Category Archives: Reflections

The Problem of Pain and Suffering (Easter 4 Homily)

Acts 2:42-47     Psalm 23     1 Peter2:19-25     John 10:1-10

The Problem of Pain and Suffering

Sherman Hesselgrave

This Sunday in the Easter season has long been nicknamed Good Shepherd Sunday, as you may have gathered from the gospel reading and the 23rd Psalm. There is a long tradition of portraying Jesus as the Good Shepherd; there are numerous depictions on the walls of the catacombs of a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders. The Gospel of Matthew records that, “when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” [9:36] What caught my attention this time around, though, was the epistle reading, and its focus on pain and suffering. I was surprised at the number of memories it evoked. In my youth, when I worked as a music librarian, I had a Roman Catholic colleague, who was one of fifteen children. One of the things she heard regularly as a child, when one of them would whine or complain, was, “Offer it up. Our Lord hung on the cross for three hours.” Continue reading The Problem of Pain and Suffering (Easter 4 Homily)

Freedom to Love

+In the name of God our Maker, Jesus Living, and the Fulfilling Spirit, Amen.

[When Sherman said that we were cutting things down to make the service shorter, I thought that here was a chance for me to expand the homily—and I have a bit—especially here to make the connections clearer— though those of you who heard it, will recognize that I moved from the text more than just here and there—and what was also apparent (I am sure), was that I was cutting like mad as I was preaching—even when we had some competition from one or more of our visitors] Continue reading Freedom to Love

God of Many Surprises (Easter Homily)

Acts 10:34-43   Walter Brueggemann: “Easter us”    John 20:1-18

God of Many Surprises

Sherman Hesselgrave

A week ago, a friend who lives in Spain posted on his Facebook page a quotation from Edouard Loubet, the chef of the Domaine de Capelongue, a Michelin two-star restaurant in Provence. “A dinner is all about pleasure-sharing,” he said. “The food counts for only 20 percent, only 20 percent, no matter how extraordinary it is.” (NYT) Chef Loubet’s observation caught my attention for a couple reasons. First, I have to confess that when I have guests for dinner, I am disproportionately concerned about making sure the food is a success, so this was an instructive look in the mirror. Secondly, it also reminded me of a comment a parishioner made some years ago. They come to Holy Trinity, not because of the liturgy or music or the preaching, but because of the community they find here, and the individuals who make up this community. Continue reading God of Many Surprises (Easter Homily)

A sip of ancient water

March 19, 2017; Holy Trinity.
Exodus 17: 1-7; John 4: 5-42

I’m sharing this image today by Issac Murcdoch on the pulpit in gratitude and respect to all the water keepers who are currently on the front lines of the struggle to protect sacred water. I made a small
handout on the 2017 Water Walk with Josephine Mandarin if you would like to know more.

Water is primal.

If you think about it, this planet should really be called water, not earth, since more than 70% of the surface is water, not land. Water — there there can be no life without it. Our bodies are 60% water – we are made of it. It’s the building block of our cells, the body’s transport system, a shock-absorber, it helps to regulate our temperature. Just give your hands a squeeze together and remind yourself that we are full of water – hopefully this doesn’t cause a mass exodus to the bathroom. Here’s the cool part, or the scary part, depending on which way it goes, not only are we full of water, but we are full of the water that’s around us. So if you’ve lived your life in Toronto, your body is 60% full of Lake Ontario.

Every time I hear it, I also find it quite marvellous to remember that the overall amount of water on the planet has remained the same for the last billion years. So we are made of the water that dinosaurs sipped. We are connected to this lake that in its ancient form was home to giant beavers, that was known as Skanadario, or sparkling water to Haudenosaunee people.

Read the full homily in this PDF document

“A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste” Homily for Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18     Psalm 2 or 99      2 Peter 1:16-21     Matthew 17:1-9

“A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

Sherman Hesselgrave

The season of Epiphany always concludes with the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. This year we have Matthew’s version of the watershed mountain-top moment. It is a revelation, a connecting of dots: a continuity with Moses (whose own mountain-top experience we also heard this today) and the prophet Elijah—icons of the Law and the Prophets—Jesus is part of God’s continuing self-disclosure, and Jesus’ most intimate disciples are there to witness the unforgettable event. And, like a metaphysical bookend, we hear again the words from a cloud that we heard on the first Sunday after the Epiphany, when Jesus was baptized: “This is my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” It is also a turning toward Jerusalem and the drama that will take place there.
Continue reading “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste” Homily for Transfiguration Sunday

Deep Transformation (Homily for February 12, 2017)

Readings:   Deut. 30:15-20     Psalm 119:1-8      1 Cor. 3:1-9     Matthew 5:21-27

Sherman Hesselgrave

Canticle of Transformation

Transform us, O God, as we walk with your grace;
your Word since creation has shown us your face.
Entrust us with vision of your reign on earth;
from chaos and corruption bring us to new birth. Continue reading Deep Transformation (Homily for February 12, 2017)

Foolishness, Hopelessness, and Walking Humbly with God


Homily for 4th Sunday after the Epiphany

Sherman Hesselgrave

Readings: Micah 6:1-8     Psalm 15       1 Corinthians 1: 18-31     Matthew 5:1-12

All of our scripture readings today have something in common. Although each is speaking to a different context, they all have something to do with the new identity that comes with becoming a permanent resident in the commonwealth of God. Micah challenges the assumptions of a religion dominated by a focus on ritual sacrifice. Jesus turns the values of the world upside down. And Paul elaborates on the theme that down is the new up. Continue reading Foolishness, Hopelessness, and Walking Humbly with God

Journeys to Light: An Epiphany Homily

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6     Ephesians 3:1-12     Matthew 2:1-12

Sherman Hesselgrave, homilist

Epiphany is about revelation, disclosure, making one’s presence known, shining a light on things. In the Christian tradition, the season of Epiphany is a time when we hear the stories of God’s self-disclosure through the public ministry of Jesus, beginning with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. We will hear more about that story next week. Today’s gospel is a flashback to a kind of magical story—although I don’t suppose ‘magical’ is the correct adjective that goes with Magi, who appear from a distant eastern land in Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ infancy, on account of their astrological reading of the stars. Continue reading Journeys to Light: An Epiphany Homily

Why are you doing this? (James Harbeck’s homily for Oct. 23rd)

Readings: Sirach 35:12–17, Psalm 84:1–7, 2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18, Luke 18:9–14

We don’t clap for homilies.

If you go most places other than a church – in fact, if you go to some churches, too – a person who gives a speech filled with information and insights will get applause at the end: polite at least, and thunderous if the speech is particularly inspirational. But for a homily? That would imply that the homilist was doing it for their own glory. It would acknowledge the signpost instead of the destination, the spotlight instead of the soloist. This is about god. Or for those principles that we hold in highest esteeem.

And anyway, no one likes someone who is too proud, too obviously pious. In matters spiritual we are to transcend ourselves. We want to do a good job, of course, and there is nothing wrong with feeling satisfied that we have done a good job, but the moment we place ourselves above others we’ve undone, at least within ourselves, what we were setting out to do.

Now, the truth is that we almost never do anything for just one reason. The more valuable ends we can accomplish at the same time, the better. Cook a nice meal and you provide nutrition as well as enjoyment and you get a sense of satisfaction – and you may also show off how much you can afford (or, conversely, how frugal you are), and maybe finally find a use for that jar of pickled lemons you bought a while ago, and solidify your relationship with whoever you cooked for, and…

Even just having a conversation with a friend, you’re not just exchanging information; you’re solidifying and constantly negotiating a relationship, with its attendant statuses and likes and dislikes, and you’re finding out about things that entertain you or that may help you play a role with others – now you are the receiver of information, perhaps what you learn will help you be the wise giver of information with the next person…

There is no “just saying,” after all. You’re always trying to produce some effect. If you say “I’m just saying,” that means you acknowledge that you have no right to expect the other person to act on your wishes… but of course you still want them to. Otherwise you just wouldn’t say it.

So we can see clearly enough that people who exalt themselves and emphasize their sanctity are getting something from it that is more and other than the simple act of worship. Likewise, someone who puts their name all over charitable donations is, in our view, giving the lie to the self-transcendence: they don’t want the fruit of their efforts all to go to the other person, they want some kudos. We tend not to like that. In other cultural contexts it might be seen as setting a good example for others. In ours, it suggests that their interests are at least in part for themselves, which we don’t think of as the right example.

We can sometimes be quite vigorous in calling out hypocrisy and unfairness. When we see people who on the one hand vote to criminalize abortion because they declare that they respect life, but on the other hand vote against funding for social services, so that children once born – and their parents – have much harder lives while those who have more than enough hoard their wealth, we naturally want to point it out. When the “war on drugs” results in no less drug use but a massive pipeline of poor people into prisons to enrich a few, we naturally want to do what we can to fix that. When ad campaigns and sports logos use racist stereotypes, we want to exert what pressure we can to see that fixed.

I’m on Twitter a lot. Twitter is a great place to go if you want to see people calling our wrongdoing. Boy, lemme tell ya, if you want a good argument to fight the good fight, Twitter is the place. Faults are very readily pointed out and immediate correction suggested. And people who are odious are roundly condemned. Even people who are generally on the right path but make use of a stereotype, or thoughtlessly use a casual slur, will get instant correction.

And, boy, it can be great to call someone out. To shut someone down. You’ve struck a blow for justice and fairness. And that adrenaline gets pumping. Doesn’t it feel good?

[meaningful pause]

But does it change the other person’s mind? Is it the most effective way to achieve your ends? Sometimes it is. Being nice only gets you so far. When inequalities are so entrenched that most people think they’re reasonable, the people who disrupt them will seem unreasonable. But sometimes, your reward isn’t changing other people’s minds. It’s just a lively argument that makes you feel good about fighting the good fight. It may alienate someone who was generally on your side, or cause a person on the opposite side to harden their position, but you raised the flaming banner of righteousness! But if you’re not actually changing anything, why are you doing this?

I recently read an excellent article about Derek Black, a young man whose father is a leading white nationalist in the US. Derek grew up to be an important voice in the white nationalist movement, heir apparent to his father’s leadership role, a good friend of David Duke of the KKK. But when he went to college, he went to a fairly liberal college. He kept his white nationalism under his hat so that he wouldn’t be ostracized. But eventually his writings and radio shows were outed to the campus community. Responses were quick and understandable. Many students were very angry with him and had very strong corrective things to say to him, directly or – more often – just through the indirect medium of public denunciation. Derek Black was right, after all: being known as a white nationalist was a sure way to be ostracized.

But some of the students who knew him thought that just ostracizing him wouldn’t produce the best results. One of these was an Orthodox Jewish student who had Shabbat dinners at his apartment every Friday. He always invited a bunch of friends, most of whom weren’t Jewish. He decided to invite Derek Black. Derek Black, who had always been polite to him, but Derek Black, who had written online that Jews were not white and would have to leave the US. Derek came, and he kept coming. Conversations avoided the elephant in the room for a long time and just strengthened the social bonds. Gradually questions were asked. He clarified his views. Then modified them. And as he studied more and more history, he came to find that his views had not been quite well founded. As he came to learn more and to know other students from diverse backgrounds and to understand and respect them, he eventually modified his views so much they… really weren’t white nationalist at all. Finally, in his own time and his own way, he admitted and declared publicly that he wasn’t a white nationalist at all anymore. And that he was sorry for the harm he had done.

White nationalist views – and other similarly harmful lines of thought – have to be opposed. They have to be pointed out. We can’t let people feel that they can hold them comfortably and just get along. But on the other hand, it doesn’t help if we just shout at them and make them dig in while we feel good about ourselves.

Not everybody’s mind is going to change, admittedly. In my younger years I got into a lot of arguments with people who were offensively wrong about things, and I couldn’t understand how they could fail to acknowledge obvious, clearly spelled out facts but would just shift the subject, mischaracterize others’ positions, be abusive. Finally I realized that some people don’t want to actually be right, they just want to be seen as right. To win. They just want to fight and win. When dealing with such people, first make sure you’re not one of them too. And then… cut your losses, walk away, stop trying to convince them, just work to defeat them instead. But, on the other hand, some people who seem like that actually can be engaged. Some immature, abusive, and oblivious people can grow up. Maybe they won’t change their minds right away, but, over time, they very well may. And maybe you’ll learn something too.

But whether we’re working to oppose and undo them, or to welcome them and sway them through openness, we have to keep our eyes on the task at hand. And ask ourselves, why are we doing this? What effect are we trying to produce, and how? If we do something good, of course we’re going to feel good about having done it. But if we’re about to do something that will really only achieve making us feel like we’ve fought the good fight, without actually changing anyone’s mind, well, we get our reward – that feeling of righteousness – but we could have had something better.

“Buying the Needy for a Pair of Sandals” (Homily for September 18)

The prophet Amos writes: “We will sell our wheat charging higher prices than for smaller portions, thus tilting the scales in our favour. That way, we can buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals.” Amos 8:4-7. These lines struck me very powerfully and seems to be an almost modern indictment of our age—how to make money in a capitalist society, charging more for less, cheating people when you can get away with it, and being rewarded with increasing one’s personal wealth at the expense of the poor.
The line about “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals” intrigued me, and I wanted to understand what was meant in the context of Amos’ time. As I discovered it was the practice of buying people as slaves who had fallen into debt, hence buying people who couldn’t even afford their sandals. Right away, the image that came to me is one where people who are homeless often have to sleep with their shoes or boots under their head so they won’t be stolen—this is true when sleeping on a park bench, in a ravine or even in our city funded shelters. And once you lose your shoes you are made even more vulnerable and helpless, having to beg a staff person, or a drop-in worker for a cast off pair. Almost becoming more “slave-like…”
In Jesus’ parable, the manager thought, ‘What will I do, now that my employer is dismissing me?” At this point the manager cut in half each person’s debt, in effect cheating his boss but ensuring he would be taken care of. His boss afterwards actually commended the manager for his shrewdness. Jesus then said to his disciples “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with one another than are the people of the light.
The people of the light…

“No servant can serve two masters–but will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both money and God.” So one definition of a person of light would be someone who doesn’t serve money; those not shrewd in the ways of the world. How can we be people of light? Luke 16:1-13

Many of you know that I work for a family health team that provides primary health care for residents of the largest homeless shelter in Toronto—Seaton House for men. The guys on the street refer to Seaton House as Satan House. If you have never seen it before, it is a giant poorhouse really, housing as many as 600 homeless men at a time. Walking inside you are struck by its cross between a jail and a scene from a Dickens novel of a giant slum. Open wounds, body lice, people smoking crack just across the street, people hustling drugs right on the Hostel floor, deaths from overdose in the rooms, and some of the shelter staff acting more like prison guards than social workers. Last Sunday night a man was stabbed in his bed on the Hostel floor, and just two weeks before a man was not only hit by a car in front of Seaton House, he was repeatedly run over by the driver—a horrific scene played out in front of 10 Seaton House residents. It was in this setting the other day that I spoke with a man I’ll call Tom. Tom is an aboriginal man, Ojibway, with long black hair and dark brown eyes and a tall skinny frame. He was sitting hunched over in a wheelchair—his leg displaying a large open wound. He had no shirt on, and several large bruises were prominent. He said he didn’t remember how he had gotten those bruises. He is all of 32, but he could pass for 62. Life on the street is a hard one. He looked up at me and smiled from his wheelchair. “How are you?” he asked with a big grin, missing a few teeth. He then told me “I’m going pretty good, well, actually I’m a bit messed up right now, but I’ll be okay.” We gave each other props and he smiled at me with an almost dazzling smile. His words spoken so sincerely by someone who has been knocked so low really hit me with their beauty and kindness. When I think of a person of light, I think of Tom, and his buds on the street and Seaton House who help watch his back, and the support people in his life too.

Shifting gears, I want to tell you about a book I’ve been reading:

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America: by Thomas King
Thomas King asks the question “What do Indians Want?” And then changes the question to “What Do Whites Want?” The Lakota didn’t want Europeans in the Black Hills, but Whites wanted the gold that was there. The Cherokee didn’t want to move from Georgia to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), but Whites wanted the land. The Cree of Quebec weren’t at all keen on vacating their homes to make way for the Great Whale project, but there’s excellent money in hydroelectric power. … What do Whites want? The answer is quite simple, and it’s been in plain sight all along. Land. Whites want land.” p. 216.

Two accounts help illustrate this:
Ipperwash: In 1942 during WWII, Government of Canada went looking for a place to set up a military training base, and Stoney Point Ojibway reserve in Ontario was chosen. Canada offered the band fifteen dollars an acre for the land, the band refused, and then Canada confiscated the land anyway, promising to return it after the war. The land was not given back, and after countless protests over the years, 24 years later, in 1996 a protest began to escalate and Dudley George was shot and killed by the OPP. In 2007 plans began to give the land back; trying to clean up some of toxic mess left behind by the military. As of May 2012 the land has still not been returned.
Oka: In 1717 France gave a portion of land along the Ottawa River to the Sulpician Missionary Society. The land belonged to the Mohawk people and for the next 151 years they tried to get it back. In 1868, Joseph Onasakenrat, a chief of the Mohawks wrote a letter to the Sulpicians demanding the return of the land; nothing happened. In 1936 the Sulpician sold the property and left the area. The Mohawks protested the sale, and again, nothing happened. Twenty-three years later, in 1959, a nine hole golf course was built on the land, right next to the band’s cemetery. The Mohawk launched a legal protest, but the developers went ahead with the construction of the course. In 1977, the Mohawks filed an official land claim with the Federal Office of Native Claims in an attempt to recapture the land. Nine years later the claim was rejected. In 1989, the mayor of Oka, announced the “exciting” news that the golf course was going to be expanded taking their land including levelling a forest known among the Mohawk people as “the Pines.” In 1990, Mohawks began occupying the Pines, protecting their trees and their graveyard. Their land. The Oka crisis had begun which ultimately cost two lives and over $200 million. Finally in 1997, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development purchased the disputed land for $5.2 million and quietly “gave” it to the Mohawk.
Now let’s bring this a bit closer to us in Toronto–the conflict between Canada and the Misssissaugas of the New Credit.

In 1787, Sir John Johnson, the Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs met with the Mississaugas at the Bay of Quinte to discuss a number of potential land sales along the north shore of Lake Ontario, including the purchase of land at Toronto as well as land on either side of the Humber River and at Lake Simcoe.

Shortly after this transaction, there was some confusion over the extent of land surrendered. The deed to the land, which was found many years later, was blank and contained no description of the land that had been purchased by the Crown.

Later, Sir Johnson gave an account of the boundaries as roughly “ten miles square at Toronto, and two or four miles . . . on each side of the intended road or Carrying Place” (the Humber River). Six years later, in 1796 a 14×28 mile parcel was surveyed. This was quite a bit different than the 10 x10 parcel of 1787.
So 6 years later, and the Mississaugas were already getting swindled out of land.
The Crown decided to “resolve” the situation by entering into a second Toronto Purchase agreement with the Mississaugas to “confirm” the 1787 surrender. On August 3, 1805, the Mississaugas agreed to the surrender of 14 x 28 miles [392 square miles] of land. The “Toronto Purchase.”

So now the swindle of 1796 is being confirmed and solidified by the decision of 1805. Through the 1805 purchase, the Mississaugas surrendered much of what is now metropolitan Toronto.

Currently, negotiators for the parties are trying to reach an agreement on what constitutes fair cash compensation for the losses to the First Nation as a result of the 1805 Toronto Purchase.

So let’s go back to the shrewd merchant, and our entreaty to serve God and not money. The shrewd merchant would have been rewarded for taking the land at Ipperwash from the Ojibway in 1942, paying very little and promising to return it. Dudley George was killed, but the land is still in the hands of the government—a shrewd merchant indeed. Then in Oka, land that was stolen from the Mohawk and given away by the French in 1717, and then sold in 1936– has been fought over for 299 years. It has finally been returned. Shrewd merchants for almost 300 years. And the land we are standing on was “shrewdly” swindled out of the hands of the Mississauga people
So our history as colonizers has been one of “buying the poor for silver and buying the needy for a pair of sandals,” in effect enslaving our first peoples on this land through murder, lies, deceit, and swindling. Many of our forebears of all of us in this room were perpetrators or at least complicit in this.
So how can we be “people of light” instead? How can we serve God rather than money, and not live for greed and excess, trampling on the poor and becoming like the shrewd merchant?
I have had fantasies of creating a “sister community” with peoples on a reserve up north, sending sports equipment and books and school supplies—throwing money at a poor community. The thoughts of a guilty colonizer… I’m afraid, thinking that I “know” what these communities need. Just like colonizers before me thought that Residential Schools were the answer, converting, re-locating to reserves, scooping up children in the 60s scoop, …the list goes on and on.
As Melanie Kampen said in Unsettling Theology” quoted in Geez Fall 2015: “Decolonization is not a project, or a solution to a problem; it does not warrant a social engineering approach to righting wrongs and pursuing justice and healing—that is still a way of thinking with an imperial mind, one that seeks to control and bring about order out of difference and the conflict it believes differences produce. As Black Elk saw it the healing of the hoop, was a return to the form of a circle, and to walk its path, the good red road, in a sacred manner. What does that mean? To walk as relatives.”
I am intrigued by the invitation we received to meet with the Mississaugas of the New Credit and to get to know each other. What a gift—to be reached out to across the centuries –the people kicked off the land we are standing on right now reaching out to us who live on this land—their land. I am humbled and see glimpses of the people of the light, calling us to be people of the light as well.
As the Psalmist said today: God raises the poor and needy from dust and dung-hill. And aren’t we God’s hands and feet in this world? Psalm 113

When we live in the midst of so much injustice towards our indigenous brothers and sisters, epitomized even by the land we are standing on here, like Tolstoy, I ask us all “What then must we do?” Can we reach out and walk as relatives with our indigenous sisters and brothers? Can we wrestle with our tendency to be more like the shrewd merchant or the “we know best” colonizer?

I would like to leave you with a poem by Rosanna Deerchild, entitled “We Are Just: Indian Woman.”

faded black & white
whispers of a long gone past
like horses and fur trading

we are just: your Disney porn

girl who wears feathers
dances barefoot across
your screens before inviting
you into our tepees

we are just: a decoration

a symbol of his story
that rides into sunset
slips between sheets
of your status quo

we are just: land

conquered cut into
squares labelled and sold off
as economic development

we are just: the body

this country lies on
our bones line every
highway in every direction
here

oh way ya hey ya waaay

I know another story

she
is woman

she is sky
earth

she is your water
your beginning

she is heart
beat

A re-creation
of your declaration
that we are not here

A re-creation story
that begins
with

A whisper
calling all her names
back

A song
rising drum thrum
thrumming
heart

A rising
that begins
with

one

voice
rising

my voice
rising

with my
sisters

rising

with my
mothers

for my daughters

rising

a rising/arising

my name is
sacred

my name is
iskwew

my name is
my name

my name
is not missing
by Rosanna Deerchild from Geez: Contemplative Cultural Resistance; Fall 2015, No. 39, pg. 79.