Sermons and Readings

September 17, 2023: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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September 10, 2023: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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September 3, 2023: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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August 27, 2023: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints’ Ivoryton, August 27 th 2023

Who do we all think Jesus is?

Matthew’s Gospel quotes “the people” giving answers to the question which fall

in line with Jewish tradition. Jesus must occupy a place in the sequence of the

prophets. There seems to be a belief that prophetic figures may be resurrected,

or reappear in the form of another person, or like Elijah, simply reappear after

being carried up into heaven.

But Peter then says, blurts out almost, that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed

of God to save the people. The “Messiah” is also a profoundly Jewish concept,

built into Jewish cosmology and beliefs about the final goal of history. But to

make that claim means that Jesus occupies a unique place in the history of Israel.

He is more than just a resuscitated or reappearing prophet.

But we have to make our own answer, from our own tradition and experience.

One of the problems about this question, for me as a historian of the Church, is

that for a very long time Christian thinkers were preoccupied (and some still are)

with a different question. They have asked, instead:

What do we think Jesus is? What kind of being is he / was he?

Down the ages many and various answers have been proposed and argued for as

answers to this question.

Trying to make sense of the proposed answers brings us into a subject area called

metaphysics. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy which tries to make rational

sense of statements about what it means for something to exist, especially

regarding spiritual existence.

Please note: there is not, in ancient Christianity, much of an impulse to say “it is a

mystery beyond our understanding, and we should believe without thinking too

hard”. On the contrary, the history of the Church is that people did think through,

maybe over-think, these questions, and often argued bitterly over the answers.

Some early movements could not accept the idea that Jesus had a material

existence. Physical body was nasty, smelly, and unpleasant, and a philosophical

person wanted to live in the spirit. Hence a “heresy” arose, known as Docetism,

which claimed that Jesus only “seemed” to have a physical body, but that in

reality he could not have eaten and drunk, been maltreated by the Romans, been

crucified and died. This idea did terrible violence to the idea of incarnation.

That “heresy” was discredited fairly early in late antiquity. Thereafter, the

majority view was that Jesus was both fully human, and also fully divine. The next

bitterly divisive question was how the divine Jesus and the human Jesus related

one to another. Various answers were proposed, and angrily debated, in the early

Christian centuries.

One idea, associated with Nestorius of Constantiople, was that Jesus had two

distinct and separable natures, divine and human.

In violent reaction against Nestorius, another group argued that Jesus had one

single nature, which in some way contained divine and human aspects. These

believers became known as “Miaphysites” which means “people who believe in

one nature.”

In the year 451 a Church Council held at Chalcedon, in an area which is now an

outer suburb of Istanbul, adopted a formula whereby Jesus had two natures,

which were indivisibly linked, but were nonetheless separate and should not be

confused with one another. The formula of Chalcedon was accepted by the main

Eastern Orthodox Churches and throughout the West, but was (and still is)

rejected by the Coptic, Armenian, Syrian, and Ethiopian churches.

Perhaps absurdly, perhaps terrifyingly, these differences in understanding Jesus’s

natures still keep these “Miaphysite” churches separate from the rest of Eastern

Christianity. A few years ago, a highly educated physician who was also a Coptic

Orthodox Christian explained how important those divisions were to him.

Then, about a hundred years ago, an enormously influential German Protestant

theologian called Adolf Harnack said that this obsession with the metaphysics of

Jesus’s being had, in fact, been a terrible distraction and a mistake. It drew people

away from what Jesus taught to an unhealthy preoccupation with what Jesus


In some modern Western traditions, there is a tendency to go to the opposite

extreme. Some radical progressive Christians stress not only the humanity, but

the political engagement of the human Jesus. In this way of thinking, Jesus was a

friend and supporter of the oppressed poor in Roman-dominated Galilee and

Judaea. He identified with those who were desperately poor, and proposed a set

of values and a way of life that was subtly (and sometimes not subtly) critical of

the imperial structures of the time. “Empire-critical” analysis is extremely popular

at the moment among New Testament scholars. (I sometimes wonder if it is

dangerous if I express skepticism about it to my Union colleagues.)

My problem with this way of thinking is that focusing on the material, political

Jesus involves setting aside, not only the whole history of the Church after the

early decades post-Pentecost: it also involves setting aside most of the New

Testament. There were plenty of political-economic rebels against Rome in the

first two centuries of our era, and we know who they were. Nothing about their

movements lived after them. Jesus was mysteriously and vitally different.

However, it is a legitimate question whether we have been asking the wrong

question, “what” was Jesus, rather than the question he asked Peter and the

other disciples, “who do you say that I am”?

Who is the person, Jesus? The oldest Gospel, that of Mark, begins with the very

blunt statement “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

(Confusingly, some early manuscripts do not have the words “son of God”, but

many scholars believe that the words are nevertheless authentic.)

Most of us would, I think, say that in Jesus we are given a unique insight into the

mind and purposes of a God who is, otherwise, utterly beyond our limited

understanding. That is the message and the wonder of incarnation.

At one and the same time, Jesus brings good news, and in a sense is the good

news. He invites us to trust in the message which he brings, and to believe in who

he is.

We need always to hold these things – Jesus’s message and his core being – in

balance. The first three Gospels (especially) tell us a great deal about what Jesus

taught and did. The Fourth Gospel and all the writings of Paul focus more on the

meaning of who Jesus was, and what his ministry achieved. Yet there is plenty of

overlap: one aspect never entirely pushes out the other.

Jesus as a teacher makes claims that are, to the wisdom of the world, wildly

implausible and contrary to our expectations (think of the Beatitudes)

He says that those who suffer – not just from poverty or oppression, but

also from grief, loss, or lack of confidence – have a special place in the love

of God and can trust in that divine love for them.

 He says that the forces of power – of money, of state-sponsored violence,

of the arrogance of those in authority, of the terrifying entitlement which

sucks people into its orbit and exploits them – may seem to rule the world,

but in the last analysis they do not.

 He says that those who hold positions of religious prestige may not be

those who are closest to God, especially if they make their religious status a

matter of outward show.

How is Jesus in a position to make these counter-cultural and frankly implausible

claims? Because of who he is, shown by his ministry, his speaking “with

authority”, and the conviction, that grew among his friends after his post-

resurrection appearances, that he occupied a unique place in the very being of


Nowadays many of us would not wish to argue that faith in Jesus is the only valid

revelation of God, but would affirm the divine insights of other traditions as well.

How does a more inclusive, interfaith approach affect our understanding of Jesus?

The revelation of Jesus can be added to the other ways that God has made God’s

nature known. It needs not to be rigorously exclusive; but for us who are called to

the Christian way, it will be for us the best and highest way that God is revealed.

In the end, let me offer a very Episcopalian answer. To the extent that we feel

that liturgical repetition of the creed of the Council of Nicea expresses our beliefs,

let us feel fully justified in holding on to that. And if one embraces, in addition,

one’s own personal set of questions? Let us trust that Jesus welcomes and

cherishes the fact that we actually care enough, to try to answer that same

question that Peter answered nearly two thousand years ago.

Who do you say that I am?

submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

August 20, 2023: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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August 13, 2023: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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August 6, 2023: The Transfiguration Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for August 6th, 2023: Feast of the Transfiguration

Why are we celebrating this commemoration on this date? Most years, we mark the Sunday of the Transfiguration at the end of the Epiphany season before the Sunday in Lent, where in a sense it “belongs” in the way that we tell the story of Jesus’s journey towards his Passion.

Essentially, we mark this day because there has been a historic commemoration of the Transfiguration at this time for many centuries. In the Western Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration was definitely assigned to 6th August in 1456. Pope Callixtus III elevated it to a Feast day in that year, when the news arrived that the Ottoman siege of Belgrade had been lifted by the Hungarian Janos Hunyadi. This was just a few years after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. There was a real fear in the West that all Christendom might be overrun, so any setbacks to that advance were seen as providential (however problematic we might find that attitude).

It was not a strong tradition in the early history of the Church of England, but was reintroduced to Anglicanism by the 1892 revision of the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church, and remains there.

It is only celebrated on a Sunday if 6th August happens to fall on a Sunday, otherwise it would be marked in the daily office. According to the BCP, three feasts, appointed on fixed days, take precedence of a Sunday: The Holy Name, The Presentation, The Transfiguration.

So, it is a special day in the way that we organize our worship life.

Right, that’s the liturgical geekery out of the way.

From the time of Origen in the 3rd century, the Transfiguration is believed to have taken place on Mount Tabor, a 1,900 foot mountain in the plain of Jezreel 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee. There are Franciscan and Orthodox monasteries on its summit.

Four accounts of the experience survive in Scripture: three in the Synoptic Gospels and one in the letter of Peter which we just heard. Our Gospel account for today comes from Luke. Each Gospel includes slightly different details and emphases although the basic story is the same.

Let us focus on the essential message first. By even the standards of Scripture, the event we know as the transfiguration (a Latin word invented to express the Greek word metamorphosis) was an extraordinary experience. Jesus was still in the midst of his Galilean ministry, though according to some accounts he

was reaching the end of that phase and beginning to turn his attention to Jerusalem.

This miraculous event, we are told, gave divine witness to Jesus’s unique status as the beloved son of God. Jesus is transformed – Luke’s Gospel does not say “transfigured” or “metamorphosed” but rather “became different” and glows with his own internal light.

The contrast with Moses’s appearance on the mountain when he received the Law is deliberate and emphatic. Moses’s face shone because he had been in the presence of God, and the glow on his face was so extreme that it was uncomfortable for people to look upon.

(Forgive a little digression. For centuries the passage in Exodus about Moses’s face “shining” was mistranslated in the Latin Bible used in the Western Church. The Hebrew word that our bibles translate as “shining” can be read two different ways in Hebrew. Jerome, the 4th-century translator of the Latin Bible, read it in the other possible way in verses 29 and 35, as “horned” rather than “shining”. That is why, in many medieval and Renaissance works of art – including a famous sculpture by Michelangelo –Moses is shown with little horns on his head.)

Back to the point. Moses shone with reflected light; in contrast, the glow that came from Jesus came from within. God was present, but the divine light issued from the body of the incarnate Jesus himself.

Let’s not waste time thinking how this was supposed to happen, or what the apostles and evangelists might “really” have seen. As always, focus on the meaning of the story.

Jesus embodies the power of God within his very self. And he appears accompanied by Moses, who represents the tradition of the Law, and Elijah, who represents the tradition of the prophets. In Luke’s Gospel, and only there, we read that the Moses and Elijah also appeared “in glory”.

The message is familiar. As the Gospels keep saying, Jesus taught that he was the fulfilment and culmination of the Hebrew tradition.

This insight is then confirmed by a heavenly voice. The principal other point at which such a voice is recorded is at the time of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, where we read in 3:17:

“And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’”

Only in John’s Gospel do we read of divine voices at other points in the story of Jesus. In the first three Gospels, God speaks and identifies Jesus as God’s own, at two critical moments in Jesus’s mission. Even so, the disciples are confused about who he really is; the rest of the world is reluctant or disbelieving.

Jesus is revealed in glory only to a select few, and even they don’t quite understand what is happening. In his ordinary ministry, Jesus teaches and heals, and calls on people to learn and draw their own conclusions. The transfiguration is there as a reassurance, but it does not take away the daily struggle of mission and proclamation.

The Gospels are true to our experience. We may experience moments of sudden enlightenment which reassure us of God’s loving presence in our lives. Those moments may come in encounter with the Bible, with the sacraments, with each other, or indeed with the creation. There are many ways in which we can be made to “glow” with the reflected light of God’s presence. But those moments do not last, and they are not meant to last. Some Christians try to stay on the mountain top: mystics and saints who have spent long lives in prayer and contemplation. Jesus prayed, profoundly and often; but he also descended from his secret places of prayer to teach, to challenge, to confront evil forces.

Blazing light can be – as it was in these Gospel stories – a symbol of the powerful presence of a loving God. It can also be morally neutral: uncountable stars across the universe blaze with light, because it is their physical nature to do so. And sometimes, blazing light can signify destruction. 72 years ago on this day, the first of two atomic bombs exploded over Japan, in attacks which brought about the surrender of an otherwise stubbornly resolute military regime.

It is not our task here to reflect on the morality of the use of these terrible weapons. At multiple times in our lifetime, these weapons came dangerously close to destroying life on our world. You and I have spent quite a lot of our lives on what, in purely human terms, has felt like a knife-edge.

And a loving God took human form, and embodied forever the sacrificial love that God shows towards all creation. That cannot change.

But as we descend from the mountain into the messy realities of life, we must always struggle to share the message of love with those who are reluctant, confused, or stubborn. There are a lot of false Messiahs out there. Some of the greatest tragedies of the past century or so arose when would-be-leaders persuaded other human beings to join a movement based on the hatred of one group of people for another – on aggressive division and difference. We see just how fallible humanity is, when so many people trust their identities and their security to utterly unworthy leader-figures.

The real threat to life lies not in our weapons of destruction in themselves (though they are bad enough) but in the shaky quality of those who might use them. Frail egos and needy self-images, among those in power, can all too easily sacrifice human life to their own self-importance.

As people of faith, of hope, and of love, we must speak, and above all we must act, so as to dissuade those around us from the reckless pursuit of security at the expense of others. We must live as though the love of God encompasses everyone, and threatens no-one. We must pray, work, and live for a more equal sharing of resources, care for the creation, and the breaking down of barriers between one people and another.

It is not easy. It was not easy for the apostles and the early Church. But the experience of Jesus transfigured, glowing with his own and God’s light, reassured them, and it is there to reassure us. As the author of 2 Peter wrote, “we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed … be attentive to this as

to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 30, 2023: Ninth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for July 30th 2023, Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12)

We have now reached the stage in Matthew’s account of Jesus’s teaching where Jesus describes, in a series of compact and rather graphic images, the “kingdom of heaven” (which other evangelists, and Matthew himself at times, also call the “kingdom of God”.) There is no real difference between these two expressions: speaking of “heaven” when one means “God and God’s realm” was a bit like referring to “the White House” as an entity, when one means the office of the President.

But that introduces our first problem. Kings: I have one and mostly, you don’t (save for any Commonwealth passport-holders, or citizens of the European constitutional monarchies amongst us). The image of “king” can be at least as problematical, if not more so, than the image of “father”, given that the world’s experience of kings has not always, or even very much, been a good one. And relating to the imagery of kingship, when your whole political culture rests on repudiating that idea, may seem really quite a challenge.

Yet we persistently assign the title of “king” to Jesus, even though when his followers tried to make him a king in the conventional sense, Jesus ducked and dodged. Being accused of aspiring to kingship in the Roman Empire put one’s life in imminent danger.

The term “kingdom of God” was already known to some late ancient Jewish teachers and rabbis, and even in Scripture itself. According to the Wisdom of Solomon chapter 10, personified Wisdom showed a righteous man “the kingdom of God”. However, while scholars have been able to trace divine kingship in the writings of the time before Jesus, there is no doubt that Jesus, (i) used the expression “the kingdom” of heaven, or of God, far more often than anyone before him; and (ii) that he completely transformed its meaning into something very personal and very special.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what “kingship” would have meant for the Jewish people of Jesus’s time. First, kingship was something which the Jewish people had been given, and had lost. Above all it was the kingship of David, who was believed to have created a unified and expanded Israel by his military skill; and of his son Solomon, the one of legendary wisdom and discernment, and the founder of the Temple. Then it had all gone wrong: the kingdom had been divided, and one half was picked off by the Assyrians and the other a century or so later by the Babylonians. Ever since then the royal rulers of Judaea had been outsiders.

Kingship also meant priesthood. In a particular sense the king was the intermediary between the people and their God. In the later history of Judaea there had been a kind of overlap between political and religious leadership in the persons of the Hasmonean high priests. 

Then there was the kingship of the Messiah. For many Jewish believers, kingship was tied up with their hope and expectation that God would give the people a powerful and godly leader who would restore kingship, autonomy, self-government and respect to the people and the nation.

When people heard the expression “the kingdom of God”, it was almost impossible for them not to think of a worldly, political restoration of the nation, either within time, or at the end of history through God’s direct action.

That was a huge burden of expectation for Jesus to take on through his preaching; and yet, rather than avoiding it entirely because of the persistent risk of being misunderstood, he embraced the talk of the “kingdom” and transformed it.

For John the Baptist, and Jesus after him, the “kingdom” was breaking into the world. It was close; it was near at hand; it was waiting to be discovered; it was, in a sense, already among us. It just needed to be recognized.

And in parables, as I have suggested many times, Jesus intends to provoke thought, to challenge, to use powerful and often bewildering imagery to make people reflect, to get them out of their familiar thought-spaces.

What message do our Gospel passages send about the kingdom?

God’s new order seems insignificant in itself, but when it establishes itself in a place where it can grow, it will grow spectacularly, and have influence far beyond itself.

God’s new order is of unimaginable worth; the person who discovers it will feel that it exceeds in value anything else that they own.

God’s new order welcomes everyone, although, sadly, it seems that not everyone will have the grace to receive it.

God’s new order does not supersede or replace God’s former promises, but it does build on them. Teachers trained for the kingdom of heaven bring from their treasure what is new and what is old.

Here Jesus is preaching about nothing less than his own mission and his own message. The “kingdom of heaven” is what the world looks like, when it lives in the way that God intends for it to do.

That means that there are some questions that are not worth asking about the kingdom of God, because seeking answers to them leads one off in the wrong direction.

Don’t ask “where is it?” because it is not some institutional structure which has a headquarters and borders.

Don’t ask “when is it coming?” because it will not come with pomp and ceremony, like the procession of a worldly monarch, and attract everyone’s attention. It will grow silently and unnoticed.

Don’t ask “who is included?” because it is not the special property of any one group of people.

But do ask “how will it transform my life, and how can I (and more importantly, we) be ready to receive it?”

Because it rests on images and parables, there are plenty of sincere people around who try for one reason or another to reduce the kingdom of God to something easier to comprehend.

There are still those who believe that Jesus was fundamentally an insurrectionary leader seeking to free the people of Judaea from Roman imperial control. Even those who do not buy entirely into the Jesus-as-zealot interpretation still make a great deal of what they call “empire-critical” interpretations of scripture. In this view, Jesus’s kingship was an intentional challenge to the Roman emperors who claimed to be divine beings (Vespasian’s “O dear, I think I’m becoming a god!”)

In a different way, an earnest and sincere Lutheran student submitted a dissertation in which she proposed with, I thought, rather too much confidence, that Jesus’s kingdom was a sort of agricultural collective, where the poor of the land could live self-sufficiently away, from the demands of the wealthy landowning classes.

Now, there is nothing wrong in criticizing the lust for power that suffuses so much of the world’s politics, or in seeking to help the poor to lead decent and self-sufficient lives, away from the demands of those who would oppress them. But these good things will ultimately happen, if we first understand how to grow into the kingdom of God.

Jesus’s kingdom does not necessarily entail subverting or destroying the existing political order, nor does it mean escaping to a utopian community outside the normal social order.

It means something bolder: transforming from within the societies we all live in. It means, among many things, being the tiny amount of yeast which transforms the flour in the whole large loaf that is human life.

The kingdom exists in and alongside the social systems and structures that the world lives by. It is something which happens when faithful people gather together and live for each other. When we meet together in the name and in the service of Jesus Christ, we become a part of the kingdom. We become

some of the yeast in the dough.

Finally, the kingdom is a gift, not an achievement. It is the work of the God who took human form and lived among us. The kingdom is the living embodiment of that continuing gift and blessing. So we don’t design a kingdom for God all by ourselves. We receive it as a gift of grace. We proclaim it, we live for it, we make it visible through the love that we show to each other and a needy, hurting world.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 23, 2023: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 16, 2023: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 9, 2023: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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July 2, 2023: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, July 2nd 2023, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

As we were last week, so this week we are exploring a part of Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is preparing his disciples to go on mission journeys. Chapter 10 is entirely devoted to mission, though the chapters which follow do not really tell us what happened after the disciples went on their way. Rather, the Gospel turns to various memorable sayings of Jesus and stories of healing.

The message seems to be that Matthew appended the sayings about preparing for mission to the story of Jesus choosing the twelve apostles. Then he folded in all the advice and promises that were intended, principally, for those who were spreading the good news of Jesus in the latter decades of the first century.

And last week, as you will remember, the news was discouraging, if not downright threatening. The sharing of Jesus’s message would bring conflict, even conflict among those who were most closely linked by family ties. 

This week, we hear the other side of the story. For those who are willing to listen, to receive, to embrace and to support the message of the Gospel, there will be a reward.

But Jesus – or Matthew – makes a deliberate connection with the experience of those who spoke for God in the time of ancient Israel. “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”. 

When we link that saying to the story of Jeremiah that we have also heard over the last few weeks, that statement starts to sound alarmingly ambiguous. What was Jeremiah’s reward for being a prophet? In last week’s reading we heard that Jeremiah was put in the stocks for foretelling the triumph of Babylon over Judah. In this week’s reading, Jeremiah finds himself in a prophesying contest with a rival prophet called Hananiah. More on that in a minute.

Even outside the Bible, the idea that one might prophesy future events and be destined to be rejected, ignored, or disbelieved was a well-known myth. In the ancient Greek tragic drama Agamemnon, written by the Athenian poet Aeschylus, Cassandra, the daughter of the last king and queen of Troy, was loved by the god Apollo. Apollo promised her that she would become a prophetess if she would become his lover. Cassandra agreed to the deal, received the gift of prophecy but decided that she would reject the god’s advances. (Greek drama could be surprisingly feminist at times.) Apollo then, unable to withdraw the gift of prophecy, added the curse that Cassandra would always foretell the truth, but that no-one would ever believe her. She then wanders through the play, and accurately predicts the events of the Trojan War, and no-one believes her.

Prophecy, in both Greek and Hebrew traditions, can be a curse.

Let’s return to Jeremiah for the moment. Just before the passage that we heard read (which makes little sense, by the way, unless you know what comes before it) one of Jeremiah’s rivals, a prophet called Hananiah, has told the people:

‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’

In the reading that we just heard, Jeremiah is in effect responds to Hananiah by saying “I wish this were all true – but it isn’t”.

Jeremiah is put in the typically ungracious position of having to tell the people “this prophet just gave you good news – but he is wrong.” Jeremiah looked at the greatly increasing power of the empire of Babylon and said “we cannot resist this.”

People tend to receive the predictions that suit them better. 

Who are our unheeded prophets today? … Certainly, there are plenty of folk around, including many politicians, who openly reject the idea that our natural world will become dangerously degraded if we do not change our ways of living. There are many more who pay lip-service to the idea that we must change our ways, but are very reluctant to make real changes. 

Yet the prophecies of Hananiah and Jeremiah were based on supernatural visions. The foretellings of our unheeded prophets today are based on real evidence, real calculations, real scientific endeavour. Stubborn resistance to believe in visible, natural threats is if anything much worse than the refusal to believe in supernatural ones. Yet the same mentality applies: it isn’t convenient for us, so we prefer to believe something that is more convenient, that affirms what we want to believe and suits our life choices.

But there is another side to this series of texts.

Suppose that things happen the other way around? What is the reward for recognizing a prophet? What is the reward for supporting those who speak truth?

In the next chapter of Jeremiah (chapter 29 – which we shall not be reading next week!), the prophet says, in effect, yes, you are being carried off to Babylon, and you will remain there for seventy years. However, in a way, it will be okay. Go with it. You can marry and raise families, invest in the land, build communities just as you did back in Judah; and make the places where you live as your own, and pray for them

In a similar way, in Jesus’s preaching, those who hear the words of the apostles and respond to them with generosity and support, will be rewarded in the same way as those who took the risks of going out on mission.

Yes, there will be disagreement and conflict, but that is because some people will actually receive the Gospel. And those who receive the apostles will be regarded as those who have received Jesus. 

This is an extraordinarily generous promise, but it is also extraordinarily hopeful. It is saying, in effect, that the Gospel is massively contagious: that listening to those who speak the Word is rewarded far beyond the intrinsic worth of such an act.

So what is the reward for listening to a prophet in the right way?

The reward is a relationship with God and with God’s community: not just, or even particularly, a personal encounter with the loving principle at the heart of existence; but rather fellowship, mutual support, living together in the way that God intended people to live. 

As we saw last week, that means a community of welcome and affirmation – even when that calls us to cast aside the exclusiveness that makes us wish only to be with our own kind.

The message needs to be spread. Part of our life as a community must consist of looking always outwards, to see where we can be of help to the wider community, and how we can draw the wider community into our orbit, and vice versa.

That is why it is a wonderful thing that we are making our presence felt, in whatever way we can, through things like Tuesday’s bake sale and drinks tables for those participating in the July 4th events in Ivoryton. It is why we must lose no opportunity both to build up our own common life, and to make that life known to others around us. Not only should we explore whether we can make our outreach, through electronic and other media more effective, as a church; we should also explore how, individually, we can make the place that All Saints plays in our lives known to those around us. 

We are called to say what Jesus was saying. So much reward, so much fulfillment and support, is offered so readily, so willingly, for those who accept the invitation. The reward so far exceeds the gift of support, however modest it may be. That in turn, encourages us who have received the Gospel to go out and share it. 

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron

June 25, 2023: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 25th June 2023, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)

I should like to begin by talking a little bit about Jeremiah, from whose prophecies our first reading today was chosen. In the readings for this Pentecost season, we are following the “track” of readings where there is some kind of relationship between the themes of the Old Testament reading (especially) and the Gospel.

The book of Jeremiah contains a rich, poetic, but also rather disorderly and confusing collection of religious poetry and prophecy inspired by the conflict in Judah in the early 6th century BCE. This conflict was generated by the competing influences of Egypt and Babylon over the kingdom of Judah, which eventually led to the conquest of Jerusalem and the deportation of many of its people to Babylon after 587. 

The figure we know as “Jeremiah” was constantly foretelling bad news; and this made some of his political and religious rivals extremely uncomfortable and upset.

Just before the passage that we heard read, the text reports that Pashhur son of Immer, who was chief officer in the Temple, hearing what Jeremiah prophesied, struck the prophet, and put him in the stocks in the upper Benjamin Gate of the Temple. (How very New England …)

This episode leads to the poem which forms the basis of the first reading. Jeremiah complains that he cannot restrain himself from uttering prophecies, but whatever he says always gets him into trouble. What on earth is he to do? Jeremiah is constantly put in the position of being the unwelcome messenger who is punished for his message.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is trying to equip his missionaries with the mental preparation required for their missions. He warns them of the challenges that they will face. They cannot expect to arouse any less hostility than Jesus himself has done. This advice in Matthew, of course, is directed not just at the disciples/apostles but those who come after. We might say it is directed at us.

Jesus tells his followers to be explicit about his teaching – proclaim it from the rooftops – but be ready for trouble as a consequence.

To illustrate the conflict which his teaching will arouse, Jesus quotes a passage from the prophecies of Micah, where Micah talks about family conflict and broken relationships among those who are the closest of kin. The prophet stresses that, in a time of crisis, one cannot rely on the solidity of human relationships, only on God. Matthew is, by the way, the only one to place this quotation in the mouth of Jesus.

Why is today’s message so threatening and so full of dire warnings? We are accustomed to think of Jesus’s message as one of love, peace, compassion, and forgiveness. What is there not to like, as one might put it?

Sadly, human nature in worldly societies does not always live readily and willingly by the principles of compassion for one another, and justice for the oppressed. If that were so, we might expect that there would not be oppressed and outcast people in the first place …

It is a regrettable fact that people fear each other. It is a deplorable fact that, in response to such fear, people seek to define themselves over and against other fellow human beings. It is a disgraceful fact that some people use that fear and that search for identity to build up political movements, which harness the fear and alienation that is around us to build up their own power, to exercise oppression and even lead to conflict.

Lest we think that these problems are something outside these walls, a problem for the wicked world, we must remember that we see this trend also within the Church itself.

Members of our own Anglican communion habitually stir up antagonism against other fellow-Christians, most commonly these days over issues of gender justice and sexuality. These are issues where Jesus had very little or nothing to say, and where the results of such hostile campaigning – exclusion and inequity – run directly contrary to Jesus’s life and example.

In the wider community, we see the Christian faith used, misused, exploited to stir up essentially cultural and political hatreds over partisan politics, extremist positions on reproductive rights and, again, sexuality and gender issues. 

There are people in the leadership of religious communities who will seek to maintain identity and keep control by stoking fear and hatred. Honestly, I do not know what is the mixture of sincere ideological commitment and a desire simply to maintain power and control that is at work in such people. Some, no doubt, sincerely but mistakenly, believe that their religious identity is bound up with excluding those who are “other”. Some will use it as a means to stay ahead.

The prophets, and especially Jesus himself, wanted to break this cycle of fear and oppression by calling on people to trust God, and in God to trust one another. 

But if people stop fearing and hating those who are in some way different from themselves, then the power of the leaders of hatred will be broken: so those who derive their passion, their self-belief, their sense of purpose from division and hatred will resent the call to step aside from fear and distrust.

The call to love, care for the oppressed, and do justice will make some people angry.

What on earth can we do about this?

Look at the disciples whom Jesus chose: ordinary fisher folk certainly, but also tax-collectors and zealots; and a significant number of women who, while not recorded among the apostles, were a vital part of Jesus’s support group and his teaching circle, even at the very beginning. He showed compassion to everyone, from Roman soldiers to Jewish religious leaders, who came to him in desperate concern for their loved ones. Human vulnerability drew forth a loving and caring response.

Jesus set an example of embracing difference and celebrating the breadth of human diversity.

We need, as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry proposed some years back, to show that the way of love is simply a better way to live; that embracing the complicated, messy, and glorious diversity and difference between people is actually a more joyful, stronger, better way to live in God’s love than any of the alternatives.

We cannot keep saying this too often: it is more loving, and simply more fun, to be open to the breadth of human difference than to hide fearfully among those whom we think are most like ourselves. Let us open our arms in love. It will annoy the living daylights out of those who manipulate and exploit human fear. And God willing, who knows whether it might win some of such people over to a better way?

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron

June 18, 2023: Third Sunday after Pentecost Readings

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June 11, 2023: Second Sunday after Pentecost Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 11th June 2023, Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 5)

Welcome to the season after Pentecost. It goes by the somewhat unkind name of “ordinary time”: the time between the great seasons where we recall and, in a sense, re-enact the most important moments of the life of Jesus. Now we listen to the teachings of Jesus in Scripture, and to the passages of the Hebrew Bible which Jesus and the evangelists most quoted. We hear the interpretation of Jesus’s meaning in the writings of Paul and the other writers of letters to the churches. Ordinary time is actually very special and very precious.

For the three or four years of his public ministry, Jesus taught everyone who would listen, across Galilee and Judaea. He taught, as many of the Jewish rabbis before him and after him had done, by telling thought-provoking stories. He invited his hearers to think. He called on them to reappraise their traditions in the light of the stories that he told. And he taught about himself by his acts of healing.

The Gospels echoed the teaching style of Jesus by telling stories about Jesus – turning his life and ministry into a series of narratives which had multiple layers of meaning and which repay hearing again and again. 

As we know, the first three Gospels especially share much material. Sometimes they use the same precise words as each other; sometimes they re-worked the stories in their own way, to suit their particular emphases about Jesus.

In today’s Gospel by Matthew, we hear of the calling of the tax-farmer, called Matthew here and Levi in Mark and Luke. Jesus’s call to him provokes a dispute with the religiously earnest, because Jesus seeks out and enjoys the table-company of moral outcasts.

Then Matthew folds in to the same event two related miracles of healing: the raising of the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, and the curing of the women who had suffered from continuous bloody discharge for twelve years. 

In Mark’s and Luke’s accounts, these two stories are told in quite separate parts of the Gospels. The calling of Levi appears in Mark 2 and Luke 5; the healing of the young girl and the afflicted woman appears in Mark 5 and Luke 8. Yet Matthew runs them together as a single event. Why?

Most unusually, Matthew tells the story in a rather compressed way, without the psychological details which make the stories in Mark and Luke so memorable. What is going on here, and what message is Matthew trying to share by the particular way that he presents these remembered incidents? One possible explanation takes us into some sensitive issues about how Matthew tells the Jesus story.

The running theme through Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus taught the correct way to understand the faith of the Hebrew Scriptures. Matthew belongs to an age when there was a controversy, not between some people called “Christians” and some people called “Jews”, but between two understandings of the historic Jewish faith. There were those who expected the Messiah, and believed that they should prepare for the Messiah’s coming by ever more strict observance of the law of Israel. Then there were those who believed that the Messiah had already come, in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus had fulfilled and completed the Law, and the best way to follow the Law was to trust in the teachings and ministry of Jesus.

In the story of Jesus at table with the tax-collectors, Matthew adds to Jesus’s saying about calling sinners rather than the righteous, a quotation from Hosea 6:6, which Matthew renders in the Greek translation of the text, as “I want mercy and not sacrifice”. The correct understanding of the Law and the Prophets, says Matthew, is to call those who have gone astray back into the way of God. Purity is not achieved by excluding the impure, but by showing love to them.

Then a “ruler”, whom Mark called explicitly a “ruler of the synagogue” comes to Jesus to ask mercy for his daughter, who is “on the point of death” in Mark, but actually deceased in Matthew. The religious leader of the community shows faith in the power of Jesus to heal, in the most apparently hopeless case. 

And then, folded into the story of the mortally sick daughter, is the tale of the woman suffering from a continuous discharge of blood. According to Leviticus 15:19, “When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening.”

Those who took every detail of the ceremonial law seriously – as some devout Jews did at the time – regarded the uncleanness associated with blood as so serious that even accidental contact caused ritual impurity in the one who touched a woman in this perfectly normal condition. The woman touched Jesus in secret, because she was continuously unclean and could not even think of touching a religious figure. 

Jesus responds by not worrying about the law. He praises the woman’s faith, and reassures her that she is healed. Jesus is as incapable of contracting ritual impurity from the woman as he is incapable of being morally corrupted by bad company. He places mercy and compassion above all else.

Trust in the loving power of Jesus takes priority over the details of the Law, and those who are true to the faith of Israel will get that point. That, I suggest, is what Matthew is saying.

Matthew’s message poses some problems. As the Christian faith became more and more cultivated by Greek and Roman peoples who knew less and less about Jesus’s Jewish belief, the Gospels were read in the light of the increasingly bitter disparagement and hostility which the ascendant Christian movement showed towards the continuing Jewish community that did not accept Jesus as Messiah. The horrors generated by that hostility haunt us still.

So how are we to prepare ourselves to listen to Matthew, through the remainder of the liturgical year through to the last Sunday before Advent?

There is a positive way to read Matthew. First, Matthew teaches that there is no hierarchy or order of seniority in those who love and trust the God revealed in Jesus. Tax-gatherers, who profited by exploiting the licences that Rome gave them to raise money, were morally shut out from the community as collaborators and abusers. Here they receive the same mercy as the leader of the synagogue, because they are both open to Jesus’s offer to help. The woman with the continuous discharge of blood suffers from the double disability of living with gender injustice, the disdain shown to women’s natural physiology, and the particular oppression of her condition. Yet she is healed before the religious leader’s daughter – though both are healed. 

These people place absolute trust in Jesus to do what seems, by all ordinary standards, impossible. They do not brag about their conformity to the law, or show entitlement. Some do not have that choice. 

Trusting in the loving power of God does not come naturally to us. In everyday life, we believe that we can protect ourselves by being organized, prudent, responsible. We live as though our security depends on our own efforts. We should probably regard just living by trust as rather feckless – and it might indeed be so, if we applied nothing but trust to paying the bills, the mortgage or the rent.

However, we are called to live by a faith that is, essentially, trust in that which we cannot see and cannot control. We live in hope that our world may be redeemed and rescued from its many layers of injustice: the exploitation of the poor, racial prejudice, the gross economic injustices that divide one part of the world from another, the seemingly incurable abuse of natural resources which is already disrupting our climate, our oceans, and the most vulnerable communities of the world. In these areas we can certainly do small practical things to help. But we also have to trust, and believe, that the world can do better than it is right now. 

Mercy – care and concern shown to those who have few resources, or none – is, as Hosea said, a responsibility that comes to us from the very nature of God, and is explicitly proclaimed in the life and ministry of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. By living mercifully, we are also showing, in a practical way, that we believe and trust that God’s plan for the world is more powerful than those things that cause hurt and injury to others.

Submitted by the Revd. Dr. Euan Cameron

June 4, 2023: Trinity Sunday Readings and Sermon

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Sermon for All Saints, 4th June 2023, Trinity Sunday

We have reached Trinity Sunday, the Sunday which usually marks the end of the movable season that begins with Ash Wednesday and takes us through the re-telling of Jesus’s temptations, ministry, confrontation with Jerusalem, his Passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. 

“The Trinity”, as a doctrine of faith, has been something with which the Church has tormented itself down the centuries (along with the doctrine of the natures of Christ, with which the Trinity is always connected). It is also something which incumbents have traditionally assigned to their curates or even lay readers …

The Creed of the Council of Nicea, which we shall soon recite to each other, was, in its first form, written to confirm the (temporary) victory of one theological faction in the Church over another, in debates over their understandings of the Trinity. Down the centuries, people have been exiled, imprisoned, and worst of all, even put to death because of disagreements over the Trinity. The reformed churches of New England divided themselves only some two hundred years ago into those which held Trinitarian or Unitarian ideas of God.

Yet we should never imagine that the Trinity was something “invented” just to cause trouble in the Church. Christians only began even to talk about “the Trinity” some 150 years after the ministry of Jesus. It was, initially, not a “thing”, let alone a “dogma”, so much as just a way of speaking about the fundamental elements of the faith. 

We see that in our scriptural passages for today. When Paul concluded his second letter to the Corinthians, he ended this rather angry and reproachful letter with a beautiful blessing, which we know as “the Grace” and still use regularly today. It was natural for Paul to wish that the grace that came through Christ, the love that God shows us constantly, and the companionship which we have in the Spirit, should in all their fullness be with the congregation whom he scolded, but deeply loved. 

When Matthew quoted Jesus reminding his followers to baptize in “the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, Matthew did not think that he was writing a “Trinitarian formula”: no such idea existed at that time. Matthew was remembering that when Jesus himself was baptized, in the third chapter of his Gospel, the Son was baptized, the Father spoke, and the Spirit descended upon the Son. This three-fold form of words expressed the key elements in the story of the baptism.

Speaking of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit arose because it was the natural, maybe inevitable way to try to express the activity and the presence of God. It was something to which the whole story of the Gospels led up. The story of Jesus could not be told, as John’s Gospel expressed with special clarity, without speaking of the relationship between the Father and the Son. The life of the Church could not be described apart from the presence and action of the divine Spirit. 

When Trinity Sunday comes around, we recapitulate the whole story of God’s loving purposes for us, and express in this idea – the name of which we barely understand – fundamental insights about how the world is, what our life means, and how we are bound together in community.

None of these insights are self-evident; all of them in some measure or other challenge, even contradict, the evidence of how the world seems at face value to be. That is why they are so precious.

We understand God as creator. No greater disservice is done to faith when people turn the beautiful belief in creation into so-called “creationism”, a variety of cobbled-together theories which claim to challenge what science tells us about the cosmic order and how it came to be. When we thank God as creator, we express the belief that the apparently random bringing-together of atoms and molecules that built our universe was made, at a whole other level, to nurture us, to inspire us with awe, to delight us with its sublime beauty, and to call us to love and cherish it. That divine beauty and love at work in the worlds around us should move us to treat our share of God’s creation with care and respect, to understand it, help it to sustain itself, and not exploit it to destruction.

And we understand God as uniquely revealed in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Now, to try to define exactly how the divine nature was and is present in Jesus has, like the Trinity itself, been a source of debate and conflict in the churches for centuries. In the beleaguered churches of the East, there are still unreconciled differences between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox (yes, those are two different things) over how to define Jesus’s nature. 

Yet what matters is where Jesus’s teaching leads us, and what his ministry of reconciliation means. Let us celebrate that, and remember what an astonishing idea the incarnation really is. In ages past, philosophers imagined for themselves divine natures which were abstract, remote, idealized, inaccessible to humanity. Only by a spiritual life of merciless self-discipline, rising above one’s human nature, could one even get vaguely close to such a principle. This was the god of the philosophers.

And in Jesus of Nazareth, we have one who has come among us as a friend, a table-companion, and as he himself stressed, as one who serves. The divine comes among us, in familiar friendship and in sacrificial self-giving. We are not called to rise above our humanity, because God has embraced that humanity and taken it into the divine nature. That in turn means that in every human being – those who are different, those who are flawed in many ways, those who are imperfect – we are called to see the image of the God who took our flesh, and made it sacred and holy.

And at one and the same time, Jesus is both unique, and also, he spreads and shares among us the unique closeness that exists between himself and the creating and sustaining God. To express that spreading and sharing, we use the language of the Holy Spirit, as the Gospels and epistles did from the beginning. 

Some Christian writers and thinkers in the past have, as imperfect and contentious minds tend to do, debated over the Holy Spirit and its relationship to the Trinity. To this day, the churches of the West disagree with the Orthodox of the East as to whether the Spirit “proceeds” from the Father only or both the Father and the Son. That dispute is embodied, alas, in the fact that in the West we read a slightly different Nicene Creed from our Orthodox siblings.

And yet again, the mistake lies surely in asking what the thing “is”, rather than what it means for us, what it does for us. In one of his more inspired moments, Augustine theorized that the Spirit was the name for the love that bound the Father and the Son together. But it is surely more than that. In our traditional understanding, the Spirit is with us in all the good things that we do together. 

At special times – such as ordinations – we in our communities pray with particular earnestness for God’s spirit to come among us. But it is surely there with us before we know to pray for it. When we gather in fellowship, especially but not only when we gather for the Eucharist, the communion which is both expressed as the Spirit and is the Spirit’s gift, is with us.

So if anyone who asks questions of the faith proposes the Trinity to you as a uniquely difficult or perplexing idea in Christianity, do not be apologetic. We worship God as Trinity, because that is the only way that makes sense. It is the only way to express the creating, sustaining, reconciling and inspiring work of God, which we feel every time we gather together as the people of God. 

But please, don’t try to explain what the Trinity “is”. Say only that it speaks of all the ways that God is at work in our world, in our communities and in our hearts. 

Submitted by the Revd. Doctor Euan Cameron

May 28, 2023: Day of Pentecost Readings

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May 21, 2023: Easter 7

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7 Easter, May 21, 2023 

“Messiah” is a Hebrew word meaning “Anointed One”. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Messiah is God’s anointed one whose coming will bring about God’s Rule of justice and compassion, an end to the suffering of the righteous, and abundant peace. So, when a revered Rabbi announced to his congregation one Sabbath, that Messiah had come, the community was shocked and began to question the Rabbi’s sanity. They protested that war and violence abounded, injustice, suffering and oppression were everywhere. “How can Messiah be present?” they asked. “Yes, yes”, responded the Rabbi; “we still need to work out some of the details.” 

As Christians we proclaim that Jesus is the Christ – the Greek word for Messiah. Granted that Jesus is more than the Messiah expected, but the Messiah who came. But like the members of that Jewish community who heard their Rabbi’s announcement, we also have serious questions. Didn’t God send Jesus to establish the Kingdom, the Rule of God - justice and compassion and peace. Today we are reminded that our ancestors in the faith learned and taught us that we too are called to work out the details. 

Our first reading prepares us for next week – Pentecost. And this Thursday celebrated the Ascension. Liturgically, Jesus has already taken his leave, and the apostles have returned to the upper room. They have already replaced Judas so that the number of apostles is, again, 12. The names are mentioned but we really know little of most of them. It is the number that is important. Just as Israel is founded on the 12 Patriarchs, so the Christian community began to see itself as a New People of God, the Body of Christ, the Church founded on the 12 Apostles. We find them, today, awaiting the Holy Spirit, who will teach, empower and encourage them as they “work out the details”.  

It won’t be easy. In the second reading Peter speaks of the “fiery ordeal” involved in this. But Peter also talks about the Spirit that supports and strengthens them, and us, in the work. One difficulty is found in the Scriptures themselves. In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus refusing to pray for the world, even asking that his disciples be protected from the world. But earlier, in the same Gospel we heard Jesus say: “God so loved the world that God sent the Son so that all might have life through him.” In the letters attributed to John, written after the Gospel, the “world” is described as knowing neither God nor Jesus. But in Paul’s letters the created world is described as being renewed through the saving acts of Christ. And if we look back, we remember the story in Genesis where the world created by the great act of God is described as “very good”. So, there is a world to avoid and a world we are to serve in the Name of Christ. We need to know the difference. 

The Church has too often served the world it should oppose. The temptation to possess power and prestige, to live in the comfort of wealth, is strong. To align with the powers that oppress is easier than to embrace the oppressed and stand with the poor. We know this. Two issues that hold a significant place in the news we hear today are homelessness and refugees. Issues that create political and social, even religious conflict. What response might the Spirit be calling from the Church?   

Our Gospel reading today comes toward the end of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse which we have been reading these past weeks. The setting is the Last Supper, and today we hear Jesus praying for his followers who will be facing the challenges of the following days, as well as the time after Jesus takes his leave and returns to the Father. Then, begins the task of working out the details. But Jesus is also praying for us who continue this work. 

We hear Jesus pray for our protection; that we may be one as the Father and he are one. He knows this will not be easy but possible because of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will be the focus of next week. As Peter reminds us, the Spirit of Christ will restore, support, strengthen and establish us. But we might wonder where the restoration requires the support, the strength? 

While we wait to celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is already among us. Yet, the details are so challenging, the gifts we experience seem so small. Where is the power?  

Years ago, a parishioner gave me a book titled “The Impossible will take a little while, it is a book telling stories of people of our era who confronted the challenges of injustice, oppression, racism. Nelson Mandella, Maya Angelou, Vaclav Havel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Tony Kushner, Marian Wright Edelman, Desmond Tutu. 

People who risked their lives in situations that looked impossible. People we admire. It seems to me that it is more and more evident that the future of human life and happiness requires care and concern for each other and our earth. We need an end to violence, and we need social and racial and economic justice. These are not just nice romantic ideas but qualities essential to human life and welfare. We really are in this all together.  

I invite you to take the insert in your bulletin home and read Jesus’ prayer. It is a prayer for you. Check your Bible for the whole prayer. Know that each one of us is called to work out the details establishing a more just and compassionate world. Know that the impossible will take a while. And join in our prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, Come!” 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

May 7, 2023: Easter 5

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5 Easter, May 7, 2023

As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel reading, I remembered a story

told, years ago, on Public Radio, by an Irish writer. He found himself in

that difficult situation of placing his mother in a home, since she could

no longer care for herself. A few belongings and clothing and

mementos had been moved into her room and it was time for him to

leave. He sat with his mother on a bench outside her new room. What

could he say? At that moment he remembered a scene from many

years before, when he clutched his mother’s hand as she walked him

into a building on his first day of school. As the time for her to leave

arrived, she bent down and kissed him and said, “Goodbye love, no one

is leaving”.

Now, 50 years later, he leaned over, kissed his mother and said,

“Goodbye love, no one is leaving”, and left. Today, I hear Jesus say to

his apostles, “Goodbye loves, no one is leaving”.

He is speaking at the Last Supper and is aware of what is coming in the

next days. In John’s Gospel, at the Last Supper, Jesus gives a long

speech, what scholars call the farewell discourse, which is 3 chapters,

longer than any speech of Jesus in any Gospel account. In this

discourse Jesus tells the apostles he is leaving, as we just read, but that

they know where he is going because, Jesus declares, he is the way they

must follow.

This discourse ends with a long prayer in which Jesus prays for the

protection and endurance of the apostles. Our first reading today,

written before John’s Gospel, shows they will need protection. Stephen

is the first martyr. And Peter’s letter tells us God is making us a

community in unity with one another and with Jesus. All of this is

possible because Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to protect and lead.

“Goodbye loves, no one is leaving.”

If these verses we read today sound familiar, it is because this Passage

is often read at funerals. They offer hope that Jesus has prepared a

place for the loved one who has died. “Place” sounds like we have been

downgraded from the mansion of older translations. But room is closer

to the meaning.

At funerals I am often aware that the one who is physically absent is

most present in the minds and hearts of the attendees. We have all

lived long enough to know that loved ones who die are absent, but also

present with us. They are not here but they are still present.

That is a mystery. Not something we must solve but must live into. As I

have grown older, I find there are more questions than answers in the

mystery of life. At the same time, I am less comfortable with those who

think they have the answers. The mystery endures.

Today we hear Jesus say, “believe in God, believe also in me”. Another

translation uses “Trust in God, trust also in me”. One theologian

describes the essence of Jesus’ ministry is to restore us to a trusting

relationship with God and each other. Nevertheless, we are often told

that we live in an age where trust is in short supply. Trust in

institutions, in leaders, in others, in ourselves, is lacking.

We have the same questions Thomas and Philip ask in our Gospel: “we

do not know where we are going. How can we know the way?” “Lord,

show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

We have these questions because we face the same mystery in life.

Granted, not persecution and death. These questions are well

expressed in the prayer written by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk

who supported so many searching the way to the Father. He prayed:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going, I do not see the road

ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really

know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not

mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please

you does in fact please you. And I hope I will never do anything apart

from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the

right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust

you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I

will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to

face my perils alone.”

“I will trust you always and will not fear.”

That is the heart of our prayer!

This Sunday and in the weeks to follow, our readings take us to the

feast of Pentecost, the Church’s celebration of Jesus’ promised gift of

the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, Encourager, Teacher. The promise we

will never have to face our perils alone. Goodbye love, no one is



Submitted by The Reverend Brendan McCormick

April 16, 2023: Easter 2

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Easter 2: April 16, 2023    

Acts 2:14, 22-32 Psalm 16   1 Peter 1: 3-9    John 20: 19-31 

Often, the words of poets better express a process in which we find ourselves. The readings for today always take me to words of William Butler Yates: “Sometimes there is a torch in my head, and I see all things clearly. But then the torch goes out and I am left with images, analogies.” When the torch dims, I find myself wondering. Wondering about things that seemed clear at other times. Are we allowed to “wonder”? What does one do until the torch is lit again? 

We read from John’s Gospel most Sundays of Lent. One of my teachers summed up John with three words: Life, Light, Love. In John’s Gospel Jesus offers us abundant, everlasting Life here and now. It comes to us through faith in Jesus and this life becomes Light shining for others – a torch that casts out darkness. The Light shines through acts of love for one another. As we heard Jesus say on Maundy Thursday:” I give you a new commandment: Love one another. By this all will know you are my disciples 

Life, light, love. Simply stated, but not simple at all. Faith is a challenge. But we do not face the challenge alone. In today’s Gospel we see people in a community wondering and coming to a decision; the decision to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. 

 Our Gospel story takes place on Easter Evening. What a day it has been. Early in the morning Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. She ran and told Peter and the apostles. Peter and another disciple ran to the tomb and found it so. 

Later, Mary Magdalen encountered Jesus but did not recognize him until he called her by name. Now it is nightfall that same day. The apostles, but one, are in the upper room where they have been hiding for 4 days. Jesus comes and stands in their midst. “Peace “is his wish to the group who, a few days before, ran to hide, or stayed and denied him. “Shalom” is the word Jesus uses to greet them. That word carries a deep meaning that conveys Peace, harmony, wholeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. No tough love here. Words affirming abundant love. Jesus then gives them their mission. 

We then learn that Thomas is absent. When he returns, he is told the marvelous news. But he wonders. He seeks more assurance. Maybe he said, if what you believe is true then why are you all still here, locked up in this room? But because of his wondering, history has branded poor Thomas with the title “Doubting”.  

A week goes by, and Jesus returns and seeks out Thomas and offers the proof he asked for. However, Thomas doesn’t need it and makes the profession of faith: “My Lord and my God”. The torch has been lit. Thomas believes. 

But then something extraordinary happens. You might have missed it. Scholars have pointed it out to me. Some think the last words we read today mark the original end of John’s Gospel. What is extraordinary is a shift in the drama we have been observing. As one scholar describes this moment: it is as though we have been the audience of this Gospel drama, sitting in a darkened theater watching the story unfold on a stage. But now, in these verses, the lights go one and we become visible. Jesus steps forward and looks to us, the audience, and says “blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe”.  

Blessed are you who, like the apostles have often been confused, have wondered, who bear the blessings and burdens of life, blessed are you who chose to believe. 

And, as I said, some believe here is the original ending of the Gospel. We are blessed by Jesus and also commissioned to be the channels through which the Gospel is handed on to others.  

Perhaps the early Church thought that too large a burden to leave with us and the Gospel was extended to contain other memories of Jesus. But Jesus’ final blessing and concerned expressed in the Gospel is for you and this community that is gathered together by faith in him. Let us accept the blessing of abundant life and unlimited love so that we might be a light to one another, and all others amid the darkness all around.  

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 


April 9, 2023: Easter

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EASTER: April 9, 2023   

Acts of Apostles 10: 34-43   Psalm 118: 1-2,14-24    Colossians 3: 1-4   Matthew  28:1-10 

The Easter Story is familiar to us, and it is central to our faith. However, each of the four Gospel accounts differ in some details of the events that took place that Sunday morning 2023 years ago. That should not be strange to us who live in a time when people disagree about many events, even events they have watched and experienced together. 

In today’s story, we find two women coming to the tomb they saw the body of Jesus placed two days earlier. The one they thought to be God’s messiah was crucified as a criminal and quickly placed in this tomb, before they could perform the Jewish burial rites. They were coming to do these rites for their friend.  In another Gospel account, along the way the women were worried about the large stone they saw placed at the entrance of the tomb. Who would roll away this stone? But in our story, as they were arriving an earthquake struck and an angel came from heaven and rolled away the stone.  

Problem solved? No, that revealed an even bigger problem - the tomb was empty. The soldiers who had been guarding the tomb were on the ground seemingly in a trance. The angel spoke and announced to the women: “Do not be afraid, Jesus has risen, and gone to Galilee. Go and tell the others.” 

 “Don’t be afraid?” Who wouldn’t be afraid and confused and wonder at what they saw and heard. In another Gospel version of this story, we are told that some thought this news too good to be true. But the women ran back to tell others, but on the way they met Jesus, who also tells them to not be afraid, go and tell others he will meet them in Galilee. 

The women told the story, and it has been repeated down through the ages. And we are here this morning and millions around the world are gathered to celebrate this mystery. For more than 2000 years people have proclaimed “He is risen!” What do we believe?  

Last Tuesday was the 55th year since the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A few years ago, on another anniversary of his death, a preacher spoke about Dr. King, saying somewhere along the way we managed to resurrect the messenger and leave the message buried.  We celebrate the man but seem to have forgotten what he called us to do. Have we done the same with Jesus: proclaim “Jesus is risen”, but left his message locked in the tomb behind that large stone? 

People proclaim Jesus as Lord and personal Savior, but are slow to love neighbor, or seek and serve Christ in all persons. Peter proclaims today that God shows no partiality, but we do not respect the dignity of all people. We neglect to feed the hungry, house the homeless, treat the least as if they are Jesus. 

 Paul tells us today to seek the things that are above. Paul is not saying that Easter is about heaven. Easter is about life Here and now. The abundant life we now share is empowered with the very life of God. We have the power to live with the values that endure – compassion and justice, hope, forgiveness and love. We can have an active concern for the well-being of others. What holds us back? 

Jesus tells the women “Don’t be afraid”. This is a message that rings out on Easter morn, but we have heard it from beginning to end in the Gospel. To Joseph and Mary and the shepherds: Do not be afraid. To the apostles on the journey: Do not be afraid. To the women at the end. In fact, some count 365 times in Scripture we are told: Don’t be afraid”. 

Now a certain fear is important because it alerts us to danger, calls us to action. But there is a fear that paralyzes us and prevents action. There is a fear that destroys hope, gives birth to anger, separates us from one another. Causes us to distrust one another and distrust Iife itself. 

We are well aware that there are many dangers in our world. We are not called to deny what is going on. But fear is to alert us, not dictate how we act or make us not able to act. 

Don’t be afraid. Fear is that stone that seals up the tomb of resurrection, locks up the message and the power and makes it impossible to live the power of the resurrection. Fear makes it impossible to receive the gifts of Easter that empower us to believe he is risen and goes before us.  

When you entered you were given a stone. I invite you to take it with you as a reminder not to be afraid. Easter tells us the stone has been rolled away. Easter calls us to abundant life. Hope and justice and compassion are powers shared with us. 

Jesus is risen. He goes before us. He is with us to the end. 

Don’t be afraid! 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick


March 26, 2023: Fifth Week of Lent

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5 Lent: March 26, 2023 

“Them Bones, them bones, them dry bones. Hear the word of the Lord.” A Spiritual we have all heard, written almost 100 years ago. However, what inspired it is from more than 2500 years ago when Ezekiel stood in a valley of dry bones. Brought there by God from his home among the exiles in Babylon. Ezekiel looks on this valley filled with decomposed human remains. He is asked if he thought these bones could ever live again. Ezekiel had a long enough relationship with God to know it was better to let God answer questions God asked. And God had a rather dramatic answer as our reading described breath coming into these bones and they became alive and stood on their feet. The Spiritual has an even more dramatic way of describing this scene – “toe bone connected to the foot bone, foot bone connected to the heel bone” …. all the way up to the “head bone”. 

This experience describes for Ezikiel his mission to his fellow exiles. Through his prophesying the people will receive a new spirit that will enliven them to rise from their lost hope and grow to a new life in the land of Israel. Those dead bones did live again. 

Death has been very present to us these many months. Pandemic, a horrible earthquake, war, floods, fire, gun violence. Not to mention friends and family who used to sit among us. Death has been present. St, Paul writes to the Church at Corinth:” Death, where is your victory; death, where is your sting?” We have known the sting of death. 

Today, we are reminded we are not alone. In addition to Ezekiel, we hear the Psalmist cry “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord.” And we hear Paul remind the Church at Rome that they were once dead, weighed down by greed and selfishness, enslaved by desires and behavior that diminished life in self and others.  And in our Gospel, we meet Martha and Mary stung by the death of their brother Lazarus. 


During Lent we have met people struggling with faith. We began with Nicodemus, the Jewish official who struggles with the idea that only certain people are God’s favorites. We then meet the Samaritan woman at the well who learns that religious practice and items of belief are neither guarantees or obstacles to a relationship with God. The man born blind is able to see who Jesus is while many with good vision fail to see. All through John’s Gospel Jesus has been saying “I am”.  “I am the Good shepherd; I am the bread of life; I am he.”  The phrase does not have the impact on us that Jesus intended. “I am” is the sacred name for God in Jewish faith. “Yahweh”. Jesus is claiming to be the Divine in human flesh. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”, Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is the fullness of faith Jesus is calling us to. 

In the long Gospel story we read, the focus is Death and Life. We see the life-giving power of Jesus as we enter into Jesus’ “hour”. Beginning with the miracle at Cana, Jesus has often referred to the fact that his hour has not come. Well, it has. We enter Jesus’ hour next Sunday, the hour in which the mysteries at the heart of Jesus’ life and at the heart of our faith are celebrated in our liturgy. In the ancient Easter sequence hymn these events are described as a powerful duel between death and life. 

We already know that they are the events most challenging to us. So, we join Martha in the midst of her grief. We see her conversation with Jesus in which she finally makes the most profound proclamation of faith in the Gospel. Jesus proclaims “I am the resurrection and the life, those who believe in me, even though they die, will live; and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  

Martha responds: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” Martha has come to full faith in Jesus. But that question is addressed to us, here and now. 

What follows is Jesus calling Lazarus to “come out”. And he does, but he is still bound by the wrappings used in Jewish burial.” I think many of us are more like Lazarus than Martha. Bound by many things that burden belief. Our fears, grudges, attitudes. Whatever. But Jesus says to us “Unbind and let her/him go” is the gift given to us today. 

Lazarus means “God who helps”. And, as a community God asks us to help one another. Calls us to nurture faith in one another. 

As we enter the mysteries of our faith that proclaim Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world. The giver of unending life and unlimited love, let us work to unbind one another so that we might come to see what Jesus has done and believe in him.  

Submitted by Reverend Brendan McCormick 

March 12, 2023: Third Week of Lent

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3 Lent: March 12, 2023

Throughout history and in every culture I know the role of women has certainly not been one of equality. However, it has changed at different times. When tribes, societies or nations feel fear, or stress or threats, the rights of people tend to be limited; minorities become suspects, authority more centralized. In such circumstances, women lose the few rights they have.  So, while women are in a lesser role, when societies feel threatened, these are diminished, and societies tend to become even more controlling and oppressive.  

At the time of Jesus, women were more controlled by social norms and rules than at other times in Israel’s history. 600 years earlier, before the destruction of Jerusalem and Babylonian exile, women played a more active public role in society than in the period after Israel was freed and returned to rebuild its land and life. Israel’s very existence was still threatened, and leadership reverted to a more legalistic version of laws and customs, many served to exert more control over certain people, including women. 

A similar atmosphere dominated society at the time of Jesus. Israel was occupied by the Roman Army, and Rome ruled with an iron fist. To survive, Jewish laws and customs became stricter, and the role of women was diminished. We see in the Gospel that Jesus disdained the exaggerated focus on laws and customs and religious ceremonies, seeing them as ways to distract from acts of justice and mercy demanded by the Prophets. Jesus also exhibited a respect for and esteem of the gifts women brought to his ministry. In the Gospel Mary, the mother of Jesus is not presented as the virgin, meek and mild but as the model disciple, a role that required courage and action. Mary Magdalene is not a reformed prostitute but the first to announce the Resurrection. Women are at the foot of the cross while the men are hiding.  And today we meet another strong woman at a well. 

The story of Jesus meeting a woman at a well in Jericho is one of the longest scenes in the Gospel. She is a Samaritan and a woman, two things that would make her less a person in society at the time. Samaritans were the descendants of the Jews left in Israel when the leaders and craftsmen were taken into exile in 587 BCE. In that 80 years until the exiles returned, they intermarried with other tribes and the religion developed differently than that of the exiles. Also, as we learn in the story, this woman has lived in a way many would condemn. None of this bothers Jesus.  

Jesus asks her for a drink of water. Her response is both surprise and refusal. Jews don’t talk to, let alone ask favors of Samaritans. Jesus is not put off but says it is he who can give her something – living water. She misunderstands and asks him if he thinks he is greater than the Patriarch, Jacob, who dug the well. Ironically, Jesus is, but rather than arguing, he goes on describing the water he speaks of. Water that leads to eternal life. Confused but a practical woman, she thinks this would be wonderful gift. Again, Jesus changes the subject and refers to the woman’s private life. However, Jesus is not bothered by the fact that he is dealing with a person who is less than perfect. And the woman is not put off, but sees Jesus in a different light – a prophet and perhaps even more.  

Jesus then expands the idea of faith as something beyond the issues of dispute between Samaritans and Jews. Faith is more that adhering to a concise set of doctrines. Sacred rites and teaching will be replaced by worshipping in “spirit and truth”. The woman, joining in the theological discussion, brings up a future when Messiah comes. Jesus confronts her with the challenge “I am he”. In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses this phrase to express his identity as the Divine in human flesh. Jesus proclaims “Messiah is here”. This is the faith demanded of a disciple.  

Finally, the woman comes to a faith and goes off to share the gift with the people of the town. Later, as their faith grows, it is a support for the woman’s faith. She represents those who come to faith confronting the many obstacles that stand in the way. She also shows that faith can extend beyond the narrower bonds of religious belief and practices. 

The Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel has said, true religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us. Paul, whose letter to the community in Rome we read today, is a good example of someone aware that something is asked of him. He has learned that there is a “wideness in God’s mercy” that invites gentiles into relationship with Christ through faith, not religious law and practices. Just as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. This created conflict with other Christians a conflict that asked much of Paul.  

It is also true that Paul’s communities had women in leadership positions. Paul is often criticized as diminishing women’s’ roles in the Church. The Letter to the Ephesians has that notorious verse: “wives, submit to your husband’s”. Scholars, today actually dispute whether Paul wrote that Letter. In ancient time, disciples sometimes wrote in the name of their mentor. However, it is true that the Church, from earliest times had difficulty living the openness and inclusion that Jesus had. It is a difficulty that continues to our day. Even worse, the exclusion of women in leadership is claimed, by some, to be following Christ. This endures even though no church would exist without the contributions of woman. 

Something is asked of US, today. Not only in the case of women, but Christian nationalism, racial religion and other denials that there is a wideness in God’s mercy. The Samaritan woman bids us to pause on our Lenten journey. Invites us to “Come and see a man who told her everything she ever did. Can he be the Messiah, the Christ, who lives and reigns, One God, forever and ever. Amen. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick


March 5, 2023: Second Week of Lent

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2 Lent  March 5, 2023

For the first 300 years of its existence, Christianity was an outlawed religion in the entire Roman Empire. Many authorities thought its teachings were a threat to Roman order if not Roman power. Members of the Christian community faced persecution, even death. It was risky to include new members. They might be spies or informers who could betray members to the authorities. Also, new members would be facing the threat of persecution, so they had to be strong in their faith. In response to these challenges the Church developed a rigorous program for the admission of new members that could weed out informers and strengthen the faith of the sincere. 

Those seeking membership to a Christian Community had to be sponsored by a member of the community and entered a program that could be three years of learning and scrutiny. At the end of this preparation there was an intense 40-day period of prayer and fasting, leading to Baptism, which was originally celebrated at Easter. This final period was in imitation of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, the Gospel story read last Sunday. This became a model for our Lenten Season. 

In our day, entrance into the Christian community as well as Lenten observance are kinder and gentler than what our Christian ancestors endured. We are not worried about persecution or death because of our belief; we are not concerned about spies. One thing that remains from ancient times are the Lenten Readings from Scripture are chosen to instruct us about the meaning and responsibilities of the faith we accept at Baptism. Today and over the next 3 Sundays of Lent, we will meet 4 giants of faith in Israel’s history and 4 people in John’s Gospel, struggling at different levels of faith. For me, faith comes to mind in the words from the Irish playwright, William Butler Yeats: 

“Sometimes there is a torch in my head, and I see all things clearly; but then the light goes out and I am left with images, analogies. 

We have lived long enough to know that faith is a verb; sometimes it grows bright as if a light is shining; sometimes it wanes as if light, clarity dims. But at all times, it is a gift that is both comfort and challenge. 

In today’s Gospel we meet Nicodemus, an important Jewish religious leader, who has come to visit Jesus. He comes at night to conceal the fact that he is seeking to find out who this Jesus is at a time many of his colleagues think Jesus a fraud and threat. In this meeting, Nicodemus, well versed in the religious thinking of the day, is confused by Jesus. Jesus tells him that what makes one a child of God is not being born chosen, but by faith in the “One come down from heaven”. One must be born “of water and the Spirit”. Those early Christians would see this as the baptism they were preparing to celebrate. If our reading was longer, we would see Nicodemus unable to see the wideness of God’s mercy, the depth of God‘s love for the whole human family. Nicodemus leaves and returns “to the darkness”. John’s way of saying he still lacks the faith that leads to “eternal life”. But later in the Gospel, Nicodemus returns and helps bury Jesus. Evidently, he has come to the faith that leads to “eternal life”. 

 In John’s Gospel, eternal life is not what comes after death, but after being “born in the Spirit”, which refers to baptism. So, as baptized, we now share “eternal life”, life that endures.  So how are we to live this life? Certainly, in baptism the vows we make give us direction. But we can also learn from Abram, that person of faith we meet in today’s first reading. 

 Abram, who will soon be given the name Abraham, is the first historical person in the Hebrew Scriptures. We are told where he lived, where he traveled. He lived about 1800 years before Christ and is told by God to leave his home and ancestors and follow on a journey. He is also told “he will be the father to many people”. And so, he is. Jews, Christians and Muslims trace the origins of the God they proclaim to Abraham. However, he was also told, “you will be a blessing to others…and by you all families of the earth shall bless themselves.”. Unfortunately, we children of Abraham have too often not been a blessing to one another, let alone all the families of earth.  

And so, we have Lent. We have time again to reflect on how we can be a blessing to others. In our opening prayer we address: God, whose “Glory it is to always have mercy”, The word used for “mercy” includes a sense of tenderness, compassion and the ability to see others as bound to us. We, who have received God’s mercy, are bound to share God’s mercy. We share this when we are a blessing to others. So, I invite you in this Lent to be a blessing to others.  

Submitted by the Rev. Brendan McCormick


November 20, 2022: Last Sunday after Pentecost

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Last Sunday after Pentecost: November 20th, 2022 

Groups of people in our Country claim that the U.S. is a Christian Nation and should be governed according to Christian values. I wonder if they have read Luke’s Gospel. One thing to learn from reading Luke is that Jesus could never be elected to any office in this country. “Love your enemies”; if one slaps you on one cheek, turn the other. Whenever offended, forgive. Welcome the foreigner, seek the outcasts, all human beings are equally offered God’s love.”  Some of those may not be a quote but they do reflect what Jesus said and did. And in today’s Gospel Jesus forgives those killing him, even as they mock him. I think the Jesus of the Gospels would be considered a weak, misguided, unrealistic candidate if he was standing for election. 

But that’s the point. Jesus spoke about establishing a kingdom, but not a kingdom “in this world”. That includes “not of the values of this world”. If a Christian king wanted to establish a Christian nation, people would have to be forced to live a certain way. That in itself would be contrary to making a Christian nation. Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world because it is not possible to create a Christian kingdom in this world. So how can we address Jesus as we did in today's Opening Prayer as King of kings and Lord of lords? 

In general, scripture is not favorably disposed toward Kings. Jeremiah begins our readings today saying, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep”. Shepherds are the rulers, including kings who betray the Covenant and oppress the people. Power and control are goals of rulers and Jeremiah, and Jesus are not proponents of power and control.  

David is, of course, an exception for many scripture writers. Despite his many faults, he was, for many, a model for future leaders. He was “messiah” the “anointed” one. Mainly this is because he was a successful warrior who extended Israel’s boundaries so that it could be called a Kingdom. But in Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus unwilling to accept the title ‘Messiah” because it would be misunderstood. He was not the “long expected messiah”. 

Today is also called Christ the King Sunday, or even more recently “The Solemnity of our Lord, Jesus Christ, King of the universe.” The feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI. It was a time when many nations were moving toward authoritative, strong leaders, and away from more democratic rule. It proclaimed Jesus as the ultimate power, beyond any human ruler. But power for Jesus was the power to love, to see the dignity of every human being. No ruler would be following Jesus if that ruler demanded all live the Gospel values. No ruler would be elected by us if that was the platform. 

It is the individual disciple who is called to do so. If one does justice and embraces compassion, if one forgives, respects the dignity of all, loves others as one loves self, then the reign, the kingdom of God becomes present in the here and now. However, in doing so, one will need the quality Paul writes about to the community in Rome: patient endurance. However, that is a way many will find strange, even silly. 

Today, we find Jesus on the cross, still being asked “are you a King?” Seems ridiculous considering the circumstances. But there are signs, even as he hangs on the cross, of the kingship Jesus embraces. “Father forgive them”; “today you shall be with me in Paradise”. A love without limit and without end are what make Jesus “King of kings and Lord of lords.” 

Jesus began his ministry by calling disciples to come, follow. On the journey he reveals a vision that leads to abundant life. It is a vision in which all are invited, a vision that tells us to beware of too many possessions, a call to forgive all who do us wrong, a vison that embrace the poor the outcasts the foreigner, a vision that relies on frequent prayer and trust that God’s Spirit is with us, always. It is not an easy journey. It is a journey we can’t take alone. That is why we have each other, And so, this week we celebrate a National feast of Thanksgiving. I often quote the Jewish Theologian, Abraham Heschel: “Gratitude is the only fitting response to the inconceivable surprise of living”. Gratitude is a fitting response to the gift of each other – Sisters and brothers supporting one another as we strive to follow Jesus to abundant life. 

Submitted The Rev. Brendan McCormick

October 16, 2022: Nineteenth Week after Pentecost

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 Pentecost 19: October 16, 2022

Around the year 1120, a very elaborately and beautifully carved column was made to stand between the two halves of the portal at the western entrance to the abbey church of St Marie de Souillac, in south-western France. Nearly 500 years later, France endured a period of chaos during what became known as the “wars of religion”, and after the abbey church was damaged, this delicately carved column, known in French as a trumeau, was taken inside the church for its protection and placed against the inside west wall. It remains there to this day.

The trumeau is a masterpiece of Romanesque stone carving. On the front are intricately carved interlocking animal figures. On the left side, there is a carved representation of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, in three scenes designed to be read from the bottom to the top.

When in 2008 Ruth and I visited the abbey at Souillac as part of a Columbia University vacation trip for alums (I was one of the travelling lecturers), we were shown the trumeau. Our guide explained to us that while the left-hand side of the column was easily understood, no art historian had so far explained the wrestling figures on the right-hand side of the column.

With the naïve goofiness of which only an academic is capable, I said to the tour guide “but surely that side of the column depicts Jacob wrestling with the angel, or mysterious human figure, at the ford of the Jabbok in the book of Genesis?”

The tour guide who, unusually for a Frenchwoman of her generation, knew what I was talking about, reacted with wide-eyed amazement. “You’re a genius!” she exclaimed. No, I thought, I’m just a seminary professor who happens to know his Bible, a little bit …

Ever since then, I have been unable to think about this scripture passage without also thinking about that incident in the Dordogne region of France fourteen years ago. And one thinks, inevitably, about how many kinds of struggle, of wrestling with circumstances, are built into that story.

Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau, for the first time after he dispossessed him by trickery many years previously. He seriously fears that Esau will take his revenge and kill his entire family. He struggles with what to do, and has this mysterious and very dramatic encounter at the ford.  

Some scholars have remarked that the story of the struggle at the ford may have roots in a very primitive tale of nocturnal spirit-creatures guarding crossing points, like the troll guarding a bridge in the Norse folk-tale of the three billy-goats. Somehow this tale became grafted into the book of Genesis, to become one of two stories (one in chapter 32, one in chapter 35) of how Jacob acquired the name “Israel”, the one who “struggles with God”. 

Then there were struggles over the faith, which saw this carving in a French abbey attacked, possibly damaged, and then taken inside the church for safe keeping. Finally, there were the struggles of students of medieval art to retrieve its meaning.

Life is about struggle. Sometimes it seems that we are struggling with God’s very self as we attempt to make sense of the challenges of our lives. And that, says scripture, may be just how it is. Even the great heroic figures of the faith, the founders of their people, have had to wrestle with their circumstances. 

Jesus knew about struggle too. Our Gospel passage contains a parable, which on the face of it seems more obvious, perhaps less intriguing than some of Jesus’s other parables. 

The Gospel passage appears in a section of Jesus’s teaching in Luke, where some Pharisees challenge Jesus about when the kingdom of God should happen, should become visible. His answer is, in part, to say that it is not something spectacular to be observed, rather that it is “within you.” Jesus’s interrogators, we may presume, found the restrictions imposed on their faith and their culture by a foreign occupier to be unbearable, and wanted to know when things would change.

But as we know, Jesus’s sayings were remembered long before the Gospels were written. It is probably better to take the parable on its own, rather than assuming that Luke put it in the context where it was intended to be heard. 

Jesus tells the story of a widow who believes that she has been wronged. She believes that she is entitled to redress. We do not hear what the dispute was about; we do not even know for certain that the woman was in the right. We only know that she really, really wanted to be heard, and believed that she had a case.

But the law was corruptly administered, and the judge was lazy. So, the woman decides to make such a nuisance of herself, that the judge will decide that the way of least resistance is to give her a hearing, rather than to continue to ignore her. Thus, she gets a hearing.

Jesus is absolutely not telling us that we are like the insistent and strident litigating woman; nor is he saying that God is like a corrupt judge. He is making the same kind of argument that I discussed four weeks ago, the argument that if this is true, “how much more” is something else true.

If an utterly corrupt and lazy human administrator will eventually do the right thing when pushed sufficiently loud, hard and often to do so, how much more will God, who is all-loving, make things better for those who pray unceasingly to God. Jesus does not measure our devotion by the number and length of our prayers: he said that explicitly. What he asks of us is not the length of our prayers, but the intensity of our prayer, and the depth of our trust in God’s love for us.

That, I suggest, lies behind that rather mysterious last sentence. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Prayer, offered in the midst of struggle, proceeds from trust. If we trust in a God who loves us and desires our good, then our prayer will indeed be in faith. 

That, however, is where we get to a hard place. We know that prayer is not always answered in the way that we might ask for, as our first choice. The injustices and inequities of our country and our world will not be remedied nearly as fast as we wish them to be. The illnesses and frailties that our human bodies suffer from will not vanish overnight. Loved ones whom we passionately wish to be healed cannot always be healed in this life. 

So how are we to pray? I have two suggestions.

First, there is still plenty that we can pray to God for in hope and trust. We can pray for a greater spirit of mutual trust and good will among peoples, communities. and nations. We can model that in our own lives as individuals, families, and communities. We can pray for better care for the created world, so that we hand on to the generations to come a world that is still habitable. And we can model that hope through the choices that we make, and the way that we use our own resources.

So, we can pray for strength to do even more of the things that we already know are good. But there is more.

Sometimes, when we simply do not see a way forward, when we do not know just what to pray for, we are called simply to offer our concerns, our griefs, and our hopes before God, asking for help, sustenance, and support even when we do not know what to ask. Sometimes all we can do is offer our profound confusion and helplessness to one who loves us with unimaginable depth and power. We don’t even have to be polite to God. God can cope with the honest expression of our feelings.

And then, in the trust that is of the essence of faith, we may recognize that even as we struggle, our prayer in faith is answered in the very fact that we do struggle on. As John Henry Newman wrote in his hymn “Lead, kindly light”, we may ask, not to see all that lies before us, but for God to shed light on each step at a time in our journey. For the saviour who endured struggle and suffering for us, will walk with us through our dark places and enlighten them as we go forward. 

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

October 9, 2022: Eighteenth Week after Pentecost

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Pentecost 18: October 9, 2022

Two of our scripture readings for today address the illness known in scripture as leprosy. Leprosy, today, is defined as a chronic infectious disease caused by a bacillus (a type of bacterium), Mycobacterium leprae. According to the World Health Organization’s website, it develops slowly, over several years, and affects the skin, nerves and eyes. Untreated, it can cause terrible damage. Today, it is treatable with a multi-drug therapy involving three separate antibiotics. Yet, in 2020 over 120,000 cases were detected across the world, including over 8,000 children.

I remember an advertisement for one of the relief organizations which was published in British magazines around 50-60 years ago. It showed a woman afflicted with the condition; its headline was “betrayed … because of her leprosy”. As the advertisement went on to point out, even then, the disease had been curable for years. That it continues is another shocking testimony (if we needed more) to the inequalities in our world, and the deplorable injustices in the delivery of readily available medicines.

You may wonder, though, was “leprosy” in the Bible always the same as the disease that we now know by that name? There is quite a lot of disagreement on this subject among scholars. In ancient Israel people already knew that different skin conditions and ailments might be confused with leprosy properly so called. 

Leviticus, chapter 13, refers to someone with a potentially leprous condition showing their skin to the priest. It sets out a procedure for diagnosis and differentiation between various diseases. The priest was called on to examine the sufferer, to distinguish between a lesion which went deeper than the skin, which constituted leprosy; and on the other hand, a skin eruption which only affected the skin, which could be re-examined after a week and which might heal up. 

It was important to make that distinction, because someone with genuine leprosy was deemed to be a danger to the community, because they risked spreading the infection. Not everyone afflicted with an illness of the skin needed to be isolated from society.

It is probable that Naaman, the Aramean general, suffered from one of the other non-transmissible skin conditions: it is hard to imagine an infectious leper being invited to support the king of Aram’s hand as he entered the temple of the god Rimmon, which Naaman goes on to describe later in the chapter.

Make no mistake: the Arameans, who lived in lands more or less equivalent to present-day Syria, were not natural friends to Israel. They were warlike neighbours who spread their influence, and their culture, well into ancient Galilee and beyond. By the time of Jesus, most Judeans were speaking Aramaic rather than ancient Hebrew in everyday conversation. The unnamed king of the northern kingdom is terrified when the king of Aram sends his general to him to be cured.

And Naaman, despite his affliction or maybe because of it, has an attitude. He rides up in his cavalcade, no doubt in a cloud of dust, to where Elisha is staying, and does not even get out of his chariot. He expects that this scruffy holy man of an inferior people will come out and meet him, and do some impressive magic for him.

Elisha knows exactly how to handle Naaman. If Naaman will not leave his vehicle, Elisha will not leave his house. He sends word to tell him to bathe in the river. Let’s pause over that. He tells the man ranked first under the king, from an overpoweringly dangerous kingdom, to go and expose himself – literally – by the river. He must show the extent of his disfigurement to everyone. He dares Naaman to undergo the utmost embarrassment if he wishes to be cured. Naaman cannot ask for healing from a position of power, dignity, and authority. He must strip away all his rank and grandeur and ask a foreign god for help.

It is a near run thing. We read that Naaman’s servants persuaded him that, “well, it’s easy, it cannot do any harm” … so in the end he cooperates, and is healed. He tries to offer gifts to Elisha, who absolutely refuses. Then Naaman asks for a load of the soil of Israel, so that he can worship Israel’s god on Israel’s dirt, a curiously primitive view of the locality of gods. He asks Elisha to forgive him if he helps the king to worship Aram’s god in their temple: and Elisha gives him permission.

The man of absolute authority, the wielder of power and violence, has humbled himself to recognize something far greater than himself. That, in a sense, is the real healing that takes place in this story.

The Gospel story seems, in a sense, less complex, with less psychological interest. Yet the Gospel writers were well aware of the story of Naaman. In the fourth chapter of Luke, Jesus says in Nazareth that “there were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” God’s mercy may sometimes extend to the outsider before it is shown to the people of God, who are expected to know what God expects of them.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story is that a community of lepers includes nine Jews and one Samaritan. The people of Samaria were, in Jesus’s time, outcasts to the Judaeans. Samaria had been one of the great cities of the northern kingdom, but after the destruction of the kingdom of Israel, it was occupied by peoples whose origin was disputed. Josephus describes the Samaritans as being Jews of convenience: they would keep the Torah only when it was politically expedient to do so. There are a few hundred of them still, Palestinians who worship on Mount Gerizim (now Jebel et-Tor) near Nablus, to this day.  UNESCO marks them as a unique culture worthy of support.

Leprosy was a cultural leveller. It made Jews and Samaritans equally outcast. It made them equally in need of help. They all call on Jesus as “master” and plead for his mercy. Like Elisha, Jesus takes no explicit action: he simply calls them to go and present themselves to the priests. As they turn around to go their way, they are cured. 

Did the Samaritan suddenly realize, with a lump in his throat, that he could not go to the same priests as his companions? To whom could he then present himself? With a surge of gratitude and some religious improvisation, he turns back to Jesus, praising God and abasing himself before Jesus in gratitude. 

 And Jesus, in a rather interesting choice of words, says “your faith has made you well”: but in the Greek original, what he actually says is “your faith has saved you”. No longer an outcast from an outcast people, he has trusted in God, thanked God, and knows he is beloved of God.

God comes to us in moments of deepest distress and mortification. There is a traditional teaching that says that when we go down into our moments of most acute humiliation and loss, Christ is there to meet us and heal us. That does not, I insist, mean that we should seek out suffering, or deliberately inflict humiliation on ourselves as a way to climb into God’s favour. Enough religious people have done that down the ages, and it is, I suggest, always a mistake. Christ calls us to comfort and heal those who suffer.

Affliction will come on us soon enough. And affliction is not a good thing. One should never say of suffering, sickness, misfortune, or loss, that God sends it for a purpose, or that it is somehow for our good. We do not know that, and often we need to acknowledge the loss and grieve over it, even become angry at it. 

And yet, in the moment of loss, of going down into a dark place, Jesus crucified and risen is there waiting for us. We worship one who knows what it is to suffer, to be treated as an outcast. We have, not just a companion, but a redeemer, who takes the real evils and afflictions of life and walks with us through them. We are called to have faith, which means trust: to come to Christ in our vulnerability, grief, even our embarrassment, and receive the unexpected mercy and love which he offers. 

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

October 2, 2022: Seventeenth Week after Pentecost

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PENTECOST 17: October 2, 2022 

Habakkuk, now there’s a name! I doubt any of you know someone by that name. And yet, I have thought of him often. I frequently travel to Brooklyn, New York. And the best route takes me along lower Manhattan where I can look across the Brooklyn Bridge and see a large building. Until a few years ago the words WATCH TOWER  were written at its top in 15 foot letters. At that time this building housed the offices of the Jehovah Witnesses. The name “WATCH TOWER”  comes from words of Habakkuk we read today: “I will stand at my watch post (watch tower) and situate myself on the rampart.” What Habakkuk was watching for were signs that God was entering into human history to defeat evil and establish justice and mercy. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is often quoted: “The arc of history bends toward justice.”  Habakkuk wasn’t sure this was true. He lived at the same time as Jeremiah and he tells God what he sees are destruction and violence, strife and contention. Justice never goes forth, it is always perverted by the wicked. If God is the Ruler of History, what’s up? No arc of history bending toward justice. Not only does Habakkuk see enemies attacking from without but there are enemies within. The false prophets and religious and secular rulers who oppress the poor and take riches for themselves. 

Habakkuk gets no convincing answer from God. However, he finally takes his stand on his “watchtower of faith”. Believing that the issues are in God’s hands and, at some time, God’s sovereignty will be revealed. 

This is a fundamental belief of Jehovah Witnesses. The establishment of God’s rule will bring about the end of human history as we know it. The end of the world as we know it. 

However, they have predicted the end of the world and the time for God’s sovereignty to be revealed a number of times. Eight times leaders of the Witnesses have predicted this. Obviously, as these dates have come and gone, membership has varied - growing as expectation grew, falling when the date passed.  

Many Biblical scholars say that at the time of Jesus, there was a strong sense among some Jews that the end was near. The Day of the Lord was the term used to describe God’s entrance into human history, destroying evil and rewarding the good; establishing God’s justice on earth.  

Such thoughts have been repeated by many groups throughout history. A computer search lists 176 predictions. 37 predictions in the last 22 years. Last Sunday being the latest prediction.  With war and persecution fires and floods all around, many have thought that surely, the end could not be far off.  Even today, among the group called Qanon, assurance that the end is near abounds.   

Luke’s Gospel, and Acts of the Apostles has a different view. Luke wrote, many think, for a community that had just undergone a violent persecution. But rather than God’s entrance in human history to restore justice, the community became aware of the Holy Spirit already present among them. It was not the fulness of God’s presence. That was yet to be. But already God’s power was present in the Life of the community, enabling them to remain faithful. The Spirit was now empowering the disciples to live out the Gospel. 

One sign of the Spirit’s presence was the power of forgiveness in Luke’s community. When the persecution had subsided, people slowly regrouped and began to rebuild the community. One difficult issue was what to do about members who, in the midst of persecution, had denied they were Christians in order to avoid suffering, even death. Some of them wanted to return to the community. One can imagine the community divided as what to do; wondering what Jesus would have them do. 

In Luke’s Gospel we see Jesus continually calling for forgiveness. His Gospel has been called the Gospel of great pardons. Only Luke has the story of the woman accused of adultery. (Let him who is without sin cast the first stone); only Luke tells the story of the Prodigal Son in which forgiveness is poured on the lad before he has a chance to say he is sorry; only Luke hears Jesus say on the cross, “Father forgive them”, begging forgiveness for his executioners; only Luke has the thief crucified with Jesus receive forgiveness at the last moment. Luke’s work is often called a Gospel of Forgiveness. The Gospel called on the disciple to have faith in this presence and act with the power of forgiveness poured out by the Spirit. 

Faith is mentioned  6 times in todays scripture readings. The apostles ask Jesus “Increase our faith”. I wonder what the motivation was. Jesus was having trouble with the established religion. The leaders were in constant conflict with Jesus. Did the apostles wonder. Did they have their own questions, their own doubts? 

Jesus’s response is that it is not the amount of faith but the type of faith that is important. Faith, Jesus says, the size of the tiniest of seeds could move a tree to plunge into the sea. What is that faith? What is the faith we need.  

Doubt is not the problem. Habakkuk still had doubts when he said “the righteous live by their faith. He, with his doubt returned to his watchtower which he called “watchtower of faith”. 

The apostles often failed in their following of Jesus, but they too arrived in that upper room to receive the power of the Spirit. The power of faith to give their lives for faith in Jesus.  Luke’s community overcame their doubts to embrace again those who had abandoned faith in Jesus. 

In the Bible, the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. In that Gospel scene where Jesus calms the wind and waves, he asks the apostles “Why are you afraid? Don’t you believe?”.  

The faith we need is one that overcomes fear. We can say with Habakkuk “destruction and violence are before us; strife and contention arise; justice never prevails”. 

We opened our worship with a prayer proclaiming that it is only by God’s gift that faithful people offer true and laudable service. So let us pray with the father of the sick child whom we meet in the Gospel : “Lord we believe, help our unbelief.”  

Luke’s Gospel is also unique in the constant attention paid to the outcasts of society: women, the poor, the sick, lepers, Samaritans, foreigners, – tax collectors. (religion cannot be used to separate people) 

Today we meet the tax collector, Zacchaeus.  The people who hated tax collectors in Jesus’ day were more than just fervent tea party members. Tax collectors more often than not deserved to be hated. The way taxes were gathered was not fair, was not just. 

The right to collect taxes in a certain region was purchased from the ruler for a set sum. With this right, the collector could then charge as much as he could get from the people. 

It was a process fraught with corruption. Tax collectors deserved the animosity they received. So, when Zacchaeus is called down from his tree to eat with Jesus, the people were rightly shocked. Sharing a meal in those days was always a type of religious act, it conveyed the acknowledgement of mutual respect, it was a celebration of equality.  

The words of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel put immense pressure on the community to forgive everyone and not to exclude anyone. But when we read this Gospel we are challenged by the same message. We are called to be a community that forgives and makes every effort to seek out the marginalized, the outcast, to invite them into a community gathered on the power of God’s love.  

We are not called to look for signs of the end of the world, to withdrawal from human activity and planning and wait. We hear Jesus say today that he has come to join us in the midst of life, and with us to seek out the lost and to save the lost. 

We opened our worship proclaiming that it is only by God’s gift that faithful people offer true and laudable service. We then asked that God help us run without stumbling to obtain God’s heavenly promises. 

Let us run with a willingness to forgive. Let us run with an active concern for the well being of all – especially the outcasts, the marginalized. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 

September 18, 2022: Fifteenth Week after Pentecost

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September 18, 2022: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

There is something about Jesus’s priorities, as revealed in the Gospels, which confounds and contradicts many of the obsessions of some of those who lay claim to the name of Christians in the present age.

Issues of human reproduction and sexuality, which to hear some politicians you would think were the defining issues of the Christian faith, are essentially not mentioned at all in Jesus’s teaching. He gives a warning against divorce, which in the ancient Judaean world gave an utterly unequal and unjust level of control and authority to husbands. That’s about it.

On the other hand, on questions of money, earning it, hoarding it, lending it, giving it away – the teachings of Jesus are almost too many to count. Debt – in the sense of owing someone money – was Jesus’s preferred image for the obligations that we have in relation to God and to each other. Jesus saw that the greatest temptations, and the greatest injustices, of his era revolved around those little gold and silver coins, and all the things that you could exchange them for. 

Those who think that the Gospel encourages, or even tolerates, unrestrained acquisitiveness in material goods have simply not been reading their Bibles.

But Jesus is a very special kind of teacher, who teaches – as the best often do – by provoking, by challenging, by taking an argument to its absurd extremes in order to make his hearers think. That is how I believe we can make sense of the extremely perplexing Gospel reading that we have just heard.

There was already a strong prophetic tradition, going back centuries, which warned against economic exploitation and injustice. We heard that loud and clear in our reading from Amos. Amos does not argue that there is something fundamentally wrong about some people being wealthier than others; but he does regard unjust exploitation of the poor as a crime against God. The passage belongs in a much longer series of denunciations, where God threatens vengeance against all the peoples of the region, Jewish and Gentile alike. Idolatry brings God’s vengeance; but so does the ruthless and unforgiving greed which makes rich people believe that they can exploit the poor with impunity.

But then we come to our Gospel. 

Let me quote from the verses which follow just a little after our reading, which evoke much of the spirit of Amos:

“14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.”

But the story of the dishonest steward is more complicated than that clear, if important, message. Jesus tells the story of the manager working for a rich man, who has been abusing his position and faces dismissal. He decides to make friends with his employer’s debtors by fraudulently altering the amount that they owe his employer in the debtors’ favour.

And, we read, the employer “commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly”. The word that is translated “shrewdly” is the Greek word phronimos, “φρονίμος” which is translated “shrewdly” here, as though the translators did not want to acknowledge its usual meaning: thoughtful, wise, intelligent.

How can we call someone who perpetrates a fraud wise or intelligent? Yet Jesus appears to do so, to provoke his hearers among the disciples to think about where they stand.

There is a rhetorical device which Jesus used quite often in his teaching. It is sometimes called the argument “a fortiori”, and it was and is popular in rabbinic literature. Jesus points out to his followers that God clothes the weeds in the field with beauty, so “how much more” will God clothe human beings. God looks after the fate of every sparrow: “how much more” will God care for people in God’s image.

The dishonest steward is, I suggest, like the lilies of the field or the sparrows, but in a different way. Even, says Jesus, the corrupt and worldly recognize something important about money: “how much more” should “the children of light” get the point that he is making.

Allow me to linger a while on the expression “the children of light”. The theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr published in 1944 a short book entitled The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness. In that book, which developed imagery from this Gospel, Niebuhr suggested that the “children of light” were those profoundly and incurably optimistic political thinkers who believed that if one got the institutions of civic life right, people’s moral stature would improve automatically. 

In the spirit of his ethical realism, Niebuhr argued that the well-intentioned needed to take on board some of the cynicism about corrupt human nature that characterized the bleakest political realists. He did not want the well-intentioned to become like the cynics and the corrupt: but he wanted them to acknowledge, and make use of, the realistic insights of the “children of darkness”.

I believe that Jesus was saying something similar. The dishonest steward appreciated a fundamental point which the godly might easily miss. And what is that point? It is simply that relationships, friendship, connection to others is infinitely more important than money. Corrupt and feckless people realize that they need to keep friends. As the old saying about business says, be nice to the people you pass on the way up, because you may meet them again on the way down. 

Those who are conventionally prudent probably pay all their bills, live within their means, and, barring unforeseeable misfortune, do not need to incur obligations to others. They may even be more isolated from those around them. 

Yet the “children of this age” know something that those who lead their lives in an orderly and apparently self-sufficient way do not. They know that in an unstable and unpredictable world it is human relationships which are the real treasure, the real resources. 

The Pharisees, Jesus implies, do not know this. Maybe they think their wealth is a sign of God’s favour; maybe they believe that running their lives in an orderly fashion is fulfilling God’s will.

And Jesus offers a different set of priorities. Be extravagant with material resources, in order to hoard the strong relationships with each other and with God which are the true treasures. Jesus is not telling us to behave like the dishonest steward, and I am sure that none of us would read the Gospel that way. But he does say that those who live in the messy, chaotic, disorderly reality that is our world sometimes get something right. We need to learn from them.

Maybe, following Jesus (and Niebuhr) we should also learn some ways of doing things from the “children of this world”. For far too long, the Gospel has been misrepresented to the world, especially in this country, by those who seem to seek to wield ungodly power over others, especially women and the less privileged, in the name of what are – quite falsely – claimed to be religious principles. Those of us who read our Scriptures and hear Jesus’s call to care for “the least of these” need to say out, loud and clear, that the Gospel calls for the building of caring relationships and for a godly, good use of wealth. 

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan McCormick

September 11, 2022: Fourteenth Week after Pentecost

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Pentecost 14: September 11, 2022 

21 years ago, on the Sunday following September 11th, I read the following words from the Prophet Jeremiah to introduce our worship: 

 “How lonely sits the city that was once so full of people.         

How like a widow she has become,  

she that was great among nations! 

She weeps bitterly at night, with tears on her cheeks… 

All you who pass by look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, 

I weep, my eyes flow with tears; 

A comforter is far from me, there is no one to revive my courage.” 

 Jeremiah was weeping amid the ruins of Jerusalem, describing the fulfillment of the catastrophe about which he had been warning. The people of Jerusalem believed their city was established and defended by God. Now, however, it was completely destroyed by the army of Babylon. The Temple, which many people believed was the House of God on earth, was a heap of rubble. In shock, many were asking: “Where is God?  What kind of God allows such suffering? Even more, is there a God? 

21 years ago, we too, had witnessed a great city attacked, and while the results were not as devastating as those in Jerusalem witnessed by Jeremiah. Nevertheless, the destruction of the towers in New York was a severe blow to America’s sense of power and security.  Since the attacks of 9/11 we have lived on a diet of fear and distrust. This fear has diminished our faith in ourselves and gradually our trust in one another 

So, it may be a good time to ask what kind of God do we believe in? In fact, today’s scriptures present two very different images of God. 

In our first reading, from the Book of Exodus. We see a very angry God, ready to destroy all the people with whom he had entered into covenant and begin all over. While Moses was there, on the mountain to receive the Law, the people, down below grew impatient and created a new god. A golden calf made from the gold the people had freely given. A blob of gold, in the form of a baby cow, made by human hands replaced the loving creator of all life, who had called Abraham and chose Moses.  

What an insult! Moses was able to manage God’s anger , talk God down, and, we are told, “God changed his mind”. Not an image with which we are comfortable, even though we have heard of an angry, punishing God.  But this is not an image in sync with what we find in our Epistle and Gospel reading. 

The foundation of Paul’s faith and teaching is belief in a gracious God who freely embraces sinners with a saving love. The gift of God’s saving grace came to Paul while he was a “blasphemer, persecutor and man of violence”. He did not deserve the gift of grace that embraced him. His belief in the God of Jesus opened him to that grace. 

In our Gospel, we meet a God who searches out the sinner. We might even say a God who pursues us . 

We hear Jesus ask the crowd: “Which of you having lost one sheep, would not leave the 99 and go search for the lost?” I am sure no hands were raised. Leaving 99 sheep alone would have been a disaster. What a risk. Jesus describes a God who is willing to risk in seeking us.  

The woman’s search for the lost silver coin is less dangerous, but the energy and time is considerable.  

It is hard to believe the conclusion of Jesus’ words: There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. That was a tough message for the Pharisees and scribes.   

But Luke is writing these words in his Gospel 40 to 50 years after it took place. It is an important message to his community at that time. They had just come through a serious persecution. In the process many had suffered, some had been murdered. Others avoided suffering by denying they were followers of Jesus. Now, as things had settled down, some were coming back, seeking readmission to the community.  Good riddance! Stay away, some would say. But Jesus says, no. Even more, go and search for the lost. Even if it means great risk.  

But we read this story today. Not as history but as Gospel. Gospel to Church, this community, to me. To us who have been embraced by the loving, saving grace of God, it should not be difficult to embrace others. Not that those who left are sinners, but because the God who embraces us, embraces them. 

While reflecting on these readings, I was reminded of another image of God. Francis Thompson, British poet of the 19th century, wrote a poem titled “The Hound of Heaven”. Now I know the idea of a hound perusing a sheep conjures a different image than a shepherd. However, this hound is the image for a persistent God pursuing us. As Thompson says: “I fled him down the night and down the day; I fled him down the arches of the years.” Perhaps we might pause and reflect that God seeks us in a never-ending pursuit. Ending, hopefully, with our acceptance of God’s saving love for us. 

I think Paul would understand this image of God. If we add it to today’s scripture, we are creatures whom God seeks to embrace with saving love, as we seek to be channels of God’s saving love to others. Even those who seem to have wandered off. And in doing so, we might even bring joy in the presence of the angels of God. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 

September 4, 2022: Thirteenth Week after Pentecost

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13 Pentecost: September 4, 2022

Over the past weeks we have been listening to, and thinking about, the stories of Jesus’s teaching in the middle chapters of Luke’s Gospel. There, Jesus is travelling through Galilee, Samaria and Judaea on his way towards Jerusalem. We do not know when exactly these particular teachings were really delivered. Jesus’s sayings were preserved in the memory of his followers for many years before they were written down as Gospels. However, if we listen to the way the evangelists construct their story, a message appears. 

In previous chapters, Jesus has been teaching in the synagogues, and around the dinner table. Luke reports that many people wanted to hear what Jesus had to say, and even more wanted to see him heal the sick. Jesus was becoming a celebrity, the next great new thing everyone wanted a piece of. And that is why, in today’s reading, we hear the all-important first sentence, which it is very easy to ignore: “large crowds were travelling with him”.

Lots of people were following Jesus, without thinking that there was any commitment involved. Jesus responds to them by saying, in effect, “hold on, this mission is something that will claim more than just your passing temporary attention. It will cost you a great deal, maybe everything.” Being a follower means a great deal more than just being in the audience and applauding.

In the previous chapter, Jesus had told the story of a banquet where the host invited lots of people, many of whom made a whole range of excuses not to turn up. Jesus says to those who wish to follow him, “be prepared not just to accept an invitation, but to accept the inconveniences, the demands that it makes on your time, energies, and resources”.

To emphasize the point, Jesus uses, in the typical style of Hebrew rhetoric, what seem to us two rather exaggerated verbs: he says that his followers must “hate” their relationships in the world, and “give up” all that they have.

If taken literally, these sayings are hard to reconcile with other teachings, where Jesus cites the value of family relationships (a father knows to give his children good things) or appeals to the value of the lost sheep or the lost penny. But if we read them, as Jesus probably intended, as saying that one must place a lower value on social ties or material possessions than on the mission of Jesus and the kingdom of God, then they make abundant sense. 

Commentaries on this passage often entitle this Gospel the “cost of discipleship”. Coincidentally, The Cost of Discipleship is also the usual title of the English translation of a book written in the 1930s by the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazis before and during the Second World War, and was executed, in a futile act of malice, for conspiring against Hitler in the dying weeks of the Nazi regime in 1945.

Bonhoeffer wrote the book after his experiences studying in Union Theological Seminary in New York and worshipping on Sundays in Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He came to believe that the bourgeois Lutheranism in which he had grown up placed far too much emphasis on easy forgiveness, and neglected the serious call to respond, in acts of love and care, to the gift of grace that God offers us in Christ. He famously called for “costly”, not “cheap” grace, for Protestant Christians to take the ethical demands of the Sermon on the Mount seriously.

Bonhoeffer remarked in the book that the Church had historically shunted off the stricter demands of following Jesus on to those who entered monastic religious communities of men and women. Thus, it excluded most Christians from the reality of discipleship, and reserved it for a spiritual elite. 

There was and is in our Christian heritage a strand which has placed great stress on the followers of Jesus being absolutely poor. I often fear that this may become its own kind of exaggeration. But there is no doubt that concern for possessions is a far greater risk for most of us, and for most people as a whole. 

You may remember that some years back there was a quite celebrated, controversial, and often profane New York stand-up comedian called George Carlin. He grew up on West 121st St, which coincidentally is just opposite the main entrance to Union Seminary. One of his less offensive monologues was about “stuff”. It included this passage:

“A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. … That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff!”

Like many comedians and satirists, Carlin seized on something actually quite profound in his comic routine. We have learned, or been taught, to become psychologically comfortable only when we have our “stuff” around us. It is not so much the material things, in themselves, that we need: it is the reassurance of being surrounded by the familiar, of being supported by an environment which we have built for ourselves.

We can become ruled by our “stuff”. But there is an opposite extreme, where people, for self-help reasons, or for what pass for spiritual reasons, seek to purge down their “stuff” to the absolute minimum. I’m not sure that this opposite extreme, stripping “stuff” down to as little as possible is, in the end, better. If one is simplifying one’s physical surroundings, that is just as much about “stuff” as is the hoarding. It’s still the material objects which are the centre of attention.

The worst error of all, of course, is when one treats human beings as just another kind of “stuff”. In our second reading from Paul’s letter to Philemon, we read about a slave who had run away from his master to befriend Paul. Paul did not come straight out and say, as we might wish he had done, that slavery, this pervasive institution of the Roman Empire, was plain wrong. 

Instead, he focuses on the slave Onesimus as a human being, with a character that can be redeemed, with relationships – Paul calls himself his father – with friends, with value in himself. Paul sends him back to Philemon with the clear expectation that Philemon will send him straight back again to Paul, to be a source of support to him in his imprisonment. 

While slavery is the worst and most outrageous form of objectifying people, we must always remember that people can be, and sadly often are, treated as objects in all kinds of ways. Prejudice, unfettered capitalism, broken relationships in families: all these can lead to the abuse of people’s humanity.

In response, Paul, and Jesus, both expressed some self-evident, but often forgotten, truths.

The things that bring real happiness and joy are intangible: they are relationships, the fulfillment of doing worthwhile things, the support of friends. 

The life of faith makes demands which exceed those of our material world: the rewards and the joy of discipleship come because we have answered a call, have taken on a yoke, have picked up a burden and walked with it.

“Stuff” can get in the way, whether we hoard it or obsess about cutting it down. Things are tools for life, there to be shared and used for the building up of those relationships which are the real treasures. Above all, other people must never be treated as though they were another form of possession. Their beauty and their value are to be seen in the building of community through our life of faith together.

We can, and will, grow as a church if we are honest about both the commitments and the rewards of living to Christ in each other. Let’s do that.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

August 28, 2022: Twelth Week after Pentecost

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12 Pentecost: August 28, 2022 

If you enter one of the larger Book stores today (They are harder to find in this day of on-line ordering). But if you do, you will see a very large section dedicated to “self-help” books.  Some people think there are many things about us that need help. One of the first books written for this section  was “How to win friends and influence people”,  by Dale Carnegie in 1936. 

As the title suggests, Carnegie shared principles for interacting with people in a way that would get them to like you and understand your way of thinking. As a writer and lecturer, he influenced many salespeople, corporate leaders and public speakers on ways they could increase friends and influence others to their way of thinking. Critics saw these principles as manipulation. Nevertheless, the book has sold 30 million copies over the years.  

It almost seems Jesus is sharing Carnegie’s principles in the first part of today’s Gospel. He is invited to a meal and meals were important gatherings in Jewish society. Even more, this one was hosted by the chief Rabbi of the town. Where one was seated at such a meal was also very important. Jesus observed people jostling for the best seats, seeking those special places that would indicate their special status in society. Jesus then offers a good strategy for wining friends and influencing people. Look humble, assume a lesser place and if you are invited to a higher place, all will see that you are a special person. 

But then Jesus goes further and  breaks with Carnegie’s principles. Jesus says instead of having a banquet to pay back the people of great importance, invite the poor, the infirmed, the blind. Invite those that have no place of importance in society.  

This certainly will not win friends and influence people. For Jesus, however, this is the way to be blessed by the one who hosts that eternal banquet. The heavenly banquet hosted for all eternity by the eternal God. 

Jesus’ advice echoes a scene earlier in Luke’s Gospel where disciples of John the Baptist were sent by John to ask, “are you the one to come, or should we look for another”. The One to come, of course, refers to Messiah, the one who would bring about the kingdom of God. Jesus responds: “tell John what you see, the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, dead raised, and good news proclaimed to the poor.” A sign of Messiah’s presence is a welcome open to the outcasts, the poor, the needy in our midst. 

These signs Jesus uses come from the Prophet Isaiah, describing the presence of the Saving God in the midst of our world, amid the tumult of our lives. Luke’s Gospel and his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, focus on the presence of the Holy Spirit already in the community. The Saving God is already present. Not fully. That is yet to come. But in the here and now, through loving actions of the disciple caring for the unimportant, the rejected, the outcasts, the Saving God is seen to be already present. 

So, if we did what Jesus suggests, invite the poor, the rejected, the outcasts, it would be a sign that the Saving God is among us.    

We read these words as the world deals with the great challenge of a mass migration of peoples. Estimates of 60 million people around the world, migrating because war, famine and climate change. These migrants, foreigners, refugees are the outcasts of our day. Of course, these outcasts are added to the millions of homeless outcasts already present among us. 

Scripture has many verses demanding we care for and protect the migrants, refugees and foreigners. Many more than verses condemning homosexuality and abortion. 

It is more than ironic for a nation made up of descendants of migrants to be so harsh and unable to develop a policy for dealing with this  challenge. In fact, the people who are native to this land are the ones treated as foreigners. 

For a period of 4 years this nation had a policy of taking young children away from parents and placing them in confinement. Thousands of children, some only one, two years old were separated from parents as a ploy to scare others from trying to enter this country. Not only that but no system was used to keep track of where these children were sent. Many families are still not reunited. Such an appalling policy was tolerated, even supported by people who claim the Bible as the infallible guide to life. 

Many of our ancestor who came to this country were subjected to forms of persecution. At the same time, there were many others who worked to welcome and protect them. Which group are we imitating?  

Jesus is clear about where he stands. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he speaks of God’s final act of judgment, separating the just from the unjust, the saved from the condemned. Among the criteria he says to the saved, “I was a stranger, and you took me in”. To the condemned he says “I was a stranger, and you did not take me in.” Both groups are surprised and ask. “Lord, when did we take you in, or when did we refuse to take you in”? The answer to both groups is the same: “When you did it, or didn’t do it, you acted toward me.”  

More than tell us to care for the outcast, the foreigner, the migrant, Jesus identifies with them. When you did it or didn’t do it, you did or didn’t do it to me.  

How to solve the migration issue in our nation or around the world is challenging and Jesus offers no plan. It is left to our imagination, intelligence and courage. But how we are to act toward the people seeking refuge is clearly stated.  

Finally, if Jesus seems so absent from our world, our lives, he tells us where he can be found. He is as close to us as the hungry, thirsty, the poor and the refuge we see around us. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 





August 21, 2022: Eleventh Week after Pentecost

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11 Pentecost: August 21, 2022

Nearly 50 years ago I served as a volunteer in a day facility for people with mental illnesses. (Rules and regulations regarding volunteers were much less strict then than now).

One of the patients habitually walked with his body bent right over from the waist. I was quietly advised by the care staff that there was no physical reason why he needed to walk like that, but he infallibly, always, carried himself in this painful way. 

We have no idea whether the woman in the Gospel story suffered from some similar psychological condition with this physical effect, though it seems plausible: Luke says that she had a “spirit of weakness”.

Jesus cures her: she is grateful, and the crowd is impressed. I wonder whether we can look a little more closely at what is happening in this story. I wonder if we might even find it in our hearts to have some sympathy for the leader of the synagogue.

The “leader of the synagogue” does not address Jesus directly, but rather scolds the crowd. We are left to fill in the gaps – but it seems that the leader felt that the synagogue was a place of study and learning. Synagogues were not primarily places of worship, while the Temple was still standing. They were places for earnest inquiry into the law of God, not places for spectacle. 

We can easily imagine the reaction to Jesus’s healing. No doubt there were exclamations, excited chatter among the bystanders, maybe even shouts and whoops of joy at what had happened. This healing, in the eyes of the leader of the synagogue, has completely distracted everyone from the proper business of the gathering. 

Maybe the leader even feels slightly betrayed. He has invited this travelling unofficial rabbi into his community to teach, and instead he has made a demonstration of his powers.

Jesus, however, sees things another way. The idea that one should preserve the sabbath by doing absolutely nothing, even to help those in need, is absurd to him. He points out that even the most devout believers have to do basic things to look after domestic animals, like giving one’s ox or donkey a drink, on the sabbath. So, by how much more should a human being be cured of a painful condition?

But there is more. Maybe, from Jesus’s point of view, healing was not a distraction from his teaching, but an essential part of it? It raises the tricky but important question, what were Jesus’s healing miracles actually about?

I don’t know if you remember the classic British situation comedy The Vicar of Dibley, which was broadcast from 1994 to 2007. It began just as the first female priests were being ordained to the ministry of the Church of England (yes, the C of E was late to reach this fundamental decision).

At one point the vicar is invited into a local school, where a pupil asks her what was so great about Jesus. She replies that, well, he raised someone from the dead. The child listens but is not satisfied: why didn’t Jesus raise lots of people from the dead? Why couldn’t he stop people from dying altogether?

The Vicar looks distinctly uncomfortable, and the scene becomes just another illustration of the risks of working with children. However, the child actually raised a serious question. There can seem to be something apparently random about Jesus’s acts of healing. Only in John’s Gospel is there a deliberate sequence to the “signs” (as they are called) and that is the evangelist’s way of telling the story, rather than how things actually happened. The other evangelists portray Jesus as healing whoever asks him where he happens to be; and he gives the disciples the power to do the same.

Yet, as Jesus himself remarked, [Luke 4] “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Many are healed, but not all those who were sick. Many were fed, but hunger, and the inequity which caused hunger, remained. The fundamentals of an unjust society were not miraculously altered.

So what were the healing miracles about? They certainly demonstrated Jesus’s unique authority, his capacity to bring into the everyday world the power of God. More than that, they are acts of God’s power. Not power as human beings understand it, which is often spectacular and usually destructive. God’s use of power is gentle, loving, restorative, and you only see it if you look for it and believe in it. 

Something else is going on in the miracles, which is slightly harder for us to grasp at nearly two thousand years’ distance. Our Gospel writers, and quite possibly Jesus himself in his human nature, understood Jesus’s ministry as playing out on earth a struggle between the forces of love and the forces of evil. Jesus says that the woman with the bent back was “in bondage to Satan”. There is a cosmic conflict here, and Jesus’s power to heal shows that, despite the outward appearances, divine love has the ultimate victory – especially when it most seems to be defeated.

What are we to make of miracles today? I am old enough to remember the approach, now obsolete, which tried to explain the “miracles” of Jesus as the supernatural interpretation of natural events. In this view, illnesses that suddenly gave way to charismatic healing were psychosomatic conditions, just waiting for someone with confidence and authority to cure them. 

Nowadays biblical scholars are more likely to ask “what does this supernatural story say about the evangelists’ understanding of how their world worked” than to ask the ultimately futile question “how would we interpret what happened if we were there today?” In other words, miracles belong in a particular spiritual and cultural context, and can only be understood in that context.

But there is a challenge. In the tradition which we, as Anglicans, inherited, it was believed that miracles were special gifts in the early life of the Church. Christ and the apostles healed by spiritual power; some of the early Fathers could perform astonishing feats; but at some time in history, real miracles ceased in the Church. 

Not everyone agrees. Our colleagues in the Roman Catholic Church still believe that the especially holy ones of God perform miracles after their deaths; proof of such acts is required to declare someone a saint, and great care is taken to establish on scientific grounds that a miracle cannot be explained by natural processes. Special shrines or holy places are supposed to have the power to heal outside the order of nature. Charismatic movements in the Protestant world sometimes proclaim that they, too, can heal by spiritual power and authority.

Let me suggest a response here. Those of us who live with incurable afflictions in ourselves, or in those we are closest to, would love to see the power of God manifested in extraordinary acts of healing. But we acknowledge, I think, that this is not the ordinary way that God works. What we pray for is the strength to show God’s love in all our lives, even in the midst of suffering. 

God loves, and God wishes us to heal our world. The signs and acts of power are lessons to us. That was why Jesus healed in the synagogue. What are some of these lessons? Christ heals, and shows that our role is to bring ordinary, everyday healing within the reach of everyone, not a privileged few. Christ feeds the hungry, and teaches us to make a world where resources are not hoarded for a few at the expense of others. Jesus says that our holy times and places are not just places to study, debate and reason. They are places where we can live out the struggle between love and loss. Miracles give us a short, sharp lesson in the kind of world that God wishes to see, and wishes us to make. It is for us to learn the lessons and put them into effect – on holy days and ordinary days alike. 

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

August 14, 2022: Tenth Week after Pentecost

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10 Pentecost, August 14, 2022    

How to interpret the present time? The last words in our Gospel reading. Indeed, how? Jesus asks this of his disciples. But it seems that it was always a challenge, even for Jesus. 

In  Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus asks his apostles, “Who do people say I am?” One response was “Jeremiah”. Some thought Jesus another “Jeremiah.” They had reasons to think so. Jeremiah lived about 700 years before Jesus, during some of Israel’s darkest days. The Promised Land, as Israel called it, could have had a better location. It was one of several little Nations that lay between Egypt, in the south and another powerful kingdom in the north. It was Assyria, then Babylon and finally Persia. They were forever in conflict and these little nations were  pawns in the struggle. 

In Jeremiah’s day, the dominant power in the north was Babylon. At the time of today’s reading, Babylon  had already extended control over Israel, occupied the city, gathered booty and taken prisoner many of the rulers and the ruling class back to Babylon. A new king was appointed by Babylon and Jeremiah was among the people left in the city. 

Israel did not learn from this tragedy and chaffed under foreign domination. Egyptian spies fed these feelings and encouraged revolt. The King that Babylon had set up in Israel was weak and many including some who called themselves prophets persuaded the king to stop paying tribute which was the same as revolution. These so-called prophets assured the King that God would defend Jerusalem.  

Jeremiah was not buying this. He was adamant against revolt, even saying Israel must surrender to the Babylon Army that soon surrounded Jerusalem. Jeremiah proclaimed that God had abandoned Israel because Israel had abandoned the Covenant made with God. This did not make him popular. He was persecuted, and openly ridiculed by the false prophets who claimed to speak for God.  

In one response Jeremiah stood in the Temple and, like Jesus would 700 years later, proclaimed its destruction because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Covenant. Such blasphemy would not be tolerated! He was arrested and condemned to death. 

The king and some powerful people prevented this and his life was spared. Tragically, Jeremiah’s prophecy was right. Jerusalem fell to Babylon, the Temple was burned, rulers, craftsmen and many others were led to exile in Babylon.  

As Israel’s lands and hopes were in ruins, Jeremiah’s words changed to consolation and explanation. God had not abandoned Israel. Rather Israel had abandoned God. This was not the end. A faithful people would find a faithful God. A new Covenant was being created. 

 How Jeremiah died is not clear. However, his words became part of the foundation of Israel’s survival and renewal of faith. Christians, however, came to see the new Covenant sealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, Jesus sounds like Jeremiah. And his words startle us. At Jesus’ birth, the angels sang “peace on earth”. But the peace Jesus brings was more than the absence of strife and conflict. Peace is the fruit of justice and compassion, built on care, respect and a sense of responsibility for one another. Like Jeremiah before him, Jesus found the faith of his day expressed more in ritual and observance of rules than in action.  

Today’s Gospel reading comes at a time Jesus is realizing that what he is calling for in the lives of people is meeting strong opposition from religious leaders who sounded much like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day. He is checking in on the present time. 

Perhaps  he thought of Jeremiah as he spoke of his coming baptism. A reference to his passion and death. He is like Jeremiah in rejection and arrest. The community that first heard these words of Luke’s Gospel already knew of these events, and already experienced the power of his resurrection and the presence of the Spirit.  

Nevertheless, this same Christian community had experienced a severe persecution which caused much division in the community. What was going on? As always, there were false prophets who claimed to know, claimed to speak the message of Jesus.  The writing of the Gospel accounts, many believe, was, in part, to address the challenge of false prophets. Following the life, Jesus does not escape the cross. The baptismal gift of the Spirit did not remove one from suffering but promised the presence and power of the risen Christ in the midst of  suffering. 

So, here we are today. What is going on ? We are aware of divisions in our world, our nation and in the community that claims to follow Christ. Among us are false prophets.  

There is a scene in the Book of Jeremiah where a group of people ask him how they are to know whom to believe, him or those other prophets. His answer was “Wait and see how things turn out and then you will know who was right.”  Not helpful. Is there another way?  Perhaps, like Jesus, we need, at this time, to live out our baptism. Do what we promised when we received the Spirit in our lives. 


Seek and serve Christ in all persons. Love neighbor as self. 

   Proclaim the Gospel in our actions. Strive for peace and justice. 

And respect the dignity of  every, human being.  

 If we do this we will, as we prayed in our opening prayer, follow in the blessed steps of Jesus’ most holy life. 


Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick 

August 7, 2022: Ninth Week after Pentecost

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Pentecost 9, August 7, 2022

About fifteen years or so ago a young Japanese woman exploded into public consciousness by writing a series of books and other media about, basically, tidying up one’s stuff – decluttering. (It’s amazing what people can turn into a profitable venture, isn’t it?) If you have heard of this lady, known as Marie Kondo, you may recall that one of her themes is to keep only “what gives you joy”. This has always puzzled me at several levels. The paintings on the walls of our house undoubtedly give me more joy than the vacuum cleaner or the dishwasher, but I think that I know what is more important to keep handy.

But I have much more serious reservations about the idea that material objects give one “joy” in the first place. Yes, it is good to have books, recordings of good music, or comfortable furniture. None of these things are absolutely essential to life, but they furnish a home, and they provide the means to do life-enhancing things: reading, listening to beautiful harmonies, sharing a restful home with those whom one loves.

In the bundle of sayings of Jesus which form our Gospel reading for today, Jesus offers a far more satisfying idea of how to declutter one’s priorities. “34For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There are various ways to read Jesus’s sayings in this chapter of Luke. One way, followed by many, maybe too many Christians down the centuries, was to read this text as a trade-off: make yourselves miserably poor (or just miserable) in this life, in order to have heaven in the next.

However, that reading really doesn’t fit so well with the context of this chapter of Luke, nor with the Gospel message as a whole. Jesus has just warned a listener about insisting on his share of an inheritance, and has told the story of the rich man who placed all his security in his material wealth. He went on to say that one should “strive for the kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well”.

What Jesus seems to be saying is that if we focus our energies on building the beloved community on earth, from that healthy life of mutual care and support will follow sufficient things for life. Something of that kind of life was seen in the early chapters of the Book of Acts, where the wealthier followers of Jesus gave generous support to those in need, and ensured that everyone had enough. Moreover, if we focus on the life that God wishes us to lead, we shall be spared the anxiety of worrying whether we are “keeping up” with the material gains, the rewards, the celebrity of others whom we see or read about.+

Since we are gathered here together, it seems evident that being with each other, joining in the worship life of this precious, lovely little community, is something that gives us a deep and abiding joy, something that we passionately wish to continue to experience. And that joy is God’s gift to us.

And yet – built in to that joy is a hope, an aspiration, even a certain impatience. For the kingdom of God, on earth, is not something static or fixed. It is not something that we can be complacent about.

That is where our other readings contribute something very important. Abraham, we read, was rich. He had material goods, but he was not satisfied or comfortable. He and Sarah wished to pass on their wealth to their own children, to their own descendants. Satisfying that basic human desire was not something that all Abraham’s wealth could buy for them.

Then God promised that, against all the odds, their wish would be fulfilled. We read in the rest of Genesis about the long, challenging process by which the descendants of Abraham gradually acquired a home to live together as a people.

Our reading from Hebrews takes that point and both stretches it, and transforms it into something spiritual. The writer of Hebrews, whom we think was a follower of Jesus in the second generation after the apostles, stresses that every one of the great patriarchs and leaders of the people was called to believe in something which they did not see in their lives. They had to trust that God would, in God’s own time, fulfil the promises that God had made to all God’s people.

The key theme, in Genesis and in Hebrews, is faith. Faith, in that sense, does not mean accepting certain statements as true: it means having a deep trust in that which one does not see realized in the world. The first verse of Hebrews 11 in our translations reads “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”. The word translated “assurance” actually means much more than that. It is the same word, hypostasis, that theologians in early Christianity used to describe the expression of God in the persons of the Trinity. Faith gives substance to what we hope for. If we trust that it is God’s will to give us these things, in that act of trusting they become real to us.

We all, I believe, yearn to see a society, and a world, where resources are more justly shared, and where the world is not plundered to provide unnecessary stuff, at a cost to future generations. We yearn to see a society where all people extend their arms of love to each other across boundaries of race, ethnicity, or ideological politics. I know that I yearn for a world where people do not seek to control or intimidate those whom they fear as different from themselves. Nothing, for me, could better embody that mutual trust than a radical reduction in the insane numbers of deadly weapons in this country and in our world.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus knew how remote his vision of a life of mutual love and support must have seemed. He saw that there were times when the world seems to be going backwards, further away from the kingdom rather than towards it. And Jesus calls us to live into our trusting act of hope. We shall not see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetimes. Yet we are called, unmistakably, to live into those hopes. Live together in the joy that our anticipation of the kingdom offers us. Life into the Eucharistic hope, which symbolically and spiritually brings us, every time we celebrate it, around the table with Christ and his holy ones in the kingdom.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 24, 2022: Seventh Week after Pentecost

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7 Pentecost, July 24, 2022   

Many years ago, I studied Theology in Italy. When I met Italian students, they often asked where I came from. “Chicago”, I answered. “Aha”, they often replied, “Al Capone”. Mr.  Capone had died before most of those asking were born, and Chicago was the third largest city in the US, having world class museums, theater, industry, beauty and the Cubs.  Still, its image of crime and violence endured, even 5000 miles away. But then there is Sodom, often joined with Gomorrah, the best-known cities in history, for corruption. The reputations seem to have been well earned, but often the corruption has been misunderstood or simplified down through the ages.  

Our encounter with Sodom in our first reading comes in a somewhat confusing section of the Book of Genesis. Confusing, because the Hebrew scriptures existed as oral histories for centuries. They were stories told again and again down through Jewish history, stories of God’s dealings with the Hebrew people. 

These traditions had different ways describing God, even different names for God.  In one of the most popular traditions God is presented in very human terms: taking a refreshing walk in the Garden of Eden, appearing in bodily form, talking to humans. On the other hand, another tradition presents God as more remote, too awesome for human beings to be in God’s presence. God used intermediaries, such as angels to communicate with humans. When the scriptures were finally written, several traditions were woven together so different names and attitudes for God exist sometimes from verse to verse. Often, especially in the Book of Genesis, the flow and continuity can be confusing.  

Today, a human-like God decides to come down to see if the information about the evil engulfing Sodom is true. A frequent interpretation of the evil has been homosexuality. 

 I won’t bore you with a discussion of sex, but the people at the time the events took place were also shocked by other actions at Sodom. Not the least being the attempted assault on foreigners, which violated the sacred law requiring hospitality to strangers. We do not appreciate how sacred this was. 

But the focus of our reading today is, I would say, what kind of God do we have?  We listen to a negotiation between Abraham and God. Abraham who had been called by God to leave his home and family and follow where God would lead him, was promised he would have a large family and abundant land in return. Abraham believed; we are told. But now, many years later, Abraham is in his 90’s and his wife Sarah is a few years younger and he has no children, no land. Can God be trusted? 

Another question in the story is does God destroy a whole city because of the crimes of a few? Remember the story of the flood. God is described as destroying every human being but 8. Could all have deserved destruction. In primitive, tribal society it was common to hold the whole tribe responsible for the actions of a member. Is this how God acts? 

Our story today answers no. If only ten just people live in Sodom, all will be saved.  But not ten were found, and Sodom was destroyed. No doubt by some natural catastrophe and the remains lie beneath the Dead Sea. The story of God’s destruction of the city because of its evil grew to explain the cause of this destruction. 

Does God destroy cities and people as punishment? The image of a punishing God endures to our day. In our Gospel we learn this is not the God Jesus reveals.  

Luke’s Gospel often presents Jesus at prayer. His apostles notice this and were moved to ask Jesus to teach them to pray. In response, Jesus teaches them and us the Lord’s Prayer, even though Luke does not use “Our”. This is different from the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s Gospel and different from what we pray in worship. 

But we learn that it is not only important what we say but to whom we think we are praying. Jesus invites us to address God as “abba” which is the very familiar name for father. It is what Jewish children use to address their fathers. “Daddy”, “Mommy” would express the intimacy Jesus describes between God and us. When we pray, says Jesus, we pray to a God who is as intimately concerned about our wellbeing as a loving daddy or mommy is for their child. In the examples Jesus gives he describes a God even more concerned about us than it is possible for human beings to be. 

One theologian has described Jesus’ mission as working to restore us to a trusting relationship with God. In his life and teachings Jesus acted out who God is – the One whose love is without limit and without end. That is the great gift proclaimed by Jesus.  But the gift comes with a great challenge. This love empowers us to extend the same love, care, respect, responsibility with others – all others. 

Lord, teach us to pray. In these times there is much to fear, much to doubt. Embrace us with your tender love and care. Renew our trust in you that we always believe you will give us what we need, what will heal us, what will encourage us, empower us. Even more, you give us your Holy Spirit, your abiding presence so that we will never be alone. Amen 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

July 17, 2022: Sixth Week after Pentecost

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Five Pentecost, July 17, 2022

Hospitality is a sacred duty in many traditional cultures. Where travelling was a dangerous

activity, and there was no support mechanism for those on long journeys, caring for the

stranger at one’s gate was a duty and a responsibility. One might need the same generous

support oneself one day.

Besides, one never knew who one’s guest might be. The story of Abraham and Sarah at the

oaks of Mamre is a classic tale of entertaining the representatives of God unawares. In the

narrative in Genesis 18, the three men speak, but “the Lord” joins in the conversation. The

three men make the promise that Sarah, in her age and past childbearing, will bear a son. The

Lord ponders whether to warn Abraham about the fate waiting for Sodom and Gomorrah, while

he walks with the three men.

The three guests are messengers of God. In Christian tradition, this story was taken to mean

that the three guests were the three persons of the Trinity. You may know the famous icon

painted by the fifteenth-century Russian artist Andrei Rublev, where three identical figures,

sitting to eat their meal, are depicted with angels’ wings. That icon is also known as “The

Trinity” and became the acceptable way to represent the trinity in the Russian Orthodox

tradition. Countless reproductions of Rublev’s icon continue to be made and sold as devotional

pieces, greetings cards, or art prints.

Hospitality was just as critical to the world of the New Testament. Jesus’s ministry depended on

hospitality. Jesus accepted invitations to dinner with Levi the tax collector and a Pharisee called

Simon alike (Luke 5, 7, also 11). He used his presence as a guest to make moral and pastoral

points. He gave advice: be a humble guest, and you will encourage your host to raise you to a

higher place at table. Two weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent out the seventy missionaries:

they were to accept hospitality from whoever welcomed them and stay in their homes.

In the light of all these stories, there is something slightly jarring about the story of Mary and

Martha. And when something jars in the Bible, you can be sure that something important is

being said.

This story of Martha and Mary occurs only in Luke’s Gospel, and it is not assigned to a particular

place, only to “a certain village”. You will of course recall that in John’s Gospel, Martha and

Mary are the sisters of Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raises from the dead. The two stories

do not seem to have much in common – except for the very different personalities of the two

sisters. In both Gospels, Martha is the practical one, the one who speaks her mind and gets

things done – the ordinary, necessary things.

In John 12 Jesus goes to Bethany, some time after the raising of Lazarus: Martha serves the

meal, while Mary pours costly perfume over Jesus’s feet. Again, Mary gets into trouble; again,

Jesus defends her.

You may well feel sympathy for Martha. She knows what hospitality is about. There is work to

be done, and it will be done better and more quickly if everyone takes their share. And there is

Mary (the younger sister, the dreamer, dare we suppose?) sitting at the feet of the teacher.

You may even feel sympathy for both sisters. Each is trying to do the right thing, and each is a

reproach to the other. Many of us have to perform both roles in our lives: the practical things

have to get done, but the spiritual things must also not be forgotten. (Tell me about it.)

So what is going on in this challenging story? At least two messages are calling out for our


First, at this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus puts enormous emphasis on getting the word out

about the appearing kingdom. The word must be heard. There are never enough people to

share the word; there is barely enough time to spread it. At his transfiguration, a voice was

heard saying ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ [Luke 9:35] That was in the chapter

immediately preceding this one.

The urgent priority was for people to listen to what Jesus had to say. Mary was obeying that

call. As the Greek original says, she listened to Jesus’s Word, his logos: the Word that brings the

world into being and the Word that transforms it from its broken state. Jesus taught what

Martin Luther King Jr would later refer to as “the fierce urgency of now”: indeed, Dr King’s

sense of the urgency of racial and economic justice was surely rooted in his knowledge of


Second point: the world of the first century was very gendered. Usually, the men talked and the

women served. Discussion, especially about God and God’s law, was usually a male activity. In

the early Church, it would largely become a male activity once again. But not for Jesus. Lurking

in the New Testament are passages which repeatedly tell how women are not only the friends

and supporters of Jesus and the disciples: they are messengers of the word, examples of faith,

of loyalty and commitment. Women stay with Jesus when his male disciples desert him. The

message of his resurrection is given first to a woman.

A highly esteemed feminist theologian suggested that this passage in Luke described Martha as

representing early [female] leadership role in the early church, being replaced by a more

passive role represented by Mary.[1]  Jesus’s praise of Mary would be the voice of the early church

praising women who engaged in silent listening to the word, rather than practical organizing.

Martha is being criticized for the sake of a male church. That seems to me a problematic way to

read the text (and I say that not just because I had a difficult encounter with that feminist

theologian at Harvard over 20 years ago). The text does not say that Mary listened passively;

Jesus taught by asking questions, by engaging in dialogue.

However, we should always listen to the stories of Jesus’s ministry with two other eras in mind:

the era when the Gospels were written down, and our own time as we read and hear them.

Early in its story, the Church had to do lots of Martha-like things. Luke knew that best of all the

evangelists. The Church organized the sharing of goods to benefit the poor; it organized

communal meals; it organized the mutual support of one congregation for another. As I said

two weeks ago, this process of growing structures was absolutely unavoidable, then as now.

The household of faith is a household, and there is household stuff to be done in it. Luke, most

of all, knew that well and took it seriously.

But, as the Gospel says, Martha was “distracted by her many tasks”: in the Greek original, she

was “turned around this way and that” by “much service”, much “diakonia”. This same caring

for the needs of the community prompted the establishing of the order of deacons in the Book

of Acts. This “diakonia” wasn’t a bad thing in itself. In fact, it was essential. Without a meal

there would be no opportunity for conversation.

I sincerely hope that, in the coming months, we shall be able to retrieve more and more of the

sharing of food and company with each other that was such a vital part of our common life

before the pandemic. There is no doubt that more shared food and companionship would

strengthen those of us who are already gathered, and help to bring new friends to join us.

However, it is important not to make the diakonia, the “tasks”, the primary object of our

common life. If one begins with the diakonia, one mistakes what is secondary for what is

primary. We do not serve in order to hear and believe: we serve because we heard and

believed first.

Our primary purpose is to hear the Word of God’s love for the world, a love that calls us in turn

to a life of mutual love and service. The Word nurtures faith, and faith then becomes active in

service. We did not cease to be the Church of God, even when we could not safely gather in

person and had to meet online. We do not cease to be a community of the sacraments, even

when we are not (quite yet) able to share the common cup of Jesus’s blessing at our Eucharist.

The story of Mary tells us something vital about hearing the Word. It is for everyone in the life

of the community that lives by Jesus’s Word. The Church is not divided up into hearers of the

Word and those who just help things along. Hearing, reflecting, sharing and above all living the

Word is for all of us. That is “the better part, which will not be taken away from us”. All of us.

1 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 57-68.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

July 10, 2022: Fifth Week after Pentecost

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5 Pentecost, July 10, 2022 

In these past weeks, we have learned how challenging it can be to understand the meaning of old documents. What is present in the Constitution of our nation; what do the words mean?  What was the original intent of those who wrote them, how are things not specifically mentioned to be included today? Controversial, we have learned.  But even more difficult is understanding something in the New Testament. Written 2000 years ago in a different culture, different language and often interpreted in vastly different ways down through the centuries. 

I had a teacher who, as we worked our way through the scriptures, often repeated “context is everything”. The “context” in which Jesus lived and spoke and acted is very different from ours. Work and humility are required of anyone attempting to understand and explain what the words of scripture mean. This is especially necessary when dealing with a very familiar section of the Gospel. 

What is more familiar than what we have just read? The parable of the “Good Samaritan” has given the name to many hospitals and even a law protecting medical professionals from prosecution if they stop to provide medical treatment to someone who crosses their path. 

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Is how it begins.  Jesus cleverly put the burden of the answer on the one who asked it. A lawyer. Someone who knew the Law, which he quotes when he responds. The statement about love of God comes from the ancient Hebrew prayer in the Book of Deuteronomy - the Shema. He links it to a saying in the Book of Leviticus. So, Love God, love your neighbor is the Law. Jesus agrees with his answer. “Do it”, says Jesus and you will live. But the lawyer feels the need to ‘justify himself”. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells a story. 

“Good Samaritan”, would have been a title shocking to those listening to Jesus. We are told in John’s Gospel when Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at a well, she says to him “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink.”? “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9) It worked both ways. A few weeks ago, we read that as Jesus began his journey toward Jerusalem a Samaritan town would not allow him to pass through because he was on the way to Jerusalem. 

Samaritans were related to Jews, both in blood and religion. Following much of the Torah but with different interpretations. Each considered the other a heretic. The focus was on what divided them. Conflict, violence, mutual hatred and animosity grew throughout their history. No Samaritan would say “Good Jew” and no Jew say “Good Samaritan”.  So, Jesus’ story is extremely challenging to his audience. 

The road from Jerusalem is under 20 miles and was dangerous. And one did go down this road from high hills to below sea level. What happened to this man going down was not unusual. Beaten, stripped, robed and left for dead. Not uncommon on that road which was a hangout for robbers. 

 A priest who was leaving Jerusalem, probably returning home after his time of service in the Temple came along. Seeing the man, he passes by. So, a Levite, another member of the priestly class passes by. This would have shocked the listeners. These men would have known the requirements of the Law to aid the victim. Down through history, Christian interpreters have given anti-Jewish interpretations to this, presenting these men as reflecting the insufficiencies of the Jewish faith. But today, most scholars think what Jesus is saying is those highly respected people, who knew the Law, must help, but did not. 


The Jewish listeners would have been shocked by their behavior. But they would have been even more shocked by what follows. Someone who none of them would have imagined, a Samaritan, stops, binds up wounds, takes to shelter, tends, pays and promises to cover additional costs on his return. Impossible! 

The lawyer is now squirming. But he is about to squirm more. Jesus asks, “who do you think was neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer can’t even say Samaritan. “The one who showed mercy.” “Go and do likewise” Jesus says. 

Wait a minute. That wasn’t the question. I asked who is my neighbor? How far do I have to go, in loving and caring. Family, tribe? There must be a limit to the number, type, religion, nationality, color that I must love. 

But Jesus has not answered who is my neighbor, but what I must do to be a neighbor. Martin Luther King, Jr. used this parable in a sermon. It’s possible”, he said,” that these men – the priest and Levite- were afraid. And so, the first question they asked themselves was: If I stop to help this man. What will happen to Me? But the Good Samaritan came along and reversed the question: If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to HIM?” 

Jesus tells the lawyer that the question is not who is my neighbor, but how must I act as a neighbor. Everyone in need, whose path I happen to cross I must care for. Be like the Samaritan. Show mercy, kindness to everyone I see in need.  

Context is everything. And today the context is that this morning Jesus is not talking to the lawyer. He is talking to us. We are asked to think of the person we find least likely to take the risk, do the work, and pay the price the Samaritan did.    

Imagine that person acting as the Samaritan, showing mercy, kindness.  If you can do this, you would find yourself sharing feelings with those who first heard this story. 

But then we are told, “go and do likewise.” Show kindness and mercy toward the person you are least likely to care for. 

In this time of pandemic, I have done a lot of shopping on line. Often, I come upon the product and find what I want to be “out of stock”. Kindness is something “out of stock” in our public life. Attitudes of fear and anger toward one another are in abundance.  

I do not think Jesus tells this story just so we can “inherit eternal life, as the lawyer asks. When the lawyer answers ‘Love God and Love neighbor, Jesus says “do this and you shall live.” 

The human family, the human community can survive only if Kindness is in good supply. Kindness is the metabolism of a healthy society.  

Let us be neighbors. 

Let us go and do Kindness. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

July 3, 2022: Fourth Week after Pentecost

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Four Pentecost,  July 3, 2022

How do you create a movement?

The spontaneous way in which Jesus here calls and sends out the seventy (or the seventy-two,

depending on which source we read) reminds me of conversations that one often hears about churches,

and also about seminaries of theological education, where I have been involved for the last twenty


One sometimes hears planners and administrators say that “the Church needs to be less of an

institution, and more of a movement”. The implication is that we ought to spend less time worrying

about maintaining buildings, growing endowments, or deciding what exact administrative structure we

need – and more time thinking about how to expand the message of the Gospel, to grow the numbers

of people whom the Gospel reaches, and to energize those who are already in the family of faith to be

active in the world.

It's a seductive argument, and one can see why church leaders and administrators appeal to it. It can be

a way of short-circuiting the conversations that parishes feel that they (that is, we) most need to have.

However, any religious historian will tell you several general points about movements. First, they rarely

happen because the leaders of an institution tell them to happen. It is much more common for them to

grow spontaneously, even randomly, when someone on the margins of, or entirely outside the religious

establishment, appears with a new message.

Secondly, they will be disruptive. Any church administrators who call for a new movement need to be

very careful what they wish for – though that of itself is not to say that disruption is always a bad thing.

Thirdly, movements have a kind of half-life. Almost by definition, they don’t last long in that form. They

either grow into a more stable form – more like an institution, in fact – or they die away. The many (far

too many) separate branches of the Christian Church that we see across the world testify to as many

“movements”, which constructed institutions to perpetuate themselves. Even the movement which

inspired the push for independence in this country 250 years ago led, very rapidly, to the creating of a


On the other hand, two and three hundred years ago, here in New England and across the colonized

parts of this country, there were two waves of revivals known as the First and Second Great Awakenings.

These movements, led by a succession of charismatic preachers, swept through the churches of their

day. And the question then was, what do we do after the whirlwind of the revival is past? When you

have been “revived”, what do you do on Monday morning?

What then does this Gospel story of the early “Jesus movement” have to tell us now?

The un-named seventy apostles did not achieve their appointment as missionaries of the kingdom of

God. They filled in no application forms; they underwent no background checks; they passed through no

process of discernment. Jesus called them and sent them out with very simple instructions: “eat what is

set before you; cure the sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

And we hear that they were astonishingly successful. When they return to Jesus (who, in this part of

Luke, is on his long march through Samaria and Judaea to Jerusalem) he sees their mission as a triumph.

He has a vision of Satan falling from heaven, since even the seventy missionaries have power to cast out

evil spirits. In effect, Jesus says “see how the evil in this world can be conquered by the power of the

Spirit, working through quite ordinary people”.

Jesus seems to have believed, as many of his followers did before and after his death and resurrection,

that there was a fierce urgency about spreading the news, that time was short. Maybe the call to the

seventy can be regarded as an exceptional moment, provoked by the urgency of the moment. And yet

the evangelist we know as Luke wrote this account some fifty to sixty years later, when the sense of

urgency had been, shall we say, stretched a bit.

Have you ever wondered what became of the seventy? They are not mentioned again in the Gospels.

Post-biblical tradition, including a work attributed to Hippolytus of Rome around the early 200s, gave

names for all of them, as did other works written in the Eastern Church in the Middle Ages. In fact,

considerably more than seventy names have been proposed for them in total.

The lists of names are questionable. First, there are not nearly enough women among them (maybe two

or three) whereas we know that women played important roles in Jesus’s mission. Even more strangely,

most of the names are Greek or Roman, rather than Hebrew or Aramaic. Most if not all of the seventy,

the lists tell us, went on to become apostles, martyrs, or indeed bishops, to one of the dispersed

congregations of the early church.

In other words, as it tried to remember the seventy, the early Church was already becoming

institutionalized, and adapted to its host culture: more settled, more Graeco-Roman and more male.

The names of the seventy are not authentic, and it is better to keep them nameless.

Why is that so? What would it feel like to form part of one of the greatest and most important missions

in the history of the world, and to have no-one, absolutely no-one, know your name years afterwards?

We are familiar with the leaders of movements who make a name for themselves. Maybe they even

have, against their will, a church named after them: Lutheran, Wesleyan.

But most of us who participate in the life of Christ’s church will not make a famous name for ourselves in

the world. Most of us will not have charismatic gifts of spiritual power. We shall, instead, bear witness to

the love of God in the way that we live together and support each other. We shall show the world that

there is a better way than one based on endless acquisitiveness, competitively pushing past others, or

worshipping celebrity.

But Jesus said something very important to the nameless seventy apostles. ‘Do not rejoice at this, that

the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

Being numbered among the beloved of God counts for more even than the power to cast down evil

spirits. Because God chose those who had no outstanding abilities, we learn something important about

God’s sovereignty in this world and beyond it.

There is no hierarchy in the love of God. There is no course of promotion or progress in the love of God.

One does not ascend to a higher level of God’s love, either by one’s own efforts or by spiritual gifts. That

includes the rather disturbing, but absolutely crucial thought that we cannot make God love us more by

our religious activities.

None of us loses anything because others, whom we maybe are tempted to think are less deserving, are

also found to be among the beloved children of God. (That was the lesson for the prodigal son’s brother,

and for the labourers who started working in the vineyard at the first hour of the day. We can see just

how important Jesus thought it was to put this particular message across.)

We do not need to build a movement. It is already among us; we just need to recognize and respond to

it. The love of God is already present with us, and there is literally nothing greater than we can hope for.

When we feel called to work for the kingdom of God, to share the love of God among those with whom

we live – whether in a church community, or in our workplaces, in our families, in our neighborhoods –

all we have to do, in a sense, is go with the flow of the Spirit that is pulling us along. But don’t resist it.

Don’t contaminate the Spirit with any sense of achievement, of status, of progress in living more deeply

into the love of God. Because we are already there.

The un-named seventy do not represent the exceptional apostles. They do not represent those uniquely

and especially close to Jesus. They represent all of us.

‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven’.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

June 26, 2022: Third Week after Pentecost

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3 Pentecost, June 26, 2022

Many years ago, a friend gave me a book that had been many weeks on the New York times Best Seller’s list. The opening sentence was: “Life is difficult!” I learned two things from this book; one, that statement is true, life is difficult. The second was that this sentence was the best part of the book.

We have all lived long enough to learn that life is difficult. And for anybody who is awake, we see it is very difficult for some people. This was certainly true for our ancient ancestors in faith; the community for whom Luke wrote the Gospel accounts we will be reading each Sunday until the end of November, the beginning of Advent.

Each of the Gospels is what could be called “crisis literature”. They were written for a community of believers usually experiencing persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. Also, as the eye witnesses to the life of Jesus were dying, there arose disagreements about what Jesus said and did. Better write them down.

In spite of the many times Jesus taught that following him would require taking up our cross, and in spite of his own death on that cross, many disciples, then and now, focus on the victory of the resurrection, and forget about the journey that led to it. When suffering and persecution come, many are confused. Living out the teaching of Jesus in daily life is challenging.

Luke’s community had just come through a devastating persecution. Many had suffered loss of property, reputation, status, even life. In these difficult times some denied they were Christian. Now, as things settled down, some of these same people who had denied they were members, were trying to return to the community. Should they be let back in.

Despite these difficulties, the community was growing. People from faith traditions other than Judaism sought to enter. How to accept those who are different became a source of conflict. Life is difficult. Way back then, and also today.

Our Gospel reading presents a decisive moment in Jesus’ journey. “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to Jerusalem”. The three Gospels – Mark, Matthew and Luke – have the theme of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where the Father’s plan is to be completed. Today, we hear Jesus make the decisive turn in that journey. These chapters serve as a framework for our journey as we, disciples of Christ, are invited to see ourselves on the way with Jesus.

Among the things we disciples are taught, just as those first disciples were taught, is that the salvation Jesus brings is offered to all, completely and equally. That is difficult.

We are also taught that we are to forgive, even those who have denied Christ. In another place we’re told how often we are to forgive. 70 times 7, Jesus tells Peter, which is another way of saying whenever one truly asks. That is difficult.

And, as today’s reading continues teaching the cost of discipleship. It is expensive. The disciple must expect to be treated no better than the Master. We are not to use power to enforce our belief. We are not to put other duties or anything ahead of following Jesus. Even Elijah, allowed Elisha to go back and bid farewell to family before he followed.

Often, when we find very difficult statements of Jesus like “let the dead bury the dead”, we try to find a hidden meaning that softens what sounds impossible, unreasonable. However, some think the fact that they are in the Gospel is an argument that Jesus did say it and the evangelist was reluctant to change it.

The challenge of these words to Luke’s community may have been less than they are to us, considering the suffering they had just been through. They are difficult.

Ray Kroc, one of the founders of McDonald's restaurants once expressed a wish to build a McDonald's in the shadow of the church in every town in America. Kroc saw the church as a foundation for community values. The church would affirm, proclaim and defend the values of society, the nation.

In Jesus’ life and in the life of the early church, the community of disciples were seen as a threat to the values of society. The power to dominate others; the demand that everyone think, believe alike, the focus on wealth and fame are what the disciple is to avoid. “Do not kill” was acted out by some early Christians in that they refused to join the army. Defend the values of society? No way.

To feed the hungry, protect the foreigner, welcome the stranger, care for the outcast, forgive the offender, love the enemy are among the teachings of Jesus. They are the cost of discipleship. They are very difficult. Certainly, they are not popular.

We have not suffered the persecution that Luke’s community did. We have much security and acceptance in our society. Who would seek to lose that? These last years have been difficult.

We are very aware and touched and distressed by illness and tragedy in our nation, in our world.

Today’s Gospel invites us to view our lives as disciples on the journey with Jesus Christ. A number of years ago, I came upon rules for the journey. Rules for those hiking long distances. Never go alone; take only what you need; expect difficulty; pause often to see the beauty.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that the life of a disciple has many challenges. It is difficult. The cross is present. But we are not alone. We are companions, who journey with the risen Christ who has revealed a love for us without limit and without end. So let us not be afraid. Let us journey together. And let us not forget to pause, often, to see the beauty, and give thanks.

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

June 19, 2022: Second Week after Pentecost

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2 Pentecost, June 19, 2022, (Proper 7)

Today we have just listened to one of the more bizarre of Jesus’s healing miracles, as reported in Luke’s Gospel, the healing of the man possessed by a “legion” of evil spirits in the country on the Eastern side of the Sea of Galilee. The story is told in very similar terms to this in Mark 5 and Matthew 8, and forms part of a fairly stable sequence of stories, followed by the healing of Jairus’s daughter and of the woman with continuous bleeding.

Both Mark and Luke (but not Matthew) report that after healing the possessed man, Jesus told him to stay in his own country and tell everyone what God had done for him; and the account says that he went everywhere reporting what Jesus had done for him. The story forms part of a larger narrative arc, where Jesus’s acts of power spread his reputation, and move people to come to hear his teaching.

Allow me to say one thing: please, forget about the hogs. They are the most picturesque part of the story, the (ritually) unclean animals which become the receptacles for (morally) unclean spirits. That part of the story belongs to the culture of its time, and for us, it is hard to make sense of.

We have all probably heard “demoniacs”, those “possessed by evil spirits”, described as though they were suffering from what we would understand as some form of mental illness or distress.

That was not how possession by an evil spirit was understood in the pre-modern world. Someone who was “possessed” had their entire consciousness taken over, as it were, by an alien intelligence. Not only did they lose their identity: they supposedly acquired a different personality, and often acquired exceptional powers.

Evil Spirits were supposed to have knowledge far superior to human beings, but to use it for evil purposes. In the New Testament, those supposedly possessed by Spirits were repeatedly capable of recognizing who Jesus was, even when his closest friends and companions could not see that.

Possessed people sometimes possessed strength beyond their normal physique, or understood things – maybe spoke or understood rare languages – which the afflicted person would not know in their normal condition.

And possession by evil spirits was a form of torture for the victim. Jesus wished to help and heal those who were afflicted; but at the same time, he wished to silence and drive out the spirits who caused the trouble. He did not wish even to have his mission and his unique status acknowledged by evil beings.

However we understand personified evil, we do not, most of us, expect or even believe that people can be possessed, in this sense, by intelligent disembodied forces of evil. There are some very conservative churches which take this part of scripture as eternal truth rather than as the cultural wrapping of its age. There are in some parts of the world those who regard anyone who steps outside social norms (especially women) as needing “exorcism” because, presumably, only an evil spirit would make a person step outside their socially assigned role. The risks of emotional abuse and psychological harm are terrifying – quite apart from the theological doubtfulness of such attempts.

This story is one where the world feels more than usually weird and even frightening. Let us not try to resolve details which probably belong to the culture of the first century, and do not need to speak to us.

Jesus is here healing a pagan inhabitant of the Decapolis or “ten cities”, a person also afflicted with the complete loss of his identity. Jesus does not denounce, as Isaiah had done, those “who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels”. Instead, he reacts to these outsiders with compassion. He casts out that power which had taken over the man’s mind and subjected him to the grossest of humiliations, depriving him of all the dignity and humanity that rightly belonged to him. He restores the man to his full humanity and the company of his neighbours, and invites him to spread the good news.

This weekend marks a new national holiday, known colloquially as “Juneteenth”. How does our Gospel speak to this commemoration?

The event commemorated on this day each year is not the proclamation of emancipation (which had been issued more than two years earlier) but General Order No. 3 by Union Army general Gordon Granger. This order proclaimed freedom for enslaved people in Texas, which was the last state of the Confederacy with institutional slavery. On June 19th, we remember that a whole people, over more than two centuries in this country, were subjected to the grossest of humiliations, and deprived of all the dignity and humanity that rightly belonged to them.

The story of the ending of slavery in the United States is a long and tangled one. From the proclamation of emancipation on 1 January 1863 to the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution on 6 December 1865 was nearly three years. That is of course quite apart from the gross evils of segregation, legal and otherwise, and the numberless ways in which Americans of African origin have been, and still are, mistreated for no other reason than their race.

But who, in the midst of all this injustice and suffering, desperately needs a spirit of evil to be driven out from their midst? It is not the victims of this catalogue of inhumanity, but its perpetrators. The most shocking evil about racial prejudice is that those who are “possessed” by it, either do not know that they suffer from it (which is many of us) or believe that their attitudes are entirely right and justified. Truly, a spirit of error – in the symbolic sense that the term is often used, even in scripture – is at work here.

Here, again, I speak as an observer from outside, who tries to understand what I have not grown up with – but there seem to be many wrong ways to respond to the needs of this issue, and discerning the right way takes effort and humility. It is insufficient and complacent to claim that the problems of racial injustice are in the past, or that they belong only to people in other parts of the country, or those of another political persuasion. The problem is wider than that, but it manifests itself in different ways.

I am not sure that continuous beating of breasts, or paroxysms of white guilt, actually do much to help those who seek for dignity and justice. It does seem important to stress that raising up all human dignity means raising up more than just the dignity of those with whom we are most comfortable. It means a joyous embracing of diversity, of giving thanks for the many gifts of God expressed through the witness of different peoples.

It is important to recognize that, despite all the injustices which they suffered, the people of African origin in this country have made and continue to make unique and incalculable positive contributions to its life, its art, and (perhaps especially) its expressions of faith

Last weekend Ruth and I attended a very well-supported event to inaugurate an exhibition at the Old Saybrook Historical Society. The tent was full to overflowing, and some people stood throughout. The exhibition is devoted to two of the most distinguished women – who were also African-American – born in Old Saybrook in earlier generations. They were the pioneering pharmacist Anna James, and the equally pioneering writer and novelist Ann Petry. I commend that exhibition to you. As some of you know, Ruth and I feel a special connection to Ann Petry, as we live in the house where she lived with her husband and daughter from the late 1940s. However, Ann belongs to the whole community.

I encourage you to read the novel that made Ann Petry’s reputation, The Street. It was written in Harlem in the 1940s about a young black single mother from New England, trying to make a life for herself and her son in New York. That novel gave me a more intuitive sense of what it was like to be black in the United States in generations past, than anything else that I have read.

What matters, I suggest, is that we should all care about these questions; not regard them as someone else’s problem, or resign ourselves in weariness to an imperfect world. Those who are on the receiving end of constant aggressions and injustices cannot just decide to tune them out. Those of us who have the unearned and unjustified status of white complexions, with the absence of fear which that brings, must intentionally refrain from tuning them out.

There are many spirits of evil, of division, of unjust anger and fear, at work among the communities of this nation. I very much suspect that many of those fears are being stoked and encouraged by politicians, whether through cynicism or fanaticism, for their own gain. Our role must be to embrace each other with the love of Christ, in the faith and confidence that Jesus’s power of love can cast out many demons.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

June 5, 2022: Pentecost

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 Pentecost Sunday, June 5, 2022

Welcome to the Feast of Pentecost. As Acts makes clear, this day was already a festival in the

Jewish tradition. It took place fifty days after Passover, and was also known as the “Feast of

Weeks”, since it occurred seven weeks after Passover, if one counts inclusively.

In Christian tradition, Pentecost, like the Easter Vigil, was traditionally celebrated by baptism of

candidates who had been prepared by instruction in the faith. In our Book of Common Prayer, it

is one of four Sundays at which baptism should preferably be performed. Recognizing that this

is one of these baptismal Sundays, we shall read the reaffirmation of baptismal vows in place of

the Nicene Creed this morning.

Only Luke-Acts preserves the story that Jesus left his disciples after 40 days of post-resurrection

ministry, and that the disciples received the gift of the Spirit after another ten days. John’s

Gospel does not assign the gift of the Spirit to a precise time (if anything it is at the Last Supper,

but not only there).

However one tells it, this story from Scripture is about a gift: a gift both of communication, but

also of confidence: having the message of Christ within one, but also having the courage and

confidence of Christ to utter that message.

The Jews of the scattering, or diaspora, were dispersed to the limits of the Middle Eastern and

Mediterranean worlds. They had retained their faith, but had absorbed the languages, and

many of the cultural habits, of the peoples where they settled. The disciples were miraculously

able to be heard in all the languages which these scattered communities spoke.

The story is symbolic: the confusion of tongues, which took place as the Tower of Babel was

being built, is now reversed. The dispersed were being brought together again. (Never mind

that most of these people would have understood Greek, at least as a second language.)

But how does this once-in-a-lifetime event translate into something which becomes the

everyday principle of sharing the faith to all peoples of all languages?

Peter explains it in a long quotation from the prophecy of Joel, where the prophet spoke of God

pouring out God’s spirit on all people, as part of the restoration of the people of Israel, probably

after the exile. (Peter adds only the reference to the “last days”, which is not in the original

prophecy, but speaks to how the early Church understood Jesus.)

Deeply embedded in the Jewish heritage of the first disciples was the belief that God could and

would give inspiration to God’s followers: sometimes to particular chosen prophets and

leaders, but sometimes – as in this case – to all devout believers indiscriminately.

John, who does not preserve the story of the gift at Pentecost, nevertheless says a great deal

about the spirit of God being given to Jesus’s followers.

He gives that Spirit a special name, paraclétos, or “Paraclete” as some Christian poetry and

hymns preserve it, rendered by “advocate” in today’s reading. It’s an unusual word in the Bible,

found only in the writings associated with John in the New Testament.

Paraclétos, literally “one called alongside”, was originally an advocate or spokesperson in court.

It does not mean someone who intercedes for us with God: rather, it is the one who gives the

disciples voice, so that they can proclaim God’s message to the world, faithfully and in

confidence. (The word “comforter”, found in older versions, is a mistranslation.)

In the Middle Ages, a Dominican Friar called John Bromyard told the story of a village shepherd

who was asked about his faith. Did he know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? He replied

that “he knew the Father and the Son, because he tended their sheep; he knew not that third

fellow: there was no-one of that name in his village”.

Neglecting to think at all about the Spirit is one risk. At the opposite extreme, there is also the

risk of claiming too much acquaintance with the Holy Spirit, even of trying to control it.

When I was an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1970s, evangelical students often asked each

other “when did you become a Christian”? I gradually learned that, in the theology of

evangelical Anglicanism, it was expected that one should have an experience of inner

conversion, with a sudden dramatic sense of the presence of the Spirit.

In some communities, it has even become the custom to pray at specific times and places for

the imposition of the Spirit. In our former parish in England, the vicar led a program of adult

education, which was intended to conclude with prayers in the Church for the gift of the Spirit.

Instinctively I found myself deeply uncomfortable with this practice, and wondered why.

My discomfort may have been based on two things: first, the Spirit does not follow human

rules. It appears on God’s schedule, not on ours. Sometimes it arrives early, as in the house of

Cornelius; sometimes it arrives late. Second, the Spirit is not about an individual’s journey, but

about the life of a community. It speaks where people are gathered together in the name of

Jesus. It binds a loving group of fellow-believers together; it does not create elites.

The spirit, the “advocate”, does just what Luke described in Acts 2. It gives us voice, and

enables us to communicate something which is too extraordinary and wonderful for human

language. The Spirit helps the Church to express the message in the language of the people who

are being addressed. That means, so that different cultures and groups of people can hear it.

The spirit does not nail down the presence of God to particular forms of words; it finds the

words that the circumstances need. The Spirit is always missional, and always ecumenical.

But before we speak, we must listen to what the Spirit is saying to us, and pass on the message:

we are not devising our own message, but listening to the message of the risen and ever-

present Christ. What is the message that we need to hear for these times?

The example of Jesus teaches us, very clearly and repeatedly, that it is important both to speak

out against the wrongs in our world, and also to love those with whom we disagree. That is not

easy; because cultural conflict breeds, and feeds on, fear and distrust between one group of

people and another.

It is fear – the conviction that others do not affirm one’s right to exist – which leads people to

accumulate and then defend their holding of absurd numbers of weapons, whether that is

private ownership of handguns and rifles, or a nation’s accumulation of unimaginable quantities

of munitions.

Fear of an aggressor, often imagined more than real, lies behind the unprovoked invasion of

Ukraine. It also leads to many of the mass killings in this country, made all too easy by the

chronic and either irrational, or politically cynical, fear aroused in some quarters when sensible

regulation and control of weapons are discussed.

The Gospel has a response to this paroxysm of fear, distrust and alienation.

The Spirit offers a particular, very special kind of peace, which Jesus described in the last verses

of our Gospel. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world

gives.” Not the peace that consists simply of the absence of conflict; certainly not the peace

that comes as a result of victory in conflict, as the Roman Empire understood it.

Jesus’s Jewish heritage taught a particular way of understanding peace. Peace, Shalom, was not

the mere absence of conflict, or the aftermath of victory and conquest. Shalom existed when

the community lived together in mutual respect, in harmony with each other, with nature and

with God.

In the Christian adaptation of Shalom, the community could find peace even in the midst of

conflict, or of persecution. By living together in mutual love and support, one could know the

peace of God, even when all around one was fear and hatred.

In the gift of the Spirit, I pray that we may together find the words to express the love of God,

and to share it with those around us who need it so very much, in these most troubled times.

Pentecost blessings to you all.

submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

May 22, 2022: Sixth Sunday of Easter

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Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 22, 2022

In different ways, our readings today, from the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John, address the building of community and the reaching out to others in welcome. Introducing new people into the community has been much in our minds in the past months. We have faced the particular challenge that we could not welcome and grow during the years of the pandemic, and people are still understandably cautious about venturing into new spaces. So let us hear what these stories in Scripture have to say to us.

This whole section of Acts tells the stories of Paul’s missionary journeys (specifically here the second journey) in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey. At that time Asia Minor was a complex ethnic mix of peoples, by language and culture close to the Greeks, and in their faith traditions a mixture of believers in the traditional gods of Greece, with a scattering of small Jewish communities among them.

One interesting point about chapter 16 is that suddenly the account turns from a third-person narrative (“they did this”) to a first-person memoir. “We” suddenly become the narrators. The “we” narrative disappears again during the story of Paul at Philippi story, only to reappear later, in chapter 20. Acts, we gather, is an assembly of materials including first-hand accounts from a companion of Paul.

If we thought in terms of modern geography, we might say that today’s Gospel tells of the Gospel crossing over from Asia into Europe. This venture into Macedonia grows the first shoots of the Christian movement within the European continent. 

Probably that transition seems more significant for us than it did for them. Both sides of the boundary between Europe and Asia lay within the Roman Empire. Luke describes the Gospel spreading across the shores of the Mediterranean, especially by the conversion of those who are already sympathetic to Judaism. But the appeal to these Jews of the diaspora is a two-edged sword. Because it won more people for what the disciples called “the Way”, it enraged those Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus. Ultimately that rage will lead to a series of trial hearings to which Paul is subjected, and his appeal to the Emperor in Rome.

That is in the future. Today’s story speaks of Paul’s encounter with Lydia, the merchant of luxury goods from Thyatira. The story is about hospitality: Lydia receives the message of Paul and his companions; she then offers hospitality to the disciples, and prevails on them to stay with her. 

Was Lydia a Jewish believer? It is not stated explicitly, though that is the traditional interpretation. What matters, though, is not where she comes from, but her readiness to receive the message. How many more conversations did she have with Paul and his companions while they stayed with her?

The name of Lydia was given in recent decades to a church planting, known as St Lydia’s or the “Dinner Church”. It was founded in Brooklyn by a young Lutheran pastor named Emily Scott. The idea behind this church was to return to the earliest disciples’ practice of worshipping in the context of a real meal. Welcome is given extra meaning, when the effort of preparing and serving food becomes a part of the community. The shared meal of substantial nourishment and the coming together for worship overlapped and fused in the life of this community.

In John’s Gospel we heard the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man at the pools by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. Unlike the other Gospels, John depicts Jesus making regular visits to the city at several points in his ministry.

The story seems to relate to historical fact. In the 19th century, archaeologists excavated the remains of two pools in the place where John described them, near what became St Anne’s Church, to the north of the Temple Mount and outside the earliest city walls. 

The form of the name Beth-zatha (which may sound unfamiliar) is the one found in the earliest surviving complete copy of the New Testament. Other versions have Bethseda, Bethesda, Bethsaida and sometimes other forms.

You may remember this story from the slightly different version of it in the KJV. A whole verse is missing from our modern editions. That missing passage tells the story of an angel coming down to stir the waters, and the first person who entered the pool when the waters were stirred up was healed. The story has a rather primitive quality about it, as though divine healing depended on a magical process of rewarding the most agile sick person.

It was discovered about 150 years ago that this story about the angel stirring the waters did not, in fact, form part of the earliest copies of the Gospel. So, wisely, our modern bibles omit it. 

Incidentally, please don’t be distressed by the fact that the Scriptures exist in different forms and have different readings. Nothing more proves their authenticity than this ragged variety. These are not literary stories: they are the living remembrances of a living community, re-told and re-fashioned through their shared life and worship.

The pools were essentially a mineral spa with healing properties, of a kind valued in the ancient world and since. A few generations after the time of Jesus, the Romans would build a shrine to the healing god Asclepius on this site. 

The paralyzed man has no-one to help him benefit from the healing waters. Jesus asks him one simple question: ‘Do you want to be made well?’ Then he tells the man to gather up his mattress and leave, which he does.

This story forms part of a rising crescendo of healing miracles in John’s Gospel, which will culminate in the raising of Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. John being John, even healing is not without the possibility of conflict and argument. The healed man is reproached for carrying his bed on the sabbath; he then drops Jesus into trouble by saying “this man told me to take up my bed” even though it was a sabbath, when such labour was forbidden.

Jesus does not ask about the man’s faith. He imposes no spiritual test. He assumes in a later passage in the story that the man was not, in fact, morally upright. Nothing is said about the man becoming a disciple or spreading the good news about Jesus to others.

Jesus approaches a person in need and offers help. All the focus is on Jesus’s act of compassion. The Gospel also reminds of its subsidiary message, that the call to do good for others should always take precedence over religious obligations as human beings understand them.

The growth of communities of faith is a mysterious thing. It is not always the most welcoming churches that grow fastest. Human beings sometimes respond strongly to a strict code of rules or a charismatic, dominating leader. That does not mean that either of those approaches are God’s way to grow a church. 

What these two stories tell us is that the giving and receiving of welcome, and the offering of help without conditions and without expectation of reward, are the way taught by the Spirit of God. It is that same spirit which will bring us nurture, life, and yes, growth. We are called to go forward in faith, and in faith to welcome those who come our way. 

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

May 8, 2022: Fourth Sunday of Easter

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Easter 4: May 8, 2022

In the Easter season we traditionally listen to readings from Acts, in place of our regular readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament as we know it. 

In our Gospels, we listen to some of Jesus’s teachings as reported by John’s Gospel, sayings which are located in Jesus’s final weeks of ministry in Jerusalem.

The linking theme today, expressed in our collect, is the role of Christ as shepherd to his people, which we heard most memorably in the twenty-third psalm as we just read it together.

Many years ago, long before entering on the process that led ultimately to ministry, I was a spectacularly unsuccessful Sunday school teacher. I recall, however, trying to persuade some of those young people to think realistically and unsentimentally about what it is really like to care for sheep. At that time, I owned a set of erasers in the form of rubber sheep. Most of them were slightly pencil-stained white, and one of them was – literally – the black sheep. All were part of my little synthetic rubber flock. It was a useful way to introduce the idea that real sheep can be troublesome creatures; they are often stubborn, and rarely biddable. Sheepdogs control sheep, essentially by playing on the animals’ primal fear of the predator, even when the shepherd has the care and safety of the animals as a prime concern.

(If you need any further reasons to appreciate the utter eccentricity of British television, let me just add that from the 1970s to around 2010, one of the prime-time BBC programmes on Sunday evenings was a long-running series of televised competitive sheepdog trials. Teams of shepherds and their dogs competed to steer small flocks of sheep around obstacle courses and into sheepfolds, while keeping them together.)

Sheep may hear the voice of their shepherd, but as Jesus knew very well, they don’t always listen, let alone do as they are told. Yet the shepherd’s care never ceases. The worse they behave, the more determined the shepherd is, the harder the shepherd works, to ensure their safety.

Ultimately, all our readings today are about the people of God: those for whom Jesus died and rose again. It is appropriate in this season of resurrection and rebirth, to hear how the followers of Jesus were reborn into a courageous and dedicated following of Jesus’s path, after he was no longer bodily present with them.

Let us listen to the story of Peter at Joppa (nowadays known as Jaffa). Before this passage, Peter is at Lydda, now called Lod, which is west of Jerusalem and some distance inland from the coast: there he healed a paralytic named Aeneas. (According to one later legend, the community at Lydda was founded by Joseph of Arimathea.) Joppa is a port town about twelve miles away, a day’s walk for a healthy and energetic person. We do not know how Tabitha or Dorcas came to be a disciple, but Luke says that she was a “mathétria”, which essentially means “female student” – not just a helper but a learner. Her name means “gazelle”, and we should not necessarily assume that she was of any great age. Indeed, her death was clearly unexpected and grievous to her friends. She was young, energetic, productive, and profoundly mourned. In compassion for those who mourned her, Peter reclaims her from death and restores her to her friends.

The point of the story is clear: Peter has inherited not only the mission of Jesus, but much of his power to heal, and even to raise from death. But the other point of the story is to show Peter’s compassion and care for an emerging congregation on the margins of the Jesus movement. 

And in this section of Acts, Peter is about to cross those margins altogether. The story at Joppa is a prelude to Peter’s summons to come from Joppa to nearby Caesarea, to the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius. The community of followers of Jesus is not just expanding: it is becoming more diverse and more inclusive. It even includes some of the Roman oppressors, the very people who had put Jesus to death; just as it includes Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee and former persecutor.

And that same theme appears again in our reading from Revelation. The followers gathered before Jesus are “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”.

It was not always easy for the early movement of Jesus’s followers to understand, or even to cope with, the sudden call to expand its boundaries beyond the people of the promise. It did not just mean extending God’s call beyond God’s traditional people: it meant being open to the idea that God called, and loved with the same love, those who had actively fought against the message that Jesus brought to the world.

And we have been struggling with that message ever since. I am, as I know many of us are, horrified to see the Christian faith turned into a rationale for exclusion, for limiting the autonomy and the life choices of women, of people of color, of the poor of all kinds. It seems perfectly clear that just as a self-righteous Christian is a contradiction in terms, so an exclusionary Christian is one who resists the plain message of the Gospel.

But we are called, by that same logic of Scripture, to affirm that God’s love extends to those who discriminate, those who persecute, those who in a perversion of the message of God’s love seek to make the lives of other people harder and more challenging. If God could reach out to Cornelius and achieve the conversion of Paul, we are similarly called to pray for and work for salvation and for healing, even for those who arrogantly seek to spread messages, and to implement policies, at which our souls and our consciences shudder.

What we all risk forgetting – ourselves as much as those with whom we disagree – is that we are the sheep and not the shepherds. Every time that we try to shrink the Gospel down to the level of our own private political or cultural agenda, we find ourselves “like sheep [who] have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” as Isaiah 53’s famous passage on the Suffering Servant reminds us. There are far too many Christians who turn to their own way, all the time.

In the seminary where I teach, many – maybe most – students are engaged in some form of religious activism. They believe with a passion that their life’s call is to call out and resist the injustices done to the poor, the powerless, and the excluded. I admire their passion and their burning desire to see a better world. And at the same time, I worry that, just sometimes, these shrill voices will resound in the echo chambers of their political movements, acting as the mirror image, the opposite extreme, to those on the extreme of the so-called religious right.

Listening to the shepherd’s voice takes great patience. It seems, and feels, as though God is taking forever to respond to the pleas of the afflicted and the distressed. There is a good reason why the expression “How long, O Lord” occurs several dozen times in Scripture, especially in the Psalms. How tempting to use the weapons of the unrighteous oppressor against them.

But that is not Jesus’s way. Jesus denounces the wrong, and does so without fear or favour. But he also teaches, and embodies, the all-encompassing love of God that extends even – no, especially – to those who are wrong. Jesus’s disciples included the converted tax-collector and the converted zealot rebelling against the Empire. 

Do you remember – I’m sure you do – the words of the hymn “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”? It contains the verse:

“But we make God’s love too narrow / by false limits of our own, / and we magnify its strictness / with a zeal God will not own.”

The message of the Gospel of love is bigger than any of our private agendas. It calls us again and again to re-think the limits that we set to our compassion. It brings us into dangerous and scary places, where we have to recognize those whom we disdain to be, with us, fellow-sinners who depend, as we do, on the love of God. But we are the sheep, not the shepherd. Our shepherd keeps our needs always deep within his heart of love.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

May 1, 2022: Third Sunday of Easter

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EASTER 3: May 1, 2022 

The poet, T.S. Elliott wrote: “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.” On one level this describes the situation in which we find Peter today. In our Gospel story, he is at the Sea of Tiberius fishing with some of the same men at the same spot 3 years earlier when his brother Andrew came and told him “We have found the Messiah”. Simon, as Peter was then called, went to meet the man named Jesus, who immediately called him Peter, the rock. He invited Peter and a few others to “come and see”, promising they would see incredible things. 

Over the next few years, they certainly had. Signs of healing occurred, words of comfort and challenge proclaimed, conflict with religious authorities, crowds gather to hear Jesus. Even more, Peter saw the glory of this Jesus on a mountain, and his betrayal in a garden. Peter, himself had denied he knew this Jesus when he was arrested, condemned and killed.  

Now, Peter is back fishing. Had he given up all hope and returned to his former life? Our Gospel reading is a little confusing. It says this was the third time Jesus had appeared to the apostles. If he had already met the Risen Lord, why would he have left Jerusalem and, apparently returned to his former life. Also, if this is the third time, why would he not have recognized the Lord. 

However, our story was written down 70 years after Jesus’ resurrection. By this time, the eyewitnesses had died. Memories sometimes contradict one another. Perhaps this is the first appearance that got out of place.  

However, the real focus of the story is the role of Peter. 

 After the meal, Jesus asked Peter: ‘do you love me more than these others. Peter answered “yes, you know that I love you”. He is then told: “Feed my sheep.” Two more times Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me?” Two more times Peter answered yes, but he gets hurt. “Lord, you know everything, you now that I love you.” 

The man who three times denied knowing Jesus, now proclaims his love three times. Reconciliation? Perhaps, but by the time this story was written, Peter had proved this love for Jesus, for he has followed his Lord by dying on his own cross. 

The story presents a repentant Pete, but also the apostle especially loved and commissioned by Jesus. The Church was changing, conflicts occurred. Jesus was the Good Shepherd, but new flesh and blood leaders were needed to shepherd the community.  

Peter did not follow a straight path in his discipleship. He stumbled along the way, weaknesses became evident. But he got back up and went on. Jesus chooses him to be shepherd of the flock, leader of the community.  

But not only Peter. In our first reading we meet Paul. He followed a very different path. We meet him hunting Christians as heretics to be bound and brought to trial in Jerusalem. On the road he is struck down, blinded and hears a voice – “why do you persecute me?”. He asks: “Who are you?” He is told: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” He is sent to the town, and was soon visited by a disciple who baptized him.  

Paul has his sight restored and is filled with the Holy Spirit. Several days later he is out proclaiming Jesus as Son of God. A sudden and complete conversion, to say the least. 


Paul learned much from this experience. At the foundation of his preaching is the teaching that salvation is a free gift of God’s love. Not earned by good works. After all, God’s grace embraced him while he was persecuting Christians.  

Also, the voice asked “ Saul, why do you persecute ME?”  Christ was present in the believer. Paul will say: “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” But also, Christ lives in you and me. Paul will face confusion and conflict in the communities he visits and establishes. But his faith is rooted in that moment of encounter with the Risen Christ. Grace is everywhere. Christ lives in me. 

The journeys of Peter and Paul teach us many things. One is the fact of change that the Church must deal with. Paul’s letters describe a Jewish community that followed Jesus, becoming more and more a community of gentiles. The expectation that Christ would soon return is not fulfilled. The need to change, to grow will create tensions, conflicts that have to be addressed.  

But the community is not to be afraid. SO, some interpret that strange fact that the number of fish in Peter’s miraculous catch is listed as 153, and yet the net did not break. Many see in this a message to a Church community that in growing and changing; it need not tear apart.  

We live in a time of change and a time when divisions seem so broad and deep in the Body of Christ. The Good News is that Grace, the transforming love of God is everywhere, as Paul learned. We learned that leaders, despite human weakness, can learn to take up their cross and follow Christ. Like Peter we can be healed by the power of love.  


Today, we are reminded that the community experienced the presence of the risen Christ at a meal. In our opening prayer we proclaimed that The Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread. As we break bread this morning may we know the presence of Christ, here and now. May we hear again Jesus’s last words in today’s Gospel: “Follow me.” Reminding us that God is with us always, until the end. 

Submitted by the Reverend Brendan McCormick

April 24, 2022: Second Sunday of Easter

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Easter 2: April 24, 2022

We began our worship this morning with the traditional response to the joyful news of the

resurrection: “the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia”.

We receive this greeting from the liturgy of the churches of the East, especially the Greek

Church, where the formula is expressed with simple clarity: Christos anesté; aléthos anesté.

The third word aléthos means “truly”. “Truly he is risen”: yes, it has really happened. It is

important that we say to each other, yes, this astonishing and unique event has happened, and

its meaning resonates down the ages for us, to be recalled and reclaimed every Easter.

Let’s think about how that “truly” played out in the lives of Jesus’s first friends and followers.

The story of the resurrection is one of joy, but also of bewilderment. The second Sunday of

Easter is a good time to reflect upon that bewilderment. You will recall that Mark’s Gospel ends

abruptly with a young man telling three women that Jesus was raised. “They said nothing to

anyone, for they were afraid”.

What on earth had just happened? In different ways all our Gospels testify that it took the

disciples some time and much adjustment to even begin to understand what this meant.

Do you remember a similar state of shock when the assumptions of your world have been

turned upside down and you don’t know what is next?

Those of us who are a little older will probably remember the events at the end of the year

1989, when the despotic, unaccountable regimes of Eastern Europe, propped up by Moscow,

suddenly collapsed one after another. We returned to work after that Christmas break, to a

new world. The great binary in Europe between the messy, democratic West and an Eastern

Bloc ruled by a bogus ideology brutally enforced, had suddenly vanished, and we had no idea

what would take its place.

The disciples’ world was overturned also – more intimately, but in a way that would have far

more lasting and eternal consequences.

Even John’s Gospel, the last to be written after decades of reflection in the Christian

communities about all that Jesus’s ministry, death and resurrection meant, does us the great

service of sharing something of the apostles’ bewilderment in the midst of their joy.

More than that, through the story of Thomas “called the twin”, John tells us that the

bewilderment could also mean doubt. Thomas sensed that if Jesus was truly raised, that meant

something of earth-shattering significance. It was not something to accept on hearsay. One

could not even believe the evidence of one’s own eyes. Body-to-body contact was needed.

For Thomas, the sheer magnitude of the meaning of the resurrection must be confirmed by the

most powerful of evidence. And Jesus makes room for Thomas’s need before he even asks.

Thomas responds, with a statement of faith that goes far beyond anything that the other

disciples have said so far: “my Lord and my God”. Thomas embraces that cosmic understanding

of Jesus, on which John’s whole Gospel is built.

John’s Gospel does us a great kindness, when it gives us permission to be as bewildered and

(maybe yes, as unbelieving) as Thomas was.

John sees resurrection as both the ultimate demonstration of God’s loving power, and as a

potential problem, just because it is such a powerful proof.

The raising of Lazarus occupies a structural point in John’s narrative. Raising a dead person to

life, after several days in the tomb, is such a sensational act. It wins so many converts, that

Jesus’s enemies among the religious authorities decide that he must be got rid of, if they are to

keep their authority. In John 11:45-53, the story of the raising of Lazarus leads directly to the

plot against Jesus: “from that day on they planned to put him to death”.

The raising of Jesus was, of course, quite different from the raising of Lazarus. All the Gospels

make clear that it was far more than a resuscitation, miraculous as that would have been. Jesus

rose to a new kind of existence, where he still had a physical nature, but that nature surpassed

physical limits.

Remember that before this point, the disciples had seen Jesus perform wonders; they had seen

him receive signs of divine favour and honour; they had not yet confronted the lesson that he

both shared their essential humanity, and yet also belonged to something that was quite other.

The risen Jesus shared in God’s very nature. That is a huge idea to get one’s mind around.

So thank goodness for Thomas, for saying what someone needed to say.

And we should not take Jesus’s response as a reproach, when he says “Blessed are those who

have not seen and yet have come to believe”. To believe something so world-changing, on

second-hand reports takes a gift of faith. The “blessedness” of believing is not something that

we can generate alone. It comes as a gift of God, as a blessing in the truest sense. We pray for

that gift, and believe that we may, in God’s own time, be brought to the fullness of such a faith.

So what is it that we are called to believe in, in this resurrection which we proclaim every

Sunday in our creeds, and indeed in all our worship?

Our other readings for today give us a range of answers. Jesus’s resurrection transformed

(maybe not immediately, but in a few years) his followers’ understanding of who this man was,

who had been their teacher and their friend. God’s raising up of Jesus was a definitive

demonstration of how special he was.

As Peter (whom just over a week ago we heard denying that he ever knew Jesus) proclaims in

Acts: “ 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour, so that he might give

repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things.”

Sorting out what that “specialness” meant took the early Christians a very long time. Some

insisted that Jesus was so truly God that he was not really human at all; others said that he

came into being at a moment in time and was not co-eternal with God. Ultimately, the

understanding of John’s Gospel, which we heard expressed in Thomas’s reaction, has prevailed.

Then, as the author of the Revelation wrote in his opening greeting:

“Jesus Christ [is] the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the

earth. [He] loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom,

priests serving his God and Father.”

Jesus was not special for himself, but for all. Jesus revealed the ultimate, essential nature of

God in Jesus’s own conduct: sacrificial love and caring, for all people, but especially for those

who look least important and least worthy of notice and care in the eyes of the world.

We may be tempted to take this revelation for granted, since it has been taught and preached

so many times. In Jesus’s time, however, pagan Rome assumed that the fundamental principle

of the universe was like their own rulers: egotistical, grandiose and cruel, indifferent to the little

people. Only the great in the world’s eyes could claim meaningful relationship with the gods.

And before you think to yourself “that was then”, consider how many of the “great”, how many

celebrities, how many leaders of industry, how many dictatorial rulers or would-be-dictators,

behave as though the world revolved around them, their needs, their dignities and pretensions.

This is the human race’s sin, to raise up the unworthy above the rest, and expect the rest to

look up at them in amazement, and sometimes even to sacrifice their lives to those egotistical


And then there is Jesus: living humbly amongst the humble, but fearlessly confronting the

bogus claims of the spiritually arrogant. Teaching, healing, loving, without limit and regardless

of the cost.

God shows just what God thinks of that kind of ministry. As the first apostles said, God not only

vindicated him by raising him from the dead; God raised Jesus up far beyond anything that any

earthly ruler could aspire to.

And because he is risen, we are risen. We have communion with the risen Jesus and with each

other. We live in the love of a God who values everyone uniquely and perfectly. All we have to

do now (all!) is to reflect that all-embracing love in our speech, in our work, in our witness, in

our lives. May the gift of the resurrection faith empower us and encourage us to do that.

Submitted by the Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

April 10, 2022: Palm Sunday

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Reflection for Palm Sunday: April 10, 2022

The liturgy for Palm Sunday seeks, in a short service, to remind us of the jarring contrast between Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem and his Passion a short time after. We processed with palms and songs of celebration; in a few minutes we shall read the account of Jesus’s arrest, trial and execution from Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem was a gesture. Jesus proclaimed, through actions, that the kingdom of God, which Jesus had been preaching ever since he began his ministry in Galilee, was entering the life of the city. Pilate and his empire of violence entered Jerusalem from Caesarea by one gate; Jesus with his kingdom of humility, grace and love entered by the opposite gate. The city would have to choose between those kingdoms.

But his entry into the city exposed Jesus to the brittle, fickle thing that is human celebrity. Celebrity – the instant, instinctive and thoughtless adoration of the latest bright new thing – is no secure basis for the ministry of the Gospel. Once in Jerusalem, Jesus confronted much that was wrong, and addressed many of the needs, in that uniquely fragile, explosive community. Soon, the city decided that it could not cope with the challenge.

There is a story, probably written around a century after Luke’s Gospel, about the acts of Peter in Rome. Supposedly Peter was leaving Rome by the Appian Way out of the city at the time of Nero’s persecution of Christians. He had a vision of Jesus walking in the opposite direction. Peter asked Jesus where he was going. “I am going to Rome to be crucified again”, said Jesus. Shocked, Peter turned back and faced his destiny as a martyr.

Jesus has been crucified again many times, and not just in Rome. He is crucified whenever his name is used to give cover to the wrongs done by one human being against another. He is crucified again when Christian authorities in Russia cover the atrocities in Ukraine with a religious fig-leaf. He is crucified again when those in this country who call themselves Christians seek to roll back the protections given to women, people of colour and the LGBT community in the name of supposed religious freedom. You can think of many other examples.

And yet, though what we celebrate today is something dark, hidden in the darkness is something wonderful, which can only really be expressed as poetry. Christ took on himself, on the cross, all the wicked intentions, all the fears and hatreds of the world. He took them with him into the heart of God. And in the heart of God no hatred, no anger, no evil can endure for an instant. That blazing, consuming fire of pure sacrificial love turns the world’s evil to ashes in a breath. All that is left is love. 

We do not see that around us yet. Evil still rages. But as we enter into Holy Week once again, remember that in a most precious yet mysterious way we are seeing the cosmic triumph of love. When all that divides us from God has been nailed with Jesus to the cross, the power of evil is gone.

Submitted by the Reverend Euan Cameron

April 3, 2022: Fifth Sunday of Lent

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Lent 5: April 3, 2022

In today’s Gospel reading we heard a memorable and moving story of the love shown to Jesus. It was so moving, in fact, that it appears, in different forms, in all four Gospels. The story is told in three different sets of circumstances, but it seems likely that the same episode is being described. It was remembered so much among Jesus’s followers that it passed from the word-of-mouth tradition into the written Gospels in only slightly modified form.

In Mark 14 and Matthew 26 Jesus is a guest in the house of Simon the Leper at Bethany. An unnamed woman pours out ointment on his feet. The disciples object to the waste, but Jesus says that the woman’s act of love will be remembered.

In Luke 7, Jesus is a dinner guest at the house of a Pharisee (also called Simon) when “a woman who was a sinner” anoints Jesus’s feet with ointment from an alabaster jar. The Pharisee thinks that Jesus ought to know what kind of woman this is (and presumably ought to have been horrified by such intimate touching by an outcast person). Jesus uses the occasion to teach the Pharisee that those who have been forgiven many sins are more grateful than those forgiven only a few.

Here in John’s Gospel, we have another version of the motif. We are in Bethany again, where Jesus, a few pages earlier, has raised the beloved brother of Martha and Mary, Lazarus, to life. In John’s Gospel the miracle of the raising of Lazarus is such an astonishing miracle, and so impresses those who become Jesus’s followers, that Jesus’s opponents in the religious authorities decide that for the good of the community, Jesus must be killed.

The story of the anointing is now placed into the hands of Lazarus’s sister Mary of Bethany. Mary takes a jar enclosing an enormous amount of rich, expensive perfume made from nard, also known as spikenard, and pours it over Jesus’s dusty feet. This time only Judas, the untrustworthy treasurer of the group of disciples, objects out of insincere concern for the poor.

In John’s hands, the story becomes a part of the preparation for the Passion of Jesus. Mary’s anointing anticipates the rich anointing of Jesus’s body offered by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus after his death. 

One unintended result of the re-telling of the ointment story in these three different ways, was that a single woman follower of Jesus was made out of three or possibly four individuals. In a tradition which established itself some 500 years or more after Jesus, Mary of Bethany became amalgamated with Mary of Magdala, the first witness to the resurrection, and also with the unnamed woman with the alabaster jar of ointment in Mark and Matthew, and the “woman who was a sinner” in Luke. This Mary Magdalene became the icon of the fallen woman rescued and redeemed by her profound love of Jesus, the antithesis of the Virgin Mary. If you have seen representations of Mary of Magdala in the art of the Middle Ages or Renaissance, you have probably seen her depicted with her alabaster jar.

Today, our reading comes from John’s account of the story. As always in the Gospels, we are called to seek for the essential message, more than the details. What shines through the narrative is an act of pure devotion. Mary of Bethany probably did not understand what Jesus meant by saying that she was anointing him for burial. Yet she had been given her dear brother back from the dead, and no gesture of thanks, admiration, or gratitude was too much for Jesus who had restored her brother to her.

In the sour confrontation between Judas and Jesus over Mary’s action, however, something is being raised up which will echo down the Church to the present day.

Take Mary’s anointing of Jesus as a symbol of the beautifying of the body of Christ, which is the Church. The stories told in the Gospels often have a symbolic meaning alongside the literal meaning which they have at first reading. 

Does that seem fanciful? Bear with me while I explain what I mean. There are two ways in which we can live our support of the church community. There is outreach to the wider world, which we discussed last week at the beginning of our conversation with Bishop Laura Ahrens. Outreach is how we take the love of Jesus and bring it to those who are in need, who may not necessarily have any working relationship with Christ or Christ’s church. And that is very important: it also requires discernment and planning, so that we give our energies and our resources where they can do the most good.

Then there is what is sometimes called “inreach”, which is a way to describe everything that we do, as a church, to support the life of our own community. That can include bringing care and support to our own members who need our care. It can also include the spiritual enrichment of our life as a worshipping community. 

As a part of our tradition, we enrich our worship with physically beautiful objects: the silver vessels that we use for the Eucharist, the altar hangings, the vestments, and of course the music which we sing and which accompanies our worship. The same thing can be said of our liturgy itself: the Book of Common Prayer was, from its very first drafting, conceived as a poetic and spiritual evocation of the worship that we hope to feel. 

There is a good and powerful reason for that custom. Physical beauty expresses, in a certain way, the spiritual beauty of that which is holy. We are material, physical creatures: it is natural for us to respond to that which appeals to our senses.

Even in the Middle Ages, thinking Christians knew perfectly well that the saints in the panel-paintings and the statues which adorned the churches of the time had not, in their real lives, gone around in exquisite brocade vestments covered in jewels and precious stones. Writers explained that these manifestations of beauty were symbols of the outstanding lives and the devotion to God which manifested itself in these people.

There is another side, however, to this beautiful anointing of the body of Christ, one which the Church as a whole, and the Episcopal Church perhaps especially, needs to beware of. We must not turn the choices that we make about the beautifying of worship into grounds for disagreement or even ill-feeling. 

Many of the expressions of beauty that we now take for granted in our churches came into the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition in the 19th century, and they caused strife and disagreement when they first appeared. People argued, and became bitter over, how many candles there should be on an altar, whether holy water should be used or not, whether elaborate chasubles or copes should be worn by the priests. One can err on either side of the argument. It can become just as much of a distraction to obsess about being austere, simple and spare in worship, as it can be to go in the opposite direction and desire ever more beautiful ornaments.

The beauty of worship is there for a reason which must never slip from view. It is there to impress on us that Christ is among us, and his presence makes this place holy. The reason why we come to this holy place is to be strengthened, encouraged, invigorated so that we take the love of Jesus into the world.

There is a risk in hearing the last verse of the Gospel reading: “you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me”. The risk is that we become complacent about poverty, assume that it is part of some natural order. It was well beyond the imagination of the society of Jesus’s time to eliminate the crushing poverty which afflicted too many people on the bottom of the heap that was the Roman Empire. 

It is not beyond our imagination. Because we are inspired by the spiritual beauty which surrounds us, we are called to imagine a better world. In this country above all, there is no moral justification – there is no moral excuse – for the extreme inequities between incomes, and the sheer struggle which so many people in our society experience to live with the simple decencies of life. A world anointed with the perfume of Jesus’s gifts is no place for the remorseless exploitation of those with the least. As we give thanks for the beauty which surrounds our Eucharist, let us be strengthened to work for a more loving and more just world.

Submitted by Reverend Doctor Euan Cameron

March 20, 2022: Third Sunday of Lent

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Lent 3: March 20, 2022

Two weeks ago, we reflected on the familiar question that arises every time that unnecessary and apparently random suffering afflicts ordinary, innocent people indiscriminately. We recalled the possibly naïve, but unavoidable question that gets asked in such circumstances. “Where is God to be seen, in the midst of so much inexplicable suffering …?”

We are surely asking where God is to be seen in the experiences of (for instance) people in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, caught in the pincer movement of an attack from Crimea to the West and Luhansk to the East. We have followed the story of the people trapped under a bombed theatre in Mariupol (130 were rescued, but a further 1,300 people were believed to be trapped, according to reports on Friday). These events confront us with the appalling randomness of indiscriminate bombing of civilian sites in war, something that we hoped had been left behind in the last century.

And today’s Gospel addresses, square-on, some of the same kinds of questions. 

It forms part of an extended series of sayings and teachings in Luke’s Gospel. In the Gospel narrative where these sayings occur, Jesus has left Galilee and is on his way to Jerusalem. (This section of Luke extends from chapter 9:51 where Jesus “sets his face” to go to Jerusalem, to his entry into the city in chapter 19:28-44). Not all these teachings actually took place while Jesus was on the road.  Some stories (like the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10) do not exactly fit the itinerary, but are located within the journey anyway.

Here Jesus is asked to address the question: is misfortune a response to individual, or even to inherited sin? It was asked in the light of two disasters, one political and man-made (Pilate’s murder of some Galileans) and the other a spectacular accident (the collapse of a building in Jerusalem). 

Biblical scholars have attempted to make sense of the story about Pilate allegedly killing some Galileans while they were in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice. The often unreliable but unique historian Josephus does not repeat this story exactly. But he does describe how Pilate could, on one hand, cave in to the people’s demands, when he agreed to remove military standards which contained (in Jewish eyes) idolatrous image of the emperor; and then, when provoked, he could carry out acts of barbarous vindictiveness. Josephus’s Pilate is not so different from the Gospels’.

There are other examples of this same question about suffering as punishment for sin in the New Testament: notably in the story of the man born blind in chapter 10 of John’s Gospel.

There are two human responses to unexplained and unjust suffering. One, which used to be common among religious people in earlier generations, is to say that “God must be doing this to me for some reason”. 

On the other side, there are those who call any misfortune “unfair”, or even believe that someone or something must be or should be blamed or held to account for it. This response can arise as a part of the process of grieving, and coming to terms with illness or mortality. Most people, by the grace of God and the support of their friends and loved ones, manage ultimately to pass through it: a few, sadly, do not.  

Let me be clear. God does not desire suffering. God is not behind suffering. But God is with us in the suffering. As our reading from Exodus made clear, God was not responsible for the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt, but was aware of and attentive to them, and brought eventual relief.

Both the inexorable processes of incurable illness, and the unnecessary and avoidable scourge of wars and persecutions unleashed by paranoid and insecure politicians are part, alas, of the basic fabric of which our material bodies are made. 

That is not to say that we can do nothing about them. We can reasonably hope that more and more diseases may yield to the skill and ingenuity of medical science, as so many have done in our lifetimes. We may even hope that better government may spread more widely across the world, even if it feels that we take a step back for every step or two forward, and it requires constant vigilance at home and abroad. We hoped that the collapse of state communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 would end that kind of abusive empire for good. It feels less certain now.

However, God will be with us in the random accidents and caprices of misfortune. 

So far, so good. But what about Jesus’s warning note in his response to these two stories? “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” 

This saying seems to be taking back with one hand what Jesus has just given with another. But allow me to try to suggest a reading which does justice to Jesus’s message of a loving God. 

As a supreme teacher, Jesus knew that there was always a risk that a good message would be heard in the wrong way. Here the danger was that, if Jesus were to reassure his hearers that they had done nothing to deserve their sufferings, they would believe that they had done nothing wrong at all