May Festival Sermon, May 16, 2015.

Last Saturday, I was privileged to be the preacher at the May Festival Mass held at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Toronto. I am grateful to Fr. Rob for his invitation and to Fr Mark and the people of St. Thomas’s for their kindness. Here is the text of my sermon.

_________________________________________________________________________

She was present when the hour was not yet. Perhaps knowing that her Son could fix the problem, perhaps expressing an embarrassed desire that he and his little band of followers leave, the mother of Jesus came and told him, “They have no wine.” And to that ambiguous statement came the even more ambiguous answer, “What to you and to me, woman? My hour is not yet.” She was present, but The hour was not yet.

The first disciples too were present when the wine at the wedding banquet ran short, when the mother of Jesus boldly instructed the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it!” perhaps they overheard and began to watch. Whatever prompted them to pay attention, the disciples saw when the water pots were filled to the brim, and tasted when those same pots produced the very best wine. In this way, ends the story of Jesus’s first miracle at Cana, he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. They were also present, but the hour was not yet.

What was the glory revealed at the wedding? The glory disclosed when the water changed to wine? Was it some sort of profane appropriation of a pagan miracle story of the God Dionysus? Some rather red-faced scholars have worried so. But no, their fears are misplaced. This is not some feeble syncretism. The glory disclosed at the Cana wedding was the glory of the end-time banquet when, out of God’s inexhaustible plenty, the new wine would be poured out. This is the language of the latter chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah, not an appropriation of Greek mythology. The miracle heralded the hour when  God would be joined to creation in a nuptial union to which every human marriage bears often-all-too-feeble witness, and all would be well. But the hour was not yet. The glory was glimpsed, but it was not yet there.

When our Gospel for this festival day opens, however, the hour has arrived. The hour of the glory. The hour of banquet. The hour of end-time joy. We know because she is present. The mother of Jesus again is there. We know because the disciples are there. Present in Mary of Clopas, Mary the Magdalene, and the disciple whom Jesus loved. And yet, this is no day of glory. All the disciples but these four scattered as blood, not wine, was spilled. This was no nuptial day, no day of union, no day of joy. This was a day of death. A day of rending.  A day of grief.

But John bids us look more closely. At this very hour, the mother of Jesus is present. Her presence calls to mind the wedding and its promise, its glimpse of glory. Her presence calls us to see the full disclosure of the glory of God’s one and only son, who was with God, who was God from the beginning, through whom all things were made.  Here at the cross, the glory which was the Son’s from all eternity is seen. This was the glory to which the writer testified when he wrote, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” The wedding pointed to it. But the cross, there on the cross, is the glory of the one and only Son. She was present when the hour was not yet. She was present when the hour came.

The disciples were present too, present in the three Marys and especially in the person of the disciple whom Jesus loved. They too, who with Mary glimpsed the glory in the beginning, were beholding the awful glory at the end. They were present when the hour was not yet. They were present when the hour came.

How do we know this horrific scene is at the very same time a day of glory? How do we know that this day of death brings life, this day of rending brings union? Listen.

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing with her, he said to his mother, ‘Here is your son.’ Then he said to his disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

It is very tempting to sentimentalize those words. Here is Jesus, whether because the only Son of the Father was also the only Son of Mary, or because his brothers rejected him and his mother for following him (both readings are found in Christian history), here is Jesus doing what every good Jewish boy should. His dying act was to care for his mother. He effected an adoption of sorts by which the mother of Jesus would be cared for by his faithful beloved disciple. It is a tissues-and-Hallmark moment,

But is that all this is? As with every element of the fourth Gospel, there is much more going on. After all, are we not told, “And from that hour the disciple too her into his home?” The hour. The hour for which the Son of Man came (John 12) is accomplished in this dying act of entrustment.  The hour of glory was not yet at the wedding. The hour of glory came when the Son of Man was lifted up upon the cross. And from that hour a new family was created.

This is no mere recording of history (though it is that). The evangelist is showing us in his story that the glory is not simply the death of Jesus, but that in his death a new family—a family made up of his mother and disciple—is created. The cross is the place where the church is born. And so in death we do have life, in the rending of body and soul, we have the union of God with creation and the reunion of the fellowship of humanity, in grief we have great joy. For the end-time banquet is indeed about to begin. The new wine is about to be drunk. Soon, all will be well.

And, to underscore the point, John tells us, “After this, when Jesus knew ALL WAS NOW FINISHED, he said, ‘I thirst.’” From that hour, all was now finished. At the adoption effected by the cross, the glory of the one and only Son was disclosed in the creation of a new community, the community in and through which the reunion of God and the cosmos would take place.

So it is, at this festival Mass, that we are wise to remember our Marian days are not really about Mary. For Mary always and ever directs our gaze away from her to her Son and reminds us that it is in his cross, and in the adoption it effects, we are gathered together. It is in the cross on which he died that we have life. It is from the cross that he bids us take his mother into our homes, so that in loving her we may come more fully to love him. It is to the cross that she directs our gaze and says, “See the glory of my one and only, your Saviour and mine.”

Amen.

Algoma Synod Day #2The

The second day (and first full day) of Synod began at 8:00 with worship led by the Rev. Ed Swayze and with Primate Fred delivering the homily. The Primate was simple and searching in his reflection on Matthew 6, and Jesus’s injunctions on fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The Primate focused on the relationship between authentic gratitude and humility. It was an excellent orientation to a full day.

Following worship, the Bishop gave a charge to Synod oriented around building partnerships with the Diocese of Big Beaver House and Bishop Lydia, building partnerships with the Diocese of Tarime and Bishop Mwite, and the Lift Up Your Heart initiative following the conclusion of the strategic plan. There was far too much in each point to fairly summarize here. I am bringing home a copy of the charge to share with you and hope that I will have an electronic version to distribute broadly. Suffice to say that at each point we were called to an expanded vision of generosity, including (but certainly not limited to) our money. We will be implementing the Lift Up Your Heart initiative through the month of September. Please watch for special updates in ETW about this important initiative.

The morning concluded with a report on the Tarime trip made by a delegation led by +Stephen and Fawna and a final exercise from the Strategic Planning Committee to help them advise the Executive Committee on ways to continue developing the work begun with the S.P. as we move into the future.

After lunch, I attended two breakout sessions. One, again, dealt with the winding down of the current Strategic Plan and building on it for the future. The discussions were particularly concerned with Youth ministry and its ongoing importance in our deaneries. This will be an interesting conversation for Executive to take up. There seemed to be a consensus that Youth work should be funded, even as we also agreed that a uniform pattern of funding and job descriptions across the deaneries might not be the most effective way of ensuring the continuation of good ministries. We’ll see. . . . I also expressed a concern that at least some of the resources recouped from the closure of parishes and the sale of buildings be set aside for new ministries, and especially church planting. Again, we’ll see how that goes.

The second breakout session was led by +Stephen and was a reflection on the repeated cycle of sin–grace–faith in the Prayer Book Holy Communion service. It was, as you can imagine, an intense and important time to meditate on how the pattern of our worship is meant to inspire gratitude toward God for his great gift to us by the Spirit who draws us into the life of Christ. A particular stress for +Stephen (and following from his charge) is that the sacrament can never be divorced from Word read and proclaimed. Without the Word, the sacrament is a mute sign. I think he’s right.

After a quick dinner with Jay to talk more about church planting, I went with the delegates to Algoma U. for a tour of the archives, the residential school, and the chapel. It was a very good (and plain spoken) articulation of our history, warts and all.

Well, my friends, that was today. Tomorrow, we are into a legislative session. Hopefully not too tense. We’ll see. . . .

Tim

Algoma Synod Day #1

We arrived at the Water Tower Inn at 3:30 and checked in. Then, it was off to the Synod office beside the Cathedral of St. Luke to register for the big event!! After a lovely dinner at the Delta Hotel (with a fabulous view across the water) we walked back to the Cathedral where Rachel, Derek (our summer intern) and Aidan (the MacGregor Bay intern) took their pew and I vested for a very long (and very, very hot) ordination service.

It was a BCP service and was excellent. The Ven. Peter Smyth (Algoma) was the emcee and +Stephen presided. Primate Fred Hiltz is with us all week as our Bible Study leader. Tonight, he gave the sermon–a rousing reflection on mission, which embodied all that was best about the Anglican tradition–Gospel proclamation issuing in works of justice and mercy–and all that is, um, not so best–Gospel proclamation is works of justice and mercy. This is a hard balance for the very best homilists to strike and I do not wish to judge the Primate too harshly. For the weakness is not his, but is woven through Anglican piety. It is our besetting sin. Ah, “til we shall build Jerusalem in [Canada’s] green and pleasant land.” A hymn sadly Pelagian from top to bottom all-too-accurately expresses what happens when Anglicans go theologically wobbly.

I am grateful to the Primate for his emphasis on mission, however, and thrilled that Gospel proclamation did indeed make it into his homily. For that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. Without the preaching of the crucified and risen Lord, ascended to the right hand of the Father as the King of the Universe, we really are just the Kinsmen in fancy dress.

This was my first Book of Common Prayer Ordination. What a heavy service in every stretch! (A huge thanks to James Mosher, our newest Deacon, who asked for a BCP service. A King’s College Halifax man, this can hardly be surprising). The charges to James and Charlene were weighty and appropriately reflected the challenges of the ministries to which they are now ordained. I found myself at once wishing that I could have been charged with those words back in 2009-10 and wondering whether, had I been, I could have gone through with the rest of the service. It really was powerful!

The business begins tomorrow with a full agenda of largely  “house-keeping” motions that will tidy up some canons and hopefully make them consistent. We’ll see if anything interesting comes from the floor. I’m on the resolutions committee so you’ll know soon enough!

Hey, follow us on Facebook, whether on my page or at Epiphany Sudbury, and keep abreast of things on Twitter, @RevTimPerry. Everything will be under the hashtag, #AlgomaSynod2015. Shaping up to be a good time.

In all seriousness, please pray for us as we seek to discern God’s will for our Diocese as we end one strategic plan and enter into a year of Thanksgiving under the theme “Lift Up Your Hearts.” Pray especially for the Epiphany delegates, Gilles and Remi, who are thrilled to be here, but nervous too.

Blessings

Tim

The Source of Life

Sunday’s sermon is now up here: The Source of Life

Then What?

My last column argued that evangelical communities in Canada are not persecuted. To say so not only mocks the actual persecution of many Christians around the world, but also pushes otherwise sympathetic people away from our concerns, and, frankly, makes us look ridiculous. The Gospel is offensive enough on its own; we don’t need to help it along by behaving foolishly ourselves!

Does that mean that the discomfort many of us now experience is based on imaginary events? Certainly not.

In his book An Anxious Age, the American public intellectual Joseph Bottum, accounts for the current cultural climate in the United States, though with obvious parallels to Canada for readers north of the border. Bottum argues that those who set the cultural agenda are re-shaping institutions according to their moral convictions—as, in fact, they have always done. What marks them out from previous generations is not their “post-Christian” cultural vision—that has been true for nearly 50 years. Rather, it is the evangelical zeal with which the vision is pursued that is different. The once muted rhetoric of the “city on a hill” is now back, but the civil Christianity from which it was originally derived is gone. Provocatively, Bottum names this group the “elect,” highlighting that in demeanour, if not in religious content, the new culture shapers are very much like their Puritan ancestors.

Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist, has coined the term “Megalothymia,” (the compulsive need to feel morally superior to others) to label the mindset that underlies the activism. The “elect” must not only be right; they must be seen to be right. As a result, those groups or individuals perceived to be out of step are not merely mistaken, but morally suspect as well: objects first of pity, then scorn, and finally, sanction. What I called “soft discrimination” in my last column.

If Bottum and Fukuyama can help the Canadian evangelical community to get a sense of what is going on, how should we respond? I’d like to suggest a two-step approach.

First imagine the worst possible future and trust in God anyway.

Here’s how Francis Cardinal George of Chicago described such a future in 2010: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” The quote has been making the rounds following George’s death on April 17.

The Cardinal’s point was not that events will unfold this way, but that if they do, the Church will still be present, seasoning society with the Gospel, and even watering society’s soil with martyrs’ blood. Why? Because it’s Jesus’s Church. Cardinal George makes me wonder how much of our rhetoric reveals a fear for the future. How much of that fear reflects a lack of trust in God? Can we not trust, that even if the worst possible future comes to pass, God will care for his own? No matter the future, that future belongs to God.

Second, take note of the present and live faithfully and fully in it.

St. Gianna Molla put it best: “As to the past, let us entrust it to God’s mercy, the future to divine providence. Our task is to live holy in the present moment.” I understand her to say, there is no point pining for past privilege, even as there is no value in worrying for a future that belongs to God. To pine and to fret are distractions from the mission of holy living here and now. They are, in short, sins.

And if  in some dystopian future whether near or far, we are called to suffer (as so many of our brothers and sisters outside North America have been and are now) hopefully, we’ll rejoice that we will have been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). Until that day . . . .

Sermon: The Good Shepherd

We were thrilled to have +Stephen Andrews with us for our annual episcopal visit today. Bishop Stephen confirmed my daughter, Sara and baptized Anne. This is his sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday: The Good Shepherd

Does Your Heart Burn?

Here’s today’s sermon. Quite a motley crew of characters–Cleopas and his companion, Frodo and Sam, Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle and Lucy Pevensie all show up. A very Inkling sermon indeed! Does Your Heart Burn?

Review: Traces of the Trinity (Peter J. Leithart, Brazos, 2015)

Readers of the blog will know that Peter J. Leithart appears regularly in some form or other here. I have referred to his little books, Against Christianity and Between Babel and Beast. I have reviewed Defending Constantine and Athanasius. I link to his essays on First Thingswebsite regularly. So, I want to start by thanking Baker/Brazos for sending me this book.

Like all of Leithart’s work, it is quirky and that’s where I want to begin. J. K. Rowling advises her young readers that to be equipped for life, they might sometimes have to go through it diagonally (Diagon Alley). They might, in other words, have to adopt a perspective that, if not counter to that of the majority, is at least slightly askew. Leithart does the same in his work: in Against Christianity and Defending Constantine he takes the decidedly minority side that “Post-Constantinian Christianity,” as exemplified in the works of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas is deeply mistaken. In Between Babel and Beast, he offers a theological justification for the fact of empire and a warning that the latest global empire, America, is on the verge of becoming beastly. Through it all, he consistently manages to mortify both the “Christian Right,” and the “Christian Left.” Which is why I like him.

So what makes Traces quirky? Well, for a start, it’s odd to find a Reformed theologian this side of Barth engaging in unapologetically natural theology. And that’s what this work is. In fact, if you listen for it, you can almost hear the Basel professor putting down his wheelbarrow of books, banging his shoe and shouting “Nein!” in heaven. Having said that though, it’s not what one typically expects from natural theology. That is, it is decidedly NOT an attempt to work up from foundational claims about the nature of the world to the being of God. Rather, it is natural theology that is decidedly Reformed, and one that has clearly drunk deeply from the wells of Radical Orthodoxy, and especially the work of John Milbank.

Thus, the books grounding assumption is straightforward: if God is Trinity, then we should find traces of the Trinity—trinitarian patterns, reflections, vestiges—in what God has made. Specifically, Leithart takes one of the most difficult theological concepts—perichoresis or mutual indwelling—and looks for glimpses of it in creation.

Now a tangent. Perichoresis was a theological term hammered into meaning on the anvil of the Christological debates that culminated in Chalcedon. It was an attempt to explain how the natures of Christ, human and divine, subsist in one person without mixture or division. Each indwells the other such that each remains itself while at the same fully attuned to, and acting in harmony with the other. As the identity of the person of Christ receded and the identity of God came to the fore, perichoresis was pressed into service again, this time in order to describe the relationships that mark the inner life of God. Each person of the Trinity so indwells the other two that he is fully attuned to and utterly in harmony with them. None can be divided from the others. And yet, each remains a person.

Where does Leithart see traces of this reality? In the human/world relationship (ch. 1), in intra-human relationships (ch. 2), in erotic relationships in particular (ch. 3), in time (ch. 4), in language (ch. 5), in music (ch. 6), and in ethics (ch. 7). If such traces are present, what does this mean for actual practice, both generally human and specifically Christian? This question is taken up in chapter 8. Finally, chapter 9 provides an appropriate concluding theological gloss to the preceding discussion.

One will invariably be reminded of the social trinitarianism that was “all the rage” about twenty years ago, especially as is found in the work of the late Stanley J. Grenz and Catharine LaCugna (among many others). But it is best not to press this similarity too deeply. This movement has been rightly criticized as implicitly Feuerbachian—projecting from “the society we need” to an understanding of God that will support it. It ends up saying a lot about us, but nothing at all about God.

While Leithart does use some similar vocabulary (especially perichoresis), this is not the direction his work takes. Rather it is exactly the opposite. Moving from the identity of God as disclosed in the person and work of Jesus Christ, Leithart seeks to discern traces of that identity in what this God has made, and only then ask what lived difference this should make.

I found this book hard to start—like I said, its quirky—but once the lightbulbs started going on, I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for theological students and seminarians.

Doubt, Scepticism, and Wounded Love

Today’s sermon, the second in our series, Responses to the Resurrection is now up. have a listen.

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother . . . .

One of my tasks in the parish is to be a catechist: to prepare candidates for baptism and confirmation by teaching them the basics of the faith. It is my practice to do so through Lent, and to use the Apostles’ Creed (what Christians believe), The Ten Commandments (how Christians act), and the Lord’s Prayer (how Christians live and worship) as guides. This past year, it was my especial privilege to prepare my daughter to affirm for herself the promises Rachel and I, and Jason and Kara made on her behalf at the chancel steps of St. Margaret’s Anglican Church in 2004.

As we were working through the commandments, we got to “Honor thy father and thy mother.” This is the fifth commandment and the first of the second table of the Law. It stands at the head of those laws that fall broadly under what it means to “love thy neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18). “What do you think this means, Sara?” came the fairly standard start-off question.

“It means that I should do what you and mommy tell me to do.”

“Why?”

“So that I can have a good life.”

Nothing terribly radical in that exchange. But as we talked further, some deep observations began to take shape between Sara and me. Ones that I (to my chagrin) had never thought before.

We had spent the first part of the previous lesson talking about the notions of covenant and mutual obligation (You will be my people and I will be your God). We talked about God’s act (deliverance from slavery) and promise (I will bring you into the land). And we talked about the people’s response (obedience in the land). All that came flooding back when we began to reflect on what it means to honor one’s parents.

As we talked, Sara and I came to the conclusion, first, that the fifth commandment was a mini-covenant. That is, it implied responsibilities on both sides. Children were to honor their parents, yes, and to do so in an asymmetrically related way to that in which the people were to honor God. If that’s the case, though, then there must also be some sort of obligation attached. It is this: parents are obligated to teach their children the covenant, to live it out in front of them, to talk about it when they lay down and rise up, when they are at home or on the road (Deut. 6). If children are to honor parents, then, of course, parents are to behave honorably. And teaching the covenant is what honorable behavior looks like.

The next conclusion then emerged easily: “that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” is not the individual promise of a long life, but rather has to do with the continuity of the covenant for the community in the land. God’s promise of the good, land-ed life is contingent upon the passing of the covenant from parent to child through successive generations. If parents fail to teach; if children fail to honor, then the covenant will collapse.

“Daddy,” came the most honest question yet, “is this why there are no kids in our church?” While her assessment of “no kids” was false, Sara had made a deep connection: our third conclusion. We have had two generations of failed catechesis in homes. Homes in which the faith was neither practiced nor taught, but farmed out to the ministry professionals to attend to. The covenant was broken. Parents have failed to teach their children; children have failed to honor their parents. I can’t help but wonder, after all the sociological assessments of millennials and their (lack of) religious affiliation are completed, a lot might be explained by a thesis as simple as this one. At some point, parents had nothing to pass on, and that’s exactly what their kids learned.

And finally the fourth: our youth oriented culture (no, not the bugaboo secular culture, but the youth-oriented church culture) has it exactly backwards. Making our primary goal attracting young families or youth or children may well end up being a recipe for a slow decline and death. Sara and I decided that we should belong to a churchy church, one that taught what it had received, one that worshiped in continuity with generations of previous believers, in the hope that the promise would not fail and that our days in the land would be long.

It might not be time to write ICHABOD over the doors just yet.