Sermon on Mark 7:24-37

Mark 7: 24-37

This is tough stuff this morning. Neither Proverbs or James pull any punches. And in the Gospel Jesus speaks into our day a powerful message, although as often with him it comes at us in an indirect way. Let me get at that with an insight from an Irish play called “Translation.” It’s the story about what happens to a people when a foreign culture is imposed on them. That was the case in Jesus’ day and it may in fact be the case in our day as well.

The Irish play opens with a hedge school teacher coaxing and encouraging a young woman to overcome her speech impediment; and at least learn to say he own name. You might wonder what a hedge school teacher was – so a bit of explanation – hedge school teachers in old Ireland were the people who used to grab the children and hide them in hedges and teach them their heritage because the British forbade them to teach their language and culture. The young girl in the play is finally successful and is transformed, she has a new dignity, and at last she can publicly profess her identity and who she is.

In the last act of the play there is a bullying military officer who has gathered these people, the young girl included, to interrogate them because an officer has been killed and he suspects that they are harboring the offender. The young girl is so frightened and intimidated by his bullying that once more she loses the ability to speak. And it becomes clear, as you watch the play, that the girl is not only the girl, but she represents the people of Ireland, who were being rendered dumb by the violation of their culture. And not only that, but those who accept for safety’s sake the alien culture become deaf to their own people’s need.

The play is really a parable of what happens to a group of people who are oppressed and used by another group that is more powerful. And this, of course, is where Mark’s gospel comes in because that was exactly the world in which Jesus lived. The Roman empire was all powerful, foreign rule, an imposed language and belief system all came along with being a Roman state. An oppressed people, Jesus’ contemporaries, were loosing the memory of who they were, to survive was to accept the meaning that the oppressors gave them, as simple, ignorant outcasts. They could no longer speak their own story as the people of God.

And American writer, Alice Walker, tells a similar story of her people. She wrote a short story titled “ Meridian.” A little black girl down in the South is playing the yard, and she finds this piece of metal. She recognizes that this piece of metal is a bar of gold, and she digs up this incredible, heavy bar of gold. She rushes home to her mother, who is sitting on the porch, shelling peas. She says, “ I found some gold.” And she places the large, heavy gold bar on her mother’s lap. Her mother says, “ Move that thing out of the way.” Don’t you see I’m trying to get supper ready?” “ But it’s gold,” she insists. “ Feel how heavy it is. Look how yellow it is. It’s gold. It could make us rich.” But her mother was not impressed and her father was not impressed; and her brothers and sisters where not impressed; and the neighbours were unmoved. So she is rejected, and no one is interested in sharing her joy. So she takes her bar of gold, and she puts it in a shoebox and she buries it under the magnolia tree in the backyard; and once a week she digs it up and holds the bar of gold in her lap. Then, less and less. It’s once a month, until finally she forgets to dig it up at all. And she acted like everyone else, not as someone possessing a bar of gold.

And that story to is a parable. You see, this morning, it is you and I that are being presented to Jesus to be healed. We live in a culture that doesn’t tell our story any more. John Paul II, who was an outspoken critic of our culture of consumption wrote that the Church is in our time confronted by a culture of death and that we can no longer entertain the distinction between faith and morality. The separation of faith from morality in our age has led many people, even many Christians, to live as if God does not exist. In John Paul’s view it is urgent that Christians rediscover that the Christian faith is not simply a set of propositions to be accepted by the intellect; but is a lived knowledge of Christ, a living remembrance of his commandments, and a truth to be lived out. Like the child, in the story, we’ve been given an incredibly valuable gift, but we’re caught in a culture that increasingly refuses to see much if any value in the ‘ bar of gold’ that we know is our faith.

We’re caught in a time and place in which we’re loosing our voice. Many of our neighbours have forgotten their faith stories. They no longer sing sacred songs; they’ve become deaf to their heritage and are living their lives by the labels of our culture of consumption.

We know those labels, we’re bombarded with them at every turn. You’re fat and ugly. You have the wrong clothes. You live in the wrong neighborhood. You smell bad. You drink the wrong beer, cooler, or pop and you’re not driving this years “in” car. And on and on goes the list. It’s the lie our culture tells us every day – you’re not good enough – unless you buy something.

But Mark’s gospel comes along and says that Jesus Christ is like the hedge-teacher, coaxing and encouraging all of us to say who we really are. To speak once more the ancient language of our faith, “ That I am made in the image and likeness of God; that I count; and that someone, someone truly loves me unconditionally – no strings attached. Doesn’t look at my house, my car or my clothes; just looks me in the heart and soul and loves me.”

That we live by more than bread alone; that there is love to share. That there are hungry to be fed; that it is by dying to self that we truly live. That there is meaning to life – and it is found in loving God and neighbour. That there is value in worship, That Jesus lives in the breaking of bread, and that love overcomes all things, even death. That there’s a whole language and song beyond what the culture offers us.

This morning’s Gospel like the Irish play and the American story is really a parable. Jesus heals a man to be sure, but the man is really a symbol of us all. For Mark the man was Israel, made deaf and dumb by an alien culture which had impressed its labels and values upon them. And Jesus came and said, “ Be opened.”

And so what are we to do ? One of this present era’s most forceful critics is the theologian Stanley Hauerwas. He wrote a book titled, “ With the Grain of the Universe” which is his attempt to wake us up to live as witnesses to God’s life among us. He concludes it with these words;

“ Christians believe that God has given us all the time we need to address one challenge, one argument at a time. We can take our time to make our arguments because we know that our lives are not our own; thus it is possible for us to live without our living, being no more than a hedge against death, that is, it is possible for us to live as witnesses. Sometimes witnesses are all Christians have to offer, and sometimes witnesses are enough; for what could be more powerful than the rediscovery that human beings have been made part of God’s care of creation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”

You and I have been made part of that great story by virtue of our baptism, we have been called to be faithful to that story and it’s opinion of our ultimate worth. The miracle of our faith may be the realization that God has chosen not to be without us, and that God has chosen not to redeem the world without us. And so the Lordship of Christ over our identity, over who we think we are, is the vision that will save us from all that would define you and I as anything less. This is the truth the Gospel would open us to, this is the truth we’re called to be and witnesses to in our world.

Desmond Tutu may have said it best, “ All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend His kingdom of shalom – peace and wholeness – of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, and of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God ? Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no oppression that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned to love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.”

Jesus, through the Gospel, this morning invites us to be opened to this vision, this truth, of who we are, and of what our purpose in this life time really is.


A Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.

Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” These words represent one of the central mysteries of our faith. That the bread and wine of the eucharist are indeed the very body and blood of Jesus, symbolic of his presence here and now, in this place. Changing you and I into his corporate body. Representatives of his love and compassion for this world. In the Eucharist we stand on the middle ground between the world we live in and the Kingdom for which we Hope.

The eucharist is many things, but, at its simplest it is a community meal. A physical and visible sign of the kingdom. The single plate and cup on the altar – symbolic of the unity within Christ’s body. The altar a table at which we are all welcome; regardless of our age, sex, social status, skin colour or any other crazy notion we humans dream up in order to make us fell superior to one another.

A meal that, in our tradition at least, forces us to get up from our place and to join with others around the table to share in it. And if we are equal here, at God’s table, then surely, we are equal away from here in the world. The eucharist is about equality amongst us all, it is a taste of the Kingdom. And that is no small thing.

But it is about more than simple equality.

The eucharist is an act of remembrance. By it we remember the Love and Compassion of Jesus towards the men and women around him. We recall the many meals he shared with the undesirables of his day. Tax collectors, and sinners like you and I. And we remember his promise to one day take his place again with us at God’s table. By this memory, and by our participation in the eucharist, we can know and live with Hope for this world and the coming Kingdom of God. The memory of Christ at supper with the likes of you and I, opens up a vision of new possibilities for our lives. And provides Hope for a new and different future for our world.

But there is still more.

We also recall Christs suffering, his blood poured out on the cross. And when we remember Christ’s suffering on the Cross do we not also remember the hosts of others who have suffered and died. The innocent victims of history, the children of the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, the women and men of Rwanda, the victims of gun violence in Toronto, Fredericton, and elsewhere in our country and beyond. If we can allow ourselves to feel the force of this accumulated suffering, we must surely be moved to act on behalf those who suffer amongst us. The poor and those who have lost hope, who live here in this city. If we will allow it, the remembrance of Christ’s suffering can create with in us a new moral imagination, a fresh partnership between ourselves and the weak, children women and men who have no one else, but you or I, to represent them.

It is as Jesus said, what you do to the least of these you do for me. The presence of Jesus in the eucharist, is as real as his presence in the suffering of this world. And by our participation in the eucharist we to – are tied to that suffering.

But we can still go deeper into this holy mystery

The eucharist also recalls the sacrifice of Jesus for us. God, through Jesus, acted to bring creation and all humanity into fellowship with him. So bound by our fear, and self-enclosed by our pride, we cut ourselves off from God. But, in Jesus, God comes to us without power or threat. Jesus shared in the beauty and vulnerability and darkness of human life. And by his life he brought us the gift of God’s unreserved compassion and limitless Hope. And once again established a communion with humanity and God. A communion made complete on the Cross. And we who would walk the way of the Cross with Jesus, are drawn by the eucharist into Christ’s sacrificial Love for this world. The sacrifice of the eucharist opens up for us the way to communion with God and our neighbours. Even in the midst of the brokenness of our lives and of this world we are brought closer to our very selves and with each other in this community; formed beneath a cross and around a table.

And yet we can still go deeper.
There is a clear connection between the earthly body of Jesus, His risen body, and His sacramental body. The only difference is in the manner of His presence. In the eucharist the presence of Christ, while spiritual, is as real to those gathered as his presence was with the disciples. Christ is not bound by our human notion of time and space. And so whether the community be gathered in a hut in the middle of the poorest slum of South America, with only an old door and some broken sticks for an altar, or in the grandest of European Cathedrals, Christ’s, or even here in Niagara Falls Ontario Jesus’ presence turns them all, equally, into the richest, most breath taking, and awe inspiring of gatherings.

By the presence of Jesus in the sacrament communities and people are changed. In the offertory, at the eucharist, we offer the bread, wine, and our money as symbols of our very lives. And all are changed.

The presence of Christ with the disciples changed their lives for ever. Simple fishermen became Holy Apostles, whose faith has without question changed the world. And so it follows, that our lives are also changed by our participation with Christ in the Eucharist. Our lives are taken up with His. And by God’s action we are brought closer to the Kingdom. Closer to the very God who has loved us without reserve, since our birth. But, to celebrate and mark Christ’s life changing presence in the eucharist is not enough.

If we are prepared to see Jesus in the Eucharist, then we have got to come out from before our Altar and walk with Jesus present within us out into our everyday lives. We cannot claim to worship Jesus, here at Church, if we do not help Jesus in the people we meet. You and I are called to look for Jesus in the ragged, the oppressed and in those around us who have lost Hope and whom our world likes to pretend don’t exist or don’t matter. We who have been changed by our participation with Christ in His holy meal, are called to change our world by serving these people. To bring God’s kingdom of peace and reconciliation to a world tired and beaten by hatred and violence. You see there is nothing else we can do, for there is no where else to go.

In the Eucharist we recognize Jesus as the Holy one of God. And through the mystery that is this holy meal we are made part of Christ’s life and mission. We are by virtue of our participation in this meal a Holy community, sustained by Jesus’ presence with us in the form of bread and wine. A community formed by God through Christ and the Holy Spirit, to change each other and the world.

It is through the eucharist that we are truly, made into the Church. Its why we really ought to share as often as possible at a very least once a week. And its why all Baptised Christians are welcome to receive at our celebrations. The eucharist is Christ’s meal and by it we are united into the one Body of Christ – regardless of what denomination or tradition we may come from.

The eucharist is one of the central mysteries of the Christian church and all that I have said today and much, much more is contained with in it. It is a hard teaching that at times has divided the Church. Yet, by faith each of us can begin to understand its mysteries and fully participate in Christ’s holy meal, confident in the knowledge that by this simple meal we are all brought closer to the Love and Compassion that is at the very heart of our God, this community and our very lives as God’s people. Amen.

Rev. Mark+

The Royal Wedding – It is all about Love

ROYAL WEDDING                                                                                      

Think of a time when you first fell in love,” asked Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in his passionate sermon at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. “The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved. Oh, there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love… The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love. And our lives are meant to be lived in that love — that’s why we are here. Ultimately, the source of love is God himself. The source of all our lives.”  Watch all of Bishop Michael Curry’s impassioned sermon from the Royal Wedding.

The Eucharist

Prayer Poem Meditation on Communion

We still our minds, and draw our hearts so near to yours.
And find that we’re sat with faithful friends, at a meal with open doors.
Your invitation is to all, to come and eat for free.
You’ve paid the bill, your resurrection life, we will receive.
And as I glance around the room I see so many things –
The tears of pain, the smiles of joy,
The hopes, the dreams and fears –
Upon these gathered, young and old, the followers of Christ.
That come to take of bread and wine,
To remember your sacrifice.
And in this moment all is clear from beginning to end,
From your birth in Bethlehem to your death on a cross,
And your resurrection in the Garden of Gethsemane.
We build our lives on yours Jesus.
On a love that never ends.
We carry a promise in our hearts like a gift of peace.
That those who put their trust in you,
In eternity we’ll meet.

Read more:

The Gospel of Matthew

Q.  We have been hearing a lot from the Gospel of Matthew lately.  What makes Matthew’s Gospel unique?
The Anglican church assigns readings for each Sunday based on a three-year pattern of readings called the lectionary.  We are currently in Year A, and Year A has a primary focus on the Gospel of Matthew.  On occasion, our Sunday Gospel will be from one of the other Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, but you can anticipate hearing the majority of our Gospel selections this year being from Matthew.

For early Christians, the Gospel of Matthew was considered to be one of the most cherished accounts of Jesus’ life, which might explain why it occupies “first place” in the New Testament.  Although the original manuscripts were written anonymously, this Gospel came to be associated with Matthew, the disciple and tax collector.  It is not written from the perspective of an eye witness account, but it might be that it was written by someone from Matthew’s community who was preserving his stories of following Jesus.  For the sake of clarity, we do simply refer to the author of this Gospel as “Matthew” in accordance with the tradition passed down to us.

The crux of Matthew’s understanding of Jesus is laid out almost immediately in the Gospel account.  He begins by identifying Jesus as the Christ, and then follows up this claim with naming Jesus as “the son of David , the son of Abraham.”  This reveals Matthew’s bias.  More than any other Gospel, Matthew claims Jesus as thoroughly and completely Jewish.  Abraham was the father of the Jews.  David was their greatest king whose descendant was to resume his rule.  Jesus, then, was the ultimate fulfillment of the hopes of the Jewish people.   Throughout the entire book, Matthew quotes pieces of the Hebrew Scripture, connecting the ancient prophecies of the Jewish people with the life and ministry of Jesus.

This special emphasis in Matthew is played out in a number of the teaching tools that Matthew uses to talk about Jesus.  Matthew shapes the opening stories about Jesus’ life in a unique way among the Gospel writers, drawing parallels between Jesus and Moses, Herod and Pharoah, the Sermon on the Mount and the Law of Moses on Mount Sinai, to name a few examples.  In this way, he claims Jesus as a new Moses, calling followers of Jesus to honour their Jewish traditions as a follower of Jesus.  Interestingly, Matthew also emphasizes, more than the other Gospel authors, that although Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish law and teaching and hope, he is rejected by the leaders of his own people, who are seen as hypocrites who know the truth but do not follow it.   Matthew sees Jesus as revealing the core of Jewish teachings, of the Law of Moses, which is LOVE.  Through Jesus, we can understand and participate in what has been passed down through the generations that have gone before him, that love of God and love of neighbour must go hand in hand, and “on these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.”


Musings on a beautiful Labour Day

What a glorious day it is this Labour Day.  As I sit and reflect I am reminded of all those years getting ready for the first day of school after, what seemed then, a long summer. It is interesting how some of our perceptions change over the years.  The days seem to rush by much faster now not giving us much time to enjoy everything we have been blessed with. What I used to think of as those “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” now seem to be, especially this summer, fast moving and hot. Days filled with little time to relax and reflect as I am today.  It is good to take time out to reflect after a busy time such as we have had at St John’s this summer.  Take time to reflect on how blessed we really are and really take time to thank God for all God’s gifts and blessings.

It seems as if I feel even more like reflecting on my blessings when a friend journey’s on to the next phase of their being.  I remember the good times we shared and the memories we made. I reflect on what this death means for so many people he touched in his life and how many will feel a lasting loss now that he has journeyed on. I think of his wife and family as well as all the people he helped.  For that was just the kind of guy he was, always there to lend a helping hand with a smile and a hug when he left happy to have helped in whatever way he could.  I think of his “lady friend” an eighty some year old who he looked after.  Taking her shopping and then to church every Saturday just being one of the many tasks he took on.  Oh how she is going to miss him as many others will.

Spirit of life and mystery, we pause now to be still, to breathe in each moment of life with a sense of gratitude for its gifts of beauty, love, and grace. We pause to affirm the cycles of life and death, for we know that we are all part of an endless and mysterious cycle of existence. We trust that beyond absence there is a presence. That beyond the pain there can be healing. That beyond the brokenness there can be wholeness. That beyond the anger there may be peace. That beyond the hurting there may be forgiveness. That beyond the silence there may be the word. That beyond the word there may be understanding. That through understanding there is love.  Amen  (Author Unknown)

Blessing to all

Archdeacon Val

John the Baptist and Baptism

Q. From where did John the Baptist get Baptism?

John the Baptist was seen as “The One Preparing the Way” for Jesus. Jesus was likely a disciple of John’s, and the Biblical account consistently tells us that Jesus’ own baptism was the beginning of his public and world-transforming ministry. But where did John the Baptist get baptism from? John attracted a great deal of attention for his message which said “The Time is Near!” and therefore, “Repent!” (literally, ‘turn your lives around!’) He then baptized those who were compelled enough by his message that they indeed decided to turn over a new leaf. The baptism took place in the Jordan River and would have been by full immersion. We have to do a little bit of guess-work to figure out where John’s baptism comes from, but we have some helpful pieces of information with which to work. The word ‘baptism’ comes from a Greek verb which means to wash, to dip, to plunge or to overwhelm. It was a word that was used in John’s time to refer to both ordinary, everyday acts of washing, as well as the ritual washings in which Jewish people would engage so that they could be considered ritually clean (in fact, the word occurs in the Bible several time in contexts other than what we associate with baptism). John was also picking up on the rite that was (and still is) used of initiating a convert to Judaism into the faith. Conversion is symbolized by immersion in a ritual bath (called a mikveh), thereby marking the person as now being part of the Jewish faith. John’s baptism was exclusively for people who are already part of the faith, not for those wishing to convert, but it very much resembles the actions used in the conversion rites. It would have also been recognizable as a continuation of the sort of cleansing rituals with which Jews would have been very familiar, but takes it to another level with full river immersion and with setting up the location of the baptism ‘in the wilderness’ – the wilderness referring to dangerous terrain well outside of town or village limits. It was John’s proclamation that if enough Jewish people could cleanse, purify, and re-orient their lives through this new-fangled baptism, then God’s favour would shine on them once again, and God would send the much-awaited Messiah who would free them from oppression and poverty and Roman rule. Of course, it is our Christian belief that the Messiah did come to us through the way prepared by John, but the Messiah looked a lot different from what anyone anticipated. Interestingly, although baptism played no role in Jesus’ own ministry, it very quickly became a central part of the early Christian church. Those first Christians changed up baptism again, incorporating various elements from these different influences: -baptism, like the Jewish mikveh, became an initiation ritual into the Christian faith. -baptism, as it continued to evolve, made reference to repentance and forgiveness of sins, picking up on John’s imagery. -baptism continues in John’s vein of ‘preparing the way of the Lord’ by joining the newly baptized to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but incorporating the person into the Body of Christ – the community, the church, seeking to walk in the way of Jesus.