Category Archives: Reflections

“Fan into a flame the gift that God gave you”

Our affections and beliefs are wiser than we; the best that is in us is better than we can understand; for it is grounded beyond experience, and guides us, blindfold but safe, from one age on to another.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Stevenson wrote these words in the dedication of a collection of his youthful writings and his Ethical Papers. I had picked up the book at a yard sale years ago, but finally got around to reading it this week, and when I read the passage above I flashed on Paul’s words to Timothy: “fan into a flame the gift that God gave you…” (2 Tim. 1:6)

As we looked around this week and watched the financial markets reel and tumble, I’m sure I was not the only one wondering how on earth, with all the Ivy-League brain-power on Wall Street, no one saw this scenario coming. The blinding ability of greed, perhaps.

I see a more hopeful scenario as we look to the future at Holy Trinity. In the three months I’ve been in Toronto, I have seen glimpses of the goodness and gifts that reside in the members of this community, and the future they envision is not powered by self-interest, but by a deep and rich desire to live out the gospel values, engaging the brokenness of the world with compassion. May God’s Spirit continue to blow on our embers and fan us into a roaring flame.

A violent wind

Looking over the Pentecost bulletin I can only imagine the joy you will be experiencing. ¡Mucho gusto!

I’m looking forward to June 1st. Jim Love is the worship coordinator for that day, and we’ll be working on that this week, along with packing kitchen stuff, and sorting things to be taken along or left
behind.

Bishop Gene Robinson’s autobiographical, “In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God” includes an amusing anecdote about a very special Pentecost service at a large church in Florida described as having a “flair for the dramatic.”

The priest “decided to dramatize the Holy Spirit coming like wind in a particularly spectacular way. He got the engine out of one of the boats used in the Everglades– an airplane propeller attached to a big gasoline engine–and mounted it in the choir loft high in the back of the church. The wind from the propeller would blow across the congregation when the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit was read, It seemed like a great idea….

So when the great moment arrived, and the lector read, ‘And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house’, the engine coughed once and then howled into life.

But the effect was a little different than it had been in rehearsal. The sudden screaming gust of wind sent sheet music and bulletins flying out over the congregation. Coiffeurs came undone and hair streamed out from faces. The preacher’s sermon notes were gone with the wind. A hair piece flew towards the altar like a furry missile. It was like a scene from ‘Green Pastures’ when the angel Gabriel looks down and tells the Lord ‘Everything that was nailed down is comin’ loose!’

Everything was messy and noisy, and absolutely unpredictable. And that’s just the way it is with the Spirit.”

Praying that the Spirit is filling your sails at HT,

Sherman

Maiden Voyage

Years ago, I was preparing an address for my first congregational meeting as the new pastor. I had titled it “Great Expectations” and—in that age before laptops—given the manuscript to my secretary to type. As I proofed the typescript, I spotted a typographical error that made me burst out laughing. I had written something about our common “hopes and dreams,” but it had come out “hopes and dreads.” The more I reflected on the error, the more I realized it had revealed a truth of its own. New beginnings are, indeed, about hopes and dreams; but new beginnings also come with fears about how the future will play out.

It is probably a good idea that the Gospel reading appointed for the Sunday after Easter is always the same: the risen Christ appearing out of nowhere and announcing “Shalom” to the disciples, who have been paralyzed by fear and hunkered down behind bolted doors since the crucifixion. I see this as one of many examples of God giving Jesus’ followers exactly what they needed to start them in the direction of a hopeful future. ‘Shalom’ is a much richer word than ‘peace,’ for it also connotes wellness and wholeness, nothing missing, nothing broken. It was the word they needed to hear after their world had collapsed and they didn’t know where to turn. It was the word that rolled back the stone and drew them out of their tomb of fear.

The risen Christ still comes into our midst and speaks to us with words of encouragement, words of prodding, words of vision, words of hope. I’m sure it is clichéd now to call Christians ‘Easter People,’ but I love the season of Easter and everything about it, because it reveals the essence of the gift we as Christians have to offer a broken world. From Easter sprang the original vision of who we are as Jesus’ followers, and how we are to focus our energies.

Easter blessings,
Sherman

Words & Community

How many preachers do we have in our congregation today? How many of you preach fairly regularly? Let’s say at least once a year? How many of you have preached a sermon on at least one occasion in your life? Let’s see all the hands.

I think I will use that show of hands in support of my claim that Holy Trinity is a very articulate community. We place a very high value on words. Especially when they are used in theological discourse.

Holy Trinity values and attracts people who believe in the power of words to bring the living Christ into our midst. We place a great deal of faith in the power of words to define who we are as a Christian people and to unite us in a common vision for our church and a common ministry to the world around us.

I know I’m stretching a point here. That none among us really believe that we can articulate our way to salvation. But I wonder if sometimes we don’t forget that. We get so caught up in our wordiness, most of the time our very articulate wordiness, that we forget the inadequacy of words to capture the deepest truth of our being, let alone the true essence and wonder of God.

… sermon continues

The preceding was a transcript of the first 2 minutes of a 14 minute sermon available as an mp3 audio download.

The struggle against homelessness

At noon this coming Tuesday, a small group of people will meet on Trinity Square just outside the south door of the church to remember all the people who have died homeless on the streets of our city. We will light candles, read the names of those who have died in the past month, hear remembrances from people who knew them, observe a short period of silence, read a poem, listen to a song, share announcements of events related to the struggle against homelessness and perhaps express some frustration at our inability to effect change. Then we will come inside the church for lunch.

On other days when the church is open to the public, homeless people will come and go. Some will sleep for hours on couches at the back of the church. Some will use the phone. Some will chat with the People Presence volunteer or with the caretaker on duty. Most will be quiet and respectful of the space. A few will be loud and disruptive. By virtue of their humanity, all will challenge us to treat them with dignity and respect. And, by their very presence, each one of them will challenge us to question what we can do, what we are doing, to make a real difference in their lives.

There is no question that the thing they need most is a home. There is no question that Holy Trinity has a role to play, and has long played a key role, in advocating for more affordable housing. There is no question that the work of advocacy is intense, that it consumes a lot of time and energy, and that those who are deeply involved in it have little time to respond in more immediate ways.

There is also no question that social change takes time and that, even when the public will to act is strong, houses are not built overnight. So as the behind the scenes advocacy work is going on ­ and just how much of that is going on at Holy Trinity right now? ­ the need remains for Holy Trinity to offer some level of hospitality to the homeless people who come here. Is it enough to let them sleep at the back of the church when the doors are open, give them an occasional cup of coffee and share our Sunday lunch with them? Could we be doing more, should we be doing more, to bring a measure of comfort and dignity to their lives right now?

Some people at Holy Trinity think we should and they are willing to take the lead in doing it. At a congregational meeting after the service next Sunday (January 13) they will be sharing a proposal and asking for the support of others. Please come and listen to what they have to say. Even if what they propose is not what you believe most needs to be done, please give them your attention and offer them your gratitude for the care for the homeless that they are expressing on behalf of this church. Let’s receive their proposal as a call to consider what Holy Trinity’s response to homelessness ought to be at this particular moment in its history and given that, by their very presence in our church, homeless people require a response from us.