15 January 2017

Baptism of the Lord

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Church, 15 January 2017
Photo Credit: Waiting for the Word on Flickr.com

Baptisms are one of my favorite things to do.

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 the building.

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 perfectly silent.

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.”

The whole 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 her brother.

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.

The whole 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 chaos.

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 creation.

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..

Daniel Chambers 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?"
"The story says that the heavens were opened, right?"
"The heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came down, right?"
"That's 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.

Baptism means 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.

Ultimately, 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.       

08 January 2017

Epiphany Carol Service 2017

Sermon by the Rev. Holly Klemmensen
St. Luke's, Anglican Church, Burlington, ON (Diocese of Niagara)
Photo Credit: Carl Jones on Flickr.com

01 January 2017

Holy Name 2017

Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, Ontario (Diocese of Niagara)
Photo Credit: Maria Mendes on Flickr.com

What’s in a name? We, quite a lot, really.

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.

The  main 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.

25 December 2016

Christmas Eve/Day 2016

Sermon by H. Stuart Pike
St. Luke's Anglican Church, Burlington, On (Diocese of Niagara)
24/25 December 2016
Photo Credit: Loci Lenar on Flickr.com

Christmas Eve/Day 2016
Isaiah 9: 2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:  11-14
Luke 2: 1-20

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 us.

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 Canada.

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. Amen.

20 December 2016

Advent 4 C - Lessons and Carols

Sermon by the Rev. Holly Klemmensen
A Service of Lessons and Carols
Photo Credit: Albert on Flickr.com