The Annunciation: To Feast or Not to Feast????

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annunciation-John Collier

The Annunciation by John Collier 

 

Last week I was visiting the FB page for a conference I’m helping to organize for June of this year.

In the midst of commiseration discussions surrounding the stress and anxiety that Lent can provoke, my attention was caught by the following thought from one of my colleagues and fellow event-organizer:

Having a baby in the middle of Lent kind of throws off the tone. Hard to be penitential and abstain when there is so much to celebrate.

Indeed! :)

Having a baby often turns lives upside down. Everyone is excited to welcome the newest family member. People take time out of their schedule to visit the hospital, to bestow adorable onsies, gifts, kisses and smiles and hugs all around. If ever there was a time to say Alleluia! I’m pretty sure this is it. :D

The regular rhythm of life for the family is also interrupted. If there are kids already in the picture, they now become siblings. Mom and Dad are now instantly “on call.” Diapers must be changed, cries attended to, and feedings to provide at all hours of the day or night. Sleeping patterns are temporarily dashed to pieces…..and a whole new way of life begins.

Which brings me to a reflection about the Feast of the Annunciation. This day in our Christian calendar–when Mary finds out that she is carrying a precious baby boy–typically falls in Lent.

The Good News which we remember and celebrate today, is the message of a child who will not only provide the Blessed Virgin’s family with love and fulfillment…..but will in fact carry that love and grace to the whole world; becoming our brother, our friend and our Saviour.

During the 40 day fast, it is customary to bury the Alleluia altogether. Mind you, I have seen parishes in which the custom is to break out the “A” word for this feast and also for the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19th)

So……what is a young priest to do??? :P

The Feast of the Annunciation is all about the unexpected. Can you imagine being a 13 year old girl who has an angel show up at your doorstep??? Not only that…..but this scary-ass angel is telling you that you’re PREGNANT?!? :P…….

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Mary’s life was forever changed…….whatever way she hoped to observe the Jewish calendar probably fell apart, especially on account that being pregnant meant that she could not fast, even on Yom Kippur.

After getting over the initial terror and shock…..I can picture tears of joy coming from Mary’s eyes……crying Hallelujah! as she goes to immediately share the Good News with her cousin Elizabeth. Excitement and anticipation accompanying every step….. as her soul magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God her Saviour.

Just like Mary, our lives and our plans are interrupted. Our initial intention to observe the fast thrown out the window….at least for today. Today we praise God, the maker of heaven and earth. Alleluia! <3 +

When it All Comes Crashing Down…..

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Image

 

Today, I witnessed an anxiety attack.  

I’m not talking your run of the mill hit the panic button, do some breathing exercises and s’all good attack…. 

I mean the kind of anxiety that totally takes control, the kind of apprehensiveness that makes you feel like your world is spinning….the kind that makes you feel that you just might lose it. :(

I guess I find myself writing here for two reasons….the first is that it’s work/ministry related, and it seems to make sense to post it here.

In my work as a street pastor, anxiety attacks (of all degrees and kind) are not uncommon.  They are an atypical response to stress that most of us feel at least once in a while.  

For many that feeling goes away after a change of scenery, the touch of a familiar friend’s hand….or the pleasant smell or taste that brings us back to a more balanced state.

For others though (and more “others” than we actually realize) the anxiety doesn’t go away.  It’s a feeling in their gut…….a constant vigilance over some potential action that might go awry….a feeling that no matter what precautions we take……. some bad shit is about to go down.

Anxiety for human beings is a natural response…….it’s that flight or fight response which tells us when danger is approaching…….and when we need–above all else–to put our survival at the top of the priority list.

When someone experiences trauma,…..regardless of age……there’s actually a fairly good chance that  the part of our brain responsible for our self-preservation develops at a faster rate.  As with any muscle or organ in our body, the more hippocampus is used, the more sensitive it becomes.

So why am I telling you this? It’s because the person I saw today not only had an anxiety attack……but she felt guilty about having one :(.

This completely natural response of the body and the brain……which this individual literally had no control over…….caused massive, unrelenting pressure to try and “be normal”……to try and “get over” it on an emotional level.  

It was like looking into the eyes of a wounded puppy dog.  :(

The stigma surrounding anxiety disorders and mental illnesses need to stop.  We need to stop perpetuating the myth that those who want to fight or fly away have something wrong with them.  We need to stop judging and start trying to understand.

Are there steps that can be taken by people to deal with anxiety or other mental illnesses??? Absolutely.  Are there ways of promoting healthier lifestyles and wholeness in body, mind and spirit??? You bet.  

But where we need to start is recognizing that there is nothing wrong with the individual to start with…….they are beautifully and wonderfully made by the hand of God……who just need companions to walk with them as they try to figure out what the best response is for them.

As I reflect tonight……in the second half of my thinking……..I can’t help but wonder……..what is our response as people of faith???

So often……we try to fix things…….narrow down a medical problem………prescribe the right meds…….and those steps are really important……crucial in fact………

But these people are **not** broken……..they are simply trying to live their lives in the best way they know how……I wonder if we are willing to simply walk with them…….to be there for the meltdown even if we can’t do anything……if only to say “I’m here with you.  I love you. And you matter to me” <3 +

A Few People Asked for a Copy………….

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Hi all! Been a while since I posted on here. A few folks from the congregation and on FB have asked that I post my sermon from today. I don’t normally write a script, or preach from one…..but with some help from someone who actually takes notes about these things, I think we nailed down the basic structure and key phrases and thoughts…….It’s not EXACTLY how it went this morning…….but it’s 80% or so accurate. Enjoy! :)

Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:4-10
New Testament: Luke 13:10-17

jeremiah

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

Touch the words of my tongue O Lord, so that only the truth may be spoken, and only the Truth heard.

So……..In case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd. ;) This year instead of “relaxing” on the first week of my vacation, I decided to attend a conference in Toronto.

It was a wonderful event with about 100 people from many diverse backgrounds; clergy, occupational therapists. Nurses. Social workers, students &c.; and just people who were just interested in the subject of disability and how it might fit with theology.

It was an intense week with three speakers plus workshops for 5 days. But it was a very fruitful conference. Where I geeked out the most though; was just the general concept that Disability and Theology was a THING! :) I had read and thought about it in seminary of course, but had no idea that other people were interested in it too!

There was a group of about 40 Canadians—give or take—and a bunch of folks were from the States; Mostly working professionally with PwD or studying their MA/PhD.

It was awesome to see so many people, share so many different perspective, and to have people come together and share their stories.

One of the greatest things that I came away with……or I should say was reminded of……was the power of the story. Here people were being open, honest and candid about disability; how it affected their lives (positively or negatively)……and sharing part of who they are.

This connects a lot with our reading from Jeremiah—which I’ll get to in a second—but first let’s take a look at the Gospel……..

As you can imagine, stories like this one came up at the conference. These stories of healing are spread throughout the Gospels. Are healings the same as cures? What does it mean to be afflicted with demons? Why are these stories included at all?

This woman is afflicted by a demon of 18 years; and is crippled by it. So much so that she is doubled over in pain and distress.

It’s never specified whether the demon has any other effects; whether it is a mental illness; or some physical manifestation of some biological process. Only that she is deeply affected by it.

In Luke’s gospel, the healing narratives serve a very concrete purpose; to show that Jesus has power and authority from God. He is the only gospel writer to explicitly use the language of “Lord” in the text to refer to Christ.

The purpose of the healing stories is not so much the act itself—though that is certainly part of it—but rather it is to emphasize that Jesus is Lord

That He indeed comes with Grace, love and abundance. That he is here to offer these gifts freely.

But the real interesting part for me is Jesus’ response. Did you notice how he addresses the woman?????

Of course, no one is supposed to heal on the Sabbath. And yet, Jesus breaks the rules; he heals her anyway. God’s grace and mercy shine through regardless of the rules.

More than that, Jesus calls the woman a child of God . Wow! <3

Someone who is shunned by the community is given a name, claimed as God’s own! With a recognition that she too is part of the community. This was the way she had been formed from the womb.

Just like Jeremiah’s call to prophecy….we are each blessed with our own gifts and talents. Given to us from the very hand of Love itself. He who knew and shaped us from the dawn of our lives knows intimately who we are….disabilities and all.

The last thing that a preacher wants to do is make a sermon all about me….

but I want to share part of my story with you, because I believe there is power in stories….and also it will hopefully act as an invitation for the whole community of St. Jude’s to share their stories too.

One of the most fruitful parts of the conference was the idea that my cerebral palsy is a gift. Even as a 31 year old male, there are plenty of times when it doesn’t feel like a gift at all. And I was sort of in that kind of crisis when I arrived here at St. Jude’s……..

Some of you know parts of the story……..but I had a full-fledged meltdown in 2nd year seminary.

I was doing my placement at Cronyn and just realized I couldn’t handle all the craziness that was coming with ministry. It got to the point where I had to decide between going to work, or going home and having a shower for my own health and well being…..You see, I need help from a PSW to do that……..

I broke down in front of Rae [my supervisor] and said that something had to give. At that point, he said “OK, you need to take a break from here…..find another community and take care of what you need”

Between the two of us and Phil [rector of St. Jude], we decided that St. Jude’s was a good fit. And so I came here. We also decided that starting in the Fall term, I would switch from doing parish ministry to chaplaincy work at Kensington Village retirement home.

Over the course of working with folks at Kensignton, I realized that being in a wheelchair was actually awesome for the job. The fact that residents met with someone who also struggled with mobility and support issues, opened whole new avenues of conversation and ministry as they embraced the new realities of aging.

Lo and behold! The CP which I found so annoying and frustrating ended up becoming a gift to the Church.

I bring this up; again not to make it all about me……..but to underscore that we are all awesomely gifted……Awesome because of the way in which we are all individually formed by God…..who knew us before we before we were born, and spoke us lovingly into being.

Our very selves is the gift we bring to the Church.

We all have parts of ourselves that we consider less than desirable, those aspects of ourselves that double us over in stress, anxiety, pain. Whether it’s CP, someone on the autism spectrum, or the fact that we wish we could do something better or differently…….those very things are a part of who we are.

Far from being the things that hold us back, they can actually end up being the source of blessing for others!

Each one of you here has gifts and talents. Each one of you is unique. Each one of you has a story. Each one of you God knows intimately, loves intimately, even before you were born.

Some of the most powerful moments I have witnessed came in the first year or so that I was here.

During that time, the St. Jude’s community was going through a visioning process. At the end of each service for about 5 weeks someone from the congregation would get up and share their faith story; how they found St. Jude’s, why they stayed; why this community matters.

I would suggest as we go forward into the Fall program year, we give some serious thought to being that open and vulnerable again. To share our stories. To speak them out loud to one another.

While all of you may not be comfortable sitting up here and preaching a sermon, I know ALL of you are capable of preaching the Gospel…..just by being who you are and sharing yourself with the world! :D

Because your stories have POWER. And speak to the Mercy, Grace, and abundant Love that God gifted to the world in creating you, forming you just as you are. Calling you just as you are.

That’s why I stand before you today with no vestments on. Just a sweater and track pants. God calls us as we are. Whether lay or ordained, or whatever…….God wants us to just BE who we are; wonderously made and beautiful!

And there are times when we struggle to see ourselves that way. If I looked through the lens of the medical model, my disability is simply a mistake the doctors didn’t catch. The umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, causing lack of oxygen to the brain. As a result, the messages from my brain don’t travel to my muscles properly, and my muscles tense up. That’s why you often see my legs splayed out like this when I speak. It’s annoying and often creates some frustrating—and often hilarious—moments.

But switch the lens. All of a sudden, when we look at CP from a faith perspective, it becomes a gift.

It can be scary to share our stories. Especially those parts which we think are deficient, annoying, stupid, painful &c. But those very things we see as flaws can end up being the very thing someone that changes the world; that allows us to live out and build up the kingdom.

I know each of you has amazing gifts and talents to share with the world.

I thank God for who you are, who God has formed you to be…….and for everything you offer………Thanks be to God! Amen. <3

Ascension Day

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While [Jesus] was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’ (Acts 1:10-11)

The Feast of the Ascension has always struck me as a very mixed bag of emotions. I can just picture the bewildered disciples staring up into the sky…thinking to themselves: What the hell just happened???

Caught somewhere between the elation of spending time with their Risen Lord, and the sudden shock that they are once again “on their own”……this is a day of both celebration and apprehension.

You see..at this point in the story….the Holy Spirit hasn’t arrived yet. Pentecost is still a week away……and in many ways, the disciples are right back where they’ve started. A frightened minority, locked behind closed doors……And yet, something is different compared to the time when they hid themselves away on Good Friday.

Now….the followers of Jesus know something is different. They have touched the hands and feet of their Lord and know that he lives! Despite Christ’s sudden departure from their midst….they can’t simply ignore what they have experienced. They know they have something special…..but the question remains….what do we do with it????

Something holds them back. How exactly are we supposed to feel about this? On the one hand, we know that we have been blessed by Grace, forgiveness and love, and seen it with our own eyes….and yet…on the other hand, we find ourselves staring into nothing as it travels somewhere beyond our knowing.

At the risk of sounding too personal…I can relate to this bewilderment and confusion. given some of the life-events which have occurred in the last three weeks.

Between the call to priestly ordination, and the (mutual) break-up of a loving and life-giving relationship….I feel that I’m caught between two extremes…..Joy and celebration at the fact that a life-long dream is coming true…..while at the same time, sadness at having to let something go that has been equally precious to me.

I honestly don’t know what to do when these feelings come at me simultaneously……but I take comfort in knowing that even the Church recognizes and holds on to those feelings within it’s own traditions and feast-days. Ambiguity and a sense of being uncomfortable and confused is not something that I–or any of us–are alone in…it is a shared experience with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Like the infant church…..scared and unsure…..we move ahead even though we are clueless of the direction…..and with the sure knowledge that somewhere along the way, the Holy Spirit will come to be our comfort, our guide, and the one who lights a fire under our ass ;)…(or in our hearts if you prefer the more traditional image) +

Easter Day (Combo Post)

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Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! +

We have made it to the dawn and discover the tomb empty. Christ has trampled on death, and given us freedom from sin! Christus Victor!

Today the whole Church…..from North to South, East to West rejoices in new life as we celebrate this feast of victory for our God. Alleluia!

On this great day of hope, celebration and praise, let us all hear with joy the Paschal invitation of St. John Chrysostom.

If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast.
If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.
If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast.

If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived therefor.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing.
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness;
for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first;
he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.

And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts.
And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second.

You rich and poor together, hold high festival.
You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.

Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.
let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.
By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.

It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is your sting?
O Hell, where is your victory?

Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.

For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.

Evening Prayer: Holy Saturday (Easter Eve)

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Psalm: 27
New Testament: Romans 8:1-11
Patristic Reading: An excerpt from a sermon on Holy Saturday

Alleluia! Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us! Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia!

The Great Vigil of Easter is always my favourite liturgy of the Church year. In it, there are many signs and symbols juxtaposed in a way that helps make clear both where we are coming from….our salvation history…..and where we are going.

The service starts in the dark of night, and we read of how God created the world, saw that it was good and continually established covenants with Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, and even foretold of a future redemption through the prophets. A new relationship with God that cannot be broken.

The new Easter Fire is lit, and gradually the Church fills with light…..a light which has not been seen since Thursday night at the Holy Thursday liturgy. We give thanks for this light and then organ music and the sound of bells fills the sanctuary as we commemorate the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead! Our sins are forgiven, and more importantly, death, despair, and misery hold no more sway over us.

In this moment…..on this night……we are invited to remember who we are, and to remember that God loves us beyond everything. We are given a chance to renew our commitment made in Baptism….and are reassured that nothing can hold us back from making these promises….Not even if we have been turning against God for the whole of our lives…..On this night…..everyone is invited to be made new:

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

May each and every one of you find joy in this message, and I pray that all of our hearts will be moved to love God and love one another even more…from this time forth, until the end of the world. +

Morning Prayer: Holy Saturday

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Psalm: 88
Old Testament:Lamentations 3:37-59
New Testament: Hebrews 4:1-16

Your wrath has swept over me;
your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbour to shun me;
my companions are in darkness. (Psalm 88:16-18)

In many ways, this is the darkest time of the Church year. Our Saviour lies dead in a tomb….and like the Psalmist echos, there seems to be only darkness as a companion.

This particular psalm is interesting in that 88 is one of the very few Psalms that end in doom and gloom. There is no expression of deliverance, or of praising God’s goodness and power. Only a frank statement of fear and despair.

The disciples too were once at this point…..their teacher gone, their friends scattered……the 12 huddled away in mourning and grief.

But the difference is that now…..we know the end of the story…….we know that there is something more going on here. So what do we take away from this Holy Saturday???

For me, the most important thing is that by laying in a crypt….dead and motionlesss….God literally lays beside all of humanity. As a result of his Incarnation, death and burial……there is now no place where God is not.

Even in the dread silence of death….of the shock and horror of betrayal and defeat……Christ is here amongst us.

We know the glory that awaits us tonight…but for this moment in time……our souls wait in silence for God….. +

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