Friday, December 25, 2015

Homily: Christmas Day, 2015 by Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

John’s gospel is always about signs – he records events in Jesus’ life and reflects on them as signs of the breaking in of the Reign of God. Many of the signs John identifies are familiar to us – turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, knowing the personal history of the Samaritan woman at the well, walking on water, raising Lazarus from the dead, feeding the 5,000, and several healing miracles.

The incarnation of God as the Word made flesh is not identified as a “sign” by John, but that is what it is. John does not tell the birth story like Luke does or even allude to it like Matthew does. He approaches the birth of Jesus from a theological perspective: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” and “the light shone in the darkness and the darkness could never put it out.” For John, the light that Jesus brought into the world is a sign that God has indeed come to live among human beings. And it’s real light. John saw the joy, the peace, the healing that Jesus brought into peoples’ lives. He experienced the lightness of heart that comes with intimate friendship. He saw signs of the coming Reign of God – healings, people helped to see both their sin and their potential, the darkness of the mentally ill flooded with the light of reason, the darkness of the man born blind as he opened his eyes to the light.

And John also saw the light in the context of the darkness of the world around him – the political posturing, the deadly power of the Roman occupation, disease and hunger and homelessness. And into all that darkness came the light of God’s love.

 Reading the gospel offers us signs of hope in a troubled world. So does reading the occasional stories of random acts of kindness which our newspapers and TV and radio news offer us when there is a little extra space after telling of the random and planned / targeted acts of violence. And I receive great hope from hearing the stories of people who come here on retreat, or my students, or the many other people we are all privileged to walk with in their journeys of faith.

I was very moved recently when I read the story of the 18th-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an American poet who wrote “Christmas Bells” – what we know familiarly as “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” because his poem captures the tension that we live with today. There are several popular tunes for this poem, and I’ve chosen the one by John Calkin, the first person to set this hymn to music, and I think is the most familiar or at least the easiest to sing. Let’s sing the first two verses:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!  
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 
Very hopeful isn’t it? Longfellow is offering us a comforting and happy picture of Christmas Day in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He becomes even more ecstatic in the third verse:
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 
Christmas night is over, and the day comes. Light comes. And strangely the tone of Longfellow’s poem changes as well. Or perhaps he had been feeling melancholy all night and the poem was an attempt to buoy his spirits. His son was seriously ill. His wife had died tragically in a fire a year or two before. The Civil War was raging in 1863 with no better effect than to slaughter a generation of young American men of both races.

And so Longfellow went on to pen the next two verses – the ones that are never printed in books of carols and never sung or printed in a Christmas card:
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!  
 It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 
You can just feel Longfellow falling into the grips of despair – as so many people do at Christmas, when the expectations for cheerfulness are high and we encounter times when we don’t feel at all cheerful. Let’s sing the next verse which describes his feelings:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth," I said;
“For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!” 
 At this point, according to Longfellow’s biographer, he heard the bells actually break out in Cambridge, as the churches began to call people to worship. And a miracle occurred – a sign of God entering the heart of a man – and he penned the last verse, which includes the lines:
 “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, 
This may seem glib – moving from utter despair to joy at the sound of a peal of bells. But it is so often like that with us. We do not know how or why God breaks into our world, into our personal lives, into our fragile, frightened hearts – but God does. And it doesn’t take much to recognize a sign of God if our eyes and ears are open to it. Maybe the water we drink is often wine and we don’t notice it. Maybe God is raising people from the dead everywhere but they or we don’t notice. God is healing all the time, but we are often looking elsewhere and miss the moment.

Hope comes from attentiveness, from listening with the ear of our heart, looking with the eyes of faith at what is happening around us, seeing the signs – for instance of hundreds of people in this country welcoming refugees into their homes, churches inviting the homeless for Christmas dinner, intentional friendships formed among Christians, Muslims and Jews in our city.

And then the sound of a church bell may not sound so glib after all. It’s a little like the ending of Dickens’ Christmas Carol when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning after his night of frightening confrontations with the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. He wakes to a whole new world, sees with completely new eyes that there is real goodness in the world. And interestingly, it is the bells in the city of London that most express Scrooge’s ecstatic happiness. Dickens says:

Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, his was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long, line of brilliant laughs! 
“I don’t know what day of the month it is! said Scrooge. “I don’t know how long I’ve been among the Spirits. I don’t know anything. I’m quite a baby. Never mind. I don’t care. I’d rather be a baby. Hallo! Whoop! Hallo here!” 
He was checked in his transports by the churches ringing out the lustiest peals he had ever heard. Clash, clang, hammer, ding, dong, bell. Bell, dong, ding, hammer, clang, clash! Oh, glorious, glorious!” 
And Scrooge learns it is Christmas Day.

Longfellow’s final stanza may be a little more reserved than Scrooge’s wild elation, but it is just as joyful. As we sing the final stanza, may our eyes be open to see the signs, the miracles around us, right now – the peace that we will shortly offer to each other, the bread and the wine offered by God at this table, the Christmas dinner to follow, the sharing of fellowship with friends old and new. And may we always keep our eyes and ears – and especially our hearts – open to God’s invasion in our lives. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . and the darkness could never extinguish it.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Homily: Christmas Day, 2015 St. John’s Convent Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Homily: Advent 2c Sunday, December 6, 2015 - preached by The Rev'd Andrea Budgey

With the coming of Advent, our lectionary presents us, every year, with the image of John the Baptist, the foremost messenger of the coming of Jesus into the world. Luke describes John's appearance on the scene with a quotation from that familiar and dramatic passage from Isaiah: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God ' ”. “Prepare the way of the Lord...” In Advent, we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, trying to be attentive to the great mystery of the Incarnation in our own lives, but there's more to it than that. Luke situates John very firmly in a historical context, reminding us that this mystery is revealed not only spiritually, but in the broader, messier world around us.

I suspect that we don't often analyse this passage, with its grand metaphors of divine landscaping, very closely: we're not meant, I think, to picture God's coming into the world as a levelling which will transform the physical, or even spiritual, vistas of our earth into a vast and undifferentiated plain, eliminating diversity and gradation, but rather, I believe, to imagine a transformation and reclamation of the human landscape on the principles of God's justice. We know, when we stop to consider, that many, many people in our society are trapped in dark vales of poverty and despair which they are powerless to escape unaided, faced with sheer cliffs of marginalisation and prejudice and indifference which they cannot scale alone; the paths before their feet are strewn with obstacles of illness, malnutrition, and bureaucratic delay. To fill the valleys to a level from which people can actually emerge safely, to make the heights passable, and to sweep away the jagged stones which cause our brothers and sisters to stumble, is to prepare the way of the Lord. To make straight the highway, to render it both just and true, is a work which can begin in charity, in small efforts of mending and realignment, but it is ultimately and inescapably a work of prophecy, of advocacy and exhortation. 

This is a work to which we are called as a church, to advocate for the oppressed and the vulnerable, to name injustice and to strive for transformation, and it's very concrete. For example, parishes in this diocese are being asked, at their vestries this year, to adopt a motion which addresses the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, committing themselves to education on First Nations issues, calling on the federal government to establish an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and asking the provincial government, in consultation with First Nations peoples, residential school survivors, and the churches, to develop mandatory curriculum on residential schools and the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canada. This is, admittedly, more prosaic language than that of Isaiah and Luke, but it is the same message: when we can overcome our genteel reluctance to let the spirit of our faith become incarnate in the flesh of the body politic, we may know ourselves to be participants in preparing the way of the Lord.

We do not labour at our prophetic tasks in preparation for the arrival of a God who is absent from us. The God in whose name we exercise justice and strive for equity is with us, a light the darkness cannot overcome, working in us – in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies – to achieve the purposes of the kingdom. John the Baptist, who would never know – in this life – of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus, was given the prophetic gift to name him as the Son of God. John came, we are told, that all might believe through him: prophecy demands transparency to the light of God, an effacement of self, and a clear sense of one's own identity in relation to God. When he is asked to identify himself, John's first response is “I am not the Christ” – the prophet knows him- or herself to stand over against God, and points always away from him- or herself and toward God. John gives way to the One who comes after him, and admits his own ignorance and doubt: twice he says “I myself did not know him, but...” Prophecy is an unfolding process of attention, obedience, declaration, and self-effacement. It is also a process – and here John is a very explicit example – in which we understand that we ourselves may not see the fulfillment of the promises we proclaim, or the full realisation of the work which God commands to and through us. This is something crucial to the work of justice and advocacy: however gratifying it may be to see a result from our efforts, the virtue of prophecy is measured on a far larger scale than our own quest for visible “success”. The task of proclaiming and preparing God's kingdom is in itself a gift, part of our invitation to enter into the life of God, the invitation which comes in the Incarnation. Christ comes to us, every moment of every day, calling us to live and love and work in him, surrendering ourselves and our preconceptions and our fears in harmony with his perfect self-offering and glorious resurrection. Let our Advent prayer today be for the gifts of the prophet – attentive discernment, humble obedience, fearless proclamation, and true self-effacement – that our lives may bear witness to the light, and manifest God's presence and love and justice in the world which waits for the coming of the kingdom.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Homily: Advent 1C, November 29, 2015 preached by Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

St. John’s Convent

Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25.1-9
1 Thessalonians 3.9-13 Luke 21.25-36

Each Thursday morning a group of sisters and Alongsiders meet at 7 am for group lectio divina. Lectio divina (divine or spiritual reading) is a way of hearing scripture that comes out of the Benedictine tradition – it is not Bible study and it’s not discussion – rather it’s a prayerful listening “with the ear of the heart” as St. Benedict would say. We listen to the Word of God speaking to each of us, now, in a personal way, in our lives today, this day, this very hour. It’s a helpful spiritual discipline for an individual, but doing it as a group carries special blessings.

Each week we focus on the gospel for the coming Sunday. Three different people read a passage from three different translations. The first time we each share a word or phrase that grabs our attention. On the second reading, each of us shares something about how the passage touches our lives today. The third time we each share how we believe God is challenging us. We don’t respond to each other. We just listen. And our hearts expand as we hear God’s Word expressed in different translations and in the lives of the others in the group. For me it’s a little like hearing a symphony, where the central theme of a movement is repeated by different instruments in different keys and different harmonies. A symphony grows from the individual voices of each instrument, and in the same way this communal reflection on scripture helps us absorb and respond to the richness of God’s Word more deeply than when any one of us prays the scripture alone.

And there is a good theological reason for that. We are created to live in community. The centrality of community for the Christian life is conveyed eloquently in the reading from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians this morning. ”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Paul encourages the young Christian community in Thessalonica to grow in the Christian life through their relationships with each other. The Thessalonians, and all the other churches to which Paul and his companions travelled in the early decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, were being built up and formed more deeply in the Christian life as they lived and worshipped and cared for each other and for the poor and sick and hungry around them. They believed that Christ would return in their lifetime, and that nothing was more important than living as Jesus had taught them.

The gospels were written out of that early Christian community life. All the gospel writers were rooted in one community or another, and they all took for granted certain accepted truths – including that the world would end and Jesus would return before their generation had died out. But after two thousand years of waiting, we’re still here, so what can this possibly mean for us?

To answer that, I go back to our group lectio. This past Thursday, as six of us gathered to listen with the ear of our hearts to today’s gospel, some of the words and images that came to the surface were these:

Signs . . . Stand up . . . All the trees . . .  Leaves . . . Be on guard . . . Be alert . . . Stand

As I was praying with the gospel later, in preparation for this homily, those images kept coming back to me. They bring a message of hope in a passage that actually begins rather ominously, as though Jesus could foresee what was happening today with the war on terror, violence in our cities, the frightening impact of global warming and other environmental disasters. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of sea and the waves. . . . Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

Of course Jesus could foresee what would happen in our time because it was also happening in his time. Even the star which guided the magi to Bethlehem was a sign of something unusual in the heavens, and terrorists were hardly a new thing even in Jesus’ day. So this passage is very contemporary. Except for that bit about seeing ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ – where does that come from? No one has yet seen it in 2,000 years except perhaps some people we would consider half-crazed with religious enthusiasm. In spite of the predictions the ‘son of man’ has not returned and those who prepare for the end of the world have continued to be disappointed – or perhaps relieved.

So how can this passage be a source of hope to us?

First it proves over and over again that no human being can predict the end times. Only God knows, and our task is simply to be faithful to our commitment to follow Jesus in the best way each of us can do that, and to be agents of hope to one another – to stand, as the gospel says – to stand and to put forth new shoots like the trees in spring. Hope is not an easy thing. It requires realism and compassion. It needs to be as intentional as any spiritual discipline. Stand up – be alert – hope. And we do that together, as a communal spiritual practice.

Second, there is a way in which we do see the ‘son of man’ coming in power. Wherever the church, the body of Christ, is faithful to the gospel message, Jesus is there. Jesus is there in the midst of terrible tragedy whether domestic or local or international, whether human-made or of natural causes. He is there in the response of those who invite refugees into our country. He is there whenever one human being reaches out compassionately to someone in pain. He is there in the courage of our military and police and ordinary people who risk their lives in moments of grave danger.

And most of all he is there with a message of hope. After all the terrible predictions in this gospel passage, we come back to those strong words of hope:

Stand tall – like the trees. See the leaves – new life and growth.
Don’t be afraid. Be alert – pay attention to the signs and stand in the strength of God.

All these images imply community. Leaves don’t exist alone. Paying attention to the signs always happens when people listen to each other – just as we do in our group lectio. Not being afraid happens when there are others we stand with, and the same with being alert – we need company to do that.

These are strong messages of hope in scary times. We are a community. We are the body of Christ. As we enter into this Advent time of preparation for Christmas, when we remember the first coming of Christ, we do so with the advantage of hindsight. We know Christ has come. We know Christ has been crucified and risen. We know Christ does come again and will come again. And we know it together.

”May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Have Salt! - Sr Constance Joanna - 27 September 2015

Homily for Proper 26, Year B
St. John’s Convent, September 27, 2015
Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

I remember vividly one day when I was about 9 or 10 years old and in Sunday School. Our teacher was presenting a lesson from the first letter of John in which he says “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). She went on to interpret the passage as saying that only those who love God or acknowledge Jesus as their Saviour are able to love.

I knew immediately and intuitively that she was wrong. My father claimed to be an atheist, but he was one of the most loving people I knew. He was the one who let all the neighbourhood kids play on his grass, who would get down on his hands and knees and play wheelbarrow with kids, who helped the neighbours with work around the yard or repairs in their house, who made things for us kids, who took me to Cleveland Indians ballgames and told me stories of his growing up as a kid in Sweden.

I just knew that the love he shared with us came from God even if he didn’t know that. And that Sunday School teacher could never make me believe that my father was unloving just because he wasn’t a Christian.

In fact the point John is making in his letter is that anyone who loves IS born of God and knows God – whether or not that person is consciously aware of being loving, or aware of the source of their love. My father’s loving nature came from God, and I knew that even as a child.

This is exactly the point that Jesus is making in today’s gospel. In fact he goes further and says that if we reject those who are doing good because they do not have the same theology or Biblical interpretation or social and moral views that we do – if we reject them for that reason, we are in fact judging them and shutting them out of the circle of God’s love. We are called to do the opposite – to invite everyone into the circle of God’s love, into the community of the body of Christ, whether we agree with them or not.

It reminds me of the song by Gordon Light, “Draw the Circle Wide.” And a little poem by Edwin Markham, an American poet of the early 20th century:

“He drew a circle that shut me out -
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”

It also brings to mind the recent kerfuffle in the media when the Archbishop of Canterbury announced there would be a Primates’ meeting in 2017 and he was inviting the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America – the collection of traditional Anglicans who removed themselves from the Episcopal Church in the USA because of its liberal stance, including on issues related to homosexuality. The ACNA drew a circle around itself that excluded the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, and now the Archbishop of Canterbury is drawing a circle that takes them in – not necessarily a redefining of the Anglican Communion though I suppose that could happen – but at least an enlarging of what we might consider ecumenical boundaries.

This is entirely in keeping, it seems to me, with Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, in which he chides the disciples and his other listeners for their judgmentalism and exclusivism. “Whoever is not against us is for us” is the heart of the first part of our gospel, which is fairly complex because it is actually made up of three sections that at first don’t seem related to each other. But each one builds on the other and also expands the point of the first reading this morning from Numbers.

In the reading from Numbers, a young man complains to Moses that two men, Eldad and Medad, who have not been properly commissioned, are prophesying in the camp. Then Joshua complains as well. But Moses says to them, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Or as Jesus says, “no one who does a deep of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.”

Moses and the young man are just like Jesus’ disciples – jealous of people who are exercising a spiritual gift without having been officially commissioned by the religious authorities to do so. Both Moses and Jesus say, “draw a circle that takes them in!”

And the second section of today’s gospel develops that message. Whoever puts a stumbling block in the way of “one of these little ones” may as well be thrown into the sea and drowned. Who are the little ones and what is the stumbling block? The little ones may refer to the unlearned, the untaught, the uninitiated, or the unloved – or those people who are casting out demons in Jesus name but are not part of the group of his followers. They are vulnerable, like children, and they need to be nurtured and brought into the circle, not excluded. And the stumbling block is our exclusivenes, our judgmentalism, our requirement that they do things just like us – even our focus on getting people to believe like us or come to our church when we are empowered to meet God with them, where they are.

Jesus uses the image of “little ones” or children several times in the gospels to demonstrate that God especially welcomes those who are vulnerable and fragile including the poor, the lonely, the sick, the homeless, the hungry. They may be innocent or unlearned, but they have spiritual gifts to share with all of us. As a matter of fact, just a few verses before today’s passage, we read of how the disciples were arguing with each other about who was the greatest, and Jesus put a child in their midst and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Whoever – anyone – not just he initiated, not just the officially religious. In fact the religious, including the disciples, were the ones most likely to dismiss the child and the uninitiated but gifted casters out of demons.

The third section of the gospel is the climax of Jesus’ teaching in this section of Mark’s gospel: “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

This is challenging. Not only are we not to be jealous of those who have spiritual gifts outside of our circle. Not only are we to pay attention to God’s little ones, the most vulnerable. Not only are we are to accept everyone who shares their love with others, and not to judge them. We are called to be salt.

Salt is both a preservative and a flavour-enhancer. It can make other things taste salty but there is no way salt can be made salty once it loses its saltiness. It represents, in other words, the origin, the wellspring of our faith, the Godseed planted in us. We are to preserve it and nurture it but not hoard it or it will become useless – it will lose its saltiness. We are to give it away in acts of kindness and compassionate service to others, to sprinkle it over those God sends us to care for in God’s name  -- and that includes the little ones, the ones outside our circle however we might define our circle. This is how we play our role in helping to build the kingdom of God.

“Have salt in yourselves,” Jesus says, “and be at peace with one another. Have salt in yourselves – that is, keep yourself both interesting and flavourful. Nurture the spiritual gifts God has given you, share them with God’s little ones, and honour the spiritual gifts of others. Be at peace with one another rather than jealous and competitive. Salt enables the whole community to live together in peace.

So our challenge in today’s gospel is threefold:
  • to be salty enough – courageous and loving and adventurous enough – to share the gospel of love
  • to create peace among one another
  • to let others also share the love of God even when we think they’re doing it the wrong way. 

How desperately our church and our world need the gift of salt, of acceptance, understanding, compassion, peace and love.

“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Homily for the Feast of St Clare by Sr. Doreen McGuff SSJD

She was born in 1194 into a wealthy Roman family – a successful businessman father and a devout
Sister Doreen
mother. At the age of 18 she heard St. Francis preach, awakening a desire in her to give herself completely to God. In 1212, at the age of 18, with St. Francis’ aid she joined a Benedictine order. Her own sister, who took the name Agnes, joined her and shortly thereafter they moved to a small building next to the church of San Damiano, where others joined them. They became known as the “Poor Clare’s” an enclosed community who embraced “joyous poverty” and whose ministry was to the poor and poverty-stricken families that lived around them or came to them for help. Clare’s own life was an icon of contemplation and compassion.
She has always been an intriguing, favorite saint for me! She is a contradiction – a marvellous integration of that passionate and romantic – yet deeply compassionate and realistic down-to-earth spirituality that stirs my own soul to try to respond ever more openly and authentically! Who amongst us has not at life profession taken up the ring inscribed with the happy song “my Beloved is mine and I am His” and felt a profound and deep stirring in the depths of their being. A saint like Clare continues to inspire me to keep fanning that initial joy into life – that passion and compassion in my response to Jesus call to arise, my love, my fair one and come away – follow me.
Clare wrote: “happy she who is drawn to Jesus whose beauty eternally awes, whose love inspires love, whose contemplation refreshes, whose generosity satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn, whose fragrance revives the dead, whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem.” She encouraged her sisters to: “look into that Mirror (Jesus) and study well your reflection – this Mirror – behold his poverty, his humility, his unspeakable love, his indescribable delights in you, his unending riches and honours which will draw you …”
Clare would respond to the Message translation of Luke’s annunciation “Good morning, you are beautiful, inside and out, with God’s beauty . God is with you” – and she would call her sisters to rejoice in this greeting daily in their own lives and proclaim this same message to those who came to them. Clare would understand the words “love me tender, love me true, never let me go” and she would call her sisters to rejoice in God’s tenacious love and to reach out to each other and to the world with that same radical love. Clare would echo the words read in the Song of Solomon today – My beloved speaks and says to me: arise my love, my fair one, and come away – Clare knew where her treasure was, there her heart was also.
Tonight at Evensong we will sing the Canticle of Clare – a canticle that sums up Clare’s life and her gift of encouragement and prayer for us:

Place your mind in the mirror of eternity.
Place your soul in the splendour of glory.
Place your heart in the icon of the substance divine
Contemplating, be transformed into the image of the God-head itself.

Taste and know the hidden sweetness of God for all time existing to be found by those who love
The sacred banquet which all may share, if they dare –
All it costs is everything, a heart open, longing, tasting, giving.
Place your mind ……

Taste and know the hidden sweetness of God whose beauty is endless and whose love inflames our love
Whose contemplation refreshes us, brings us joy –
All our being overflows with You, O most Holy, fragrant Lover

Place your mind ….

Sunday, June 21, 2015

National Aboriginal Day - 21 June 2015

JUNE 21, 2015 Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD 

Our readings this morning are about God’s work in creation and in history. And as we look around at our own world, we must all feel deeply what St. Paul says in the reading from Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
What has God been doing in creation and history? Why do we look around and see war and torture and injustice and murder? Especially right here in our beloved country of Canada.

But maybe asking what God has been doing is the wrong question. As Paul says, the creation – and God – look for the children of God to be revealed – to stand up and be counted – to respond to God’s invitation to be co-creators of the new creation; to accept our responsibility to be agents of peace and justice.

Today we are celebrating National Aboriginal Day of Prayer – a day first set aside in 1971 by the General Synod of our national church to pray for the indigenous peoples of Canada. The date was chosen because the summer solstice falls on June 21, and for generations it has been a sacred day for aboriginal peoples, on which they celebrated their culture and heritage.

The other mainline churches followed suit, and in 1996, Governor General Romeo Leblanc declared this day a national day to recognize the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to this country of Canada. But our church was the first to recognize the importance of this observance.

Now the church has not always been a leader in society – quite often the church lags behind the secular culture, especially regarding issues of inclusion and justice. But over the past several decades the Anglican Church of Canada has taken some prophetic leadership in redressing the abuses of the residential schools and the government policy of assimilation with which the churches have often been complicit. The development of an alternative dispute resolution process for claims of former residential school students is one example, and Robert Falby, the former Chancellor of our Diocese and Prolocutor of General Synod who died just last week, was one of the architects of this process. Another example of our church’s leadership was the vote at General Synod in 2013 to repudiate the “doctrine of discovery” – the belief that the Europeans who migrated to this land had a right to dispossess those already living here. Our church has also created new structures for allowing indigenous Anglicans to have a measure of autonomy within the church structure, and has been a voice for justice in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Why is this so important today? Because we have just seen the completion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been in progress since 2010. Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that followed the deconstruction of apartheid, our TRC has listened to the stories of people involved in the residential school system. The truth-telling has provided healing in many ways, but it’s only the beginning, and you need only to read the papers these past weeks to recognize the difference between healing and reconciliation. As many people have noted, individuals may find healing, but reconciliation is different. Reconciliation between immigrants to Canada (and that includes everyone who has come here since the 16th century) and the aboriginal peoples of Canada can only happen when there is justice for all: when our school curricula include the role of aboriginal peoples in our country’s history; when our justice system takes seriously the disappearance and murder of hundreds of aboriginal women; when land claims are taken seriously, when a just system is in place to give inhabitants of the land some say in its use for resource extraction, when all forms of racism are eradicated. When we, who are as St. Paul says the revealed children of God, accept our baptismal responsibility to work for justice and peace.

So much of this sounds like bad news. We have come so far, but we have so far to go – how do we keep from giving up in discouragement?

Well, Paul counsels hope: while the creation waits in longing for our adoption as children of God – we wait with hope, “for in hope we were saved” he says. And then he goes on with so many encouraging words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

God sighs with us, God too longs for a day of justice for all people – whether it is the aboriginal people of Canada, the innocent people murdered in Syria, the victims of war throughout the Middle East, the young victims of racism and carding in our own city. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, and in his own walk to the cross, he carried our human frailty and sin on his back. And he continues to walk with us.

No matter how unjust things may be in our national life, our local communities, or our personal and family lives, Paul reminds us that “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” God does not create war and murder and injustice. But if we are open to the Spirit of God interceding for us, God can use us to create good out of all that has gone before.

And so in our prayers today we acknowledge our complicity in the injustices in our world, we pray that we may be agents of healing and wholeness ourselves by being open to the Spirit praying in us and showing us how we may help, and we celebrate the contributions of our aboriginal Canadians.

We must not forget that today is also Father’s Day. As we give thanks for our own fathers, for their contribution to our lives, we remember our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and all those ancestors in faith who have shaped our lives for good. While not all people have been blessed with good and nurturing birth fathers, all of us can point to father figures in our lives who have blessed and guided us. That is a value very strong among aboriginal peoples. In fact one of the most important routes to reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters is to do everything that we can – as a nation, as a church, as individuals, to strengthen the bonds of family life that were torn apart through the residential school policies.

There was an inspiring article in The Globe and Mail last week written by John Ralston Saul, the co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and a prophetic voice in our country for justice for all immigrants to Canada. He is also the husband of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. In his article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he quotes the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Georges Erasmus, in an earlier report on aboriginal justice:
Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to love together in peace and harmony. But there cannot be peace or harmony unless there is justice.
In the gospel today, in what we know as the Beatitudes – the Blessings – Jesus lays out his vision for the Reign of God. Blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice. That includes us all, aboriginal and immigrant, fathers, mothers, children. All of us are called in our Baptism to work for the Reign of God – to be peacemakers, to bring mercy, to comfort those who mourn, to support those who work for justice. That is a charge to us as Christians, and a message of hope.

And so we end with Paul’s reminder that “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God” and that we ourselves, who profess to love God, are called to be agents of love, healing and reconciliation for others.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Anything you can do, I can do better

Homily by Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD
Friday, June 19 in Week of Proper 11 Year B
When I read the passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth – who were always troublesome to Paul because they were so competitive and argumentative – I remembered a song that was popular when I was young: “Anything you can do, I can do better; I can do anything better than you.” It was from the popular musical Annie Get Your Gun.
I can shoot a partridge
With a single cartridge.
I can get a sparrow
With a bow and arrow.
I can live on bread and cheese.
And only on that?
So can a rat!
Paul sounds like he’s engaging in the same kind of competition as the Corinthians – my pain is worse than your pain, my scars are brighter than your scars. He really does lay it on. But then so do we. You think you’re busy? Look at my schedule! You think you have problems? Listen to my problems. And if we don’t say it, we think it. We hear someone complaining and we might be too polite to say “come on, get a life, look what I’m dealing with and how well I do!” – but we often think it.

But Paul is not just engaging in a competition with the Corinthians here. He is saying that there is a different kind of boasting, a boasting of weakness in order to show his strength comes only from God. And who among us hasn’t learned that we become stronger when we are weak, that our worlds may expand rather than shrink when we deal with limitations – because our vulnerability allows us to move beyond the superficial comforts of life to an awareness of what is really important in an ultimate sense. The churches that are thriving are those in Africa and Asia where people are suffering war and violence. The churches that are shrinking are in the most affluent countries, including our own. There is something about vulnerability and privation and suffering that we don’t seek, but when it comes to us it helps us understand what is really important in life.

And that is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” – what you have in your home, your church, your city, your country – that is what you value. If we look around our own city, it would seem that decisions have been made and are being made on the basis of helping those who improve the city’s economy. Our treasure is in our large corporate buildings, our transportation system such as it is, our retail stores.

But what happens when values clash? When the truckers, for instance, lobby for the hybrid version of the Gardiner expressway so trucks can move easily through the city’s centre, while others lobby for a street-level boulevard that will improve people space with more green space and access to the waterfront? It’s not as simple as that, but just that one small example shows us what Jesus is talking about – where your treasure is, there will your heart be also – is our treasure consumer goods and building projects and financial investments – or is it in people, relationships, aesthetics, health and welfare for all the people of our city?

And our churches also make decisions on the basis of what people most value – is it our buildings and memorial windows? Or is it reaching out to the kind of people Jesus served – the poor and homeless and hungry and disenfranchised?

And what of ourselves? Where is our treasure? What is your treasure? Look at the way you spend your money, your time, your energy, and you’ll know the answer to that question.

And that is what Jesus is saying at the end of the gospel – look. The eye is the lamp of the body – it illuminates our treasure. Jesus is offering us eternal life, now – intimacy with God, a relationship of love. That goes far beyond the satisfaction we receive from our material possessions. “If your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” If you look with the eye of your heart and see the treasures around you – in friendships, in relationships, in the beauty of our environment – your whole body, your whole life will be full of light – and it will be like that light Jesus told us not to hide under a bushel basket – it will be a light that will bring love and compassion to the world God loved and Jesus died for.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Installation of Sr Elizabeth, SSJD - homily by Bishop Linda Nicholls - 6 May 2015

Scriptures: Exodus 33:18-23 »  /  Psalm  92:1-2, 11-14 »1 John 1:1-9 » /   John 20:1-8 »
Sr. Elizabeth, you have been called by this community of Sisters to step into leadership in a new way as the Reverend Mother – to serve this community over the next five and possibly – by the grace of God and the willingness of the Sisters - for ten years. It is an honour – a privilege and a daunting responsibility! I am told that when new bishops were elected, Archbishop Lewis Garnsworthy would lean over during the applause and whisper – “Enjoy it – it’s all downhill from here!!” Leadership today in any faith-based institution or community …is challenging to say the least.

There are those outside the faith community who say the church and its ancient traditions are irrelevant, outdated and will die. The Sisterhood has wrestled with such questions of its place throughout its history – even from its origins in Toronto when only one parish in the diocese wanted to connect in any way with a monastic women’s community with Anglo-Catholic practices! Yet I have watched personally over the last twenty years of that history as SSJD has, guided by its leaders, made challenging and radical decisions – not for the sake of comfort but for the sake of faithfulness. You moved the whole mother house of the convent to this location; opened and closed houses in Montreal, Edmonton, Victoria; changed your practices around wearing the habit; established an order of oblates and shifted your relationship with St. John’s Rehab Hospital. These years were simply a continuation of the ways in which the Sisterhood has responded to the needs around the community since 1884 while retaining its core practices of faith and community life. That is what is needed now - faithfulness to the values and heart of Christian faith expressed in prayer and action through the charism of this community. At times that faithfulness has taken you into ministries of teaching, missional outreach, caregiving, pastoral care, hospitality and more recently into spiritual direction. You have faced changes with courage – though not, I know, without some internal controversy and on occasion, pain.

A recent article by Rachel Held Evans – now Episcopalian formerly an evangelical in the USA …commented on the trend to be ‘hip and cool’ in church worship – coffee perking at the back of the church, the most up-to-date music and technology, etc. She quotes blogger, Amy Peterson, who says – ‘I want a service that is not sensational, flashy or particularly ‘relevant’ I can be entertained anywhere At church, I do not want to be entertained. I do not want to be the target of anyone’s marketing. I want to be asked to participate in the life of an ancient-future community.”

Well, monastic communities offer a space that is welcoming, non-judgmental, and open yet rooted in that ancient-future community living. You are living what Amy is talking about – that ancient-future way of worship and connection with God and God’s purposes.

So today we gather to install Sr. Elizabeth as Reverend Mother of this ancient-future tradition and community on St. John’s Day, your Easter season Patronal festival. In the readings for this day we hear some key messages for Sr. Elizabeth and for the community. The passage we just heard in 1 John carries the heartbeat that, to me, is at the center of all faith life, and especially in this community. “We have heard – we have tasted – we have seen concerning the word of life….. so that you also may have fellowship with us… that our joy may be complete! “

This community is made up of people who have met Jesus – and want to live in such a way that others may come alongside in fellowship which in turn completes your joy! It is a hopeful invitation into life. You as a community are a sign – an icon – of all who have seen and touched and tasted the word of life in Jesus Christ inviting others through your ministry of hospitality, pastoral visiting, spiritual direction – to come alongside in fellowship and in that fill your joy.

We also heard the moment when Moses meets God and desires to experience God’s glory. Moses was called into leadership to take the Israelites from Egypt out into the desert. He has taken them from a life of slavery but the future promised land is not yet in sight and they have been recalcitrant – complaining - rebellious – frustrating - (Not that the Sisters of SSJD could ever be recalcitrant – rebellious – complaining or frustrating!!) Moses now needs encouragement. The past looks better than the future….and Moses needs confirmation for himself of the bigger picture of God’s purposes by being touched by God’s glory.

There is a high toll on the leader – to stay focused on hope & purpose and not look for the quick fix to the questions of survival. Moses was called to be the steady, patient leader in the face of grumbling and to keep the people focused on their purpose and calling to take them to their destination. Moses needed to be grounded in his relationship with God in which he had a glimpse of God’s glory – in the same way as the disciples did in such moments at the Transfiguration, during the resurrection appearances and at the Ascension as they were prepared for leadership.

Therefore, Sr. Elizabeth – as you take up the mantle of leadership for this community remember these grounding principles for your ministry.

Before you were a Sister – before you were Assistant to the Reverend Mother – before you were a teacher – wife – mother – you are a child of God – Beloved of God. You will need to remember this each day when the burden is too great; or the frustrations too large; and even when the joys are bursting on you.

Then also remember your first calling by baptism to be with and to serve God. The baptismal covenant speaks of all the elements that are part of your community life – eucharist, scripture, prayer, confession. Spending time in prayer is built into your daily life – but leadership can nibble and gnaw at its time. Be firm and faithful to the disciplines of your baptismal calling as you have chosen to live them in community at SSJD. Give yourself time to touch the glory of God in your heart and soul so that you will have the strength you need for the journey of leadership.

Thirdly, remember that you are not alone. Moses quickly learned on his journey that he needed others to share leadership and appointed them. No leader serves alone. We serve in community with others whose gifts and skills complement and support our own. To return to 1 John - “we” have seen, tasted, touched….,not ‘I’ have seen, touched, heard. We share responsibility together. You are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12) and these earthly colleagues who each share a part of God’s vision for SSJD – have been called to this community, have been touched by God’s glory and are also faithfully trying to live out that calling. Draw on their gifts, their prayers, their support - and remember to laugh and play together.

This Sisterhood has the gifts it needs in its roots and history, its commitment to community, and in its leadership to face the challenges ahead. It is grounded in the love of God that has been known, heard, tasted, and seen in Jesus that binds this community together. You will find your joy – individually and together – as you faithfully live this ancient-future calling and are for the rest of us, an icon of all that we are also called to do and be in this ancient-future church.

Bishop Linda Nicholls
Diocese of Toronto, Anglican Church of Canada

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homily by the Rev. Andrea Budgey - Epiphany 2B

“Go and Listen” “Come and See” 
Homily by the Rev. Andrea Budgey Sunday, January 18th, 2015 


Many of my colleagues this morning are wrestling with today’s epistle, trying to present it in a way which is accessible to the hearers while remaining faithful to the text. I hope you’ll forgive me, however, if I don’t spend a great deal of time this morning here on Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to “shun fornication”, and focus our attention, instead, on the other texts we have before us...

 “Go and listen”. In our Old Testament reading, the boy Samuel has been dedicated to the service of God since before he can remember, trained in attention and obedience, but he's still not prepared for God's call to him out of the darkness. He needs his master's guidance to recognise what's going on, and to know how to respond to God. Eli is blind – physically blind, and blind to the wickedness of his adult sons – but he still understands about listening in the darkness, even if his own darkness has been silent to him for a long time, and he accepts the idea that his family will decline, and the talented, holy child in his care will eclipse him, because he recognises the channel by which the prophecy and the judgement come. What he's trying to teach Samuel, when the boy wakes him in the middle of the night, is the receptivity of the contemplative, a kind of “naked intent” toward God, characterised not by praise or petitions, not by asking God for anything, but by pure attentiveness, mindfulness, a temporary withdrawal from distraction and even from human relationships to wait on the utterance of God in the soul. “Go and listen”, says Eli. 

 “Come and see”. Unlike Samuel, Nathanael isn’t undergoing any specialised training – not that the Gospel tells us about, anyway – and his first response, when Philip comes to him, full of excitement about the Messiah, seems cool, almost flippant, as if he’s trying to take the wind out of Philip’s sails. And that, in a way, makes his reaction to meeting Jesus even more surprising: when Jesus recognises him, Nathanael immediately changes his tune, and calls him “son of God” and “king of Israel”. What has happened to produce this apparent over-reaction? I think Nathanael probably recognises in this encounter the experience of God which today’s psalm describes: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me; you know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away”. We learn to love God because we have first been loved by God; we learn to recognise God, and to begin to know God, when we realise that we have first been known by God in our very making. Jesus promises Nathanael more wonders to come: the sight of angels ascending and descending upon the son of man. This image conjures up the dream of Jacob in the wilderness, the ladder between heaven and earth, but in the Gospel, of course, it is Jesus who becomes the ladder, the point of contact between our earthbound existence and the fullness of life in God. 

There's a temptation to treat these two stories of the Old and New Testaments as contrasts, as opposites: Samuel obeys the call to “Go and listen”; Nathanael the call to “Come and see”; Samuel hears God as a mysterious voice in the darkness, while Nathanael meets God incarnate, and is drawn into personal relationship with God in Christ; Samuel becomes a prophet, proclaiming the bad news of God's disapproval, first to his master, and then, often, to the people of Israel, while Nathanael is called to be an apostle, preaching the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. These comparisons are not without some validity, of course, because in Christ's Incarnation God is revealed to as in as full a way as we are able to comprehend, more fully than ever before. (You may have noticed, by the way, over the past few weeks, the way the readings of this season present this revelation of Christ in a series of events of which become less impressive, but increasingly comprehensible: we start with angelic messengers at Christmas, and wise men with exotic gifts at Epiphany; then there's a baptism with a voice which not necessarily everyone can hear, depending which Gospel version of the story you read; this week, there's a very human meeting, and simple recognition between two people). I think it would be a mistake, though, and an over-simplification of scripture, to imagine that the new ways of knowing God which are made plain to us in the Incarnation somehow simply replace, or wipe out, the old. We are indeed called to encounter Christ on a very human scale, in our daily lives, and our relationships with other people, but that does not mean that we are to ignore our dreams and our visions – whatever form they may take – or that we aren't meant to listen for the “still, small voice” which speaks to us in the quiet of prayer, or even in the silence of emptiness. We need both to “come and see”, in the company of others, and to “go and listen” in solitude and mystery. And we are to be both apostles and prophets, called to proclaim the hope of the resurrection, and the fullness of new life in Christ, in our worship, and in the very patterns of our lives, but also called, when we see the image of Christ in any human person degraded by violence, oppression, poverty, or injustice, to be, like Samuel, prophetic, and to name the wrong, the bad news, so that the good may drive it out. 

Samuel goes to the person he most trusts to advise him, and gets precisely the advice he needs to make him receptive to the word of God. Nathanael isn’t necessarily looking for advice, and at first he doesn’t even take his friend seriously, but he is receptive enough to follow him, to humour him, and I like to imagine, (although the Gospel doesn’t say so) that it was because of their friendship – the mutual love which connected them – that he did this, and met the shock of recognition which transformed his life. The same experience can come to us when we least expect it, when we do something reluctantly for a friend or a relative – or a stranger – out of love, and discover suddenly that God has walked into the relationship and recognized us.