Cafe 059 at University of Toronto

In the architecture building at UofT there’s a small cafe that serves the most affordable cup of coffee in the city. An americano is $1 if you bring your own mug; a $1.25 if not.

Check out these prices:

Beyond the cafe area, the architecture library has a decently sized reading room and study space.

Also, Moses is there.

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Sermon on Acts 23:12–24 (Psalm 121)

This is a sermon I preached in Founders’ Chapel at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto; Wycliffe students regularly preach on Tuesdays at Morning Prayer and occasionally on Thursdays at Evening Prayer.

This sermon is addressed to those who regularly attend Morning Prayer, but I hope you can also life-giving. For those who testify and bear witness to Christ:

Audio: 


Readings from: Acts 23:12–24 | Psalm 121, 122, 123 | Micah 1:1–9

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
      from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
      who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1–2)

Last week Tuesday, and two chapters earlier (Acts 21), we heard about Agabus’ warning to Paul in Caesarea:

Thus says the Holy Spirit: The Jews in Jerusalem will bind you Paul: your hands and feet, and hand you over to the Gentiles.

Paul response is courageous:

“I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Where do we find Paul in today’s reading?

After the mob in Jerusalem attentively listens to his every word…
After they raise their voices and shout for Paul’s death…
Sure enough, hands and feet, Paul is bound in the Roman barracks.

This morning, I want us to pay attention to verse eleven of chapter twenty-three:

“That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! (Or “Be of good cheer!”) For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’”

I want us to think and pray about what these words mean for us. We aren’t in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem—we’re in Founder’s Chapel at Wycliffe College. We are seminarians, theologians, teachers, and servants of Christ.

What does it mean when we know that Christ is standing at our side and saying: “Be of good cheer, have courage, you have testified for me, and I have more people and places for you to be my witness”?

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Paul’s question to the centurion: “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?” get’s those soldiers and the Roman tribune in a bind of their own (pun intended).

Being bound in Jerusalem works to Paul’s advantage.

Paul is safe from the angry Jewish crowds that want to murder him. Paul has his Roman protectors back-pedalling, now that they are aware of his Roman citizenship. Huge kudos to Paul’s nephew, who reveals to the Roman tribune the plot of the pact-makers that wish to murder Paul. The Tribune, who does not want a Roman citizen murdered by a Jewish mob under his watch, gives Paul safe passage to Caesarea and governor Felix.

Paul has been bound by Roman soldiers before. We read in Acts 16 about the authorities apologizing to Paul and being afraid after finding out about his citizenship. Was Paul HOPING for this to happen again? Did Paul have a smirk on his face or, even, have hope when Agabus prophesied of Paul’s chains? We now hear the words of the Holy Spirit not as a prophetic warning, as something to avoid, but as a prophecy to be fulfilled—for God’s will to be done in Paul.

As one chosen to bring the name of Jesus before Gentiles, Kings, and the people of Israel, Paul knows this prophecy is now fulfilled. However, I really don’t think that Paul was saying to himself: “Yes! Sitting enchained in Roman barracks is how I’m going to witness and testify Jesus before Gentiles and Kings.”

But I do think it is possible that Paul was saying the words of Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord.”

The Lord stands with Paul in those barracks: Keep up your courage! Have good cheer! You must also bear witness in Rome.

—————————

Those in professor Paulsen’s evangelism course this term are required to do a bible study project with someone they know that isn’t a Christian. Each student will be reading and talking through three different encounters that Jesus had with people. At first, I had some fear about this; the friend whom agreed to do this project with me is someone I still want to be friends with… but as I prayed about it, I heard Christ say to me:

“I am so ready to bring my love and my joy into their life. What part of me are you afraid to proclaim? Get rid of that fear.”

God is present with Paul. Regardless of uncertainty, suffering, corrupt or virtuous authorities, even plots of death, God is working his will through his willing servant.

And so, in hearing this morning’s text, may we—as a people who testify and bear witness to Christ—know that our help comes from the Lord.

Christ stands with us, encouraging us, saying: “Be joyful and filled with courage. I have more for you: more people and places to bear witness and testify.”

 

Be Full of Care; Be Full of the Spirit

I preached this sermon at my grandparents church, Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church, in St. Catharines, Ontario. I am delighted to call pastors Mike and Tabitha VandenEnden friends, and was thankful for their invitation to preach.

You can check out the audio on the church’s website (look for: “19 Aug 2018”)


Ephesians 5:15–20 | Be Full of Care: Be Filled with the Spirit

Be very careful how you live, make the most of every opportunity.
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery or excessiveness.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit!

Oast-Growler-Web

 

This is a growler.
It is from the Oast brewery down on Niagara Stone Rd. in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
It is empty right now, but you can go there and refill all 64 ounces with beer anytime.

The pulpit may seem like a strange place for such an object. But do not worry, it is meant to make you feel a little uncomfortable. It is making me feel a little uncomfortable.

 

Bringing a bottle of wine up on stage did not seem that harmful of an object, but this… especially for one person… would certainly cause to make you or I drunk. It would be unwise, it would be embracing an evil of today, it would be foolish, it would not be following God’s will, it would lead to worse things…

But, today’s sermon is not about drinking and drunkenness.

In verse 18, when Ephesians says do not get drunk on wine, it is not just talking about alcohol and drunkenness. It serves as an image, a very concrete image, like this bottle. It gives us an example of something we can very clearly grasp. We all know what walking in drunkenness looks like. But we’re talking about more. Ephesians is dealing with darkness, with sin, foolishness, and our Old Humanity—which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires–all of these things should make us all uncomfortable.

This drunkenness is contrasted with the exhortation to be filled with the Spirit.

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Hear Your Name, Called by the Resurrected One

29871877_10160388152455171_1114473262367905170_oAs the 2017-18 Senior Student at Wycliffe College, I had the privilege of giving the sermon at the final Eucharist service of the school year. I thought I would share the message for those who weren’t able to make it 🙂

For those of you unfamiliar with Wycliffe, preaching in Founders’ Chapel is a significantly different experience and different community than where and to whom I normally preach. Each Wednesday the community gathers for Eucharist–faculty, students, families, and friends–and usually a visiting bishop or guest speaker delivers the homily. No pressure… right?

Note: the italicized text in square brackets is added just for you online readers.]


Readings: Isaiah 25:6–9 | Psalm 118:1–2, 14–24 | Acts 10:34–43 | John 20:1–18

Prayer: For the Extension of the Church, Book of Common Prayer, p. 42

Almighty God, who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst give commandment to the Apostles that they should go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: Grant to us whom thou hast called into thy Church, a ready will to obey thy Word; and fill us with a hearty desire to make thy way known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[It’s important to note that this prayer is from the BCP, an OLD prayer book that Wycliffe uses on alternating months with the Book of Alternative Services (BAS), I like the prayer, but would not ordinarily use this kind of language]

Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed, Hallelujah!)

 [The “Hallelujah!” catches me off guard, as I’m used to simply “He is risen indeed!”  A certain faculty member was especially exuberant about the “Hallelujah!” so I laughed with joy, and also asked everyone to be aware that I will expect a couple of responses throughout the message.]

Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). [link to passage]

When Jesus calls her by her name, she immediately knows that it is her Lord.

The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and “calls them by name,” and his sheep “know his voice.”

In one word, spoken by the most significant person Mary Magdalene had ever known, her entire life changed. She became the first person, ever, to experience the personal presence of the Risen Lord.

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“Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise”

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The invitation to follow [Jesus] is, in the Gospels, immediately followed by a promise which is often misunderstood as a command or authorization — “I will make you fishers of [people].”

Evangelism is not a task given to the Church, but a promise. Jesus promises that as we follow him we will become fishers of men, women, and children. Our lives, reflecting the image of God, will attract and change others. To hold the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves is a supreme act of selfishness.

– The Most Revd Ng Moon Hing, Bishop of the Diocese of West Malaysia and Primate of the Church of the Province of South East Asia (Anglican)

 

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another man tell me how to live my life!”

Quote

A feminist friend once said to me, with passion and no small hint of exasperation, “If Jesus is just another wise teacher, I have no interest at all. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let another man tell me how to live my life! If he is not the Son of God, God’s Chosen One, the Messiah, then forget about it!

– Good News in Exile: Three Pastors Offer a Hopeful Vision for the Church, p. 9–10

 

Why Keep a Sabbath?

Quote

The Deuteronomy reason for Sabbath-keeping is that our ancestors in Egypt went four hundred years without a vacation (Deut. 5:15). Never a day off. The consequence: they were no longer considered persons but slaves. Hands. Work units. Not persons created in the image of God but equipment for making bricks and building pyramids. Humanity was defaced.

Lest any of us do that to our neighbour or husband or wife or child or employee, we are commanded to keep a sabbath. The moment we begin to see others in terms of what they can do rather and who they are, we mutilate humanity and violate community. It is no use claiming “I don’t need to rest this week and therefore will not keep a sabbath” — our lives are so interconnected that we inevitably involve others in our work whether we intend it or not. Sabbath-keeping is elemental kindness. Sabbath-keeping is commanded to preserve the image of God in our neighbours so that we see them as they are, not as we need them or want them.

From Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson

The Explanation of the Parable of the Sower; Short Sermon

It’s a good thing to learn how to preach short sermons.

At Wycliffe College, every third year student has to preach at least two 5-minute sermons at morning or evening prayer. This past month I was assigned to preach for 5 minutes on Matthew 13:18–23. The sermon would have benefitted from sticking with one main image/question from the outset that clearly and obviously related to the main point. I think I made the five minutes enjoyable, but that’s not the point of a sermon.

So, if you read this, please comment and summarize what you think the main message was in a sentence or two. After that, feel free to ask or comment anything 🙂


Read: Matthew 13:18–23

Prayer: Jesus, may our eyes be blessed and see and our ears be blessed and hear.

I love parables.

In my first tutorial for New Testament, here at Wycliffe, with Terry Donaldson, we were asked to introduce ourselves and to share what our favourite gospel was, and why. I said, “Luke,” because I like all the parables.

But why? What’s up with my fascination of parables?

I imagine that it is, in part, a holdover from my childhood. I can still picture myself in Sunday school, with my friends and teacher reading and teaching the parables of Jesus. The metaphors and similes from nature and common life, their vividness or strangeness drew my thoughts then as they do now.

A farmer went out to sow his seed…

What is the seed?

We read in Matthew: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom…”

We read in Mark: “A farmer sows the word.”

We read in Luke: “The seed is the word of God.”

Some falls on the path, some in shallow rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil.

Our text today explains the meaning:

Some people hear and don’t understand: and the evil one (devil, or Satan) takes the seed away. Some people hear, embrace it, and grow: but once hard times or persecution come their way, the plant withers. Some people hear, receive it, and grow: but they grow alongside the desire for the pleasures of this life, alongside the deceitfulness of wealth, and worries of this life. This plant bears no fruit and never matures. Some people hear, receive, and flourish: they understand, keep it, persevere, and produce a crop a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.

The first three explanations make a whole lot of sense from an agricultural standpoint.

Nothing is going to grow on a path. Shallow, rocky soil will only support short-term plant life. Thorns can choke out a plant.

But the last one is simply ridiculous.

No farmer is going to believe that any seed will produce 100 times what was sown, let alone 60 times or 30 times.

Not in ancient Palestine. And not in modern mechanised industrial farming with high-yielding varieties with increased nitrogen absorbing potential. It’s just not possible.

When I was younger, I failed to grasp that parables are both prophetic and apocalyptic. That they witness to the new age begun in Jesus. That they offer both redemption and judgement at the same time.

It almost feels silly to ask the question that the parable begs us to ask:

“What kind of soil are we?”

The Apostle Peter’s responses to Jesus often make it seem like he is on the path or in shallow rocky soil. So often is Peter ready to jump ON a lake for Jesus or declare him Lord. We too can be so eager to follow Jesus, but are we, like Peter, really sure what kind of Messiah Jesus is? Are we ready for the things to come—even what Jesus warns us of?  Are we sure we know the cost of discipleship?

Jesus has already said in Matthew 6 that you cannot serve both God and money. Jesus is insistent on this point. Here he is reiterating the fact that the Word cannot flourish among those who continue to care for and are shaped by the things of this world. It’s not an easy lesson for his disciples and it’s not an easy lesson for us.

When I was younger, when I was ignorant about judgement in parables, I assumed I was in the good soil. I lived a moral life, I read my bible, and went to church with decent, kind, and hard-working people. But this is not just a thought from my youth. This is an assumption all Christians have to keep in check.

The good soil produces 100, 60, or 30 times what was sown. We can thank the disciples for being good soil—without them, there would be no church.

Do we believe the ridiculous claim that seed can flourish 100, 60, or 30 times in good soil? Do we see this fruit in our lives? Or, do we scoff at the idea… do we think it’s just not possible. Can the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, actually work in our lives, in our relationships, in our churches, and in the world?

Maybe our church growth strategies simply have too much money—and so our imaginations are choked.

Maybe we’ve fallen into sentimentality, and crafted idols for ourselves.

Jesus, may we hear the message of your kingdom and receive your word and understand it.

May we be possessed by the joy of the kingdom, like the man who found a hidden treasure in a field or the merchant who found one pearl of great value, both sold everything they had.

Jesus, help us be good soil.

When dealing with creationists…

I wouldn’t begin with scientific arguments. I’d start with the biblical text and with Christian interpreters of the past.

Listen to the words of Origen (185–254):

Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first and the second and the third day, and the evening and the morning existed without the sun and moon and stars? And that the first day, if we may so call it, was even without a heaven? And who is so silly as to believe that god, after the manner of a farmer, “planted a paradise eastward in Eden,” and set in it a visible and palpable “tree of life,” of such a sort that anyone who tasted its fruit with his bodily teeth would gain life; and again that one could partake of “good and evil” by masticating the fruit from the tree of that name? And when God is said to “walk in the paradise in the cool of day” and Adam to hid himself behind a tree, I do not think anyone will doubt that these are figurative expressions which indicate certain mysteries through a semblance of history and not though actual event.

– Origen, On First Principles, ed. by G. W. Butterworth (New York, Harper and Row, 1966), p. 288

On Community and Camp Crossroads

I read the introduction for the Month of October in Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals this morning, and I had some reflections I thought I’d share.
(Scroll down if you wish to skip the excerpt)

Formation in the Way of Christ

For many of us, the judgmental, arrogant, legalistic Christianity we knew growing up has created a suspicion of discipline and order that can lead to a pretty sloppy spirituality.  Reacting against the institution’s sickness, we easily find ourselves with little to help us heal from our own wounds, create new disciplines, and carve out a space where goodness triumphs.  People who are afraid of spiritual discipline will not produce very good disciples.

Community is pretty hip these days.  The longing for community is in all of us.  We long to love and be loved.  But if community doesn’t exist for something beyond us, it will atrophy, suffocate, die.  Discipline and disciple share the same roots, and without discipline, we become little more than hippie communes or frat houses.  We easily fall short of God’s dream to form a new humanity with distinct practices that offer hope and good news to the world.  Like any culture, we who follow the way of Jesus have distinct ways of eating and partying, different from the culture of consumption, homogeneity, and hedonism.  Our homes, our living rooms, even our parties can become places of solace and hospitality for those with addictions and struggles.  But it doesn’t happen without intentionality.  Dorothy Day said, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good.”

Suggested Reading for the Month:

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Rule of St. Benedict

St. Francis of Assisi is a model for us not only of what it looks like to follow hard after Jesus but also how we can celebrate the disciplines that have been passed down to us and become the church that we long for, even among people who’ve given up on “church.”  Our communities should be places where people can detox, where that be from alcohol, tobacco, gluttony, shopping, or gossip.  We long for a space that tips us toward goodness rather than away from it, where we can pick up new habits – holy habits – as we are formed into a new creation, transformed by God.

It was the line, “We have to create an environment where it is easier to be good,” that reminded me of what I’ve heard from friends and their experiences at Christian camps.  Camp Crossroads is a place I’ve spent many summers attending as a camper and subsequent summers volunteering and working as staff.  In both situations, friends were aware that this was a good place, and that it was easy to be a good person (or Christian) at camp.

Camp Crossroads is to be commended for this.  The Christian community that it is, built by many people who have worked long and laborious hours over many years, alongside much prayer, has continued to flourish since its inception in the early 1980s.

Campers and staff have daily disciplines: meals together (with very delicious food), morning exercises, breakfast devotions (“Wheaties from the Word” though I think it’s called something else now), staff prayer, PQT (personal quiet time), morning chapel, “lets talk time” (group discussion on chapel), evening chapel, and every activity under the sun (and moon) filled with fun, laughter, and skills building together.

Teenage campers, particularly those from non-churched homes, can more clearly see a dichotomy between the “world of fun” at camp and outside camp.  Younger staff, myself included, have expressed that they feel this difference too.

Friends often lament that they will leave, afraid that their lives will fall back to patterns that they would rather not follow.  They recognize that there is a better way to live, that Jesus really is an important guy (i.e. God), that He really did show us a better way to live, and that another world is possible (i.e. the Kingdom of God).

The difficulty here is that camp is a short-term, intense, 1 week experience at camp.  Patterns, relationships, and disciplines are quickly formed by the community.  Leaving camp usually entails a descent from a “spiritual high”.

There are many reasons for this; two obvious ones: they cease following patterns (disciplines) that were making them into better disciples,s and they leave the community that helped them become better disciples.

Enter the local church.  Churches often have Sunday Services, Small Groups/Bible study meetings once weekly, Youth group meetings once a week.  Some churches are successful with creating a space for youths to enter into disciplines and patterns that help form them as people in the Christian community.

But for the Church overall (this would include Christian camps): people, Christian or not, recognize that their lives could be better and, indeed, that the world could be better.  Toward the end of the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, the dichotomy I mentioned earlier is made quite plain – though it sounds somewhat awkward for our ‘modern’ ears.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

(Ephesians 4:17-32 ESV)

When we participate in the body of Christ, joining communities that follow in the way of Jesus, offering hospitality, healing, and hope to the world, while participating in the disciplines, practices, and hard work that holy habits take, we open ourselves to be formed into new creations.  We also open our lives to taste the Kingdom of God.

I want to encourage those who have experienced the goodness of the life that Christ offers and have left Christian communities to find them again, to again form holy habits and disciplines.  I want to encourage churches and places like Camp Crossroads to continue to do the work they do.  That they may work harder and harder to do their best to practice the disciplines that make their communities easy places to be good, offering hope and good news to the world, where they may be continually transformed by God, helping others be transformed by God.