Thanksgiving Sunday, October 7, 2018
Priceless Gifts

I speak to you with a thankful heart, in the name of God!

There was a time this summer when we thought we might lose everything. At our cottage in northern Ontario dozens of forest fires were burning out of control.

The OPP had closed roads, rivers and campgrounds, warning many to evacuate. A friend of ours, in the epi-centre of one of the largest fires, this one on the French River, wasn’t allowed to be on her boat in daylight hours. In those hours, water bombers needed to swoop down on the river, fill up, and head to the nearest raging front of the fire.

So it only made sense for all of us in that area to have an evacuation plan. If we smelled smoke and had only a few minutes to evacuate … what things would we bring with us!

I chose five things and had them set out by the front door.
– A child’s paddle that I has carved years ago for our daughter Hilary when she was one year old.

– My book “Paddle to the Sea” which was my first Christmas gift after emigrating to Canada.

– A honey pail that we had used for decades while foraging for wild blueberries in the bush.

– A tiny loon which had been carved for me by a young boy as a gift on leaving a Chatham parish to come to St. James.

– The earliest photo I had, of my mother and me, when I was but two weeks old.
Five things.

Marylou, ever practical, added  her recipe file. Many recipies hand-written by her mother and grandmother.

We surprised ourselves. It wasn’t the expensive items we chose. Many of them, if put in a garage sale, would have no buyers. But to us they were priceless. They could not be replicated; they could not be replaced.

Each one of these items brought to mind a person, a memory a relationship And it was THESE things that were priceless.

A daughter learning to ply a paddle in Georgian Bay. A child’s wood carving. A young boy, Simon, representing the many hundreds of parishioners who so generously touched my heart over the years. A photo. Adoring eyes. My mother’s eyes. Priceless.

Remember the old adage? “The best things in life are not things!” I keep revisiting that.

I remember reading about the great American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who, decades ago, amassed a fortune of over $400 million. Carnegie ended up giving 99.5% of it away  to world peace projects and especially to libraries . 111 in Ontario alone. He once said, “The one who dies rich, dies disgraced.” That was a very powerful line until I got out my calculator. If he gave away 99.5% of $400 million that would still leave him a tidy sum of $2 million. Not bad for the year 1919 when he died! At an annual rate of 2.77% inflation that’s $30 million today. I will back far away from cynicism, however, for I still love his thought, harsh as it first may sound. If we’re to take it literally, it’s a scary thought though, when practically all of us sitting here today could be considered rich by the standards of impoverished parts of the world. “The one who dies rich, dies disgraced.”

Indeed, Carnegie was saying that abundance and blessings come from above. He knew, we know, that these are gifts loaned to us from a most gracious and generous God and that, in God’s world, blessings should not be hoarded but celebrated and shared with those in need.

The best things in life are not things, not material wealth, not fame, not bricks and mortar …. though they all have a legitimate place. It is our memories, our relationships, the people who have touched our lives in a loving way. And our God who is so generous.

I think it would be a fair criticism, though, for some of you to whisper “That’s well and good for you.” You have a cottage. Carnegie had untold wealth. You whisper, “Most of my friends have great health but look at me.” “Your life is gilded but I’m just hanging on by a thread.” “God is not so munificent in my world.”

Well, those things need to be said; those heartbreaking realities shared. So I want to tell you a story. A story for those abundantly blessed, maybe even more a story for those in the shadows.

I think that was never more the case than with Martin Rinckart. Martin was a minister in the little town of Eilenburg, Germany some 400 years ago. He was the son of a poor coppersmith but somehow managed to work his way through an education. He was ordained a Lutheran minister. Finally, he was offered the post of pastor in his home parish.

A year later, 1618, what has come to be known as the Thirty Year War broke out and this little town was caught right in the middle of the fighting. Thousands upon thousands were killed across the land.

In 1637, the massive plague that swept the continent of Europe hit Eilenburg. People died in the town at the rate of fifty a day and the man called to bury most of them was Martin Rinckart. In all, over 8,000 died, including Martin’s own wife. The pestilence was followed by a famine so extreme that dozens of people might be seen in the streets for the food that a dead cat might provide. Martin mortgaged his future salary for years to come to provide what little food there was for his people. (He would not die rich!)

His labours came to an end about 11 years later just one year after the conclusion of the war. His ministry spanned 32 years, and all but the first and the last were overwhelmed by the great conflicts and tragedies which engulfed the continent and his town.

I didn’t tell you, though, that Martin was a hymn-writer. Towards the end of his life he put his faith to words and song, and this is what he wrote (most of you will recognize the words):

Now thank we all our God With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices. Who from our mother’s arms Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.
It’s probably the greatest Thanksgiving hymn ever written. You see how little Martin’s spirit was broken! It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and still express gratitude.

Martin knew what all people of deep faith know (though I say this much humility) it is our relationship with God, in Jesus Christ, that colours and shapes our whole understanding of life. God blesses us in good times with countless gifts of love. And though it may be harder to spot, God blesses us in difficult times. Goodness and thanksgiving and eternal life come from above and our Lord’s goodness is to be found even in the midst of hurt and despair.

Oprah Winfrey once said, and we echo that in this service of Thanksgiving: “Be thankful for what you have, and you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” How true!

As I wind down, there are three things I’d like you to do. The first is very difficult; the next two relatively easy, even enjoyable. First, recall Andrew Carnegie’s profound and disturbing challenge. “The one who dies rich, dies disgraced.” He was inviting us to think of others in need (not coincidentally, this being Jesus’ message, too). Let us use our gifts and our wealth, wisely and charitably.

Next, sometime today or this week, either alone or with your family, look around your house, your apartment, your attic, your basement select four or five items that you hold dear … things that evoke wonderful memories, relationships, and swell your hearts with joy and gratitude.

And lastly, know that very soon in our service, as our Offertory, we will sing the hymn “Nun Danket” which is German for “Now Thank We All Our God”. I invite you to look at the bottom of the page, and see the name Martin Rinckart and maybe run your finger gently over it in thanksgiving.

Remember his story, your story, and sing your hearts out with gratitude.

 

Kenneth Anderson

Sunday, September 30, 2018
Sitting in the Circle with Jesus

I can almost hear the disciples come screaming into the circle surrounding Jesus with the seemingly earth shattering revelation that someone else is doing ministry and it’s not them or anyone they know. This must be some huge scandal because we are the chosen, is how I would read between the lines. Not at all unlike last weeks’ argument about who is the greatest.

Jesus, who is still holding on to the little child that he picked up in the previous verses of Mark, read last week, and with a roll of his eyes, says, “really, you interrupted me for that! I’m trying to make a point here and your point isn’t my point.” To calm them down Jesus says look if they are doing something in my name and they are sincere about it, if they do it with faith in God, what business is it of yours.

Now, let’s get back to this little child. If you put a block into this child’s path that is a big problem. When you make it about yourselves and not about the innocent, well it simply won’t go well.

It is easy to see a strong corollary in this weeks’ fiasco in the American Senate around the potential appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme court. As Republicans and Democrats gleefully waged a political circus which from both sides had just one focus, to win, to claim power, to be in charge, a brave woman, Christine Blasey Ford, opened her heart and told publicly of one of the darkest days of her life. I can think nothing else but that Jesus would have stopped the political nonsense, cleared the room, and embraced Blasey Ford while listening intently to her story. And I have little doubt that he would then have gone and sat down with Brett Kavanaugh to hear how what most likely has been a long time dream for him, was perhaps being wrestled away by the same political tom foolery. The Jesus we see with a child on his knee in today’s Gospel could do nothing else, but care about the people while thumbing His nose at those who would use the characters for pomp and power.

It’s not always on such a serious note that we are caught up short. The British Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes recounts a story from his days as a Curate, arriving at church one day to find someone parked in his spot. He walked up to the driver and asked him to move the car. When the response was, “Who are you?” he responded, “I’m the minister and I own this spot and this church.” And
immediately he recognized what he had said and what he had done.

A wise Lay Pastor last week pointed us to the understanding that we will never get it right, but we can be in relationship with the One who does get it right and we can learn sitting in the circle with Jesus, with a child perched on his knee, you might even be that child, but if you brag about being chosen to sit on Jesus’ knee –you miss the point.

The longer I do this, the more I am convinced of the intentional dichotomy that Jesus projects. He tells us to be strong and protective and in the next breath to be timid and pastoral. He clears the temple with great force and seeming anger but also consoles a woman with no status without judgment or even a trace of condescension.

The upshot, this isn’t supposed to be easy! We aren’t supposed to know the right answers all the time. There is no right way to approach Jesus. You can come to Him as a powerful and vibrant leader with plans to change the world and you can creep forward broken, ashamed and feeling worthless. In both states he will inquire about you, about your motives, your issues, your life, how you will help others, how you will heal but mostly how will you love.

In just three weeks time, we hold a Special Vestry meeting to plot a vision for St. James Westminster. I will suggest the agenda is simple, yet entirely complex. Where are we now? Where should be go? How should we get there? I pray that you will see the dichotomy in play. How do we separate what we want, from what God calls us to? How do we grow in faith and understanding, while encouraging others to do the same? In terms of today’s Gospel reading, will we come charging into the circle where Jesus is holding a small child to report the terror that someone else is getting all the attention for the ministry they are doing or will we enter the circle quietly and hear what Jesus is saying?

Let’s be honest, as human beings we’ll probably do some of each. The important thing is for us to recognize which is which! Even at that we will most likely succeed and fail at the same time. The beauty is that, if we let Him, Jesus will prop us up on His knee and tell us everything we need to know. And they we will do some of that and some of what we want and leave out most of the things that scare us and continue to repeat the cycle. That’s how we learn, that’s how we love, that’s how we understand God and people and maybe even learn a little bit about ourselves.

Rev. Can. Keith Netherly

Sunday, September 23, 2018
The Greatest

Mark 9:30-37
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

————————————————————————————————————————-

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…

I have a confession to make, and seeing as it’s a Sunday and we’re in a church, this seems like a good place to make it.

So, here it is: I am extremely competitive. You never want to play a game with me, because anything, even the simplest of friendly games will turn into a bloodbath if you are playing with me. I cannot stand losing, and I never let people win, not even children.

Which lots of people have commented to me on, especially because I have two nephews, whom I have never let win at a game of anything. We play Monopoly, and I will turn to the youngest and say, ok, so here’s what’s going to happen now. All your property, everything you have, all your railroads, your houses, all your money, that’s mine now. You gotta give it all to me. Give it to me, right now. And no, you can’t play anymore because even though you’re giving me all of that, it doesn’t even touch how much you owe me. You’re going down hard, it’s really bad. All you’ve been working for, all day, I’m going to take it now and I’m going to use it to destroy your brother. But it’s good for him, builds character.

Now, I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. In fact, the world often tells us this competitiveness, this aggressiveness, this desire to win, to be successful is a good thing. I mean, you only have to look at the self-help section of the bookstore to see this everywhere. How to be more driven, more focused, more competitive.

And it seems like such a good thing, because, why not, it works a lot of the time. This is nothing new, history has all kinds of strong, competitive figures in it. This is not a plague of the modern world, this is the human condition, to want to be the best. We have this in our gospel, with the disciples, arguing over who is the greatest.

So, here’s what we have, we have Jesus and the disciples walking from one town to another, and the disciples are bickering about who is the greatest. Now, who knows what they were saying. Maybe someone started by bragging that they had spent the most time with Jesus and someone else had a story about a miracle, and the rest are all like, you didn’t really see that, pics or it didn’t happen, and then someone else has to bring up their conversion story because they were so bad and wretched before Jesus but now they have seen the light, and maybe someone else is trying to justify that they have the best, I don’t know, whatever.
But it gets to the point where Jesus can’t ignore it any more. What are you arguing about? He wants to know. And they are silent, because they’re embarrassed. Uh, nothing. No, what were you arguing about. And I can just picture them with the same face I use when I get caught doing something I shouldn’t.

And Jesus, who is not impressed by this, says to them, whoever wants to be first, that is, greatest, must be last and be a servant to all. And, as usual, the disciples didn’t get it. Jesus is throwing them for a loop, because, hello Jesus, being last is the definition of being a loser, of being the diametric opposite of the greatest. The greatest has to be first, be the winner, have all the best stuff and all that. Don’t they?

Now, it would be a really easy sermon for me to stand up here and say to you, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we imagined that greatness wasn’t about power and wealth, about fame and all the rest of that. Imagine if we, unlike the disciples, could see worldly greatness for what it is: a desperate grab for something to protect us from feeling vulnerable and exposed, an attempt to build up power and prestige and wealth around us like a dragon’s hoard so that we will never have to be wanting or lost or broken.

And, yes, what if we imagined that world? What would that look like, to be Jesus’ definition of great? I could give that sermon, and ask that question, and we could all say, well, it would look like us putting on aprons and giving out hot meals to the destitute, and it would look like all people holding hands and singing, and it would look like a Hallmark card or a Norman Rockwell painting, idyllic, beautiful even, wouldn’t it?

And we could stop right here. This is where a lot of preachers speaking about this passage will stop. And let the congregation think about the terrible things going on in the world, and how if we stop worrying about being great in terms of material things, and start being great by Jesus’ standards, the world would be changed. And yeah, that’s a nice thought.

But I don’t think I can stop there. Because I think this is a little bit deeper than that.
Because this story isn’t the story of being nice and trying really hard to do good things.

Can we imagine a world where greatness means eschewing worldly things for peace and justice and compassion for the other? Sure, we live in that world sometimes. How many Facebook posts or ads for social justice events do we see every day? How many fair trade or ethically made products do we use? Recycling, supporting civil rights, events on Truth and Reconciliation, there are lots of places where we are doing ‘great’ things. And I’m not calling down the sincere and honest drive behind these things.
But I am asking us to look a little harder. Because that simple black and white split of a world of aggressive competitiveness, material consumption, and a sinful, narcissistic society against the Christian niceness of symbolic sacrifice and solidarity is just that: simple. It misses the insidious nature of what Jesus is actually talking about here.

That the drive to greatness infects us all. Whether it’s the race to the top with the glitz and glamour or a race to the bottom to see who can be the most pious, the most humble, it is always in us to need to
outperform our neighbours. It lies at the heart of our humanity, that we want to be recognized, we want to be seen, we want to be acknowledged.
And this story, this great gospel story of Christ, this isn’t about that. Not even when we’re on the right side, doing charitable acts and good in the world, and humble bragging about it on social media.

This is about what is at the core of our actions. Giving is great, but true love, what we are called to, gives even when it hurts. It transcends the self, sublimates it, for the other. It dies to itself, loses its life for the sake of the gospel. And that, my brothers and sisters, is hard.

Imagining a world where greatness means being charitable is easy. Carrying the cross is hard. They are not the same. This is not a trivial metaphor. When Jesus tells his disciples that to be the greatest is to be the servant to all, he is not saying, sometimes or when it’s convenient or until you don’t feel like it anymore. It is every day, and it is painful, and it is sacrifice. And it is worth every second.
Because this is what a servant is: Christ who died to give us all life, who laid down his broken body for me, for you. Who knelt to wash the feet of his followers, who ate and drank with sinners and outcasts. Who emptied himself for love of us, a bunch of flawed individuals.

I am not that servant, but I want to be. And this is where Christian greatness is truly found, in recognizing that I am not what I should be, but I can be better. I can try, because I may not be great yet, but He is always the greatest.

Hana Scorrar

Sunday, September 16, 2018
It’s not about you

Mark 8:27-38: Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

—————————————————————————————————————————-

There is a school of thought that the clash between Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel reading is because Peter (and the other disciples) still didn’t understand exactly what Jesus was all about. As the argument goes, the use of the term Messiah by Peter represented an understanding of the term in the Hebrew context as anointed ruler or King of the line of David which would see Jesus in the role of restoring Israel’s self-claimed position as children of God. Elisabeth Johnson, a teacher of New Testament at a Lutheran Theological School in Cameroon on the African continent, provided commentary this week on a preaching site I visit. Given that she is teaching and living in a culture vastly different that the one she comes from, she provides some sensitivity to the nuances that result when a story from one culture, lands in another.

Jesus, then, gets rather angry with Peter as He senses that Peter is worried about his own place, his own prominence, his own potential leadership as a follower of Jesus. We see this understanding of faith much in North American society. As long as I and Jesus are good, the rest doesn’t matter.

Jesus clearly reminds Peter and the disciples, that this is not a fast track to glory, but rather a descent into difficulty, danger and ultimately death for the sake of the Gospel. For the most part, however, I think this and many of the Gospel stories lose their power to teach and motivate as they are sanitized by familiarity and detachment from the original circumstances.

So allow me to use a fresh example, one from this week. Perhaps you watched the three part series “First Contact” on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network? If you didn’t, might I implore you to go to the website www.aptn.ca and watch this program?

Six white Canadians, all with stereotypical and entrenched negative attitudes towards Indigenous peoples, were invited to take a trip to various Indigenous communities and interact with the people and the culture. Before they began the journey, they were all quite confident that Indigenous people were lazy, alcoholics, addicts, complainers, swindlers and many other understandings that have been held for many decades by Canadians.

Over nearly a month of travel, the six were confronted with the long, hard physical days of Inuit trying to eke out an existence in the north. The youngest and most physically imposing of the six admitted that one day hunting and fishing left him exhausted and unable to keep up with elders in their 70’s. They learned firsthand the “cultural genocide” (the term used by an Indigenous person) of Residential schools. How children were plucked from their homes, beaten, abused oft times sexually and systematically stripped of their way of life. They learned that children in this system became adults who were lost, depressed, angry, easily enveloped by drugs and alcohol. These people made poor life choices, but also had no idea how to parent, how to get through the violence and anger within them, to be able to love and care for each other. Their children grew up without hope, trying to make their way in a system that didn’t care and without the understanding of who they were. The cycle continues, over and over and over. The group learned about treaties, and how they were broken. They were confronted with the trust that Indigenous Canadians have to carry a status card, to prove who they are just to get what was promised them. There was a poignant moment when an elder asked the six if they ever had to prove what culture they came from. They visited inmates in Indigenous detention centres. (Despite the fact that Indigenous people make up just 4 per cent of the population, in various geographical areas they make up between 35 and 75 per cent of the prison population. While I’m sharing numbers, the 1200 missing and murder aboriginal women who are the subject of much news coverage, if we were to translate that into a number of white women at the same percentage of the population, we would be talking about more than 20,000 people, maybe more) The show took the travelers to the homes of those who had escaped the cycle, and make their way successfully in white society, the homes of elders who were clean and sober and working diligently to try and improve their communities. They heard story after story of reconnecting to the culture that was taken from them, was beginning to show the first signs of a significant recovery of Indigenous society.

For me, the most poignant moment came on the third night of the program. A young mother of two was out with a group in Calgary who pick up those who are intoxicated and at risk and bring them in to sober them up, without legal involvement and a potential trip back to jail. There was concern as the van went to pick up an Indigenous man known at times to be violent. The young mom was visibly rattled. When the man got into the van, the two sat together and began talking about their children. They seemed to bond. As he was headed into the shelter, he told her thanks for caring, thanks for talking. He thanked her for looking him in the eyes and listening to his story, for respecting him.

Four of the six where significantly changed; their opinions doing a complete turnabout. They understood the damage that had been done and over and over they asked why they had never been taught the true story, why wasn’t this part of our educational process. Interestingly, they were the 4 youngest people. The two who changed the least were age 50 and 65. Perhaps they had heard the racist agenda for too long, the false truths layered on too thick. But they too left with a new perspective, a new understanding.

My own personal story is much like these six Canadians. I grew up with the prejudice and racism. It seemed justified to me to discriminate and condemn. I was well into my 30’s before I ever heard about a residential school. As I moved into ministry in western Canada, I got to know indigenous people, to understand them, to get a glimpse at the pain they bear, the deep. deep sadness at what has been taken from them. I still can’t shake the thoughts of my youth, I am still prone to judge. But I remember two people and they bring me back to reality. Abraham Lathlin, sadly gone from this life, an Indigenous elder who took an afternoon to explain to me the horrors of his life in residential school. And now Bishop Sid Black, the Indigenous Bishop for the Diocese of Calgary. While the priest on the Blood reserve in southern Alberta, Sid told me about the toll it took on him to deal with the abject hopelessness of the young people in his community. He dealt with a suicide most every week. I asked him why he went on and his answer was simple. How could he not help his people?

I started with an interpretation of an interaction between Peter and Jesus. The suggestion was that Peter was interested in his own and the benefits he would receive. Jesus responded that he would need to put away his own needs and focus on all of God’s people. He equated it to losing his life to find it. Perhaps you will see some connections to the story I have just told.

Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, September 9, 2018
Opportunities

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

————————————————————————————————————————–

A little self-disclosure before I begin. The normal process is to read the designated portions of Scripture and then let research and the Spirit lead to a homily. This week, I started with a destination in mind and worked the process in reverse.

The two readings today are basically about the same thing – an inclusive community. The reading from James, in general terms, calls us to welcome everyone. The Gospel from Mark, the story of a Gentile woman, who heard about Jesus and decided to ask for healing for her daughter. At first rebuffed, she persisted and her daughter was healed. This was Mark’s somewhat clumsily composed version of Gentiles being welcomed to “The Way.”

On October 21st, we will gather for a special Vestry meeting that will receive a variety of reports that, together, will hopefully lead us to a vision and plan for the next several years. The Mission and Ministry Committee has consulted widely and listened deeply and are currently writing their final report. I have already put together some draft thoughts and will encourage the Wardens to participate in this process as well.

However, it is important that we not leave all this to the last moment and suddenly dump a plethora of facts, figures and ideas upon you and expect an immediate response. So over the next several weeks, we will try several approaches to ensure that you have time to contemplate and pray.

I want to share two opportunities for your participation, both of which I believe are important to a new view of community building that will help us chart the course. Some background comments. Not unlike both Scripture readings, we are at a place where the model of community that we have clung to, no longer works, While the Scripture versions of creating a more inclusive community are much more justice and fairness related, we are more constricted by a model that simply is inadequate to allow us to participate in community building that would lead to dealing with the same social inequality and unfairness that is becoming more and more front and centre in today’s society.

Think back to the first day they opened the doors here at St. James. Somewhere, there would be a barn to tie up the horses. Most likely families in the area walked together to church. The river to our north would have been a significant impediment for people to get here. It is unlikely that anyone came from a great distance and given limited communication abilities – not even telephones on the scene just yet – community would have been localized necessarily. That model lead to a community like London having some 30 parishes in and around the city. We can speculate from here, but I think hanging on to an inward focus and traditions, inability (or lack of need) to expand the community and a changing social understanding have all lead to the model coming apart. Look today to the success of big box, high tech churches with a vastly different understanding of community and we can see at least part of the equation as to why our model needs to evolve.

Back to the two opportunities. The first is an invitation for St. James to participate in a Diocese prototype Missional Instruction process lead by the Wycliffe School of Evangelism. The short description is a group of highly trained individuals leading members of 13 churches in an interactive conversation about how we move forward in reaching the community around us. The first of two major workshops in this process is September 22nd. There are still a few spots for people from St. James to participate. There will be a second workshop next spring and we will be looking for people to attend. The larger invitation is to ask you to interact with the process. Open your hearts to understanding new ways. The information from the workshops and the overall process will be presented and opened up to us all to pray, learn, change and engage. If you are interested in participating in the workshop in two weeks, please speak with Canon Keith or Judy Jones immediately.

The second opportunity comes from a summer lunch involving the clergy from Wesley Knox, Elmwood Presbyterian and St. James. While there was some vague memory of doing some things together, we all agreed that community building needs to be a priority. Perhaps in years gone past we saw some competition in relationship with our neighbours. Today, I will strongly suggest that our survival, but much more importantly our ability to thrive as a vital and relevant entity within our wider community, will require us to work together.

Starting on Tuesday, September 25th and running each Tuesday evenings through November, Wesley Knox, White Oaks, Calvary, Elmwood and St. James will host a joint study group. We will be looking at a book entitled “Redesigning Your Life – Spirituality in the Second Half of Life” written by United Church Minister Dr. Sheila McGregor. Along with other potential ways to build new connections within the local church community, this is first and foremost an opportunity to build new personal and group relationships.

Because this is coming on the heels of the summer season when the clergy and many parish members enjoyed vacation and time away, we are a little short on organizational time. The clergy of the five churches will meet this Tuesday to plan the study. Each of us will take leadership and sessions will rotate among the five church buildings. If you are interested, please speak with Canon Keith immediately. There is no charge to participate in the study and receive a book, but we will ask you consider a free will donation of up to $20 dollars to offset costs.

With one simple love filled response to a rather brash and bold question from an outsider, Jesus began the process to open the faith community to those previously excluded. While what we are proposing is far from being that dramatic; it is nonetheless key to finding a new, fresh and exciting way forward. Are you in???

Rev. Keith Nethery

Sunday, September 1, 2018
The Missing Verses

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23: When the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

————————————————————————————————

So, once again, what seems to be a very straight forward teaching of Jesus turns out to be a rather complicated collection of thoughts and ideas and to compare Mark’s version to Matthew and Luke, well it creates some questions.

So what it appears we have is another attempt by the Pharisees and other leaders to protect their position of power and prestige in Judaism from the upstart Jesus and He stops them in the tracks of their diatribe. Let’s investigate

The first thing you need to take note of is that this is Mark 7:1-8, 14, 15 and 21-23. So why leave out verses 9-13 and 16-20. Especially verse 16! How could they possibly leave out verse 16.  So we will see who are the inquisitive among you by who comes to me when they have figured out the reference to verse 16.

Well, if you include the missing verses, you get a different look to the story. Verses 9-13 have Jesus providing a concrete and somewhat awkward example of how leadership was purporting to follow a law, which is in effect allowing them to abandon responsibility to their parents to maintain their fortune. Verse 16 – well that one is yours. 17-21provides a rather astonishing claim for Jesus. That all food is clean. Matthew and Luke both ignored this. In Christian tradition, the declaration that foods previously forbidden were okay for followers of The Way comes in a vision seen by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

While I’m talking about differences and interesting nuances, it is worth noting that Matthew lists 7 things that come from the heart that produce evil intentions; while Mark in our reading this morning lists 13.

So, I want to touch on that list. When you heard it, did you prioritize? Fornication, adultery, licentiousness, avarice. Those are the bad ones. Envy, slander, pride, folly. Well those aren’t so bad. While I understand how we do that and I think there is every possibility Jesus did this intentionally, I’m not sure we get to judge. These things are grouped together to represent the evil intentions that come from the heart and to put more weight on one or another seems to me to drift past what Jesus wanted to say – that we need to strive to reject all of these.

In the example Jesus used that we didn’t read, it was clear that money and power was more important that parents. In the start of our story rules and regulations around washing hands and food are made rigid as a means of controlling, as a way to gain power and influence and authority and to use it for you own advantage. Do you see a trend?

Let me use a contemporary example that probably isn’t a perfect match, but I think shows the same understanding. I’m quite certain that the opiate crisis is concerning to us all. As we hear day after day stories of lives ending in tragic overdose in alarming numbers, we want to find ways to stop or control this epidemic. I am quite certain that the illicit drug trade would not be even a small percentage of the problem it is today if, at its core, were not a significant group of people who make millions and possibly billions of dollars from this scourge that is claiming thousands of lives. And I am willing to bet that in churches around the world this morning many of those who benefit greatly and live lavish life styles by producing and selling illegal drugs are sitting in the pews, participating in worship, placing the proceeds of crime on the offertory plate. In another strain, there is considerable evidence that the pharmaceutical industry has not always been forthcoming about the addictive nature of drugs that are manufactured, or the knowledge that there was the potential for misuse and abuse. You may have heard that this week the BC government has launched a law suit against drug companies to reclaim the costs to society of dealing with the impact of overdoses in the cost of health care. This law suit is based on similar suits brought again tobacco companies that have for the most part been stymied by appeals and legal manipulation for now decades.

Now ask yourself, how is all that different than each of us sitting down to eat our fill tonight while thousands of God’s creations in this world will go hungry?

It is easy to shout vociferously about the first group, just like making a bigger deal out of adultery and licentiousness; but when we come to talk about our folly, or slander or envy, we are much quieter.

Jesus message here, as it is almost always, is that every human being matters. If the Elders in this story could leave their parents in poverty to gain more wealth and influence for themselves; if drug lords and CEO’s can look the other way while young people die due to overdose; if you and I can ignore the fact that while we are full, many have nothing – then the Kingdom of heaven is not here.

I’ve purposely made this black and white for impact – while we all know that life in fact is thousands of shades of gray. But it seems to me impossible for us not to see more and more human beings are allowing the traits of evil that Jesus points to – spew from their hearts for their own advantage. When do we say no more? When do we change the only heart that we can change – our own? Philosophical questions no doubt – but they are more and more becoming based in reality.

Rev. Keith Nethery

Aces High Bridge and Euchre

Aces High is a social group that meets on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday (excluding statutory holidays) of each month in the Westminster Room to play bridge and euchre. All are welcome!

Aces High is a social group that meets on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Monday (excluding statutory holidays) of each month in the Westminster Room to play bridge and euchre.

You do not need a partner, but please bring along any interested friends. We are a group of varying skills of play from beginner to expert.

So feel free to join us for an enjoyable afternoon of fun. We arrive at 12:45 p.m. to begin play at 1 p.m. Coffee Tea and Refreshments are served. There is a nominal cover charge of $2.00. All are welcome to join. Questions? Contact Chairperson, Dorothy, at 519-473-4598

Fall Studies

We are excited to let you know about a number of Study Opportunities coming this fall at St. James Westminster.

We are excited to let you know about Study Opportunities coming this fall at St. James Westminster. For one study, we will join with three United Churches for a book study on a work by Sheila McGregor, a United Church minister, about spirituality in the “second half” of life. The books will be available in early September and the study will run from September 25 to November 27.

Peggy Roffey will be leading a study on the Parables and Canon Keith will host a discussion group on “Your questions about the Bible.” Dates and times are still to be determined.

Our Wednesday morning will move into a more informal, discussion oriented service and we would welcome your participation.

On towards Advent, Canon Keith is putting together a panel discussion on the issue of Medical Assistance In Dying. This issue is drawing considerable attention in the Church and in society and we hope to look at it from a variety of perspectives.

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