May 21, 2017

In a sermon by The Rev’d Alisdair Smith of Christ Cathedral in Vancouver on this very text we hear about General Romeo Dallaire and his impossible mission in Rwanda. “While he did all he could to save lives, he was forced by inactive governments and the UN to face this genocide with a small band of lightly armed soldiers. He was forced to stand by as 800,000 people were hacked to death. The population of Vancouver proper is about 600,000 people. Dallaire tells the story of standing in a dark office, lights out to hinder snipers. Extremists were about to attack and Dallaire and his men had enough ammunition for a 2 – 3 minute firefight. He stood at the window, reflecting on his almost impossible position and a slight breeze blew by his nose, just as he breathed in. And breathing in that slight breeze, he found a shift in his thinking. He chose to be positive. His paradigm shifted. He had experienced the Presence of this creative, comforting, courage-building Spirit. Now this is not a pollyannish kind of positive thinking. Dallaire is the first to describe his subsequent battles with depression and has attempted suicides. His mental and psychic wounds have scarred him deeply. And he stands as someone who has experienced, first hand the Advocate, the Spirit, the Breath of Life, the courage-builder.”

Wes Howard-Brook’s provocative Becoming Children of God offers a fresh and original commentary on the Gospel of John as a narrative inviting readers -- both in the evangelist's time and our own -- to a radical commitment to follow Jesus from within a spirit-filled community. Howard-Brook says that the Gospel was specifically written for the collective church, much less individual disciples. That’s quite a shift for believers today who are so used to seeing the text exclusively through their own perspective, as if the Bible were written just for them. In point of fact that interpretation of the Bible is very, very recent, that is seeing faith through our own eyes as opposed to seeing it through the eyes of a person intimately connected to a community.

I think that is why Dallaire experienced the Spirit as Advocate in that specific moment in Rwanda, he was part of a community that was collectively trying to sort out their response to evil. The Spirit as Advocate came to Dallaire, but it also came to all of those trapped in that moment, defending the innocent and the vulnerable. And the Advocate gave them peace and it gave them courage.  

Hear the text again.                                                                                               

1) If you love me, you will keep my commandments.                                                  

2) Know the Spirit of Truth, because she abides with you, and she is in you.                                                                                                           

3) I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

Whenever I have spoken to people who have been involved in causes to defend their community in times of crisis they describe a moment of profound stillness, a moment when things move into a slow pace and they are reassured of the rightness of their effort, they feel a peace in spite of the risks they face and they are suddenly stiffened in resolve to move forward.  People often ask me “where does the church go from here?” We look around us and we see decline; fewer people, fewer churches, fewer leaders, fewer resources, fewer younger people… And we get discouraged. Traditionalists in our church say, “if only we stick to the way we did things in the 1950’s, when we were building new churches every month, all will be well. Conservatives in the church say, “if only we believe what they believed in the 1950’s, when everyone went to church, all will be well.” Progressives in the church say, “if only we change everything to how we do things in 2017, what we believe in 2017, all will be well.” But my friends the early church certainly did not believe or organize or worship like we did in the 1950’s or in 2017. Instead they were small, they were passionate, and they believed they were all in it together. We can’t go back to the year 70 AD, when the Gospel of John was written. Nor do I believe that is what God wants. But I do believe God is calling us to a more courageous path, not a more comfortable or nostalgic one.

I believe the Advocate is among us. But we need to meet the moment, discern the Advocate’s call, and be prepared to be wise and to be courageous. So let me be blunt. I don’t think trying to go back to the 1950’s is going to bear any fruit for this church. Churches that are comfortable museums are churches that close and no one other than the members of it even care. Nor do I think looking around at other churches with a spirit of envy and saying, “if we did that, we had that, if we had a shiny church, with shiny things, with shiny programs, all would be well” as if being the church was like going to Home Depot and picking out the right colours and furnishing. Churches that live have a reason for being, they have things they believe God is calling them to do and be, they believe God has called them together to be more than a social club and more than a Holistic Wellness Centre that caters to your every need. A church is a place where people feel the presence of God, together, and in solidarity and mutual care feel compelled to share with others a love that knows no end, a love that knows no boundaries and a love that can cost, even hurt.

When Jesus died he did return to a select few and gave them courage. But he also sent the Advocate to encourage the rest of us, to embolden us to not give up, to press on, and to make real the Kingdom of God we know is here even if the world around us does not. Whether we are large in number or only a few, whether we are young or old or somewhere in between, whether we have plenty of resources or only loaves and fishes, we can make a difference. Together with the Advocate we have courage, we have commitment and we have a vision for the way things ought to be, now. Let’s get to work. Amen.                        

May 14, 2017

I wish all of our mothers a happy Mother’s Day. I also want to wish all of our families a meaningful Christian Family Sunday. Family is a word that is being defined in a more open and fluid way these days. I am not speaking specifically here about marriage, though that obviously is part of that evolution. Here I am making reference to the way we define who is and who is not our kin. Let me share two recent examples...

May 7, 2017

I have never taken any formal courses in Marriage Counseling, though I have read several books and attended a few workshops on the subject. One thing I do recall from both text and lecture is that in the early stages of the couple’s work it is important to ask what it was that originally kindled their romance, what it was that brought them together, how did they fall in love...

April 30, 2017

Some of you know I help facilitate the faith sharing and worship time at Brunswick Street United every Sunday night, 6-8 pm. We gather in a circle, everyone participates and I offer up a brief overview of the theme for the night, a little background on the scripture, and a question designed to promote conversation and stimulate deeper thinking on what God is doing in our lives...

April 23, 2017

When we think about faith and the Earth the thinker and poet we most often go to for inspiration and ideas is Wendell Berry. He is after all the author of that beautiful piece of writing The Peace of Wild Things:

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

April 16, 2017

I like how the Rev’d David Sellery describes our Easter text this morning. “They weren’t looking for the Risen Jesus. They were sure he was lost forever. And then he was there with them…walking and talking, explaining scripture, opening doors to spirituality. He moved with them so easily, so unobtrusively that they did not recognize the risen Savior until he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread..."

April 9, 2017

Our text is about a parade. Have you attended a parade? Have you marched in a parade? For me the answers are yes and yes. But all of these parade experiences come from my childhood. You see my mother once presided over all of the majorette groups in Halifax. Some of you likely have never heard of majorettes but at one time almost ever girl and young woman would have participated...

April 2, 2017

Writer Sarah Dylan Breuer believes the core of our lectionary text this morning can be found in John 11:44 “Unbind him, and let him go.” Or in her words, “Open every dark place to light and air; this is the time to uncover and unbind!” Breuer’s analysis of this text is this, Jesus has come to heal and mend that which is broken. And Jesus heals these wounds, our wounds, and the world’s wounds, by unbinding those in pain and letting them go...

March 26, 2017

Last Sunday in an excellent sermon by retired Minister Brian Brown we heard again the surprising ending to the Gospel story of the Good Samaritan. But before that ending there was a question from a lawyer. “What must we do to inherit eternal life?” Then came the story. And remember that the crucial part of the story was the surprise ending. It was not the lawyer or the Minister who stopped to help the Jewish man in the ditch. It was the hated Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans loathed each other. Although the lawyer who asked the question, as well as you and I here today, may prefer simple questions with simple answers that is not how God reveals truth...

March 12, 2017

Some time ago I attended a large United Church gathering that showcased the various Christian communities throughout the Maritimes. I went to the L’Arche presentation. The assistant who spoke to our group described the community as a place where women and men of different abilities live together as sisters and brothers. The assistants tend to be able-bodied and the residents live with some form of physical or mental challenge. But their way of relating to one another is the same as any family...

March 5, 2017

Clarence Jordan was a very clever man. He earned two Doctorate degrees, one in Agriculture and the other in Greek. As a white man living in the deep-south during the more tense days of segregation Jordan did something almost no Christian was doing, he lived in community with Christians of African-American background. As a result Jordan was threatened, the Christian community that he founded based on the Book of Acts (that included persons of difference races) was fire bombed and boycotted and had a Cross burned on their property. Jordan could certainly identify with the early disciples of Jesus...

February 26, 2017

My dear mother had a “calling” from God that began at an early age. She shared this with me, that throughout her life she felt God’s hand on her to be a missionary in a far off land doing Christ’s work. That is until she met my Dad. But even then she attempted to live this call by focusing her work as a teacher on special needs children. And then I came along. But even then she regrouped and lived out her call by parenting my brothers and I in a way that made us aware and connected to children living at Bonny Lea Farm and Rainbow Haven Camp. Every birthday party or summer project that she supervised included we three boys raising funds and awareness about children with special needs. And when we got older she would take us after church to visit those seniors who we isolated and lacking in friends and family...

February 19, 2017

In the movie Field of Dreams the central character Ray played by Kevin Costner is trying to decide whether he should sell his farm or turn it into a baseball field. As he discerns this crucial decision, central to his life, he is visited by persons who share what appear to be divine messages. One of these angelic messages comes from Terence Mann who is played by James Earl Jones. He says, “Ray. People will come, Ray. They'll come…for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children. They'll pass over money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers on a perfect afternoon…And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.”...

February 12, 2017

It all started with a PBS documentary on the life of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Then on a trip to Chicago with an old friend we walked the streets of the windy city with the aid of an architecture student, telling us about the various architects who had participated in rebuilding the downtown after the city’s great fire. I’ve since watched extensive interviews with famous architects and two films about architects; Sketches of Frank Gehry where Gehry credits his long time therapist with his creative work and My Architect that shares the search by a son for the presence of his famous father Louis Kahn in the buildings Kahn’s designed. I have become an avid fan of architecture, how buildings are designed, most importantly how the architect imprints a sense of purpose into the structure s/he creates...

February 5, 2017

On one cold winter evening in 2014 I was in a hurry to get to the bus that would take me home to Tantallon. I was then serving the good people of St. Andrew’s United Church in Halifax and thus I was running down Coburg Road, across South Park Street, to Spring Garden Road. As I passed the Lord Nelson hotel I saw a group of 7-10 young men, likely of Middle-Eastern background, handing out roses to persons along the sidewalk. This sight stopped me in my tracks and I had to find out what was going on. As I came to a halt one man looked me in the eye, smiled, handed me a rose and said, “please give this to your wife.” I was stunned, how did this man know I was married? But then I noticed he was starring at my wedding ring. I thanked him for the rose...

January 29, 2017

Randy and I met years ago when we planned a funeral together for a man from Advocate Harbour. I had more and darker hair then and he looked exactly like he does now, save for the fact that he no longer has a “perm”. Randy is ageless and I am convinced this has to do with a lingering sense of wonder he brings to life. When we sat down to figure out how we would work as colleagues in team ministry we first had to sort out our expectations. I like working with people who are not “dramatic” and Randy assured me I would not find him so. Randy had heard I was some kind of workaholic and wanted to know if I would expect the same of him. I assured him I would not...

January 8, 2017

We’ve just heard the moving and personal story of Arlene Riches, a colleague of mine, a member of this church and someone you all know so well from her time serving as Supply Minister on several occasions. Arlene reveals how deep personal pain can be addressed and healed through God’s presence in Creation, how the mystery that is landscape, green life, sky, sun, moon, stars, rocks, trees, air, contain a life-source we often overlook as we try to escape our pain. There is a surprise quality to Creation, a sense that we cannot control her, that she bears life and produces life and can take a moment of death and pain and transform it into something new...

December 25, 2016

Do you have a crèche scene, a little manger in your home? I am always struck at the ones people have on their lawns, the scene looks so peaceful, so pastoral, so calm and familiar. And yet the story itself was intended to be exactly the opposite. The author of Luke-Acts wanted to surprise his audience, not give them more of the familiar. Here are some surprises to note...

    December 24, 2016

    After being married for ten years Kim and I sensed there was something missing in our lives. We had a good marriage but we needed something to save us from ourselves. And by that I mean that everything had become far too familiar. Kim came from a tight-knit family in Timberlea. Everyone in Timberlea knew the Frasers! And I was sixth generation Haligonian, you couldn’t get much more Halifax than me. I had tried a political campaign and Kim tried Ministry in a variety of settings. Something was missing. We needed a light to our...

    December 4 Sermon

    When I say the name John the Baptist to you what image comes to mind? Do you think of the cousins Elizabeth and Mary sharing news of each other’s pregnancy? Do you think of John’s interactions with Jesus at the river Jordan? Do you think of John being arrested and placed in jail because of his prophetic words and vocation? ...