Sermon for January 17th: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

The Lord and His Gifts

For many Anglicans, reading Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen is really like visiting a foreign country; it’s as if we got lost on the way to St. Margaret’s and wandered into a Pentecostal church instead! These chapters talk about supernatural gifts – speaking in tongues, prophecy, healings, miracles and so on – things that we tend to associate with more emotional and sensational forms of Christianity. We Anglicans don’t tend to ‘do’ this sort of thing; our favourite verse of the Bible is the one that says, ‘All things should be done decently and in order’ (1 Cor. 14:40)!

Well, interestingly enough, that verse comes right at the end of these three chapters in 1 Corinthians, and so apparently Paul didn’t see any contradiction between using supernatural gifts like speaking in tongues and prophecy and healing on the one hand, and doing everything decently and in order on the other. And so perhaps we need to get over our phobia about things that aren’t traditionally Anglican, and ask ourselves if there are gifts that God has given to other parts of the Christian family that we can learn from, just as there are things we have to teach other parts of the Christian family as well. So for the next couple of weeks, following our lectionary, we’re going to look at these three chapters and ask what they have to say to us about the life of our church today.

Read the rest here.

Some of my favourite albums #1: Sting: Ten Summoner’s Tales

I stopped taking the Grammy Awards seriously in 1994. That was the year Whitney Houston won the Grammies for best album and best song for the soundtrack to ‘The Bodyguard‘. Also nominated that year was what I believe to be one of the most brilliant albums ever produced, a piece of work far above anything Whitney Houston had ever done in her entire career: ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales‘, by Gordon Sumner, better known as Sting. That the folks who award the Grammies would consider ‘The Bodyguard’ a better album that ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ was incomprehensible to me. I was of course still operating on the assumption that the Grammies were about musical talent!

‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’ was Sting’s fourth solo album since the breakup of the Police; the title of course is a pun on his name, Gordon Sumner, and a character in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’. The album was noticeably more upbeat than its predecessor, ‘The Soul Cages’, and produced two hit singles in North America, ‘I I Ever Lose My Faith in You’ and ‘Fields of Gold’. But it also contained other wonderful songs, like ‘Seven Days’ (in 7/4 time), ‘Shape of My Heart’, and ‘She’s Too Good for Me’.

The core band for the album was of course Sting on bass and vocals, Dominic Miller on guitar, Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and David Sancious on keyboards. They were backed up by other supporting musicians, but the four of them were the musical powerhouse that drove the album. A few months after it was released I saw a TV special with Sting live somewhere in Italy, with just this four-piece band; they played his recent songs and also some of the old Police hits, and the simplicity and power of their music was awe-inspiring to me. In later years Sting would appear with ever larger and more complicated bands, but I never forgot the power of that simple four-piece. All four of them are of course superb musicians, but I must single out Dominic Miller as one of the most skilled and tasteful sidemen I have ever seen perform.

A long form video with alternative performances and live versions of the tracks was recorded at Sting’s Lake House in Wiltshire and released in conjunction with the CD. From that video, I offer you ‘Fields of Gold’ for your listening pleasure.

Baptized with the Holy Spirit (sermon for January 10th)

For some reason I was never a big fan of the character of Superman. I never read his comic book adventures when I was a boy, and I never went to see any of the Superman movies, even though they were very popular and got a lot of attention. But I know the story, of course – the story of how he was born on the planet Krypton and was rocketed to earth by his scientist father, minutes before Krypton was destroyed. On earth he was brought up as Clark Kent by a farming family, but as he grew up he was gradually seen to have what we would describe as supernatural powers. At a young age he decided to use those powers to benefit the whole of humanity, and the rest, as they say, is history – or, at least, comic-book history!

Superman can do amazing things because he’s not from earth and he’s not really one of us – he comes from ‘Another Place’. And I think a lot of people see Jesus in the same way. He comes among us as a human being, but he’s not really a human being – he’s the Son of God, a divine character. So it’s possible for him to do all sorts of things that we can’t do – he can work miracles, he can read people’s minds, he can live a perfect life without sin, and so on. In fact, he has an unfair advantage over us, and so he’s not actually very useful to us as an example, and all the biblical themes about the imitation of Christ aren’t really very helpful. How can we imitate Superman, when we weren’t born where he was born and we don’t have the same sort of nature as he does? And how can we imitate Jesus when he’s not a real human being with the same struggles as we have?

But the problem here isn’t with Jesus, it’s with our ideas about him. Real Christian theology stresses that when God decided to become one of us in Jesus, he wasn’t just play-acting. He took on a real human nature, with all of the limitations of that nature. For instance, he didn’t start out knowing all the stuff he was going to be taught in school; he had to grow and learn, just like other children. Luke emphasises this aspect of Jesus’ life; in chapter two of his gospel we read that ‘The child grew and became strong’ (v. 40) – in other words he didn’t start outstrong, he grew strong with time, as other children do. And later on in the chapter we read that ‘Jesus increased in wisdom and in years’ (v.52). Once again, he didn’t start out perfectly wise – he increased in it as the years went by.

The story of the baptism of Jesus, which we read this morning, continues this theme. It’s interesting to me that when Luke tells the story he doesn’t actually give a lot of attention to Jesus’ baptism itself. In fact, he doesn’t tell the story of the baptism at all; he tells us what happened after the baptism. Look at Luke 3:21-22:

Now when all the people were baptized, and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.

Luke doesn’t seem to be all that interested in the fact that Jesus was baptized by John; he just mentions it in passing. What interests him is something different about Jesus’ baptism, something that happened only to him and to no one else around him: the fact that after he was baptized he received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Read the rest here.

Proroguing is for children

Rick Mercer tells it like it is. Here’s an excerpt:

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s government faces fierce opposition at every turn. Many of his cabinet choices have been rejected in a secret ballot by the more than 200 parliamentarians who sit in the legislature. Simply closing it down and operating without their consent is not an option; to do so would be blatantly undemocratic or at the very least downright Canadian. If Mr. Karzai suspended the legislature on a whim, we might be forced to ask the question why Canadians are dying to bring democracy to that country.

Stephen Harper doesn’t have that problem. Our Parliament has been suspended for no other reason than the Prime Minister simply can’t be bothered with the relentless checks and balances that democracy affords us. He doesn’t want to have to stand in the House of Commons and hear anyone question him on any subject. I don’t blame him. Parliament is filled with jackals, opportunists and boors. The problem is, like it or not, they were elected.

I also don’t blame the Prime Minister for wanting to keep his ministers out of the spotlight. This is a man who could argue that he is Canada’s greenest PM simply because he’s the only one who has gone out of his way to give potted plants key portfolios.

The problem is, he is the one who appointed cabinet and like it or not, they are supposed to be accountable. A minister’s job is not to hide in his or her riding; it is to be accountable in Ottawa – or at least that was the promise.

This Prime Minister has gone from the promise of an open, accessible and accountable government to a government that is simply closed.

It is too bad that prorogation isn’t something that our soldiers had in their arsenal. When faced with the order to head out on a foot patrol in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan, to risk their lives to bring democracy to that place, wouldn’t it be nice if they could simply prorogue and roll over and go back to sleep? Soldiers don’t get that luxury. That is afforded only to the people who ultimately order them to walk down those dangerous dusty roads in the first place.

Read the rest here.

The Silver Chair

Before Narnia movies went all CGI/action, they had funny ‘humans-in-animal-suits’ characters, but they paid a lot more attention to C.S. Lewis’original story lines.

Here’s the first part of the 1990 BBC production of ‘The Silver Chair’. I think it’s the best Narnia story the BBC ever did, and a bit later on in the story it brings together two of my favourites: C.S. Lewis’ character of Puddleglum the marsh wiggle (who I think is the best character in the whole Narnia series) is played by one of the best Doctor Who actors, Tom Baker.

After you watch this one, you can google the rest or look them up on YouTube. They’re great!

A few nuggets of pastoral wisdom (I hope!)

On New Year’s Eve I was reading the Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer, which was Solomon’s request for wisdom in 1 Kings 3:3-14. I prayed that God would also give me the wisdom I needed to lead his people at St. Margaret’s and to be a good pastor to them, and then it occurred to me that God might possibly have already answered that prayer. Over the years there are a good many nuggets of pastoral wisdom that I’ve picked up, and perhaps the challenge is not so much receiving new wisdom from God, but rather, putting into practice the wisdom I’ve already received! Here are a few of the nuggets that came to my mind (in no particular order):
  • People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
  • It’s really all about helping people to know that they matter.
  • If the prayer life isn’t right, the ministry probably won’t be either.
  • You can never answer the same question too many times.
  • Pray, love, evangelise, make disciples.
  • If you’re feeling depressed about your ministry, go out and do some visiting, and you’ll soon feel better. Too often, depression comes from ministering to a desk instead of ministering to people.
  • Build your week around your sermon preparation, not the other way around.
  • Pray with people a lot. Don’t be shy about it.
  • Someone’s going to decide what your ministry priorities should be, and generally speaking, you’ll be happier and more productive if it’s you!
  • Make disciples, not just churchgoers.
  • Remember that people don’t know the Bible anything like as much as you think they do.
  • Remember what it was that caused you to fall in love with Jesus in the first place. Make that the central part of your ministry to others.
  • ‘Do God’. That’s what people expect from a priest, and they have a right to expect it!
  • Teach Christian basics often.
  • Competence is important, but holiness is even more important.
  • Always preach for a verdict.
  • Nurturing people’s relationships with Christ and with one another is vastly more important than passing on denominational traditions.
  • Eat less, sleep more, hug God once a day.
  • Live your own life of discipleship transparently so that people can see the joys and the struggles.
  • Take days off faithfully, and have another consuming passion besides ministry.
  • Build relationships all the time.
  • The leader sets the tone for the level of honesty and openness in the community.
  • Schedule the things you don’t like to do, and make sure you stick to that schedule.
  • 50% of the job is just showing up. Especially at times when people need your pastoral support – just by showing up, you’ve already shown them that you care and that God cares.
  • This is a calling, and sacrifice and suffering is an integral part of it.
  • Don’t try to please people. Try to please God and love people.
  • Thank people often.
  • The work never ends, so stop and go home while you’ve still got energy for your family.
  • Make sure volunteers have clear job descriptions, good training for their positions, and plenty of support.
  • People won’t believe that God accepts them unconditionally until the minister accepts them unconditionally.
  • Tell people the truth (as in Matthew 18:15-20).
  • Preach the Gospel regularly and invite people to respond to it.
  • Don’t react to the atmosphere on Sunday – you’re the leader and it’s your job to create the atmosphere (especially important when congregations are discouraged).
  • Ministry is about wandering – wandering through the Scriptures, wandering around among the members of the congregation, wandering around among people outside the church family…
  • Get the congregation to give to more than just their own church’s needs – it will make them feel good about themselves, it will do good in the world, and it will often pull the regular giving along with it.
And finally…
  • When the weather is good, get on your skidoo and go hunt rabbits. There’ll be plenty of bad weather days when you can do your work (from the former Bishop of the Arctic, Jack Sperry!).
Anyone else got any nuggets to add?