candles2wandeds

The film ‘Room’ is being screened in Kingston, based on the novel of the same title by Irish-Canadian Donoghue. Jack is a five year old whose world since birth has been a small room, where he and his abducted mother are being held hostage. It is a moving story of a mother’s strong love for her child, determined to grow him in life and love despite their confined space and hard circumstances. Their struggles continue however after their escape. The realities of a larger life can be a challenge.

On this second Sunday of Advent we continue with the passages of scripture used by Jennens and Handel in their oratorio Messiah. Immediately after the opening words of assurance ‘Comfort, comfort my people’ (Isaiah 40:1), there are words of warning. ‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come … But who can endure the day of his coming?’ (Malachi 3:2). When the long-expected ‘day of his coming’ finally arrives, there will be freedom and justice, but everything will change, including us. The prophet described the experience like that of a ‘refiner’s fire’ by which black lumps of ore give way to precious silver and gold.

As Christians we believe that God has come, in Jesus Christ. And Jesus has shown us the larger life, broad and deep, true and eternal. This life is so much more than we have known that it can be a challenge, even a struggle, to accept and to grow into. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12:29-31). The challenge often lies more with the second commandment than the first. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger … and did not minister to you? Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of these the least of these, you did it not to me’ (Matthew 25:31-46).

The Lord has come, and we are growing into a new life. It is all new, and it can be hard. It can be as if our homeland had become a war zone, and after years of deprivation we are suddenly granted the opportunity to escape. But we have only six hours to pack our belongings, and can take only 100 kilos on the plane. There are excited arguments within the family, about what would be taken and what would be left behind. At the airport, ‘Ready?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Did you weigh everything?’ ‘Yes’ ‘Did you weigh the children?’. In a moment, the family albums, jewelry, laptops and so much more become garbage. As we encounter the Holy One in Christ, as we take up our freedom in him, our priorities change.

As I hear this passage sung, I feel myself being asked, What is most important in my life? What do I need to let go of so I can hold onto and enjoy that which is most important? In the footsteps of Christ, I know that the answer will have little to do with things, and everything to do with people … friends and strangers, neighbours and refugees.

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He had been raised in security and love. He had developed his gifts and tasted success. But he found himself increasingly isolated and struggling with despair. The year was 1741. His name was George Handel.
Then Charles Jennens handed him a selection of scripture passages and invited him to set them to music. Handel received the hand-written pages, and those words of scripture took hold of him. It is said that he didn’t leave the house in which he was staying for 24 days, barely taking the time to even eat, as he composed the accompanying, incredible music.
Messiah begins with the words ‘Comfort, comfort my people’. They were the words of the Lord for a people who were overwhelmed by despair. They had wandered from good and God. They were in exile, far from their homeland and culture. They had been humiliated. They felt alone and abandoned. And to them came their God with words of embrace and comfort, born of promise …  ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ (40:1-5).
As we gather and hear these words this Sunday, we mark the beginning of the season of Advent and the journey to Christmas. But there is more. We celebrate the revelation of the Lord in that babe of Bethlehem, and that man of cross and empty tomb, all for us and our salvation. But upon that historical foundation we celebrate a present experience – the promise of God that new beginnings are possible for us even now, by the grace of God.
It is a promise that creates its own reality, as testified by Handel. As he felt despair lifted from him and life renewed within him, he composed over two hundred and fifty pages of music that he concluded with the letters ‘SDG’. Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the glory.
And so with anticipation we light the first candle around the wreath, the one known as ‘hope’ …

If you are able to join us in the worship of God this Sunday, you would be welcome! (And have a look at the beautiful prayer of the Iona Community of Scotland, included in the Order of Worship below – ‘Thank you God for the waiting time, the looking time, the loving time, the keeping time’)

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Detail of Sanctuary Window of St. Andrew's Church Kingston

Detail of Sanctuary Window of St. Andrew’s Church Kingston

The church year comes to a close, and none to soon. I have been waiting for this Sunday for some time now. As refugees continue to flee across several continents, as the innocent continue to suffer in many nations at the hands of the violent, I have been waiting to be reminded that … Jesus is Lord.

This Sunday has often been know as Christ the King Sunday. But ‘king’ is not a major emphasis of the New Testament in reference to Jesus. But I have read that Jesus is referred to 618 times as ‘Lord’. The witness of the first Christians was the simple confession, declared often and at great cost but in great joy, ‘Jesus is Lord’.

I need this Sunday to be filled anew with that joy. The joy of celebrating that Jesus is Lord over death, that he was raised from the dead as the first of many, that darkness and evil and even death have been ultimately emptied of power. The joy of celebrating that Jesus is Lord of life, that he has laid down a way of life in this life that can grow us in our humanity and to the glory of God. The joy that renews the spirit to meet the challenges of these days with assurance and strength to persevere in ways good, true and beautiful. In this morning’s Globe and Mail, Sean Michael highlights in his playlist of the week, music from the 1970’s by the Algerian Boutaiba S’ghir who, in a in time of injustice and violence, continues to sing, ‘Malgré Tout’ (Despite Everything). As Christians, is this not our joy and calling, to remember that Jesus is Lord … and sing and live that faith, ‘malgré tout’?

Turning from music to art, I love this detail from a nineteenth century stained glass window in our St. Andrew’s sanctuary. The lordship of Jesus is central in the image of the crown, but it glows golden warm, is set in the context of the humility of the cross, and is surrounded by … pomegranates! They are not exactly native to this corner of God’s creation, but what a wonderful way to ‘image’ the Christian life than by a growing vine of exotic, tasty, mysterious fruit!

This morning we will welcome the Rev. Elaine Wilson to St. Andrew’s Kingston. Elaine is currently co-pastoring in her first charge with her husband, Curtis, at Strathcona Park Presbyterian Church. Being a native Vancouverite, she is ‘looking forward’ to winter in Kingston! She has studied Microbiology and German at the University of British Columbia and did her pastoral training at Regent College and Vancouver School of Theology.

From Living Faith, a contemporary statement of Christian faith by the Presbyterian Church in Canada

3.5 Jesus is Lord

3.5.1 Jesus suffered, died, and was buried,
but God raised him from the dead.
Risen and ascended,
he is alive now, the living Lord.

3.5.2 His resurrection means that our faith is not empty,
that final victory is assured over all evil powers
which destroy and deform life,
and that death, the last enemy, is conquered.

3.5.3 The forces of the evil one still wage war against us.
The destructive powers are still present.
But their end is not in doubt.
We await the full revelation of our Lord’s triumph.

3.5.4 We worship our ascended Lord.
Reigning in glory and power
he is our High Priest and Advocate
interceding before the Father on our behalf.
Through him we offer our sacrifice of praise,
with prayer for all to the Father.

3.5.5 Thanks be to God who gives us the victory
through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

 

 

Justice Storytelling Quilt, Church Council on Justice and Corrections (Canada)

Justice Storytelling Quilt, Church Council on Justice and Corrections (Canada)

 

Our exploration of the Ten Commandments at St. Andrew’s concludes tomorrow morning with the words ‘you shall not give false testimony against your neighbour’. I must admit that it has been hard to focus on sermon preparation when emotions are so strong after the attacks of terror yesterday in Paris. But slowly I have come to understand that there may be a connection.

As I have studied this ‘word’ of God upon which a new human society was to be built, I have come to acknowledge a certain progression of understanding and application. The Holy One had commanded already that respect be shown to neighbour in deed, and now that respect is to be shown in word also. What begins in a legal context as a defence against exploitation is extended to become a general prohibition against lying in any way or form, for by compromising the truth, harm is inflicted upon others and indeed the integrity of human society. What is stated in the negative in the Bible is interpreted by the Reformers into a positive, that we are called to speak the truth. As Christians we follow the way of Christ, the way of the one who declared ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, and we are called to live the same constructive, sacrificial service of neighbour as did he, and the same confrontation with apathy, prejudice and injustice as did he. A progression from not lying to telling the truth, and further, to seeking the truth, so we might speak and live it for the good of neighbour.

Which brings me to the fact that this is known as Restorative Justice Sunday. Most of us acknowledge the need for our judicial system and we are grateful for the many who are at work for good within it. But it is also possible to acknowledge that it is an incomplete resource for the fullness of human life. Once representatives of victim and offender have spoken, and sentence has been passed, legal process has been served … but there remains a whole realm of human experience unspoken and unresolved. Restorative Justice declares that for there to be healing, victim and offender might be offered the opportunity to hear each other directly, personally. Dimensions such as hurt suffered and guilt carried need to be articulated. Each of the 40 patches on the quilt at the top of this blog represent testimonies of victims and offenders offered in safe spaces created by restorative justice circles in Canada. The prayer of this quilt is that as the various scraps of fabric are woven together into a cloth, so might the wounded and shattered pieces of our lives also be brought together for a new community. Read more at http://ccjc.ca/resources-3-2/

After the violence perpetrated upon the people of Paris, and by extension many of us beyond that city, there is much here to ponder for the days to come. For now, as I acknowledge the command to speak the truth, I can only look to the One who I believe has spoken and embodied truth most fully. I remember a portion of a prayer by the Scottish theologian John Baillie …

Grant that the remembrance of the blessed life that once was lived out on this earth under these skies may remain with me through this day. Let me remember –
His eagerness, not to be ministered unto, but to minister;
His sympathy with suffering of every kind;
His bravery in face of his own suffering;
His meekness of bearing, so that, when reviled, he reviled not again;
His steadiness of purpose in keeping to his appointed task … (A Diary of Private Prayer)

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It is All Saints Sunday, a day greeted by many Christians with particular joy.

For some, it is a time when we remember how connected we are to all who have gone before us in Christ – that in Christ we shall know not only the resurrection but reunion. I find the image above rather stilted in its highly stylized way, but I appreciate the evocation of the bands of generations who live around Christ, past present and future.

For others, it is a time to rejoice that we are all ‘saints’ or ‘holy’ (depending on whether you prefer an English word with a Latin or Greek derivative) right now – not in the sense of any personal accomplishment or quality, but rather because in baptism we belong to the ‘Holy One’, and are loved with a love that will not let us go and given a calling to live in and be that love in this time and place.

For myself, I am approaching ‘all saints’ with another perspective this year. We are progressing through an exploration of the ‘ten words’ of God given at Sinai, and have reached ‘you shall not steal’. As I hear this word, I think of another dimension of community. And I am aided in this by Jean Calvin, who suggested that we read the ten commandments according to two principles. One is that each part points to a greater whole. The other is that each prohibition is a positive exhortation. In the light of ‘all saints’, I hear ‘you shall not steal’ as the exhortation ‘you shall share’. And I wonder how different our cities and world would be if remembered that we are in this together with all humanity, that life is something that is honoured and enjoyed in the sharing. In a recent article, Jim Wallis of Sojourners wrote about his experience at the recent Parliament of World’s Religions, and the identification there of income inequality as a spiritual issue (link). As we gather for Holy Communion, I will be thinking about community, and my Christian commitments to neighbours near and far.

Have a look at the Order of Service below and join us in the worship of God if you are in the area!

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Wednesday evening a Kingston church hall was filled to overflowing for a Community Feast. We were called together by two groups: the Katarokwi Indigenous Grandmothers Council and KAIROS, the social justice initiative of eleven Canadian Christian churches and agencies. We were there to take up the journey towards healing and reconciliation and ‘reset the relationship’ between indigenous and non-indigenous neighbours. The traditional food of three sisters soup, bannock, wild rice and buffalo stew was complemented by salads and desserts of a typical church pot luck. Words and music were shared. And it all began with the voice and rhythm of the Grandfather Drum, offered by the Shimmering Waters men’s drumming circle.

Sunday morning we shall gather to acknowledge the voice and rhythm of God known through the scriptures. We continue our exploration of the Ten Words (as the ‘commandments’ are more appropriately translated from the original Hebrew) and hear ‘Do not commit adultery’. It might sound initially sharp and hard, but as it reverberates in heart and soul and over great swaths of human experience, and particularly through all known in the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, we recognise the faithfulness that beats throughout God’s relationship with humanity, and the best of our relationships with each other.

Wednesday evening concluded with the sound of other drums. The Sisters of the Drum circle lead us out of the hall with a travelling song, a moving exhortation to take up the joy of the feast and to live it in the days to come. My only prayer for our service of worship of God tomorrow morning is that we might take up God’s way of faithfulness in our own relationships, personal and social.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway.
Honesty and openness make you vulnerable. Be open anyway.
Neglect and betrayal are often experienced. Be faithful anyway.
What you spend years building may be swept away overnight. Build anyway.
A service of worship may be dull and uninspired. Worship God anyway.
They say that a kingdom of peace and justice is not of this world. Live in trust of God anyway.
(inspired by words of Mother Theresa)

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Have a look at our order of service and if you are in the area, I hope you can join us.

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These weeks of autumn, we continue to hear God’s ‘ten words’ (as they are referred to in the original Hebrew), and we hear ‘honour your father and your mother’.

respect

As I considered this ‘word’ through the week, I found this image particularly moving. For many years when I heard ‘honour your father and your mother’, I thought young children were being addressed, and the exhortation was of obedience. But now I realize that when God spoke these words at Sinai, they were addressed equally if not primarily to adults, and the exhortation was not so much obedience as respect. I find the image above moving, for it shows an adult child seeking and receiving the blessing of an aged parent.

God knows, our parents are not perfect. But this ‘word’ about our relationship with parents is the first that follows the ‘words’  about our relationship with God. So somehow, honouring our parents flows from our honouring God, and the way we honour our parents is a mark of the honour we give God. Might respecting our parents as they age and deal with infirmity and become dependent upon us be a way of acknowledging and accepting God’s care for us in our frailty and brokenness as human beings?

The original Hebrew words for father and mother are expansive, able to include all our ancestors, all seniors. Might honouring our aged parents be the foundation of a society that respects the elderly and all who are vulnerable? As our nation goes to the polls tomorrow, might this ‘word’ be asking us significant questions about the investments we are willing to make in affordable housing, public transport and health care!

Much to ponder. Much to celebrate.
Have a look over the order of service, and if you are in the area, join us!

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