Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Practicing Transfiguration

In Matthew’s Gospel (17:1-9) we hear the extraordinary story of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ. An event witnessed by the disciples Peter, James and John. Included in this vision is Moses and Elijah. Jesus is sometimes described in scripture as the one who came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and at other times to destroy those things. Either way, it is appropriate in this significant vision that both Moses (who is associated with the Law) and Elijah (who is the Prophet of prophets) are included.

For their part, the disciples know the importance of this event and they don’t want it to end. They would be happy to build some meager dwelling and remain there, on the mountain top, forever. They would love to simply adore Jesus and forget about the rest of the world. Both Moses and Elijah had extraordinary, mountaintop experiences that changed them, that made their faces shine so that other could see the light of God shining through them. Moses and Elijah had to climb back down into the valley, where life is lived. Jesus, along with Peter, James and John must return to the valley too.

There’s nothing wrong with the desire of the disciples to simply want to worship and adore the transfigured image of Jesus. That is, after all, what our worship is about; to be in prayer and worship (together and alone) is to seek an awareness of the presence of the Holy in our lives. This is a kind of ascent into the presence of God, an opening which (ironically, I guess) brings us quickly back down into the valley where we find God is also present and where we encounter others. Immediately after the transfiguration, Jesus, in the valley, encounters a sick boy, so Jesus returns to his mission and heals him.

For us, practicing transfiguration is about developing a practice of prayer, worship and adoration that ultimately opens us to a life where we encounter God in everyone we meet. A tall order for sure, but with practice people will see the light of God shining in our transfigured faces.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

As God Does On Us

In Junior High School I got into an argument with a friend about capital punishment. Naturally, even then, I was on the right side of this issue and opposed it. At age 14 I was ill equipped for a biblical argument from my friend, who said, “the Bible says, ‘an eye for an eye.’” Indeed, he was right, I checked and that’s indeed what the Bible says. In the Old Testament, it says it three times. In Exodus 21.24, Leviticus 24.20, and Deuteronomy 19.21, there is something along the lines of the law of retaliation.

Three or four years later, after attending a Church service where I heard what Jesus had to say I went back to my friend and, wagging my finger I said, “but Jesus said, ‘You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, love your enemies.” My friend had no idea what I was talking about and I didn’t bother to remind him of our earlier debate. (I was satisfied with the victory.)

A quote, believed to be authentic, is attributed to Mohandas K. Gandhi, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” which fits wonderfully with the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The suggestion to love our enemies causes one to reflect on the whole notion of enemies and friends. An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something. Jesus is speaking to a people who are living in a land that is occupied by foreign forces, but the recommendation to love our enemies suits all situations.

I think Jesus knew that the first step in truly loving an enemy is to stop viewing them as an enemy, but as someone worthy of love. Eventually, the transformation takes hold in our hearts so that it has a chance to take hold in the hearts of our enemies. Already God loves our enemies by showering rain (and love) on them as God does on us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why a Parish?

According to Canon 35: Parochial Government, the Canon that describes the rules around how a parish in our diocese ought to operate says that the, “purpose of a parish is to live the plurality of the Christian identity within the Anglican Communion.”

Well let’s start with the “Christian identity.” The thing that identifies a person as a Christian is not belief in God or Jesus. A Christian is not identified by their behavior or good deeds either. We hope that Christians believe in God and Jesus, and perform good deeds. What makes a person a Christian is their commitment to Jesus Christ. As our Baptismal service asks presenters, do you accept, trust and obey Jesus Christ?

To be “within the Anglican Communion” is no small matter. And it is not simply an association with the Archbishop of Canterbury. It means that we are not a rogue parish, making up our own mind about all sorts of matters of doctrine and piety, but that we live within a delicate web of association of Anglican people. It means that we hold memory, reason and skill in balance with the directing of the Holy Spirit.

And “to live” is not just a matter of survival; it is to be on the outer edge of the envelope, seeking the new thing God promises for every generation. It is not necessarily safe or comfortable, but it can be life-giving and exciting. We are not seeking to live outside of our Christian identity; nor are we ignorant of the benefits of the correction and council of our fellow Anglicans; but within the blend of all that, we can seek to show the transforming love of God in all we do.

Annual meetings can get bogged down in numbers and an assessment of what we lack. I hope not, but it can happen. Annual meetings, like every other meeting can be an opportunity to consider the edge of faith and where God might be pushing us. Please come to the Annual meeting and be the one, if we need it, to push us out of a rut and help us to truly live the purpose of a parish.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What a Silly Thing to Say

Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket…” And what a silly thing it is to say. A few years ago, we might have responded with a, “well, da!” But Jesus doesn’t just say things for the sake of saying things. There is an equally obvious piece of advice imparted here too: fulfill your purpose.

The purpose of lighting a lamp is to let it shine in a dark room. Placing it under a bushel basket prevents the lamp from doing what it was meant to do. Jesus, of course is not dishing out household hints on the best way to lighten a darkened room. He is telling us something about how to live.

Again, it might seem like obvious advice, to let your light, the light of your personality, skills and purpose shine in the world. But, imagine that no one ever told you this before, imagine not even thinking that you had a light that could shine. It is to such people that Jesus was speaking, people who felt valueless, not only by their neighbours and rulers, but perhaps even by God.

Encouraging people to let their light shine becomes a key element in the ongoing mission of God to give the message of God’s love and salvation to the world. God, through Jesus is inviting us to partner with God in proclaiming the message of the Good News.

How can we say, no? How can we say, no, I choose to leave this lamp under this bushel basket? Saying no seems as silly as Jesus pointing out such an obvious thing in the first place. So, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”