Created for Community (Homily for Lent 1)

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7    Psalm 32      Romans 5:12-19     Matthew 4:1-11

 Created for Community

 by Sherman Hesselgrave

Human beings were created for relationship—relationship with one another, and relationship with God. When God realized it was not right that Adam should be alone, God set about to create a companion for him—‘companion,’ a word whose roots are in sharing bread together. The stories from Genesis and Matthew that we hear again today are foundational stories for us. The story of Jesus’ temptation in Matthew is Shakespeare’s reference when, in The Merchant of Venice, Antonio says to Bassanio: “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose.” The stories are foundational because they show us how our relationships with God and others can be distorted or corrupted by our everyday human desires.

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Looking at the North tower through a tiny slit in the south tower.

Fear and Hope with the Fallen Angles

Our band, The Fallen Angles, are playing at the 10:30 service tomorrow morning. The theme is “Fear and Hope”. Lots of music and a mix of ancient and modern texts with no sermon. Hope you’ll come join us.

Holy Trinity is at 19 Trinity Square. Trinity Square is centred between Bay, Dundas, Yonge and Queen. Hidden in the canyon of the Eaton Centre and Marriott Hotel.

The Church of the Holy Trinity is a community of people who seek to express their faith through lives of integrity, justice and compassion. We foster lay leadership, include the doubter and the marginalized, and challenge oppression wherever it may be found.

Justification, Wrath and the Water of Life (Homily for Lent 3, March 23rd)

Bill Whitla’s Homily at Holy Trinity for Lent 3, March 23, 2014

Exodus 17:1-7

Grumbling people quarrelling with Moses

Demanding water to drink in the wilderness

Moses striking the rock so water will come out of it.

Using the same rod with which he smote the Nile. to poison it, now is used for fresh water to save the people of Israel.

People are testing Moses, but fundamentally testing God by asking Is the Lord among us or not?

It’s a good question about whether this testing and quarrelling —or the striking of the rock, becomes the reason that Moses cannot enter into the Promised Land (see Deut. 32: 48–52; see also Deut 20).

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Taking Ashes to the Streets

So today was Ash Wednesday, and we took ashes from the midday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square to the streets of downtown Toronto. We’d done it a few years ago–when I had a curate and an intern–and had already decided to do it again this year, when, a couple weeks ago, I received a call from a producer of the CBC radio program Tapestry, who had read about the ashes-to-go that Sara Miles writes about in her new book, City of God. They were going to be interviewing her for the show, and had googled to see who in Toronto might be doing it as well. Long and short, Diane Eros came with her digital recorder to the service today and then joined Deacon Prof. Dr. Alison Kemper and me as we headed out into the cold, but sunny, afternoon. Alison had some intelligence about the early morning ashes-to-go distribution at the Westin Go Station. There were four Anglican clergy there: one in vestments and the others in civvies with stoles. The feedback was that people had trended to the clergy in civvies and stoles, so we, too, conducted an experiment: I, in a black suit and purple stole, and Alison in dalmatic, stole, cappa nigra, and purple toque. No meaningful statistics, though, because, as I observed the last time, when you are walking single file as we were–not in a flank formation–the first person has a sort of John-the-Baptist role, proclaiming “Ashes for Ash Wednesday.” Some of the receptive people we encountered needed the 20 feet past the point person to process the offer and conclude that it was OK to accept the ashes from the second person who was offering them (Alison). A volunteer who had come to the service joined us to hand out a flyer we had developed to accompany the event, inviting people to join us for the whole of Lent.

The Tapestry program will air this Sunday (March 9th) at 2:00 PM on CBC One in Toronto. It will also be able to be podcast.

— Sherman Hesselgrave

Ash Wednesday and Lenten Community Nights at Holy Trinity

Ash Wednesday Services 

There will be two Ash Wednesday liturgies on March 5th: 12:15 PM and 7:00 PM

The evening service is preceded by a light supper of Lentil Soup and Salad beginning at 6:00 PM (donation invited)

Wednesday Community Nights in Lent

Beginning the following week, March 12th, and continuing until the 9th of April, there will be a simple supper, beginning at 6:00 PM,  followed by a video and discussion using the Living the Questions series.The evening will conclude between 8:00 and 8:30.  There will be signup sheets in church for each week or you can email Sherman: shesselgrave at

There will be a parallel program for children, if needed. Please email Beth Baskin: bbaskin at if you will be bringing children. Suppers will be prepared by members of the community and a donation will be invited. If you would like to help with the suppers contact Sherman.

Life Together (Homily for Epiphany 3)

Readings:  Isaiah 9:1-4   Psalm 27:1, 5-13    1 Corinthians 1:10-18     Matthew 4:12-23

Life Together

by Sherman Hesselgrave

The week between January 18th, the Feast of the Confession of St Peter on the Church calendar, and the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul on January 25th has come to be known in ecumenical circles as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I imagine to many the words ‘Christian Unity’ must seem oxymoronic, for Church history is littered with the bodies and detritus of countless battles. St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us that Christian disunity has been around pretty much from the beginning.

Disunity comes in a variety of flavours. I have noticed a flurry of online discussion recently about bullying in church, bullying of all stripes—bullying of parishioners by pastors, bullying of lay people by other members of a congregation, and even bullying of pastors by congregations. One congregation, First Assembly of God in Madison, Indiana, a town with a population of 13,000, had a decades-long reputation in the town and denomination for being a clergy “killer.” Four successive pastors had been called and then painfully driven out until the latest pastor helped them to name and own their dysfunction. They made the news for holding a service of reconciliation that involved calling their former pastors back to ask their forgiveness for the way they had been treated. The liturgical action at this service was the current pastor washing the feet of the former ministers on behalf of the congregation.

According to St Paul, one of the conflicts in the new community of Christians in the port city of Corinth appears to be related to people forming cliques around the missionaries who baptized them: Apollos, Cephas, or Paul. I suspect we all have seen the power of personality cults, and the Church is certainly not immune to their seductiveness. But in falling for the charisma of the various leaders, the new converts missed the one thing they all had in common: their baptism into the community of Christ. This passage is emblematic of so many of the things that have caused division in Christian communities when the original vision of what makes up the core of the Gospel is lost. I believe Jonathan Swift, in his Gulliver’s Travels, was satirizing the Church when he described the wars between the Big-Enders and the Little-Enders, those who ate their soft-boiled eggs by cracking them at opposite ends. There are many distractions that make it difficult at times to keep our eyes on the prize, so to speak.

When Jesus invited Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave their nets and follow him, one has to wonder what they thought “fishing for people” would look like. What kind of community were they being called to? From the record, it seems that, even after following Jesus around for quite some time, they weren’t sure. Today’s gospel and today’s Hebrew scripture both quote this passage from the prophet Isaiah: “…the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,…” In the original context, the darkness that has fallen over the people is the darkness of death that accompanied the continuous warring in that critical geopolitical region. Isaiah was promising that a Prince of Peace would be coming to bring a new dawn. In the gospel context, Jesus was the light who had come to bring a new day, and the way he was going to do it was by inviting people to help him to spread the news that God was taking a new approach to creating peace and justice on earth. He spelled out the details as he travelled from town to town. In the Sermon on the Mount he claimed that God blessed peacemakers, the pure in heart, the merciful, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He told his followers that they were the fertilizer of the earth. He taught them how to pray, and how to live one day at a time. And he taught them about the danger of storing up treasure on earth. The kind of community that Jesus’ followers were called to was a community of character that stood in stark contrast to the values of the surrounding empire.

Flash forward to Germany in the mid 1930s. A different empire, the Third Reich, was coming into being, and the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been called to lead an illegal, clandestine Confessing Church seminary in the then North German town of Finkenwalde. Sharing a common life in emergency-built housing with twenty-five seminarians, he wrote a book, Life Together [New York: Harper & Row, 1954, p. 26], describing his insights into living as an intentional Christian community. Early in the book he observes that many a time “a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream.” The disillusionment that shatters such dreams is an act of grace that helps a group of Christians to discern the true community God is trying to create. Look at Jesus’ disciples and how disillusioned they were when Jesus turned out not to be a political messiah. Until they were purged of that fantasy, they could not become part of the apostolic movement they were commissioned for.

Over the centuries, Christian communities have struggled with the tension between unity and uniformity. There are some who believe that unity requires uniformity, but that is not what either Jesus or the apostle Paul taught. Paul speaks of the diversity of the body of Christ, the Church, and the many gifts with which God’s Spirit has blessed God’s people—but there is one Spirit behind those gifts, so all spiritual gifts are complementary. And, I believe that when Jesus prays that we may all be one, as he and his Abba are one, he is speaking of the oneness that comes from being intimately connected to the source of all life, truth, and beauty.

Diversity, too, can be a source of tension. We have seen how new ideas or scientific revelations have challenged Christian communities over the millennia. And just when you think consensus is about to solidify after decades or centuries of debate, someone comes along and tries to bring back the Middle Ages. As a Roman Catholic nun once remarked to me, “The Church changes very slowly—one funeral at a time.”

To be true to our calling as a community in Christ, there will be times when we will struggle to discern which fork in the road to take, or how to make the most of our resources, or the best way to retool for carrying on our mission in a new context. We may be called to make bold leaps of faith or to overcome a fear of failing. These are all situations that faithful Christians have faced in the centuries leading to this moment in time, so we are not alone as we continue to make sense of our life together—we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and God’s Spirit is the wind that fills our sails.

loving justice in the heart of the city