December 27, 2013

Jesus Christ Is the Real Saviour (Christmas 1 on Union Island)

The world Jesus was born into was in desperate need of a saviour. The people were militarily oppressed by the Roman armies that had taken away their status as a nation. They were religiously oppressed by the Temple Priests and Pharisees who had reduced their faith in God to burdensome rituals. Their only hope was that God would intervene in history and save them from spiritual oppression and fear of death.

1.    Matthew is helping us understand the connection between Jesus and Old Testament prophecies of the coming Saviour.
The Hebrews had a long history of God intervening to rescue or save them from enemies. All of these stories are about individuals:
·         Noah is saved from the Flood.
·         Abraham is saved from obscurity and called to found a nation.
·         Jacob saves the people from famine.
·         Moses saves the people from slavery.

None of these experiences of being saved is very long-term. It is never long before the people forget their history and fall away from their dependence on and obedience to God. So starting with Isaiah and Hosea we are told of a special Saviour.

December 21, 2013

The Birth of Jesus is Like a Light Coming Into the Darkness

(Teaching notes for Christmas on Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines)

John is trying to explain the significance of Jesus birth. This is one of the most important events in human history. We measure time from Anno Domini – the year of the birth of Jesus. This is AD 2013. John begins with an explanation that would be clear to people familiar with Greek Philosophy. Their idea of God was wisdom which Greeks described as The Word. Once he has their attention John moves on to connect the birth of Jesus to being like a light coming into the world. Let us get a grasp of what John means by light coming into the world before we move on to look at the meaning of Jesus birth.

1.    Isaiah reminds of what it was like to live in darkness
He uses the image of a “yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders and the rod of their oppressor” (9.4) This prophecy was written down either just before or after the Hebrew people were taken into Captivity by the Babylonians in modern day Iraq. The Hebrew people were punished by God for 80 years. They lost their freedom. They lost their sense of God being with them. For the first time in hundreds of years they felt abandoned by God. They had lost their hope in the future. They were like many people in our time who have lost their faith in God and who have never had a personal experience of God working in their lives. This describes the situation that Jesus was born into. The old religious customs were maintained by the priests. Most people had some sort of religious life. But many had given up on waiting for the promised Messiah. Like many of us they only had the distant history of relationship of the Hebrew people with God. Most did not have any personal experience of God. It was only the poor and desperate that continued to cry out to God for help. And they were not disappointed.

2.    The people walking in darkness would see a great light. (9.2)

December 19, 2013

Love Calls Us All to Have Faith (Advent 4)

The story of the birth of Jesus is a love story. It is not the usual mushy, sentimental romantic kind of love story we think of when we think of a man and woman in love. It is a divine love story that describes a kind of love that is harder, more challenging and requires serious risk and commitment. God is reaching out to Joseph and Mary in love. God is going to love them enough to trust them with Himself in human form. This challenges Joseph and Mary to respond to Gods' love reaching out to them in faith. It challenges all of us to also respond in faith to the love of God we see in the birth of Jesus.

1. Love called Joseph to have faith
Joseph was in a very difficult situation. He was legally engaged to marry Mary. They were in that special time before marriage when families used to check each other out and the couple decides if this is really the right thing to do. I saw an example of this in 2007 when serving the Dinka Anglican Fellowship in Calgary. The two Dinka weddings we celebrated were the outcome of years of checking out families back in the Southern Sudan.
  • Hebrew families would watch the couple very closely to ensure they had no opportunities to have a sexual relationship.
  • Pregnancy outside of marriage was considered a big disgrace. In fact the penalty was death by stoning. So Joseph was thinking about sending Mary away somewhere safe where she could have the baby.
  •  The visit of the angel upsets this plan and challenges Joseph to have faith that this was part of a divine plan. Joseph was challenged to place the future of his family completely in the hands of God. Nobody would believe he was not the father.

Most people in our time do not believe that the Holy Spirit, not Joseph was the father of Jesus. At Christmas we share in the faith of Joseph that God could trust humans with the birth of His son.
  
2. Love of God calls us to the obedience of faith

Serving God Is Perfect Liberation

(Homily notes for a Novena service, Advent 2013 by Fr. John Gishler in St. Vincent)

The question I was assigned is “Do you believe that the deepest meaning of the liberation of a person lies within the service of God.” It is tempting to say yes and sit down – but there are two other sub-questions:
  • What about those who do not?
  • What is your message to them?
 So the short simple answers to the three questions are:
·        Yes,
·        They are toast and
·        Turn or burn.

Let me try and answer these questions in a little more Biblical and loving way.

1. Serving God liberates us from slavery to self

December 13, 2013

What Are You Looking For? (Advent 3)

The word "Advent" is from the Latin verb "veno" to come and the prefix "ad" which means before. We are focusing on how to prepare before Jesus comes to us personally in our own time. In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 11.2-11) Jesus is using the visit of the disciples of John the Baptist to explain what it was people were looking for in John the Baptist. He uses this to explain who He is. Jesus is clearly claiming to be the long awaited Messiah John was pointing to. You can not prepare to meet Jesus if you do not know what or who you are looking for.

1. Jesus asks if they were looking for a reed blowing in the wind?
Jesus is teaching about John and Himself by explaining what John was not. A reed is weak and is blown about by the wind. John the Baptist was the opposite. John was strong and unchanging in his message. It takes courage to step out of a comfortable life and call people to repent.
  • John was very serious about his faith. He was very angry at the way in which the religious leaders of his time had distorted the Hebrew faith. He went out to find the authentic God himself.
  • When God spoke to him he responded and made the sacrifices required. Jesus describes him as the greatest of the prophets because of his faithfulness.
  • Then Jesus says something astounding. He tells the people that even though John is great spiritually, the least spiritual person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John. Jesus is not speculating. Jesus is stating a fact. How does He know this? Jesus knows this because he has been there Himself. This is an indirect but clear claim to be the long expected Messiah. It is spoken in coded language but it is not ambiguous.
 2. Jesus asks the people if they went out to see a king?
Again Jesus is teaching about John and Himself by explaining what John was not. A king is wealthy and powerful and lives in luxury and comfort surrounded by admirers. In contrast John was poor, had no political power and lived alone in a very hostile environment. Why?
  • John wanted solitude. John wanted to be alone with God and pray. He wanted to avoid distractions. He wanted to get away from the polluted spiritual atmosphere of Jerusalem.
  • John wanted to live in a spiritual kingdom - an authentic spiritual kingdom. This is why he needed to get away from the crowds of people who were not really seeking a spiritual life.
  • This is also why other people, who were seeking an authentic spiritual life, came out to see him. These people also knew that they could not find an authentic spiritual experience of God in the city.
  •  The Good news is that they knew what they were looking for and that they found it.
 3. Do you know what you are looking for?
If you do not know what you are looking for you may not recognize Jesus when He comes to you as the Holy Spirit. The people in that particular crowd would have known what they were looking for. They were looking for a Messiah who would do the marvelous things prophesied by Isaiah 800 years earlier. They were looking for someone who would change peoples' lives as dramatically as pouring water in the desert, opening the eyes of the blind, curing leprosy and raising the dead.
  • Notice how Jesus communicates to the crowd and to John in prison in code. He never says He is the Messiah. That would cause a riot, attract the wrong people and get Him crucified.
  • When the disciples of John ask Him if He is the expected Messiah, Jesus lays out His answer in code. He instructs them to tell John what has happened. The good new is being preached to the poor. The eyes of the blind are being opened. People are being cured of leprosy. The dead are being raised. This is actually much clearer and more verifiable that a simple "yes".
 So what are you looking for?
Many people are not seriously looking for Jesus at all. Others may be looking for him in the wrong places. Many people underestimate Jesus. They may see Him very vaguely as a sort of Santa Clause who somehow takes away their sins and gets them into Heaven.
  • When you study the Bible you get a much different idea of what to look for when Jesus comes into your life.
  • If you feel guilt and shame because you have separated yourself from God by rebellion and sin, Jesus is the one who will take your guilt and shame to the Cross, forgive you and restore you to right-relationship with God
  • If your life has been a struggle for acceptance and attention you may find Jesus is the one who overwhelms you with love.
  • If you have been terribly wounded by life you are looking for the one who heals you.
  • If you have been abusive and selfish in your relationships you should look for Jesus as the one who weeps at the pain you have caused until you repent and weep with Him.
  • The experience of personally meeting Jesus is painful but transforming. Isaiah described how radical this will be long ago - "… the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…Water will gush forth in the wilderness…" (Isaiah 35.5-7)
 Know what you are looking for –

 it will be an authentic personal experience of the Holy Spirit and lead you through the pain of repentance, forgiveness and healing to a life of love, joy and peace

December 7, 2013

Baptisms of Repentance, The Holy Spirit and Fire Give Us Hope

(Father John and Lucille are temporarily serving in the Anglican Diocese of the Windward Islands, on the Island of St. Vincent)

The story of John the Baptist is the basis for our teaching on what people must do to become serious Christians and have hope. Hope is what frees people from fear and enables them to love God, themselves and others. The readings for this Sunday include teaching on the three different types of baptism that we all move through as we grow in hope and in our spiritual lives. The first strep is the baptism of repentance which prepares us for the second Baptism of the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit comes into us and teaches us we are being prepared for the third baptism, the baptism of the fire of love. As we progress in our spiritual lives we find ourselves cycling back through these baptisms as we discover deeper levels of sin in ourselves and need more teaching.In all of this we are growing in our hope that God loves us and will bring us eventually to eternal spiritual life in His Kingdom.

1. The First Baptism is Repentance
John the Baptist gives us a very clear picture of what baptism is. It is not about joining the church as the people he is baptizing were probably all practicing Jews. In fact that raises the question of why would people who were already part of a religion want to be baptized. Why were they at the Jordan instead of at their local Synagogue? The answer is given in how John responds to the Sadducees and Pharisees when they show up. He calls them "Vipers"- snakes. The modern equivalent would be clergy who were over focused on the detailes of ritual and doctrine. John call them "snakes” because they  do not really love God and are not really caring for God’s people.
  • John tells them they must "produce fruit in keeping with repentance." (Matthew 3.8) The message is that knowing religious doctrine and keeping religious ritual is not good enough.
  • What is required is evidence, or fruit of repentance. Repentance means being sorry for what you have done or failed to do.
  • What the Sadducees and Pharisees were trying to do was earn their right relationship with God by right knowledge or right behaviour. Many people in our time believe they can be in right relationship with God by being a good person.
  • This is not what the Bible teaches. In fact this is the opposite of the message of John the Baptist. We all need to go through self-examination and repentance as our first baptism or first step in spiritual growth.

2. Our second baptism is in the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit can not live in a garbage dump. This is the second baptism because people have to go through the spiritual cleansing of repentance before the Holy Spirit can live in and activate their personal spirit. This is the gift that Jesus promises to everyone who puts their trust in Him.
  • Many people have this gift but are not aware of it because nobody has taught them this. Often the Holy Spirit is lying dormant inside us because we are not paying attention, not reading our Bibles and not having a daily quite time. But when we do pray and listen we discover our spiritual gifts
  • The Isaiah reading (11.2) teaches us this can be the "Spirit of wisdom and understanding…knowledge and the fear of the Lord." This is very important. The same Spirit that inspired the people who wrote the Bible can come to us and help us understand what it means for us in our particular lives.
  • The bad news is that there is also a counterfeit or false spirit that is easy to mistake for the Holy Spirit. The spiritual world is currently a battleground where our discernment is tested.
  • The good news is that we can move beyond a legalistic understanding of the Bible to a wisdom understanding. As we are quiet in our prayer time wonderful ideas and words sometimes just appear in our heads. It is often, but not always, the Holy Spirit teaching us. This is the second baptism that prepared us for the third baptism.

3. Our third baptism is in the fire of love
Just as our repentance baptism is symbolized by the washing of water, our third baptism is symbolized by the burning up of fire. What is burnt up in the fire is the remaining parts of our selfishness and pride.The Holy Spirit is what many people think of as conscience. This is the little voice in the back of your head that warns you when you are doing something foolish.As we are filled more and more by the Holy Spirit we experience the love of God burning inside us giving us hope.

This fire of the love of God burns up our selfish fear and gives us the hope we need to live a life of love with the fruit of love.

November 8, 2013

WAR IS A VISIBLE SIGN OF THE SPIRITUAL BATTLE (All Souls / Rememberance Day)

Today as we remember those who gave their lives in war for us, it is good to reflect on how such terrible wars could have happened. I grew up during the Cold War. When you live under the threat of world-wide nuclear extermination it focuses your attention. I have stood in the huge cemeteries of Europe where you can see over 17,000 crosses, each representing a young life cut short. The Good News is our hope that they inherited a more glorious eternal spiritual life of joy.

1. I tried for years to figure out “why things go wrong”
Many people have trouble believing in an all powerful God of love who could allow such a terrible thing as war happen. At seminary I learned this is formally known as the Problem of Evil. We need to understand that God loves us enough to give us free will. The consequence of free will is wrong choices by some people – including national leaders.
  • Post-Enlightenment theology which does not really believe in the supernatural, including spiritual principalities and powers, depends on Education to help people make better choices.
  • Bible teaches us that there are evil spiritual principalities and powers that deceive humans into making destructive choices
  • Evil is a technical theological term for deliberate harm with no mitigating benefits. Bad things happen by chance – evil has intention to harm.
  • Many people are very uncomfortable about accepting the reality of spiritual evil because it makes our lives more challenging
  • We prefer to keep our heads in the sand and avoid trouble
 For me this was a profound discovery that confirmed the Biblical world view and helped me understand why things go wrong – and the importance of spiritual protection.

2. Understand that we are spiritual beings with bodies
Many of the pictures of Jesus show an aura around Him. Our personal spirit is in fact larger than our body and surrounds our body.

October 24, 2013

Right Relationships in the Upside-Down Kingdom

Jesus' point (Luke 18.9-14) is that Kingdom values are different than human values. I had a recent phone conversation with a couple who had been to the funeral of someone who had left the Anglican Church and not shown any outward signs of faith for many years. They were concerned that she would probably not be part of the Heavenly Kingdom. But when the husband opened his Bible for evening devotions before bed he read “..for my ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts...” It was a teaching moment. We are judged on the attitude of our heart ‑ not on our religious accomplishments. Righteousness is all about the grace of an intimate right relationship of love with God.

1. THE PROBLEM IS THAT OUR MINDS DECEIVE US
I discovered this in a very humbling way. In my prayer time I was convinced I was having all kinds of wonderful revelations from God. I was writing these down in a diary. After some time I realized that it was all positive and all about me. It was really the voice of my ego – or possibly even Satan. In addition to the obvious ‘voice of Satan’.

October 17, 2013

We Are Called to Persist in Our Historic Faith (Lectionery Proper 29c)

The Readings call us to repent our collective failure as a church to proclaim the historic Gospel and to persist like the widow and Timothy in teaching the Faith that was handed down to us. We need to recognize our place as a Church that has been marginalized and in effect exiled as irrelevant to the culture. Like the Hebrews in exile we need to repent and be transformed into persistent faithful people.

1. The widow refused to give up in her quest for justice
Unlike many people – and our church, she was not willing to ‘go along to get along’. She stood up to the culture. She was loud and annoying. She overcame the culture and preserved God’s justice.
  •        In contrast many Christians and churches have gradually given in to a “Greasy Grace Theology” that de-emphasizes the serious consequences of personal and corporate sin (spiritual death) and the need for repentance and confession
  •          Many people seem to go directly from sin to forgiveness without any personal guilt, repentance or fear of God
  •          Being a “good loving person” has replaced personal holiness
  •          We have largely accepted a culture where correcting or rebuking people for sin is considered highly offensive

 2. Jeremiah prophesied a New Covenant of personal hope
He was living in exile with the Hebrew people who had been carried away to Babylon (Iraq). They were in deep grief – the grief of repentance.  After seventy years they felt abandoned by God. They had lots of time to think about what had gone wrong:

October 11, 2013

Thanksgiving Keeps Covenant & Multiplies Blessings

The story of  the healing of the ten lepers teaches us the importance of giving thanks to God for all our blessings. All ten lepers were healed of a terrible disease that can best be described as a living death. Only one returned to Jesus to give thanks. Because he gave thanks and acknowledged Jesus as his Saviour he received the double blessings of forgiveness and eternal spiritual life. The Deuteronomy (8.7-20) and the 2nd. Corinthians (9.6-15) Readings assigned, help us understand how giving thanks to God keeps us in our Baptismal Covenant relationship and multiplies blessings in our daily lives.

1. In Deuteronomy Moses is warning the Hebrews about forgetting God
The setting is in the wilderness, after Moses received then destroyed the first tablets with the Ten Commandments. He had returned and found the people had forgotten God and were worshiping a golden calf. Before he goes back up the mountain to renew the Covenant with God and write two new tablets.
·         Moses warns them that when they enter the Promised Land and prosper they will begin to forget God again and think they have prospered only by the work of their own hands

September 21, 2013

Jesus Is Teaching Us to Balance Law and Love in Our Lives (Proper 25c)


The Parable of the Shrewd Manager is much deeper than a simple call to put our love of God above our love of money. It is a call to be wise in balancing the claims of law and love in our judgements and actions. At one extreme upholding the law without love is tyranny and destructive. At the other extreme, love without the law is chaos - and equally destructive. Balancing the apparently opposing claims of law and love in our daily lives is critical to our spiritual life.

1. Law without love is tyranny
How did you respond to the Parable of the shrewd manager? You might have been surprised to hear Jesus apparently suggesting dishonesty is good. Were you upset at the dishonesty of the manager? If you were, as I was, then you are probably reacting out of the “law” side of the “law - love” balance.
  • Law is good when it brings order to life. If there was no sense of trust in the law, modern commerce would cease to exist.
  • Law brings security into our lives – we know what to do / not do
  • God is a God of order. To see this you can just look at any part of creation - a tree, your hand or a flower. What you see is order - order based on rules or laws of nature. The best proof of the existence of God is the argument from creation. If creation follows laws, then there must be a creator who makes the laws.
  • Law is good but can become destructive if it is interpreted out of context and used to control or manipulate others
  • Narrow interpretations of law can lead to destructive actions. For example in the Parable, the manager would be fired and possibly without friends to help him get employment. This would be legally correct - but destructive to him as a person.
 2. Love without law is chaos
Imagine what would happen if every manager was full of love and just forgave all debts. This would be very loving - but there would be chaos. The system of commerce would collapse. Nobody would be willing to risk giving credit or lending money.

September 12, 2013

Sinners Test Our Love (Proper 24)

The Parable of the Lost Sheep is a stinging criticism of a particular type of religious person. It is aimed at people who think they are better than others and have a right to judge others. This is a very natural human thing. I know I have done this and am probably not alone. Jesus is teaching us that judging others may be evidence of a failure to love. There is a distinction between judging in the sense of being aware of sin and condemning the sinner; and being aware of the sin and reaching out to the sinner with an offer of forgiveness. Many people in our time say they try to avoid judging altogether. This is actually more unloving than making a judgment and then reaching out to the lost person.

1. Notice the audience
We have to read the Bible very carefully. It is easy to skim over key words that can change the meaning of the text. We always have to read the text "in context".
  • What is going on?
  • Who is speaking? For example in the Gospel Reading it says Jesus told "them" a parable.
  • Who is this "them". If we look at the preceding verse (Luke 15.2) we are told the Pharisees were muttering about Jesus eating with sinners. My take on this is that Jesus is not talking to the "crowd" or the "sinners". Jesus is talking to the Pharisees.
  • To understand the Parable we need to ask how do the Pharisees relate to going after lost sheep?
  • The role of the Pharisees was to model strict religious behaviour in keeping the Law of Moses; and to teach this to the people by example. The goal was to prevent people from breaking the religious Law and become sinners. Being human they tended to think they were more holy or more religious than others. This attitude of judgment was scaring people and separating them from the people.
  • There was no love in their judgment. It was preventing them from helping those who had broken the Law to repent and change their behaviour. They were not going out after the lost sheep. They were being their own little holy huddle or elite flock of sheep. Jesus is condemning this as a failure to love.
2. Deep down were are all a little like the Pharisees

September 6, 2013

How to Discern Your Cross, Gifts and Ministry

Jesus is building a Ministry Team – just as we are at St. Magloire’s. He is warning his followers to count the cost before they commit to discipleship. Jesus is warning them that unless they love Him more than their families, their ministry as disciples may end in failure. My task at St. Magloire’s is to build a similar Ministry Team that can carry on the work of a full-time priest – without having a full-time priest, or even a part-time resident priest. I know you can do this work because you have done this already. The real challenge is to do this better. We can help more people discover their spiritual gifts, in consultation with others. I can work with Parish Council to assign responsibility for leadership in each ministry as we begin implementing the Strategic Plan. But first we have to heed the warning of Jesus to examine our lives for ‘crosses’ that could limit our success in a particular ministry.

 1. What are the crosses that limit our ministry?
A physical cross kills by limiting movement. Jesus teaches us that we must be ready to take up our cross and move. We must overcome our cross or we will not succeed in a ministry. Holy Spirit led ministry is limited by:
·         Feelings of Guilt and shame that poison our Spirit – can’t hear HS
·         Physical and emotional trauma - doorways to spiritual oppression
·         Personal losses, unresolved grief – sucks energy out
·         Un-forgiveness – a spiritual block to effectiveness
·         Anger, jealousy or bitterness can immobilize us spiritually
·         Pride, narcissism and self-centeredness blind us spiritually
·         Fear hardens our heart, narrows our view and limits effectiveness
 
These crosses may limit which ministries we will succeed in. They may indicate we should be a ‘helper’ in a ministry instead of the leader.
 
2. What are my spiritual gifts?

August 21, 2013

God’s Work In God’s Way – What Is My Ministry? (Proper 21c)

The Call of Jeremiah (1.4-10) reminds me of  Interim Ministry. It is also a teaching on what all Baptized people may be called to do. What is God’s work? What does God want us to do? These are important questions right now at St. Magloire’s as we begin implementing our Strategic Plan. Our task is to develop a model of ministry leadership which is not priest dependent and help each person discover their gifts for ministry and move into a ministry where they can succeed and grow. But we are not to do this in the usual human way of people fighting for power and control. We must begin by surrendering our way to God’s way – the way of self-sacrificial love.

1. What is God’s work?

August 20, 2013

Christian Marriage is a Sacrament

A sacrament s defined as an outward visible sign of an inner spiritual grace. This is where the physical dimension interacts with the spiritual dimension. Since our culture has lost its sense of the spiritual dimension it is important that we review how this works. The most common sacrament is Baptism, where we use the outward physical sign of washing with water to represent the inner spiritual grace of cleansing through faith in the shed blood of Jesus - and the outward giving of a Christian name to represent the inclusion of the person in the spiritual kingdom of God. The Eucharist or Holy Communion is another sacrament where we renew our membership in the Spiritual kingdom by saying “amen” to the prayers over the bread and wine that represent the body and blood of Jesus.

 In Christian Marriage we use the outward visible signs of promises, exchanging rings and wrapping with a priest’s stole to represent the spiritual union of two people in the Body of Christ. We talk about hearts being joined together but it is actually deeper. Christian Marriage is about souls being joined together for eternity.

1. Tara and Jim are joined together by their love for each other

August 16, 2013

Jesus Came To Bring Fire (Proper 20)

It is tempting to skip over this passage (Luke 12.49-56) with it’s dark warning about family divisions and check the other Readings for something happier. The problem is the Good News often seems to come out of the bad news. The verses before our Isaiah (5.1-7) Reading mention a “Spirit of judgement” and a “Spirit of fire”. It is important to understand what Jesus means by ‘bringing fire’. Fire brings with it light, destruction and purification.

1. Jesus is often described as the light of the world
Light helps us see what is hidden in darkness. The darkness Jesus talks about is often spiritual darkness.
Jesus quotes the Isaiah mission of opening the eyes of the blind:
·         His ministry included miraculous healings of physical blindness
·         It focussed particularly on spiritual blindness
·         Spiritual blindness has always been our greatest challenge
·         People understand that there is an invisible spiritual dimension  – and that things that happen there affect what happens here
·         Beyond that we have very little understanding – Book of Job, Elijah
·         By shining the light of His teaching and experience on the world, Jesus opened human eyes to the spiritual dimension
·         This light freed humanity form the prison of spiritual ignorance
·         This light freed people deception and  spiritual oppression


2. Jesus fire destroyed the power of evil to deceive us

August 9, 2013

Life Is A Test Of Faith (Proper 19c)

Many people are unhappy and seem to live lives driven by fear. Fear is not always a bad thing - it can save us from physical and emotional harm. But like everything in excess, it can paralyze us and rob our lives of joy. The Readings (Isaiah 1.1, 10-20; Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12.3-40) encourage us to overcome our fears and have joy in our lives by growing stronger in our faith.

1.     Faith is what we put our trust in and hope for
·         Faith is more than what you know in your head – what you believe in your heart about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit
·         Faith includes what we believe about the unseen spiritual dimension
·         Faith is often confused with a religion or a denomination – i.e. Anglican
·         Faith is often confused with knowing a religious doctrines
·         Faith is trust and hope for the future based on head knowledge, experience and heart dependence

2. Faith is what we believe will happen in the future

Love Is A Choice (Teaching for a wedding)

We use the word “love” carelessly. It is a verb, and action word. Love is something we chose to do. The Readings remind us that God is the source of all love. The Joshua Reading teaches us that God’s love – and all love, requires a response. Without a response love can turn into grief, anger and even hatred. St. John gives us the very good news that God loves us with an extravagant, self-sacrificial love. When we really grasp this, our response is to love God’s creation – and especially other people. But God has loved us enough to give us freedom - so we have to make a choice.

1. Joshua called the Hebrew people to choose which god to honour
·         Scene is just after the conquest of Palestine around 1,200 BC
·         People had settled down, prospered and intermarried
·         Some had begun worshiping other gods – idols etc.
·         Like our time when many people worship materialism etc.
·         Joshua called on them to make a real choice – to “come home”
·         Weddings are a time to make a real choice to love one person
·         Weddings are also a time to chose a church community where your life can be enriched by spiritual teaching, experience and fellowship

2. St. John reminds us that we love others if we know God loves us

July 27, 2013

The Lord’s Prayer As The New Covenant of Jesus (Proper 17)

Jesus teaching on prayer (Luke 11.1-13) is at the heart of our Faith. It is first of all an ideal model or outline for personal and corporate prayer. It can be prayed as is - or expanded on with more specific local petitions. The Prayer is in the form of a covenant. Covenants – such as the Ten Commandments of Moses define who is included and what each party is to do to remain in covenant. This Covenant does not replace, but adds to the Covenant of Moses. This makes the Lord’s Prayer a central teaching on Christian Faith. It is this New Covenant of Jesus that Christians pray and renew as the high point of the Holy Communion Service.

In summary Christian believers covenant (agree) to:
·         Acknowledge the supreme authority of God as their spiritual father
·         Pledge love, loyalty and  respect for the name and character of God
·         Commit to working for the coming of God’s spiritual Kingdom on Earth

In return Christians ask God to covenant to:
·         Give them bread – the daily necessities of life
·         Give them forgiveness – reconciliation with God who is holy
·         Give them spiritual protection – guidance and strengthening in the spiritual testing of life

1. “Our Father in heaven”

July 18, 2013

Only One Thing Is Needed (Proper 16c)


 Jesus is quoting from Psalm 27 - the goal of life is to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Our dwelling in the house of the Lord forever begins with listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in this lifetime. We listen to Jesus when we read the Bible, pray and give thanks. In the Readings Mary has chosen the better part because she has chosen to not be distracted from listening to Jesus by the many other things that needed to be done. Listening is very much on my mind as I have been paying through some challenges in my Interim ministry and have received helpful direction from the Holy Spirit.

 1. So who do you listen to?
Many people are so busy listening to the demands of daily life and their families that they neglect to focus on the voice of Jesus
  • Morton Kelsey – “busyness is not of the devil busyness is the devil’
  • Most people use the word “busy” to describe ‘how they are’
  • At work we listen to colleagues, supervisors and secular culture
  • Fear of failure drives us into ourselves – escape into busyness
  • Voices of shame and guilt drive many people away from God
 
We get distracted and fail to focus on the one thing we need - help from the one who can really help us. The question for all of us is “What distracts me from listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit every day?”

 2. Amos warns us of the consequences of not listening to God

July 12, 2013

Mission is to Boldly Proclaim God’s Grace, Love, Forgiveness, Healing (Pr. 15c)

The Readings are very helpful for many churches like St. Magloire’s that are facing the realities of downsizing and adapting to a new model of ministry. Before deciding on a new leadership model, churches need to develop a consensus on mission. “What are we here for?” Thriving churches have a clear and practical motivating vision. (‘survival’ is not a clear or practical motivating vision).

·         Amos (7.7-17) reminds us that God measures us against a standard of straightness – just as a wall is measured by a plumb line.
·         Jesus defines the Christian plumb line as demonstrating our love of God by having mercy on our neighbour
·         Paul explains the process of growing in our love of God as we first hear then believe the Good News; and develop the hope and love in our hearts that is proclaimed in what we say and do in our lives
·         Mission of the Church is to be the body of Christ in the world by teaching and modelling God’s grace, love, forgiveness and healing

1. The Good Samaritan is proclaiming God’s grace by his actions

June 19, 2013

Are You Guided By the Holy Spirit?

(Bible Teaching for Proper 13, 2013 by Rev. John Gishler)

1.     Paul is teaching us the difference between those who are guided by their selfish human nature and those who are guided by the Holy Spirit – applies to individuals and church congregations

Question is who or what do you really depend on for guidance in daily life?
·         Before we become a serious Christian we are naturally guided by a mixture of our fears, wants and ego – “the flesh” or “my way
·         Hebrew people were mainly guided by the Teachings of Moses
     Galatians 5.1, 13-25 teaches us a new way to grow in love, control our       fears and selfishness and be guided by the Holy Spirit in daily life

June 15, 2013

Fathers Protect the Inheritance With Self-sacrificial Love

In our time many men, like King Ahab in the 1 Kings 21.1-10 Reading, have abdicated their role and responsibilities as protectors of the family inheritance. My generation matured in the 60’s when women were struggling for equal treatment as employees. Since then there has been a lot of male authority bashing as the excesses of male physical and sexual abuse have been exposed. The Lectionary Bible Readings help us understand the role and responsibilities of Jewish and Christian men as fathers.
1. The “vineyard” is a metaphor for spiritual life
A vineyard is a complex living creation that requires constant nourishment and protection – just like a human life and particularly like human spiritual life.

June 7, 2013

Reflection on Turkey, Greece & Albania Trip

This question “How Have You Changed As a Result of This Trip?” was proposed for us on the last day of our 23 day trip through Turkey, Greece and Albania. Everyone on the bus was too exhausted to discuss this after over 6,000 km of bus - but today is a new day. We have had a good sleep and are on our way back to Calgary. My day started with the Holy Spirit reminding me to reflect on how I had changed regarding contending for the Faith, the Orthodox Church and the importance of living life to the full.

June 5, 2013

Jesus Brings Us Out of Death into Life

The Readings and Prayers assigned for today all deal with the good news of coming out of death into life. Our Anglican (BAS) Eucharistic Prayer # 3 condenses the Good News of what Jesus does into three steps to personal spiritual life. In him we come:
  • From error into truth (through teaching)
  • From sin into righteousness (through forgiveness)
  • From death into life (through salvation)

 1. The widow and her son faced death by starvation in a time of famine
1 Kings 17.8-16 tells us Elijah was directed by the Holy Spirit to visit and stay with a poor widow during a famine he had earlier prophesied. The verses preceding tell us God had fed him with ravens that carried food to him in the wilderness. Now he approaches a starving widow and asks for water and bread. She tells him she has only a small jar of flower and some oil – only enough for one last meal before she and her son starve to death.
  • Step 1: Elijah teaches her a prophecy that the jar and oil will not fail
  • Step 2: Widow believes the prophecy and is in right relationship
  • Step 3: Widow and son are restored to physical and potentially spiritual life

May 29, 2013

Resurrection in Albania

We came to Albania very aware that we did not know what to expect. Albania was tagged on partly because we could not get into Syria and partly because the Apostle Paul claimed to have preached the word (in Acts) in Illyricum – modern Albania. The question was did Paul just get to the border with Greece or did he preach and establish churches inside Albania. Last night we had and amazing meeting with some monks and the Orthodox bishop of Tirana (after a 3.00 am wake-up and flight via Munich). In response to questioning the responded by observing that Paul would not have just gone to the border as there was no marked border. You were in Illyricum if you were in a town in Illyricum. They also helped us with many other questions we had about the Orthodox Church.

This was a particularly amazing experience as we had just spent an afternoon seeing and hearing about the economic and spiritual devastation of first Ottoman rule (1453-1912), Tyrannical rule 1913-1944) and Communist rule (1944-1991). Christianity was discouraged (you could not get a Government job) by the Ottoman rulers. Religion was banned by the Communists who destroyed many churches and mosques, converted others into museums or theatres and banished Orthodox clergy. Huge amounts of money was spent on 2,000 concrete and steel bunkers – ostensibly to protect Albania from foreign invaders; actually to protect the rulers. There was hardly any steel left to build houses. People starved to death – they made jokes about being so poor they had to eat grass. In the 1980s there was a lot of unrest, the Communists were voted out and democracy was established. It is still a very poor country – I walked down the street and found the cost of real espresso coffee was five cents in our money. I would be a lot more in the hotel where we are staying as we are in a new parallel tourism economy.

What was most amazing was the brand new (in 2012) Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Tirana. It is a huge and very beautiful modern building with a beautifully finished auditorium downstairs where they do teaching and programs for young people. There are millions of people who have not had teaching for generations (like in Canada). The Orthodox Church has new special Offices for teachers and priests – like in Acts; which do Baptism and Marriage preparation in 3 to 6 months. New Offices have also been established for Youth Ministry, Woman’s  Ministry and Helping People. Religion is not taught in schools so the Church works with local schools to use classrooms for religious instruction. This is critical as parents have not had instruction for generations – as in Canada.


The takeaway – we have seen with our own eyes that Christ’s Church cannot be destroyed by political and economic oppression as tyranny always fails. We have seen a proud people lifting themselves out of poverty by embracing democracy and Christian values of love and service. For most of us this is our first exposure to the Orthodox Church – and it is impressive. There is a spiritual resurrection going on in Albania. Let us give thanks and continue to pray for Albania!