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

Sunday, May 6, 2018
Creed of St. Anthanasius

John 15:9-17: Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

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What may seem like an odd combination of things today, but they are what I experienced this week and I think together they bring an important message.

At the Wednesday midweek service, we talked about St. Athanasius and by extension the Creed that carries his name. On Friday, at a Diocesan Clergy Day, we heard from Canon Judy Paulsen from the Wycliffe College on the subject of Evangelism.

Athanasius was Bishop of Alexandria in the early 4th century, which was a watershed time in the development of the faith. Athanasius, who was sent into exile several times, was the strongest opponent of Aruis and a theology that came to be known as Arianism. It was quite prevalent in the early church and even when the Council of Nicea in 325 ruled it to be a heresy, it took the rest of Athanasius’ life in opposition to finally quell the influence of Arianism. So you may well be saying, “So what, it’s not really important to me!” Arianism suggested that Jesus was not divine, but rather was God’s highest creation. Athanasius argued for what we know today as Trinitarian Theology, One God in three persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A couple of centuries later, someone, following the theology of Athanasius, wrote the Creed of St. Athanasius, which remains one of three accepted Creeds today in the Anglican Church, along with the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Unfortunately, the Creed of St. Anthanasius has fallen out of use over time, perhaps for two reasons: first it is rather long and second is by far the most pointed of the three Creeds.

What St. Athanasius reminds us is that it is important to know what we believe and stand for what we believe to be true. If Athanasius had not been so diligent in his struggle against Arius, at great personal cost, our faith today might look quite different. Arius had the support of many well placed and powerful people in the church. There was a time when the term “defender of the faith” was oft heard.

In a very stimulating discussion of Evangelism, Canon Paulsen suggested that one of the main reasons that people don’t talk about their faith is fear of being wrong, fear of not knowing the right answers, fear of not being able to explain why faith is important in a concise and meaningful way. The church (in general) has not done a very good job in recent years of teaching the faith. As was pointed out in a discussion earlier this week and again at the workshop on Friday, we can draw 250 people to church on Sunday, but study groups, educational sessions – not so much.

If the Christian Church is to have a long term, sustainable future, it will require us all to learn together. Evangelism is simply one person sharing their faith story with another, which allows the other to see God. But do we know our faith story. How many in hearing this homily today knew who Athanasius was, or Arius. I think we would all agree that Jesus is Divine and that God is the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But how do you answer when someone asks “Why?”

We are blessed with a tremendous Mission and Ministry Task force which will help chart a vision for this parish going forward. One of the early discussions in the group was evangelism, what is was and equally what it wasn’t. There were certain models that were uncomfortable, other methods that seemed better suited to our situation. There is no one way to do evangelism, but it must be done. I would want to suggest to you that while being part of Sunday worship, part of a church family, points us in the right direction: each of us needs to make it a priority to grow in our faith through a path of Christian Education. We all learn differently, understand differently, and express ourselves differently. There are countless opportunities for us to learn about faith and to share faith. But that only happens when we are convinced that we are all called to be apostles, to carry God’s story to God’s people.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, April 29, 2018
Big Old Cherry Tree

John 15:1-8

 May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be ever acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer…

When I was in, I think, second or third grade, we had a homework assignment to count the trees in our backyard. And as a very fastidious child, I made an elaborate chart of the over 200 trees we had growing in our backyard, and for good measure threw in the multitude of plants my parents grew. They were both agricultural science professors, and so we had not only decorative plants, but large gardens that supplied most of our produce, grapevines, and several fruit trees.

My favourite was actually this big old cherry tree, and I used to love climbing up into its gracious branches when it was in full bloom. It was like a soft pink canopy that could completely hide me from any unsuspecting people below. Usually my little sister. But when I got a little bit older, it started to die, and my favourite hideout had to be cut down. Which was quite devastating for me, but since I had fallen out because a branch had broken out from under me, my mom was adamant. It had to go. It was dangerous.

And that’s the way we often think of this passage from John. When Jesus says “whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” it’s easy to see that as threatening. Abide in me or else. Because the good branches, they will bear fruit, and the bad, dangerous branches will be burned. It’s a very black and white system.

And why not see it that way? I can imagine Jesus talking to his disciples, telling them this story. They came from an agrarian society, and would probably have the same view as my mother with the cherry tree. The simple understanding of cutting away the dead, dangerous branches and throwing them into the fire or mulching them up. They probably made the same symbolic leap we do to see these dead branches as bad people, people not like us.

Because that’s the way we tend to see these things. We read the Bible strangely, because we read it as if we were the point. As if we were never the Gentiles. Jesus’ words “whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fired, and burned” I’m sure throughout the history of interpretation, have always lead people to the meaning of judgement. You don’t abide in me? Then you are cut off, discarded. And thrown into the fire for good measure.

These words become a rationale for judgment, as we, and I don’t doubt the disciples, see ourselves as the ‘in’ crowd, the good branches, bearing fruit. We’re quite accomplished at that; seeing ourselves as fruitful and healthy. It’s our default setting.

And it’s something we’re having to fight against right now. That easy, simple way of thinking. That way of viewing ourselves in the best light. Because here’s the thing: we are both the healthy branches and the dead ones. We all need a little pruning, a little maintenance. And I know, I know, that’s a hard thing to do. To give ourselves an honest look. To be reflective.

I get it. Before my CPE course, I hated reflections. I thought, why do I need to examine this? I was there. I know what happened. But what I came to appreciate was the opportunity to examine myself, and really ask: is this healthy? Is this fruitful?

And sometimes, the answer was no. That is a hard answer to come to, and it came with a lot of ice cream and tears. And the hardest part of that answer is that, no branch starts off dead. It slowly withers, it slowly becomes less healthy. It doesn’t happen overnight. That dead branch was once vibrant and leafy. We can remember when it worked, when it bore fruit.

That is the difficult place we are in now. As we enter into parish conversations about the health of our branches, we are going to have to do some pruning. We are going to have to say goodbye to some branches that have histories of beautiful fruit, we are going to have to let go of branches that we remember as glorious. We are going to have to see the true meaning of this passage.

When Jesus identifies himself as the vine, twice in this passage, he is not giving us this image as a threat, but a promise. It is not a verse of condemnation because that is not what Jesus came to do. It is a statement of life, a statement of our connection to the life source, through whom abundant life is possible.

To put this in context, Jesus is offering these words to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. He knows what is going to happen to himself and his flock, and they do not. And what an image to balance this against. Christ, who is cut down, crucified, paralleled against the imagery of the cast off branches. The perfect Saviour giving up his life to give life to all. The promise of abiding, the promise of eternal life.

This image of the vine offers a picture of who we are, who Christ is. He first unpacks the image as a description of his relationship with his Father, and then how this image also portrays his relationship with the disciples, and with us. The mutual abiding, the mutual indwelling. This is an image that shows profound dependence, profound reliance. This is an image of life with intimacy, with life-giving relationship.

Amid difficulty, suffering, distress, death, Christ invites us, promises us, that he will not abandon us. That together we will endure, persevere, even flourish. These words, said just before Christ goes to the cross, show that it is not simply part of some larger plan, but is the chief example of God’s commitment to wrestle life from the very place that seems most devoid of hope. It is not the instrument that made God’s love for us possible, but the evidence and witness to just how much we were already loved, and the promise of new life from the dead.

This is a hard passage to preach, to let what is dead be cut away for new life. But, let’s be honest, this is a hard life to live. Bearing fruit is risky business. It requires constant, intentional care and love. It requires time and patience and skill and luck and science and the miracle of creation. It requires connection and interdependence, relationship and origin, belonging. It requires community.

There is fear in bearing fruit. Because bearing fruit makes us vulnerable. It means we are not completely in control. It is sacrificial and self-emptying. Fruit-bearing is cross-bearing, and it is the way we follow Christ.

There are many lessons I learned up in my cherry tree. Washing fruit is a good idea; don’t touch bird nests; gravity is a law and it will always get you; but most importantly, every branch, no matter how far away from the source, no matter how small or big, is beautiful and necessary, and death still comes for it, but it is only the opportunity for something new if we are willing to take the risk.

Hana Scorrar – Student of Divinity

Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018
He Is Alive

 

 

John 20:1-18: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

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We began 8 days ago, gathered in the Great Hall, waving Palm branches and waiting for the Hallelujahs to begin. Mere minutes later we were in the depths of the pain of the Passion Gospel.

On Monday, we contemplated the intimacy of a women washing Jesus feet with her tears and expensive ointment. Tuesday brought the visiting Greeks who wished to see Jesus and Jesus’ chilling words about what was truly about to happen. Wednesday we tried to wrap our minds around Judas and the betrayal of Jesus. We were confronted by our own complicity. Thursday brought more intimacy as Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then instituted the symbolic action that is for us, the center of worship each week – the Holy Eucharist.

Words cannot describe the depths of despair and sadness as we heard the sharp crack of a hammer driving nails through the flesh of our beloved on Good Friday. For two days we journeyed with that emptiness.

Early this morning, shivering with cold and excitement, we gathered along Askin Street. Our faith informed us that when we went to bed last night, Jesus was dead in the tomb. But as the dawn cracked the eastern sky, we listened in waves as the whole world shouted “HE IS ALIVE!!!”

We started last Sunday with a suggestion from one of the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist that there are five gospels. Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and You. Through the week we have heard from the first four. Now it is time to hear from the Gospel of You. As I suggested last Sunday, faith is not a spectator sport. Through Holy Week we have time and time been called to step into the drama, to ask ourselves what this means to our faith, how new insights into ancient stories might breathe new life into the way we understand.

But the story does not end with today’s happiness. Jesus has defeated death! Jesus has called us to have life and have it more abundantly. That isn’t an empty promise. That isn’t something to be thought about next week, next year, next decade, whenever we get around to it. This is something that shapes our today and tomorrow, just as surely as it shaped our yesterday.

Now is the time to share the Gospel of You! To find new ways to express what God means to you, in your heart, your life, and your daily thoughts. It’s time to put the new version of the Gospel of You into action.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday – Sunday, March 25, 2018
The Gospel of You

Mark 15:1-39: As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”

For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.

And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”

In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

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Sometimes, when you least expect it, something incredibly meaningful leaps out at you, leaving you in stunned silence. This exact thing happened to me earlier in the week. Reading a meditation from a member of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge Mass., I was a little quizzical when the writer said there are five Gospels. Immediately I thought of things like the Gospel of Thomas, one of many writings from the time of Jesus that didn’t make the Canon of Scripture. But the author was going in a much more spiritual direction. He suggested there is the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John and the Gospel of You! That’s right, he is suggesting that each of us has a Gospel, or should have one, based on our understanding of our relationship with God and our spiritual journey. I had to spend some time with that idea. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right.

So as we enter the most important week in human history, as we deal today with the dichotomy of emotions in the wild emotional frenzy of the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday and the slow painful unfolding of the death of the One that means everything to us in the Passion Narrative; what are we writing in our own Gospel?

The reality is that Christianity is not a spectator sport. We are part of the unfolding spirituality of the world. By the very nature of our baptism, at which time the Holy Spirit was imparted to us, we are in relationship with the One who created everything and we are called to speak up about what that means.
In the books of the Bible we have a variety of views and understandings of relationships between God and people. Some are straight forward, others immensely complicated. Sometimes the views don’t have all the same details and that’s okay. I believe the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit are God’s gift to us to ask questions, to search deeply for meaning, to try and make sense out of details that seem to conflict or don’t make sense. We are asked to investigate, discuss, debate, learn, grow, and share!

So let me ask you this. What does the Gospel of You look like? What has influenced it? Are you actively involved in writing/rewriting it? Have you had a spiritual moment lately that has influenced your Gospel?

Never will there be a better time to think about your own Gospel story than Holy Week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 11 am and next Sunday at 6:30, 8:30 and 10:30 in the morning we will gather here at St. James Westminster to encounter the Holy Week story. We will hear from the writers of various Gospels, Epistles and Old Testament volumes. We will have chance to ponder the Last Supper, the Trial, the Crucifixion, and ultimately the Resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God. It’s not a drama we watch, but (His) story that we participate in.

What will be added to the Gospel of You as a result?

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, March18, 2018
Sir, we wish to see Jesus

John 12:20-33: Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

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“Sir, we would see Jesus!” These words from the 12th Chapter of John’s Gospel have started many a sermon that I have preached. Imagine then, my shock when, dealing with a text from John 12 for this sermon, that the first commentary I read pointed out that there was no evidence that the visitors ever saw Jesus. And further, that wasn’t the point. To see or hear Jesus, in John’s terminology was to come to believe in Jesus. So now the whole thing is flipped. These Greek visitors to Passover, might actually be telling the disciples they already believe in Jesus. Now John’s Gospel is dramatically different from the other three Gospels. For example, in John, the moment that turns the Pharisees and others to getting rid of Jesus, was Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. The story of Lazarus is not even found in Matthew, Mark or Luke. So what do we make of these differences? Do we ignore them and stick to the well-crafted version of faith that discourages questions? Or do we engage the questions that these differences in Scripture can raise for us? While I have always believed that God is unchanging, as I have witnessed more and more cultural and social change, it is apparent that we grow, shrink, get it right, get it wrong. Some more things from John’s Gospel to dwell with. While the first part of Chapter 12 tells the story of Mary anointing Jesus feet, given that we know that this Mary and her connection to Martha and Lazarus is only in John’s Gospel, who is it that anoints in the other Gospels? John’s Gospel focuses on Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper, rather than putting emphasis on the institution of the Eucharist. John’s Gospel in fact has Jesus ministry lasting longer than the versions in the other Gospels (hint – count the Passovers in each Gospel). All of these things ask us to ask questions, which takes us deeper into the Scriptures where we will find new insights and revelations.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, March 11, 2018
God So Loved the World

John 3:14-21: Jesus said, “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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

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John 3:16. Perhaps the most famous verse in all of Scripture, but without context perhaps the emptiest. Simple question? What does John 3:17 say, in fact what does the rest of Chapter 3 say? How do we hold it in tension with John’s Gospel? What do we know about John’s Gospel?

It is, chronologically, one of the last books written that found its way into the NT. It may be as much at 50 years after the first Gospel, Mark, was written. That leaves time for a lot of development in the church and a significant time of reflection and growth for people of faith. It shouldn’t be lost on us that most of the stories in John’s Gospel portrayed as coming from Jesus, are not recorded in the other three Gospels or in fact elsewhere in Scripture. That includes the story of Nicodemus, which makes up the first half of chapter 3, and is somewhat a mirror image of the theological statement of the second half.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. A man of privilege and power and status. Yet he had come to recognize that the “law” as it was being practiced was not in the interests of God. He saw in Jesus the way and the truth. And so he came to Jesus in the middle of the night – in the darkness literally and figuratively, to see and question Jesus. He knows Jesus is of God, but he doesn’t understand, and Jesus, as He always does, gently shows Nicodemus the way.

And then the whole conversation is repeated following John 3:16. Affirmation that Jesus came to save the world, not condemn the world and that people must come from the darkness into the light to find truth.

This reading and the Epistle from Ephesians both call us to an understanding of belief and behaviour. We must first come to believe, but if that faith is true, then our behaviour must change and our way of life must be more closely in line with the message of Jesus. Now, I am quite confident in saying, from personal experience, that this cycle of belief and behaviour is an ongoing part of a life of faith. It is no coincidence that we find this reading in Lent when we are to be introspective of our belief and how it impacts who we are and how we live.

Let me share one story about how faith can move us into the realm of God’s desire for us. Last week, in several schools in London, students organized walk outs in support of the students in Florida who saw their classmates killed, their lives changed, and are trying to hold their government to account by calling for change rather than the status quo desired by a powerful lobby group. While the distance physically is great, spiritually there is a melding of young people everywhere. The London Free Press printed an article about a brave 13 year old who was willing to risk discipline because she felt that the statement needed to be made here. She organized the walk out at Lord Roberts School. Her name is Lily Ryan and she is a member of this congregation. I sent her a message telling her how proud I am of her. This is spirituality that is accountable to faith in God and flowing from that belief into behaviour. Many of us would not have the courage to stand up and say this is wrong. Lily shows us the way.

God does love the world and did send His Son that those who believe might have life. He did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus calls us to recognize that belief must impact who we are and what we do. We must call ourselves and others to step from the darkness of power and control into the light of acceptable, mutual benefit and plain, simple loving of God and neighbour.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery

Sunday, March 4, 2018
Ten Commandments

Sermon Summary –

Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:1-17

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Today’s Old Testament reading is the very familiar “Ten Commandments” given to Moses. But are they really that familiar? I have been in groups that have tried, and failed, to name all ten. Usually, after some discussion, most people can sort them out. My purpose today is to ask you to think about what the Ten Commandments are and what they mean to you today?

I would suggest that while they were originally presented as hard and fast laws for a particular situation and a particular culture many centuries ago, in the larger context of Scripture they might more accurately be described as points of relationship.

The first segment is about our relationship with God and the second about our relationships with each other. To make them alive today, we need to revisit what they mean for us because they have lost their impact in familiarity. Add in culture change and we need to spend some time in thought and prayer about the impact of these time honoured commands of God. God remains the same, but people and culture change and that means that half the relationship is in flux.

For example – I am God, you shall have no other gods. When Moses brought the tablets down the mountain, people were in the habit of worshiping rocks, and statues, and even a golden calf. If I were to ask what our other gods are today (someone at 10:30 on Sunday was spot on when they replied) – money!! I would agree with that assessments.

I’m often asked about taking the Lord’s name in vain. Go to a movie, watch television, walk down the street. Over and over again you will hear vulgar uses of God’s Name. But have you ever asked people what they mean when they utter those words, what their intent is? Almost without exception the reply I receive is, “Nothing, it’s just a word.” I truly believe that this all turns on intent. There are people who intend insult to God with their words and that is of more concern for me, than people using words they don’t even think about.

The Sabbath brings us to a similar discussion. I remember boldly proclaiming I would never shop on Sunday when the new laws were enacted. I held to it for a few months. Today it is simply common place. To look at it in that perspective, I have come to believe, is to look at it backwards. The Sabbath is not for God, but God’s gift to us! We need to find rest, refreshment, time for prayer and study. We need to decompress. It doesn’t have to be a particular day, but we need to do it! And we need to ensure that we allow others to have that time for re-creation as well. I think that is what God is telling us in the big picture.

I think it is fair to say that, depending on the culture of the time, the relationship rules will have different impacts. If you ask me the “commandment” we need to look at in today’s world is “thou shalt not covet.” Remember the Radio Shack commercials? “I want that!!” A rather apt description of North American society today. We are intent on having everything that everyone else has, and then just a little bit more. What we fail to understand is if I “covet” more, someone else will have to receive less. The second portion of the Ten Commandments is about the relationships we have as family and community. We are required to care, as God does, about everyone! So how do you think our world is doing with that?

There is more I could say about more of the commandments. However, I think you can see that I want us to think about these directions of God, not in black and white, but in the wide array of shades of gray in our world today. So what do the Ten Commandments mean to you? Have you given them much thought lately? How would they apply to your life today?

Sunday, February 18, 2016
The Baptism of Jesus

Mark 1:9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hana Scorrar