Here is a video recording of Bishop Mary Irwin-Gibson's sermon at St. Philip's Church on the occasion of our Patronage Feast on May 1, 2016. This is part of St. Philip's 125th anniversary celebrations.
Check out our forthcoming event, an evening of classical music on Friday, May 27th by the trio Manker and Friends. Click here for more information.
Sermon by Rev. J.B. Pratt 5th Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2016): Forgiveness and Reflections on Marriage (Text)
It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.
We’ve all heard that said before. And it can be especially true in the church, where we are supposed to be all about forgiveness, and where we often can move and make decisions at a glacial pace.
Our first lesson this morning [Acts 11:1-18] is all about asking forgiveness for breaking the rules. The early church was a Jewish movement, and the apostles saw themselves as Jews first, Christians second. They observed the Jewish law, including the kosher requirements; they attended synagogues and worshipped at the Temple. Non-Jews who wished to become Christians had to first convert to Judaism, study Torah and be circumcised, then they could be baptized as Christians.
Peter is out visiting the small group of Christians in Joppa, and while there, messengers come to him asking him to come with them to the house of a Roman centurion, Cornelius. Peter had just had a dream in which God told him to go with these strangers, so he goes along. When he gets to Cornelius’ house, he does not hesitate to go inside. Strike one. For an observant Jew to enter the house of a Gentile is to make himself ritually unclean. Then Cornelius invites Peter to join them at dinner. Strike two. Whatever Cornelius was serving, it certainly wasn’t kosher. And then, as Peter is talking to them and telling them about Jesus, he perceives the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and right then and there takes water and baptizes them. Strike three. They have not first converted to Judaism and been circumcised.
We all know how quickly tongues can wag in the church, and before Peter gets back to Jerusalem, word of his sins has already arrived there and made the rounds. The apostles and elders summon him to account for his actions, and to take his punishment. So Peter goes before them to explain his side of the story. He recounts everything that happened, and emphasizes how he saw the Holy Spirit come upon Cornelius and his household, just as the Spirit had come upon the apostles. “Who was I that I could hinder God?” he says. And after hearing his explanation, the other apostles understand that God was indeed at work, and forgive Peter. Thus began the expansion of Christian evangelism to non-Jews.
For us as Anglican Christians, for whom sacramental theology is very important, we need to pay particular attention to this incident. Our sacraments are important to us. We say in the catechism that sacraments are “outward and visible signs of an inward spiritual grace”. Sacraments are not magic acts which confer God’s grace or blessing, but a recognition that God is already at work in our lives, and the sacrament is a symbol to acknowledge that.
For example, baptism is not some magic ticket into heaven. We have, quite rightly, done away with the old mentality that a baby who died before being baptized could not be buried in consecrated ground. We are all children of God because we have been created in the image of God, not because we have been sprinkled with or dipped in water. The sacrament of baptism is our way of recognizing and celebrating that God’s grace is given to us, and to mark our response to this gift of grace through our baptismal promises.
Likewise, marriage does not suddenly make two people a couple nor form a strong bond between them. The first marriage I officiated was between a couple who had been together for seven or eight years and had a six-year-old child. They did their marriage preparation in another parish, and I was newly appointed, so I didn’t know their story until afterwards. Their relationship had been going through some hard times, and they thought (or at least the bride thought) that if they tied the knot, that would keep them together. Six months after the wedding they separated. Marriage doesn’t create love and commitment between the couple; it recognizes a loving relationship that already exists and in which God’s grace is present, and celebrates it with the whole community.
My ordination did not magically confer on me the ability to transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Instead, it was the culmination of a long process of discernment, of coming to the understanding that God had given me gifts and grace for leadership in God’s church. The laying on of hands was the Church’s recognition of those gifts and that grace, and of giving me the authority to exercise them.
So our sacraments are not so much a conferral of God’s grace, as they are a recognition of how God’s grace and the Holy Spirit are already active in the lives of people. We need to be very careful about what rules and procedures we erect around the sacraments. Yes, rules are necessary. But we need to be very careful that our rules – human rules – do not hinder God.
Take one example. Those of you who are long-time Anglicans are familiar with the old rule that you had to be confirmed before you could receive Holy Communion. This had been the rule in the Anglican Church since the 13th century. Since the 1970s, the Anglican churches have been moving away from this rule, and back to the practice of the ancient church and of most other churches, Orthodox, Catholic and many Protestants, that baptism is the only prerequisite to admission to communion.
In recent years, the discussion has shifted, and now the question is whether baptism is really necessary before one may come to the table, or whether communion should be open to all. If someone who feels moved to come forward to receive, who are we to decide whether the Holy Spirit is working within them? Who are we to hinder God? At St Philip’s, we print in our bulletin and announce at the invitation to communion that all who are baptized are welcome. But recently, at diocesan celebrations, our bishop has been inviting all who are so moved to come for communion.
Marriage is another sacrament where our rules are, and need to be, under constant re-examination. A generation ago, the discussion was whether divorced persons could be remarried in the church; the rules said no. Now, most of us wonder what the fuss was; certainly we have all seen loving relationships the second time around among those whose first try at marriage did not work out. The discussion has moved on to same-sex couples. Personally, I have seen in same-sex couples love, a commitment to one another, and care for each other and the community equal to that of opposite-sex couples. As a church, we need to be asking questions about such relationships. Do we see in them a reflection of God’s love and an example for others? Do we see the Holy Spirit working in them? Do we see evidence of God’s grace in the couple’s lives? And if so, who are we to hinder God?
Sermon by Rev. J.B. Pratt for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 2015 (Text)
A little over a week ago, the Anglican Church of Canada’s commission on marriage canon released its report on a proposed amendment to remove gender references from the canon. I commend the report to your reading, as it gives much food for thought. In one of those twists that the lectionary is often famous for, today it gives us for our Gospel reading one of Jesus’ few comments concerning marriage. Mark 10:2-16.
The passage is one of the recommended readings for weddings, and the line “what God has joined together, let no one put asunder” is familar to most of us. We tend to take it as Jesus’ definitive word on the subject of marriage.
But is it? Context is everything, and we need to look at the context. As the introduction (omitted from the reading today), Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples have crossed the Jordan River, into what is today Jordan, then a part of the territory of King Herod Antipas. Just a bit earlier, Mark tells us of the death of John Baptist, whom Herod had arrested and then beheaded, because John had been denouncing Herod for having divorced his wife and married his divorced sister-in-law.
The Pharisees, who get particularly bad rap in Mark, try to trick Jesus. Their question, “Is it lawful to divorce?” seems straightforward. But, if Jesus says no, then they can denounce him to Herod, and he might suffer the same fate as John. If Jesus says yes, then in the people’s eyes he’s not as good as John, and the crowds might drift away.
Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He makes them answer their own question: “What did Moses command you?” What does the Torah, the Law, say about the question? They answer, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." (Deut. 24) Under the Law, a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason, just by giving her a certificate of dismissal and sending her on her way.
But then Jesus leaves them with something to think about. He pushes them beyond the text of the law. The law exists, he says, not because it is God’s law and definitive purpose for humankind, but because of the hardness of the human heart. It can be less cruel to give a woman her freedom than to force her to stay in a marriage where she is not wanted.
So what is God’s purpose for marriage? According to Jesus, it is two individuals becoming one flesh, becoming a single entity. He suggests that the Pharisees are just as hard-hearted as Herod, since they focus on the law, and not the purpose behind it. The are following the letter of the Law, but their hearts are far from God.
Once Jesus is behind closed doors with the disciples, he goes more in depth, talking about divorce as adultery. He redefines adultery: in the Law, adultery was a crime against property rights, the rights of a man to sole and exclusive possession of his wife. But Jesus instead focuses on it as a breaking of a sacred covenant. If marriage is a sacred union of two persons into one, any breaking of that union is a violation of that covenant.
So, as the Commission says of this passage, “Jesus is therefore not stating a timeless doctrine of marriage, but rather giving a pastoral (and political) response to a particular set of circumstances.”
How do we regard marriage today? Very often, we are still caught up in old, out-dated traditions. The most frequent question that I get at wedding rehearsals is from the father of the bride, “When do I give her away?”. We are all familiar with the ritual: the father walks his daughter down the aisle; the priest asks, “Who gives this woman?”; the father answers, “I do”; and he places her hand in the grooms hand, symbolizing that she is no longer her father’s property, but her husband’s. Though that has been, thankfully, dropped from the marriage service, old habits die hard. It has taken us 2000 years to move beyond the idea of marriage as a contract involving property, to a partnership based on love.
Consider the purposes of marriage, according introduction read by the priest at the beginning of the marriage service in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Marriage exists, first, for the procreation of children, second, “for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication”, and third, “for the mutual society, help and comfort” of the couple. What does love have to do with it? Very little. The promise to obey, made only by the bride, emphasized that the woman was subservient.
In the Book of Alternative Services, the introduction now reads, “ the union of man and woman in heart, body and mind is intended for their mutual comfort and help, that they may know each other with delight and tenderness in acts of love”. The idea of a loving partnership is at the front and centre. I think most of us would agree that the most important element of a marriage is love.
In preparation for General Synod in June of next year, we are being asked, as the church, to look hard at marriage. We can’t just say “we’ve always done it this way”, because how the church, and society, have understood marriage has changed over the centuries. We can’t look at scripture simplistically, taking one passage out of context and declaring it to be Jesus’ definitive statement on the subject. We need to look hard and honestly, at the whole of Scripture, at our tradition, at our experience, to see how God is at work. We need to ask the question, does a loving, committed, covenanted relationship between two people, regardless of their gender, reflect the love of God? Is it a sacred union, in which two become one flesh?
May we all be part of the discussion, listening and sharing our reflections, and may the Spirit guide us in our deliberations.
Easter Sunday, April 20, 2014, (Video)
In this sermon, Father Jim discusses Lent and Easter Sunday. He contrasts the suffering and hardship of Good Friday with the celebration of Easter Sunday. The cross means Gods solidarity with us in suffering. Our comfortable existences sometimes cause us to ignore the meaning of the cross. As Paul says, "set your minds on things above and not things of Earth." Easter is now a commercial holiday, at this time we commonly focus on material things. However, we are called to focus on life itself, on peace, justice and on love. Living our lives each day as an Easter people.
Palm Sunday, April 13, 2014, Video
Christmas, December 22, 2013 - The Meaning of Christmas Transcends Historical Details (Video)
The Feast of All Saints, 2013, (Video)
For the Feast of All Saints, Father Jim discusses the hymn Sine Nomine which presents a vision of all the people of God offering praise around the throne. However, in our earthly existence, the trappings of wealth and power obscure the fact that, "the empires of this world will pass away." The Kingdom of God here on earth is not found in gilded palaces but among the poor, the hungry and the outcast.
The Invisible Hand of God, 2013, (Video)
Sin Punishment and Redemption, 2013, (Video)
The Value of Silence in the Wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings 2013, (Video)
In this video Rev. James Pratt delivers a sermon on the value of silence in the wake of the tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon in April, 2013.
Easter Sermon 2013 Part 2 (Video)
Easter Sermon 2013 Part 1 (Video)