Monday, March 31, 2008

Tracking a Marine Lost at Home

The story below from the New York Times could easily be about a Canadian veteran back from Afghanistan. In fact, the London Free Press reported on 11 March of a soldier who walked away from his family home in Sarnia in November 2007 after "zoing out" and thinking he was back in theatre.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — A week after Eric W. Hall disappeared into the woods of Southwest Florida, his mother stood in a parking lot overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. She had asked for volunteers. Would they come?

Becky Hall’s son had experienced a flashback, fleeing a relative’s home after sensing that Iraqi insurgents had surrounded him. He was 24, a former Marine corporal from Indiana who had been medically discharged after a bomb ripped through his leg. Here, among the retirees and strip malls, he was a stranger.

Read the Whole Article

Raising children this way is killing marriage

The theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas said somewhere in his prolific writings that the true test and rational of Christian marriage was its ability to raise healthy (including spitiually healthy) children. Along those lines, there is much food for thought in this oped piece by Minette Marrin from yesterday's Sunday Times (UK):

"Marriage was one of the greatest social evils it was fashionable to denounce when, briefly, I was an idealistic left-wing student. There was little worse for society, according to radical 1968 convention, than the repressive, bourgeois, nuclear family. Marriage, like the social structures it supported, was the enemy of freedom, equality, authenticity and self-expression. It gave rise to some of the most painful of civilisation’s discontents. It was a tool of hierarchical capitalist oppression.

“Damn braces, bless relaxes,” students used to say, quoting Blake without the least idea of what he meant. It is true, however, that marriage is not always relaxing, and often all too bracing, and in that half-educated muddle there was some uncomfortable truth.

Whether anyone still thinks like that I have no idea. But marriage has never been more unpopular. Last week the Office for National Statistics announced that the proportion of adults in England and Wales who choose to marry has fallen to the lowest rate since figures were first recorded in 1862."

Read the whole piece

Sunday, March 30, 2008

What is Our Mission Statement? A Sermon for the First Sunday After Easter

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton, and St. George’s,Middlesex Centre, 30 March, 2008

Acts 2:14a,22-32, Psalm 16:5-11, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:19-31

“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if your retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23)

A lot of organizations today spend much time and energy crafting mission statements - summaries of their aims, objectives, and reasons for being. Often these efforts are not valued highly by members of these organizations, because they tend to be written with a lot of bureaucratic jargon and because the performance of the organization often falls short of these lofty goals. Even so, one could argue that an organization that thinks it knows what it's about is better than an organization with no clue. Last week a high-powered consultant working for the diocese visited with me and with representatives of your wardens. Among the questions she asked us to tell her the mission statement of our two congregations. We didn't do very well on that question. Mostly we just said "uhhh" and "ummm". Most of us gathered here today could say something about what we're about - "We're the Christian communities in the Anglican tradition which gather in Ilderton and Denfield on Sundays to worship God and care for one another", something along those lines. But we probably could, and definitely should, be clearer about our mission.

The first meeting of the Christian church after the resurrection was not impressive. This was a church with no mission statement. It was held behind locked doors, so that no one could get in. The disciples gathered that day were frightened and defeated. Today’s reading from John’s gospel describes a group that has cut themselves off from the outside world. They had heard a message of hope from Mary Magdalene, who claimed to have seen Jesus walking in the garden, but they acted like they did not believe it. They looked and acted instead like people without hope. But Jesus refuses to leave them alone.

I don’t know if you see any of us in this group of frightened and beleaguered disciples. Perhaps. The Anglican Church around the world and here in Canada is less than inspiring at times, especially now as churches and bishops lock doors and hire lawyers to argue over who owns what. In our own parish, we’ve had good moments and, sometimes, bad moments, when we’ve huddled and argued and acted fearfully. And Jesus has refused to leave us alone.

The things Jesus does and says in today’s gospel don’t apply just to this one, frightened group of disciples. They apply to every church, everywhere, and they apply just as much now as they did then. So today’s gospel is not just a story of the earliest days of the church. It’s our story and it’s our marching orders, and we dare not ignore it.

The first thing Jesus does is walk through that locked door as if it doesn’t exist. “Jesus came and stood among them” (Jn 20:19). If Jesus wasn’t going to stay locked in a tomb in the land of the dead, he’s sure not going to let a locked door stop him now. And if he spent months and months teaching these guys and preparing them for their work to come as his messengers, he’s not going to let all that go to waste. What we see here is Jesus’ determination not to abandon his followers, but also his determination not to leave them alone. God doesn’t want a huddled bunch of defeatists. God wants a band of brothers and sisters who are willing to live publicly as his children. So the first thing Jesus does is serve notice that the way ahead is outside, into the world, through doors that can’t stay locked.

What does Jesus say? The first thing he says is very simple. “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:20). He’ll say this again when he comes to confront Thomas. You might think that this is Jesus’ way of saying “Calm down, hey, you guys look like you’ve seen a ghost”, which may indeed have been the case. But there’s more here. Twice previously in John’s gospel Jesus has said that he would give his disciples a spirit of peace (Jn 14:27, Jn 16:33). He was not promising them just some happy inner glow, but rather a peace that allows them to go unafraid into the world as his messengers. Jesus said on one of these occasions “I have said [these things] to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn 16:33). Jesus was promising the peace that comes from knowing that God in his love and power is greater than anything else we might fear.

I also think that Jesus is talking about the disciples being at peace with themselves. This peace comes from knowing that they are loved and forgiven. That day, before he came, the disciples must have been far from peaceful with themselves. They knew that they had betrayed Jesus and abandoned him. They'd promised to go to Jerusalem and die with him, and instead they had run like frightened sheep. Jesus could have come and rebuked them, scolded them, but instead his first words are born of love. “Peace be with you”. These are loving words that speak of forgiveness. These words continue Jesus’ ministry of healing and forgiveness, as we’ve seen this Lent with the woman at the well, with the blind man, and now with the disciples themselves. The disciples are now caught up in the resurrection, they share in the power that declares “it’s a new day, it’s a new page, it’s a new life, how are you going to live it?”

“As my Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). We can imagine Jesus now pointing at that locked (or is it now unlocked?) door as he says these words. He’s telling the disciples that their new life will not be lived here, in this refuge, but out there, in the world. What’s more, he’s telling them that their work in this life will be continuation of his work and mission. The work that God sent Jesus to do doesn’t stop here. It continues.

What is the work? Jesus now says “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). You might have been startled by this paragraph. Did you think this was in your job description as a Christian? Isn’t it just the priest’s job in our service to pronounce the forgiveness of sins? Well, within the limits of the liturgy, yes it is. But in a larger sense, it’s the work of every follower of Jesus to share God’s peace with the world.

The great biblical scholar Walter Barclay once said of this passage that this is where Jesus becomes “dependent on His church” (Gospel of John Vol 2, p. 317). The Church now takes up the message that God wants to forgive sins. We all understand this message. Early in Lent we heard those great words from John’s gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). But how do we tell that message? Do we act like that man carrying the “John 3:16” sign who always shows up on TV at the last hole of the golf tournament? That’s probably not going to work very well.

What will work is if God’s people live their lives in the love and security that comes from knowing that God has set them free. It means, as St. Francis once said, “Preaching Christ, and using words if necessary”. It means being a people for whom the love of God has made a difference in our lives. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie The Mission that makes this point well. Robert De Niro plays a soldier and slave trader, who has killed another man out of jealousy over his wife. Out of remorse, he decides to starve himself, until he meets a monk who persuades him to come on a mission trip to a remote tribe. As part of his penance, De Niro’s character has to drag all his old armour behind him on a rope. His progress through the jungle is terribly slow, weighed down by all this rusting scrap metal until, one day, the monk asks him if he would like to be rid of it. The rope is cut, and the man is free to begin a new life, no longer weighed down by himself. That’s the freedom of forgiveness, and if we as God’s people can live that freedom, it will be noticed. Others will want to be like us.

Jesus also says, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. This last part is a hard one, and seems the least appetising part of Jesus’ commission to his disciples then and now. What it doesn’t mean is that our job is to condemn other people. Christians have damned people for centuries, and we have a reputation for being smug and judgmental among non-churchgoers. What it means, I think, is that we have a responsibility to take sin seriously, to renounce, as the baptism service in the BAS puts it, the “evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God” (BAS p. 154).

Today’s gospel asks us to do more than just preach a bland gospel of love and unconditional forgiveness. Jesus calls us to care about what goes on in the world, to speak out, to do the right thing, to teach our young. Many people in the church are worried today about saying anything negative, when the irony is that many secular organizations, like the Canadian Forces, work very hard to teach ethics, which is basically knowing and doing the right thing. Our gospel today calls us to know and do God’s right thing. We won’t always get it perfect, we will still need forgiveness, but as Christ says, “receive the Holy Spirit”. We aren’t in this alone. God strengthens us and empowers us to know and do the right thing, just as he loves and forgives us. Our mission in the world is to make God’s life look like the best and most attractive option out there for people still lost in the jungle and dragging their sins around.

If that consultant returned today and asked us what our mission statement was, I would suggest, on the strength of today’s gospel, that we could do worse than say the following:

“The congregations of Grace and St. George’s are people who have accepted God’s call to live fearlessly in the world rather than behind closed doors. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and given hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we accept his challenge to live as a loving and forgiven people, and toshare God’s love and forgiveness to those who need it.”
©Michael Peterson+ 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008

From My Workbench: Tanker Burial in NW Europe, 1944 - Vignette for Easter

The military funerals for the lads coming home from Afghanistan are big affairs, done with ceremony by troops immaculate in their dress uniforms. The funerals at the front in the World Wars were hasty affairs, just a few words of comfort and prayer offered over a hasty grave before those assembled returned to the fighting. Somewhere in Normandy in 1944, a tank crew gather to bury their commander, killed in action that morning. A hasty grave has been dug near a stone church, and a padre is conducting the field funeral. (You can click on any picture to see a larger view).

"I am the resurrection and the life" begins the padre, while birds sing in the trees nearby. In the near distance, the crump of shells remind them all that the war is continuing.

Gunner "Smudger" Smith struggles to hold it together. His pixie suit is stained with blood from trying to help his commander after he collapsed back into the turret.

Driver Alf Harris and radio operator Swede Jensen look on impassively, guarding their emotions.

Another view of the padre. He wears the patches of 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and, unlike the tank crew, is wearing infantry battledress.

This set is manufactured by Lammercraft from their true 1/76 scale line of WW2 figures. I got it from Duanne at Syr Hobbs, who I heartily recommend for service. It's mostly painted in Vallejo acryllics, with some Games Workshop paints as well.

It's dedicated to all our fallen lads, then and now. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

"The Stone was Moved" - A Sermon for Easter Sunday

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George's, Middlesex Centre, 23 March, 2008

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1)

The first thing we need to understand is that there was a stone. In the resurrection story, in each of the four gospels, the stone is mentioned. It was a big stone, a boulder. It needed to be large enough to close an opening that, at the very least, would have allowed a crouching man to enter. In Matthew’s gospel, we are told that Joseph of Arimathea had a “great stone” rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus (Mt 27:60). Matthew adds that the stone is there to stay, because the chief priests have it “sealed” to prevent the disciples from stealing the body (Mt 28:66). In Mark’s gospel, the women want to go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, but they know that they will need someone to “roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb” because the stone is “very large” (Mk 16:3).

Today we don’t use stones to seal graves, but we still seal them. Stand by a graveside after the family and the mourners have left, and you’ll see the men in coveralls come out from hiding. While the funeral directors watch attentively, the truck is positioned and the vault lid is hoisted down into place. The hydraulic crane makes it look light, until you hear the thud as the lid falls into place. Then the green astroturf covers are removed from the mounded dirt, and the backhoe gets ready to do it’s work, sealing the vault with the weight of all that earth. It’s done quickly and efficiently, and there’s a kind of ministry to it as these men close the graves of our loved one and make it possible to nature to do it’s healing work. Grass will grow, the wound in the earth will heal, and the place will become peaceful. But it’s impossible to watch this work and not be tempted to think, how final this is, how irreversible it is is. In this respect, the vaults and lids of our loved one’s graves, like the stone in front of Christ’s grave, underscore the terrible reality of death. Death, like stone and concrete, is real, cold, heavy, and final.

If you’ve ever stood beside a bed in a hospital or a nursing home after a death, you will know this feeling. Slowly it dawns on you that the person you loved is gone from you, removed as surely as if they had been sealed behind a great stone. I well remember the feeling last October as I helped my brothers empty my father’s room after his death. We worked mechanically, each of us aware of the terrible finality of the moment. The man who had raised us, inspired us, and loved us was gone. To be sure we had memories, we had his example, and we had some keepsakes, but our father was gone. No more corny puns, no more chances to say I love you, no more squeezes of his hand. The great rock that separates us from the dead had been rolled into place and sealed him away from us.

Given the reality of death, it’s difficult for many Christians to take Easter that seriously. I personally know some who tell me that it’s ridiculous to believe in the resurrection. Such people might say that Easter is merely a poetic way of saying that Jesus lives in our hearts and lives as a spiritual presence, like my father lives by example and memory to me and my brothers. But tell such people that a great stone was rolled away, that Jesus returned from the land of the dead, and you are asking too much of them.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1). Last week, when we were watching the vault cover being lowered in the cemetery at St. George’s, I remarked to Jeremy that it looked heavy, and I said I hoped the angels on the Day of Judgement were strong ones. It was a small joke, but I went home and I came across a book on Easter which had a remarkable picture, a medieval painting by Nicholas of Verdun. As in many other ancient and medieval illustrations of the resurrection, Jesus is emerging, not from a cave, but from what looks like a stone vault or sarcophagus. A heavy looking lid has been tossed to one side, as casually as a sleeper might throw back the covers in the morning. The figure of Jesus is muscular, his expression determined as he raises his hands to heaven in triumph and thanksgiving.

This picture reminded me of the force behind the event that John is describing. The Easter story begins with this sign that God has done the unbelievable. That great rock, so final, so immovable, has been brushed aside by God’s power. All through our Lenten journey these last six weeks we’ve heard hints of this power: water that quenches thirst forever, mud and spit which heals a blind man, the breath that brings dead bones to life, the voice that calls Lazarus from his tomb. All these stories have suggested what God has sent Christ to do. Now the promise is fulfilled. The rock is moved. Jesus is walking in the garden. Death has no dominion. Nothing is beyond the power of God.

Last week I came across the Easter sermon by Bishop Bethelhem Nopece, the Anglican Bishop of Port Elizabeth in South Africa, and he began with these four words, “No Easter, no faith”. These are words that challenge preacher and congregation in the clearest and starkest of terms. Bishop Nopece stands in a long line of preachers who tell us to believe big or go home. The first in this line is of course, St. Paul, who writes that "And if Christ has not been raised from the dead, our preaching is useless and so is your faith ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Cor 15:12-20ff).

Both Paul and Bishop Bethlehem are telling us to believe big or go home. If we don’t want to accept a God who blows the lids off graves and brings the dead to life, then our preaching and our worship our empty. But if we want a Saviour who can move boulders, revive hopes and bring us to life, then our worship is glorious and our hopes our rich and we are to be envied, not pitied.

Go forth and believe big. Ask God to remove the biggest boulders in your lives: the stones that keep our hearts from loving, the boulders that we can’t let go of because of our guilt and shame, the heavy rocks of grief that lock us away from the world. When these stones seem too big for you, you’ll find a muscular and living Saviour, putting his shoulder to them and rolling them away, and calling you forth into the light.

Go forth today and love big. The love of Jesus for us was so big that he went to the cross for us. His love for us was so strong that it brought him back from the dead, because he knew that there were people like Mary in the garden, like you and I, that needed his love. Receive his love, draw strength from it, and share it with others.

Go forth today and trust big. For those of us with loved ones on the other side, who have let them go behind the heavy lid of death, don’t lose heart. Nothing can keep us from the love of God and the life of God. Those rocks and stones will be moved, and the dead will be raised.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1). Alleluia, Christ is risen.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

From my workbench: 15mm Canadian Trucks

Trucks (or lorries as Canadians stationed in England in WW2 probably were conditioned to call them) aren't a first choice for wargaming. They aren't glamorous like most tanks (who would paint a truck when they could be painting a King Tiger?) and they don't do much on the table except draw fire (hence the term "softskin" as in "softskin targets). However, armies need trucks to get troops and supplies to the front. Read Christie Blatchford's Fifteen Days and she'll tell you that the real heroes in Afghanistan are the troops of the National Support Element who drive convoys to the forward bases day after day, risking IEDs and ambushes day after day. No one can eat, drink, or shoot without the NSE convoys running.

These models are 15mm Old Glory CMP (Canadian Military Pattern) heavy trucks. They were a pain to glue together, came with no instructions, and God knows if I got them right. The decals are from Dom Skelton (Dom's decals) and show that these trucks are part of 3 Canadian Division, the first Canadian infantry division to land in Normandy. I've drybrushed them with Tamiya paints.The little ruined building in the background is from Scott Washburn's Paper Terrain line of products, which I'm also happy to plug here.

Hopefully these will get used on the tabletop as they are seen here, delivering reinforcements to the front and moving my infantry into action. Remember to click on the images to get a larger view.

Why is it called Good Friday?

One of my wargaming friends sent me an email the other day asking me to put on my priest's hat and asnwer a question that his six year old had put to him. It was a cracking good question! Why do we call it "Good" Friday?

Turns out that there's not a quick or clear answer to this question. My best liturgical history (Frank Senn's excellent History of Christian Liturgy) is at the parish office, but I went to the shelf and found this in an ancient tome, Evan Daniel's The Prayer Book: It's History, Language and Contents (written sometime in the 1800s - my edition, the 22nd (!), was published in 1909 and was first owned by a Walter Jones of Anglesey, Wales, a student at Huron College here in London, ON - rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him).

Daniels reports that "The name Good Friday is peculiar to the Church of England". In the ancient Christian church, the day was simply called the Paschal Day, or later the Dies Parasceve (Day of Preparation) or Dies Dominis Passionis(Day of the Lord's Passion). Back then, the main focus of Easter was preparing new Christians, who were baptized on the Easter Saturday vigil. Good Friday as we know it, a day of commemoration of Christ's death, came later. By the time of Innocent I (ca 400AD) an element of great solemnity and fasting marked the church's observance of what we now call Good Friday.

The earliest use of the term "Good Friday" Daniel documents in England goes back to the days of Henry VIII, though the term doubtless goes back earlier. Pre-reformation liturgies on Good Friday stressed the veneration and adoration of a wooden cross, and my own guess is that the term "Good Friday" enters English through late-medieval piety, which focused on goodness of God's son and the pathos and suffering of his death.

For all the young ones out there including my friend's six year old, I would simply say that Good Friday means the day something good happened out of something bad, when God's son, who was good, died so that he could take away bad things that we might be good (as in the hymn, "There is a Green Hill Far Away" with that lovely line, "He died to make us good".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

From my Workbench - 20mm British Churchill Tank

Plastic model tanks bring back all sorts of memories, especially of sniffing glue as a kid (wait a minute, that's not a memory, I'm still sniffing glue!). Mmmmmm, glue.

This is a British Churchill tank, which saw use from mid to late World War Two in Allied (and Canadian) service. The kit is from Italieri, and went together quite well, except for the treads, which come in several dozen bits and require tweezers and (sniff) glue. The tank commander is from AB Miniatures, my favourite figure manufacturer.

To see a larger image, click on any of the pictures.

I put a lot of work into painting and weathering the tank - I think I went overboard on the chipping and scrapes to the paint, but I am happy with the end result, the impression of a veteran tank and crew that have been in a lot of tight scrapes.

Here's the same model with another crew figure, also from AB Figures. The crew commander, Sgt. "Chalky" White, taking a rest at the end of the long day, enjoying the sunset and wondering if it's the last one he'll ever see:

White Death in Southern Slovenia, 1943 - a Partisan Warfare Game Report

Saturday night my mates in Stratford, ON, put on another game from the crazed imagination of Dan Hutter in James Manto's Basement O'Rabbits. The scenario was an episode in the Yugo partisan war - a local villager, upset that the partisans have stolen/liberated three of hs milk cows, have ratted them out to the Germans. A scratch force of SS Prinz Eugen infantry and German-friendly Domobranci thus descended on the hidden partisan farmstead in the mountains.

Regulars here might remember my pics of Dan's "Polikarpov Down" winter game from earlier on this blog. Again, the real star of this game was Dan's winter terrain, but this time it was seriously upgraded.

Remember to click on the pictures below for a larger view.

James (Rabbit Master) Manto with the complete table. The trees and the mountains are all Christmas village stuff that Dan bought at post-Xmas clearance sales from local department stores:

The partisan-held village - models include the Airfix ruined house/command post and the Faller/Model Master forge/barn. The long structure is I think a covered bridge from a Christmas village set. The yellow discs are poker chips marking the partisan blinds:

German scout's view of the village from behind the mountains:

e over the stream (both are Christmas village stuff - the stream is a series of ceramic tiles). Someone said that this would be a great setting fora Samurai game, and someone else thought the bridge would be a great setting for a sword fight between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu, and we all fell into a reverie for a while:

The German scouts see a sign that the partisans are indeed in the village :)

OK, the game. Dan used homebrew rules with lots of blinds and spotting rules. Brett took the Domobranci (pretty crappy troops) infantry and LMG sections and came at the village from the right table edge (across from and to the left of where James is sitting in the first picture). Brett also took one SS infantry section and an SS sniper. I took the other SS inf section plus the SS LMG, mortar and HQ sections and our AFV asset, and went up the little road for the bridge. Our plan was to put pressure on the village from both sides and keep them guessing where our main attack was coming from as long as possible.

Walter, James and Lorenzo concentrated the partisan forces in the village, though Walter had one small section on the far side of the river as a picket.

Figures are all Dan's. I have no idea what make they all are - bit of everything.

Domobranci come out of the woods as the first attackers:

They engage a partisan section holding a ruined house:

Partisans are also harrassed by Brett's sniper in his mountain aerie:

Walter's partisans began skirmishing against my advance:

Prinz Eugen infantry return fire from cover:

Captured French Renault in German service tank advances on the village, as seen through the trees by the Partisan ATR team that spent much of the game trying to stop it:

o make a long story short, the Domobranci did better than we hoped, pinning down and eventually eliminating one partisan section - definitely the Axis stars of the game. Brett's SS section uncovered a partisan bunker, and spent the rest of the game trying to reduce it. Gefreiter Hans Klutz fumbled a grenade and eliminated himself, but the rest of the section got stuck in and at game's end the defenders had no where to go. My SS section skirmished with Walter's partisan pickets, and then closed on the barn, where a large partisan section was identified. The partisans slowed the Renault (James was terribly unlucky with his Anti-tank rifle), but by the end of the game concentrated fire from the Renault, the SS LMG, mortar, and infantry were whittling down the barn's defenders. After four hours we called it a night and the partisan players slipped their surviving forces away. The Domobranci liberated a supply of slivovitz and were hopeless for any pursuit.

Some good lessons learned, which Dan will incorporate into his reprise of this game at Hotlead (Canada's Finest Miniature Gaming Event - TM) in Stratford at the end of March ( Hope to see you there. Look for the padre with the frostbite and the Slivovitz.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"A Beautiful Mind" - A Sermon for Passion Sunday

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton and St. George’s Anglican Church, Middlesex Centre, 16 March, 2008

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31:9-16, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

Do you want to improve your mind? I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to improve their mind. If you’re a parent, you want your children to develop their skills and be good learners. You keep the kids away from too many “mindless” pursuits such as watching excessive amounts of television (this week the media was concerned with a study showing that a third of teens spend thirty hours a week in front of TV and computer screens). During our careers we are challenged to be active in continuing education and professional development, to keep our skills sharp. Seniors too are encouraged want to keep the mind active, whether it’s doing crosswords, reading, taking courses at night school, or learning languages.

All of these pursuits pale in comparison to what we are asked to do as Christians. Today, in our second lesson, we hear Paul’s challenge to “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ” (Phil 2:5). Do any of us really think that we can do this extraordinary thing that Paul is asking of us? Surely Jesus had no ordinary human mind. He knew things that others didn’t, as we saw three weeks ago when he knew the secrets of the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4). He had the mind of a great and serene thinker. His mind was full of great love and patience, even at the end of his life. Our minds however are cramped and undisciplined, full of dark and worried thoughts. How could our minds ever become Christ-like? I suspect that if we voice this objection to Paul, he would say “Exactly! That’s exactly why you need the mind of Christ”.

What can we say about this mind that Paul wants us to have? At the beginning of our second lesson, Paul says clearly that Christ “was in the form of God” and had “equality with God” (Phil 2:6). Paul suggests that Jesus, as one of the three persons of the Trinity, knew God completely, including knowing the mind of God. That for me, if you’ll pardon the expression, is a mindblowing passage I can’t imagine anything more beautiful or peaceful than knowing the mind of God. For Jesus to set that glory and equality aside and come to earth to be one of us is an amazing testimony to how much God loves us and wants to help us.

After Jesus became human to serve us, how much of God’s mind did he still know? In his book Simply Christian, Bishop Tom Wright says something that I found helpful. He thinks that Jesus didn’t walk around knowing that he was divine the way you and I know if we are hot or cold, male or female. Wright suggests however that Jesus knowing that he was part of God’s mission. Because of his deep prayer life and his sensitivity to God’s will, Jesus knew that “He was called, in obedience to the Father, to follow through the project to which that love would give itself freely and fully” (p. 119). To that extent, we can say that Jesus knew the mind of God better than any person who ever lived. To borrow the title from a recent movie, Jesus had a beautiful mind, fully aware of God’s love and God’s desire to rescue his creation from human sin.

If we go beyond these generalities and look at the rich feast of scripture for today, Passion Sunday, we can say some specific things about the God-mind of Christ that Paul wants us to have.

Jesus has a humble mind. He sets aside his equality. In Paul’s wonderful phrase, he “emptied himself”. Yes he comes into Jerusalem like a king, but there is no chariot, no army of grim soldiers with sharp swords, only a simple figure riding a donkey. He doesn’t put on airs, he doesn’t strut, he doesn’t ask for special treatment. He doesn’t want to be an earthly king because he knows the limits of earthly power.

Jesus has a determined mind. In our first lesson, Isaiah says of God’s servant that “I have set my face like flint” (Isa 50:7). If you look at the face of the simple man riding that donkey, you don’t see a meek and mild face. Instead you see a face as intent and as resolved as any athlete or soldier. You see someone who isn’t fooled by the crowds and the hosannas, who knows that pain and death are at the end of the road, someone for whom there is no turning back.
Jesus has an alert mind. He is, as Isaiah describes him, the “teacher” who comes to help the weary (Isa 50:4). In the garden of Gethsemane, we see him literally as the teacher who is surrounded by sleepy students. Jesus alone stays awake and alert, ready to do what god wants him to do, waking others from sleep.

Jesus has an obedient mind, obedient as Paul says “to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). He is human enough to want to live – twice, Matthew describes him in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking his Father to spare him (Mt 26:39, 42) – but when he sees Judas come with the soldiers, Jesus accepts the job God has given him, the job that only he can do.

Jesus has a loving mind. In Matthew’s account of the last supper, we see Jesus spending his final hours with his friends. The disciples don’t know it yet, but in giving them bread and wine Jesus is showing them how he will give himself for them on the cross, “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus can look around the table and know that some of these sins will be in the future – betrayal, denial, fear – and yet his love for these ordinary people rises above any anger or disappointment that he might understandably feel.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Or, in other words, make yours a beautiful Christ-mind But how do we do this? I think that if we fall into the trap of seeingJesus as a moral example, and saying that we have to be me more like him, it won’t work. It’s like trying to tell an amateur golfer that he can improve his game by being more like Tiger Woods. That’s only a recipe for frustration. The golfer might like to be like Tiger Woods, but there’s only one Tiger. Our minds aren’t normally humble or determined or alert or obedient or loving. Our minds are more like the disciples, doubtful and sleepy and frightened. Fortunately for us, it’s not about trying harder to be like Jesus.

Look at the first word of today’s text: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). When a friend says “Let me do this for you”, or a musician says “let me entertain you”, you’re not being asked to do the thing yourself. Rather, you are allowing the other person to do something for you. Jesus wants you to allow his mind to enter yours. It’s not an invasion. It’s not an obliteration of the person you once were. Rather, it’s like an invitation to dance with someone. You may not be a good dancer, but you can follow the lead of the other dancer and together as dancers you can become something more beautiful and more graceful than you were by yourself.

C.S. Lewis once said that it’s the job of “Every Christian to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else” (Merely Christian p. 177). Day by day, week by week, Jesus comes knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds. It’s up to us to let him in. We let Jesus in when we present a child for baptism and ask Jesus to be part of that child’s life. We let Jesus in when we agreed to be confirmed as young people. We let Jesus in when come to the altar and hold out hands to take Holy Communion. We let Jesus in when we pray, when we serve, when we put another’s needs before our own.

You don’t need a university degree to have a beautiful mind. I’ve met quite a few university people with very unpleasant and barren minds. You do however need Jesus to have a beautiful mind. A beautiful mind is humble enough to serve, determined enough to follow, alert to what God is asking, obedient to God’s will and loving others despite their faults. That’s the mind of Christ. This Sunday we celebrate Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, but we really celebrate his willingness to enter into our hearts and minds. Will you Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Requiem for a Dungeon Master - RIP Gary Gygax

I experienced a moment of sadness and nostalgia a week ago. I was sitting in a Second Cup in Ottawa, reading the Globe and Mail over breakfast, and came across this piece on the passing of Gary Gygax.

Gary Gygax was a big part of my teenage years the way that rock stars and sports figures were big with other kids. He was one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D, the game that has garnered such pop-culture tributes as the song "It's Great to Be A Nerd" by Canada's own Arrogant Worms (We hate watching sports ’cause we’re reading carl sagan / But we’d watch the olympics if they played dungeons and dragons (I’m a hobbitt! ha ha ha ha!).)

If you played Dungeons and Dragons in high school, you were a happy defector from the cliques and blocs that ran your social world. With some like-minded friends, you could retreat to an alternate universe of the imagination, albeit, a world that was drawn on a template from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings or Robert E. Howard's Conan books.

I recall the spider-infested room in my parents' basement in Courtenay, BC, where my bemused mother would kindly bring down trays of tea and hot biscuits to "her boys", as my brother and our friends would gather for role-playing sessions that lasted late into the night. We explored dungeons, battled ghouls, searched for treasure and told stories about our alter-egos. It was great fun. The investment in equipment was fairly minimal, graph paper and polyhedral dice at first, but as the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books came out, along with miniature figures, the owners of Courtenay's Roundel Hobbies made some money off us. We painted the figures, at first in clumsy oils, and I remember my astonishment when I saw what you could do with acryllics and drybrushing.

My daughter Anna pointed out on the phone the other day that she owes her life to Gary Gygax, as I met her mother at a D&D game while we were both undergraduates. I hadn't thought of it that way. Anna, who marches to her own drummer, is curious about D&D but hasn't found anyone to play with.

Anna once asked me if I had any of my D&D books left from college days. Sadly not, though if I had I might have tried to flog them on Ebay, as I recall once having some of the first edition Gygax books. However, I did recall still having somethign in my wargames library, and found this.

Chainmail was first published in 1975. This edition, the 3rd, is from 1979. I've never used these rules - if you have, let me know. And no, they're not for sale. In glancing through them, I was delighted to find that there is a fantasy section, if one wants to see how Swiss pikemen do against elves or such. It got me thinking of a conversation I had with my friend Pete about the inadequacies of the Games Workhop Lord of the Rings rules for large-unit combat. (A lot of D&D players, I am sure, wanted in their hearts to graduate from scuffles with orcs in some narrow dungeon to refighting the battle of the Five Armies or some such Tolkein epic -I know I did back then). One day, God knows when I'll have the time, I'll put my Uruk-Hai and Rohirrim down and try these rules. I'll certainly report the results here.

So rest in peace, Gary Gygax, and thanks. It's great to be a nerd (and the father of a nerd)!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"Can These Bones Live?" A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Lent

Ezekiel 37 is such a wonderful text to preach on! I was quite excited about this sermon, but with the torrents of snow that fell on Saturday, I thought I'd never get to preach it in person. However the weather cleared overnight and we had good worship. God is good.

Preached at Grace Church,Ilderton and St. George’s, Middlesex Centre, 9 March, 2008

Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 130, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45

“He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know”. (Ezek 37:3)

Tourists going to visit the Asian country of Cambodia these days want to visit two places. One is the famous and ancient Buddhist temple of Angkor Watt. The other is the infamous and recent Killing Fields where the Khemr Rouge dictatorship killed some 1.7 million of their fellow citizens in the 1970s. At Chuong Ek, one of the principal sites of the massacre, tourists can walk over a soccer-field sized area where bones and scraps of clothing have emerged in recent rainstorms. At Tuol Seng museum in the capital, Phnom Penh, visitors can see the skulls of 8,000 victims in a glass shrine. According to one National Geographic reporter, the site “stuns” visitors into silence. In those moments of silence, I wonder how many visitors might ask themselves in a hushed voice, “Can these bones live?”.

“Can these bones live?” In our first lesson, God asks Ezekiel this question the midst of another killing field. The bones scattered about the prophet’s feet do not inspire much optimism. With considerable understatement, the scripture reports that the bones were “very dry” (Ezek 37:2). I can imagine Ezekiel staring about him in silent horror, like the tourists at Chuong Ek gazing at the skulls and scraps of cloth. The last thing he surely expected to hear in that desolate place was God asking if these bones could live. The prophet dodges the question. “O Lord, you know” (37.3), he says, when what Ezekiel is no doubt thinking is “Lord, get real, these are dead, dry bones – what are you talking about?”

“Can these bones live?” I think that when we are in the presence of death and despair, God’s questions can seem pretty foolish. Take Martha from today’s gospel reading. Jesus has seemingly ignored her urgent request to come and heal her brother, Lazarus. Now Lazarus is dead and sealed in his tomb behind a great rock, so she’s not in a very charitable mood at this point. Nevertheless Jesus looks at her and says “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). I don’t think this hope sounds very credible to Martha. If it was believable, she would have responded with something more than a religious generality, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (Jn 11:24). This response seems merely dutiful, like a congregation saying at the end of the creed that they believe in the resurrection of the dead, but with no great anticipation that it will happen anytime soon.

“Can these bones live?” In the moments before the stone is pulled away from Lazarus’ tomb, Martha doesn’t believe that dead bones can really live. If she really believed that bones could live, would she have warned Jesus that the body has been in its tomb for four days, and now stinks? No, of course she doesn’t believe that these bones can live. Martha may hear Jesus say “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25), and she may want to believe it, but when faced with the finality of a great rock and a charnel stench, it is too much to believe.

“Can these bones live?’ When we ask the question, the answer will be always be “No, how can they?” When God asks the question, the answer is always “yes”, because God asks the question with the breath of his Spirit, and that Spirit is life.

“Can these bones live?” You ask the question while standing in front of your mirror in the gray light of dawn. Even the act of shaving or putting on makeup seems like too much work. You just want to go back to bed and forget the chores and the bills and the challenges of the day ahead. But God asks the question and his Spirit reminds you that you are a loved child of God with unique gifts and abilities. Just take my hand, Jesus says, and we’ll get through worse than this.

“Can these bones live?” You ask the question while reading the Anglican Journal. Churches and bishops just down the 401 are suing one another over who owns the keys. Congregations are aging and closing. You wonder why you ever gave your time, treasure and talent to such a sorry business. But God asks the question, and his Spirit reminds you that the church is and always has been the bride of Christ. Just watch my church, Jesus says – isn’t it beautiful when it loves and serves and worships?

“Can these bones live?” You ask the question in the wreck of a relationship, when no one’s talking, and it’s hard to feel any warmth, let alone love. Bitterness and anger seem almost comfortable. But God asks the question, and his Spirit gives breath to words of truth and love. Let me help you, Jesus says, I know a thing or two about forgiveness.

“Can these bones live?” You’re standing in a cemetery, on a cold fall day, looking at the grave of a loved one. Dry leaves rustle and crack under foot like old bones. You wish more than anything that you could hold that hand again, hear that dear voice. But God asks the question, and his Spirit blows in the leaves, the same spirit that breathed life into our Saviour in his tomb. I am the resurrection and the life, Jesus says. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

“Can these bones live?” In this persistent winter, it’s hard to believe that two Sundays from now, we’ll gather to celebrate Easter. It may be blowing snow like this weekend, the tulips and daffodils may still be weeks away, but we will celebrate Easter. We will be reminded that our identity as a people, the thing that unites us, is our belief that these bones, our bones, can in fact live. We don’t believe because we ask the question. We believe because God asks the question. God answered the question by raising his son from the dead, so that all may live.

Jesus says “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead bones live. Day by day, Sunday by Sunday, Jesus says “Grace Church/St. George’s, come out!’ and we respond. No matter how hard our days can be, how dry our bones can be we find that there is strength and life and joy in us. We come out because Jesus calls us, and Jesus knows that our bones can live, now and forever. Amen.

©Michael Peterson+ 2007

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Civil War Reeneactors To Reinforce Troops In Iraq

Thanks to my friend Raivo for sending me this link from the I'm allowed to laugh because I've been (and still am, I guess) a civil war reenactor, which ranks slightly lower on the scale of attractiveness to women than being a miniature wargamer.

For proof of this assertion, I offer as evidence a photo that another friend took recently while at Gettysburg. Apparently some sort of reenactor appreciation day was happening and these fellows kindly offered to pose for the camera.

I suppose it would be worse if these fellows were wearing "Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler European Tour, 1939-1945" T shirts, eating Doritos, and debating who makes the most kick-ass 20mm King Tiger tank. Or maybe if they were Waffen SS reenactors at a wargaming convention, crammed into XXXL Oak Leave camo smocks, eating Doritos. Send 'em to Iraq, I say.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Then I Saw His Face" - A Chancel Drama

One of the congregations I serve, St. George's, is having a family or intergenerational service today, so I wrote this little skit on the gospel, Jesus heals the blind man in John 9. The idea isn't new - lots of others have seen that this gospel really lends itself to dramatic reading. My version is offered to anyone who wants to make use of it.

Ima Believer, a young person
Wendy/Wayne Witness, a reporter
Fred, a man who used to be blind (needs to wear something blue)
Fred’s parents
Phil, a Pharisee

“This is Wendy (Or Wayne, depending on the person reading the part) Witness for Galilee TV News. I’m near the Pool of Siloam, where people are saying that something incredible has happened. A man who has blind from birth can now see! Here’s someone who was there. Miss, what’s your name?”

Woman Witness: “Ima. Ima Believer.”

R: “Ima, tell us, what did you see?”

Ima: “I totally saw everything! It was AMAZING! Fred – that’s the blind man – was sitting over there, like he always does. He had his sign as usual, “Born Blind, Please Help”

R: “And then what happened?”

WW: “Well, Jesus and his disciples came along. One of the disciples, he’s all like, ‘Say. Jesus, this dude or his parents, like, they must have done something bad if he was born blind, eh?”.

R: (Nodding). “Makes sense. What did Jesus say?”

Ima: “Well, Jesus, he’s like, ‘No, this guy didn’t do anything wrong. God put him in my path so I can show everyone that I am the light of the world.”

Reporter: “Light of the world, huh? And then what happened?”

Ima: “Jesus took some dirt, spat on it and mixed it up into mud, and then put it on Fred’s eyes. Then he told Fred to go wash in the pool of Siloam.”

Reporter: “Did that work?”

Ima: “Yeah! Jesus is totally awesome! Fred can see now. There he is, go ask him!”

Crowd parts to reveal Fred standing there, staring at his hands in fascination.

Reporter: “Sir, I understand that Jesus healed you.”

Fred: “Look at my hands. Aren’t they cool? I’ve got little lines on the tips of my fingers!”

Reporter: “Sir, I understand you were born blind?”

Fred (pointing to his shirt or robe): “Aren’t colours amazing? This colour is like the sky!”

Reporter: (impatiently) “It’s a great colour. Sir, what happened to you?”

Fred: “I’m just sitting here, with my sign, hoping for some spare change, and then I feel this man rubbing something wet and gooey on my eyes. Then he tells me go wash in the pool. I go over to the pool, and rinse my eyes, and suddenly, I’m looking at someone in the water! It’s me! I saw myself in the water!”

Reporter: “Did you see the man who did this to you?”

Fred: “Not at first. There was a big fuss, lots of people all yelling, and then they took me to the Pharisees to tell them what had happened. They weren’t happy, I can tell you!”

Ima: “What a bunch of grumps they are! They even hauled Fred’s parents in to find out if he’d really been blind and stuff. There they are now, ask them!”

Reporter: “You folks are the parents? Can you tell us what happened?”

Parents hold up their hands: “We don’t know anything. We don’t want to get in trouble. Speak to our son. Or speak to one of the Pharisees. We just want to mind our business.”

Reporter: “Wow, these people are frightened. Hmm, that guy looks important. And not to happy, either. Sir, sir, can I speak to you? What’s your name, please?”

Phil: “Phil, Phil Pharisee.” (crossly) “ Now look, don’t you people be giving people the wrong idea. Nothing special happened here.”

Reporter: “But are you saying that this man wasn’t cured of his blindness?”

Fred: “I can see! I can see!”

Phil: “Of course he wasn’t cured! No one can heal blindness.”

Fred: “Jesus did! I met him later, after the pool. Jesus is from God! He’s the Son of God!”

Ima: “Jesus is AWESOME!”

Phil: “Of course he’s not the son of God. What day is it today?”

Reporter: “Uh, it’s the … Sabbath?”

Phil (triumphantly): “Exactly! Our law, given to us by Moses from God, says that the Sabbath is a day of rest. If this Jesus was really from God, he wouldn’t really have done this on the Sabbath!”

Reporter: “But he did, Sabbath or not. This man says he was blind all his life until today.”

Fred: “It’s true! I can see, I can see. Oh, are those clouds? They’re pretty!”

Phil: “He says he was blind. I don’t believe him. Everyone knows that if you’re born blind, or if you have some other handicap, it’s because God is punishing you or your parents for sins. If this Jesus really was from God, he wouldn’t have any time for sinners. He’d be with good, holy people, like us Pharisees! So clearly, this man is lying. He was never blind to begin with.”

Reporter: “Maybe Jesus did this to show that God loves sinners and wants to heal them?”

Phil: “I doubt it!”

Fred: “All I know, I once was blind, and now can see! Jesus is the Lord!”

Ima (to the Pharisee): “You’re pathetic. You’re the blind ones. If you really had eyes to see, you’d believe in Jesus.”

Reporter: “Well, there you have it. An interesting story from the Pool of Siloam. Clearly something happened here today. What it all means, that’s for our audience to decide. For Galilee TV News, I’m Wayne/Wendy Witness.”

Close with choir leading congregation as follows:

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back


"Remain in Light": A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Preached at Grace Church, Ilderton, 2 March, 2008

1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

“Remain in Light”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 1They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” (John 9:11-12)

Medical science can do so much for us today that the miraculous can seem quite ordinary. When people in this congregation and community tell me that they are going for cataract surgery, as they often do, it seems routine. In our grandparent’s generation, cataracts meant being condemned to a slowly darkening world. Today, it’s a simple fix. You go in as a day patient, spend a day or two recovering, and then you’re good to go, but with better eyes. My wife Kay had both eyes done last fall, and discovered to her joy and amazement that colours were brighter and suddenly she could read billboards and street signs.

Imagine Kay’s joy, or your own experience if you’ve had this surgery, and then multiply it by, oh, a thousand or so, to imagine what it must have been like for the blind man in today’s gospel when he washed that mud out of his eyes. I can picture him trying to make sense his reflection in the pool of Siloam, and slowly understanding that it was him. Imagine how bright the sun must have been, how overwhelming the colours must have been. It must have taken his brain a while to process his newfound sight.

As John tells the story, he is more interested in how the blind man recovers his spiritual sight, and that also takes a while. At first he can’t see Jesus. He doesn’t know what Jesus looks like and he doesn’t know where Jesus is (Jn 9:12). However, when he’s questioned by the Pharisees, we see the light starting to dawn. At first he tells his interrogators that the man who healed him must be a prophet, and later he goes further and says that Jesus must be from God (Jn 9:33). After the Pharisees drive him out, he meets Jesus and he’s prepared to believe in “the Son of Man” (Jn 9:36) if only he could meet him. Finally, when he realize who Jesus is, he worships him. At this point the man can see physically and spiritually. He can see the light, and he knows that the light comes from God.

“Where’s the person who gave you your sight and where is he now?” If I asked this question to all the people here who have had cataract surgery, I’m sure you could answer me easily enough. “It was Dr. Smith and he’s at St. Joes”, or “It was Dr. Jones at the Ivey Clinic”. If I asked you what difference it made in your life, I’m sure you could say “I don’t need my old glasses”, or “I can see signs better”. But if someone came along to all of us here in church this morning, and said “Who brought you from darkness into light, and where is he in your life now?”, what would we say? How many of us could say clearly and confidently that we know where Jesus is in our lives, or could say what he’s done for us?

The prophet Isaiah spoke of how the Messiah would come and bring God’s people out of their darkness. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined” (Isa 9:2). If you were in church on Sunday, January 29th, or on Christmas Eve, you heard that verse. The prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah that “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6). If you were in church on Sunday, January 20th, you heard that verse. The prophet Isaiah said to God’s people “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Isa 60:1). If you were in church on Epiphany Sunday, January 6th, you heard that verse. All those verses are talking about us and how God’s light shines on us. All those verses are talking about who Jesus is and what he’s done for us.

At our baptism, a priest gave us or gave our parents a candle to show that we have passed from darkness into light, just as Paul describes in our second lesson from Ephesians. For most of us, our faith life is a slow adjustment to seeing the world in bright light of Christ. It’s not an easy thing to do. Our eyes are weak. They prefer to see in shadows rather than in the bright sunshine. Most of us are like the sleepers in Ephesians who need to be dragged into a new day.

Once our eyes begin to adjust to the light of Christ, wonderful things start to happen. We begin to see the people that no one else wants to see. We start to see the losers, the no-accounts, with new eyes of compassion. We stop asking what bad things people did to deserve their misfortune, like the disciples ask when they first see the blind man. Instead, we start seeing the people around us as brothers and sisters in Christ, infinitely precious and loved in the eyes of God. We start seeing our blessings and our possessions and our talents as gifts that can make a difference in the world around us. We start seeing what we can do with God’s help.

We started this season of Lent with a story of how Christ was tempted in the wilderness. I think we always need to remember that Satan is trying to block the light of Christ and keep it from shining on us. Sometimes he tries to convince us that the world makes more sense in shades of gray, and that the light of Christ is too harsh, too simplistic for a complicated day and age. Sometimes he tries to convince us that our past sins are too horrible, that we aren’t fit to be seen in the light of Christ, that we’re never really forgiven. Sometimes he tries to convince us that our addictions and burdens aren’t really problems at all, and that they don’t need to be exposed to the light of Christ.

The best way to resist these temptations is to stay in the light. You know where to find your optometrist and your eye doctor. You know where to get your physical vision fixed. Make sure you know where to find Christ the healer, Christ your spiritual eye doctor. Keep close to him. See yourself as a beloved son and daughter of God whose sins are taken away. Be thankful to him. Worship him and say “thank you, Lord, for though I was blind, now I see”. Then go out into that wonderful bright world, and see the things God wants you to see. After all, it’s a beautiful day. Why stay in bed and miss it?


Mad Padre

Mad Padre
Opinions expressed within are in no way the responsibility of anyone's employers or facilitating agencies and should by rights be taken as nothing more than one person's notional musings, attempted witticisms, and prayerful posturings.


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