One of the happiest times of my life was the five years I spent as a teacher in a large Anglican high school in England. It was wonderful to be able to help young men and women grow and mature into adulthood. One of the greatest challenges though was not the children but their parents! It was a very academic school, and some children were put under an awful lot of pressure to perform by parents who made a tremendous fuss if their child dropped a grade. It could have a really crippling effect on a child to have every piece of work examined forensically by a judgmental parent. And a child could begin to feel that her parents’ love was dependant on how well she performed at school.
In our Gospel reading today (Matt. 5:38-48) there is a sentence which sounds horribly like some of those demanding parents: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:48)
“Be perfect? How can I be perfect?”
Sometimes the fear is personal: Am I wealthy enough, attractive enough, successful enough, clever enough, good enough? Do others admire me, approve of me, speak well of me? Will my project succeed? Will my marriage last? Will my finances hold out? Will my children flourish? Will my health continue?
Sometimes the fear is communal or even global: Will the world withstand this economic crisis? Will global warming lead to environmental disaster? Will nuclear weapons destroy us? Will our craving for wealth and power undo us? Will our cities ever be safe? Will war continue to claim our young men and women? Will China surpass us? Will Al Queda attack us? Will Iran and North Korea be contained? Will peace ever come to the Middle East?
Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Isaiah 42: 1 – 9; Psalm 29; Acts 10: 34 – 43; Matthew 3: 13 – 17
I don’t know if I actually saw it the first time. I think I did, but I can’t swear to it. It was on my first visit to Jerusalem and the course I was taking at St. George’s College had spent a few days in and around the Old City. We had then departed for Egypt and had been to Cairo and then on to St. Anthony’s Monastery and to St. Catharine’s in the Sinai. We had crossed the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea and had visited Madaba, Petra and Nebo in Jordan. We were finally heading back to Jerusalem and had just passed through the border crossing into the West Bank and were driving over the Allenby Bridge when our course director announced that at that moment we were crossing the Jordon River. Luckily I had a window seat, but even in the moment it took me to turn my head and look out the window, we were over the river and all that could be seen as we drove off was the lush growth of trees, scrub and brush that outlined the river bank. I remember seeing that, but I don’t actually remember seeing any water, much less anything that passed as a river, at least to my mind.
Have you heard the news? The papers are full of it. They’ve been full of it every day in 2010. And it’s mostly been bad news. The terrible sufferings in Haiti after the January earthquake, and then the hurricane: the homelessness, the cholera. And the seemingly endless cycle of violence, of suicide bombings – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine. The plight of the Palestinian people and all who face injustice in the Holy Land. The frightening escalations of war-like rhetoric, and threat of a nuclear attack in Korea. And then this year, the appalling financial crisis , with so many suffering anxiety and loss – the loss of jobs, the loss of homes through mortgage foreclosure. And then anxiety about our nation which seems so polarized between blue and red states, between wealthy and poor. More and more bad news.
Such a diet of bad news, day after day, can profoundly affect the way that we see our own lives. We can look back over 2010 and pick out the bad news – for ourselves, our families, our work, our homes.
Genesis 28: 10 – 22
Psalm 63: 1 – 8
John 1: 43 – 51
Several years ago I had the privilege of spending some days on Prince Edward Island, Canada’s smallest province. It was my first, but I hope not my last visit there. I was there to lead the clergy retreat for the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island during the week and then to preach on the Sunday in Summerside, on the south shore of the Island. Between the retreat and the preaching engagement I had a couple of days to see a little bit of the Island. It was an odd experience for someone who had grown up on the wide open expanses of the Saskatchewan prairie and then lived for a number of years in Ontario where it takes several days to drive from one end of Ontario to the other, to be able to drive from one end the province to the other and still be back at my hotel in time for an early supper, my book and bed.
If you know anything about Prince Edward Island, you’ll know that it is famous for three things: the redness of its soil, potatoes and Anne of Green Gables.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us!
Were you in the chapel on Tuesday, June 29 – our last Eucharist in the chapel before the renovations? If so, you will have heard our brother James’ sermon in which he gave us that unusual but accurate translation of the opening words of John’s Gospel. “And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.” John is reminding us of the story of the Exodus when God accompanied the children of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. God dwelt among them in a tent – the tent of meeting – at the edge of the camp.
Does it? Do the heavens declare the glory of God? When you look at the heavens, do you see written/declared/proclaimed, God’s glory?
I think I was about 15 when I came across Bertrand Russell’s slim volume Why I am not a Christian and I declared to my friends and my teachers, probably pretentiously, to shock, that I was no longer a Christian. When I looked into the heavens, I may have seen something inspiring, but I would have told myself that it had nothing to do with God.
Well, as you can see, as the years went by I changed my views. But I never lost my respect for the scientific method and for the vision and purpose of science, nor sensed any real clash between the purposes of science and religion. Even back at the Renaissance, there was a clear demarcation between what was called natural philosophy (what we call science), which concentrated on empirical evidence from nature, and theology’s concentration on the world beyond. Interestingly, Sir Isaac Newton wrote as much about the Book of Revelation as about the theory of gravity.
So it seems particularly baffling to me, why so much fuss is made about the teaching of science in schools in our country. To try to mix the empirical scientific method, with a priori theories about God, creationism or intelligent design seems wrong-headed. In my own experience, especially the experience of coming to faith, they are different languages, science and religion, employing different modes of perception.
If it’s true that in spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love, then in summer, this young man’s fancy turns to … the beach. And not just any beach, a particular beach, Lumsden Beach.
As a boy, I grew up spending every summer at our family cottage at Lumsden Beach on Last Mountain Lake in southern Saskatchewan. The lake itself is long and narrow; stretching about 60 miles from one end to the other, but at its widest point is barely 1.5 miles from one side to the other. Our cottage is near the southern tip of the lake and a couple of miles beyond us the lake literally disappears into muck, and weed and marsh before coming to an end in the open prairie of the Qu’Appelle Valley.
In the last number of years the marsh at the end of the lake has been restored and the area has become home once again to many bird species including piping plovers, whooping cranes and pelicans. As dusk falls at the end of the day, it is not unusual to see flocks of pelicans heading down the lake from their fishing spots, to their nesting ground in the marsh. It’s truly a magnificent sight as these large, unwieldy birds fly gracefully down the lake heading home to the marsh for the night.
Like all marshes, this particular marsh plays an important role in the ecosystem of the lake. It provides a home for rare and unusual birds, as well as the not so rare and not so unusual. It’s a wonderful place to catch frogs or watch birds or maybe even spot a beaver going about its business. The marsh provides a whole other world to explore that is neither lake nor prairie as it acts as a threshold from one to the other and back again. Like so many other similar places, the marsh at the end of the lake is a place of discovery and mystery simply because it is a place of transition. It is a threshold one must cross to get from lake to prairie. It is a liminal place that one must enter in order to pass from one to the other. It may be just a marsh at the end of the lake, but it’s also a place of discovery, a place of mystery, a place of encounter.
I Samuel 2:1-10; Romans 12:9-16b; Luke 1:39-57
We have reason to celebrate tonight. This is a joyous occasion, a remembrance of a happy meeting between two expectant mothers who were to play important roles in God’s unfolding plan of salvation. It is an occasion of happy reunion, of babies leaping in the womb, of women filled with the Spirit proclaiming God’s greatness and shouting their thanks and praise. It is an occasion of rejoicing – not only in what is, but in what is to come. A time when faith proclaims what it has begun to see.
Luke prepares the scene by telling us what has happened to these two women. Elizabeth, he tells us, was a woman “getting on in years” who was barren. Her husband, Zechariah, belonging to a priestly order, was responsible for serving in the Temple from time to time. During his most recent service he had entered the sanctuary of the Lord and had there seen an angel who told him that the prayers that he and his wife had been offering for many years were now to be answered. They would have a son, whose name was to be John. “You will have joy and gladness,” said the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” And so it was. Elizabeth, long barren, conceived a child, just as the angel had foretold.
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy an angel was sent also to Mary, a young girl living in the Galilean town of Nazareth. To her the angel gave a similar yet even greater message: “you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… (and) he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary was stupefied. “How can this be?” she asked, for she was not yet married. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” the angel responded, “therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” And as assurance that such an unlikely conception was well within the realm of God’s power, the angel told Mary of the remarkable pregnancy of her relative Elizabeth who had conceived even in her old age. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”