortable place for us to be.

Other writers talked about the societal roles that would require Simon’s mother-in-law to serve the men, even asking, why didn’t Simon help her? She was just saved from her death bed!

But what these are all focused on is what happened after the healing. And while I definitely think that is an important aspect, I just wasn’t feeling it. But, I bolted upright Saturday morning with a sudden inspiration. Because, you know, Holy Ghost power. And I realized what this was about.

See, as most of you know, I’m in CPE, which you don’t need to really know what that is, but it’s essentially a course on pastoral care. And it is really easy to make pastoral care about how do you deal with other people. As Keith likes to call it, Fighting 101. But it’s not just about that. A lot of it is about me. A lot of it is about introspection and self-reflection.

And that is a really hard thing. Because it’s not just, Dear Diary, today I visited with a lovely couple and their grandchild. It’s delving deep into your own wounds and pulling off all the bandages and throwing away your crutches.

And for a long time, I thought it was about fixing. I thought that it was about fixing what was wrong with me. All my flaws and weaknesses. I thought it was about me making myself better. I thought it was about learning models, and taking notes, and, my favourite thing to do, making lists.

Because that’s what I assumed God was doing, making a massive list, tallying up all the things that I do poorly, all the times I fell short. All the things that were not good in me.

But, if I could be saved by a list, if I could be fixed by a list, then God wouldn’t have sent His son, He would have just given me more paper and pens to make better lists. He would have given me a more detailed inventory of my defects. But He doesn’t.

He sent His son, to heal and to die and to be resurrected, because that gap between me and God was wide and dark and it could never be crossed by me alone. He sent His son, because He when He created us, He called us good. And He called us His. And we are not irreparably broken, needing to be fixed, we are hurt and needing to be healed by the deep heartbeat of hope in Christ.

Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, and indeed, His healing of us all, is about restoration. It is about taking those on the brink of death, those filled with unclean spirits, those deeply stained with sin, and yes, you and me, and reminding us who we are, whose we are. It is about reminding us that we are loved and whole and, even when we are in so deep we can’t see the sky above us, that we are still good. We are just in need of healing.

So, my brothers and sister in Christ, today let us thank God for the opportunity to be hurt and healed, because our restoration is not about defect, it is about our preciousness, our belovedness, our singular and unique purpose in this community and creation. Let us thank God for the people we are becoming, for replacing our ‘I’m broken’ with ‘I’m healing’. And let us give thanks, for we are breathing, and we are living, we are wrapped in boundless grace, and we are more than our painful yesterdays.

Hana Scorrar

Loaves and Fishes Drive – February

Loaves and Fishes gathers donations of food and/or funds for those in need throughout the month of February.

Loaves and Fishes is our annual food drive. Our goal is to generate donations of food and/or funds for those in need. We will collect food/funds during the month of February. Fresh food items may be brought in as well (fruits, vegetables) and will be taken over to Church of the Epiphany each Monday in February. If you would like to make a donation of funds, please write a cheque to “St. James Westminster” and note “Loaves and Fishes” in the memo section.

Questions? Contact Walter Bailey at 519-690-2662.

Sunday, January 28, 2018
Context

I Corinthians 8:1-13: Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.  ————————————————————————————————————————————– For the four Sundays after Epiphany this year, our New Testament reading comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. With a segment from Chapter 6 two weeks ago, Chapter 7 last week, Chapter 8 today and Chapter 9 next week; we are lead into a place of doing a “mini Bible study” on this Epistle.

Key to interpreting Scripture is to understand context. First, we recognize that Paul, following the appearance of Jesus to him, went on several missionary journeys, including one to the city of Corinth. After nearly two months of teaching Christianity, a religion the Corinthians had no previous knowledge of, Paul left. It should come as no surprise then that the people of Corinth failed to grasp the totality of Christianity and had sent urgent messages to Paul, complaining about how things were going. While promising a return visit, Paul provided answers to their questions and criticisms in this the first of two letters he would write to Corinth. (Note some scholars believe there may be more than two letters represented here and there may be pieces missing.)

Paul has several things to address with the Corinthians, including divisions in the church, sexual immorality, lawsuits among believers, glorifying God in the body, marriage, food offered to idols, the rights of Apostles, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, love, orderly worship and resurrection.

Before talking about the four passages we read over four Sundays, some general comments. Corinthian society would reflect the world view of the time. People would have their own gods, made out of metal, stone and wood. The moral values of these communities would most likely be far from what Paul would want to see and very much different than our world today. Anyone who has done even brief study of ancient Greek and Roman societies will have knowledge of the things that might be happening.

It also should in no way surprise us that the Corinthians were taking what they liked of Paul’s teachings and ignoring that which didn’t fit into their understandings or their preferences. A two month crash course was always going to fail to make devout converts of a society that was vastly different than the Christian ideal.

We also should consider the need to compare this letter to other Epistles of Paul, other writers, the Gospels and in fact the Old Testament. It is easy to pick verses of Scripture that suit our immediate needs and not worry about the context, just as it is easy to omit use of those words that don’t seem to edify in the way we might like them to. We must also remember that these are Paul’s words, and they are very human and very fallible. Paul was in no means right about everything. In fact, I might suggest we consider the idea that, while the Holy Spirit was the impetus for the compilation of Scripture, it seems likely, maybe even probable, that the same Spirit has allowed the human to come through to make us think, make us compare, make us ask questions as to how this fits into faith.

Some comments about each of the four snippets from 1 Corinthians. What we read from chapter six and chapter seven, is really two sides of the same coin. Paul talks about the need to turn away from sexual immorality and then about marriage. However the two passages give far from the comprehensive view of the two chapters. While Paul is critical of sexual sin, he is less than complimentary about marriage, even suggesting that it might be best if everyone was celibate as he was. That was based on his understanding that Jesus would return in Paul’s lifetime and therefore being married would simply interfere with drawing close to the Lord. We clearly know that Paul was wrong about the time of Jesus’ return, and must point to this if we are to make sense of his comments on sexuality and marriage.

Today’s bit from chapter 8, talks about eating food sacrificed to idols. Not exactly the most prominent conversation in our world today. In Paul’s day, new believers might have their faith shattered by being made to eat food sacrificed to pagan idols, while seasoned believers would realize that pagan gods were not real and therefore all food was allowed. Paul wants to be clear that we need be sensitive to the needs of the newcomers and the learners. Perhaps there is a corollary today?  Is some of our food sacrificed to the idol of greed?  We make cheap food full of chemicals and ingredients that have much taste but little nutritional value. All this is to increase profit. Interestingly, when we are asked to provide food for those in need, do we tend to choose the cheaper, less nutrient filled, unlikely to promote good health foods to give to food banks because they are convenient and/or less costly? When we take it from a context we can’t understand to one that we can, perhaps we can grasp the meaning.

Next week we talk about the rights and obligations of apostles. While Paul is clear that he is called to preach the clear Gospel of Christ; he also suggests that as an apostle he has the right to ask for support from the Corinthians to allow him to devote the needed time to this ministry.

There are many other things in this letter, such as spiritual gifts and an interesting understanding of how the Corinthians had turned church into a multi class event, with the richest enjoying a luxurious meal while the poor got the scraps outside the wall. There is much to think about in the context of the time frame, the culture of the community and the mission of Paul. Just as there is the same context, culture and mission in today’s world.

God does not, in my belief, give us the option to take the easy way out, to pull together pieces of Scripture that support our preformed understandings, but rather calls us to the difficult task of taking everything in balance and spending quality time examining the Word for ourselves and with others in community.

-The Reverend Canon Keith Nethery

Loblaw’s Gift Cards for the hungry

Loblaw Companies Ltd. is offering customers a $25 gift card as a goodwill gesture after admitting the company participated in an industry-wide bread price-fixing arrangement.

There has been much media coverage and many have suggested giving the gift card to charity as a means of helping those in need. We at St. James would encourage this.

Cards can be given to our Community Breakfast program, to the Rector to help those in need, to the Daily Bread Food Bank and Fellowship Centre at St. Paul’s Cathedral, to the food bank at Church of the Epiphany or to any other worthy charity.

To register for the card, visit loblawcard.ca

Sunday, January 21, 2018
Will You Come and Follow Me?

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it. Jonah 3:1-5, 10

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.   1 Corinthians 7:29-31

After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. Mark 1:14-20

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Today’s three readings provide an interesting story, given that it is also Vestry Sunday. The Old Testament reading from Jonah asks us about our commitment to the community. God ask Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah went the other way. When trouble befell him, he agreed to go and preached God’s word of judgment. The people of Nineveh repented and Jonah was caught off guard. Upset that God didn’t carry out judgment on Nineveh, Jonah is found sulking under a tree.

In writing to the new Christian community at Corinth, Paul reminded them that the world was clearly changing (perhaps not a quickly as Paul imagined) and so people needed to evaluate what they were doing and find a way to draw closer to God in the last days. Clearly the world continues to unfold and we might do well to ask if we are on God’s path or the world’s path?

In the Gospel reading, we find Jesus encountering people in their daily life and calling them to come and follow Him; to be fishers of people! While time has perhaps taken the edge off this, are we not still amazed at how quickly and clearly the disciples turned and followed Jesus?

As we look at this community of St. James Westminster, we need to set a vision based on the needs set before us by God. In my report to Vestry, I outline my belief that there are three elements to an emerging vision 1) outreach 2) inreach and 3) facilities. We need to be outside our walls, reaching the community that is no longer aware of what it is we do. We need to rededicate ourselves to learning and discipling to create a growing family that is able to articulate faith and vision both inwardly and outwardly. And we need to have a place from which to do this ministry.

The three short evaluations of three passages of Scripture should give us some pause for thought.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, January 14, 2018
Samuel! Samuel!

1 Samuel 3:1-10: Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

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The Old Testament reading, as provided by our three year lectionary, provides an interesting question. The default reading is 1 Samuel 3:1-10, with only an option to read vs 11-20. How you handle the option changes the entire way you might interpret the passage as you hear it read Sunday morning.

After three times (note a significant number) of running to his mentor Eli after hearing his name called, Samuel follows Eli’s instructions after the elder clued in that in fact it was God calling Samuel. The passage ends with Samuel telling God, as directed by Eli, “Speak Lord your servant is listening.” If we leave it at that, it would seem logical to assume that many people would expect that Samuel would be given a “good” word about his early stages training to be a priest and perhaps even a pat on the back from God. If we exercise the extended option, we learn that God in fact tells the “boy” (yes just a youngster) Samuel to go and tell his mentor Eli that God is about to depose Eli and his family for wrongdoing. So, that is not the good news we expect. Can God really expect Samuel to carry that message to the one training him? Well he does and Eli equally surprises us by accepting God’s judgment without question.

This only makes sense if we in fact know the Old Testament story. 1 and 2 Samuel, closely parallel 1 and 2 Kings. In each we learn the story of how Israel complained about governance by both Judges and then Priests and prayed to God to fix all problems by giving them a King. Samuel will eventually play a major role in the appointment of the first King. All four books of Scripture carry an ongoing narrative of corruption, power, greed and control. For more leaders the books carry notations about them doing evil in the eyes of the Lord and the whole community suffering. Rarely, we do see a notation of doing good in the sight of the Lord and blessing comes upon the people.

It may be a leap, but one I’m willing to make, to say that power, corruption, greed and control are issues throughout the Scriptures and have continued to be major issues in today’s society.

Perhaps Samuel’s call to God to speak because he is listening is one that we all might spend some time in evaluating. It is clear throughout Scripture that we are called to love God and love our neighbour, something that we have, in general, not excelled at. What does it mean to listen for God’s direction? Are we prone to pointing fingers at others as the problem, rather than seeking answers inside ourselves? What is our role as individual Christians, as a community church, as a Diocese and as a national and international Church body in calling our society to listen to God’s message of love and care to be given to all God’s children?

The Rev. Canon T. Keith Nethery