3 Attitudes To Cultivate Meaningful Worship In Your Community

Ask ten people in your parish, “What is worship?”, and you’ll receive ten different answers. Though their answers may have some commonalities, for many (if not most) worship is a very subjective experience, both for individuals and communities. Our scriptures also stress the importance of regular communal worship as an essential part of Christian life. But, what happens if what I consider meaningful in worship is the exact opposite for you? How then do we cultivate meaningful and engaging worship experiences in community?

I’ve had the privilege of serving in leadership in numerous denominations, from charismatic evangelical to high Anglican. And, over time, I’ve noticed a trend. When we enter into conversations about worship, more often than not, our expression is what defines our intention. In other words, we’ve decided our What before we’ve explored our Why. Why are we singing that hymn or saying this prayer? Why are we using a hymnal instead of a screen? Why do we have certain people leading and others listening? Why do we stand and sit when we do? All of these Why questions are vital to cultivating authentic, accessible and relevant worship experiences in our churches. These are also timely questions. We need to be exploring our Why as we respond to changing local and national church contexts.

These questions are part of a larger intergenerational and interdenominational conversation. They are essential to the survival of every worshipping community; from high church to low church, and from fresh expressions to heritage expressions. The days of doing things because “we’ve always done them that way” are done. Our young adults, youth and children can sense inauthenticity and apathy from miles away. They are asking for a church that is a living, breathing, dynamic force that fearlessly proclaims the hope of Christ to all. I wholeheartedly believe that the Anglican Church has incredible potential to answer this call.

This is an awesome opportunity we find ourselves in the midst of. So where do we begin? Whether you’re a young person, lay leader, or clergy member who ponders these questions, my challenge to you is to allow these three attitudes to radically influence the way you do church.

Attitude of Authenticity
Authenticity is a state of heart, not a style of worship. Who are the people in your community? What are they passionate about? What inspires them in worship? What inhibits them from worshipping? Communities that know and understand their common identity are a force to be reckoned with. They understand who they are and why they exist. They are not static, but a dynamic collective that allows each new voice to energize and influence the larger whole.

Attitude of Accessibility
Accessibility is about asking questions like: How approachable is your community? Is it like a family dinner, where no person goes unnoticed? Or is it like a subway car, where everyone does their own thing and interact only when absolutely necessary? Can an outsider, or non-believer, enter and understand what’s going on or do they need a manual? Accessibility isn’t just about creating a place where all feel welcome. It’s about levelling the playing field so all are valued, regardless of seniority.

Attitude of Relevancy
Relevant communities grow because they meet people where they are at. Is your worship influencing and affecting how those in your community live? Relevancy is not about chasing trends, but prioritizing people over ideas. Our worship shouldn’t be a cultural commute, rather, a sacred extension of one’s being.

My prayer is, that in adopting these attitudes, we would rediscover our calling to be ambassadors of Christ. May we be bold in our pursuit of understanding this identity. May we inconvenience ourselves for the sake of those whom we minister to. May we be fearless in our attempts to reconcile our faith with the world around us. And as we step up and step out in faith, may God reveal to us infinitely more than we could ask or imagine.


This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of Anglican Montreal.

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When God Speaks, Life Happens

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In the stories of Jesus we read in the Bible, there are only three instances where Jesus raises someone from the dead. In Mark, and Luke (Luke 8:40-53, Mark 5:21-42) we read the story of a guy named Jairus, who’s daughter has died. And everyone has gathered in their house to mourn when Jesus says, “Guys, she just sleeping, — she’s not dead.” To which they response, “sure Jesus” But, at the moment Jesus words are spoken, the girl awakens and begins speaking and everyone is blown away.

The second story of resurrection is probably the most familiar to us. It’s the story of Lazarus in John’s gospel (John 11:1-43) I find this one particularly cool, in a sort of morbid way because there is no doubt lazarus is dead. Like 4 days ago dead. At one point his sister even says to Jesus, (this is from the King James version) “But Lord, he stinketh” But, that doesn’t phase Jesus as he shouts, “Lazarus come out!” and Lazarus emerges.

And our final story is the one we read in Luke 7:11-17. Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd are walking toward a tiny village called Nain, where they are confronted with another large crowd. It’s a funeral procession. A young man has died, and his mother, who is also a widow are walking with the community mourning. But, this mother is not just mourning her son. You see, to be a woman with no husband and no son in that time would put you on the bottom of the social ladder. This woman is indeed in the midst of incredible loss. And as Jesus sees this and is overcome with compassion and shouts, “Don’t cry!” And He walks over to the coffin, touches it and speaks, “Young man, I tell you, get up.” and the boy sits up and begins talking.

In each of these stories Jesus speaks to the person who is dead, or asleep. And where there was death, life emerges. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. But, when Jesus speaks, life happens. This is the heart of what we’ve been reading as we work our way through the book of Luke. We read last week, Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, who wasn’t even in the same place as Him. This is crazy stuff. And despite my reservations, your doubts and anyone’s criticism of how or why these things happened, I think there is a much deeper message here. And that is a message of life. Not the life that was, or the life that will be, but the life that is. The life that awaken’s as God calls to us.

Now there isn’t a ton of information about this young boy in Nain and the circumstances surrounding his death or his new life. But, in my reading this week I found this story by J.P. Jewell, where he imagines and expands what this boy’s life might have been like post-resurrection and it goes like this…

Nathan, the widow’s son, opened his eyes slowly; his mother and her friends were weeping and praising God. The man from Galilee called Jesus was standing there, but the sun shone brightly and Nathan could only see the form of the man who held him by the hand and spoke as though from the depths of his heart to Nathan’s own. “The life you will live from this day forward is the life I give that flows from a deep spring of living water within you. It is the life the Father has given to all; but life that has been quenched by the cares and trials of this world. Your name is truly Nathan for you have been given twice to your mother and now you are given to your neighbours to show in your now and forever life the wonderful things God has done for you. The spring within you can only continue to release its waters as you share it with others. In this you will follow me forever.”

Great amazement and rejoicing fell upon the crowd that had gathered for Nathan’s burial. “Truly God has visited our people,” they exclaimed. Nathan’s mother embraced him, sobbing; yet with a heart filled with joy and wonder. The fever and shaking that had killed him was gone. Or had he simply been sleeping the deep slumber that sometimes comes before death. “What can these things mean,” she wondered to herself. The people of Nain went throughout the surrounding country to tell the story of the prophet from Nazareth who had come to their village with the gift of life.

Nathan’s mother, his neighbours and people from many towns came to see him and to ask him, “What did the man Jesus do? Were you truly dead? What can you tell us of life and death and of the heavens? Are you alive to never die again? Surely you can tell us of these things and tell us how to receive eternal life?”

One evening, after a long day of speaking with the crowds and not knowing what he must do, he took his mother by the hand and said, “Mother, I must go from this place and be alone where I can seek from God what it is that I must do. I know that I must live this life that the man Jesus has called forth from within me. Whether I was dead I do not know. I know that I live now in a way I have never lived. I am free from the worries and cares that held me in bondage.”

In the solitude of Mt. Tabor, Nathan fasted, prayed and asked of God his purpose in living. “Oh my God, I know not what you would have me do. I know that I have only begun to live the life you mean for us to live. In my former days, I lived with fear and anxious worries. Now I see that each moment is a precious gift that flows from you and flows within us. Would that my friends and neighbours, indeed even the Romans under whose boots we live – if even these could know the peace and joy that living can be.”

A voice emerged from deep within Nathan’s spirit. It was a voice like that of the Galilean who had called life from within his soul. A voice he could not hear, yet it spoke, a voice like the voice of a man, yet with the sound of rushing water. “Nathan – you have been given – given life anew, life from above. It is the life God had given to you, but now free from the burdens and afflictions you and your neighbours take upon yourselves willingly. The anxiety, anger and fears no longer hold you. Share this life with others. With your words and in the way you live this new life, point to the life that is eternal now and for always. As you live from day to day with the love, joy and acceptance that now flows within you, you will live the life God has had in mind for you since the day you first leapt in your mother’s womb!”

New life is something that has been freely given to everyone through Jesus. Ephesians 2 says,

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

You see, I believe that one of the most radical messages in the Bible is that God has, is, and will awaken new life. When God speaks, new life happens. We see it everywhere in our scriptures. We read it in the creation poems of Genesis. God speaks into the void and life emerges. We see it as the Israelites are set free from the Egyptians. And we see it in almost every story we read about Jesus. Over and over again, God speaks and new life happens.

And the cool thing is that the new life that God’s speaks doesn’t just belong to me and it doesn’t just belong to you, it belongs to all of creation. It’s designed to be shared. And in each of the stories of resurrection we read of in the gospels, every writer includes how others, how the bystanders were affected. Our reading from Luke says:

“Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.” (Luke 7:16-17)

Can you imagine the excitement? Can you imagine the stories people told and the lives that were changed because of what happened in this tiny village of Nain?

The new life that God gives, is meant to be shared. Maybe God has restored or resurrected you in some way physically. Maybe God has called out a new spiritual life from within you — You may even call yourself born again. Or maybe God has renewed a relationship that you had given up on. It could be anything. But, it is meant to be shared. As the expanded story we read concludes:

“Share this life with others. With your words and in the way you live this new life, point to the life eternal now and for always. As you live from day to day with the love, joy, and acceptance that now flows within you, you will live the life God has had in mind for you since the day you first leapt in your mother’s womb!”

I can’t tell you the amount of times, someone has shared an experience of God they’ve had with me. And more often than not, their experience changes the way I understand myself, the way I understand others, and the way I understand God. There is tremendous power in testimony. No matter how great or insignificant you may think it is. The new life God has given, at its very core, is designed to be shared. These are the kind of stories we read of in the Bible, ordinary and everyday people encountering the extraordinary in their midst. I want to encourage you to be bold to share your stories and experiences of God with people as often as possible.


Luke 7:11-17, John 11:1-43, Luke 8:40-53, Mark 5:21-42, Ephesians 2:4-5
“Jesus Raises The Widow’s Son” – JP Jewell

Stewarding Worship: Authenticity, Accessibility & Relevancy

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Worship. We toss this term around so often in our churches. Ask ten people in your parish, “What is worship?” and you’ll receive ten different answers. Though their answers may have some commonalities, worship is a very subjective experience, even in the midst of community. So how then do we approach cultivating meaningful worship with its many definitions, in communities that serve so many? Here are three things to consider:

I. Authenticity & Common Voice
Who is your community? What is worship in your community? What inspires worship in your community? What inhibits worship in your community? Communities that know and own their common identity are a force to be reckoned with. They are not static, but a dynamic collective that allows each new voice it welcomes in to energize and influence the larger whole.

II. Accessibility
Accessibility simply means: easy to approach, reach, enter, speak with, or use. How approachable is your community? Can an outsider or non-believer enter and understand what’s going on or do they need a manual? Accessibility isn’t just about creating a place where all feel welcome. It’s about levelling the playing field; so all feel valued, regardless of seniority.

III. Relevancy
Is our worship relevant to and influencing how those in our community live? Relevant communities grow because they meet people where they are at. Worship should not be a cultural commute, but an sacred extension of one’s being. Want to honestly know if your church service is relevant? Ask yourself and your community: “What did I (you) learn today, and how will it affect and influence who I am (you are) tomorrow?”

As we begin new seasons of ministry in our parishes, my encouragement to you would be to press onward and seek out a deeper, a more relevant, and a more accessible worship experience in your community. And in so doing, may you discover and rediscover the richness of God’s grace in worship.

 

Living in Communion; The Sweet Undergrowth

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“We are a family business and a growing institution. We are a network of relationships, some close, some distant, some acquaintance-like. We bleed and play, pray and breathe; nothing new. We are looking for the sweet undergrowth of awareness of God in ourselves, each other, and the world.” – Wendell Berry

That is a quote from novelist, poet, activist, and cultural critic, Wendell Berry on the nature of life in Christian community. And what I love about this statement is how blunt and poignant it is. This is what a healthy mission statement of a Christian community looks like. But, how do we find that “sweet undergrowth of awareness of God in ourselves, each other and the world?”

I’m going to talk this morning about the search for such a thing. These are collection of practices in being a healthy community.

1) We look for a calling and establish identity
No community has ever been successful without knowing why they are there and where they are going. The famous quote: “Know Thyself” comes to mind. I think about God giving the Israelites their history after being delivered out of Egypt; which is now the first five books of our Bible. Because in order to move forward, they needed to know where they came from. I think about our gospel reading last week, where Jesus is given his identity and his purpose as Son. We as a community, our identity is this, we put it on everything, because it’s who we are. We are a spirit-led. christ-centred. contemporary urban church. This is our ethos and we seek to embody it in everything we do. Which leads into our next point…

2) We live into our calling and identity, acknowledging that it is a dynamic and ever changing force, shaped by those who take it on.
This a hard one. This is where words become action; and where identity becomes  lifestyle. This is also a hard one because we have to rely on others; on each other. What does it mean to be a Spirit-Led, Christ-Centred, Contemporary Urban Church? Ask 10 people here today and you’ll probably get 10 different answers. Which is awesome

But, the part I want to highlight is the second part: We acknowledge that our identity and calling is a dynamic and ever changing force, shaped by those who take it on. That’s why we get 10 different answers about what our identity means, because each and every person in this room has the potential to profoundly impact this community.

The Apostle Paul writes something really important about this, and we read it this morning. And we know it’s important because he begins with “I do not want you to misunderstand this.” Paul says,

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice, to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophecy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from God, or somewhere else. Still another person is given the ability to speak in tongues, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts; who alone decides which gift each person should have.” – 1Corinthians. 12:1-11

This is really, really important. When we welcome people into our community and invite them to take on our identity, we take a huge risk. It’s as if we were handing them a glass ball, filled with all of our hopes and dreams of what this community is to us and what we hope it will be for others; and we hope they don’t drop it. We want so dearly for them to like what we like. But, when you take a risk on somebody and invite them to be your peer, you’ll discover that they offer an incredible gift; a gift that has the potential to profoundly impact our community. And I’m not just talking about the ones that can sing, or read, or pray publicly. I’m talking about them and the ones that show up early to put coffee on, who stay late to clean up, the ones who cook a meal for 20+ people every week at our evening service, the ones who help count offering, the ones that serve on parish council or corporation. I could keep going, but I think you get it. At one time all these people, all you people were new. And it was in taking a risk on you, we discovered, you were exactly who we needed around here. Not because you like what we like. But, because you are a valuable part of a diverse network of relationships, experiences, hopes and dreams. You make us who we are

3) We care for each other
We are one body. And when every part is doing well we rejoice together. And when one part is not doing so great, we stop, we listen, we support, we care. This all requires vulnerability. It’s one of the key habits of those living in community. We can’t fake it and we’ve got to be real with each other. That’s not to say everyone needs to know everything about everyone. But in this community, if you don’t have a person or a few people you can just be real with, whether in a connect group or just a friend, I’d encourage you to keep seeking that out.

This is how healthy community happens. We know who we are, we live out who we are, and we care for each other. If you’re new to this community, I’m so happy you’re here, because you have the ability to make a profound impact on this place. And if you’ve been waiting for an invitation, here it is. We need you.
You know something happened this week in our wider community that’s been weighing heavy on my heart and many of yours. And that is the decision of the Anglican Communion, the global body of Archbishops and Primates, to impose a 3-year probation on the Episcopal Church in the US for allowing the marriage of same-sex couples in their churches. This has upset and saddened a massive amount of people around the world, and for good reason. But, in light of what a healthy community looks like, what I have a hard time understanding is how a community or communion that believes in the dynamic expression of faith, manifested through many internationally diverse communities, can cut off one of it’s own limbs because it cannot bare itself to understand why that part of the body does what it does. It scares me, because this is not what community is. Community not only embraces diversity, it celebrates it. And to quote, Executive Archdeacon David Selzer:

“One would think, or at least hope that communion in the midst of difference should be a reality that we could not only aspire to, but achieve.” – David Selzer, Executive Arch Deacon, Diocese of Ottawa

These essential parts of a healthy community we’ve been talking about this morning, don’t just apply to us, or to other small “c” churches. They apply to the whole network of churches that not only call themselves Anglican, or Baptist, or Pentecostal, or any other denomination. These are vital components of the global church. All Christians sharing in communion in the midst of diversity. In a statement following the sanctioning of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry said:

“Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.”

This is who we are. This is what we do. And we will continue taking care of each other. Loving as Christ loved. We will carry on.

Hidden Treasures & Precious Pearls

Untitled Two parables in two sentences; probably some of Jesus’ most efficient descriptions of the Kingdom of Heaven. And initially they appear to be incredibly basic and self-explanatory. The lesson being, when you find something of incredible value, you cannot help but sell everything to possess it because it’s that valuable. And what I love about this message is how pointed it is. It makes me want to become a treasure hunter, searching for something that will captivate me so much that I am compelled to sacrifice everything in order to have it. It’s a nice thought. But, what I’m curious about is this pearl. What is it? Why is it so valuable? And how do I get it?

Perhaps the most obvious answer would be that the pearl is God or Jesus. Which is a really pretty image. It’s this perfect image of God being worth it all, worth giving everything up for, worth it. This image drives much of our contemporary Christian culture. We become rich when we accept Jesus’ invitation to follow him. But, if we know anything about Jesus, what he says is usually clearer than what he means:

So let’s put the message into a story. This one comes from a writer name Peter Rollins and was inspired by a reflection of philosopher Soren Kierkergaurd on these parables.

A crowd had gathered by the shores of Galilee to catch a glimpse of Jesus and to hear him speak. People from all walks of life had turned up, from the powerful to the powerless, the rich to the poor, the healthy to the sick. Jesus looked upon them with compassion and began to speak of God’s Kingdom. Then from among the assemble people a man dressed in fine clothes shouted out, “Tell us Lord, to what would you compare the Kingdom of God?”

Jesus paused for a moment before looking out towards the sea. “Let me tell you a story,” He replied. “There was once a rich merchant who spent his days searching for fine pearls. Then one fay he found a pearl of such beauty that he immediately went away and sold everything that he possessed so that he would have enough to purchase it. This pearl is like the Kingdom.”

The crowd looked satisfied with this definition of the Kingdom, especially the rich young man who had asked the question, for it addressed itself to the desire that lay deep in his heart.

“The kingdom must really be valuable, he thought to himself, if a wealthy merchant would sell everything that he had in order to possess it.”

While all this was going on, however, there was a young woman who stood at a distance from the crowd listening intently to what Jesus had said, all the time with a smile on her face.

Jesus turned from the crowd and walk toward this unknown spectator. Then he spoke to the woman, saying, “Others listen to what I say, yet fail to hear, for the noise of their heart’s desire drowns out my meaning. They forever listen but never understand.”

“You, however, have listened and understood.”

“All I know,” said the young woman, “is that if this kingdom you speak of is like that priceless pearl, then the sacrifice needed in order to grasp it will not make on rich but rather will reduce the one who has sacrificed to absolute poverty. For you are saying that one must give up everything for the pearl, yet the pearl is itself worth nothing unless you find someone to buy it. And if you do find someone then you will no longer have the pearl. So although you may appear to be the richest person alive while you have the pearl, in reality you will have nothing to on until you give it up.”

“Yes,” Jesus replied.

“What use then is this pearl?” replied the woman.

“Well,” replied Jesus, “the pearl has no value if all you seek is it’s value. But, if you renounce the value of the pearl and give up everything simply because you are captivated by its beauty, then, and only then, will you discover its true value.”

Maybe, as the author of this story suggests, the pearl isn’t the point, we are.

It’s so easy to be captivated by the perceived value of something because once we are in possession of __________ we will be happy, because having ___________ also means having the status __________ brings. This is all over our culture. When I was in school it was those shirts and sweaters with the smiley face that was on fire. If you had one of those shirts, you were part of a special club; the cool kids. I remember begging my mom to get me something with the flaming smiley face on it. Needless to say, that never happen. Because I think she knew that this week it would be flaming smiley faces, and next week it would be something else. Yet, I was and still am caught up in this idea that if I wear this brand or this style people will see me this way. If I live in this place, people will think this about me. If I say this or do this, people will believe this about me.

If we know anything about Jesus, what he says is usually clearer than what he means. His message flips this ideology upside-down. Because in Christ’s Kingdom, in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who are meek are the ones that are blessed, the ones who are last are the ones that come first, and those that have nothing are actually the ones that have everything.

When I think about stories of saints, I think of people who have entered into the upside down world of the Kingdom of Heaven and brought it to earth. Try to find a saint’s biography that doesn’t challenge the social and cultural norms of the time. Think about a friend or family member who you regard as an incredible example of a human being. We all know them. These are the people who not only enter the upside down world Jesus’ speaks of (conscious of it or not), they bring it into our world. That is why we look up to them. They inspire us.

But, back to the pearl. This is a question I really wrestle with. I see the pearl. I know it’s there. I probably even hold it on occasion. From time to time I may have even experienced it’s worth in a way that I would call tangible. But, here’s the thing: have I actually given up everything for it? Have I actually sacrificed anything to have it? Because that seems to be what Jesus is getting at. And if I was perfectly honest, I don’t know if I’m able to do that.

And if that is the case, am I like the rich young ruler? Captivated by Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven, but not able give up everything for it. I think much of church culture points this: We become rich when we accept Jesus. We become part of the elect. But, there’s a lot of weight in the word “rich” because if we know anything about Jesus, we know he isn’t talking about “rich” as we know it.

I see Jesus’ parables as an invitation to try on a new pair of glasses. Jesus says, “This what you see. But, here’s what I see.” We’re looking at the same thing in two different ways. What if living in this upside down world were as simple as putting on a new pair of glasses? A pair of glasses with a strong and sobering prescription. What if living the Kingdom of Heaven was to acknowledge what has always been there. The last were always first. The poor were always rich. Not by our world’s definition, but by the definition of the One who created the world.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in their joy they go and sells all that they have and buy that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, they went and sold all that they had and bought it.”
– Matthew 13:44-46

May we continue to seek the pearl. Not for what it will bring us or makes us, but for what it is: a world upside down inviting us in.


Scripture Referenced: Matthew 13:44-46, Matthew 10:17-27, Matthew 20:16

“The Pearl of Great Price” from The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins
http://peterrollins.net/2013/08/the-orthodox-heretic-2/

Vulnerability, Trust & Other Insights From The Thanksgiving Dinner Table

You know Thanksgiving is probably one of the easiest things to preach on. It’s is an integral part of our human experience. From a young age children are reminded to say please and thank you when asking for or receiving something. And when a child asks for something and it is not given to them, they are reminded to be thankful for what they have, after a good cry and some slamming of doors. Thankfulness is an occurrence everyone is familiar with, whether we are conscious of it or not.

It may be that today you are thankful to have been fortunate enough to eat breakfast, in a country, in a city, in a neighbourhood, in a building, where many were not so fortunate. Perhaps you’re thankful because tonight you know you have somewhere to call home, even if it’s just for tonight. It may be that your thankful for family today, because the holidays have brought them to you or you to them. It may be that your thankful today because you literally had the energy to get out of bed, when so many days don’t make that possible.

You may have heard it before, but studies show that acknowledging what we are thankful for can increase physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Its pretty remarkable. But at the very mention of Thanksgiving, this picture pops into my head of the stereotypical family gathered around their stereotypical dinner table to enjoy their stereotypical Thanksgiving dinner. But, before they eat, each person present at the table must say one thing they’re thankful for. As if thankfulness was a sort of gatekeeper. It’s a weird image when you think about it; giving thanks before a meal.

“God bless this food to our bodies and thank you for the hands that prepared it. Thank you for all the blessings you give to us. Amen” Then we eat…

Why give thanks before the meal? Wouldn’t giving thanks afterwards give a more accurate picture of what we are thankful for. What if the food was bad or made us sick? Should we be thankful for it? Should we be thankful for the hands that prepared it? It’s a weird thing, giving thanks before you know the outcome of something and it has some interesting implications.

You know when I pray. I tend to thank God for things that have already happened because then I can know 100% if I’m actually thankful for them happening or not. And if I’m not thankful I don’t say so. It seems pretty logical. Give thanks for what you’re thankful for. Don’t give thanks for what you’re not. But, I’m curious what would happen if we borrowed the formula of giving thanks before a meal and applied it to the rest of our lives? Would it change anything?

And please don’t interpret this as me saying that giving thanks for things that have already happened is a bad thing. That’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that perhaps it’s only one facet of our thanksgiving.

When we give thanks after the occurrence of something, it affirms our trust in God. Because looking back on our experiences often reminds us that God was with us, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. We give thanks for what was there.

But what if there isn’t anything there? What about giving thanks for what we can’t see or don’t know? The worry is, what if it isn’t good and I’m not actually thankful for it? Why set myself up for failure by pre-emptively giving thanks. It’s a vulnerable action in which we place our trust in what we don’t yet know, or what we may never know.

And sure this may be a pretty deep exploration into something as simple as saying grace before a meal. But, I’m curious what would happen if we borrowed this idea of pre-emptively giving thanks and applied it to the rest of our lives?

Thanksgiving, though it may not seem like it, is a relational action. It requires another. And I think this is what Jesus is getting at in passage of scripture that we read this morning. Throughout His sermon on the mount Jesus confronts His audience with these proverbs that challenge the very way life is done. He unpacks the idea that poor are blessed and the meek will inherit the earth, not the rich and the prideful. He tells us about what judgement and fair consequence looks like. He teaches us how to relate to one another and more importantly how to relate to one another when we are in conflict. And there is a theme that is persistent throughout His entire sermon, relationship. Everything Jesus speaks about is relational; addressing our relationship with one another and/or with God. And then we get to this section about worry. What does worry have to do with relationship?

To give thanks for something before it happens requires vulnerability with another. It’s scary, because we can never be 100% sure of what that person is going to do with our vulnerability. It’s as if we’ve handed them a fragile glass ball that we have spend years and years pouring ourselves into, and we want so bad for them to see it’s value and hold it safely. But, until we take the risk of actually handing it over we have no idea whether or not they are going to drop it. And so we worry and we stress about it.

But, I don’t think Jesus’ message here is about worry as much as it is about trust. He says,

“The Father knows what you need (Matthew 6:32)”

But, the question is, are we ready to surrender what we think we need? And in so doing, begin to live with the Kingdom of Heaven in the forefront of our thoughts and all that we do. Because worry thrives in our apprehension. “What if God doesn’t know exactly what I need?” “What if God gives me something different than I expected?” All very legitimate worries. And so we wrestle in the tension.

It’s so much easier to try and balance the two. But, just one verse before our passage this morning Jesus confronts that saying,

“No-one can serve two masters, for you will end up loving one and despising the other (Matthew 6:24)”

I don’t think worry is a bad thing. It can be healthy in many respects. There are so many things worth worrying about. And I do not want to devalue those in any way. Because If I said “stop worrying, trust in God and you’ll live happily ever after” I’d be lying. But, at the same time, I cling to the hope that God loves me enough to not forsake the trust I’ve put in Him. This, for me is the mystery and the tension of faith.

So why not do it anyways. Hand our trust over to God, filled with all of the reluctance and all of the worry that maybe things aren’t going to turn out the way we envisioned them. Maybe it’s not going to be what we expected. But, it’s sure better than just sitting here trying to serve both ourselves and God. Because in doing so, in the midst of our vulnerability, God honours our action. Sometimes seeking God means us making the first move. Sometimes it means saying thank you, before we know what we are thankful for. Sometimes it means choosing surrender to God both our trust and our worry, with no idea how it’s going to turn out.


Scripture Passage Referenced: Matthew 6:25-33

Acknowledging Failure, Accepting Grace, & Saying Yes

fallen-fragility-russell-stylesI struggle so much with the story of David we read in 2Samuel 11:1-15. It hurts my heart to see a strong leader who was loved by God, do something so contrary to God’s work. It’s horrific, it’s immoral, and it’s unfair. And knowing this story of David, I can’t help but have a bad taste in my mouth when reading other stories of his life. In many ways, this is one of those stories we’d rather not talk about. So lets talk about it…

If we look back at David’s life, he seems to have always had God’s favour:

We first meet him as a young shepherd who is anointed by the prophet Samuel and told that he will one day be king of Israel. Then somehow David becomes the the Saul’s, the previous King’s, go to music guy, playing his harp and lyre whenever requested. That relationship allows David to then become King Saul’s armour bearer, and through what seems to be one of the stupid mistakes an armour bearer could make, David decides to fight the un-defeatable Philistines and the giant Goliath. And by some stroke of luck, or act of God, or both, he defeats them. Because of this, David is made commander over Israel’s armies and is wildly successful. King Saul becomes worried of David’s increasing popularity and tries to have him killed. But, through David’s relationship with Saul’s son Jonathan, no harm comes to him. David runs off to the wilderness for a while and Saul and Jonathan are eventually killed in another battle with the Philistines. And after mourning, David returns to Israel and is anointed King. David then wins a ton of battles, including one in Jerusalem, which allowed him to bring the ark of the covenant to where the holy temple would eventually be built by his son Solomon.

And that brings us to our story today. If there was anyone who was unmistakably blessed by God, it was David. It seemed for most of his life, stuff just happened for him. And sure he worked hard and lost many irreplaceable things. But, opportunities seemed to just fall in his lap. He was favoured by God.

And now we come to our story this morning. David is an incredibly successful king, loved by many, and feared by more. He seems to do everything right. He is on top of the world, with no one to answer to except for God.

But, then there’s this incident. This incident, where David catches a glimpse of a woman bathing in the courtyard below his window. And he has a choice: respectfully look away or see where this chance happening may lead… And we watch as the beloved King David descends deeper and deeper in to his temptations. He has sex with the innocent married woman he saw bathing. Which because of David’s authority, could not a have been anything except for non-consensual. He gets her pregnant, which would have been a pretty good time to face up to his mistake and ask for forgiveness. But, he has a reputation to protect. So he tries to cover things up. And when that doesn’t work and it seems like the woman’s husband may find out, David put him on the front lines of battle, where he is guaranteed to be killed.

This is one of the most messed up things I have ever read in the Bible. It sickens me. We call David the man after God’s own heart. But, how is this God’s heart? How can a man who is blessed by God and given leadership over God’s people commit such a disgusting act with little regard for anyone but himself?

You know, sometimes when things going well and we feel like we’re in control, we’ll make decisions that are blatantly wrong, and we find reasons to justify them. There’s this weird kind of illusion of invincibility that creeps into our subconscious when things are going well and we feel like we’re in control. To fall into this lie is to be reminded of the fragility of our humanity.

Many of us have made bad judgements and terrible choices. Whether they’re of greater or lesser sin than David’s is inconsequential and immeasurable. And sometimes it’s only in making these mistakes and poor judgments that we can be jolted back into reality. And as much as I hate this story of David, I need it. I cling to it because it reminds me that, if God can use someone as messed up as David to build His Kingdom. He can use me. If God can use someone as screwed up as David to build His Kingdom. He can use you.

The road isn’t easy and there are real consequences when we mess up. But, there is also forgiveness. And we’ll read more about the end of David’s story and his consequences and forgiveness next week. To quote one of my favourite authors, Scott Evans,

“The Bible is filled with stories of God using the unlikely, the unfit and the unworthy to build His Kingdom. He has a habit of calling failures and fools. This is wonderful news for me because I am a loser. And it is wonderful news for you too because … well … you know why.” – Scott Evans, Failing From The Front

It’s stories like this that remind me that God can use anyone. He could choose to use the leaders who seem to do everything right; the ones that seem to have it all together, which if we really paid attention, they don’t. Or God can us people like you and me. The unfit and the unworthy to build His kingdom.

This is what the Paul speaks about in our Epistle this morning. He recaps the entirety of his brutal past with God, Christianity, and Christians. And then he finishes by saying:

“I was the least important of all of God’s people, yet God treated me with kindness. His power worked in me, and it became my job to spread the good news.” Ephesians 3:8-9

It’s these stories of redemption that make God’s love infinitely more than we can ask for or imagine. And it is actions like what we will participate in today that bear witness to our past, and inspire us to face the future in courage. Because if God can use me. He can use anyone.

And we find this in baptism. As we will experience later in our service today,  there is something incredible on about a person making a public declaration in front of their community, committing to living out their life in the love of Christ. But, what I find more moving than this commitment is the acknowledgement that we are the most under deserving of grace; the least important of God’s people. Yet, we say yes!

And in love, as a community, as a family, we make a commitment to the candidate. Acknowledging their imperfection, but also their sincerity. We commit to uphold, to support, to encourage, and to challenge that person as they set out on their journey.

So how do we do it? As a community, in support and love for each other:

I. We Pray for strength.
Not physical strength or even mental strength. But we pray for a strengthening deep within. We pray for an inner power that steadies and strengthens every aspect of one’s life.

II. We Pray for Love
We pray for Christ to dwell in the hearts of those in our community as we become “rooted and grounded in love” Love is not a free-form emotion that waxes and wanes, comes and goes, ebbs and flows. Neither is it a feeling that we conjure up and tailor to our own disposition. Love is groundedness, a rootedness, resulting from the occupancy of Christ within our hearts.

III. We Pray for Fullness
We pray for even just the slightest understanding of the incomprehensible width, length, height, depth, and love that surpasses knowledge. We pray to be overwhelmed with the mystery and the wonder of the Holy Spirit.

These are what Paul reminds the Ephesians are the essentials in walking with Christ:

“I pray that God’s Spirit will make you become strong followers and that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith. Stand firm and be deeply rooted in his love. I pray that you and all of God’s people will understand what is called wide or long or high or deep. I want you to know all about Christ’s love, although it is too wonderful to be measured. Then your lives will be filled with all that God is. I pray that Christ Jesus and the church will forever bring praise to God. His power at work in us can do far more than we dare ask or imagine.” – Ephesians 3:14-21


Scripture passages referenced: 2Samuel 11:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21

Read more of “Failing From the Front” by Scott Evans — http://www.scottevans.ie/shop/failing-from-the-front

Thin Places, Interfaith Dialogue, & Other Stories from DYC

11224693_1678448082389622_3334365817394592313_nLast weekend I, along with several leaders and youth from St. Albans road tripped out to the Diocesan Youth Conference. It was a gathering of youth and leaders from around our Diocese; about 75 in total. And I want to share some stories from DYC with you.

The theme for our gathering was called ONE. We explored Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he expresses that in Christ we, though many, are one body and each member belongs to all others. It’s something we often lose sight of or even forget as we so deeply involve ourselves in the communities we reside in. Over the weekend we spent time getting to know each other, we played games, participated in different workshops, and worshiped together with the help of a few of my Pentecostal friends.

And what became immediately apparent to me as youth and leaders began to arrive for the weekend was that this notion of “Oneness” was something that we needed more of in our communities. “Oneness” is a core value of our faith, but is often an afterthought. As we become so preoccupied with our own (small C) community we often forget that we belong to a (big C) community called the Church.

At DYC we had teens who were all associated with an Anglican church in some way. But, even though we were “Anglicans” we all had different ideas about what that meant. On a broader level, we were all Christians, sort of. Or perhaps a better way to phrase would be to say that we were all faithful or faith curious. We all had some notion that there is something more than what we see. Though some may not call it God. We were all at DYC for a reason.

One of the coolest parts of the weekend was that we had multiple faiths represented in our leadership. A Muslim Imam, and a Jewish Rabbi along with our Anglican Chaplain all present for the entire weekend to dialogue, discuss, and just hang out. The pinnacle of this gathering of faith leaders took place in a session we called the “Faith Leader’s Hot Seat” This was an opportunity for youth to ask the faith leaders questions, respectfully uncensored. It was an evening of exploration, discovery, and enlightenment, all centred on this notion of “Oneness”

I think what we often forget about our youth, generation Z, is that they are deeply intrigued and awestruck by spiritual things. Though many would not profess to have a faith of any particular kind, they have questions and are very willing to seek out answers. It’s so easy to believe the lie that teenagers can’t or simply will not engage in spiritual things. It’s not true.

At DYC we sought to call out these questions and entertain this curiosity. Whether it was asking questions about other faiths and spirituality during our Faith Leader’s Hot Seat or participating in workshops ranging from slam poetry and photography, to sexuality and your faith community, the teens seized the opportunity. As I visited each workshop throughout the day, I was struck by who was in each workshop. Youth I never would have thought of as artistic were in the photography and slam poetry workshops. Youth who I would have bet money wouldn’t be caught dead in a workshop on sexuality or gender identity, especially being taught by the church, were there and they were engaged.

One of our teens put it this way, “You know, I often feel I’m treated like I don’t know much about anything in church. But, the workshops here treat me like an equal. They accepted what I already knew, but they also challenge me.” It’s so easy to believe the lie that teenagers can’t comprehend or simply won’t engage in spiritual things. But, I am telling you that it is not true.

On Saturday night, after a long day of workshops and playing hard we gathered for an extended time of worship. I had been asked to speak that evening and the band was going to lead some music. And as the band began to play and everyone began to rock out, jump around and sing, an atmosphere fell on the room. It was a little overwhelming, at least for me.

In Celtic Spirituality, there’s a saying for this atmosphere that I felt in the room. They call it a “thin place” These were places where the Celts described God’s presence as being more accessible than anywhere else. Where the line between Holy and Human seemed to meet. There didn’t have to be anything special about this place. It didn’t have to be a church or holy site, it could be in your home, it could be on the top of a mountain with a beautiful view, it could even be in the basement of an old building at a summer camp. God just seemed to show up.

In the Bible, there’s a story of a guy named Abraham. And Abraham was called blessed by God. But, that’s not to say that he didn’t struggle in his faith. Among other events, Abraham saw many of his family and friends killed. He witnessed God wipe out an entire city, and wrestled with how a loving God could do such a thing. God continually challenged Abraham. Yet, through it all He remained faithful. He continued to seek after God, even when it hurt.

It’s said that wherever Abraham encountered God, he built an altar to mark it as a place where God showed up, so that others would know it was a thin place; a place where Heaven seemed to be just a bit closer to earth.

That night in the basement of an old camp building as we gathered in worship. I would describe that as a thin place. Though many may not call it that, there was an atmosphere of worship in that room. Though many wouldn’t call it that, the air seemed to thicken as we sang songs of truth about God’s promises. Though many may not communicate it this way, Heaven seemed just a bit closer. There was a Spirit in the air. And as I began to speak to the group, I challenged them to not let the opportunity pass by, to respond to the guest who had entered the room, I saw things that moved me deeply. Youth began worshipping, not just singing, but worshiping, though many wouldn’t call it that. Youth began praying for each other. Leaders began praying for youth, and as the band continued to play, the Spirit continued to move. I saw teens who would probably still identify as Atheists embracing the opportunity to experience something deeply spiritual.

Now please set aside all your preconceived notions on what these sort of events look like. Because this experience will not live up to that. This worship and response was as much an internal movement as an outward expression. For some, worship was raising their hands and singing loudly. For others, it was sitting at the back of the room, quietly contemplating. Sometimes we place more value on the response we can see, rather than the one that is more subtle. Both are real, both are authentic, and both are meaningful.

And as the band began to wrap up and close the night, the air began to thin and as quickly as it came the space became as it was before. This is one of the few moments of my life where I have had the privilege to bear witness to the Holy Spirit.

One teen came up to me after the gathering. One of the teens who would probably still themselves and Atheist, and they said, “I have never had so much fun.” Now he could have been referring to the songs to which the entire room became a giant mosh pit. But, I detected an earnesty in their voice. A tone I hadn’t often heard from them. I think there was more behind his statement than just “fun”. Though communicating it may have been difficult. Something happened, I don’t know what. But, it was good and I want more. Something happens when we gather together as a body.

This Spirit is a gift. It was the gift that descended upon the disciples at Pentecost. It is the gift that echoes from these walls each time we gather here. It’s the gift that will continue to encourage, challenge, and sustain us until Heaven and Earth become one.

These thin places, as the Celts called them, are places where the Holy Spirit dwells; where God’s Kingdom comes and His will is done as it is in Heaven. It is these places that we strive to create each and every time we gather to worship. We want to engage and connect with Holy things. Though many wouldn’t say it this way. We seek that which we cannot find elsewhere.

A thin place is as much an internal movement as an external experience. As we read in James: “Drawn near to God, and He will draw near to you” This moving of our hearts, this opening of ourselves, are the conditions in which thin places manifest themselves. This why we experience spiritual and holy things, though many wouldn’t call them that, in places other than Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, and Church.

We see this as the disciples gathered for Pentecost. They find themselves in a room, ready and open to what’s about to happen. There is a knock at the door, and a guest wishes to enter.

My encouragement to you is to become a creator of thin places, and in so doing become a thin place yourself. A place where Heaven seems to be just a bit closer to earth. A place where the line between Holy and human becomes blurred.

Direction, Road Maps, & Leaps of Faith (Song Story – Dusty Road)

a1623804323_16We live in the wake of Easter, we are a people who live in the aftermath of life changing events; Jesus’ death and resurrection. We’ve come through the seasons of Advent, waiting in anticipation for the coming of Christ. We’ve celebrated the birth of Christ and the beginning of His ministry on Earth. We’ve followed Jesus into and out of the dessert during Lent, we’ve witness (metaphorically of course) Jesus’ moments of profound teaching and miraculous healing, and we’ve been inspired to live as He did. We’ve journeyed the passion; Jesus final actions and brutal death upon a cross. And we stand in the aftermath of the resurrection. It’s been a long journey. But, now what? What do we do now? We weren’t prepared for this… well we were, but we thought it would be different.

In the wake of the cross, what authority do we follow? For the disciples, Jesus was the leader and it seemed like if they followed Him, they’d be OK. He’d answer the tough questions, sort of. He’d tell them the best way to do things. He’d call them out on the water, even when everything inside of them was screaming “No You’ll Sink!” But, now we are all on our own. Jesus is gone. What do we do now?

I’ve wrestled with the question for a long time, and still continue to wrestle with it. Is what I’m doing what Jesus envisioned His disciples looking like thousands of years after His resurrection? How do people, with a history like ours continue to live as Christ lived, here and now? What does it mean to be lead by the Holy Spirit? How does it work?

In the Fall semester of my 4th year of university I sat in a bit of a conundrum. I was a fairly ignorant 21 year old, who had reluctantly gone to university in pursuit of some sort of musical break and discovered a new kind of Christianity, one that I had no idea even existed. It was a religion where I could safely confess disbelief in God and receive outstanding support and encouragement. It was a place that would enter into the tough questions about God and life that everyone else seemed to be so afraid of. It was a community that pushed me into a deeper relationship with God than I had ever experienced. Yet, here I was in my 4th year, with no idea what I was going to do and certainly didn’t feel like I had any direction from God.

I remember a conversation with my philosophy professor, who also happened to be the pastor at the church I was attending, whom I confessed this to. He said, God really doesn’t care what you do, as long as you do it. – It was a new concept for me. If I am open to it, God will use me in whatever I’m doing. Which makes sense right? But, then the question arises, how does that actually work? Sure it’s a cute little quote that I can feel good about. But, how does that actually help me here and now?

It was during this time in my 4th year of university where I began regularly praying. Like more than at meals and when I really wanted something. I began praying that God would tell me what to do and where to go. That He would just show me His plan so I could follow it to the letter.

Part of these times of prayer I entered into were written. And one morning I wrote these words in my notebook

“I’ve plotted my roots against the wind expecting a sign of reckoning. I’m wading like a fish swimming against the current, hoping for a line to pull me out…”

It was how I was feeling. How I often felt, and how I still feel some days. I felt like no matter what I did, God wasn’t giving me a chance. I’d say, “God just tell me what to do and I’ll do it!” And it didn’t even feel like someone was listening.

A few weeks later I our pastor, was preaching on when Jesus approached some fisherman, who were cleaning their nets. He said “Hey, come follow me” and without hesitation they dropped their stuff and went off and followed Jesus. Now they may have known a bit about Jesus. But, not enough to make any kind of informed decision or radical lifestyle change. Yet they felt something inside them say, “Go”

Later on in Matthew Jesus says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Jesus doesn’t say: “Take up your cross and follow me to this place for a couple days, then we’ll head over here, and we’ll end up over there” There’s no itinerary. And I think this is where faith comes into play.

“Take up your cross and go. Even if you don’t know where you’re going”

I think this is Jesus’ message for us as individuals, but also as a body of Christ. Just do it. Live the life that Jesus did. Yes there are some details that the Bible doesn’t cover. It’s not all laid out in black and white, there is no road map. But, go and do it; and invite God into it.

To finish up my story, I began seeking out internship opportunities in churches around the country. And I was on Twitter one day and saw my friend Dan had retweeted something about a church in Ottawa. A church that was doing something similar to the community I was in. And Selina, who was my girlfriend at the time, said something to the effect of, “might as well send them your resume too” and I did. And through a long series of events that I would call spirit-led, I am now here. And

Through that entire experience I’ve come to understand what my professor meant Seek God first in whatever you’re doing. Invite God in to whatever you’re doing. Lay your burdens down and pick up His cross, and walk down that dusty road to who knows where.

The words in my notebook eventually turned into a song:

We’ve plotted our roots against the winds
Expected signs of reckoning

Wading like fish through currents strong
Hoping for a line to pull us out

Take your cross and go down dusty roads
From what you’ve known
And notice in the streets, His face you’ll see
Go with Him in peace

Searching the sand for gold
Machining an excuse for lonely souls

Troubled by cold we shut our doors
And kept warm huddled close to brave the storm

Take your cross and go down dusty roads
From what you’ve known
And notice in the streets, His face you’ll see
Go with Him in peace

They Are The Weakest Of The Weak

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This is my third year participating in a Maundy Thursday service. Before my first year at St. Albans, I thought that Easter was all about the death and resurrection of Christ; Good Friday and Easter Sunday respectively. For most, this is our understanding of the Easter season. Yet, it’s not the whole story. There’s something that happens before. “A commandment” – The most literal translation of Maundy, when traced back to it’s Latin roots. Before the events we know as Easter can happen, Jesus gathers His disciples, breaks bread and leaves them with a command, “Love as I have loved.”

There are two distinct actions that occur on this night, the first is Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, demonstrating the full extent of His love and challenging the them to continue spreading that love after He is gone. Though, they wouldn’t understand that yet. They ask “Lord, what are you doing? Who are we that you would wash our feet? Surely, we should be the ones washing yours!” To which Jesus responds, “Just wait, you don’t understand now, but soon all will be clear.”

The second is the celebration of communion, which is still one of the most practiced Christian traditions. We all know the story, though interestingly tonight’s gospel doesn’t recall. Jesus gathers His disciples and breaks bread for the last time, though this time is different. He leaves them with a command.

What strikes me as so humbling in these actions is not what Jesus does, but who He includes in them. He washes the feet of all of His disciples. He washes the feet of the one who He called out of the boat, but began sink because of their doubt. He washes the feet of the one who will soon deny ever knowing Him. Jesus even washes the feet of the man who He knows will sell Him out to the authorities; ultimately the man responsible for His death. Jesus already knows what they are going to do, yet He makes a conscious choice to include them in these actions.

They are the weakest of the weak, the greediest of the greedy, and those with the most unstable faith in who Jesus is. But, they are also us.

Who among us wouldn’t deny knowing a dead man, while knowing that answering “Yes” may land us in prison for the rest of our lives? Who wouldn’t consider taking a substantial bribe to have a friend get arrested? Who here wouldn’t consider, even for a second that Jesus wasn’t who He said He was? It’s a sobering thought.

And yet, Jesus calls after us, saying “You are the ones I want! You may be broken, you may be blemished, you may be barley hanging on, but you are perfect! Let me serve you.” This is the command Jesus leaves us with, “love as I have loved.”

It reminds me of the prodigal son when the father sees his lost son: “Quickly, bring out a robe the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, though we fall short again and again, though we break our promises in the same breathe we make them. God calls us saying, let me serve you. Through their interactions with the Jesus, the disciples have gotten a glimpse of it, clearer than many of us may ever see. And yet, they still walk the line between lost and found; between faith and doubt.

Jesus says:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And before supper ends the disciples are already backsliding. This is our story.

The harsh reality is that most of us come to church, we read of miraculous stories of unrelenting love, we sing songs of great joy and triumph, we challenge each other to live more fulfilling lives by following Jesus; and yet even before we leave, we are backsliding.

There is a brokenness that is so deeply ingrained into us, that we often hardly notice it. Some attribute it to Western Culture, others to consumerism, other say that it goes back to the Genesis poem of Adam & Eve’s initial sin. But, we feel it, the tension tugging on us, the world on one side and Jesus on the other; a constant battle for our attention and our devotion.

Maybe this is what Jesus means when He says:

“If anyone would come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

The command that Jesus leaves us with is a call to choose love daily and to reject all the vain things that charm us and compete for our attention. It’s this love that has transformed lives for centuries. It is this love that tells us to love our enemies and pray those who persecute us. Maybe this is why Jesus’ two greatest commandments both begin with love, because love always wins.

In the moment we may not understand how everything fits together, how love is working or if love is even working. But, we wait on baited breath in hope. I can’t imagine the feelings betrayal, confusion, and grief that consumes the disciples over the next 24 hours. How can love win, when it’s hanging on a cross dying? And “Jesus answered them,

“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”