(Don’t) Show Me the Money: A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Creation

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There is often in a favorite movie a quote wherein one knows the movie just by hearing that quote. “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” or “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” The Godfather “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz “May the Force be with you.” Star Wars “Show me the money.” Jerry McGuire “You can’t handle the truth.” A Few Good Men Christians are called upon to handle the truth as given to us in The Bible.

Movies can also be misquoted. In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader does not say, “Luke, I am your father.” He actually says, “No, I am your father.” In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko does not simply say, “Greed is good.” It is actually much longer, “The point is ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.”

People have favorite passages from The Bible, but The Bible can be misquoted. For example what St. Paul says in the epistle reading this morning in 1 Timothy is one of my favorite passages, but it is often misquoted. This reading is one of the great reality checks that we can have. It starts off with the observation, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it.” We are told to be content with food and clothing and not to fall into the temptation of pursuing wealth, for simply the sake of pursuing wealth with the love of money as a golden idol in one’s heart as this course of action will result in temptation, ruin and destruction.

Here is the misquote. People often say that “Money is the root of all evil.” And that saying comes from the Bible. But, what is actually said. St. Paul said “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” Pursuing riches can lead people to wander away from the faith. This can mean that wealth becomes a golden idol in people’s hearts. We should be acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.

On the same token was St. Paul or Jesus opposed to engaging in enterprise making money or being lazy having everything handed to us? In this Season of Creation, the message is that we need to use the resources which have been given to us more effectively. We need, as Jesus tells us in this morning’s Gospel, to strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness. St. Paul was not opposed to work and making a profit. His profession was as a tentmaker and he did support himself on his missionary journey. He would acquire material, and through his labor make the tent, and sell it for a profit so that he could live and travel to do the Lord’s work. Consider also what is written in Acts 14:14-15

A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshiped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay.” So she persuaded us.

The important phrase here is that Lydia is a seller of purple dye, the color worn by higher parts of society. She had an exclusive clientele. She was a successful business person. She was wealthy. Faithful people like Paul and Lydia can be faithful to the Lord while plying their trade, but there are responsibilities, such as producing a good product, being fair to one’s workforce (that is to say respecting the dignity of every human being), charging a fair price, and now we would add, being environmentally conscious, either using less resources because resources are finite and/or getting more from the resources that we are using to maximize output while minimizing input. And, if we do that we will not follow a golden idol in our hearts loving money as opposed to loving God.

The reading from Deuteronomy tells us when we have our material possessions of food, houses, money, and producing more to exalt oneself, but remember the Lord who has given us the power to create this wealth and confirm the covenant of the Lord in your heart. Be fruitful and multiply. Own your possessions and don’t have your possessions own you. Plan but don’t worry excessively as the worrying won’t add to your life or what you are called to do.

In this Season of Creation, we are reminded that we are stewards of the earth. By respecting the environment and avoid putting golden idols in our hearts, we can live out our baptismal vows and be those faithful stewards of creation in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Alex Faseruk is Non-Stipendiary Associate Priest at St. Mark’s and Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Business at Memorial University.

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In the Beginning Was The Bang: A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Creation (Genesis 2: 4-7, 15-24)

Hubble Goes High Def to Revisit the Iconic 'Pillars of Creation'

We are surrounded by stories in our daily lives. We share personal stories everyday on social media. We read stories in the news. Marketers craft stories to get us to buy their wares. We live in the midst of grand stories like capitalism and democracy. The church and any religious communities are founded and sustained on stories.

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our world, and the way things should be naturally change over time. Our understanding now is not what it was when we were children. Failure to come up with new stories or the ability to hear our stories in new ways can cause a crisis: an identity crisis, a crisis of faith, a crisis of how we live together in this world.

Something like this was happening to the Hebrew people, the Israelites. Even though they are God’s covenant people they find themselves in exile in a foreign land, cut off from their holy land, unable to worship in their holy temple in Jerusalem. Who are they now? Where is God? How do they make sense of this new reality?

It was in this period that they began telling new stories and re-telling old stories in new ways. They began compiling these stories in books. These books would become Torah, the teaching or the guidance.

One of the stories they told was of creation, and they told it in many ways – in poetry like in the psalms; in folk tales like in Job; and in Genesis, their story of origins. They were influenced by the stories around them. These stories told of violent, bloody beginnings, but their story and their God was different. They told a story of a God who brought all things into being with creativity and flare, like an artist. Another story, which we read today, told of a God who was close to the creation, intimate even. This story told of a God who had dirty hands from creating, like a gardener. This God walked and talked with the creation. This story gave humans a special place in this garden creation – to care and look after it. Humans bear the breath of God, the spirit. The human comes from the creation and is set apart to care for the creation.

Their story becomes our story, but over time this story takes on new meaning. We retell the story with us at the center. We forget our place in the garden, even forgetting that the creation is a garden. Instead of taking care we take advantage. The garden is just a resource, something for us to use. We see ourselves as separate from creation, above it even. We see creation as fixed and static. This creation becomes something evil, corrupted, something to escape.

Pretty soon we find ourselves in a crisis, in sick world, a broken polluted garden. The stories that we told ourselves seem out of touch, they don’t make sense anymore. We know that there is more to creation, more to us. We need a new story. We need to reimagine the story we have been telling ourselves.

How do we retell our story of origin?

We know more about our world then our ancestors did. Science has taught us a lot. Science is good with the how of creation and we need to include that in our story. But there is still the why of our story: why are we here? Why are things the way they are?

How do we bring those two stories – science and theology – together? It might go something like this …

In the beginning there was a bang, an explosion. This holy explosion sets in motion an ever expanding creation called life. Matter forms into stars, stars form into galaxies, more exploding stars give birth to planets like earth and their moons. And the material from those stars, celestial DNA, come together in the life forms that we know here on earth.

Over billions of years this creation gets more and more complex, more and more intricate. Until finally we emerge from creation, creation itself now conscious of its existence. The remnants of long dead stars brought to life once again. We are a mix of matter, light and spirit. We are able to reason, to create, to love.

We Christians also believe that God, the energy, the force, the presence behind all of this, moves into this creation – lives in it as a human being, like a seed planted in a garden, giving life to produce life. It’s the story of creation spilling over into recreation.

We tell this story over and over again. In fact, we act out this story in the Eucharist and in baptism – the seed of new creation planted in us, taking root and bearing fruit. Nourished at the table and through water and light, we remind ourselves of who we are, where we came from, who we belong to.

We are connected to the divine.

We are connected to each other, every one of us in this room and outside of it.

We are connected to creation. In fact, we are creation.

That leaves us with important questions that we have to struggle with:

What is our responsibility to God and each other? And in this season of creation we narrow our focus on the question, What is our responsibility to creation?

What is our responsibility as human beings and as Christians to this planet, our island home? Are we only concerned with some other place to some other time? Do we abdicate our responsibility onto God and shrug our shoulders and say it’s all in God’s hands? Or as God entrusted us with the care of this world, inviting us into the cosmically divine plan of healing, salvation and renewal?

May we struggle with these questions as we journey through the season of creation. May we do this in the name of God who is the creator, redeemer and sustainer of the universe. +

Rev. Robert Cooke is the Rector of St. Mark’s.

The above picture from NASA is called the Pillars of Creation. It is a photograph taken by the Hubble Space Telescope of interstellar gas some 6,500–7,000 light years from Earth. They are so named because the gas and dust are in the process of creating new stars, while also being eroded by the light from nearby stars that have recently formed.

 

Creation – A Sublime Gift and Legacy

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This year St. Mark’s will be joining with other parts of the Church in observing the Season of Creation, which runs from the first Sunday in September through the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4).  This is to emphasize Creation Care as an integral aspect of the Christian faith; indeed, it’s part of our baptismal covenant.  Therefore, for the next five Sundays, we will step aside from the regular Sunday lectionary and use readings appropriate to the Season of Creation. This post on creation care from Father Mark was published in the September issue of Anglican Life. 

As Anglicans, it’s our practice to renew our baptismal covenant on a regular basis. In this covenant we not only profess what we believe about God, we also make specific promises about how we’re going to live out what we believe. With this in mind, I’d like to take a closer look at how we live out one of those baptismal promises in particular.

Twenty-eight years ago the Anglican Communion adopted the fifth of the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. In 2013, the Anglican Church of Canada incorporated this mark in our baptismal covenant by adding a ninth question of inquiry: Will you strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth? Consequently, for the past five years, every time we’ve renewed our baptismal covenant we’ve acknowledged care for creation as an integral aspect of the Christian faith.

It should be noted that the Anglican Communion is not alone in seeing creation care as a matter of faith. In his 2015 encyclical, Laudito Si’ – On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis lovingly refers to our planet as “our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us”. He then goes on to lament that our…

…sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.

On the World Day of Prayer for Creation in 2017, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew jointly stated that the “earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility” and that “[o]ur human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.” They go on to point out that the reality of human history, “reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscure our calling as God’s co-operators.” In other words, care for creation is an integral part of our calling as Christians. Indeed, neglecting to do so is to sin against our Creator, be it “by what we have done” or “by what we have left undone.”

So, just how intentional are we in honouring the last of our baptismal promises? Do we strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation? Do we strive to respect, sustain and renew the life of the earth? I would point out that “to strive” is to devote serious effort, indeed to struggle, to achieve or attain something. It is not a passive activity. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us know that we need to do better – much better – if we’re going to faithfully live out our baptismal promise to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. In future columns I’ll offer some thoughts on how we might go about that.

Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest at St. Mark’s.

Baking the Bread of Life: A Homily for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost

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This week we find ourselves in the middle of a five-week stretch in the lectionary where we take a break from the Gospel of Mark and focus in on chapter six of John’s Gospel. It begins with Jesus feeding of the multitude with bread and fish, followed by a long discourse between Jesus and the crowd. It’s known as the bread discourse because in it Jesus repeatedly refers to himself as bread, bread of heaven, living bread, the bread of life. Some of his hearers are intrigued but most are confused, some even hostile. The whole thing even cost him some disciples.

Why? Why such a reaction to what Jesus is saying? And what is Jesus doing when he says he is the bread of life, the living bread? What does he mean?

The comparison to bread is a powerful one. It is a staple of life for most every culture in the world. In some cultures the word for bread and life are the same. Civilization as we know it exists because of our ancestors’ ability to grow wheat and transform it into bread. It enabled them to settle down in one place, allowing science, technology and art to flourish. In the ancient world, and still today, bread was central to our basic diets. This is especially true of the poor. If you’re too poor to buy meat, veggies or fruit you can probably still afford bread. A sharp rise in the price of bread still leads to economic, political and military upheaval. Many revolutions have started because of high bread prices.

Bread plays an important role in our own lives too. The smell of baking bread taps into our olfactory senses and unlocks an array of memories and associations, triggering hunger and nostalgia. Try to imagine a family meal that doesn’t involve some type of bread. Bread brings people together. The phrase ‘break bread’ is a synonym for friendship and intimacy.

Bread itself is a very simple thing: flour, salt, water, yeast, heat. Alone these ingredients can do much for our nourishment, maybe help you survive for some time. Baked together, though, in bread and you could survive indefinitely. There appears to be something supernatural about bread. In bread we get much from a little. It’s a miracle.

Bread is mostly air – nothing. It’s those pockets of air that contain gases that pop in our mouths when we chew, sending those aromatic gases up to our olfactory sense, thus triggering all those sensations. This air or nothingness is another reason for the spiritual connotations of bread. The ruach, the pneuma, the spirit or the wind and air is in the bread. Air is associated with the spiritual because it can’t be seen or touched. It carries with it a sense of the unknown. Seeds and yeast carried on the wind are brought together to create this miracle food made mostly of air. Bread truly is a mystical food.

While made of all natural ingredients, bread is not natural. It doesn’t grow but is assembled. Though simple, bread is a complicated thing.

A farmer plants and cares for the wheat.

The wheat is transported to granaries where it is milled into various types of flour.

Flour then comes to the baker who expertly combines flour, water, salt and yeast to make bread.

In our modern world it is then packaged and transported to supermarkets and restaurants where we, the consumers, purchase and eat the bread.

It truly takes a community, a network of people, building on each other’s work to make bread.

Over the centuries we have tried to make bread more efficient and profitable. The result is flour and bread that our bodies can’t handle. Thus the rise in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. The bread we eat today is very different from the bread that our ancestors ate 100, 200, 500, 1000 or 5000 years ago. Actually, right now bread is going through a dark time. More and more people are deciding to go without bread. In trying to make bread more efficient, cheap or profitable, we have lost the essence of what bread is. Good bread takes time. There is a process. Many people must work together.

So what does Jesus mean when he says he is the bread of life? What does it mean in our world for Jesus to be the bread of life?

Of course in the church we have sacramentalized bread and dressed it up in liturgical garb. For us, bread points to something else. Bread becomes the body of Christ, broken just like his body was broken on the cross. This simple act of coming to church, taking a piece of bread in our mouths, eating it together has become the cornerstone of much of the Christian faith. For Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Christians especially, to be Christian means to eat bread together. This act, that anywhere else is an act to fulfill our physical hunger, when done here fills our spiritual hunger. Like the water and light of baptism, this sacred meal nourishes and sustains our very being.

Actually, the older I get the more I see there is not as much of a gap between spiritual and physical, between matter and mystery, between heaven and earth as I once used to think. Now I see the spiritual as deeply physical and the physical as deeply spiritual. Maybe that’s why Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life. Bread is the ultimate soul food where physical and spiritual meet. He knew that in feeding each other physically it became a spiritual encounter; in gathering to feast spiritually we receive the physical stamina to keep going.

Jesus was on to something else when he calls himself bread – the truth that it takes many people to make bread. Maybe that’s why the church is called the body of Christ. In the same way that it takes a community to make a single loaf of bread, it takes all of us to make up the body of Christ, the true bread. All of us have a part to play, an ingredient to add, a part in the recipe to contribute. If Jesus is to truly be the bread of life, then it is us, the church, who will make that bread in such a way that people will want to come and feast.

What’s behind this meal of bread and wine is the simple act of welcome and hospitality. This is so in spite of the regalia, pomp and circumstance, and bureaucracy that the church often piles on top of this simple meal. Maybe that is one of the reasons why more and more people just can’t digest the bread we’re offering them.

This meal proclaims the truth that we can’t make this bread on our own, that we can’t feed ourselves. The church is just a gathering of people who realize that good bread, living bread, is best when shared and eaten with others. We know that true community, love, reconciliation, healing and grace really only happen around the table as we break bread together.

It is here that we invite each other and the entire hungry human family to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Amen

What is it about Sunday School?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

by: Allison Billard

I don’t like Sunday School. There. I said it. I don’t like it. Not at all. And the best part? I don’t really know why.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I attended Sunday School nearly every Sunday of my childhood. I taught Sunday School and Confirmation class in many different ways, using all sorts of programs, and using none at all. I don’t like any of it, and neither did the kids I was working with. Sunday School curriculum is notoriously awful. Either there’s not enough to go on unless you have a degree in theology, or it’s so chock full of stuff there’s no hope of getting through much of it and it goes to waste.

I don’t like that kids don’t really get to be a part of the service. Growing up we went out after the children’s story and came back for communion. At St. Mark’s now that’s more or less what we do. I get that the bible readings and the sermon aren’t exactly easy to grasp for little ones with short attention spans, but I would argue many adults have the same experience of zoning out during the sermon once in a while.

I don’t like the assumption that Sunday School has to be led by moms (and some dads, but mostly moms). Why don’t other people feel that they can participate in this ministry? Maybe the moms would like a break from constantly entertaining and teaching the little ones in their lives.

Similarly, I don’t like that I have to miss out on the service to bring my kids to Sunday School. Goodness knows I can’t even bribe them to go (or stay there) without me. I don’t know how my mother convinced me to go as a child, but nothing I do is working, I clearly don’t have her magical powers.

I know what you’re going to say. You don’t have to send them to Sunday School if you don’t want to, keep them in church. I do often do that, but then the mom guilt is very strong, telling me they’re missing out on key childhood experiences. But you know what? The truth is they don’t like Sunday School either. And pageants? Forget it. They start crying at the mere mention of putting on a costume for the nativity.

Maybe I’ve done something wrong. Despite my best, optimistic, hey this is going to be so fun mom enthusiasm, they have inherited my scepticism of Sunday school, new social situations and wearing costumes. Or maybe I’m just so awesome they can’t stand to be away from me for 20 minutes. Yes, ok, probably not that last one.

To be totally fair, at St. Mark’s, and other parishes I am sure, we really do make an effort for families and kids to be involved as greeters, servers, AV technicians, readers, the whole gamut. And for that I am eternally grateful. Maybe I just need to find other things the kids enjoy and forget about doing something because it’s the thing to do. What do you think?

Allison, her husband Robert and two young sons attend our 10:30 am Sunday worship. Allison is a St. Mark’s vestry member, and our former Youth Minister. She writes regularly for Anglican Life where this column was first published in the June 2018 edition.

 

Locked Rooms and Open Wounds: A Sermon for the Second Saturday of Easter

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I spent Easter Monday in a small monuments showroom picking out a headstone for my father’s grave. That’s right, after all the Easter Day pomp and ceremony, all the acclamations of the risen Christ, all the joyous words of new life and resurrection, there I was face-to-face with death. I had quickly gone from the dizzying heights and palpable energy of Easter Day liturgy to the all too familiar, real world grind of pain, loss and grief. In that moment the previous day’s shouts of “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” rang as hollow as a politician’s campaign promise. My very own “Low Monday”.

Now I do not say this to get you to pity me. No…because you have all been in rooms like mine. Rooms and situations that make you question Easter and its talk of resurrection. Hospital waiting rooms and bedside vigils where you pray and wait for good news that you know just won’t come. Palliative care rooms where every breath could be your loved one’s last. It seems that every hope and dream you ever had dissipates with every exhalation. Medical rooms where the doctor or psychologist says we just can’t get the medication right, where it seems the darkness of anxiety and depression will snuff out your last remaining light. Rooms where the bankruptcy, the divorce, the unemployment become all too painfully clear. It’s in these rooms that Easter morning seems light years away.

But if the Easter message of resurrection cannot speak to us in these rooms, in the Mondays of our lives, what good is it? If the resurrected Christ cannot pass through the lead thick walls of these rooms, then we might as well leave him in our manufactured Sunday sanctuaries. We need Easter here and now, in the untidy, disordered mess of our lives.

It is here that the story of Thomas and Jesus, and the room where they meet, tells us something of the gap between our own lives and Easter. Now poor old Thomas has not been treated fairly by the church. His moniker ‘Doubting Thomas’ is undeserved. Thomas doesn’t so much doubt as ask for the same privilege as the other disciples. He only wants to experience the risen Jesus.

John tells the story that on the evening of the resurrection of Jesus, the first Easter Day, the disciples are locked away for fear of the opponents of Jesus. Presumably their fear is that they would do to them what they had done to Jesus. Suddenly Jesus appears in their midst. It’s a moment that would make Houdini himself envious. Jesus wishes them peace, bestowing on them an evangelistic mission and breathing on them a pre-Pentecost gift of the Holy Spirit.

Of course when Thomas hears about this from his fellow disciples he is understandably upset. Upset like any of us would be at being excluded from such a miraculous encounter. His friend with whom he had travelled the Galilean countryside for three years, his rabbi, the one he thought was the long hoped for messiah, arrested and executed, now reported raised from the dead. Who wouldn’t be a little put out by missing such an event? All this resurrection talk is one thing, but for Thomas, the thought that he had missed out on it is too much to bear. “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it” (the Message). Thomas’ words could be my words in that showroom, could be your words. Any of us would utter these words, when the Easter message meets our real life situation.

And I have to ask, where was Thomas when Jesus came to visit that first Easter evening? Why is he not with the other disciples, locked away in fear? Perhaps he was out taking care of arrangements for his dear friend. Perhaps Thomas, more than any of the other disciples, knew that life must go on in the face of death. We just keep living. What else is there to do?

I am also struck by how Jesus approaches Thomas in this scene. There is no hint from Jesus of the accusation and finger pointing that the church has heaped on Thomas. Jesus does not upbraid Thomas on his lack of faith. He does not chide him for believing without evidence. He does not launch into a theological treatise on the metaphysics of resurrection. No, he only offers Thomas the one thing he asked for. He offers Thomas his wounds. And seeing his wounds, Thomas believes.

Another question haunts me: why does Jesus’ resurrected body bear the scars of the resurrection? Only John and Luke include this detail. One would think that a glorified, resurrected body would not bear the marks of suffering and pain. The skeptic would say that it is a literary device of the gospel writers to eliminate any confusion that this person might be anyone but Jesus. These resurrection accounts could not be a ruse because his body bore the marks of his execution. Perhaps that is all it is, clever storytelling. But perhaps not.

A clue to the meaning of these wounds can be seen in the other John reading this week. In it, John (not the evangelist but another John), writes that Jesus, in his death, is an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. In Jesus, God enters into our human condition and takes on all of our humanness. He exposes himself to the worst that we have to offer. He endures our violence, our hate, our pride, our deep desire for retribution. He dies from it; dies for it. But he is raised to new life to show that God’s way, the way of love, peace and forgiveness, is the far better way than the ways of the world, of empire and crooked religion. His wounds are not just his own, they are ours too. An eternal symbol of God’s solidarity, God’s covenant love for all people. What were meant to be wounds of defeat and brute force, in the hands of God become wounds of love.

Jesus bears our wounds even now, so we do not bear them alone. Even as we sit in our isolated rooms, seemingly far from the joyous Easter celebrations, perhaps especially there, the Easter message of a wounded, resurrected Lord echo on and on. In Jesus we see a promise that our wounds, though they may define us now, will not always. As Jesus has been raised so shall we. As the great theologian Karl Rahner said, In the risen Jesus a piece of this earth, real to the core, is now forever with God in glory. The seed that was sowed in death has given rise to new life to all creation. The resurrection of Jesus is our destiny too. Behold God is making everything new! Beginning with Jesus, the first fruits, and spreading to us. We glimpse this eternal truth right here and now as we bear the wounds of the broken, the poor, the hurt, the suffering. We participate in the resurrection when we bear each other’s burdens, we who are wounded healers, followers of a wounded saviour.

So here, gathered in this room, around this table, we share this sacred meal of broken flesh and blood. And we push ourselves back from this table, full of God’s grace and love, and go and serve a broken, wounded world.

+ In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

The Rev. Robert Cooke, Rector of St. Mark’s. A sermon preached at Saturday worship on Easter 2, April 7, 2018.

 

 

 

What Is Confirmation Anyway?

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I was confirmed at 12. I then spent the better part of my teenage years totally disgusted with the Church and everything it stood for (sorry about that, by the way!). It wasn’t until my late teens I started to experience a change inside myself, when a real faith started to grow and I was on my way to becoming the “ordinary Christian” I am today.

I participated in my husband’s Confirmation, when he was 32. To me, 10 years past my own Confirmation, it seemed so much more meaningful, and to be frank, I was sorry that I hadn’t appreciated it when I did it 10 years earlier.

At St. Mark’s we are taking a year of discernment around Confirmation – to try to find a way forward that is true to the sacrament and to the members of the parish. I have noticed that many people agree that confirmation is about transition, accepting responsibility, commitment, and affirmation. There is less of a consensus around how we prepare for Confirmation and who is eligible. Honestly I believe the idea of “Confirmation Class” is outdated.

I taught several groups of confirmands, aged mostly 11 and 12, and tried to help prepare them for Confirmation. I do not feel that it was a successful venture, but try I certainly did. While I know there are kids out there who are absolutely ready to take on the vows made at Confirmation, I didn’t see many of them in my classes. Generally the kids were there because their parents told them they had to be. It was just time to get that done.

We are supposed to be taking on the vows made on our behalf at baptism. It is a “confirmation” of our faith. Confirmation has certainly evolved over time, just like many other things (including baptism!). As it is now, Confirmation is not really about Christian education, disciple making, conversion, graduation, or initiation. Those things are the work of the Church as a whole. Confirmation is a sacrament, an “outward physical expression of an inward spiritual grace.”

We have to have that inward spiritual grace, in order to make the outward physical expression. The only way, as far as I can tell, to experience that is to be actively involved in the work of the Church. What does that mean exactly? Well there is no one size fits all solution.

Active involvement is many things, often begun from a very early age. We have to live our faith, and do as Jesus instructed us: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick. Only by witnessing God’s love in the world, and in God’s church, can we really be prepared to seek Confirmation. No curriculum, or gimmicks, or videos, or study can teach us that. We have to DO it. Afterall, how can we affirm a faith we haven’t experienced??

I would (and do!) argue that at 11 or 12, most (but certainly not all) kids have not experienced faith in that way, and to force them through confirmation defeats the purpose of the sacrament. We need to approach confirmation more intentionally and with support and encouragement of those who are interested in pursuing it, no matter their age. But that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?

Allison, her husband Robert and two young sons attend our 10:30 am Sunday worship. Allison is a St. Mark’s vestry member, and our former Youth Minister. She writes regularly for Anglican Life where this column was first published in the April 2018 edition.