Sunday, July 22, 2018
Taking Time Off

Today’s Gospel Reading from Mark should give us all pause. While we may talk about it a lot, self care in not something that we do well. The reading shows clearly how hard it was for Jesus and the disciples to get away from people who “wanted something.” If those putting together the Lectionary had not dropped a chunk in the middle of this week’s reading, this would have been even clearer. Anytime you note in the bulletin that there are gaps in the verses used in the reading you should always ask yourself why this is so, and then read the entire passage to seek the answer. What we miss is the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Oh, and Jesus walking on water as well and Peter doing a swan dive when he lost his faith while skimming his feet across the lake; and a time where Jesus said “enough already and went away to pray.” Big gap in the story and it isn’t necessarily helpful in our understanding. When all we hear is a few verses of Scripture on Sunday, we can hardly say that we understand Scripture. This is just to whet your appetite so that you will embark on a much more encompassing study of the Bible.

But I’m headed off course here, so let’s get back to the main point. Jesus modeled for the disciples that there had to be give and take to ministry and in fact to life. Now I’m taking a little liberty here, but given that this reading pops up on the day I head out of holidays, I’m not going to miss the opportunity.

Clergy in general, and myself in specific, are not very good at following what Jesus says in this matter. We tend to try to be spiritual super people, all things to all who ask. Clearly, this is a flawed path. In early days in ministry I never really left when I was on vacation. I felt I needed to be there for the people I served. A little egotistical is what is was. It’s Jesus that is needed, not Keith. If fact if I don’t take time away, if I don’t find a spiritual sanctuary that will recharge my introverted batteries, I will be no good to anyone.

This passage shows that Jesus struggled with this as well. When people showed up, tagged along, or seemingly materialized moments after Jesus arrived on scene, He often just got to it and did the ministry. But as I noted above, he is Jesus – you and I are not.

This has a much wider implication for all our lives. I’ve preached many sermons in my life suggesting that the idea of Sabbath wasn’t about God’s needs, but God’s understanding of what humans need. In a world of exploding technology and a mentality that the world needs to careen at break neck speed 24/7; we all need to learn to slow down, take a break. It’s not an option. So I invite you to do this. Go home and spend some time in thought and prayer about this. Do an inventory of how often you actually take time away, tell the pressure of the day to take a hike, I’m going for a glass of wine and a good book and when I’m good and relaxed, I might come back! How often do you put work before your family, your health. How much are you motivated to get more: money, things, vacations, whatever? What would it look like if you took more time for you, and gave less time to the “rat race.” As I mentioned, part of the verses that were skipped over in this reading contained the story of Jesus walking on water. That means we would also hear of Peter getting out of the boat haltingly and then when we saw that he could do it, prancing along. Maybe he was thinking about how everyone would admire him because he could walk on water? Maybe he was thinking this was going to move him up the social ladder, maybe even impress the opposite sex? Maybe he was dreaming about all the benefits that would come his way. And that is the point he sank like a stone!

Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, July 15, 2018
Spirit of the Living God

The Gospel passage requires that we ask and attempt to answer some questions before we are really able to ascertain what the meaning might be. Dropping this story into the narrative of Mark’s Gospel seems to defy logic. In fact, if you simply skipped vs 14-29, you really wouldn’t miss a beat in the way Mark is laying out the story. It makes sense that Jesus would send out the 12 Disciples and then move to the report of said going out in vs 30 and then the continuing of the narrative with the story of the Feeding of the 5000.

It may simply be the rendering of Mark’s Greek into English, but the start of the story about John seems rather disjointed with a seemingly weak linking of Jesus rise in popularity to a reason to tell the story of John’s death.

We also must deal with the fact that Mark has the most detailed version of this story, which is somewhat odd in that in most cases, Mark has a more bare bones story and Matthew and Luke build upon it. Matthew cuts down on the details of the story while Luke includes only the briefest of mentions, seemingly to connect Herod’s discomfort at hearing about Jesus with the fact that Herod had John beheaded.

It is even more significant that Luke, who has the story of Mary visiting a pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who’s miracle child John, leapt in the womb as Mary, now carrying Jesus, approached Elizabeth and a detailed account of the birth of John the Baptist, would for some reason ignore this account of how Herod had been tricked into killing John. One would expect Luke to put the story of John’s demise front and center. Both Matthew and Luke place this story of John’s death at the hands of Herod at a different point in the narrative than Mark.

So, to focus the questions – why did Matthew and Luke make the choice to shorten the story, when the norm was for them to provide more details? Why does this story seem to be misplaced between two passages of Mark’s narrative? There are many opinions on what the answers might be, but none that would seem to be the right and only one. When we add in that the Roman historian, Josephus, whose work is used to independently corroborate much of what we know in the Gospels, indicates that Herod killed John the Baptist simply because he was a threat, leaving out the Herodias saga, we are perhaps headed toward making an educated guess about what is going on here.

Mark interrupts his narrative to tell us a fable, a myth, a story that while not literally true gives a broader understanding of just what is meant. Once the point is made, Mark goes back to his story.

Given that none of this story is attributed by Mark as any kind of a direct quote from Jesus; we can be rather certain that this is an aside, a moment in the drama where the deep voiced narrator comes in and provides a dramatic story to spike our attention. What is being shared here is that it wasn’t safe to be seen as an ally of Jesus. It wasn’t safe to step into the muddled and murky world of politics, power and control. It shows that something as simply as a huge ego trying to save face could cause the death of someone good, who was speaking on God’s behalf. Many commentators will draw a connection between the Herod/John story and the Pilate/Jesus story in which power was used to cast aside one who would raise a voice for righteousness. So what does this say for us today. There are some eerie parallels in our world. Power and control are wielded, leadership wants to preserve position over supporting righteousness.

Slander and libel are weapons to keep the truth at bay and backroom deals with promises of unearned wealth and power as a reward. It is never safe to preach the Gospel. We need to know and understand that, as the writers of the Gospels show us clearly from the time of Jesus. History tells the same story over and over again.

As the disciples were called and sent out in our reading from last week, Mark is clear to point out that they would not be popular, that they would need to risk much, that those who hold power are not likely to appreciate people who do things like ask about fairness, righteousness and justice.

When the church takes on the mission given by Jesus, the church must risk, must stand tall. To be honest, I’d like more of the church where we sing nice songs, drink coffee and have potluck dinners. But that isn’t faith, that isn’t why we follow Jesus. For centuries the Christian community seemed to walk hand and hand with the secular authorities. Their interests where the same. Today, a strong case can be made that authority has little use for faith, because it calls them to be honest and above board. We can ignore the call to justice, we can continue to huddle Sunday morning with like minded people and be afraid of the world, or we can join with, as Micheal Curry the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church calls it, the Jesus Movement.

In several places lately I’ve encountered the following – it’s written in different ways and about a vast array of different issues – but people are suggesting that we stop hiding behind what used to be, and realize that it is the Spirit of the Living God that is in work in the socio/political/cultural contexts of our worlds. As God called the Prophets to speak for justice, as God called John the Baptist to stand for repentance and forgiveness, as God called us to love one another, and as the Church has always recognized that we are called by God to make a difference; we see more clearly everyday that society seems headed in the wrong direction and we as the Church are called to be part of the solution, calling all God’s people home to what the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to be on earth and in heaven.

 

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Home Town Miracles

Mark 6:1-13: Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

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The Gospel passage just read is not about Jesus. It is about us! And it’s not very complimentary. We have all heard this passage over and over and we all want to focus on how sad it is that Jesus can’t do miracles in his home town. And we are equally sad that the disciples have to be out on the road without any extras. It never dawns on us that the problems in this passage are caused by people, people like you and me.

So, why can’t Jesus do miracles in his home town. Because the people that watched him grow up, don’t believe that the son of a carpenter who was born under suspicious circumstances, could amount to much of anything. My guess is that we have all “judged” in this way.

So look around you. When you see a homeless person, do think it is their own fault they are in that way? Do you think they are doomed to a live of poverty, that they are just a drain on the resources of us hard working, “good” people? If you haven’t thought that at some time in your life, then I might suggest you are unique. Now how many of us know someone who has over achieved; someone who didn’t have support, didn’t get the breaks and suddenly has risen to the top in some area of their life? And is not our first response to doubt that could possibly be the same person?

In the second part of this passage, Jesus sends out the disciples two by two. Leave the extra clothes at home; don’t be packing a picnic lunch. If you go to people to help them they should feed you, house you, take care of you. This is much less about the disciples and much more about inhospitable people. The disciples went out and helped, healed, taught and consoled. The community accepted the help, but wanted nothing to do with the burden of looking after them.

A modern day example. We all say we want affordable housing, we all want people to be fed and cared for. But don’t you dare raise our taxes to do this. Don’t even think about building affordable housing on my block, or put a drug rehab center close to where we live.

What Jesus is doing here is talking about community. If you read the rest of Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel (we will be doing this in part in church in the next two weeks) you will continue to see Jesus talking about a lack of community. We read about people obsessed with their needs, while denying others the opportunities they need. Jesus has this very subtle way of pointing out the flaws of humanity in a way that isn’t in your face. But we need to recognize that if we are willing to listen, open our hearts and minds, Jesus will speak to us about the Kingdom of God. At the center is always community!

Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, July 1, 2018
Celebrating Canada

I find it somewhat interesting the choices made by those who put together the Lectionary for use on Canada Day. The Old Testament reading from Isaiah features themes of love, peace and justice, while the Gospel passage begins with the familiar words of Jesus as quoted in John – “a new commandment I give you – love one another.” The Epistle from chapter three of the Letter to the Colossians begins “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with each other . . .” Now those are all things that Canada is known for in the world and they are characteristics we might like to place on ourselves.

But is this too nice a picture? Are we creating a false sense of who we are? Are we perhaps beating our own drums of popularity or maybe holding ourselves in comparison to other countries and concluding they we are much better than they?

Paul’s letter to Colisse, comes during the infancy of that church, in fact the infancy of the Christian church. Many scholars would suggest that Paul is speaking in very frank language to ensure that this community does not get caught up in Gnosticism, which was well known in the first century. Gnosticism was more a philosophy that a theology and it came in many forms. At the centre of Gnosticism was the need for a secret spiritual knowledge. It was not revealed to just anyone and if you didn’t get it, well you weren’t important. For Gnostics, the spirit was everything and the flesh or material nothing. Two streams came from this; those who lived ultra ascetic lives, punishing the flesh into submission and those who felt they could do whatever they wanted with the body and material, because in the end only the spirit was of eternal importance. There is much more I could say, but this suffices for the direction I wish to go. Paul was clear to the Colossians that love, forgiveness, harmony and peace were to rule one’s heart. While the gnostics would exclude, Christians must include. Much of what Gnosticism portrayed would sway people from the Christian life of self giving. Gnostics could seek power and control, could be self centred and exclusionary. They had the secret knowledge, the power and so they could do what they wanted on the material plane. Many were tempted and it took more than two centuries to push Gnosticism from the Christian sphere.

I’m not trying to rain on our Canada Day parade, but I think the lectionary, perhaps by accident, is putting before us some choices that we need to make.

It has been a position of mine for quite some time that Gnosticism is alive and well in our world. Scientology is a perfect example. A religion that comes from the mind of an average science fiction author who created something called an “e-meter” and a way of spiritual life that has come to prominence in the world. Holywood is rife with Scientology because at it’s centre is an understanding that in the end you, with your strength and with the secret knowledge provided, are what is important and you should seek control and power and influence; which morphs quite nicely with the Hollywood agenda and ego.

So what I am asking us to do on this Canada Day is to celebrate our past, to point to our successes, to be proud of who we are on the world stage. We should speak highly of our politeness, our care for those in trouble both here and at home, our willingness to help. But we must also hear Paul’s words to us. Watch out for that which lurks and would destroy what has been built. There is a dark underside to Canada’s history which we should acknowledge. We need also to recognize there are those who would make this country exclusive, rather than inclusive. Those who would try to trick us into believing that our multi cultural efforts are misguided, that our care for refugees and those in need is coming at too great a cost.

We see here in Canada the same spirit of entitlement and protectionism that is evident elsewhere in the world. There are calls to close our borders, to stop our aid. There are those who would put personal power and control above the need to be inclusive of all.

This is still a wonderful country. This is still a place that envisions and promotes those things that Paul urges the Colossians to value. We should party today, we should dance with love and joy at the tremendous variety this country has to offer. We should thank God who created this land, who has allowed us the privilege to live here. But we need also remember this is God’s country. The Creator is still the Master in this realm and that means this country is not just ours. This country belongs to every people, every generation that has lived here, every culture that God’s hand placed on this earth must be welcomed here. Every person, regardless of race, religion, creed, sexuality or any other descriptor you can think of is part of God’s version and vision of Canada. We have done and continue to do great things. But as Paul warned the people of Colisse; let’s be careful of what creeps in around the edges.

Rev. Keith Nethery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 24, 2018
No; he is to be called John

Luke 1:57-80: Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’

Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea.

All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty saviour for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

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Today we mark the birth of St. John the Baptist. On the surface that might seem a rather humdrum occurrence, but I think John’s presence in the story gives a wonderful flavour to the story of our faith

The details of John’s birth are couched in the opening history provided in Luke’s Gospel, history that we don’t get anywhere else in Scripture. Luke was a physician, an historian and perhaps most interestingly a gentile. Because Luke did not come from a Jewish background, he felt a great need to relay this early history in terms that those who were not part of the tradition, would understand.

So the opening chapter of Luke we hear of Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah to tell him that his wife would have a son in her advanced years. We’ve heard this story before. Zechariah doubts the angel for just a second and thus loses his ability to speak until such time as the child was to be named.

Soon Elizabeth is with child and then comes the visit from her cousin Mary who also is pregnant under difficult to explain circumstances following a visit from the same angel. The story of the child leaping in Elizabeth womb as Mary arrives carrying Jesus is one of joy. Elizabeth delivers the child in today’s reading and a suddenly loosed tongue Zechariah confirms the child shall be called John, which would be a totally unexpected name. Zechariah praises God in a passage most familiar to those of us who have grown up with the BCP as the Benedictus, the third of three Canticles sung at morning prayer.

Luke jumps from Zechariah to the birth of Jesus, His naming, presentation in the Temple and the story of Jesus as a young boy literally preaching in the Temple before we get to John’s arrival on the scene and ultimately Jesus is baptized by John and for the most part, John exits the story.

So why do we celebrate John? Why does it matter to Luke that he tells us a story that no other writer did about John being related to Jesus and eventually being part of the formal kick off of Jesus’ ministry with his baptism?

Well, there isn’t a hard and fast explanation, save that Luke was more interested than most in history and also helping non-Jews understand the Jewish connotations of Jesus who would be the Messiah .

But let me suggest this – story is important. A guy by the name of Paul Harvey made a comfortable living by telling us “The Rest of the Story” for many years. If you don’t know the reference, google it. If you don’t know google, you will most likely know Paul Harvey already.

Fleshing out the story of John the Baptist, gives us another lens through which to see Jesus. Knowing of their connectedness shows us a broader picture of how God chose to enter the world in human form. Understanding the quirky, some might say downright weird, lifestyle of John gives us a view to the inclusion God has for all people. Having the supposedly past child bearing years Elizabeth having a son, takes us back to the Abraham and Sarah story which began the tale of a people set apart as special by God.

We are a people built on and for relationships. Our story is not about just us, but about encounters with people from bygone eras. The explosion of people searching for their ancestry, their story, shows just how important that history is to who we are. When we discover that there is more to us than just the history we know, that we might be connected to people in parts of the world and cultures we didn’t imagine, it adds to the collective story of us.

Ultimately, God could have accomplished entry into this world without Elizabeth, or Zechariah or John. The other Gospel writers downplay their role. But Luke gives us that fresh understanding. Luke opens for us new eyes to see how the life of Jesus unfolded in the beginning.

We all have parts of our story that we didn’t know, that we have discovered through a relationship, a chance meeting. Who doesn’t want to be able to say they are related to someone famous? But beyond that, the stories of these people broadens our understanding. Think of the people who have opened your eyes to God, to those people whose story has taken you to a new depth of faith. This is the special understanding of faith that we receive from Luke’s story of John. The humble and dedicated priest Zechariah; the most likely sad Elizabeth who in her community would have been looked down on for being barren; the son of this couple who lived in the desert and gave people pause by his behaviour. These are the parts of the story God wanted us to know and the Spirit inspired Luke to write.

 Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, June 17, 2018
Update from Synod 2018

Update from Synod 2018 – St. James Westminster Anglican Church

It has been a few weeks since your delegates and clergy attended the Diocese of Huron’s 2018 Synod – also dubbed by the Bishop the Sauna Synod! In writing this report it is hard to know where to start. Why do we go to Synod? Well the obvious answer is that we are your elected representatives charged with advising and voting on key issues of the church in this Diocese. But there are lots of other reasons too. There is something about being with swarms of other Anglicans all there for a common purpose, examining issues, investigating new ideas, receiving reports, exchanging ideas, studying the bible and worshipping together – it is an awe inspiring and resounds in doxology –glory to god whose power working in us can do more than we can ask or imagine!

One of the key moments of Synod for me (Judy) occurred early on. It was Bishop Linda’s homily at the Sunday Evening Service. She spoke of her time in Assissi, walking the same streets as Saint Francis and St Clair, visiting the places of prayer. She spoke of the “thin places”- places where the presence of God is tangible to us in new ways. She felt Assissi was one of those places. She spoke of going to the Church of Santa Damiano – the ruined church where Francis came to pray and heard the voice of God calling him to “rebuild my church”.

And Francis did –he rebuilt the physical church – and then realized God intended him to rebuild the body of the church – to renew the life of the people of God and to share God’s word. Bishop Linda said this is the call of every Christian! How relevant is this story to us here at Saint James. We are being called to rebuild our church physically- to make repairs to make the building sound. But more importantly we are being called to rebuild the church – to make it grow and to become an even more vibrant part of this community!

There were many other highlights of synod. The primates address, the thoughtful and informative Q & A with Bishop Linda and Archbishop Fred on the Marriage Canon, Bible study with Bishop Terry, tributes to churches who have closed, reports from various diocesan committees. The Bridge Builders (which is a Diocesan task force on the Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery) presentation was particularly poignant with the sharing of personal witness stories in the midst of difficulty. While the content was often hard and disturbing to hear the tone of the presenters was hopeful and significant progress is being made.

On a lighter note, there was also an ingenious fundraiser by the youth involving taking buses to Thunder Bay – many buses ending up in the ditch, having a flat tire or losing a youth enroute! London Deanery did not win (although John Sizeland is a lot poorer for trying) but we did not lose either. All in good fun.

Synod 2018 was basically a good news Synod. Reports were positive. There were no divisive motions- no angry speeches etc. John gave the report on the Finances of the Diocese and it was very positive. The ACW presented 3 cheques of $50,000 one to Bishop Linda for Diocesan work, one to the Ministry to the North and one to Huron Church Camp for a capital project! There was an exciting and heartfelt presentation from Huron Church camp – with again good news in how the camp is impacting the lives and faith of young people around the diocese and beyond.

You might wonder in what ways Saint James is involved in or supports Synod?

Of course your delegates and clergy attend to see to the business of synod but there are many others involved! There was the crew that volunteer at the synod BBQ Randy and Ron Cripps, Carolyn Fryer, Sarah Mills, Marlene Chapman, Jen and Tom Porawski.

Then there was Duncan Sizeland representing the youth of London deanery. Laura Manias who was a youth chaperone. There was Chris Hughesman who not only stepped into a delegate spot at synod but was also inducted as a diocesan server -a new role for the diocese. Elizabeth King was there in her role of St John’s ambulance. Maggie Ryan participated as a gifted speaker in the Huron church camp presentation.  Then there were those managed various booths at synod – Jack Sizeland, Libi Clifford, Ann Debono – I have probably left out others.   Saint James certainly has a presence!

Going to Synod is a gift and an honour. If you are interested in more information about Synod, please talk to any of us! The Huron Church News is full of articles about this year’s Synod and both the Bishop’s Homily and Bishop’s charge are on the Diocesan Website. We also have copies if you would one we will get it to you. Each year we return with a renewed energy, vision and purpose. For us the call to rebuild our church is a very personal and relevant one. We can do this! Thank you for allowing us to be your representatives at Synod. Let the work of rebuilding our church both here in this place and beyond begin today!

Sunday, June 10, 2018
Mark 3:30-35

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

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Today’s passage from the Gospel of Mark is a poster child for needing to check how each of the four Gospels are structured in relation to each particular passage. Between verse 19 and verse 20 of Chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel i.e. just before today’s passage starts, the writers of Matthew and Luke stuff several chapters in their chronology of events. It doesn’t make any of the Gospels right or wrong, but it does ask us to think about how we hold the Gospels in tension.

Mark would have us understand this sharp conflict between Jesus and Scribes as beginning very early in Jesus’ ministry, while Matthew and Luke have much more water flow under the bridge before we hear of this challenge to Jesus. In Mark’s version, people only just have heard of Jesus and have almost nothing to base their thoughts of who Jesus was, as this description happens. Maybe then it isn’t so shocking after all that Jesus immediate family seems to be concerned about his mental wellbeing, this being the Messiah thing, being all too new for them to understand.

So as we listen to these words this morning, we are called to make a decision – is this at the beginning or more in the middle of Jesus’ ministry. And then we need think what weight that determination will have in our overall understanding of Jesus. One could perhaps say, in hindsight, that there needs to be consideration; but I think that the development of the story line between the earliest Gospel and two later Gospels gives us considerable window into how the understanding of Jesus is growing in the years and decades of the early church. Moving this passage from a cumbersome and uncomfortable run in between Jesus and two spiritual leaders of the time, who seem to have his family on their side; into a more mature revelation of a mid-ministry encounter that fits into the flow in a new way, is at least a conscious choice of the writers of Matthew and Luke.

In Mark’s version, Jesus no sooner appoints his 12 disciples, when the conflict about who he was and what his authority would be breaks out in a rather strange encounter. Jesus goes home, and dozens, maybe hundreds of people follow him. The scribes, seeing an erosion of their power and control immediately play the “He’s nuts” card. They suggest that he is possessed by Beelzubub, the ruler of demons. As we would already know if we were following Matthew and Luke, but what would come as a rather sharp response to Mark’s readers, Jesus says no, it is you who don’t know what you are talking about. Evil can’t stand against evil, because in being divided it would surely fall. The scribes have no answer. Jesus then goes on to say, look I can tie up the evil one and then loot his house. You can say what you want, but eventually you will cross the line in your blasphemous diatribe.

So Jesus family does what every family does when their child does something they don’t understand and they are afraid it will get him in trouble, they gather round him and try to whisk him away to safety by making apology. Jesus has none of it. You are all my family and I will stand in support of all of you when someone attempts to put you down, take control, call you names, and usurp your stature. You need only do the will of God, to love God and love one another to gain the protection of Jesus.

For me, therein lies the meaning of this Gospel story in its earliest form. The answer to those who would exert power, influence and control and make absolutely certain that their power, influence and control is maintained; is to point out to them that the will of God is infinitely more important and it can be found in mutuality, love and humility. Jesus acts from love at the insistence of God. Humans would try to misdirect us and show us why they have a better way. But we know that God and God’s love is always the answer.

Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, May 27, 2018
Being Born from Above

John 3:1-17: There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer…

When I was younger, I really loved math, which you can probably tell by looking at me and the job that I aspire to do. But I really did. Which is a really polarizing statement. Because people either loved math or hated it.

Most people who love math, love it because it is orderly and predictable. There is a question and an answer that you can come to logically, and there is always one right answer. There’s a lot of comfort in that.

There is a lot of comfort in numbers. They can mark things out, quantify them, let you know what time it is, how much something is worth, what’s its size or structure. Numbers matter. They mean something.

Our world loves numbers; the obvious ones of paycheques and phone numbers, likes on social media or attendance to our events. But there are the less obvious ones that rule our lives, algorithms that run our apps and the geometry of our cities. We love to be surrounded by numbers, let numbers run our world, because there is so much dependability, there are measurable and quantifiable patterns of behaviour.

And this is not new, this obsession with numbers and the ability to quantify, rationalize, the world. Numbers are very important in the Bible. And I’m not talking about the kind of Biblical numerology that claims it can predict the end of the world, but the symbolism of numbers. The 12 tribes of Israel and the12 disciples, the 40 days in the desert and the 40 years in the desert. And of course, the number three, the Trinity.

Now, while we can definitely see this as an attempt to make sense of the world, to itemize and catalogue, this use of numbers is something more. And really, it’s what I love about math. Because this isn’t just logic and predictability, this is numerical symbolism. This is evocative and imaginative, it invites interpretation and exploration. It provokes possibilities.

This is what is so intriguing about the Trinity, that is hard to grasp and interactive in nature. That it requires us to think, to examine. That it is provoking.

And that’s not always something we deal well with. The whole of human history is really us trying to unravel the big questions about the universe, and it has proven to be a long task. Because there is so much that just doesn’t make sense. There is so much that just doesn’t fit into the patterns and measurements that we like. These experiences of a disquieting disequilibrium, when the logic just goes out the door, they are the problem and promise of God in creation.

And that’s the amazing thing about God! That God sees fit to express God’s self in ways that are dizzingly irrational and illogical. That are counter-intuitive and paradoxical. In ways that we have such a hard time with.

When I was in seminary, I had a class on pluralism, where we discussed the different ways people experience God in culture, in society, in the entangled webs of diverse human traditions. And we had this one author who was really into talking about miracles. And he spent a long time talking about how miracles are so rare, because they must be veridical experiences or veridical paradoxes, which is really just when something true does not seem to be true. They are counter-intuitive experiences. They are those rarified moments when we slip past our banal existence into a glimpse of divine reality.

But the problem with that statement is that veridical paradoxes are all around us. Some of my favourite mathematical and scientific thought experiments are veridical paradoxes. But the thing about them is that they seem rare and unique, because they are so nonsensical. It’s like a fluke. There are lots of flukes in the ocean, they aren’t rare fish. So, if you go fishing for a fluke, you’ll probably catch one.

When we start examining creation, the rules fall apart. Or at least, they don’t make sense in the ways that we think. Yet, they work. They create the miraculous diversity of life we have. Because it’s bigger than rules. It’s about relationship. God saw fit to express God’s self with three, in three, and through three. And I think this says something about God. And how we should view the Trinity. Because God likes disequilibrium. God embraces imbalance, and invites paradox. It is essential to God’s character, this place where logic and faith meet, this place where relationship and the spirit twist and turn the rules on its head.

And that’s exactly how Jesus talks to Nicodemus.

When Nicodemus comes to Jesus, he asks him all kinds of questions, that I’m sure we would all pepper Jesus with. How can you be born again after getting older? How can these things be? And Jesus answers him in true Jesus style. In a way that challenges Nicodemus to move from theory to practice, from knowledge to faith. It is the undercurrent of all Jesus’ interactions, that the answer is not as simple as the question seems, because in truth, the question isn’t simple either.

See, Nicodemus is a learned man, he’s a religious leader, and he thinks he understands who Jesus is and who God is. And Jesus calls his understanding into question. Like a typical scholar, Nicodemus begins the conversation with a statement based on evidence. Jesus is obvs from God because of the signs. Hello, observation, logic, and deduction. This is as easy as counting one, two, three.

But Jesus counters him by saying, whoa there Nicodemus. You’re only getting a small part of this. Those signs, those miracles, those veridical paradoxes, are from God, yes. But no one can truly understand God’s reign without being born again in the spirit. Without God changing our way of being in the world, we cannot perceive all God’s work. We cannot get his logic without being in relationship with him.

God, the one who loves the cosmos, gives the Son, who comes not to condemn the world but to restore it, and it will be born in the Spirit. Jesus lays it out right there, this Trinity relationship, these bonds of love and trust, faith and redemption; and shakes his head at Nicodemus, because this cannot be understood objectively, it can only be lived.

When a teacher tells you that three times three is nine, that is something you can count on your fingers night and day. But when a mathematician tells me that negative three times negative three also equals nine, that is the kind of logic that feels like trust. Because the opposite of knowledge isn’t always ignorance, it can be wonder or mystery or possibility.

This is what Jesus tells Nicodemus, what he tells all of us. To truly understand, we have to go beyond what we can count on, what we can see or quantify. We have to be in the dark, because that’s where true intimacy lies. Where relationship is built. Where faith is founded. Transformation happens when I’m not in charge, when I don’t know what’s coming next; and it is only through that Spirit transformation that I can begin to grasp what this is all about.

I can’t stand up here and give you examples of what the Trinity is like, because, frankly, I don’t have one that I think encapsulates it all. But I do know this: at the heart of understanding God is relationship. God is so full of love that there has to be some way of talking about that love shared in and through profound and complicated relationships. God’s identity and character can only be explained dimly by thinking of love that is shared, and God’s essential and core being has to be a giving and receiving and sharing of love that spills out in abundance into the whole of the universe.

And that, that goes beyond our ability to count, to catalogue. It is the veridical paradox of God three-in-one, something so true that it seems illogical. Something so right that it doesn’t make any sense. But it doesn’t have to. This truth is not calculated, it’s revealed. It’s not weighed and measured, pinned down and dissected; it is only given freely as the wind, only lived, only felt.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, May 20, 2018
Divided Tongues

Acts 2:1-21: When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.

Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”

All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

`In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.

Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.   And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.

The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”

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The Feast of Pentecost, like many things in the Christian Church, was taken from somewhere else. It is the name for the Festival of Weeks, marked 50 days after the Jewish Passover. The events described in today’s reading from Acts, happened on Pentecost or the Festival of Weeks (actually an agricultural festival) and eventually the name was used by the Christian Church to describe the day, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit descended to the earth. However, the name didn’t come along until somewhat recently, as the early church used the term Whitsunday. If one checks this day in the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, you will find that the term Whitsunday is used.

In the greater scheme of things, Whitsunday or Pentecost, isn’t really the important aspect. What we need to focus on is what we celebrate on this, the 50th day following Easter. (By the way, in the early church, the entire time between Easter and Pentecost, all 50 days, was called Pentecost.) In our understanding today, although you would be hard pressed to see it in our society, Easter is not, in fact, a single day, but a 50 day period of celebration of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Easter season ends only with the return of the Son to Heaven and the Spirit coming down as the counsellor, guide, advocate, whatever term you most prefer.

The larger question, one the church doesn’t talk nearly enough about, is what it means that the Spirit has descended? People often ask to be baptized on Pentecost Sunday, which clergy are anxious to have happen as a way to increase the celebration. In more recent years, a tradition has begun to celebrate this as the “birth”day of the church. In fact, that is certainly true. But it still doesn’t take us to a place where we want to investigate what it means to have the Holy Spirit in our lives.

In my life, I have spent time in a wildly charismatic Anglican Church and a very staunch Anglo-Catholic church, which might well provide the bookends for an understanding of the place of the Spirit in our lives. Or does it? I might wonder out loud how many of us give much thought to the Holy Spirit or what role the Spirit might play in our relationship with God.

While Acts gives us the story of the arrival of the Spirit, the reading from Romans and the Gospel passage from John, send us in the direction of relationship as the work of the Spirit. There is the extended passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that gives a broader understanding of how the Spirit works in us and among us.

When all is said and done, the best description may well be the one I heard first. The Spirit is a still, small voice that guides us. Quietly, gently, when we open our hearts and minds to the presence of the Third Person of God, we begin to see the life that is mapped for us. It is kicked askew by life, and sin, and indifference and ego. But that still small voice is there if we will listen for it. Some days the Spirit will exhort us to a crashing and booming party, others a quiet introspective chat about life.

Much has been said, preached and written about the Holy Spirit. Some will suggest to you things that might not sit comfortably with you. Some will want to you believe the Spirit makes demands of us, pushes us where we do not want to go. For many, many years now, I have understood the Spirit in a different fashion. The Holy Spirit is present, is caring, is loving, is encouraging, is helpful, is life giving. That doesn’t mean the Spirit doesn’t convict me of things I have done wrong, the pain I have caused other people. I believe that the Spirit is willing to speak clearly to us and guide us in the ways God would have us go. That is oft times a wonderful journey, but sometimes a road of pain and difficulty.

My hope is that you will take time today to think about the place of the Holy Spirit in your life. Your experience might be vastly different than mine. You might have questions, so please ask. The offer of the Holy Spirit is given for our benefit, to be our link to God. The Spirit will wait patiently, until we open the path of conversation. It is however, a tremendous gift, one that we would all do well to accept from our most generous God.

THE REV. CANON KEITH NETHERY

Sunday, May 13, 2018
Be Still and Listen

This morning’s Gospel from John needs to be put into context in several ways. First, how it fits into the church year. Earlier this week, we marked the Feast of the Ascension. While that story is not told in John’s Gospel, it is assumed throughout the Christian faith. Next Sunday if Pentecost Sunday as we receive the gift of the Spirit, in what really is the birth of the Church. Within John’s Gospel, this passage is part of a larger prayer which is in a way, John’s understanding of the Last Supper, which is also not part of the fourth Gospel. While does not have Jesus take bread and wine, bless and distribute; there is a strong corollary in the themes in this passage.

Two things that stand out for me. Jesus several times says He gave his disciples the word. That, no doubt is a reference to Jesus self giving, as the first verses of John’s Gospel clearly equate Jesus with the logos, the word, which is has always been.

In John’s version, Jesus sanctifies the disciples. The Greek word used here is the same word that Jesus uses in the Matthew and Luke in the Lord’s Prayer as he says of God “Hallowed be your Name.” (you guessed it, the Lord’s Prayer is not found in John’s Gospel.)

Now, I would suggest that in his prayer for the apostles, Jesus is, by extension, praying for us, the continuing followers of the faith and the disciples of this day. To be hallowed in the same way God is hallowed, is a rather intimate understanding for us in Jesus prayer in this Gospel passage. So, some questions for you to ponder: What does it mean to be hallowed? What are we called to, as a result, as disciples? Do we feel that connected to Jesus?

This is another whole sermon, but I am convinced that faith is never a spectator sport, that we are called to be interactive with God, via the gift of the Spirit. Faith is not something that others do, but rather it is the life and breath of each of us.

I have spoken before of the “Brother Give Us a Word” devotional that I receive via email each day from the SSJE in Cambridge, Mass. The one for Friday helped put this whole homily into perspective for me. Thanks to Brother Luke for these words. “Listen to me, Jesus says. Listen with still posture and eyes closed. Listen while walking or letting yourself dance. Listen looking up gazing at bright green leafed trees. Listen kneeling in soil to tend plants springing to life, Stop to smell the flowers and listen. Jesus the good shepherd has so many good things to say to you. Be still and listen.”

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery