All posts by Christopher Lind

“Seek the Welfare of the Place I have Sent You” (Jer. 29)

Sermon by Christopher Lind on the Eve of the Feast of St. Mark for the Ordination of Nola-Susan Crewe

This past January my mother died. She was 93. She lived a full life. She died in her own bed of a heart attack in the house where she had lived for almost 60 years. Would that we could all be so lucky.

My mother was a hoarder. She never threw anything away if she could help it. In her closet we found 50 purses. Downstairs we found 30 years of National Geographic. My parents were readers and we have catalogued 2400 books. She also saved letters. We have letters I wrote as a child. We have letters she wrote as a child. We have letters her parents wrote. We have lots of letters and some of them are very old.

I am going to read you some excerpts from one that I think is most relevant for today. It is from someone named Jeremiah and it is addressed to:

“all the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ….

4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce … 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare ….

Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “he didn’t find this letter in his mother’s house. That’s from the Bible!” Well, you’d be wrong and you’d also be right. I did find this letter in my mother’s house. I found many copies of it because it is from the Bible and we found over 20 Bibles in my mother’s house. (My father’s house may have many rooms but my mother’s house has many bibles!)

Now why would this letter be relevant today and why have people been saving this letter for, now, thousands of years. This letter describes a world dominated by empires and a religious community torn by conflict and divided. Sound familiar? When Jeremiah was writing, Jerusalem had been sacked and the people of southern Israel had been deported to Babylon. Some Jewish interpreters consider this to be the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, 2500 years ago. Where is Babylon? Today we call it Iraq and Jewish communities continued living there into the 20th century. That’s a long time to be away from home.

Consider the reading we heard from Isaiah. In that reading (Is. 52:7-10) the prophet offers words of comfort to the Israelites because “Jerusalem is in ruins”. Even in Isaiah’s time, the trauma of the sacking of Jerusalem is close to the surface.

The leaders of the exiled community are writing to the prophet Jeremiah, asking how than shall they live in this strange land. What will be their ministry? Jeremiah writes back and says “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent youand pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”.

Nola, this is the kind of Church & world where you have been called to minister. As today’s events illustrate so clearly, we are a divided church. We are conflicted. The temple has been sacked and the religious authorities have been dis-established. You have been sent away from your home by the authorities. How then will you minister? What will be your guide? “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Our God is a God of surprises. One of God’s surprises for you, Nola, was to call you to the Church of the Holy Trinity for your curacy. (Maybe God is a God of mischief too!) God has also called you to hospital chaplaincy and God will call you to other places too. There is conflict and division in all these places. How then will you be guided? My counsel to you is to return to the letters that our religious ancestors refused to throw out. Turn to Jeremiah and heed his words: “seek the welfare of the city where you have been sent … and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Nola, in the “examination” you are about to undergo, you will be told that you are “to fashion your life in accordance with [the] precepts [of the Gospel]”. Some people have an idea this means you are supposed to be “nice”. I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says that. I looked it up in my Concordance and I couldn’t even find the word. I thought it might be a matter of translation so I looked up the word “polite”. You know, I couldn’t find that word either! Instead I found that people of faith should be humble, as in this injunction from the prophet Micah: “What does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8)

In the reading you selected from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:11-16) we hear Paul entreating us to “speak the truth in love”. We are to do this not as children but as adults, for “we must grow up in every way”. What does it look like to speak the truth in love, in a grown up way. Sometimes it means speaking out and protesting against discrimination by whatever means is available to you. To speak and act in this way is not to act out. It is to do what is normal when faced with injustice.

Jeremiah was speaking into a situation of deep division. Jesus confronted an empire that crucified its dissidents. The Anglican Church was also born in a time of deep division in the 16th century and that division has continued to today. There was a time in your adult life when this same church would have refused to ordain you just because of your gender. This new possibility of your ordination did not come about because women were nice and polite. It came about because women protested against discrimination and sought to speak the truth in love. They refused to be treated like children and insisted on being treated like adults. Instead of being nice and polite, they followed the injunction of the turn of the century Canadian feminist and Christian, Nellie McClung, who declared: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl.” Even today, I regret to say, there are parts of the Anglican Communion where not only would you be considered ineligible for Episcopal office, but, because of your gender, this ordination will not be recognized.

Protest and objection, complaint and dissent is so common in the history of the church, there is even a place in the service of ordination where such voices are invited to speak. They must be heard, because actually, that’s part of what it means to be Anglican. As long as there is injustice in the world, conflict is normal.

Nola, my mother would have liked you, and you her. She would have been as delighted by this ordination as I am, and delighted by your willingness to accept this call. One of my observations of your ministry here at the Church of the Holy Trinity is that you have indeed been seeking the welfare of this place. Sometimes you challenge us to see ourselves in new ways and that makes us uncomfortable, but even in the planning for this service you have sought your welfare in the welfare of this place, where you have been sent. As my mother would have said: Keep up the good work.

My most fervent prayer is that all people who are qualified, and whose call has been tested and affirmed by the community, could share in the delight you are experiencing today. Amen.

Christopher Lind

25 April 2010

“Building Communities of Wisdom”

A sermon preached on February 28, 2010 by Christopher Lind

Please repeat after me this prayer:

Serenity Prayer (by Reinhold Niebuhr)

“May God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things that I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have been thinking a lot about Wisdom recently. Partly this is because of the difficult choices we are faced with as a community. Partly this is because as individuals we are always and repeatedly faced with decisions where the right answer is not obvious. Maybe we don’t have enough information? Maybe our timeline is too short. Whatever the stress, we find ourselves yearning for the Wisdom of Solomon.

You may remember Solomon as the King of Israel who rendered a famous judgment. Two women were arguing about a baby, each claiming the baby as their own. When Solomon suggested dividing the child in two with a sword and giving each woman a half, one of the women refused the offer saying she would rather lose the baby than have it killed and divided. By this Solomon identified the child’s true mother.

In the Biblical tradition, Solomon is considered the model of wisdom. Solomon is the son of King David and when he becomes King, he prays to God not for long life or wealth or death of his enemies, but for discernment in administering justice. God grants his wish and

“The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)

Other wise men and women are also examples of the Wisdom tradition. These are craftsmen, royal counselors, sorcerors, magicians, astrologers & professional sages (see Isa 3:2-3). So, Joseph in his role as the interpreter of dreams for the Pharaoh is a good example of the Wisdom tradition but so too are the most wise men of all, the 3 Kings from the East, who come every Christmas, right on cue.

As you can see, Wisdom is international (Jer 10:4 “wise ones of all the nations”). Wisdom doesn’t come from just one place. It can come from any place and you know it when you experience it. Wisdom is not limited to Israel and it didn’t originate there but Wisdom was one of the major facets of Near Eastern culture. The book of Proverbs refers to God giving us “30 sayings of admonition & knowledge” (Prov 22:20) and some scholars think they come from an ancient Egyptian wisdom book with 30 chapters. In the same way some scholars think large portions of the book of Job (3:1–42:6) may be a reworked Edomite tale.

Wisdom is also a complex theological term because it represents an alternative way of understanding the statement “Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God”. You see, in the book of Proverbs Wisdom is described as the first work of God at the beginning of Creation (Prov 8:21-31). So, when in the beginning of John’s Gospel we read “in the beginning was the Word” we are seeing the writer of John’s Gospel say that the Word of God is the Wisdom of God. This also makes sense of St. Paul’s claim in 1Corinthians when he describes Christ as “the power of God and the Wisdom of God… [and also as the one] who became for us wisdom from God.” (1Cor 24, 30).

There are different kinds of literature in the Bible. There is history, there’s biography, there is poetry, there are songs, there are letters, there are myths of origin, there are even coded attacks against the Roman empire (like in Revelations). One of the other types of literature is Wisdom literature. It includes Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and some other books in the Apochrypha.

If Solomon is the model for Wisdom, the Proverb is the literary prototype. You all know what a proverb is. It is a short popular saying or an authoritative word. When we speak of the improving economy and say “A rising tide lifts all boats”, or when we describe a hockey team and say “ A chain is only as strong as the weakest link”, we are quoting modern proverbs. However, when we say “A good man is hard to find” we are not quoting an episode of the Bachelorette, we are quoting the prophet Micah (7:2). And when Dr. Phil says “Don’t go to bed angry” I wonder if he knows he is quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:26)?

As you can see, not all Proverbs come from the Book of Proverbs. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, when Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” he is alluding to another proverb heard earlier in the Gospel when he said “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

King David is thought to have composed the Psalms. The Psalms are part of the Wisdom tradition though some are more obviously wise than others. Today’s Psalm confronts the issue of fear & responds with Wisdom. What is the wisdom on offer here?

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

This Sunday is the second Sunday in Lent but it is also our Vestry Sunday which means after this service we have what other organizations would call our Annual General Meeting. At this meeting we will be considering a proposed Mission Statement, some proposed Strategic Directions for the next 3 – 5 years and we will also be discussing a draft Vision statement.

The planning group working on Mission & Vision has worked hard to both represent consensus and also to challenge certain assumptions. We have struggled over what it means to be a parish in the Anglican tradition when the contradictions of the larger Anglican Communion have been laid bare for all to see.

For myself, I wonder what would it mean to claim an identity as part of the wisdom tradition? Wisdom is central to Christianity but it does not originate there. It is international but also local; it is the opposite of folly but is not the same as certainty; it requires memory, action and knowledge: remembering, doing & knowing.

What would it mean for us to identify as a community of wisdom? Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, says that “Wisdom [is] not esoteric, a secret for only mature believers; rather, wisdom [is] a spiritual gift whereby thinking (the head) and knowing (the heart) joined and opened the way to God.” (p. 51) This book is a study of liberal protestant churches in the US that are growing! She describes these as the ‘new village churches’ because they have found a new way to negotiate the relationship between religious faith and a secular culture. “Although they have buildings,” Bass writes, “new village churches are primarily the communal journeys of a people finding a home in tradition, practice and wisdom.” (p. 53)

Wisdom requires doing. It requires a memory of doing the right thing in the past. It requires doing the right thing now and it requires discernment of just exactly what that right thing is: Remembering, doing & knowing.

In the very early church, followers of Jesus were known as the “people of the way” because they were people who were trying to follow the teachings of the wise Jesus as a ‘way of life’. Some people summarize the essence of that way of life as the ‘Golden Rule’: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12 & 22:39). It doesn’t say ‘do unto others as they have done to you’ but ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It is a short popular saying, an authoritative word. It is a proverb! It also exists in ancient Egyptian Wisdom, in Greek Philosophy, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism & Taoism. It is recognized as Wisdom in all the major religions. It is international.

Confucius said that wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection, imitation and experience. He said imitation was the easiest way, reflection was the noblest way and experience was the bitterest way. I recommend that when we consider our vision for the future, we consider what it would mean to claim Wisdom as our orienting image. If this seems like a scary prospect, I can only quote today’s Psalm ““Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

Christopher Lind

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

A Sermon Preached on Nov.15th by Christopher Lind

Dr. Michael Hryniuk is a theologian from the Ukranian Catholic side of the family, the Christian family that is. He is a former Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society of Canada and a specialist in spirituality. Spirituality is a famously hard concept to define and I was present at lunch one day when a friend asked him boldly: “Can you define Spirituality in 10 words or less?” Meeting that bid and raising it, he replied: “Sure! I can define it in three words – Meaning, Healing & Belonging”. I have thought a lot about those three words in the last year, and tested them out in a variety of contexts. Every time they have passed the test in flying colours.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging.

Meaning in the context of spirituality refers to a person or a group’s “whole way of life in response to what they perceive to be of ultimate meaning, value, and power”. It is the orienting principle in their life. You find out about a person or a group’s understanding of ultimate meaning either by studying their declarations (their Creed or Mission Statement if you like), or by studying their behaviour. They don’t always add up. When they do add up we call that integrity. When they don’t add up we call that hypocrisy. The Anglican Church of Canada has been struggling with this issue over the question of equal marriage. When we say that all persons are created equal in the eyes of God and ought not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race, class, ability, gender or sexual orientation, are we speaking out of both sides of our mouths? Or are we acting with integrity?

As a congregation we are also grappling with this dilemma. We don’t include the ancient creeds in our Sunday liturgy but we are stumbling slowly toward a mission statement in our strategic planning process in spite of being surrounded by them. We have them painted on our walls, stained into our windows and after a fashion, printed on the front of our bulletins. The meaning of our lives has to do with the purpose and direction of our lives. We are moving slowly because we want to achieve congruence between our behaviour and our beliefs. If we are serious about that direction, you will be able to see it with your eyes as well as hear it with your ears.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Healing in the context of spirituality refers to overcoming the inner split between our true selves and our false selves. It does not refer to curing a disease but to rediscovering the undivided self. We all have these memories, sometimes vivid, sometimes vague, of an innocent childhood that becomes damaged by a corrupted world. For some, this memory is the earliest memory we have. It is also the most powerful and the most damaging and we call it abuse. For others it is not fatal, and we still spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome the distance that has been created. In both cases we have a sense of the sacred being assaulted and it is our own experience of the divine we are trying to recover. In the fifth century, the North African theologian, St. Augustine, captured this idea when he wrote “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The split that needs to be healed is the split between the presence of the Divine and the absence of the Divine, between our truest, purest self and our damaged, defeated and disoriented self. Our damaged self can be a deceitful self. This self doesn’t want to know what is going on. It wants to hide from the truth. It wants to stay unconscious because the burden of consciousness is too heavy to bear. Groups can be like this – political groups, university departments, nurses unions, corporate boardrooms, even religious groups (especially religious groups). We can ALL be like that. It is a form of original sin, and we are all guilty from time to time. We are broken and we need healing.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Belonging in the context of spirituality refers to a recognition that human beings are in their essence, social beings. We are born into and made for community. In the last three or four hundred years, western culture has made progress in affirming the rights and unique character of the individual. This has allowed us to remake society to be a more equal and more just place. One of the costs of this progress has been an obscuring of our mutual interdependence, of our communal nature. From the very beginning, we are born into relationship with others. Before there is a me, there is a we. Another way we have obscured this truth is by confusing belonging with belongings. In a society of great material wealth, we focus our energies on acquiring ever more belongings instead of asking the question, to whom do I belong? Anybody here seen the bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? How about a new banner hanging from the wall of the church outside that says: “We all belong to God – Church of the Holy Trinity!”

Today’s Epistle is from the letter to the Hebrews. Hidden in the middle of today’s reading we find the following snippet 10:15-16):

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

This is a quotation. In Deuteronomy (6:4-9) we find the great Hebrew Creed, the Shema which reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

(We remember that part for reasons I will explain, but we don’t remember what follows)

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Keep these in your hearts … fix them on your forehead

You might connect this to Mark’s Gospel (12:28-34). There we read about a Scribe who asks Jesus to name the most important commandment. He replies by quoting the Shema. “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Now if you grew up in the Anglican Church you will remember this from the Book of Common Prayer. In every communion service the prayer book calls for reciting either the 10 commandments or this Summary of the Law. If the worship committee were to ask me for input into revisions of our Sunday liturgy, I would recommend a recovery of this Summary of the Law, which contains the ancient Creed. For me, this represents the core of the spirituality that I want us to be about. It is about integrity, it is about inclusion, it is about meaning, healing and belonging. If, as a congregation, we could adopt this as our mission statement, then I would say with Jesus “[We] are not very far from the kingdom of God”.

I recently attended a memorial service for a woman who died, after a full life, at the age of 92. The service was held at a funeral home and led by an Anglican priest the deceased had never met. I learned at the reception that while the 92 yr. old had identified herself as an Anglican, neither of her children (both in their late 50s) could ever remember her attending church. They speculated that she had stopped going to church after the death of her first child. Her first born, a boy, had died at the age of 9 months of pneumonia. That was over 60 years ago. At that same reception, I met this woman’s daughter-in-law who still had not picked up the ashes of her late husband who died tragically in a car accident, 16 years ago, in his late 30s. Both of these women have experienced, and shared deep tragedy. In different ways, their injuries went unhealed. These injuries are material and corporeal – two people died. But their injuries are also spiritual. The sacred has been profaned and the image of the divine has been violated. They came to experience distance where before they experienced unity. They seek reunion, yet don’t know how to achieve it. They struggled with issues of meaning, needed healing but weren’t sure how to achieve it, knew they belonged to their biological family but had an ambiguous and confused sense of belonging to the Christian family. This funeral was an opportunity for the church to say “You belong to God” and however painful your life has been, Jesus has gone there before you.

Today it is common to hear people describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. I get the ‘not religious’ part. It means they don’t attend church, or synagogue, or temple or mosque, but what does it mean to be spiritual? I think it means they are seekers after meaning, seekers after healing, and seekers after belonging. That means they are just like you and me.