Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Rev'd Robert Warren.                                                                       
Mark 1:21-28         

My Old Testament professor at McGill used to break from the usual curriculum, once in a while, to lead a practical workshop on using the biblical texts in parish churches.  One of his exercises was to ask each of us to try and find somebody or some group of people in a biblical story from the Old or New Testament with whom we identified.  

The question was “Who are you in this story?”

The person I would be today in our story from Mark’s Gospel is different from who I would have been if asked the same question in 1979 or 1980.  We were mostly young men in our early twenties enrolled in a program of study where, God willing, we would eventually begin ministries as young deacons (and subsequently priests) in towns or neighborhoods which were not the places of our birth.  We hoped our ministries would be effective.  We hoped that even our older supervisors would be suitably impressed. In Mark’s story Jesus begins his preaching ministry in the town of Capernaum where he has recently moved. His preaching is successful in a way which surprises the established religious hierarchy in that town.  It would be a hard stretch, then, for us as young hopefuls not to identify with Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.  That’s who we would have hoped to be in the story.

As I think back to that crowd of seminarians in Montreal I am keenly aware that many of them had a rough time of it in the following years.  Quite a few are no longer active in the ministry of the Anglican Church.  Even those of us who made it through the rough bits might have identified, at times, with the man possessed by evil spirits crying out to Jesus in the synagogue.  That's who we'd have feared we were in the story.

Now - more than thirty years down the pipe - who do I identify with? 

I'd like to put in a bid for the poor voiceless scribes mentioned in the passage.  They have opened doors and planned programs and given counsel across the sundry thresholds of their parish.  They (along with Mrs Scribe or Mrs Rabbi) will have instructed the young and comforted the old.  As current Rabbi they might be rated better than the last incumbent but certainly not as good as old Rabbi Whosits who was in post a decade ago.  Now there was a Rabbi!  Thirty years on from their own days in Rabbinical College they wonder why it is that the potency and authority they thought they might exercise seems to have escaped them.  Willingly or unwillingly, wittingly or unwittingly they hand the pulpit over to Jesus.  Midwives and catalysts, they open the door to grace - just a crack.  

Jesus speaks to the assembled throng.  A movement of the Kingdom arises.   

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Rev'd Robert Warren.                                                  
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Mark 1:14-20

In the first Lesson this week the Lord calls out to the Prophet Jonah (a second time) to go to Ninevah and preach to its sinful inhabitants.  Jonah does just that and the inhabitants of the city, from the greatest to the least, repent and are converted.  In this week's Gospel reading Jesus calls out to Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow him and to become "fishers of men" and they (according to Marks Gospel) "immediately" leave their nets, their families and their livelihoods and become disciples.  What a remarkable set of lessons for a Sunday service preceding an Annual General Meeting.  God speaks, men and women say "yes sir" and the product is delivered nicely wrapped in plastic. 

The sermon is bound to be short.  We can be out of here before 1:15.

If you're not a member of the Lunch Bunch or somehow missed Sunday School during your childhood, because your parents wanted to keep Sundays free for other things, you might be forgiven for not remembering that Jonah's successful preaching mission to Ninevah only happened after the second time of asking.  When first asked Jonah ran away, there was a ship and a storm and a great fish which vomited him out upon a beach with a few square carrots.  You might also have overlooked the fact that while the core disciples of Jesus are gathered quite swiftly in the Gospel account it takes them quite a long time and considerable mental and physical distress before they understand what it is that God has called them to do. There's nothing automatic about it.

These are deceptively simple accounts if you take them for what they are without wider reading and reflection. 

Who preached to you first?   Did anybody lower the bar to make it seem easy to say yes to what God was claiming in you?  Did you hope that it would leave your lifestyles untouched, your ambitions and your boundaries?  And did it all end in tears or with a sense of failure a decade ago?  Are you on your second try now?  Or are you considering a second try because the call of God is still not dead within you but merely waiting for you to push open the door?

Know this - that God will call his workers to the field, his fishermen from their boats and his prophets to Ninevah and Clermont-Ferrand.  He will not stop asking.  Many will say yes.  Even after a false start or two the message will sink in.  Because it is time and the prize is rich, the many will allow themselves to be hardened to the task and set to the work.

Bonne année
Bon meeting

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

The Rev'd Robert Warren                                                                                  Luke 1:26-38

About five months ago I used an illustration in a sermon of the electrical arc which jumps from one electrode to the other in an oil-burning furnace.  Arcs don't occur when the two electrodes are touching.  That would just be the normal transmission of an electrical current. Arcs take place when there is a space between the two electrodes and a gaseous medium between them (like air) which doesn't normally conduct electricity that well.  There is a "medium" which is resistant and there is a "something" which defeats that resistance.  In the case of the oil burner the electrical arc is hot enough to ignite the atomized fuel oil that is blown over it, the furnace heats up nicely and you are able to sit in a warm house with your book on a winter evening.

I thought again of the electrical arc when I read the interaction in this week's Gospel between the angel Gabriel and Mary.  Gabriel ends his words to Mary by saying that "...nothing will be impossible with God".  Mary's response to the angel is swift: "Here am I, the handmaid of the Lord".  

We always read this exchange as if the wires were touching.  The invitation of God meets the willing and immediate response of the human conversation partner with little resistance, no flash and no mess.  We do not read even a moment's silence into the story between the end of the echo of Gabriel's words in whatever dwelling they were spoken and Mary's response - a silence in which both "yes" and "no" remain a possibility.  Nor do we read such a pregnant pause into the majority of encounters between God and all the heroic humans of the Bible's stories.  At the right side of the painting God speaks through an angel or a prophet. At the left side the object of God's discourse says simply "yes, let it be so".

God asks great things of us:  That our lives as families and individuals be placed within the economy of his unfolding Kingdom; that we welcome the stranger and make provision for the poor; that we act fearlessly, graciously and sacrificially with the things that make up our substance and that we forgive even when others will not.   God asks that we continue to exercise our faith in him in circumstances which would rightly rob others of a reasonable basis for hope.

This is not nothing. 
It is worth at least a pause.  

Faith - mine, yours and the faith of young Mary in Nazareth - is what ventures, appropriately paused and open-eyed, across that uncertain and resistant space.