Archive for August, 2017

“Our hero,” (Sermon, August 23rd 2017)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Matthew 16:13-20


Everyone has heroes. Everyone has someone they look up to, someone they want to emulate, someone they never get tired talking about.

One of the heroes of my own generation is writer and director Joss Whedon. I was never a huge fan, but I hang out with a lot of geeks, and many of them were avowed Whedonites. It started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and continued with other shows like Angel, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and Dollhouse – thoughtful, hilarious, and fun shows that often had wide appeal reaching across demographics.

Common to many of them were sharp, well-rounded female characters who busted bad guys but also had rich emotional lives. Buffy Summers, in particular, has been the subject of much pop culture philosophy, sociology, even theology. Whedon was also quick to stand up for women as a Hollywood idol, and was a self-proclaimed feminist. For years, he could do no wrong.

Until last week, when a scathing indictment from his ex-wife blew up on social media. In this open letter, she told his fans that the self-proclaimed feminist was actually an emotionally abusive serial adulterer.

A lot of people I knew were shocked and devastated. Online I saw them telling each other over and over, “Never trust your heroes.”

That’s only one story. I’m sure all of you have your own hero who disappointed you.

There is nearly always a certain point where someone who is widely admired crosses a line, steps into the light, and is revealed as just another human being. Drug abuse. Sex scandals. Embezzlement and fraud. An unfortunate recording. Some respond well and some respond like a total dumpster fire. It usually doesn’t matter. Their image is forever tainted no matter how slick their PR game is.

Even the ones who never get to that point, who live out their lives without any scandal or controversy, are often subject to wild rumours.

Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood is a great example. People today still trade the old chestnut that he was a sniper or a Navy Seal with many confirmed kills. Some people even claim that he wore his long-sleeved cardigans to conceal military tattoos – learning that make me laugh out loud, too. Both stories are completely untrue, by the way. There is no record of him serving in the military, and no observable career gaps where he could have done so. Those cardigans? All hand-knitted by his mother. His educational background was in music composition, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister who spent his life connecting with children all over the world, and by all accounts was one of the kindest, humblest, and gentlest people on the planet.

We are so cynical, aren’t we?

And yet sometimes, a real hero breaks through, and shines all the brighter.

Their lives are often quieter than Fred Rogers’. Those of us who search for them may discover that we have better luck finding them among our own families and friends. It is far easier for heroes to stay heroes when we know them personally. It’s easier to see them as human beings, and makes it more difficult to be disappointed when we inevitably discover that they are not demigods.

Knowing them makes us better. Walking beside them, listening to their words, makes us wiser. And growing with them, becoming with them, makes us stronger.

I think this is what happened to Simon Peter, when he looked at Jesus.

“Who do you say that I am?”

I want to paint a picture for you in this passage. During my trip to the Holy Land, we spent some time in the region of Caesarea Philippi. It is a beautiful, quiet place, with soft fields and friendly woods. We paused by the Jordan, and many of us gathered water there to take home. We sat in the sun and our guide, the dean of the college, asked us Jesus’ evocative question:

“Who do you say that I am?”

Surrounding this idyllic scene in the mountains and on the roadsides were the scars of the land. Bright yellow signs sternly warned us not to stray from the path because of landmines. We were not far from the Syrian border, and extremist groups, including Hezbollah, had been active in the region for decades.

This question, “Who do you say that I am?” is not a neutral question. Take note of the names the disciples share with Jesus. John the Baptizer, recently executed by Herod. Elijah, who spent his life battling Ahab and Jezebel. Jeremiah, thrown into a well when he didn’t tell the ruling class what they wanted to hear about the coming exile.

Real heroes are more than just good people who do good works. We always have to remind ourselves that Jesus was executed, and it wasn’t for teaching us things we all learned to do in kindergarten. He didn’t tell people to give the poor cookies on the street, or volunteer at the food bank. Those are things that any good citizen can and should do.

No, Jesus was teaching people to give up everything, to invite the poor into their homes, to be willing to lay down their lives for what’s right. Jesus taught people to make a mockery of their station, their dividing lines, their walls. This was frightening not only to the Roman state, but to the privileged among the oppressed people from which he came, people who were not only in love with their station but who knew full well that if they strayed too far they could get their people in big trouble, rich and poor.

It was never a simple message, never a message of one man standing up against a bunch of monsters.

It was a mouse standing up to a pride of lions, and trying to get the other mice to come onboard.

It must have seemed like lunacy to the Pharisees and the religious officials. I actually have a lot of sympathy for them. They knew full well what the Romans were capable of. The Emperor had orchestrated mass murder multiple times to get upstart Israel to behave. Their temple had been desecrated and their people slaughtered.

And here comes some hayseed from Galilee calling up an army of ne’er-do-wells and disrupting the status quo.

Because that’s what heroes do.

And they knew that Jesus had a point.

They didn’t just kill him because they didn’t like him. They killed him because they knew his message would resonate with people.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Impetuous Peter finally realizes the truth. He makes his confession. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

“You are the hero we have been promised.”

I always imagine Jesus smiling here. “You see me. You know me. You say I am the hero you’ve been promised? Well, you’re going to be the hero I will promise, to the Church.”

And then everything goes sideways.

Because after that amazing pronouncement, it’s “Sssshhh!”

How are they supposed to do that? Why are they supposed to do that?

Scholars are still arguing about why the Messianic Secret is a thing.

For our purposes today, let’s hearken back to what we were talking about earlier. Let’s consider that Jesus wanted them to know that he would only change their hearts as long as they still saw him as their friend, as a human being who made mistakes, as a teacher to whom they could look up, but who also surely laughed, cried, ate, and drank with them.

“Who do you say that I am?”

The Messiah, yes. But also, a friend. One who knows our hearts, who knows our pain, who knows our breath and our bodies.

One to whom we turn, one for whom we yearn, one whom we receive bodily in bread and wine – not because he is magic, but because we once knew him as a man, a man who overturned the old order of death and destruction and sin and walls.

One who is made manifest once again in the Church, his bride – all of us, together.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Messiah. Friend. Bridegroom. Living bread and living water.

Our hero, who will never betray us, who will never fall short, who will always be with us, who is coming to us now, here, in this bread and wine.

“She persisted,” (Sermon, August 20th 2017)

“Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”

Matthew 15: 10-28

Yesterday my husband Paul and I attended a counter protest at City Hall. It was in opposition to a proposed rally by several odious far right Canadian groups known for spreading Islamophobia, racism, and anti-immigration fear.

Paul and I have been to protests together before, but this was the first one I had ever been to where I felt apprehensive about my safety and the safety of others. The terrible events of Charlottesville obviously loomed large over our week.

Thankfully, the ratio of protestors to counter-protestors was about 500 to 1. We were proud of the huge turnout, and the diversity of those we saw. In this one place, I ran into people I knew from university, people I knew from church, and people I knew from the Goth club I go to.

Despite their small numbers at this wonderful display of support for diversity and hospitality, we know that there are many people in our country who share in these intolerant beliefs. Some are vocal and some seethe beneath the surface, and some don’t even realize that their beliefs are dangerous. But they are. We know this personally, and I know that many of us try our best to repudiate it when we see it.

That’s probably why this is such an uncomfortable Gospel story, isn’t it? There are two versions of it, one in Matthew and one in Mark, and in the Mark version it’s easier to be sympathetic to Jesus, because he is just trying to get some alone time. But in the Matthew story, he actively ignores the woman, which he doesn’t do in Mark, and only engages when the disciples whinge about how annoying she is.

Notice that the woman calls him “Lord, Son of David.” Jesus and the disciples have travelled into foreign territory and are among the Gentiles. And this isn’t just any woman. This is a Canaanite. One source I consulted for this sermon explained that the word Canaanite was not in common usage during Matthew’s time anymore. ‘Canaanite’ was chosen deliberately, to make sure the hearers of this story understood that this woman was an Other, a historical enemy of Israel.

So how does she know who Jesus is – not just a healer, but the Messiah, which is what Son of David implies – when even the disciples haven’t quite figured that out yet?

How does this no account Canaanite understand what the inner circle do not?

It is often the oppressed who recognize God the fastest.

There’s a very interesting dynamic at play here when you consider the interaction between Jesus and this woman. They are both from underclasses, both brown, both poor, both uneducated. There is much that unites them, and yet their shared history is a barrier. But it’s not just shared history that divides them. They live in occupied territory, and Empires run on division.

Jesus was not immune. We’re Anglicans, so we believe he was fully incarnate. That means that he was subject to the same assumptions that we make. He too was subject to Empire. Unlike Paul he was not a Roman citizen who could access the privileges of that station. We know this because he was crucified. Roman citizens were never crucified. Crucifixion was for occupied backwater upstarts like Jesus and Peter. Crucifixion was for troublemakers.

Empires run by first finding ways to make us feel small. It could be something like making it impossible to escape the crushing poverty and drug addiction all around you. It could be bankrolling media that constantly scream about a rainbow of threats to make you feel hyper-aroused, constantly triggered into fight or flight.

It doesn’t matter if the threats are real or not. What matters is that the subjects believe that they are.

The best tools of Empire involve pushing a narrative of how the world works. Once, we believed that our station in life was divinely ordained. This is connected to “just-world theory,” which posits that every event in a person’s life, good or bad, is justified somehow. This can be empowering for some, but for others it simply calcifies their belief that everyone deserves exactly what they get. Flowing out of this is the newer narrative that you can transcend your station in life if you just try hard enough, which is even more pervasive because sometimes it does happen, and when it does it gets a lot of press.

As long as we believe that success is solely determined by grit and not also dependent on who we know, what we look like, and sheer luck, we will continue to happily enforce those divisions.

Empires encourage this because they cannot run without it. In-fighting between people of different colours or castes or creeds in all places may have roots in past divisions, but it is always encouraged by the ruling class, because they know that if marginalized groups come together, they will have a problem. So we argue about who is more oppressed, and the Empire continues to run.

Like an old anti-fascist film put quite elegantly: “We human beings are not born with prejudices. Always they are made for us. Made by someone who wants something.”

God knows this. Maybe that’s why She sent this woman to Jesus.

In the Book of Joshua we read that the Canaanites were living on the land when they were violently displaced by the Israelites. Jesus and the woman were ancient enemies because of battles that happened centuries before they were born. And yet she recognizes him as the Messiah. The disciples had to witness miracles and watch Jesus walk on water before they would call him the Son of God. Peter doesn’t even use the term ‘Messiah’ until several verses on. This woman, who lived so far from Jesus’ stomping grounds that it’s amazing she even heard of him, knows who he is immediately, bowing and kicking up a fuss in flagrant disregard for the norms of communication between men and women of her time. She’s alone, which is already suspect, and yelling at a strange man. What is the world coming to? Subtext, what would you expect from a Canaanite?

But she will not be silenced by ignorance or by the nasty name that Jesus calls her. It’s not a playful moment. It’s not a compliment or a term of endearment. She’s not a puppy. She’s a scavenger, a cur, a female dog.

Not one of Jesus’ best moments.

But she’s too smart to let him off the hook, to give up and abandon him to his prejudice. This woman’s a hell of a theologian. She should be the patron saint of everyone who has ever said, “Oh, I can’t do theology.” Everyone does, and everyone can.

She gives him a quip to end all quips – pointed, but not rude. “Even dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table.”

And he responds, “Woman, great is your faith.”

Take a moment to contrast that with the passage we heard last week: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

That’s Peter, the rock of the church, he’s talking to! “You of little faith!”

And this Canaanite dog: “Great is your faith.”

It’s a cryptic statement. But for our purposes today, let’s say she earned it because “she persisted.”

And that’s not even the most beautiful part of the story.

After granting her request, Jesus goes among the Gentiles, and does another miraculous feeding. The numbers here – 4,000 people, seven baskets – make it clear that this is a spiritual repetition of the earlier miracle, whose numbers – 5,000 people, twelve baskets – represented the Israelites. 4,000 and seven are Gentile numbers in the ancient Jewish mind: four directions, seven nations.

She changed his mind. He granted her request – and then he did her one better. This one person changed his mind about entire nations, entire peoples.

In a world where we are so often pitted against one another, in a world where it can be so much easier to fear than to love:

Let her persistence be ours in our interactions with those who would wish us harm.

Let her conviction that the one who turned her away may still bring healing and wholeness be ours as we affirm the presence of Christ in every living soul.

“Get on board,” (Sermon, August 13th 2017)

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’

28 Peter answered him, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ 29He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came towards Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

Matthew 14: 22-33


Good morning, St. Martin’s. I’m so glad to be with you today.

In January I travelled to the Holy Land for a course at St. George’s Anglican College. We travelled to many different parts of the region and it was life-changing, as you can imagine.

About three days before we left, we drove to several lakeside holy sites, including Capernaum, where Jesus lived for a time with Peter and his family. Capernaum is right on the shores of Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee, and we were there on a late January morning that felt like an early June morning. We were given the chance to find a place to sit and simply drink in the beauty of the place, and so we fanned out to find spots to sit on the very rocky and rather treacherous shore.

It’s a beautiful place – definitely a holy place.

I remember that I could feel the first threads of the terrible cold I brought home with me in the back of my throat, and tried to ignore it to really appreciate the quiet and the view. I thought maybe I should try to write a hymn on the shore, and, since I had no paper, turned on the video function on my phone, pointed the viewer at the lake, and started humming, trying to capture the peace of the scene before me.

Not two or three minutes into it, a speedboat went by, kicking up an impressive wake, which started coming toward me. It was broken well before I could be drenched, but it was a close call. The video is a source of joy to me now, because as I sat, trying to convey peace, my humming dissolved into giggles as I watched the laughing lake, wondering if I was going to have soggy socks for the rest of the day.

I thought as I giggled, “I wanted peace, but God didn’t feel like it. God cannot be controlled.” And my placid, somewhat banal tune changed rhythm and tempo, reflecting the playfulness of the waves.

God cannot be controlled. God is in control.

We can say this easily when we are together here in church…but it can be so hard to fully understand.

Our world places a premium on independence, individualism, and self-actualization. It prioritizes agency and action, and venerates power and certainty. Even folks who assign a personality or agency to the “Universe” (always capital U, right – the Universe) will regularly speak in terms of receiving what they are owed, or what they, personally, individually, need to know. “The Universe brought me this job.” “The Universe is trying to tell me something.” The language always suggests a certain degree of superiority, even when it’s cloaked in pseudo-humility. The Universe is in control…but it will always let me know its plans and thoughts.

Well what if that’s not the case?

What if the force that powers life and love, not creation itself but the thing that infuses and yet exists outside creation, does have a plan, but offers only one option: Get on board, or get left out?

Getting left out might sound like hell or condemnation, but it could just mean mourning while everyone around you is singing, cursing the mud instead of blessing the stars.

Getting on board, then, means accepting that God’s plan is unfolding even if it’s hard to see; rejoicing in the beauty of the world rather than succumbing to the rhetoric of fear.

It’s expecting miracles.

The chapter from which we draw today’s reading begins with the death of John the Baptist, an execution by the state, and such a foolish one. One poorly timed remark by an impetuous king results in the gruesome death of an innocent man whose only crime was trying to get people on board with God’s plan.

After this terrible injustice, Jesus withdraws in a boat to a deserted place by himself, but of course he can never be alone for long. Crowds follow him, and when he comes back to shore he has compassion for them and heals their sick.

And after that is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. That is the passage immediately preceding this one.

What a beautiful juxtaposition. It is the same in each of the three Gospels that feature this story. The Holy One who knows our flesh mourns the injustice…and then gets right back on board. Healing, food, walking on water.

Perhaps we are meant to interpret walking on water Eucharistically.

What could that mean?

It is helpful to know in the ancient Near Eastern mind that large bodies of water were a primordial symbol, an analogue for pre-creation chaos, what in Hebrew is called, perhaps onomatopoeically, “tohu wabohu.” Jesus walks toward the disciples on top of chaos, so in control that he no longer needs to rebuke the waves to be still.

Caught up in chaos, they are only afraid when they see him, because as scary as chaos is, it’s at least familiar, isn’t it? We are familiar with being buffeted, with being tossed to and fro, tohu wabohu, but voluntarily surrendering control is something even more frightful.

What we need is trust in that control.

Peter thinks he’s got it, impetuous Peter, and for a while, he does. His faith seems both large and delicate, like a big balloon. But perhaps we understand that too. How many of us have discovered that, after a wholehearted dive into a new situation, suddenly find that, like the psalmist, “the waters have come up to our neck.” At least like Peter we usually have the sense to cry, “Lord, save me!” But so often our need must be proven to us before we reach out.

That, I think, is one of the reasons that we come to church.

We come together to admit to God that, like Peter, we need to be commanded to come.

The most beautiful thing is that our service itself contains that precious truth that before we are commanded to come and follow the risen Christ onto the waves, we are fed.

We are called out of chaos and uncertainty into this house to be fed, and then we are told to expect miracles, to expect walking on water.

St. Martin’s, your people have been called from many places to this place, a place where Christ’s abundance is made manifest in your love and our work. Your people are telling the story of God’s plan for this little corner of North Vancouver, BC in 2017. Your people are getting on board, and as long as you proclaim and enact the good news of healing, salvation, liberation, redemption, and God’s favour for all creatures, you will never be left out.

We are called from chaotic lives into a place of peace to be fed.

So expect miracles. Expect to walk on water.

I happened to come across an exquisite sermon on this passage by the fourth century preacher St. John Chrysostom. When I work with children and youth, I often refer to saints as big brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s allay any uncertainty in the power of what we do here by closing with these words from our big brother John.

“[I]ndeed Christ’s body is set before us now, not His garment only, but even His body; not for us to touch it only, but also to eat, and be filled. Let us now then draw near with faith, every one that hath an infirmity. For if they that touched the hem of His garment drew from Him so much virtue, how much more they that possess Him entire? Now to draw near with faith is not only to receive the offering, but also with a pure heart to touch it.

Believe, therefore, that even now it is that supper, at which He Himself sat down. For this is in no respect different from that. For neither doth humanity make this and Himself the other; but both this and that is His own work.

“Yea, for this mystery is a mystery of peace.”

“These are our venerable things, these our mysteries; with this gift do we adorn ourselves, with this we are beautified.”


“The Light on your face,” (Transfiguration/Pride Sunday Sermon, August 6th 2017)

“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen”

Luke 9:28-36


It’s good, Lord, to be here.

Good morning, St. Paul’s. I’m so glad to be back. For those who don’t know me, I’m Clare, and I was a seminary student here about four years ago. I couldn’t be happier to have been asked to serve while you search for an interim and enter into this new stage of your ministry. St. Paul’s always felt like home to me, from the moment I first walked in the door. It was the first church I ever stepped into where I felt…ordinary.

This is meant to be a compliment! I’ve always felt that St. Paul’s had a gift for hospitality to those who might not easily fit into other churches or other traditions. It was the first parish I ever went to that was visibly ethnically diverse. It was the first church I ever went to that was economically diverse. It was truly diverse in terms of sexual orientation. We’ve got everything from punks to prudes in this house of God, and that is something to celebrate, every day and on this Pride Sunday, and most especially on this Transfiguration Sunday.

Transfiguration is one of those churchy words that might sound unfamiliar, but everyone knows what it means here, in your heart. It’s one thing for me to tell you the strange story of light-up Jesus and the all-star celebrity guests, Moses and Elijah. For people of Jesus’ time, this was a very important story, so important that it made its way into three out of four gospels. For those people, this story was an endorsement, an affirmation, a commissioning. This was proof that Jesus’ message was worth listening to, and it definitely would have strengthened the bond between Peter, James, and John, perhaps providing them extra fuel for that evangelistic fire they needed to continue their work, during Jesus’ life and after his death. And of course, for those who came to know Jesus after the events of Easter, it would have solidified the authority of those three disciples to teach and witness.

But is this what it is for us, today, here?

For many Christians, it is.

For us…it can be.

But we live in a very different time. Our people, grafted onto the branch of Israel, have charted our own course now. Unlike those who once heard this story straight from eyewitnesses, those who still identified as Jews, we run the risk of no longer seeing this as a fulfillment of received tradition, but something oppositional, something that points to Moses and Elijah and tries to claim them for ourselves without hospitality for the Jewish people from which we came, tries to own them, to say, “See? These guys were on board. When are you crossing the pond? When are you going to accept Jesus?”

It may sound a little oversensitive, but I can assure you that this attitude flourishes in many other churches, and it has played out in ways that all of us shudder to remember, and I know that we are better than that.

So how can we claim this – not only as Christians, not only as Anglicans, but as St. Paul’s in the West End, on Pride Sunday?

I said earlier that Transfiguration is a word that might sound unfamiliar, but that all of you understand, here, in your heart.

It shone from your face the first time you realized that you could live a whole lifetime and never know everything there is to know about this piece of the universe.

It shines from the faces of queer kids when they feel strong enough to claim who they are, from the faces of trans people who receive their new names, like some of our friends have in this church, and that one of my friends will later this evening.

It feels like the moment you decide to stand up for something knowing that it might cost you more than you are comfortable giving…and doing it anyway, because you know it’s right and so the risk is worth it.

It is the light that shines forth from the faces of those who have holy truths to share, those who keep holy company. It is a piece of God that, with the dawn of the resurrection and in the scarlet flames of Pentecost, was laid across our shoulders like a mantle.

It’s then obvious that Pride Sunday is the perfect day to commemorate this story of transfigured shining humanity. There is still so much love and truth to be witnessed to in a world that has trouble affirming goodness and light. We live in a world that still struggles to contain people in boxes, because for some that seems so much easier to handle. For example, despite the beauty and pageantry of today’s celebrations, we are still yearning for every person to embrace the fullness of humanity, for feeling that Pride spirit that is not only about acceptance but celebration of the fleshy nature of humankind. Think about it: Pride is not only about those who don’t fit the so-called norm for orientation or gender expression. It’s also, quite frankly, a celebration of sexuality, of human beings delighting in other human beings, not for exploitation or propagation, but for joy and love. At its best, it’s a celebration of that sacramental truth that when we come together, as a community and as individuals, in intimacy of all kinds including the deepest kinds, there are walls – between individuals and between genders – that are broken down.

This, I think, is one of the good reasons why the Christian church gets so weird about sex. The church realized that it is a physical expression of a much deeper spiritual truth of underlying connection between all things, something which just so happens to be hardwired into us, something that is transformative when done well and demeaning when done poorly, and so deserves respect.

In some ways we can even say this part of Pride is very Anglican, if we consider the importance Anglicans place on the incarnation of God among the created order, and on the communal nature of God made manifest in the Trinity.

This is written into who we are, as creatures and as Christians. Accepting the truth of our fleshiness and pledging to embrace it while simultaneously becoming so much more, is what makes our faces shine, what makes us see miracles on mountaintops.

Now of course, in the story, it is not possible to stay forever on the mountaintop. Eventually, that bottled lightning moment fizzles out and becomes Jesus left alone with his friends. We are not permitted to make a home there, away from the crowds and away from those who would deny the light on our faces. Eventually, we have to come back down. Our task is different from Peter, James, and John, in that we are called not to keep this sacred truth a secret.

I would never tell you that this is an easy thing. Faith is easier on mountaintops with people we know and trust. But if we stay there, we remain only a few. If we go back down, we can one day return, but with so many more. We will be transforming those others, as well as being transformed by them, saving as well as being saved.

We are called as Christians to live out loud.

You as St. Paul’s have definitely been called to live out loud.

So keep your voice and your heart strong. Today, let us journey to the mountaintop and bask in the joy and happiness of those around us, whether it’s in the riotous chaotic colour of the streets, or in a quieter place among your close friends, or alone, staring out at the beautiful blue expanse of the Pacific or into the face of a beloved or a friend.

Tomorrow, take up that rainbow in your heart, remembering that just as it is a sign of the pride we share in who we are, fully realized human creatures, it is also a sign of divine reconciliation, a sign that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

It’s good, Lord, to be here.

“God’s Hidden Work,” (Sermon, July 30th 2017)

“Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

44 ‘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.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52


Good morning, St. Margaret’s. I’m Clare and I’m filling in for Heidi today.

I consider St. Margaret’s to be my new parish home. I just finished my curacy – which is kind of like an apprenticeship for new priests – at St. Philip’s in Dunbar Heights, where I primarily worked with children, youth, and families. The place has a robust Church School program, and one of the curricula we used was called Godly Play, a Montessori-based curriculum designed for children but often very meaningful to adults as well. Children are taught, with great respect and dignity, to learn bodily and mental stillness while in places of worship, told the stories of the Bible and the rituals of the church using accessible language and concepts, and encouraged to reflect and respond theologically in many ways, particularly through art.

There are three types of stories told in Godly Play, and each one comes with tactile objects that the children can play with themselves once the story is told. One type is Sacred Story, which focusses primarily on stories from the Bible. Another is Liturgical Action, which teaches the children about sacraments and things done or seen in church. And another is Parables.

In Godly Play, Parable stories come in gold boxes. The children are led through the same reflection each time a Parable is introduced, with the storyteller encouraged to use a voice of quiet wonder.

A parable box. Source:

You say, “This box looks old. Parables are old. They are thousands of years old. Maybe this box has a parable inside.

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.

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.”

I can’t talk about Parables in church without remembering this opening set of statements.

Wikipedia says that the word “parable” comes from a Greek word meaning “comparison.” They are different from fables in that they feature human characters rather than animals. Many scholars believe that the ones in the New Testament are the closest we have to the original words of Jesus. Some of them, like the Parables of the Sower we heard a couple of weeks ago, come with explanations, and some, like today’s, come with none. Some are very long, and some are only a sentence or two. All of them are about the Kingdom of God, which Matthew calls the Kingdom of Heaven.

While I was on vacation last week, I spoke with the dear friend I was visiting about this morning’s passage. She’s a schoolteacher and so I was interested in her perspective on them as a teaching tool. She told me she saw these parables as a way for Jesus to reach a wider audience – whoever didn’t understand one might understand the next. She thought the use of everyday scenarios helpful to ground listeners in their daily lives. She confessed complete bafflement at the one about the treasure in the field, and together we giggled wondering if the disciples’ answer to Jesus’ question, “Do you understand this?” was whole-hearted, or whether it was more like the half-mumbled answers of her teenaged students.

Like Godly Play, parables are accessible to all ages as teaching tools, which is likely why Jesus used them. But despite the fact that Jesus used familiar scenarios and characters, this doesn’t necessarily make them easier to understand.

So there’s an element of mystery to them. We’re given no explanation of how the Kingdom of God is like a mustardseed, or yeast, or treasure in a field, or a merchant, or a fishing net. And yet in one of the verses missing from today’s passage, we hear,

“Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet:
‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.’”

This is hidden knowledge.

That word “hidden” is important, I think, because there is an element of hidden mystery in each parable that we hear, like the lid of that gold box that’s hard to open.

A mustardseed germinates and grows in secret. A loaf of bread is leavened in some mysterious way that can’t be witnessed, except through the rising. Treasure and valuable objects are hidden. Fish under the blanket of waves swim into a net and are drawn up.

What is striking, maybe even a little troubling, is how the work is not entirely dependent on our participation. We can plant and care for a mustardseed bush, but they grow wild as well, and only God controls the sun. We can add yeast to bread, but how did we ever discover the properties of yeast in the first place – surely it was discovered by accident, rather than through the scientific method! Who hid the treasure before it was found? Who was the seller of the pearl of great price? What draws fish into a net? Again, bait attracts them, but fishers know that you can spend hours and catch nothing one day and catch dozens the next day with the same bait.

There are forces at work in each example that are beyond our control.

I think this is an extremely important truth for the church today.

We focus a lot on what we can do to bring about the Kingdom. Parables become a chance to trawl for examples of behaviour, for things we can do to open ourselves, to sow the seeds of God’s word and God’s justice and God’s love. And make no mistake: this is important. Your work within and beyond these walls – your work as you, the teacher, the doctor, the salaried and the wage-slave, the parent, the lover, the relative, the friend, and your work as St. Margaret’s – is vital to the germination, the flowering of the Kingdom of God. The whole Body of Christ needs your truth, your story, your family, your faith, to grow, and it will be far greater than a mustardseed bush.


When we fail – not IF, but WHEN – and indeed when the world fails to hear and act, we should come together and rejoice in the secret work that is done; the secret work done not just by God, but indeed by all of creation.

The seed that dies, and by dying bears much fruit, which feeds a world.

The bee that flies from flower to flower, feeding herself and her own little corner of the world, and so many more.

The cells that live inside your body, that somehow, without any measurable consciousness, know the cruciform way of life, dying in order to allow new life to flourish.

The star that expands outward and eventually explodes into a nursery for new life, and indeed imparts life to others, to which we carbon-carriers can testify.

The rain that falls on just and unjust and then like angels on a ladder ascends, and descends again.

When we are weary, when we are asleep, when we are in despair, when we stumble, when we forget to be kind or to let go of what needs to die for new life to begin, the universe, having been made holy by the divine presence that lived and walked among us, continues to sing the song of enfleshed divinity, of death and resurrection, of self-giving love.

There’s a saying: Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.

My prayer for all of us is that we continue to try our best to take instruction from God’s Holy Word – Son and Scripture – and never cease to praise the One who has taught all the cosmos to participate in the work of new life, in the revealed and in the hidden places, in the dark and in the light, in the known and in the unknown.