Category Archives: Sermons

Reflections given as sermons at a public service. The members of the community take it in turns to preach to the whole community.

The Gift of Progressive Revelation

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sherman Hesselgrave
Acts 16:9-15    Ps 67      Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5     John 14:23-29

The Sunday morning Bible study spent several weeks over the last two months looking at the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. One of the features of those three chapters is a series of sayings of Jesus that follow the pattern: “You have heard that is was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not…’  But I say to you….” So, for example, “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not murder’;…. But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;….” “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus is taking the familiar ten commandments and revealing a deeper spiritual understanding of them. And in so doing he is taking aim at the hypocrisy of those who prided themselves on their apparent religious virtue—they had never killed anybody or committed adultery—but in their hearts they had hated and lusted, and Jesus was not letting them off the hook.

Last Sunday, the story of Peter’s remarkable vision during his siesta at Joppa was one of the appointed readings: a vast canvas full of non-kosher animals appears to come down from heaven, accompanied by a voice instructing Peter to “kill and eat.” Peter’s response is to refuse this dietary violation. But the voice from heaven says, `What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This sequence happens three times before the canvas is taken back up to heaven, and when Peter awakes, he manages to connect the dots and concludes that God’s Spirit was telling him that henceforth, the message of Jesus was to be shared with both Jews and Gentiles alike, without distinction.

These are a couple examples of what can be called progressive or continuing revelation. Today’s reading from Jesus’ farewell discourse in the Gospel of John mentions the Holy Spirit, whom the [Creator] will send in Jesus’ name, and who will teach the disciples everything, and remind them of all that Jesus had said to them. A couple chapters later, Jesus will tell them, “‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, it will guide you into all the truth;….” It is almost as if Jesus was imagining a day when, after the biblical canon was closed, that is, once the early church finally decided which books and letters would be in and which would not, there would be some of his followers who would insist that God’s revelation was complete. For those folks,   continuing revelation is a threat, because it means that the process of God’s self-disclosure modelled in the Bible did not end with the book of Revelation.

The monotheistic community whose oral traditions became the Hebrew Scriptures recorded an evolving understanding of God and what God expected of them. The experience of God at the time of the Exodus is far different than the experience of God following the Babylonian Exile. And the God whom Jesus wants his followers to know is different than the God described by the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

In English, the word ‘revelation’ comes from the Latin verb that means ‘to unveil or uncover’. We also use the word ‘apocalypse,’ from the Greek word meaning ‘to cause something to be fully known, reveal, disclose,’ although often ‘apocalypse’ becomes associated with end-times and final judgment. Richard Niebuhr, in his book, The Meaning of Revelation, wrote:

Revelation means for us that part of our inner history which illuminates the rest of it and which itself is intelligible. Sometimes when we read a difficult book, seeking to follow a complicated argument, we come across a luminous sentence from which we can go forward and backward and so attain some understanding of the whole. Revelation is like that.

We all have had Aha! moments when the scales fall from our eyes and we see clearly for the first time. Perhaps we have had a life experience that made us aware what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. One of my former bishops recalibrated his theological position on gays and lesbians after his only child came out to him. Many generations of people who lived with dyslexia had to endure teachers who misjudged their intelligence because they did not understand the nature of the disability. Progressive revelation comes in many packages. In some ways it is like reading a detective novel. You collect clues as you work through the narrative, and eventually you reach a eureka moment.

As I mentioned earlier, not everyone is comfortable with the notion of continuing revelation when it comes to matters of faith. I have been drafting a letter to the Anglican Journal as an advocate for changing the Marriage Canon. I pose the question: “When does perpetuating a tradition or teaching of the church become a sin?” One historical example should suffice: In the Bible and for hundreds of years, slavery was accepted as part of the world’s economic reality. For about 40 years, William Wilberforce introduced private member’s bills in Parliament to abolish slavery. It wasn’t until he was on his deathbed that the British changed the law. What had once been both legal and acceptable in Christendom, was now illegal and immoral—a sin. Some day, the Anglican Church of Canada will reach the tipping point. Our sacred story tells us in the book of Genesis that, after God concluded that it was not good for Adam to be alone, God allowed Adam to decide who is a suitable companion for marriage. Wouldn’t it be something if the church did the same?

Progressive revelation also applies to our communal life. God calls to us from the future, not from our past, so discerning what we should be doing now to prepare for what is over the horizon will require us to look at the clues the Author of the universe has given us, and use the faith, intelligence and resources with which we have been blessed to create the future to which we are being called.

A long night of work…

Peter Haresnape’s Homily for Easter 3

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was now living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience

[— T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland“]

After the busyness and disruption of Easter, we get back to work, the children go back to school, and Simon Peter gets together with his friends and goes fishing.

A long night of work, and nothing to show for it, but then, through the sudden provision of great abundance, they recognise the Lord in the mysterious, almost unrecognizable form waiting by the shore. Continue reading A long night of work…

“Water is the blood that flows through this wounded body”

A reflection on Water For Ecumenical Good Friday,
Church of the Holy Trinity, March 25 2016

Who lives the pain of Good Friday in our time? Communities of Pimicikamak /Cross Lake, Syria, South Sudan, Kashechewan…

Where do we hear the cries? Taste the thirst for justice? Refugees fleeing, women sexually assaulted, black lives ignored, Indigenous girls missing…

Where do we see the wounds? Melting permafrost, fracked earth, tailings ponds, tanker spills… Continue reading “Water is the blood that flows through this wounded body”

Notes for a Sermon at Holy Trinity February 14, 2016  by Suzanne Rumsey

 

Suzanne Rumsey

 

Suzanne Rumsey’s sermon

First Sunday in Lent/Valentine’s Day

 

From “Lullaby,” by the Dixie Chicks

How long do you wanna be loved?

Is forever enough?  Is forever enough?

How long do you wanna be loved?

Is forever enough?

‘Cause I’m never ever giving you up.

 

When Alison asked me to preach on this first Sunday in Lent and this Valentine’s Day, I asked how she might like me to focus my reflections.  She wrote the following:

“My hope is that the preacher can talk about the temptations that we experience at HT. Stones into bread. Political power. And the one that I think we seldom identify: our temptation to suicidal behaviours. What are we doing to tempt our own fate? Do we think we have a lock on our survival? As humans, settler Canadians? Anglicans? HT? Do we need to consider our responsibility to use our lives? How does that sound?”

 

To which I replied:

“Wow, and I thought it was all about the love (kidding)!  Okay, I will give this some thought and do my best with the challenge you present.”

Continue reading Notes for a Sermon at Holy Trinity February 14, 2016  by Suzanne Rumsey

Reflections on 1 Corinthians chapter 13 – a homily by Michael Creal

Homily Jan 31,2016 — Michael Creal

Michael Creal

Today’s readings provide rich fare for reflection and commentary but following the principle that sometimes less is more, I’m not going to deal with either the Isaiah passage or the gospel passage, important as they are. Instead, I’m going to focus on Paul, and that chapter from first Corinthians. [Ch. 13]

Just to contrast some features of the contemporary world with what Paul sets out in that famous chapter, let me draw to your attention the movie, The Big Short. If you have seen it, you will probably agree that it is pretty chilling stuff. It’s about four stock traders (and, of
course, there were many like them)in the period of the 2008 crash who saw they could make a killing by selling to unsuspecting buyers bundles of mortgages that they knew would eventually be worthless). Continue reading Reflections on 1 Corinthians chapter 13 – a homily by Michael Creal

Feast – reflecting on community and intimacy

Our liturgy this morning was on the theme of feast. I am including the reflection I shared, in both text and video forms as well as the bulletin which has most of the service text. There are a few bits missing from the bulletin, but the most exciting bit was that the Fallen Angles played “Changes” by David Bowie as a Postlude and tribute. Thanks to everyone who sang and danced along. Continue reading Feast – reflecting on community and intimacy

Homily for The Baptism of Jesus

Readings: Isaiah 43:1-7     Psalm 29      Acts 8:14-17     Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

Called By Name 

by Sherman Hesselgrave

What’s in a name? My mother’s father, Grandpa Larsen, was descended from a Dane names Lars. My grandfather Hesselgrave’s family hailed from a town in Northern England named Hazel Grove, so it is thought that our family name is a variant spelling of a place. Some people bear the names of ancestors’ occupations: the Bakers, Carpenters, Farmers, and Schneiders, for example.  My father told the story of an occasion when he was conducting a baptism in the African bush, and asked the parents the name of the child. They said, “Matata.” Now, thanks to The Lion King, many people know the Swahili phrase ‘hakuna matata,’ means ‘no problem or no trouble.’ So, my father asked the parents why they wanted to name their son Trouble, and they explained that they had had great difficulty in bearing children, and this baby had finally survived. He managed to persuade them to choose another name, and not saddle the child with the memory of their suffering. Continue reading Homily for The Baptism of Jesus

Pinch me, I must be dreaming…

Homily on November 8, 2015 by Katherine Assad

Yesterday on the bus I got a text message from Rob Shropshire, a member of the Holy Trinity refugee committee whom many of you know, telling me to listen to an interview on CBC with John MaCallum, our new Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. Rob said that the interview was so amazing he was literally pinching himself, so I listened to it right then and there.

The minister confirmed that the government will indeed be moving ahead with the resettlement of 25,000 refugees and that the interim federal health program for refugees that was cut a few years ago would be fully reinstated. And these 25000 to be resettled will be government-assisted refugees. These numbers do not include the number of refugees that will be privately sponsored by constituent groups like ours of groups of five. For me this point is huge. Continue reading Pinch me, I must be dreaming…

The Heart of a Teacher (September 13, 2015 Homily)

Readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9a     Psalm 116:1-8       James 3:1-12     Mark 8:27-38

Sherman Hesselgrave

It has been fun to follow the first-week-of-school Facebook posts. The photos of youngsters heading off to day one of grade one, and their assessments of their first day trigger a flood of memories. The mixture of excitement and dread that accompanies the plunge into new educational adventures and social negotiations are not easily forgotten. What will a new teacher be like? How will the transition to a new school go? Am I ready for the independence a university environment affords?

It is probably not accidental that all three of today’s scripture readings mention teachers or teaching. The lectionary is often mindful of universalities that intersect with the church year. In Isaiah, the voice of the servant in the Third Servant Song announces: “Yahweh has granted me the tongue of a teacher, able to console the weary with a sustaining word.” The Letter of James cautions: “Not many of you should become teachers,… for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” And in the gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples that those who desired to be his followers would face suffering.

I think one of the reasons so many were drawn to Jesus was because he was one of those teachers—‘rabbi’ means ‘teacher’ after all—who helped people find meaningful answers to the deep problems they faced in their daily lives. Isn’t that what teachers do? Help people to figure out how to think about an enormous range of challenges or problems—communicating clearly with language; analyzing how the universe works using mathematics and science; what makes for effective and beautiful artistic expression; or how human societies behave. Teachers are responsible for passing along the wisdom of the ages while, at the same time, considering innovations that may steer the future in new directions.

Sigmund Freud popularized the following quotation, without ever identifying its source. It goes like this: “The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.” It is a powerful observation, because it reminds us that the future is not necessarily condemned to repeat the past. “We’ve always done it this way before,” was not carved on the stone tablets delivered to Moses on Mt Sinai. Today’s decisions and practices can steer the future in a completely different direction than the decisions and practices that brought us to where we are. We can be taught how to create a future that is not a mere extrapolation of our past.

Even though Jesus was formed in the Jewish spiritual traditions, traditions that included a well-established strand of retributive, eye-for-an-eye justice, he knew that forgiveness was the most effective way to abort the never ending cycles of score settling. Huston Smith, the great scholar of world religions, asserts that this teaching of Jesus is the essential contribution of Christianity. Christ, the Teacher, spoke from the heart of God, imparting wisdom that had the power to change human history.

The Rule of St Benedict has been around for nearly 1,500 years. The first line of the prologue of the rule encourages one to: “Listen carefully,… to the teacher’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” “Attend to them with the ear of your heart.” The teacher in this instance is Benedict, who is sharing his guidelines for Christians living and working in community, but the exhortation to listen with the ear of our hearts does not require us to be members of a religious order as we struggle to discern the instructions of the divine Teacher.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And after they responded, he followed up with, “What about all of you? Who do you say that I am.” I have been reading James Carroll’s newish book, Christ Actually: the Son of God for the Secular Age. The book was inspired by a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his student and friend Eberhard Bethge. At a time when many German Christians had no crisis of conscience over the Nazi program, Bonhoeffer intuited the need for a radically reimagined Jesus:

“What keeps gnawing at me,” Bonhoeffer writes, “is the question, What is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today? The age when we could tell people that with words—whether with theological or pious words—is past, as is the age of inwardness and conscience, and that means the age of religion altogether…. The question to be answered would be, What does a Church, a congregation, a liturgy, a sermon, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we talk about God without religion?… Christ would then no longer be the object of religion, but something else entirely, truly the Lord of the world. But what does that mean?”

We have observed or been part of the wrestling with questions such as these over the last 70 years since Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom just a few days before the end of the war. We have made some progress. The word ‘genocide,’ for example, was first used in 1944, and while there may be universal condemnation of the practice, we can point to numerous eruptions of genocidal violence in places like Cambodia, the former Balkans, in Africa and elsewhere. And then there is the cultural genocide we in North America have enabled.

If the gospel is good news, where do we find hope as we continue to struggle with these questions? What spoke to me over the past two weeks as I let today’s readings marinate, was the idea of asking God to give us the heart of a teacher. For the best teachers meet a person wherever they are and they listen carefully to the problem or challenge at hand, and they work together to apply the wisdom or the resources or techniques or models that will bring understanding and accomplishment.

As people shaped by eucharistic practice, we ask God each week to feed us with spiritual bread for our journey. May that include giving us compassion to bring healing, reconciliation, and hope into a world overflowing with pain. May the spirit of Christ the Teacher actually fill our hearts with the shalom of God.