Sunday Chaplain's Corner: Reverend David Barrett, 16 Air Asslt Bde Senior Chaplain, offers a #ThoughtForTheDay pic.twitter.com/Q3AdRav5k3— 16AirAssaultBrigade (@16AirAssltBde) March 26, 2017
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
profoundly enigmatic. What do they want? is the organizing premise of the film, and we slowly
learn, thanks to the efforts of a scientist and an astrophysicist, that they have something to offer us, technologically backward and benighted as we humans are. What unfolds in Arrival is something decidedly like the theological idea of grace as an undeserved gift.
In their interactions with Louise, the linguist played by Amy Adams, they allow her to see her daughter, whose birth, life and death do not seem to have yet happened, and whose communications with Louise provide significant moments of insight and advance in understanding the heptapods.
In the warm, generous and unafraid character of Louise, and her decision to embrace that the life that the heptapods have partially revealed to her, we may see shards of answers to those questions.
Monday, February 27, 2017
However, I did write a piece in December at the invitation of the Friends of Fort York, which preserve the historic war of 1812-era British fortification in Toronto.
Pedestrian entrance to Fort York off of Bathurst Street. The Gardiner Expressway, visible to the left, and the condo towers in the background, show how Toronto has grown since the early 1800s and how the lakeshore has been pushed back. In its heyday, Fort York lay on the shore of Lake Ontario.
Given my slight expertise in military religious history, I was asked to write a piece on religion at the fort in the 1800s, a difficult subject given that so much of lived religion (actual beliefs and practices) is not nearly as well documented as is official religion (formal church history).
While not an extensive piece of original research, I did get to look at some of the Toronto diocesan archives which show births, baptisms, weddings and funerals at the Fort, as well as some other original source material.
Baptismal register showing christenings of children born to military families of the British Army's 68th Regiment in 1828, and signed by the acting garrison chaplain.
It is impossible to generalize about lived religious life on the basis of the documents available to us. While the British redcoat had a reputation as being foul-mouthed, drunken and irreverent. While this may be true then as now of some soldiers, this stereotype ignores the influence of Methodism, missionary movements and Christian welfare organizations that actively reached out to British soldiers throughout the empire. The stereotype also ignores the role of religion in the lives of Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and various non-conformers whose spiritual needs were not met by official military chaplains, who were almost entirely Anglican. It is also impossible to generalize as to how official religion -- the round of church parades, weddings, christenings and funerals -- was received by soldiers. To some, official religion may have been an irritant, but to others it may have been a reassuring if seldom thought of part of life.
My conclusion in the article is thus that "While the average soldier may have been more comfortable in a tavern than on church parade, he may also have been more devout than is commonly supposed."
The article begins on page 3 here.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
In that spirit of mixed guilt and vainglory, here is the text of a sermon I preached last Sunday, 19 Feb, at St. Margaret's of Scotland Anglican Church in Barrie. St. Margaret's is one of the healthiest Anglican parishes I've seen in a long while, not without its challenges but it has a shot at a long and bright future, in large part due to an excellent priest, Fr. Simon Bell. Simon+ has been kind enough to let me preach and preside on occasion.
I'm struck by how much of my preaching these days seems to involve some sort of ecclesiology, as if I am trying to work out and defend the importance of church and of worship. These days, I think this may be one of the preacher's most important tasks. MP+
A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday of Epiphany
Lectionary; Leviticus 19: 1-2,9-18; Psalm 119: 33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:48)
Now think of church as a place where we do things that aren’t realistic by earthly standards. We shake the hands of strangers and wish them well. We practice being kind and gracious speech in the words of the liturgy (the lord be with you … and also with you). We meet people we might never otherwise associate with, eat with them, pray with them, together confess our need for and dependance on God. We honour all the generations, old and young. We welcome the poor, the rich, the fit and the frail, the banker and the street person. We give our hard-earned money to a cause that some would consider totally ridiculous. We form a community that has value solely because we see the face of Christ in one another. We are a community that is open to Christ’s work in us and amidst us, because we know that only in our dependance on Christ will we be complete.
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Preached at St. Margaret of Scotland Anglican Church, Barrie, ON, 1 January 2017, the First Sunday After Christmas.
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." 19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
Matthew 2: 13-23
I haven’t met anyone yet who will be sorry that the 2016 is behind us. By general consensus, it’s been a brutal year. All the celebrities dying was sad, to be sure, but the real horrors of the year were cities flattened by ruthless and indiscriminate bombing, dictators killing their people, unwanted refugees shivering on borders and drowning at sea, the rise of hatred and bigotry on the internet and in elections, and countless terrorist attacks across the world.
If there was one image that seemed to be especially shocking, at least for a few days, it was the tourists and shoppers mown down in a Christmas market in Berlin by a terrorist in a truck. A European style Christmas market is a magical place, with its handcrafted gifts, music and carols, bright lights, fragrant smells and hot drinks to guard against the cold night. To imagine that scene moments later, the screams and sirens loud among the smashed stalls and broken bodies, is almost too terrible to contemplate.
I think we feel the same horror as we contemplate today’s gospel reading from Matthew. The little town of Bethlehem, which we imagine from countless Christmas cards, is violated and profaned. The silent streets echo with the tromping boots of Herod’s soldiers and the screams of mothers as the killers go from house to house. The wise men have hastily left town, the angels are silent, the skies are dark again, and the the holy family are on the road as refugees, fleeing for their lives. It’s as if Matthew had no interest in allowing us to linger in the peace and magic of the nativity, but wanted to throw us back into the pain of real life as quickly as he could.
The transition from Christmas to this Sunday is a movement from heavenly vision to earthly violence, from miracle to madness. The change of tone can indeed shock us, the faithful who know these stories, but I think it’s more shocking to those who lack perspective because they don’t know the gospel story. This morning I want to suggest that our reading from Matthew today helps us to understand Christmas as part of God’s larger story.
You see, if we allow ourselves to think of Christmas as just a kind of magic sanctuary, a kind of peaceful winter wonderland that we can go to get away from it all, then I think we will be especially vulnerable and disappointed when Christmas ends and real life reasserts itself. If we don’t connect Christmas with the world of Herod then and ISIS now, a world where innocents are still routinely slaughtered, then we aren’t helping ourselves or others to see why we need the Christian faith in this world.
So how does today’s reading from Matthew help us connect Christmas with the world and with the larger Christian story? Let’s go back to the gospel reading and look at what God is doing here. God is an active, protective and determined presence throughout the story. When we pick up the story the Magi have just left, warned by God not to visit Herod on their way home. Next, Joseph is warned to flee into the night and to take the family to a very specific place - Egypt.
Why Egypt, we may ask ourselves? Presumably Egypt is far away, outside of Herod’s reach. That makes sense, but we also remember that Jews have lived in Egypt before, in slavery, and that an Egyptian pharaoh tried to murder all the Jewish first born males, as Herod tries to do in Bethlehem. That connection links Herod with Pharaoh as earthly kings and tyrants who are hostile to God. The connection also reminds us that the Jews were led out of Egypt by one who God picked to save them, Moses. Jesus’ connection to Egypt as a kind of second Moses is very important to Matthew, because it establishes Jesus’ connections as a saviour and leader, a kind of second or greater Moses who will come to save his people.
Matthew goes on to describes how Herod is replaced by another tyrant, Archelaus, which causes God to intervene again and warn Joseph to find a quiet spot, Nazareth, to lay low and raise his family. I suppose there are two ways of reacting here. One is to notice how worldly power keeps throwing up these powerful and dangerous kings, and how it keeps going on, so that Archelaus is followed by another Herod, and Pilate, but in a story that began with the Roman emperor ordering a census so that all the world may be taxed, Matthew has taught us a lot about how earthly power works. At the same time, Matthew has shown us how God’s power is different and persistent, working in quiet ways to resist and outlast the petty tyrants of the earth. The confrontation between Jesus and Pilate in John’s gospel, and Pilate’s troubled question “Are you a king?”, has its roots in Matthew’s version of the nativity story. Matthew is reminding us that followers of Jesus are subjects of a different kind of kingdom, and that we need to be wary of the claims of earthly rulers and would be rulers, whether they live in Herod’s palace or Trump Tower.
Finally, as we hear today’s gospel, we hear over and over again how the birth of Jesus is the fulfilling of prophecy. In our reading today there are no less than four references to prophecies being fulfilled. We may think this is a bit of overkill, that Matthew is working too hard to establish Jesus’ credentials as Messiah, but think about what Matthew is saying here. For Matthew, God plays the long game. God has a plan for salvation, God is determined to bring as many out of the petty, dark kingdoms of humanity to his son’s kingdom of light. Like a jujitsu fighter, using the strength of his opponents against them, God takes on the tyrants of earth - Herod, Archelaus, Pilate, any number of those who follow - with the weakness of a carpenter’s son from Nazareth, and at the end of the day it is Jesus who is left standing. Prophecy in Matthew means promises made and kept by a faithful God whose word is true and whose son can be trusted. To use a word that we love to throw around today, God is authentic, he’s the real deal.
I’ve listed three connections between the Christmas story as told by Matthew and the larger Christian story. It’s a shame that the lectionary and our worship on Christmas Eve, when our churches are most often visited, don’t do a good job of making these connections. Perhaps if we did, our Christmas Eve visitors might stick around and enter more deeply into the Christian faith. This week I read an interesting essay by Ian Paul, a British theologian, on what the Anglican church gets wrong about Christmas.
Paul talked about how the story that we tell on Christmas Eve is largely disconnected from the rest of the story of Jesus. Christmas alone doesn’t tell us much about how Jesus comes to save the world by saving us from our sin. Christmas carols and candlelight are all well and good, but they don’t tell the story very well, whereas, (and here Paul quotes N.T. Wright), the Advent hymns do tell the story. As N.T. Wright notes, “Advent hymns are … deeply and thoroughly and thrillingly political. Advent hymns look forward not to heaven but the redemption of Israel and of the nations, the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. When we turn to Christmas hymns, these themes almost completely drop out”. Unfortunately, most Christmas Eve visitors haven’t heard had the benefit of preparation and context that Advent offers us.
The second reason, according to Paul, is that a lot of Christmas messages and sermons we hear don’t really help us to hear the gospel. By focusing on the Incarnation, on God’s decision to send his son to live amongst us as a human being, it’s fairly easy to draw the idea that we must be pretty good if God decided to hang out with us. If we merely conclude that the Incarnation is about affirming the dignity of human existence, then we don’t really need to change. As Ian Paul says, if “people leave Midnight Communion thinking ‘Well, it’s all OK, so no need to go to church till next Christmas”, then they will miss the who point of the gospel, which is about God’s determination in Christ to save us from ourselves. As I understand his message, Ian Paul is saying that Christmas needs to be about salvation rather than affirmation.
Today, two thousand and seventeen years (give or take) after the birth of Jesus, I think we can agree that the world hungers for a message of salvation. As we look to the near future, we hear talk of a new nuclear arms race, of rapidly melting polar ice, of old treaties and alliances ending. People seem to lose faith in democracies and open borders, and put their trust in strongmen. Cynicism and brutality seem to thrive. King Herod, the butcher of Bethlehem, would certainly look at Aleppo and tell Bashir al Assad, “Job well done.”.
One doesn’t have to go to Aleppo to see the need for salvation. Who knows what anguish and tragedy may be concealed in the comfortable houses around this church? Yesterday local media reported that a gas explosion in a middle class Mississauga neighbourhood this summer was deliberate, a double suicide of a middle aged couple. Police found notes amid the rubble, including this one, which read
“Dear God, as of next week everything will fall apart for us,” begins one note. “We owe mortgage, company, house taxes, water bill, gas bill, hydro bill . . . and we have No Money to fix or pay anyone.”
I don’t think most people are looking for are looking for affirmation or for religion to tell them that they’re basically ok. I think most people want to hear that God is interested in them enough to save them. They want to be saved from tyranny, from hunger, from bombs, from debt, from despair, from a sense of hopelessness so strong that it would lead them to blow themselves up in their own home.
The message of Christmas is the message of salvation. It’s the message of God who is faithful, who keeps his promises, who is determined not to lose us. The Christmas message may be about peace and joy in the manger, but it’s also about God’s presence with us in those moments when there is no peace and joy. It’s about God’s faithfulness to keep the promises he made long ago to his people, and it’s about the power of his son Jesus Christ to overthrow the kingdoms of power and tyranny, the kingdoms of darkness and death. When the stillness of Bethlehem is replaced by chaos, when the nativity scene is dark and the stable is empty, the angels and shepherds gone and the holy family fled, this message of salvation is what we need to hold on to, now, and as we face whatever the new year may bring.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Monday, October 24, 2016
Monday, October 17, 2016
RCL readings : Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Psalm 119: 97-104; Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18: 1-8
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 37:33)
I remember going to court as a character witness for a young soldier who had done something stupid. On the whole, it could have gone a lot worse for the soldier. Afterwards, he told me “Padre, I was scared, that judge was really mean!” I said no, I thought he was being fair, but I did agree that it was a scary business and suggested that he stay out of courtrooms in future.
because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’
Is Ephraim my dear son?
Is he the child I delight in?
As often as I speak against him,
I still remember him.
Therefore I am deeply moved for him;
I will surely have mercy on him,
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