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.

Friday, January 31 6 PM What kind of city do you want to live in?

The Church and surroundings in 2009

The Church and surroundings in 2009


OASIS – services of music and reflection for the justice-seeking soul. Join us in the church at 6 PM

During this week of budget decisions and in the beginning of an election year let’s gather and think about what we value in the city we call home. How does what we value affect our choices and actions as citizens? Music provided by John Terauds, music director at Church of the Holy Trinity. We will share a bread and soup following the service.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 6:30 PM “Keepers of the Water: A Vigil of Lament and Celebration”

Water“First Nations communities across Turtle Island stand at the forefrontof protecting the sacred watersheds, lands, and wildlife.

This January 2014, we will come together as First Nations People and Allies to take time apart in a sacred vigil to celebrate and honor the waters: the womb of creation and all she provides us. We stand apart together also to lament the destruction of the watersheds from unfettered unconventional fossil fueldevelopment and resource extraction.Together we will take time to deepen in faith our commitment to be Keepers of the waters.

Please join us on January 15, 2014 at 6:30 at the Church of theHoly Trinity as we celebrate together in traditional First Nations and Eastern Christian practices:“Keepers of the Water: A Vigil of Lament and Celebration.”

Organized by:

· Creation Matters – Anglican Diocese of Toronto

· Toronto Urban Native Ministries (TUNM)

· East /Central Toronto KAIROS

· KAIROS Canada

· Church of the Redeemer AIWG and Creation Matters@Redeemer

· Bathurst United Church Social Justice Committee

The Church of the Holy Trinity is located on Trinity Square Toronto, ON M5G 1B1 (it can be accessed from Bay Street south of Dundas or from Dundas Street, west of Yonge and east of Bay Street, or through the Eaton Centre.

November Oasis Poster

We Welcome the Light – OASIS event Friday, November 29 6PM

IMG_0270  Join us for some quiet moments of music and reflection on what is designed to be a shopping frenzy.

Resist the extending shopping hours and great deals. Bring your justice-seeking heart, mind, and soul to a quiet OASIS next to the Eaton Center.

We will sing, talk, pray and use candles to welcome light into a world that seeks justice beyond the greed of consumerism.
The service is followed by a light meal and conversation. Next OASIS is Friday, January 31, 2014


Preview the gorgeous music of The Christmas Story


The cast is rehearsing, the beautiful costumes and props are being inspected and repaired, the Babies Jesus are being scheduled … the Holiday Season is just around the corner and that means soon it will be time for THE CHRISTMAS STORY at the Church of the Holy Trinity (right beside the Eaton Centre). For the 76th year running this not-to-be-missed Nativity experience reminds Toronto of the most important message of Christmas.  Plays December 6-22, 2013 (Fri-Sat-Sun).

The music of THE CHRISTMAS STORY is renowned for its beauty. Accompanied by a professional organist, professional choral musicians raise their voices to lift your heart and spirit at this joyous time of year. We though you might like the chance to preview these gorgeous voices as their warmth echoes though the majestic Holy Trinity church, so we’ve uploaded the chorus singing O Little Town of Bethlehem:

Joining the chorus is a cast of more than 100 volunteer performers – including a small roster of infants who play the Baby Jesus! – who look forward to welcoming you this holiday season as they tell this ages-old story through mime, narration, and song.

Gabriel Visits MaryTHE CHRISTMAS STORY is one of Toronto’s most beloved and most enduring Holiday traditions. First staged at the Church in the last years of the Great Depression, generations of Torontonians from all walks of life have been part of this remarkable community event. Now in its 76th consecutive year, for many, this dramatic retelling of the Nativity story captures the true spirit of the season, and can offer an inspiring respite from the frantic shopping taking place right next door.

We look forward to seeing you this year at THE CHRISTMAS STORY - Please join us!


VENUE: The Church of The Holy Trinity
- 19 Trinity Square, Toronto
(beside the Eaton Centre)

DATES: December 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22
- Fri Dec 6 at 7:30pm
- Sat Dec 7 at 4:30pm ** Matinee only
- Sun Dec 9 at 4:30pm ** Matinee only
- Fri Dec 13 at 7:30pm
- Sat Dec 14 at 4:30pm * & 7:30pm
- Sun Dec 15 at 4:30pm
- Fri Dec 20 at 7:30pm *
- Sat Dec 21 at 4:30pm & 7:30pm
- Sun Dec 22 at 4:30pm & 7:30pm
(* ASL sign language interpretation available Saturday, December 14th at 4:30 pm,
and Friday, December 20th at 7:30 pm)

- Suggested Donation is $20 adults / $5 children 17 & under (a collection will be taken).
- Reserve via or – follow the CHRISTMAS STORY links for dates and times, or call 416-598-8979 to book.
- Doors open half an hour before performances.
- The Church is fully wheelchair accessible.

Media Contact: Jennifer Radford, STAF Publicist at


The Nave, looking down from the western balcony.

Worship Service and Forum Schedule for next six weeks

The following worship services take place on Sunday at 10:30 am in the church.

November 24 Reign of Christ Sunday
December 1 Advent I – Forum to create wreaths
December 8 Advent II – Forum Biblical interpretation challenges


  •           December 15 Advent III – Forum – responses to challenges
  •           December 22 Advent IV children in worship – Forum

Christmas Eve and Day services:
Tuesday, December 24 7:30 pm Caroling and Tree Trimming with 8:30 pm Worship service with communion – children participate in worship
Wednesday, December 25 10:30 am Worship service with communion

Forums follow the service and include a light lunch. They are a 45 minute discussion on a given topic or in some cases like Advent wreath making an active response to a particular subject.

Regular Sunday worship with communion at 10:30 am on Sunday, December 29 – no children’s program

San Esteban Congregation worships in Spanish every Sunday at 2pm

Roma Rising, a homily delivered by Michael Creal, November 10, 2013

Today the Canadian Council for Refugees is launching “we’re proud to protect refugees” week and this congregation won’t have the slightest difficulty in being part of it. Over the years, the Refugee Committee at Holy Trinity has organized the sponsorship of 118 refugees with two more currently on the way. That’s a huge achievement that we can properly celebrate. Looking back, on May the 21st, 1992, along with Alex Neve of Amnesty International and Mary Jo Leddy, a number of other people, members of this congregation signed onto a document promising to protect 23 refugee cases – individuals and in most cases whole families – people who were facing deportation on grounds we couldn’t accept. That was the beginning of the Sanctuary Coalition which has always had a home in this parish. So we have been welcoming refugees both those from refugee camps overseas brought here for resettlement and those who came to Canada on their own to make their refugee claim but who were wrongly rejected by the authorities. Both these expressions of support for refugees continue.


Let me put this in a larger context. This country has had a mixed record in responding to refugees and immigrants. Some random examples. Think of the nineteenth century refugees from the potato famine in Ireland who received less than a warm welcome in this country. Before the First World War, immigrants in large numbers came to Canada – Western Canada in particular – from central and eastern Europe, but they were often stigmatized, regarded as second class by their neighbors who sometimes called them by unflattering names like “bohunks.” In 1939 when a boatload of 1000 Jewish refugees arrived in our waters, they were turned away, sent back to Germany where they eventually faced extermination in the death camps. Late in the Second World War, when a senior Canadian immigration official named Charles Frederick Blair was asked how many Jewish refugees Canada should accept after the war, his famous – infamous – response was “none is too many” (the title of a book some of you will have read on this issue by the historians Harold Troper and Irving Abella. That’s part of the dark stuff in our history .


But after the war, Canada did accept many refugees and displaced persons from Europe. Canada signed onto the Geneva Convention of 1951 which committed this country to give protection to any person fleeing persecution for reasons of race, religion, political affiliation or membership in a particular group. Thousands have come to Canada under that provision. And in 1956 Canada accepted refugees from Hungary, after the Hungarian uprising; in 68 from Czechoslovakia after the soviet tanks rolled into Prague. And in the 70’s some 60,000 Vietnamese boat people were welcomed. And then there were the American draft evaders in the Vietnam war some of whom slept in this church. There were dissenting voices in all these cases but most Canadians took pride in what we were doing. Those were the glory days in Canada’s refugee history, a time of open doors, of welcoming the stranger.


By the 1980’s refugees were coming to Canada from all parts of the world and it was a heavy responsibility for immigration officials to determine their fate. In 1985 the Supreme Court made a landmark decision, the Singh decision which declared that all refugees coming to Canada were entitled to protection under the Charter. There had to be due process in determining who was accepted as a refugee. An arbitrary decision by an immigration official was no longer acceptable. That led to the creation of the Immigration and Refugee Board in the late 80’s a quasi judicial body independent of the Dept of Immigration. That was a step forward. The system worked reasonably well – but mistakes were made – poor legal representation, traumatized claimants, faulty translation, misreading of country conditions. But there was no appeal system, the kind that exists in every other area of our law. It was in response to these mistakes – which meant lives were at risk – that the Sanctuary movement came into existence in Canada and continues to this day. But now we are dealing with legislation that has fundamentally compromised the principle of fairness in determining who is a refugee and who is not. And no group is more adversely affected than the Roma.


Overall, the number of refugee claimants arriving in Canada has dropped from an annual figure ranging from 25,000 to 30,00 to around 10,000 and this is happening at a time when the number of refugees world wide has never been greater. Canada’s doors are closing at a time when the need to welcome and protect has never been more urgent.


There continue to be programs of government sponsored refugees for re-settlement and privately sponsored refugees from refugee camps in different parts of the world. Considering that there are over 16 million refugees world wide – and counting – the numbers sponsored in Canada are pretty tiny. The government’s target for this year is around 7,000. Now I think we want to be responsive to those in greatest need, as generous as possible within our limited resources. That doesn’t, however, seem to be central to the government’s current policy. Recent memos to the Minister propose that Canada select refugees from three targeted areas, reduce the number of refugees with “high needs” and select those who are healthy and who are expected to integrate more easily. The proposed changes all make Canada’s refugee settlement program less generous.


So that’s the current picture: 1. reduce the number coming to make refugee claims and make the process as adversarial as possible, and 2.sponsor those who suit our needs rather than those who themselves are most in need.


OK, that’s a very brief sketch. I want to leave lots of time for Gina. So I’ll conclude by asking in what way do today’s readings speak to our situation?


The setting for the first reading from the prophet Haggai was the time when the Jewish exile in Babylon was over and the returning Jews were faced with the task of rebuilding Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple in almost impossible circumstances. The message of Haggai is a message of encouragement in the face of huge challenges. The situation may be difficult but we are not alone, says Haggai, God’s spirit is with us. Remember this house in its former glory, he says, and look forward to a future where all nations can share in common riches. OK, doesn’t that speak to us today?


The Gospel: Jesus words in Matthew’s story of the Last Judgement are straightforward and compelling: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Need more be said?


The reading from Mary Jo comes out of her experience at Romero House. The knock on the door literally happens. We can take it literally or metaphorically. In today’s complicated and stressful world we can say no, we’ve already got far too much on our plate. Or, we can say “this we must do.” Protecting refugees is not an option. It’s a moral imperative.




loving justice in the heart of the city