Sermons and Thoughts from St. Luke's.
This blog is to share Sermons and thoughts written mostly by the clergy of the Parish Church of St. Luke, an Anglican Church in Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara) Canada.
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I’ll never forget
the baptism of one tiny little infant in my first parish. She was a young one
and the whole congregation was excited. Baptisms were a rare event in this
little wooden Church by the sea. We were all too familiar with burying our
people. We were used to endings, and beginnings were so much more joyous.
The parents and
grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and friends had swelled the
congregation to five times its usual size.
All of the action
was happening at about chest-height - perhaps four feet off the ground - the
same height as the baptismal font. The water was poured into the font, the
prayers of blessing were said over the water. The baby was carried at this
four-foot level and passed on from mother to priest at about the same height.
But down below
this level was a little tyke - about three years old and perhaps three feet
high. He was the infant’s older brother. He was remarkably well behaved. But
perhaps this was because, apart from his tiny sister, he was the only child in
While all of the
action happened over his head, he stood up on tippy-toes, craning his neck to
see what was going on. He silently went from holding his Dad’s hand, to holding
his mother’s hand, trying to find the best vantage point, but he remained
As I poured the
water over her head, three times, I said the words, “I baptize you in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And everyone said, “Amen.”
And I made the sign of the cross on her forehead with the oil of sacred chrism as
I said, “I sign you with the cross, and mark you as Christ’s own forever.
At this point the
little boy’s patience seemed to have found its end and he yanked on my robe and
said in a little voice, “Let me see.”
congregation watched as I knelt down on one knee and he finally was able to
look down on his sister’s face still glistening from the water and the holy
oil. She was silent, but her eyes were open, without focus, but pointed toward
The boy broke out
into a smile and, in a voice which everyone in that little Church could hear,
he said, “My new little sister.” and laughed with pure joy.
congregation laughed with him, except for both grandmothers who simultaneously
burst into tears.
Yes, well, that
little boy got it right.
His sister wasn’t
only quite newly born - she was just reborn.
Baptism is about
re-birth and new life.
But when John was
baptizing people in the Jordan river, his baptism was about repentance and the
washing away of sins. John was preparing the way of the Lord, and while as
everyone was asking him if he was the messiah, he kept on telling them that no,
he was preparing them for the coming of the real messiah. He wasn’t even worthy
to untie his sandals, he said. And they all needed to be washed clean from
their sins before they could receive him
So we can
understand John’s surprise when Jesus comes and stands in line, just like
everyone else, and asks John to baptize him.
“But”, John says, “I
should be the one baptized by you.”
How on earth could
he possibly wash away Jesus’ sins, he thought.
But Jesus knew
that baptism was going to mean a whole lot more than the washing away of sins.
Baptism was about death and life. It was about creation and recreation.
“In the beginning,
when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and
darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the
face of the water. Then God said, “Let there be light;” and there was light.”
(Genesis 1: 1-3)
Water, to the Jews
represented chaos. But when God’s voice spoke, he created the world out of
In going down
under the waters of baptism, Jesus was going down to a kind of death. By
submitting to John’s baptism, he was taking a step into the void. He was giving
up his control and rushing into his seemingly chaotic life which would end with
his death in the not too distant future.
But, like in
Genesis, God spoke and Jesus heard God’s voice calling him, “My son, the
beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God’s creative voice is making a new
We know the story
of Jesus’ life: we know how he gave and healed. We know about his courage and
even his fears. We know about his passion for justice and about his vision of
God’s kingdom, which turns our world and our values upside down. And all of his
ministry starts from the point of his baptism.
Baptism is a new
creation, and it is a call to ministry, but it is also a call to risk..
tells this story:
‑One evening the
New Testament professor from Princeton Seminary visited a high school youth
group. After the professor finished speaking about the significance of Christ's
baptism as a revelation of God's presence in Jesus, a high school student said
without looking up, "That ain't what it means." Glad that the student
had been listening enough to disagree, the professor asked,
"What do you
think it means?"
says that the heavens were opened, right?"
were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?"
The boy finally
looked up and leaned forward, saying, "It means that God is on the loose
in the world. And it is dangerous."
Baptism is a
dangerous thing: it means that God is loose in your life, and you can’t just
depend on things being the same. Baptism means to you and me that we are called
to some kind of ministry in the world.
stepping into the void and trusting that God will recreate anew out of the
chaos. And this chaos and renewal can happen to us again and again.
baptism does mean that we, like Jesus, will burst up through the surface of the
water to new life and will hear God’s creative voice, “You are my child, my beloved, with
whom I am well pleased.” Amen.
Names are important. When we are known by
name, it means that someone is paying attention. It means that someone is
interested in us. Getting to know each other’s name is an important part of our
Church’s strategy to be more welcoming. This is why we get new people a name
tag as soon as possible. It’s also why we request that our parishioners wear
name tags to help welcome new people so they can get to know our names as well.
Jesus tells his disciples that God knows each person by name. A name speaks to
the essence of who you are.
In the old days your name described who you
were in terms of where you were from or what your occupation was or your
personal attributes. Last names often denoted place or occupation, first names
often denoted personal characteristics or hopes for the person named.
In the Bible, sometimes people’s names
changed after they had an encounter with God. God had a new name for them. God
somehow recognized their changed essential nature which led to their new
mission. Abram and Sarai become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel – one
who struggles with God. Saul – one who persecutes the Christian Church becomes
Paul – the greatest defender and Apostle of the Church. Simon becomes Peter
“The Rock” upon which Jesus will build his Church.
Today’s Gospel reading is very familiar to
us. In fact, we might think it is the same reading we read on Christmas Eve.
And it is, except for the last verse which is added:
“After eight days had passed, it was time
to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.”
Names were usually given at the baby’s
circumcision, just like in the Christian Church, the baby’s name was given as
the child was baptized. But Jesus isn’t given a name thought up by his parents,
but rather, the name given to Mary by the angel Gabriel nine months earlier at
the annunciation. The name means literally “The Lord is salvation.”
Now it is a peculiarity of the Christian
Church, and it’s development in later years through the Roman Empire, that we
have come to know the Son of God as Jesus. But unless the Angel Gabriel spoke
Latin to the Virgin Mary, he actually told her to call him “Yeshua” which was
the Aramaic language spoken by Mary, a version of the Hebrew language which has
the same name as Joshua.
When know that the actual sound that Mary
and Joseph’s neighbours would have heard when she called her son in to dinner
at the end of the day would have been “Yeshua.”
Yeshua, the Lord is salvation, is the name
of our Lord and it is this name that has power and meaning for us today.
Returning to our Saviour’s Hebrew name can
bring us new, or renewed, insight into our Lord today. When we think of Joshua,
we return to the most famous Joshua, before our Lord. The patraich, Joshua, was
the one who completed the journey that Moses began. Moses brought the people
through a time of wandering for forty years in the wilderness, leading them to
the promised land. But Moses never crossed over to that land. He only saw it
from a distance. It was Joshua who brought them over the Jordan to enter into
that promised land.
It is Yeshua (our Jesus) who brings not
only the children of Israel, but all people who follow him into another
promised land: the promised land of the Kingdom of God.
And what does it mean that Yeshua is
“Salvation.” Well the word, Salvation, means healing – being made whole. It
doesn’t just mean “being saved.” Like saved on a shelf somewhere, like a jar of
pickles, just ready for the second coming. Salvation is a dynamic thing, it’s
about a journey of healing. It’s about movement and maturing. And it’s never
about just you. You’re made whole, healed, transformed, not just for you – so
you get to go to heaven someday. You’re set on this journey of transformation
and wholeness so that you can make a difference in this world, and help us all
get to the promised land, which is the kingdom of God.
Now the real truth about this spiritual
journey to which we are called, is that it is essentially an internal journey.
It’s a journey of discovery about who you really are, and what is your true
self. And it is a journey that is not presided by your intellect and your
thinking. It is a journey of the heart.
This is why the one of the most important
points of the Gospel story is that when Mary sees all that happens in the
stable and hears the witness of the Shepherds who rush in from the fields and
tell their stories of the host of Angels. The Gospel says, “But Mary treasured
all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
It seems that so often contemporary
Christians try to sort out their faith in their heads. It’s all about logic and
thinking, and getting everything to make sense. Mary understands that you live
your faith in your hearts, rather than just understanding it in your head.
So for us too, the first and hardest leg of
our spiritual journey is a journey of approximately 12 inches. It is the
journey from the head to the heart.
And how do we learn to ponder these things
in our heart? Well, you’ve got to learn to quiet the head. There are about a
dozen of us who have learning to do that each week for the last seven years
through our centering prayer group which meets every Wednesday at 2 p.m. We
practice a meditative method which helps us to slow down our thinking, and to
find the stillness we need to go deeper and listen for the God whose first
language is silence: who didn’t appear to Elijah in the earthquake, or fire or
thundering wind, but whom Elijah experienced in the sound of sheer silence.
Themain part of the method is to use a sacred word to return to the
stillness when you catch yourself engaged in the head with thinking. You can
choose any sacred word you like, but mine has been for the last seven years,
the holy name of our lord. Not the Latin one we mostly use in Church, but the
name that Mary was given by the Angel Gabriel. The name our Lord heard when his
parents or his friends called him. Yeshua: God is Salvation: the one bringing
us to wholeness of being, leading us one a journey which transforms us and
helps us to be agents ushering in God’s Kingdom in the here and now.
May the Holy name of our Lord, Yeshua, bring
you on that journey. May you find the stillness you need to journey from your
head to your heart, and may you be transformed into all whom you were created
to be. May you give your time and your energy and your life to bringing others
into salvation and may you be made whole. Amen.
Once again, we have actually made it
through the busy, noisy, celebratory and distracting season which is our
commercial lead up to this holy day, and have found ourselves in this holy
space listening to the story of Christmas and remembering what it really is
about for us.
Of course all the other distracting
elements that have been going on around us really had their beginnings in the
celebration of holy things: so much of our Christmas decorations, our Christmas
lights remind us of the triumph of light over darkness at this darkest time of
the year. The gift-giving in celebration of God’s great gift so freely given to
Even Santa is, of course, a take on St.
Nicholas who generously, and secretly, gave money to three poor girls whose
family would never have been able to afford a dowry. Without the dowry the
three girls future would have been very bleak.
It’s a little harder to find the holy
meaning in elves, reindeer and the myriad of other characters which have firmly
entered into our Christmas traditions. But more modern Christmas stories which
have become our tradition including everything from the Grinch that stole
Christmas to Ebenezer Scrooge are all stories of the transformation which can
happen in the human (or Grinch) hearts through the miracle of Christmas.
This year, I sent out on facebook a drawing
of scrooge being approached by different kind of a ghost: The caption says:
“I am the ghost of Christmas Future
Imperfect Conditional”, said the Spirit, “I bring news of what would have been
going to happen if you were not to have been going to change your ways.”
In any case, most of the traditions and
stories of Christmas time are stories about transformation: from darkness to
light, from poverty and fear to abundance and security, from distrust and
enmity to sharing and love. They are stories about relationship which come
about because of the transformation which happens within.
This is what our Christmas lessons are
about as well.
Isaiah speaks to a people in a dark time.
War and the threat of war are nigh. But Isaiah tells King Ahaz to open his eyes
and to see a light which is shining in the midst of the darkness. And the
realization of this light will be in the birth of a child through whom God’s
Kingdom shall reign.
Of course, we don’t have to look far to see
a similar reality to what King Ahaz was experiencing. In the Middle East
(Ahaz’s part of the world) there certainly is war and rumours of war today. It is
a dark time in our world, too, just as it was for the people of Isaiah’s time.
We are desperately in need of some of this
transformation from a time of darkness, fear, poverty and enmity to light,
security, sharing and love.
But a wonderful secret of which Paul writes
to Titus is that through Christ, God’s grace has arrived and the transformation
in this means that we can the agents of God’s grace, living lives of goodness
and grace and, in turn, transforming the world as we build new relationships of
sharing and love.
That’s what the Christmas story in the
Gospel of Luke is about as well. The most surprising things about the story of
Jesus’ birth is that it happened in such a poor and quiet way. It was only the
shepherds – the most humble of folk who were out in the fields outside of
Bethlehem who got the glorious vision. The regular upstanding townsfolk of
Bethlehem itself are completely unaware of the miracle that is taking place in
the midst of them. And not only is the author of the universe being born into
human flesh, he is being born in the most humble of ways.
What could be the meaning in this? God, in
choosing to become human, chose not the great entry of a King, but chose to
come as the least of us. He was born in a barn. Is there anybody here who was
born in a barn? Jesus’ birth was humbler than any of ours, to show us that
absolutely no one is excluded from his knowledge and experience. Jesus, the
King of the universe, is born as least to show that his love is for everyone in
between. No one is left out.
God, in becoming human chooses to enter
into our experience: into the joys and the sorrows, into the messiness of life
and even into the experience of death in order to defeat its grip upon us and
to transform it into eternal life.
At the same time, God, in choosing to
become human shows us that our humanity matters. That it is honoured and that
it can be transformed into something divine even. Jesus became human not just
to save us. He came to transform us, so that we can be engaged in the
transforming grace of God in acts that show light in the darkness, love and
sharing in situations of desperation and enmity.
Nine days ago several of us drove to the
airport and waited with growing excitement as the Syrian family we have
sponsored was going through the final immigration process to allow them entry
into Canada. We had been planning for this moment for well over a year. And
many hundreds of people had been involved in preparing a house for them and
raising the funds that we will need to support them for their first year in
After a four hour wait our family,Said and Wisal (Dad and Mom) and children:
Ahmad, Rayan, Maria and Omar walked through the gates: very happy and very
tired. In those nine days we have seen already how lives have been transformed.
They had been refugees in Lebanon for five years. But not only their lives have
been transformed: all of us who have been working for this have experienced
transformation as well. Even the lady in the supermarket (just another customer),
who, when she realized that this was a Syrian family who had just arrived, was
transformed. Not knowing what to do: she welcomed them with tears in her eyes
and a smile on her face and gave the two girls $5 each. The girls received it
with thanks, not really realizing at first what it was (though they figured it
out pretty soon!)
Three days ago, we had a special Community
Lunch. We do one every 1st 3rd and 5th
Wednesday of most months, but this was our “Christmas” version. We had so many
more people there and we sat and ate roast beef together and listened to a
volunteer band of buskers singing to the music of violins, guitars, mandolins,
drums and more. We brought together poor people and not so poor, lonely people
and groups of friends, old and young. Some of the people who were there
wouldn’t have very many opportunities to have a celebratory meal over the
holidays. Tomorrow some of our own volunteers will assist at the Christmas Day
dinner at East Plaines United Church which we also support financially. Once
again there will be transformative experiences in which God’s grace will flow
through the work of very human hands.
Four days ago, it being a Tuesday, it was
our Food for Life day, as we give out free groceries to any who need them. It
was special because we also gave out turkeys. In addition, many of our
parishioners filled bags full of stocking stuffers for either adults or
children. Many going to families who would never be able to afford to buy them
for their own children. Once again stories of some people who have been
reaching out with God’s grace to transform the lives of others. These are only
a few stories, and stories like these continue throughout the whole year. But
it is what God enables through us as God’s grace transforms our own hearts.
It’s what the essence of Christmas is all about.
And it’s what being human is all about
because of Christ’s birth. God choosing to be human means that the words “I’m
only human” are nonsensical. To be human means so much more than to be “only”
human. It means God is absolutely committed to you being you. So be you, as
only you can be, transformed by the miracle of Christmas to be an agent of
God’s transforming grace active in human lives. A joyous Christmas to you.