Archive for July, 2016

“In Gold Boxes,” (Sermon, July 27th, 2016)

Jesus said, “‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44-46


Today is all about parables, so I brought this parable box from our Godly Play set. This is how we teach the children at St. Philip’s about parables.

A parable box. Source:

A parable box. Source:

There are three main types of Godly Play stories. Each one has a script that should be followed as closely as possible, and each of the types of stories have specific features. There are Sacred Stories, Liturgical Action Stories, and Parables. The materials used say something about each story. Sacred Stories, which come from the narratives of Holy Scripture, often use upright and faceless figures to ground the children in the physical world, to remind them of the historical nature of the stories we tell.

Parables are different. They are presented with figures and objects that are flat with specifically drawn features to encourage the children to see them as stories told by Jesus rather than as living people. All parables in the Godly Play curriculum are presented in these boxes.

Why? I will show you, using the same words we use with the children.

“Hmmmm. What could this be? It is a box. I wonder if there could be a parable inside.

This box looks old. Parables are old. They are thousands of years old.

You know, this box also looks like a present. Parables are like presents. They were given to you before you were born.

This box is also the colour gold. Gold is valuable. Parables are also very valuable, maybe even more valuable than gold. There might be a parable inside.

And look, this box has a lid. It’s like a door that is shut. That is also like a parable. Sometimes it can be hard to open. If it is hard to open, don’t be discouraged. Come back to it again and again, and one day, it may open to you.”

What follows this exploration is further exploration. Parables always have an underlay, usually a piece of felt. Depending on which parable, the felt is a different colour. We wonder with the children about what the underlay could really be. The underlay for the parable of the mustardseed looks kind of like a big yellow lemon. The one for the Sower is a long brown rectangle which usually looks like a chocolate bar to the children. The one for the Good Samaritan is a rough piece of brown burlap.

This parable box actually contains the Parable of the Great Pearl. Here is the underlay. The story is presented on top of it. The children are shown the merchant and the man who sells him the Great Pearl. It shows the journey of the merchant, searching and inspecting many pearls before finding the Great Pearl. When he inspects the other pearls, the storyteller should shake her head sadly, until the merchant comes to the right one, and the storyteller can finally nod.

The Parable of the Great Pearl. Source:

The Parable of the Great Pearl. Source:

The two men are placed inside rectangles of felt which likely symbolize houses. The merchant’s house is stuffed full with objects that he has purchased. The storyteller shows the merchant exchanging each of his household objects in three separate groups. Once again, she should shake her head at each offering: it is not enough. Finally, the merchant brings his bed and the house itself – the storyteller rolls up the rectangle of felt and presents it to the man at the table. Finally, the nod appears again, and the merchant is left with nothing except the pearl.

This is the end of the story. The children are asked the following wondering questions.

Today, they are my questions to you. I invite you to share whatever comes to your mind, and like we do with the children, I will repeat what I hear. We only repeat, without judgement. This is how we show the children that their opinions and beliefs about Scripture are valued and important. Sometimes it’s good to remind our big brothers and sisters in Christ of this truth too.

So, I wonder…

“I wonder if the person is happy with the great pearl.

I wonder what the merchant will do now.

I wonder why the seller would give up something as precious as the great pearl.

I wonder if the seller is happy with all his new things.

I wonder if the seller has a name.

I wonder if the merchant has a name.

I wonder what the great pearl could really be.

I wonder what could be so precious that you would be willing to exchange everything you have to get it.

I wonder if you’ve ever come close to the great pearl.

I wonder where this could really be.”


Once we have asked these questions, we tell the children that it is time for their work. Their work is to respond creatively to the story in some way. They can make art, retell the story with the pieces, or in our classes meet together and talk.

Of course we too have holy work to do. That is what we are leading them to understand.

So let us continue on with our holy work, and I will close with the words of our big brother in Christ, St. Augustine.

“Let us search for that which needs to be discovered, and into that which has been discovered. He whom we need to discover is concealed, in order to be sought after; and when found, is infinite, in order still to be the object of our search. … [H]ere let us always be seeking, and let our reward in finding put no end to our searching.”

“Revealed to infants,” (Sermon, July 13th 2016)

 At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Matthew 11:25-27


Ten years ago, documentary filmmakers Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing released the film Jesus Camp. Jesus Camp is a film about a group of Charismatic Pentecostal children who are being trained up for Christian spiritual warfare by a children’s pastor, Becky Fischer, both at a Prayer Conference and at the titular camp “Kids on Fire,” ironically situated in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. It’s a fascinating and remarkably even-handed look at American evangelicalism.

I watched it again recently and was surprised how differently I reacted to it this time as opposed to the first time I saw it about eight years ago. Many viewers were so distressed by what they saw that the camp actually had to be closed down due to protest and vandalism. Accusations of indoctrination and spiritual abuse dogged Pastor Becky after the film’s release.

Some of these accusations were well-founded. There’s nothing quite like watching a room full of children breaking down in tears after being told that their pastor knows that some of them are “phonies” and “hypocrites” for saying dirty words at school or having trouble believing in God. There’s nothing quite like watching Tory, a ten-year-old girl, dancing to Christian rock in her bedroom and following it up with, “When I dance, I really have to make sure that that’s God, because people will notice when I’m just dancing for the flesh, and I really need to get over that.”

The second time I watched it, though, I was really struck by her next sentence, which was, “I’m not the only one. People out there, you’re not the only one who makes that mistake.”

I was impressed at what I saw as a sign of spiritual caregiving. This was a ten-year-old girl, offering up spiritual advice and love to others who struggle.

Prayer and worship in this tradition was something else in the film that at first made me uncomfortable. Pentecostal prayer is a loud and emotional affair. There is a lot of waving of hands, a lot of swaying and spontaneous vocalizations. The children are taught to pray in tongues and are slain in the spirit. It’s all a bit overwhelming for this stodgy Anglican – and if you think I’m not stodgy, you’ve never seen me in an evangelical church. I am unable to extract myself from this position: straight as a rod, hands welded to the pew in front of me, looking either straight ahead or down at my feet. I was raised with surplices, incense, and ruffled collars, so I’ll clap during Gospel songs but that’s about it.



What made me think of all of this, though, was one scene which directly relates to our reading today. At the camp during worship, there is a time for the children to offer testimony. Tory the dancer is overcome with sobs. The viewer hears an adult voice murmuring, “Pray it out, Tory, pray it out.” She takes a handheld microphone and, still sobbing, prays that the Lord will break the chains over their nation, raises her fist, and proclaims the lion of Judah over all.

This prayer, which the adults refer to as a prophecy, is accompanied by loud applause and cheers.

It’s a really weird scene. It’s kind of icky…and it’s kind of beautiful.

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” This section is text was referred to by Canon F.W. Green as “the ecstasy of Jesus.” Today’s reading is quite an old passage. It is echoed in the Gospel of Luke, which means it could be from the elusive and hypothetical Q document from which many scholars believe Matthew, Luke, and the Gospel of Thomas shared content. It may indeed have been a repurposed prophetic utterance from an early Christian community, which were common in the Apostle Paul’s time.

We may not share the same worship traditions as our Pentecostal brothers and sisters, but I pray that we share the same conviction. The people in the film take for granted that those who are seen as small in the eyes of the world are precious to God. They take for granted that those who are seen as of little account will in fact be the ones to usher in the new kingdom of God. What they believe it looks like is also radically different from the kingdom which we proclaim.

We live in a world that is marked by violence and intolerance. Our church is still struggling to understand what it means to follow the cross and give our lives to Christ in this time. It is not easy work, but we must trust. There is little worth doing for the sake of the Gospel that is easy. But our Gospel is the Gospel of love. Our Gospel is the Gospel of hospitality and acceptance. Our Gospel is the Gospel of endless loaves and fish, the Gospel of true strength found in perfect weakness, the Gospel of wealth through kenosis, through pouring out our lives for the sake of the other. Sometimes our Gospel is the Gospel of metanoia, of repentance and transformation, admitting that what we once thought was God’s will was our own.

That is probably the most beautiful Gospel of all, because the resurrection is probably the biggest metanoia of all.

Friends, as we continue our lives in the church, let us never forget what has been revealed to us by the Beloved: no less than God, veiled in flesh once for all, and today clothed in bread and wine, an outward sign of that inward grace. Let us come together here to be baptized with the fire of love.

“Oil and Wine,” (Sermon, July 10th 2016)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

Luke 11:25-37

top-1This week, across the country in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Anglicans from all over Canada are meeting for General Synod 2016. Perhaps the most anticipated business of the day is the motion currently on the floor which proposes a change to the marriage canon allowing same-sex marriage to be fully celebrated within the Anglican Church, as opposed to the current system which demands civil marriage before allowing same-sex unions to be blessed.

Yesterday morning, Archbishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon, Secretary-General of the Anglican Consultative Council, spoke with gentleness and respect to those gathered to discuss changes to the marriage canon. Archbishop Idowu-Fearon, a Nigerian, served as Bishop in two Dioceses in the Church of Nigeria, and Archbishop of the Ecclesiastical province of Kaduna. He is best known for his award-winning bridge-building work in Christian-Muslim dialogue and his sharp intellect, work that has gotten him in trouble with many of his more conservative colleagues in the Nigerian Church.

Although he opposes both same-sex marriage and same-sex unions as counter to Christian teaching, Archbishop Idowu-Fearon also opposes criminalization of homosexuality in his home country, and has on multiple occasions sought dialogue and understanding with those who have different beliefs about human sexuality.

What does this have to do with today’s parable? Everything.

It’s a tough parable to preach on! We all know it so well. Our children know it, our teens know it, even our friends who know nothing about the church at least know the hero, and even if they don’t know the story, they know the message. A man in need makes a friend indeed.

Except not really, because as far as we know the Samaritan never even speaks to him. We don’t know if he ever regains consciousness. He is a blank slate. Even the way he is referred to in the Greek suggests that. Anthropos tis, a certain man – or, as one writer suggested, “some guy.” We know nothing about who he is, what he looks like, or why he’s going to Jericho from Jerusalem. People familiar with the area tell us that the road was dangerous, and it runs downhill.

As they seek to discover new angles on this story, many writers break down the individual acts of kindness that the Samaritan performs. He comes near the man, rather than passing to the other side. He sees the man. He’s moved with pity, or has compassion. He goes to him and pours oil and wine on the man’s wounds, and bandages them. Then he puts him on his own animal and carries him to an inn and takes care of him. Then he leaves two days’ wages with the innkeeper, and promises to give more if necessary.

Each one of these acts could be a sermon in itself. With that in mind, let’s talk a little bit about oil and wine.

Why would the Samaritan pour oil and wine on the man’s wounds? Well, oil and wine were practical elements in healing in the ancient Near East. Olive oil was used as a painkiller, a soothing unguent for cuts and bruises. Wine, of course, could be used as an antiseptic. All kinds of accidents could happen on a journey like this, especially before cars, so this was all part of the Samaritan’s first aid kit.

But we know that oil and wine have theological significance in our tradition as well. We know that olive oil played and still plays a huge part in the lives of Mediterranean people. It was a staple of the diet. People used it to light their lamps. They anointed themselves with it after baths and during festivals. It was tithed and a part of first fruit and meal offerings in the temple. Priests and kings were consecrated with it. Lepers were anointed with it. Its presence indicated gladness; its absence sorrow and humiliation.

Wine is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in connection with Noah, who plants a vineyard after entering into covenant with God. Jacob promises his son Judah vineyards and a bounty of wine as a blessing. Vineyards are a sign of God’s blessing in the prophetic literature as well, symbolizing the promise of restoration. And of course, Jesus’ first sign in the Gospel of John is turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, which John understands as a fulfillment of First Testament prophecy.

Oil and wine together are quite common in the First Testament. They are regularly included as part of the lavish gifts exchanged between kings. They are also a sign in the Prophet Joel’s writings of a mended relationship between God and humankind.

The Samaritan is a hero to us for good reason. Unlike the other two supposedly righteous men he walks toward a risky situation and does what he can to provide this poor soul with the physical healing and care that he needs.

So should we all.

But the truth about oil and wine shows us that it’s even more beautiful and subversive than that.

Most people know that Samaritans and Jews didn’t get along back then. That’s an understatement. They hated each other. Jews and Samaritans both worshiped the God of Israel, but in different places. The Jews believed, in fact, that the Samaritans had been severely punished by God for worshiping in the “high places.” They were believed to be an unclean idolatrous people who did not believe in Jerusalem’s status as the holy city, God’s dwelling place. Their beliefs made them reviled outcasts.

We are often more critical of those who are close to us.

We know this, in this Diocese. We know this, in the Anglican Church of Canada.

Think of the kind of Christian you can’t stand to be around, whatever they look like. This is still someone who loves, lives, and laughs with family and friends, who has known pain and loss and joy, who has hurt others and been hurt, just like all of us. This is still someone who has come to an understanding of the world through experience, observation, and assumption, just like us; someone who is also probably far more complicated and full of grace than we would ever like to think possible.

This person comes to us on the road, bearing signs of restored community, not for hoarding or for self-aggrandizing, but for performing the work of the kingdom. The signs of spiritual wealth, abundance, and healing. The signs of God.

Tools of restoration are always best in the hands of the one with whom covenant is broken. Not absent – broken. It’s one thing to recognize God in the eyes of a stranger. It’s another to recognize God in the eyes of an enemy.

Archbishop Idowu-Fearon opened his speech at General Synod with prayer: “Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one.” He praised our Primate’s leadership and the Canadian document “This Holy Estate,” which discusses the issue of same-sex marriage in the Anglican Church of Canada. He said, “We [Anglicans] almost came apart on the issue. But we did not.” He affirmed the Anglican Consultative Council’s desire to walk with us together.

Here before us, reaching across the road, is one Good Samaritan, bearing the tools of gentle speech, openness, trust, and the holy symbols of our faith.

Over the last decade we have not had the best relationship with all of our Anglican family, particularly the Diocese of Nigeria. It is true that many lay and ordained leaders there have reacted with fear and anger over the changes in the worldwide Communion, declaring that our Diocese specifically was in a state of impaired Communion. It is true there have been violence and threats leveled against primates and bishops who disagree. It may be true that we will never be able to fully reconcile on this issue.

But here before us is a neighbour, extending a hand.

This is not someone like us – and yet, of course it is. Because this is a brother in Christ, bearing the bread of communion and the wine of healing so that we may be one.

And as he stands on the other side of the space between us, Jesus speaks to us from far up ahead, on a road like the one from Jerusalem to Jericho, dangerous, downhill, heading to the cross:

“Go and do likewise.”

And so I invite you to pray with me.

“Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we ask you to bless the work of General Synod 2016. Send down your Holy Spirit to sow seeds of justice and love among all of our friends and family in Christ, help them to be gentle with each other, and keep them safe as they travel. In your name we pray. Amen.”

“Side by Side,” (Sermon, July 3rd 2016)

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’

The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


“Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money

Maybe we’re ragged and funny,

But we’ll travel along, singing a song,

Side by side.”

When I was a little girl my Dad made me a tape of himself singing that song, along with many others. Listening to it is one of my earliest memories.

Today’s reading made me think of it.

Seventy people (or seventy-two, depending on the translation) – none of whom are named, and most of whom are not the twelve disciples, clearly – are sent out as sheep amidst the wolves. Sent out together, with nothing but the clothes on their backs, into territory which may be totally unfamiliar with them.

“We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow,

Maybe it’s trouble and sorrow,

But we’ll travel the road, sharing our load,

Side by side.”

It sounds kind of fun when we sing it like that, doesn’t it? I’m sure sometimes it was! Maybe they watched sunrises together and drank crisp clean water from a well. Maybe sometimes they got a really good meal from a happy family. Maybe sometimes they came upon a village celebration – a seasonal festival or a wedding – and were welcomed and caught up in the excitement. Maybe in the heat of the afternoon they sat under a tree and had men and women and children come to them to learn, talk, and listen together about this amazing thing that was taking place among them. Maybe sometimes they restored broken families through healing. Maybe sometimes they raised the dead.

“Through all kinds of weather

What if the sky should fall,

Just as long as we’re together,

It doesn’t matter at all!”

But maybe sometimes, it did matter. Maybe the sky did fall. Maybe sometimes they were rejected, as Jesus warns them. Maybe sometimes they got into huge fights about silly things – “Your foot’s on my side of the blanket!” “That last scrap of bread was mine!” “I wanted to heal that kid!” – and not so silly things: “You never listen!” “You always get so angry, it’s not helping!” “Why don’t you ever take anything seriously?”

Worst of all, maybe sometimes they got along great…but the people they were sent to were frightened, despairing, or unkind. “We don’t want to hear it.” “There’s no way you can fix this.” “We’re starving and you want us to feed you?” “Thanks, but there’s nothing you can do. It’s hopeless.”

Maybe sometimes they just lay together on the side of the road, unwanted, freezing cold, afraid, and alone.

Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.”

How true this can feel.

How woefully true.

It can make us feel so small, so quiet, so worn out.

We might feel like we’re being shushed when we try to share our good news. Outside the world moves on without us. There are days when it smugly says, “We’re evolving. There is no need for religion.” Sometimes the world is not smug at all, but hostile. “Look at this, another episode of religious violence. You know the problem with this world is religion.” Some folks have a reason to be hostile, because they’ve been horribly abused or have witnessed horrible abuse at the hands of the church. And some folks are simply afraid of what they don’t understand, and are unsure where to direct their fear and anger. They could still be right. There shouldn’t be people in the world who colonize religion to spread hate and violence. But it’s not the only thing that has been or will be colonized by the hateful or the fearful, and sometimes it seems like a lot of people don’t remember that.

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.

So many of us work so hard to spread love, and to be different from those who are fearful of or hateful toward the unknown. We work so hard, and a lot of that work goes unseen and uncelebrated. We work so hard, and sometimes we are stretched so thin. Sometimes there are so few.

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.

How true.

And yet how wonderful.

How wonderful that those of us who remain are the ones that God called and continues to call, the ones who remain out of love, fidelity, trust, and hope. The ones who remain, maybe without even knowing why sometimes. The ones who may seem foolish to the world, but never to God.

How wonderful, for example, that all of these labourers came to the ordination of seven people on June 28th, and cheered with us, celebrated us, blessed us, and affirmed us – not just because they liked us, but because in the face of all that is changing in the world, people are still called to serve the church as members of the clergy, and the church – that means you – is so joyful and thrilled to help them to answer that call.

But it’s even more amazing than that.

How wonderful that, at that service’s Eucharist, my atheist husband and three of my friends, all of them spiritual seekers but not religious, sought me out for a blessing. How beautiful that these non-church people were even wiser than Naaman in today’s Hebrew Bible reading, not only accepting a freely offered gift but trusting in their hearts that it was a gift, knowing that they wanted a concrete, fleshly symbol of God’s love from a friend whom they trusted – and let’s be clear: a friend who is still a human being, who isn’t even always the best friend, who isn’t always good at making time to be with them, whom they still sought out and, paradoxically, claimed me as their own even as they sought to be claimed by God, if only for a moment.

They claimed me by saying, without words: “I don’t know what this is all about, but something’s happening in this room, and I want to be a part of it, even if it’s just today.”

They came to me for a blessing.

They came to me not because I have suddenly become more holy, but because they believed in my belief. A blessing is not a magic moment of electrical transference between the sacred and the profane. A blessing is a claim. A blessing is something that confers perpetual relationship. It changes people and things. It sets them apart for holy work.

It’s something that ordained people do, but we by no means have a monopoly on the proclamation of God’s blessing for the world.

The seventy were not ordained, but sent. They didn’t take any of this stuff [vestments] with them. Only themselves, and their proclamation: “The kingdom has come near.” And they were not to withhold that proclamation from anyone, not even those who rejected it.

That proclamation is given to you at your baptism: gift-wrapped to you in the water, and it sticks to you in there whether you want it to or not – whether you even open it or not.

That proclamation is given to you every time you come to church.

Every time you hear it, you join the seventy.

For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, forever.

Yeah, sorry – even death doesn’t part you from this covenant. Now none of you can say I tried to fool you with fine print.

Don’t let it scare you. Rejoice and be glad, because we don’t do any of this work alone. Carry one another’s burdens on the road. Get ready to laugh, cry, eat, drink, sing, share, love, walk slowly with care and in peace.

I’ll be with you. I’m so glad I’ll be with you.

“When they’ve all had their quarrels and parted,

We’ll be the same as we started,

So we’ll travel along, singing a song,

Side by side!”