Just Keep Fighting: A Sermon for Sunday October 16, 2022

The following sermon was preached on October 16, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.  Image credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Our gospel and New Testament readings are set in contexts where the people of God are having a difficult time. Things are going from bad to worse, and they need to find a way to maintain their focus, their energy, and their sense of purpose.

Both readings speak of the need for persistence.  In 2 Timothy we heard this line, “I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message, be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable... (4:1-2, emphasis mine.)

Be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “persistent” as “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

Be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable.

On February 7, 2017, the U.S Senate was debating the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions to become Attorney General.[1]  Senator Elizabeth Warren opposed the confirmation and spoke critically of Session’s record on civil rights.

While Warren was stating her objections, she was interrupted multiple times and told to stop talking.

But she didn’t stop.

A series of fancy political maneuvers occurred in an attempt to silence Senator Warren.

But she didn’t stop.

When he tried to sum up what had happened, Senator Mitch McConnell, looking truly bewildered said, “Senator Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

And women everywhere, regardless of their political affiliations, stopped for a moment and said, “Yeah she did.”

Even if they disagreed with her politics, many women found Warren’s persistence to be inspiring.

The line, “Nevertheless she persisted,” which was meant to be a condemnation of Senator Warren, went viral and became a rallying cry for women to persist despite the many attempts to silence or ignore them.

If you google it, you can find endless social media posts containing the hashtag #neverthelessshepersisted, countless photos of people’s tattoos of the quotation, and a wide array of merchandise.

I know this in part because I received all sorts of things that say “Nevertheless she persisted” when I was ordained.  People knew it had not been an easy experience.

Nevertheless she continued “firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

Nevertheless she persisted.

Today’s gospel reading is a short parable that’s set in the context of the legal system.

Most people have a general sense of how our modern legal system functions. It may not be an entirely accurate sense, it may be based more on TV crime dramas than reality, but still, we get the general idea of how it’s supposed to work.  People do bad things, the police arrest them and charge them with a crime, they go to court and so on.

In Jesus’ day, things were a bit different.  N.T. Wright explains that:

“In the ancient Jewish law court… If someone had stolen from you, you had to bring a charge against them; you couldn’t get the police to do it for you. If someone had murdered a relative of yours, the same would be true. So every legal case in Jesus’ day was a matter of a judge deciding to vindicate one party or the other: “vindication” or “justification” here means upholding their side of the story, deciding in their favour.

This word “justification” which we see a lot in Paul ‘s writing but hardly ever in the gospels, means exactly this: that the judge finds in one’s favour at the end of the case.”  (212)

Although there may very well have been more people present, there are two main characters in this story, a judge and a widow.

We are told that the judge “neither feared God nor had respect for people”– that is actually what the text says – he “neither feared God nor had respect for people” – so right away we know he’s a problematic character. (2)

The story is told entirely from the judge’s point of view. The widow never speaks, we only hear the judge’s internal monologue about her.

Through that monologue, we learn that the widow keeps coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” (3) She doesn’t stop coming, the verb tense in the original Greek implies a continuous action without a break or reprieve. Even though the judge consistently refuses to grant her request she never stops coming.

This pattern continues: she makes her request, he refuses, she makes it again, until finally the judge thinks, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (4-5)

We aren’t supposed to view the judge as the hero in this story, but I do have some sympathy for him.   Because for all the reasons I admire persistence, it can also be really, really annoying.

I’ve fostered a number of dogs lately for the Winnipeg Humane Society and it’s incredibly difficult to maintain boundaries and establish good behaviours with puppies.  Even if you know you’re right, even if you know that you need to help them establish good behaviours to avoid future problems, it doesn’t take that long to feel completely worn down to the point that you’re willing to do whatever it is the puppy wants you to do so long as he just stops whining and gives you a moment of peace.

Puppies have two speeds – full speed and fast asleep.  When they are awake they want constant attention, cuddles, belly rubs and treats.  They are persistent and if you ignore them, something is going to get chewed up or peed on.

Persistence can be exhausting, it makes you do things you never thought you’d do – like trying to make a bargain with a 7 week old puppy who definitely does not speak English.

Look, I will play with you in an hour OK? Just play with this toy quietly so I can have a nap. Please?

And the translation we read today really softens the original’s description of just how persistent this widow was.

Amy-Jill Levine[2] explains that the original Greek uses a boxing metaphor, so what we have translated as, “so she may not wear me out by continually coming” would be better translated as, “so that she will not give me a black eye.”  (v5, Levine 243)

So who is this widow with the boxing gloves anyway?

Widows are interesting characters in scripture.  As a group, we know that they are vulnerable and lack power.  They are regularly included in lists of people who the dominant society needs to remember to care for.  As such, we tend to think of them as people we should want to help, not people we want to be.

And certainly not people who might give us a black eye.

But being a part of an oppressed or marginalized group isn’t the same as being weak.   And widows in scripture prove this over and over again.

Levine notes: “Biblical widows are the most unconventional of conventional figures. Expected to be weak, they move mountains; expected to be poor, they prove savvy managers; expected to be exploited, they take advantage where they find it.” Tamar, Naomi, Ruth, Opah, Abigail, the wise woman of Tekoa, the widow of Zerepath, Judith] – all of these woman “manifest agency, and all defy the convention of the poor and dependent woman. The [widow in tonight’s gospel reading] similarly shatters stereotype, even as she epitomizes the strength, cleverness, and very problematic motives of many of her predecessors.” (239-240)

As a group, widows were vulnerable, but like the other women I just listed, the widow in this parable does not passively allow herself to be exploited.  Like a fighter in a boxing ring, she fights for her rights. She persists, willing to give the judge a black eye if that’s what it takes.

So is the moral of the story that a faithful Christian life should pack a punch?

We are told in the opening of today’s gospel text, that Jesus chose to tell this story because the people “need to pray always and not lose heart.” (1)

How does this parable reinforce this idea?

What does the story of a persistent woman capable of making a judge fear her and her fists to the point that he is willing to do whatever she asks of him teach us about prayer?

First, one of the things this parable is trying to tell us about prayer is that, while we will encounter unjust judges, God is not an unjust judge.  God, we are told, is the opposite of the unjust judge.  We do not need to pace the ring and threaten God with a black eye in order to be heard.

Second, this parable is telling us that prayer might not always look like what we think it should look like.

I spend a fair amount of time talking to people about prayer. Together we try to figure out what prayer is and how it fits into our lives.  One of the most common things we have to work through is our tendency to have a narrow view of prayer.
We tend to think that prayer is a thing that only happens when we are on our knees with our hands folded, or in church.

We tend to think prayer is a quiet thing, it’s a passive thing, it’s a safe thing.

But in 1 Thessalonians we are told to “pray without ceasing,” and I don’t know about you but I can’t kneel with my hands folded talking to God 24 hours a day seven days a week. (5:17) Eventually I need to eat, or sleep, or go to the bathroom.

Which must mean that when we define prayer as something we can only do kneeling with our hands folded we are defining it too narrowly.  Certainly prayer can look like that, but it can also look like a walk in the woods, or a nap, or cooking nutritious food or a fierce boxing match against injustice.

Because in today’s parable there is a comparison being made between prayer and a persistent woman who can make a man who has “no fear of God and no respect for anyone,” do exactly what she wants him to do. (4)

That’s not passive, that’s not safe.  That’s prayer.

Earlier in this sermon I told you that the Oxford dictionary defines “persistence” as “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.”

At the beginning of this parable, Jesus says that this parable is about the “need to pray always and not lose heart.”

Maybe that’s a better definition of what it means to persist.  Pray always. Don’t lose heart.

I’m not sure how many people in this room know what it’s like to feel like the widow in the story. To fight and to fight and to fight and to never give up until one day, the judge grants your request.

I hope you know what that feels like.

But I suspect all of us know what it feels like to be in the ring and to get knocked down. To feel someone else’s knuckles connect with your nose, to lose your balance, and to crash onto the floor.

With this parable, Jesus is telling us that we live in a world filled with injustice. We’re all going to be in the ring for a very long time, and we’re all going to get knocked down.

Jesus is encouraging us to persist. To get back up again. To wipe the tears and the sweat and the blood out of our faces and to just keep fighting.

And he says it like this, “don’t lose heart.”

When you encounter systemic injustice and oppression. Don’t lose heart. Just keep fighting.

When the reality of climate change seems overwhelming and you don’t know where to begin, don’t lose heart. Just keep fighting.

When you’ve tried and tried and tried to make a change for the better in your life and it just doesn’t seem to be working, don’t lose heart. Just keep fighting.

When… whatever it is that you struggle with…. Don’t lose heart. Just keep fighting.

But remember, that sometimes fighting looks like treating yourself with compassion. Even world class boxers regularly need to go sit in the corner of the ring to take a break and let their coach take care of them. That’s not giving up, that’s an essential part of the fight.

Persistence may look like having a nap. Walking in the woods. Sitting in silence. Having fun with a friend.

So don’t lose heart. Just keep fighting.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] Paraphrased from Wikipedia

[2] Amy-Jill Levine’s chapter on this story in her book “short stories by jesus” is excellent and shaped a lot of my thinking about this parable.  The whole book is well worth reading.


Reading the Church: A Sermon for Sunday October 9, 2022

The following sermon was preached on October 9, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

It’s so fascinating to me how much thought goes into the design not only of a church building but of the worship space in particular. In a sense these sorts of buildings can be read, if you’ve been taught how to read them, and you can tell a lot about what is going on and what the community values by reading the space.

For example, this building tells us that we are a people shaped by stories, the stained glass that lines the sides of the church depict keys stories from the life of Christ, St Francis and this parish. The stained glass behind me also tells a story – the story of a parish that has not always been in this building and values its past.

There are also plaques and framed items on the walls, each with its own story to tell and additional decorations, like the rocks, Bibles and slingshot that remind us of the work recently done in this parish around the story of David and Goliath. We may be small, but we are mighty so woe to any Goliath who tries to get in our way.

Another way we can read what’s happening in this space is through colour. With some basic knowledge of the church calendar, you can walk into this space and know what season we are celebrating, based on the colour of the veils on the altar, the hanging on the lectern, and the colour of the stoles that the deacon and I are wearing.

If you’ve only been coming recently, you may think that green is our favourite colour because we’ve been decked out in green for a VERY long time but we’re about to shift into a time when you’ll see us in red, and blue, and white. Each colour symbolizing a different season in the church year.

Green is for ordinary time, the longest season of the church year. Blue for Advent. White for Christmas. Purple for Lent, and Red for Pentecost. Red and white can also be used at a service honouring a martyr – red – or a saint - white. White is also used for special services like baptisms, marriages, and funerals. And blue can be used in any space that honours Mary.

I don’t know why each colour was chosen for each season. Some seem kind of obvious – red to celebrate a saint who was a martyr and the flames of Pentecost but it’s not always that straightforward. We used to use purple for both Lent AND Advent because they are both considered penitential seasons, seasons to express regret and remorse for all the various ways we miss the mark, all the ways we sin.

Purple then represents ideas of sin, repentance, and judgment. During Advent we are looking towards Christ’s birth but also the fact that he will return a second time and when he comes the second time some of what he’ll be up to includes divine judgment.

During the weeks leading up to Advent you’ll see that we get a lot of wacky passages that give me a headache when I am trying to write sermons. Passages that are filled with ideas of judgment and repentance. Passages that have often been misused by the church. Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year and begins roughly the last week of November to the first week of December depending on the year so that makes late October to early November the end of the liturgical year and the lectionary saves the toughest passages for that time period.

So purple was traditionally the colour for Advent but in the 70s and 80s people wanted to draw a greater distinction between Lent and Advent so they changed the colour of Advent to blue to reflect one of the most important Advent themes – waiting. The blue is meant to remind us of a “waiting night sky.” To think perhaps of the sky that the shepherds and the wise men would look up into and eventually see signs of Christ’s arrival.

So blue became the popular choice for Advent and you know who was particularly delighted? Companies that sell vestments – because now they had a whole new market opened up to them, churches in need of blue vestments!

But if you ever go to a church and see that they are using purple and not blue for Advent and you think to yourself, “Well they’ve got that wrong,” they haven’t. They are making a choice. A choice that tells you something about what they believe about Advent and you may prefer blue, but it’s not wrong to use purple.

It’s also, believe it or not, not wrong to use pink on some Sundays and white for Lent!

Rose or pink vestments can be worn on one Sunday in Advent and one in Lent, both towards the end of those seasons (Gaudete in Advent, and Laetare in Lent). They represent a moment of joy to remind us that the time of penitence and preparation is coming to a close and the feast we are anticipating will be here soon.

Lenten array is a style of vestment and church decoration made of unbleached linen, often embroidered with very simple symbols.

The simplicity of Lenten array reminds us that it’s a time to strip back, to simplify, to give something up.

And it’s OK to use Lenten array instead of purple, if that’s what your parish decides, because there are actually no official rules or canons about what colour is right for what season.

There is common accepted practice, but no actual rules.

So if Bishop Geoff wanted to, he could send us all a letter telling us that in October the liturgical colour is now pumpkin spice orange, and that would become true in this diocese.

Or 20, 30 years ago you and your priest could have decided to use yellow for every fifth Sunday and then over time that would become the right colour to use here.

And again, this would also delight those companies who sell vestments who may be scratching their heads at your choices, but would still be happy to figure out how to sell you something to help make it happen.

The fact that the church celebrates liturgical seasons is one of the most powerful and helpful gifts the tradition has to offer us. Not only do I find it helpful to literally move through the church seasons and to notice how the practice impacts my faith – to wait in Advent, to fast in Lent, to celebrate and feast for the full 12 days of Christmas – I have come to find embracing the concept of unique seasons with unique practices has had a serious impact on my life in general.
It can be helpful when things are particularly difficult to remind myself that this is a season – it hasn’t always been like this, and it won’t always be like this. Or when something particularly lovely has happened to remind myself that good things should be celebrated and to take the time to do so.

Another thing you can read in this space are our clothes. People who come to this parish on Sundays wear a wide range of types of clothing – from jeans to some of the fanciest suits and headpieces I have ever seen. What I hope that tells you is that this is a space where you can come exactly as you are. That you are free to be yourself here.

Then there are some people who will be wearing those types of street clothes, but with a white robe over top, sometimes with a rope for a belt, sometimes not. These people will be helping with some sort of leadership role in the service. But there will also be people providing leadership in the service who aren’t wearing a robe like that – more on this later.

You’ll also normally see a few people – Dan, myself, and, God willing, Beverly before too long, in a black shirt with a white collar before and after the service, and then in several additional layers of clothing once the service starts.

I’ve had lots of conversations with people about this clothing over the years and one way that people tend to read this clothing is that it signifies that the people in the collars and the robes are the fanciest, more important people in the room and the person in the fanciest robes – which is usually me – must be the fanciest of the fancy people.

Spoiler alert: We’re not. And our clothes are supposed to tell you we’re not. They’re actually supposed to tell you that we are the least fancy people here. They’re also supposed to tell you that we have a particular role to play in this gathering and to help you to easily identify us.

We’re not the most important people in the room, but it’s understandable why you might think that given our distinctive dress. Vestments are an example of a symbol whose meaning has shifted over time.

Clothing used to be a fixed symbol that clearly communicated who a person was and how they fit into society – their gender, occupation, and economic status were all indicated by their clothing. At many points in history, there have been laws dictating what a person could and could not wear. Unisex clothing wasn’t really a thing. Dressing down wasn’t really a thing. Men wore certain things and women wore other things.

Certain fabrics and colours could only be worn by people of particular economic classes. Different jobs had different uniforms.

You could tell what kind of job a person had or how wealthy they were by what they wore. In modern times, that’s harder to tell. Are those $10 jeans from Superstore or did you pay an extra couple of hundred dollars to have them professionally ripped at the knee by a designer? Who can say?

The lines about what a person’s clothing can tell you about them have become fuzzier with time. However, one clear constant is that men can consistently expect that they will be able to buy pants with pockets. Women, not so much.

Vestments are a type of clothing that is modelled on the clothing of Roman servants. So the clothing that now can seem like the fanciest in the room, was once the most basic in the room signifying that a priest is a servant of the people.

This black thing I’m wearing is called as cassock and it used to be everyday wear for a priest. Every day you’d get up and get dressed and put on your collared shirt and before you stepped out the door you’d button up your cassock – whether you were heading to church or just to do some shopping.

Now there are some variations on how cassocks are designed, but if I was going to wear mine every single day, I’d have to allot enough time to make sure all 39 buttons were buttoned up before I left the house. 1 button for each of the 39 Articles of Religion – the document that at one time in our history, outlined the basic tenants of what it meant to be an Anglican.

Or maybe I’d just buy one with fewer buttons, they do exist!

So even though I don’t wear my cassock everyday, I could, but there would always be a few extra layers I would put if we were having a service.

This white thing I’m wearing is called a surplice. It’s not everyday wear. I only wear it when we have a service. White clothing has a long history of symbolizing baptism and Christ’s goodness and my surplice is a reminder of that.

The white robe that servers and lay readers sometimes wear in our services is called an Alb and it is white for the same reason my surplice is, to remind us of our baptism, and to remind us that our service in the church is a reflection of our baptismal vows. In all the variations of liturgical dress there is always a white garment to symbolize baptism.

The last thing I put on before worship is this fancy scarf thing, called a stole. The stole itself signifies that I’m an ordained person. You can tell that I am a priest because I wear it around my neck. A deacon also wears a stole, but it is draped over their left shoulder.

The way a deacon wears a stole is meant to copy the clothing of a servant who would wear a stole like that and use the loose ends at their hip to dry your feet after they washed them.

See, it’s not supposed to be fancy, it’s for washing feet!

I wear the stole around my neck. It’s meant to remind us of the yoke that a team of oxen would wear. Or in this case, the yoke of Christ, the yoke of service. It may look fancy, but it’s meant to be a symbol of humility.

But over the years vestments have also become a way to reflect a love of beauty in the church and they have become beautiful which is great because beauty is a wonderful thing, but also not so great because people – including the people who wear this clothing – can sometimes forget it is the clothing of a servant, not a dictator.

There are lots of other garments that Anglicans wear – from choir robes to the Bishop’s fancy hat – but generally at St George’s we like to keep things simple.

Which includes saying it’s OK if you want to serve but you don’t want to wear an alb. Wear what makes you comfortable. Wear what fits!

When I first started wearing vestments I had second hand ones that didn’t fit me properly. I had to pick them up so I didn’t trip on them when I walked up stairs and my hands disappeared when I held that at my sides because the sleeves were so long. People said I looked uncomfortable and some people assumed I was uncomfortable leading the liturgy but that wasn’t it, the clothes didn’t fit me. Once I had clothing that fit, I felt a lot better.

We have albs and if you wanted to you could buy your own and make it fit you, but if we don’t have something that makes you feel comfortable, don’t’ wear it. Vestments have symbolic and historical meaning, but they also should not get in the way of the work we are gathered to do together.

So symbolism and historic meaning aside, personally I love being able to wear vestments because of how I feel in them. When I put these clothes on I’m reminded of the job I am here to do. They help focus and center me. I am much less distracted in vestments.

I have spent over 20 years standing in front of congregations like this talking to groups of people but a lot of that time was spent in churches that didn’t use vestments. Once I began to wear vestments I discovered that I could focus solely on my job and NOT on my clothes. I’m not wondering if you think my skirt is too short or panicking that I wore the wrong shirt and now I have to keep my hands down at my side because if I raise them too high you’ll see some skin. Or that at coffee time you’ll spend more time talking to me about my outfit than my sermon. I don’t have to worry about where to put a mic pack.

Because my cassock has pockets!

Thanks be to God. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Size Doesn't Matter: A Sermon for Sunday October 2, 2022.

The following sermon was preached on October 2, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

If you’re been listening to me preach for awhile it shouldn’t surprise you to know that I often have questions about the choices made by the creators of our cycle of readings called the lectionary.

Today my question is: Why did they start our gospel reading at verse 5?  It’s a confusing enough reading as it is, but even more so if you don’t have the first four verses for context.

So let’s back up and look at both the overall context of Luke’s gospel and also those four verses.

Jesus is travelling to Jerusalem. He is not alone, there are disciples and apostles (which Luke sometimes suggests are different types of people) travelling with him, and there are also crowds of people who gather wherever Jesus is. Along the way, Jesus teaches and heals, challenges and comforts.

And this chapter of the gospel begins “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come...” (17:1)

Jesus understands that we’re not robots programmed for perfect behaviour at all times, we are going to stumble and that’s just normal.

This idea is reflected in our baptismal liturgy.  Last week, and at every baptism, the baptismal candidates and everyone else in attendance are invited to say some pretty audacious things.  We’re asked to renounce Satan and evil powers, we’re asked to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And everytime I asked one of those questions last week, y’all responded, “I will” or “I will, with God’s help.”

At baptism we are asked to commit to a lot of things, admirable, lofty, maybe even impossible things. Impossible at least if we’re supposed to do this perfectly for the rest of our lives.

But we all committed publicly to do them.

And so I love that one of our most common responses to those questions at a baptism is, “I will, with God’s help.”  These are not commitments it is possible for us to make on our own and we’re not expected to.

At a baptism we’re also asked the following: Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

It’s not, will you persevere in resisting evil and do so perfectly.  It’s not, will you persevere in resisting evil and on the off chance you fail….   Rather we’re asked, “Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin…

Whenever you fall… falling is assumed, and so is God’s forgiveness.

That is true in our baptismal liturgy and in today’s gospel reading.

Jesus says, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to those by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (1-2)

So Jesus begins with a pretty low bar – perfection is not expected, we will have many opportunities to stumble and we will in fact stumble.  What a relief!  But then he shifts halfway through the sentence and says, “but woe!”

Suddenly I am feeling nervous again.   Because although this is a warning for all of us, it’s a particular warning for those of us who teach or lead others to be very careful with our words and our actions.   Stumbling may be normal, but causing other people to stumble is something to be avoided at all costs.

The passage continues with a series of seemingly unconnected warnings and suggestions, like someone gathered up a little buffet of random things Jesus said and plunked them into this section of the gospel.

Audrey West explains that this passage, “constitutes the second half of a four-part series of loosely connected teachings related to discipleship, which may be summarized thus: (1) Don’t be the cause of another’s sin (Greek skandalon, stumble); (2) Forgive, again; (3) Miniscule faith is sufficient; (4) Discipleship is not about reward: Just do it!”[1]

Miniscule faith is sufficient. Really?

The apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” and Jesus replies, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (5-6)

What is Jesus saying? When I first read this it sounded like an insult. It sounded like Jesus was saying that a small amount of faith can do big things, but the apostles don’t even have that tiny bit of faith.

Insulting or shaming people for asking for more faith doesn’t seem like something Jesus would do.   If the apostles are self aware enough to know that they don’t have enough faith and are asking for more, shouldn’t Jesus be pleased and happy to encourage them to grow their faith?

And I can’t read Jesus’ mind so I can’t be sure, but I don’t think that Jesus is trying to shame them for making a dumb request or for lacking faith.

I think Jesus is trying to tell them they don’t need more faith, they already have more than enough. What they need to do is use the faith they have.

I read a lot. I also buy a lot of books. I buy waaaaay more books than I read. Sometimes I wonder which I like better, reading books or buying books.

It’s a question I don’t have an easy answer to.

What I do know, however, is that I don’t benefit from the content of the books I don’t read. They might be fun to buy or look good on the shelf, but they don’t do me much good if I don’t read them.

I don’t really need to buy more books, I don’t need to increase my book collection, I need to read the books I already have.

Similarly, it is possible to have faith that is powerful enough that you could make a tree jump into the sea and not know it because you never tried.

It’s not how much faith you have that’s the issue, it’s how you use the faith that you have.

It’s not uncommon when we are facing a challenge or a struggle to focus on what we think we are lacking – if only we had more money or if only we were stronger or if only we had powerful friends in the right places.   We look at what we have and we are sure it just couldn’t possibly be enough. It couldn’t possibly be all we need to meet the challenge at hand.

And this is what the disciples do as well.  Following Jesus is challenging, and when Jesus reminds the disciples of this they ask for more faith.

But Jesus is telling them they don’t need more. Faith the size of a small mustard seed is enough to do more than they can even imagine.

At least to the best of my knowledge they weren’t going around making trees jump into lakes on a regular basis.

To the best of my knowledge they never did that.

They could, with even a small amount of faith, but they had never tried.

And is the disciples’ faith really as small as a mustard seed?   Jesus doesn’t say that they have mustard seed faith, he just describes what a mustard seed sized faith is capable of.

I suspect the disciples have even more faith, and therefore even more power than a mustard seed.

Audrey West notes that “throughout Luke’s Gospel, the closest followers of Jesus reveal their own “mixed” level of faith. On one hand, they have left homes and jobs and families in order to follow Jesus. It has not been easy, as they have encountered hostility from many who oppose Jesus (Luke 11:53; 13:31; 16:14). Still they have stuck around, even for this final journey toward Jerusalem, and even when they have received a warning of what is to come (Luke 9:22).

Rather than focusing on what we lack, could we perhaps ask, how are we using what we already have?

What if, we met challenging situations with the same confidence we express at a baptism?

Will you do this seemingly difficult or impossible thing?

I will, with God’s help.

What would change if we had that mindset?

What seemingly impossible things would be able to accomplish?

I don’t know, because I have never really tried.

But I would really like to find out.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-27-3/commentary-on-luke-175-10-2

Some Thoughts on Baptism: A Sermon for Sunday, September 25, 2022

The following sermon was preached on September 25, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.  Photo credit: Josh Eckstein on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is a special day in the life of this parish as we are gathered to celebrate the baptism of Sally Latta.

Almost all of our services – like Morning Prayer, Eucharist, and also services like baptisms, funerals and weddings are all found in the prayer books of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The green prayer book – which you can find copies of in the foyer – also contains a section that explains each of these services, so if you’re interested in learning more about why we do what we do at a baptism or an ordination or a funeral, you can find a couple of pages on each service in that book.

That green book is called the Book of Alternative Services or the BAS for short. If you want to know why it’s called that, we can chat after the service.

The section on baptism begins, “Baptism is the sign of new life in Christ. Baptism unites Christ with his people. That union is both individual and corporate. Christians are, it is true, baptized one by one, but to be a Christian is to be part of a new creation which rises from the dark waters of Christ’s death into the dawn of his risen life. Christians are not just baptized individuals; they are a new humanity.” (146)

So today is a really special day for both Sally as an individual, and all of us as a parish, and in fact, for the entire Christian church throughout the world.

But why is it special? Why do we do this?

When I began planning this service I decided to change the readings and preach specifically about baptism.

It seemed like the right thing to do and it also seemed like it would be… easy? I mean I’m a priest, so surely I know how to talk about baptism right?

And maybe I should, but I found this sermon was really hard to write. On more than one occasion when I re-read a paragraph I thought, “Now Rachel, I know what you mean but when you word it like that it’s a heresy.”

Baptism is a sacrament, and a celebration, and a mystery. It is both incredibly simple to understand, and also impossible to understand all at the same time.

We’re not supposed to fully understand it, that’s why we call it a mystery.

But that does make it a challenge to talk about – I need to be very careful with my words.

We baptize and are baptized mainly because Jesus told us to, but Jesus didn’t invent baptism, you may recall that John the Baptist was already baptizing people before Jesus began his earthly ministry and that John even baptized Jesus.

Baptism is a sacrament that uses water and water has always been important to human beings. We literally can’t live without it.

Water is life giving, and water is also cleansing.

Baptism as a practice doesn’t appear in the Old Testament but the Hebrew Scriptures do include many stories and instructions about the importance of staying clean and using water for ritual purification.

At some point in the history of the Jewish people, baptism became a way for Gentiles to convert and become Jewish.  It also became a way to repent and be cleansed of sins.  By the time Jesus arrives on the scene his baptism by John is also the fulfillment of a prophecy.

In the portion of Mark that we read this morning, John the Baptist says,

“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”

Jesus is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. And although John resists, preferring to be baptized BY Jesus and not to baptize Jesus he eventually relents.

By the time of the early church, baptism had become a way to join the Christian community, and it still has that function to this very day.

Baptism is a sacrament and a sacrament is defined as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

So basically a sacrament is a practice or action that we can all see, that points to something that is real, but invisible.

Malcolm Guite explains that the old English word for baptism is “Christened. When a person is christened, they are enChristed – they are made part of Christ and he part of them. Another frequent image for the significance of baptism is the image of new birth. The Christian emerges from the waters of baptism born again, this time not merely a child of their earthly parents but a child of God.”[1]

But there is a paradox here, because we are all children of God, regardless of whether are not we have been baptized. We are all loved deeply by the God who created us and cares for us whether or not we have been baptized.  This act of baptism points to something that is already true, it is an act of obedience and faith on our part to acknowledge that truth by choosing to be baptized or by baptizing our children.

It is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.


It is pretty common in churches that one of the very first things you see when you enter is a baptismal font and often – especially before COVID – those fonts would contain water that you could dip your fingers into and cross yourself with. A tangible reminder of your baptism.

And because it is the first thing you see, it is also a tangible reminder that the Christian life begins with baptism.

Unless it doesn’t.

In our reading from Ephesians we heard these words, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

One baptism.  I believe that that is true, and yet I also know that it is definitely not true.

Because Christians have a very diverse ranges of practices around baptism. We don’t do this in just one way.

In Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, we baptize people of all ages, although infant baptism is pretty common.

This means that if baptism marks our entrance into the church we can enter at a very young age. But that’s not true in all churches.

In the Mennonite church I grew up in, my ancestors believed that people should understand what they were doing before they were baptized so they only baptized adults – and in the early years of the church many of them were tortured or burned at the stake to defend this belief.

So I wasn’t baptized until I was 15, but I was still part of the church prior to my baptism.

The Salvation Army is a Christian Church that does not practice baptism – they do have a process of formation and initiation into the Christian life but it doesn’t involve water.

Clearly, there is not one baptism.

Except, scripture says there is, and I believe there is, and not because I believe that some of the practices listed above are fake baptisms, but because I believe that God is big enough and baptism is mysterious enough that God can somehow sort out all those differences and make them into one thing.

So I believe there is one baptism, while knowing that Christians have diverse baptism practices.

I don’t have to understand it to believe that it’s true. It’s a mystery beyond my understanding, but not beyond God’s.

Baptism is also not always the way people entire into the Christian faith.  As I mentioned earlier, sometimes baptism happens after a person has been a faithful Christian for a very long time, perhaps even most of their life.

And sometimes a person dies before they can be baptized.  To imply that they are not a beloved child of God or part of God’s family because they did not participate in this ritual in a church building is to miss the point of who God is and what God desires for us.

God is love. We are God’s beloved children.   Full stop.

Our psalm speaks of God’s steadfast love. Steadfast – it is not fickle.  God will not be separated from the people they love because of a technicality.

And still, when we can, we should baptize and be baptized. We should celebrate when someone takes this step and welcome them into the family.

We are gathered today to celebrate a baptism. It is an event worthy of celebration.

One final note before we move to the baptism itself.   If you have not been baptized and are interested in doing so, talk to me.   If you have not been confirmed – an additional practice we have in the Anglican church – talk to me.

Later this fall we will also be including a reaffirmation of baptism in one of our Sunday services.  This is a brief but beautiful opportunity to say, “Yes, right now, just as I am, I affirm that my baptism matters to me and this faith matter to me.”

You can also talk to me about this of course and more information will be available shortly.

But first, we need to celebrate Sally’s baptism!

In the strong name of the holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.

[1] What Christians Believe, pg 80

Don't Miss the Party: A Sermon for Sunday September 11, 2022

The following sermon was preached on September 11, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

About 15 years ago, I organized a workshop in my home.  I’d invited a great guest speaker and had a good turnout but partway through the workshop I noticed that one participant was texting on her phone. And then I couldn’t stop noticing it and I also couldn’t stop noticing that our speaker was noticing it and finding it very distracting.

And I don’t really remember much of what the speaker shared with us that day but I do remember how annoyed I was and how harshly I judged that woman for being so rude as to text throughout the workshop.

I mean the nerve of her. Who did she think she was?

After the session, I talked to Ms. Texts-a-lot and she told me that she hadn’t been texting at all, she’d actually be deeply focused on what the speaker was saying and had been taking notes.

Well, it sure would have been helpful to have that information before the workshop began. It would have changed my entire experience of the event!

In today’s gospel reading, a group of religious leaders are annoyed that Jesus is partying with the wrong people and Jesus uses a series of parables which are intended to say, “You don’t have all the information, if you knew why we were partying, you’d want to join in and party too.”[1]

But from outside appearances, Jesus is hanging out with all the wrong sorts of people – tax collectors and sinners.

Generally speaking, most people don’t really like people who collect taxes.  But in Jesus’ day, this was particularly true. I can at least rationalize that my taxes are going to pay for things I care about like universal health care and education but at that time the money was likely going to either Herod or the Romans and nobody thought that was a good idea.

Except maybe Herod and the Romans, they probably thought it was a great idea, but most likely no one who was paying taxes thought it was a good idea.

N.T. Wright posits that the people described here as “sinners” may actually have been people who were too poor to either know the law or to be able to afford to keep it properly.

Which is not always what is meant by the word “sinner,” of course.  We also read a passage from 1 Timothy today and I think that author has a different definition in mind when he describes himself as the  “the foremost of all sinners.”

But whoever the sinners in Jesus’ parable were, the impression we are given is that they were people who the religious leaders saw as kind of hopeless. Irredeemable. Not the sort of people you should spend your time or share a meal with.

So why does Jesus bother to associate with them?

Jesus tells a series of stories in response to that question.

Luke records three stories, but today we only heard two of them. The third one is often called the story of the prodigal son.

Tonight’s stories are often called the “Parable of the Lost Sheep” and the “Parable of the Lost Coin.”

Which is weird, because that’s not really what the stories are about.  Sheep can certainly wander and becomes lost, but coins can’t, someone has to lose them. And neither story is told from the perspective of the sheep or the coin.

Additionally, in our context, the word “lost” implies a permanent condition, a hopeless state but what would happen, if instead of thinking of them as “lost,” we thought of them as “missing?”  If we do that, I think we’d start to get a better sense of what Jesus is doing with these stories.

If we really want to give these stories titles, it might be more helpful to think of them as the “Parable of the Shepherd Who is Missing a Sheep,” and the “Woman Who is Missing a Coin.”  Or the parable of the shepherd who finds her missing sheep and throws a party and the parable of the woman who finds her missing coin and throws a party.

At least several times a year, preachers pretend to be experts on the care and feeding of sheep, despite the fact that most of us have never even seen a sheep up close, let alone been responsible for their well-being.  Suddenly we need to know all about sheep.

Today is one of those Sundays so… here we go.

Almost everything I know about sheep I have learned from two sources: sermons, and Sunday School room art.

For as long as I can remember, this first story was the story of a blonde haired, blue eyed man who had 100 sheep and, after putting 99 of them into a fenced in compound where they are safe and sound, he sets off in search of the one that has gone missing.

Which is not what would have happened.

First of all, the people gathered listening to Jesus would never have pictured a blonde haired, blue eyed male shepherd.

The shepherd’s skin tone and colouring would have matched their own, and the shepherd they imagined would very likely have been a woman.

Although the NRSV uses masculine pronouns, the Greek word used to describe the shepherd is a gender neutral term.

Both in Jesus’ day and in ours, shepherds in that region tend to be women and children – girls and boys.  Rachel was a shepherd, David was a shepherd when he was a young boy.

The answer to Jesus’ question, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until she finds it,” was probably, “Not one of us. No one would do that. It’s a bad idea.”  (v.4)

Today we tend to contain animals in fields surrounded by electric fences and barns that lock securely but sheep herding was more of a free-range situation at in Jesus’ time.

Sheep didn’t get locked up safely in a barn overnight, so if you left the 99 to go and find the 1, odds are the 99 would have all wandered off or been eaten by wolves by the time you located the one.

It’s not a logical thing to do.

I mean, it’s sad to lose one sheep, but it would be ridiculous to gain that one and lose the other 99 who wandered off while you were searching.

No shepherd in her right mind would do that.

It kind of reminds me of my vegetable garden.  This year I grew a lot of tomatoes, but I don’t expect that I’m actually going to eat every single one of them, I have to tithe at least a portion of them to the neighbourhood squirrel population.

Those filthy, irritating animals who insist on taking at least one or two tomatoes every single day, taking one bite out of them, and then depositing the rest of the tomato on top of my fence.

I could try to fight this tomato tax, but I know it’s a losing battle. Instead I assume that a certain percentage of the tomatoes I grow will be lost in this manner.

And that’s likely what a sheep herder would have thought in Jesus’ day as well. Sure she wouldn’t want to lose any of her sheep but a certain amount of loss was inevitable, it’s just part of the business.

I will inevitably lose a percentage of my tomato harvest and no shepherd would go off after just one sheep, but perhaps we’d all search more carefully for a lost coin?

Well, that also depends on how much we value this coin.   Not long ago it was relatively common for people to simply throw pennies away and some people have more change just sitting in their car or their couch cushions than they do in their wallets.

And I for one have never been invited to a lost change party.

Now the coin in the parable was worth more than modern-day pocket change - it was probably about a day’s wages for a labourer – but I’ve never been invited to a lost day’s wages party either.  And spending money is an odd way to celebrate finding money.

So what on earth is Jesus getting at?

Stories like this are rich for interpretation and at different points in our lives different things will resonate more strongly with us than others.

In his book, “Transforming,” Biblical scholar Austen Hartke uses this story to reflect on the various reasons a sheep might have been separated from the herd.

He writes, “It’s incredibly comforting to imagine yourself as the lost sheep, riding back home on Jesus’ shoulders after an exciting but ill-advised adventure. There are times when this story is exactly the gospel message we need – when we need to hear that we are worthy of God’s love, and that God will risk anything to have us back home again.

But what if we imagined this story a different way? What is the lost sheep didn’t wander away from the safety and goodness of the shepherd? What is it was just trying to escape the cruelty of the flock? Sheep will occasionally pick out a flock member who doesn’t fit in – maybe because of an injury or a strange marking – and they’ll chase that individual away. There are times when I think Christians need to see ourselves more in the ninety-nine sheep who stayed put, and ask ourselves if we may have been part of the reason the lost sheep got lost in the first place.”

Austen continues, “I don’t mean to lay on the guilt too heavily here – in reality, we all have lost-sheep days and flock sheep days – but I think the metaphor holds up… what’s at stake for Jesus in this situation isn’t just that one single lost sheep, and it’s not just the ninety-nine back home. It’s the integrity of the flock as a whole. Saving just the main group or just the individual wouldn’t do any good, because the flock is more than just the sum of its parts. When Jesus goes after that lost sheep, what he’s telling the flock – what he’s telling us – is that we’re not complete without each other. ” (167-168)

Remember the context in which Jesus is telling this story.  A group of religious leaders is upset that Jesus is hanging out with the wrong sort of people.  And Jesus is saying there’s no such thing as the wrong sort of people. That he would go to extravagant lengths to restore even one person who was missing.

There are all sorts of people who, for all sorts of reasons have been told that they don’t belong in the flock.  Their economic status or their skin colour or their sexuality or their gender are different from the majority of the flock and so they are told, in subtle and not so subtle ways that they don’t belong.  They might think differently or act differently or move differently and so they are told in subtle and not so subtle ways that they don’t belong.

And so they are pushed to the edges of the flock and eventually, out of the flock entirely and they wander alone.  And the flock doesn’t even notice they’re missing.

But Jesus does.

And he’s inviting everyone, the religious leaders, the tax collectors and the sinners to notice that there are people who are missing, and to rejoice and join in the party when the one who was missing is restored to the flock.

May we hear and accept Jesus’ invitation. May we work to restore those who are missing from the flock, and may we celebrate when this happens. Because it’s a shame to miss a good party.

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



[1] Thanks for NT Wright for this image.



Taking Rides from Strangers: A Sermon for Sunday, September 4, 2022

The following sermon was preached on September 4, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here

Photo credit: https://www.sleeping-in-slav-2.sankofatravelher.com/page?pgid=isj1h80f-02fccf44-757d-4e1e-8c7c-ef031f098309


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our all hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Usually when we read scripture together in church, we read a small portion of a larger book. But today, we read almost the entire book of Philemon – the lectionary only cuts out the last few verses.

Philemon is a letter. Most likely written by Paul and, you might reasonably assume because of its title, written to a man named Philemon, but there you’d be wrong.

The letter is addressed, “To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house…” (1-2) This letter was written to a house church, a group of men and women who will gather together in Philemon’s home to hear the letter read aloud and to discuss its contents.

Much of the content is addressed directly to Philemon but the letter is meant to be read by the entire church community.

The letter focusses on the relationship between Paul, Philemon, and a man Philemon has enslaved named Onesimus.

Slavery is abhorrent. It is wrong. But it also has, in many places and at many times throughout history, been normal.  So normal that people couldn’t imagine there was any other way to structure a society.

And Paul doesn’t do what I want him to do in this letter.   I just want one sentence. Just one that says, “As we all know, slavery is sinful, stop enslaving human beings.” I want him to have written that. It’s one of the three sentences Paul never wrote that I wish he did. Feel free to ask me about the other two after the service.

But Paul didn’t write that sentence. And he doesn’t write one suggesting that this newly formed Christian community should overthrow the entire political, economic and social system they live under either but I do think that he does clearly say that slavery should not exist in Christian communities. He just does it using a particular rhetorical style that may not be obvious to us on a first reading.

Spoiler alert:  This may be the most sarcastic piece of writing in the entire Bible.[1]

In the opening address Philemon is describes as Paul’s “dear friend and co-worker.” (1)

Paul and Philemon are friends, but they are also partners in God’s work. They have a job to do – to spread the gospel and grow the church – and if they are going to be successful, they need to be able to work closely together.

The letter continues with a form common in Paul’s letters, “When I remember you in my prayers…” (4). Whenever you hear those words, look carefully at what Paul says he is praying for, because it usually functions as the thesis statement for the entire letter. In this case, Paul prays that, “the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”

Paul is either suggesting that Philemon’s work is not effective, or that it is not as effective as it could be because he is not seeing things as clearly as Paul does.

Paul continues, “For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love…” (8-9)

They are co-workers in this venture, but make no mistake about it, Paul has more power than Philemon.  Paul has the power to simply command that Philemon do his duty, but Paul is saying he prefers the “catch more flies with honey” approach.  And by honey I mean words that are dripping with sarcasm.

So what is Philemon’s duty? What it is that Paul wants him to do?

Paul writes, “I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.” (9)

A couple of things to note here.  Onesimus was a pretty common name to give an enslaved person. It means “useful.”

In saying that Onesimus is his child, Paul is both invoking and subverting the traditional paterfamilias structure that governed households.  In this system, one man was the head of the household with complete authority over all the people and possessions of that household.  A slave would be a possession, not a person.

Paul is using this imagery to say two things: One, in this Christian family, Paul is paterfamilias, not Philemon. He can simply command that Philemon do his duty.

Two: Paul is saying that for Philemon’s work on behalf of the gospel to be effective, he needs to change the way he thinks about and treats Onesimus.

Paul describes Onesimus as his child, and then later, he says that Philemon should treat him as a brother. Basically, Paul is saying that both Philemon and Onesimus are his children. They are equals, which by extension means that Philemon needs to treat Onesimus as a person, not property.

Paul is writing this letter from prison.  Onesimus is with him, although he is not imprisoned. How did he come to be there?

It’s not clear.

People in prison in this time period had to rely on people outside of the prison to provide for their daily needs and its possible that Philemon has sent Onesimus to Paul to make sure he has food and other basic necessities of life.

Onesimus may also have run away.  But this was an offence punishable by crucifixion so it seems odd that he’d come out of hiding to help Paul.   Although, perhaps he did run away and realized that there was no safe place for an escaped slave to live so he is appealing to Paul to help him smooth over the situation with Philemon so he can return to that household.

It isn’t clear how he came to be with Paul, but it is clear that this letter is intended to repair the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.

Paul wants Onesimus to return to Philemon’s household, and he wants Philemon to accept him when he does.

Playing with the meaning of Onesimus’ name Paul says that although Philemon thinks Onesimus is useless, he is in fact, useful to both of them.

So useful, in fact, that even though Paul would prefer to have Onesimus stay with him, he is sending him back to Philemon. And listen to the words Paul uses, “I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me … but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.” (13-14)

When Paul who has already stated he has the power to just command you to do your duty sends a request in a letter that will be read by your entire community recommending you do something voluntarily instead of by force, how much wiggle room do you think you actually have?

And not only does Paul want Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his household, listen to how he expects Onesimus to be treated, “no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother – especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (16)

Onesimus is not property. He is Paul’s own heart.  Paul expects Philemon to receive him as his beloved brother.

The letter continues, “So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this in my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self…. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do ever more than I say.” (Emphasis mine)

And if Paul isn’t laying it on thick enough with this choice of words, he employs another one of his favourite rhetorical devices. Although the bulk of this letter has been dictated to a scribe, this section was so important he wrote it in his own hand. Make no mistake, he is saying, I mean what I say.

And that’s where our reading ended. Now if you’ve been wondering why the creators of the lectionary decided to leave out the last few verses, I don’t have an answer, but I can tell you what those verses contain.

The very last few verses are just a list of other people who send greetings. Kind of like a P.S.  I’d probably cut those too.   But I would have extended the passage we did read by one verse.

That verse reads, “One thing more – prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.”  (22)

Paul is planning to come for a visit and therefore will know if Philemon has done what he is supposed to do.

This seems to me to be the Pauline version of a mic drop.

This is my best effort at providing you with an accurate reading of Philemon, but I do want you to know that it has often been interpreted very differently.

Some commentators don’t see sarcasm in Paul’s words. They see someone writing very carefully so as not to hurt the feelings of a rich and powerful man.  Which changes the tone, but not the meaning, of the letter.

This letter has also been used in countries like the United States to justify the forcible return of enslaved people who have run away.  That changes the tone and the meaning. I also think it’s a willful misreading of the text.

A number of years ago I went to Durham, North Carolina for a conference and, as I often do, I added a day to the trip to see the sites.

There was really only one place I wanted to visit:  Stagville Plantation has been turned into a historic site that includes original buildings where enslaved people once lived.

I wanted to see those buildings for myself.  It wasn’t that I doubted that slavery existed but I knew that at least in some way, it existed for me as story.

I had a sense that somehow if I could stand in a place where this had actually happened, then the truth of this horrible system would sink more deeply into my consciousness.

But first I had to get there.

The Stagville Plantation was only about 20 kilometers from my hotel but it was outside the city limits so I wanted to make sure that not only would I be able to get a taxi to take me there, that I could also get one to bring me back again.

The nice white girl at the hotel desk was confused by my request. A lifelong resident of Durham, she’d never even heard of Stagville.  There was no glossy brochure in the rack behind her desk either.

But she googled it and called a cab company that assured me a round trip.

The taxi driver was African American. He had heard of Stagville but had never been there and couldn’t understand why I’d want to go.  Didn’t I want to go to the shopping center or some other more typical tourist spot?

Nope.  Take me to the plantation please.

After we’d driven for about 30 minutes I began to wonder if something was wrong. After we’d driven about 45 minutes, I knew something was wrong because my driver was clearly panicking and eventually pulled the car over on the side of the road praying, “Help me Jesus. Help me Jesus,” under his breath.

He’d gotten lost. And he was scared.

And I knew right away that his fear didn’t simply come from having taken a few wrong turns.  It came from having made a few wrong turns on deserted country roads with a white lady for a passenger.

We were strangers, but the evil legacies of slavery and racism were impacting our relationship.  His fear was reasonable,and rooted in experience.

Eventually we were able to sort out the situation. I assured him I had no where important to be and that this was simply an adventure and so he figured out the directions.  We had another 45 minutes or so to drive.

But now, he relaxed a bit and began to show me around.  The little country church where his grandfather had been a preacher, the huge menacing prison where he quipped, clearly more relaxed now, “Are you sure you don’t just want to visit that plantation instead?” and finally Stagville.

As he took me up the long winding driveway, he muttered.  “This place feels bad, it’s a bad, bad place.”  He refused my offer of a ticket, opting to wait for me in the car.

I bought my ticket and joined a tour that was already in progress.

I’d only been there about 10 minutes when the tour guide started giving us driving directions.  It turned out that the slave quarters were a couple miles up the road – which suggests the size of the original plantation and also presented me with a problem.

So I put up my hand and said, “Hi, so I’m from Canada and I took a taxi here and I didn’t know we had to drive to another location and so… would someone mind giving me a ride?”

And you know what happened right? Because of course it did.

This nice older couple said, “We’re from Canada too and not only would we be happy to give you a ride but if you’re willing to visit a few additional tourist sites with us today, we’ll drive you back to town too.”

I thanked them, ran over to pay and thank the taxi driver and release him from the misery of waiting for me at the plantation and then, while offering a silent apology to my parents, accepted a ride from strangers.

There are a lot of things that I could tell you about seeing buildings that enslaved people once lived in, but here are just two.

The first is that these particular buildings were still standing because they were built in an era where people who enslaved other people began to realize that if they provided slightly better accommodations then their slaves would not get sick so easily and could work harder and produce more.  That’s just good economic sense.

The second is that I was allowed to touch the fingerprints embedded in the bricks that enslaved people had made to form the chimney, and some of those fingerprints definitely belonged to small children.

Paul was challenging Philemon to think differently about human relationships and reject the dehumanizing institution of slavery in any form.

I think he is challenging us to do the same.

May we listen. May we act.

In the name of the triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.


[1] For a delightful extended discussion of Paul’s sarcasm I recommend you listen to episode on Philemon of the podcast “Two Feminists Annotate the Bible.”

The Power of our Past Experiences

I wrote a blog post for Luther's Seminary's Faith + Lead about change, dogs, and the power of our past experiences. You can find it on their website by clicking here.   I've also included the text below:


“Good girl Athena! Here’s a cookie.”

I’m currently fostering a young dog from my local humane society. It’s a fun thing to do but it’s also stressful to know I am helping a living thing navigate a season of tremendous change. Her experiences with me will impact her for the rest of her future—a series of positive experiences will set her up to be a calm and happy family pet.

I am also often reminded of a rescue dog I had during my high school years who ran and hid from the broom every single time it came out even though we never used it for anything other than sweeping floors. Scruffy had a negative memory from his first home that stuck with him for his entire life. Humans may have more sophisticated ways of managing or even hiding our true feelings, but we share with our canine companions this instinctive response to change based on past experiences.

More attention to negative than positive input

In her book Life After: Finding Strength and Spirit in Unexpected Change, Anna Mitchell Hall explains that “Our human brains have some natural resistance to change. Recent neuroscience research can explain some of this. Our brains try extremely hard to protect us from danger. One way our brains do this is to flag anything that conflicts with our existing understanding as an error. This is done by activating our emotional brain activity in the amygdala and decreasing our rational brain activity in the prefrontal cortex … Our brains pay more attention to negative input than positive. This is important in learning to avoid touching hot stoves, but counterproductive in other areas of our lives, particularly in our need to press through the discomfort of change to learn what it has to teach us.” (Hall, 13)

We can see this in the story of the people of Israel who shifted rather quickly from celebrating being freed from slavery to complaining and wishing they could go back.  The book of Exodus tells us that it took only  about a month and a half into their new lives for the people to complain and say to Moses, “if only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread … ” (Exodus 16: 1-3)

After a period of uncertainty and change wandering in the wilderness, they begin to crave the stability of familiarity, even the familiarity of slavery.

Rather than rebuke the people, God instructs Moses to lead them in a trust building exercise. Food will come from heaven on a daily basis. 6 days a week there will be manna to eat, and then on the 6th day they are to gather enough for the 7th day but no more. If the positive reinforcement of daily provisions leads the people to trust in God, all shall be well. But if they lean into fear and scarcity, gathering more than they need, any extra food will rot.

Impetus for spiritual direction

When people first approach me to explore the possibility of meeting for spiritual direction, I’m aware that there has been a series of events, thoughts, plans and prayers that have occurred that have led them to this point. Change is usually part of that equation.

Perhaps they have experienced an unexpected or unwelcome change that was beyond their control: the death of a parent, loss of a job or a relationship, a pandemic. Sometimes their lived experiences no longer line up with their long held theological beliefs and they feel unsettled and adrift. Or maybe, they have tried to make a healthy shift in their own behavior and it has not been well received by those around them.

Whatever it is, they are looking for someone to listen to their story, to ask good questions, and to help them see their own lives more clearly than they can on their own. It’s a huge act of trust and it’s my responsibility to help it to be a positive experience that supports them through their process.

While the specifics vary from person to person, I have noticed some common themes.

  1. Change is just hard. It is made even harder when we judge ourselves for having a difficult time adjusting to it.
  2. Our response to change is rooted in our past experiences of change.  We need curiosity about our response to change—is it all about this particular change or are past experiences also bubbling up? Again, great gentleness toward ourselves is so important as we ask these questions.
  3. Change can be isolating. If you have access to these resources, a therapist, counselor or spiritual director can be invaluable in helping  process all the thoughts and feelings that will be swirling inside of you. Their compassionate listening presence can provide space for you to share freely and be heard without judgment. If possible, find friends and community members who can also remind you that you are loved, valued, and capable of navigating the change you are experiencing. Ask them to remind you of these things when you can’t see them for yourself.
  4. Change is a process. It will likely take a lot longer to change a long held behavior or recover from an external change in your life than you would like. Take time to stop and celebrate every small victory along the way. Whenever my foster puppy does something I ask her to do I give her a small treat and praise. Find a version of that process that works for you: a moment to express gratitude, a little happy dance, a text to a friend, or a great chocolate chip cookie.

Change is inevitable and it can be so hard to find yourself in a position where things are uncertain and out of your control. We can’t avoid change but we can learn to lean into the process and learn what it has to teach us.



Let No One's Heart Fail: A Sermon for Sunday August 21, 2022

The following sermon was preached on August 21, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today’s first reading is one of the most well known stories in the Old Testament, the tale of David and Goliath.  Our reading starts in the middle, so let’s back up a bit in the story to get some context.

The armies of the Philistines and the Israelites have gathered near each other prepared for battle.  Scripture says that, “the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.” (3)

They are all waiting and wondering who will make the next move, and then a Philistine named Goliath emerges and begins to taunt the Israelites saying, “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us...When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” (9-11)

I’m definitely not a person who possesses any military knowledge, but based only on what I have said so far this doesn’t seem like that bad of a deal.  Instead of a war between two entire armies, only two people will fight. How efficient. And how many lives will be saved in the process?

Except, even with only the information I have shared so far, I know that it’s probably not a good deal, because a person would only offer a deal of this nature if they were sure they were going to win.

And Goliath is sure he is going to win…. because Goliath isn’t just any man, he’s a giant of a man.

Goliath was huge, and anyone who tried to fight him was guaranteed to lose.

And every day that Goliath utters this challenge the Israelite army feel a little less confident, a little less hopeful, and a lot more afraid.

But there was an Israelite man named Jesse who had eight sons- the three oldest have joined the Israelite army, and the youngest one, David, stayed home to look after the family’s sheep.  (12-14)

Jesse tells David to go visit his older brothers to see how they are doing and to bring them some food. (17)

David goes, and when he does, he hears Goliath taunting the Israelite army. Unlike the men in the army, who have been worn down by the war and Goliath’s threats, David doesn’t shrink from the challenge. David is indignant at this insult and frustrated by the fear he sees all around him.

David asks, “who is this Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (26)

I can imagine the Israelites who are listening thinking, “Um, have you seen him?”

David goes to King Saul and offers to fight Goliath saying, “let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” (32)

Saul looks at David and sees an arrogant boy making an unrealistic offer and responds, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” (33)

And then David begins to recite his resume, in his role as a shepherd, he has killed lions, and bears, he has grabbed these animals by the jaw, pulled the sheep from their mouths, and killed them.

Goliath is no match for him, David says, not because of his skill as a fighter, but because God is on his side. (33-37) “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (37)

And Saul gives up and agrees to let David fight the giant, but first, he is going to make sure David has everything he needs to be successful - a helmet, armor, and Saul’s own sword. (38-39)

Saul may feel a bit better seeing David dressed this way, but David isn’t. David says, “I cannot walk with these…”   If he can’t even walk, how is he going to fight?

So David removes the armor and begins to prepare for battle wearing his everyday clothing.

While none of us have likely every met a literal giant named Goliath, we have all faced Goliaths in our lives – challenges so large that we feel doomed to fail before we even start.

The past few years have been filled with Goliaths.  You have had your own unique challenges, and as a parish you have also faced a number of Goliaths together.

Through no fault of your own, you have had to battle the Goliath that is the Covid-19 pandemic.  That’s a fight that has already lasted over two years and the battle is not yet won.     You have had to say good-bye to Helen.  You have had to deal with the cultural realities that people don’t attend church in the same ways that they used to, and the Goliath that is a church institution that moves a lot more slowly than the culture.

And that’s not all – the church’s finances are also a Goliath.  Everyday there is more money that needs to go out to support the work of the parish than is coming in.  Which is simply not sustainable.

It’s a lot and when you think about it, I am sure that you can sympathize with the Israelite army. None of them feel up to the fight, and they are only dealing with one Goliath.  You are dealing with a small army of them.

Maybe you feel like them, discouraged, beaten down, hopeless.

Maybe you feel like it’s an impossible battle so it’s not even worth trying.

Now I want to be clear that it is not necessary for you to fight every battle.  Sometimes it is a healthy decision to say, “this isn’t mine to fight,” or “I am not in a place where I can fight.”

And if that’s you, that’s OK.

But if you do feel it’s your place to begin to battle against these giants, it’s also possible that you think you need to armor up to do so.  You might be weighed down by old ideas or tools that would be helpful to someone else or were useful in the past, but you don’t actually need them.

There are, for example, a lot of assumptions from the past about what it means to be a parish that may no longer serve you.  You need to discern what it important to keep, and what to let go of.

I used to assume that the only way to have a Sunday service was to gather people together in a building and now I know that’s not true. It’s possible to have a service online. It’s important even, because there are people who – for a variety of reasons - can’t come to a building on Sunday morning.

The pandemic taught me to shed the armor of believing there was only one right way to have a service.

Saul’s armor was useful to Saul, but it was no help to David.  If you’re going to go into battle, don’t let yourself be weighed down by unnecessary armor.

So David removes Saul’s armor, picks up his own staff and goes out to select five smooth stones.  He takes the stones, and his sling, and goes out to face Goliath.

And long story short, David kills Goliath with a single stone.

About two weeks ago, vestry met for a day long retreat and we used this David and Goliath story to shape our conversations.

We talked about the Goliaths facing the parish.  They are some very real challenges facing us that can’t be ignored. Vestry will continue to talk about these things and share that information with you on a regular basis.  We are meeting again this week to create a financial update, for example, that will be sent to you shortly.

We touched on the idea that maybe we think we need things that we don’t actually need. Maybe there are some spots where we are being weighed down by unnecessary armor.

Our main focus, however, was to talk about all resources, gifts, and strengths that St George’s has – our 5 stones if you will.

The conversations flowed and lists were generated that made it clear that this parish has more than just five stones. This is an image we are going to keep working with and you will continue to hear more about it, but here are some things I heard that day:

It’s a strength that this parish is located in Transcona.  Partly because Transcona is a wonderful place to live. When people come to Transcona, they tend to stay in Transcona.

It’s also a strength because if you were to look at a map of Winnipeg, there are some areas that have a lot of Anglican churches, more than is necessary for the number of people who attend services, but you are the only Anglican church in this area.  That’s a strength.

Another strength is that so many of you either live in Transcona or grew up in Transcona so you understand the values and culture of this place.   So many churches struggle with the fact that the people who come to church on Sundays drive in from other neighbourhoods and are very different than the people who live near the church.   In those kinds of situations, when someone from the neighbourhood comes to church they might feel very out of place.   That’s not true here and that’s a strength.

This building is also a strength – it is beautiful and well maintained.  If you’re ever had a chance to be here on your own and just sit quietly you know if can feel like a little piece of heaven.  It can feel like that when it’s full of people too.

The building makes it possible for us to gather like we are today.  The building made is possible for us to provide care to the friends and family of Diane Ross  yesterday by hosting her funeral.

The building makes it possible for you to reach out into the community and invite other groups to use this space. This is such an incredible ministry of St George’s – if you only every come here on Sundays, you might not realize that the building is used by all sorts of community groups throughout the week, making the important work that they do possible.

So many churches leave their buildings empty all week and only use it for an hour on Sundays, but not St George’s.

It's impressive, it really it.

In addition to inviting groups into the building, many of you also go out into the community to serve – by being involved with L’Arche, or Thelma Wynne or the local food bank or helping with the Christmas hamper and I could go on.

The pandemics has meant that a lot of these sorts of things had to shut down, but with a little planning and creativity there are plenty of opportunities to reach out and support the good work that is already happening in the community.

Another strength of this church is the high quality of leadership you have had over the years.  And I don’t mean your priests!

Priests are human, they can’t all have been great fits, which means sometimes the parish thrived with the help of the priest, and sometimes despite them.

When I say you have had exceptional leadership I mean all the various ways that people take ownership and make sure things happen here.  From the obvious roles like priests and deacons and wardens and vestry, to the quieter things like taking care of the garden outside or serving in the kitchen at a funeral.

You might not know this, because you’re so used to it, but this is rather unusual. There are a lot of churches where this kind of quality engagement and participation just don’t happen.

I mean, I have been at churches where at the end of a funeral everyone left and I was stuck washing the dishes and locking up by myself, but not here!

Yesterday I got sent home with a packed lunch and a firm reminder that the volunteer team had everything in hand and my services were no longer needed.

Which leads me to the final strength, the final stone I want to mention today and, really in a lot of ways, the four I have already mentioned also encompass this last one, and that’s the people.

The people of the parish of St George’s are its greatest strength.   Without you, St George’s is just a lovely building in a great part of town.

In fact, without you it’s not even a lovely building, because it takes people to cover the bills and maintain the space.

Without you, there is no St George’s.

There are a lot of things I could say about you but we don’t need to have a 20 minute sermon today, so let me just focus on one thing.

You are a lot like David.   You’re not the biggest parish in the diocese, the one that is the most obvious choice perhaps to fight a Goliath, but you know that bigger isn’t always better.  You are tough and scrappy and resilient and when the going gets tough you grab your sling shot and aim for the giant’s forehead.

You are a gift, and I am so grateful for each one of you.

There are real challenges facing this parish and we can’t ignore them, but I also believe if you choose to step up to the challenge, then God will provide what you need.  You may have to let go of your particular vision for the future in order to step into God’s good plan, but if you chose to do so, you already have everything you need.

Because remember, David had 5 stones, but in the end he won the battle with only one. He had more than he needed to succeed, and you do to.

When David told Saul he was going to fight Goliath he said, “Let no one’s heart fail..”(31) and that is my prayer and my challenge to each one of you.  Have courage, don’t let your heart fail, because with God on your side you have everything you need to win.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.


Daughter of Abraham: A Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2022

The following sermon was preached on August 14, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Here’s something I’ve been wondering about for a very long time:  Jesus can heal people. So, why doesn’t Jesus heal everyone? Why does he seemingly pick and choose who he is going to heal? Why didn’t he just walk through the crowds of people who tended to form whenever he was around with his hands outstretched and just zap everyone in the crowd with his healing power?

Isn’t that more efficient? Isn’t that more compassionate?

I don’t know why Jesus didn’t just heal everyone, but I do have a few hunches.

The first, is that Jesus values consent.  I didn’t do an exhaustive search of every healing narrative this week but as best I can remember, Jesus never heals anyone who doesn’t wish to be healed.  They either come to him asking to be healed, or he directly asked them if they wish to be healed.

There is no consent in a practice of just walking through a crowd zapping people, and so Jesus doesn’t do that.

Consent matters.

Hunch number two: I think that when Jesus looks at people, he sees them very differently than I do.

If Jesus and I walked through a crowd together and counted the number of people who required healing, I think that my number would be a lot higher than his because even though I know in my head this is not true, I still have a tendency to think that every person who is deaf wants to hear, and every person who thinks or moves or looks different than the standard I have internalized wants desperately to conform to that standard.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, and I’m working on getting better, but I still tend to think that the ideal for humanity looks a lot like a Ken doll and a Barbie doll.  And if you don’t look like that, then there is something wrong with you, and you know it, and you want to be transformed so you can conform to that standard.

A standard I don’t conform to. A standard no one conforms to.

But God’s standards and my warped standards are not the same. Thanks be to God.

God’s vision of what is means to be human is infinitely more diverse than Barbie and Ken. Humanity is more complex and beautiful than anything I have ever tried to reduce it to.

And we need the diversity. We need people who move and think and look and love differently than we do. That diversity enriches and deepens community.

Healing isn’t about making us all the same.  Healing is a way of saying, you are not currently living the life you were created to live, and I want to help you with that.

The woman in today’s story is in need of healing.  We are told that a spirit has been crippling her for eighteen years, bending her down towards the ground, and making it impossible for her to stand up straight. (v.11)

This is not how she wants to live or was meant to live.

Being freed of this crippling spirit would dramatically improve her life.

And we’ll get to her in a moment, but first, let’s look at the circumstances that frame her story.

Today’s gospel begins with Jesus teaching a crowd in a synagogue. This means he must have impressed the leader of the synagogue, who allowed him to teach, and the people of the area, who have gathered to hear him speak.

The synagogue leader’s positive impression of Jesus will change, however, when Jesus chooses to heal on the Sabbath.  Healing is work, and you’re not supposed to work on the Sabbath day.

The idea of Sabbath is one of the most powerful and precious gifts we have ever been given. One that we’ve largely forgotten and desperately need to reclaim.  Sabbath has both individual and communal implications, and today’s story focusses on the communal.

Sabbath was a gift that God gave to the people of Israel after they had been enslaved for generations in Egypt.  When the people spent a day without working, it was meant to remind them that once they were slaves, but now they were free. It was a day that was always meant to be about freedom, not legalism.

Luke’s gospel is carefully structured and so when we read this story of Jesus teaching in a synagogue, it’s helpful to remember an earlier story of Jesus teaching in another synagogue. In that earlier story, Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Sabbath is about freedom and liberation.  When he heals the woman he says she is to be “set free” and “released” from her “bond.”  (apoluo, v. 12; luo v.16, desmos v. 16). Jesus also draws directly from the 10 Commandments where Sabbath is directly linked to Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt when he debates with the synagogue leader.  (Deut. 5:12-15).

Jesus therefore sees the Sabbath as a day to both remember and celebrate freedom from slavery so actions which liberate Israelites in the present day are in keeping with the spirit of the Sabbath.

Which is why Jesus argues that his decision to heal the woman and restore her to full participation in her community is in keeping with the tenants of Sabbath.  She also deserves to be free and so Jesus frees her.

Additionally, given that his contemporaries had found a work around to their strict “no work on the Sabbath” practices that allowed them to care for animals, then surely it was also OK to provide care for a human being?

Or was that perhaps part of the problem. Did the people actually need to be reminded that this woman was a human being?

Jeannine K Brown imagines the woman’s story in this way: “She had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, by looking up and sideways.

After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world.

On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there. She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus--how he talked about God's reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people.

She was not sure how many of the rumours to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.

When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye--no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. "Come here," he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.

What happened next amazed the whole congregation. "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .”

Imagine being this woman. Because of your distinctive bent posture, people can spot you from a mile away. Plus, in a small town everyone knows everyone else’s business, so everyone knows yours. You can’t blend in or hide so you’re always visible. But your posture also makes people uncomfortable so they ignore you, ostracize you, making you simultaneously overly visible, and invisible.

It’s a lonely way to live.

In his article, Disability and Healing: A Rereading Based on the Synoptic Gospels, Cuban theologian Rolando Mauro Verdecia Ávila takes this further by explaining that at this time, in order to be understood to be human, you had to conform to certain standards and one of the key standards was the ability to be in an upright position, a position that would allow you to look up at the sky, to look up to where God was believed to live.  This was one of the key criteria that distinguished a human being from an animal.

So when her neighbours saw her, shuffling bent over through the streets, they did not see a human being, they saw someone who was inferior, an animal, and therefore, they saw no reason to treat her with respect, no reason to include her, no reason, really, to notice her at all.

And so, when Jesus heals her, he does not simply straighten her back.  The healing begins when he notices her, takes an interest in her, touches her, and it continues when he gives her the dignity of a name and a place within the context of that community.

She is not just healed of a physical ailment.  She is liberated from societal isolation, she is liberated from the forces that have enslaved her.

Rolando observes that “Jesus reinterprets the physical illness in terms of oppression and slavery. But, as if that were not enough, he also has the boldness to highlight the identity and dignity of that woman by calling her daughter of Abraham. (v.16) acknowledging that she has always been a legitimate member of her people, and not just now that she is no longer a person with a disability.

So all those affirmative actions, together with the controversy with the head of the synagogue, who opposed the fact that the healing occurred on the Sabbath day (vv.14-16) become, on the one hand, an indisputable denunciation of the hypocrisy and injustice of those who place institutions and traditions above the value of the life and wellbeing of person, and on the other hand, a radical and integral liberation for all the social, economic, cultural and religious burdens that weighted heavily on the back and on the life of that woman and kept her oppressed and enslaved.”[1]

Jesus does more than simply heal this woman’s bent back.  He restores her to the community that has rejected her.  He provides her with dignity and a name, calling her “daughter of Abraham,” a phrase that does not occur anywhere else in the entire Bible.  This name emphasizes that this woman is a member of the community and even more than that, that she always has been.  She does not receive this name because she has been healed, it is a name that has always belonged to her. Even if many people have forgotten it.

When Jesus heals the Daughter of Abraham the first thing she does is praise God. When the people hear Jesus’ argument that if animals can be lead to water than can’t a woman be set free from eighteen years of bondage on the Sabbath Day they also realize that he is right and Luke tells us “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that [Jesus] was doing.” (17)

They too were set free in that moment. Set free from a legalistic way of thinking.  Which is certainly something to celebrate.

In what ways have you been bent out of shape? It is a series of poor choices? Institutional systems that have not been designed with you in mind? Patriarchal forces? Old, hurtful stories or lies from your past?

What unnecessary burdens are you carrying? Where have you been bent out of shape and are in need of healing?

Today’s gospel is a story of individual healing but also of a person being restored to her community. What kind of community do we want to be? Do our religious traditions help or hinder us in that process?  If a “daughter of Abraham” joined us today, would she find welcome or condemnation? And if condemnation, what do we plan to do about that?

Because when someone is being oppressed, when someone is being bent down towards the ground, we need to do something to lift them up.

This past week Vestry spent the day on Tuesday in retreat, praying and dreaming about the next steps in the life of this parish. There will be more to share with you over the coming days, weeks, and months but one thing I want to tell you today is that we spent part of that day talking about accessibility. Specifically, about how we as a parish can remove barriers to participation so that anyone who wants to come to St George’s, can come to St George’s.

Some of that looks like having spent time in the past year developing an accessibility policy which you can find on the website. And on Tuesday, we also took some time to learn about some of the things we’re already doing and thinking about what more we can do.

Did you know, for example, that there is a first aid kit and a defibrillator right next to the main entrance. I hope we never need them, but it’s good to know they are there.  And we also have a lift that can assist people who find stairs difficult to manage and now, everyone on vestry knows how to use it and can assist folks who need the lift.

All good things. We have a lot to be grateful for.

May we always be a community of freedom and liberation that inspires people to live fully into being who they were created to be.

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



[1] Disability and Healing: A Rereading Based on the Synoptic Gospels by Rolando Mauro Verdecia Ávila , 18.


Plead for the Window: A Sermon for Sunday August 7, 2022

The following sermon was preached on August 7, 2022 at St George's Transcona. You can learn more about St George's and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

As part of my job as a sessional instructor I often have to mark papers, and I hate marking papers. One of the things that makes the task bearable is the sheer nerdy delight I feel when I find an unexpectedly funny typo.

My favourite typo was the paper that opened with the emphatic statement, complete with an explanation point, “God has a massage for us!”

I mean, sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to read that paper?  Sadly, it wasn’t a paper about God’s skills as a masseuse, but rather a paper about God’s message for us.

Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a tough one, but it always makes me chuckle because it contains my second favourite student paper typo.

I once had a student make a very impassioned argument about how much God wants us to care for others using this Isaiah passage as evidence. Unfortunately, instead of saying that God calls us to plead for justice for the widow, they kept using the word “window.” And instead of the word “rescue” they kept using “recuse.”

“God wants us to recuse the oppressed and plead for the window.”

Maybe God does care about windows, but not as much as this student was implying.  I don’t think windows are Her top priority.

Widows, however, God does care for them. God cares a lot.

I was grateful for the chuckle when I first reviewed the readings for the week because the majority of this reading is… rough.

Today’s Old Testament reading opens with the explanation that these words are a vision given to Isaiah by God about Judah and Jerusalem.  As we review the content of this reading, remember that these are words spoken by a prophet, Isaiah, whose name literally means, “the Lord saves.”

We are going to hear some hard things, but that isn’t the full story and we need to be patient and hang in there or we’ll miss the good stuff.

The reading begins, “hear the words of the Lord…” and then moves into a series of questions. (10)

God is tired of sacrifices and rituals.  God is tired of the people’s festivals and even their prayers.  God speaks through Isaiah using phrases like, “I have had enough… I do not delight… I cannot endure… and even “Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.” (11-14)

Wow. That’s… a lot.  Why is God so upset and burdened? Why is God so tired?

Let’s back up a bit in search of an answer.  The lectionary did a bit of cut and paste with this reading, we heard verse one and then jumped to verse 10 skipping over a series of verses that provide some helpful context. In these skipped verses, Isaiah uses imagery describing God as a parent and Israel as a child and then later also compares Israel to beasts of burden.

In their discussion of verses 2-9 The Collegeville Commentary explains that Isaiah’s “words begin with a poignant cry of betrayal. That the prophet identifies God as the parent betrayed and Israel as God’s guilty children implies that judgment will not be God’s last word to Israel. Like the love of parents for their children, God’s love for Israel does not fail because of Israel’s failures. The second comparison, likening Israel with beasts of burden, suggest that Israel acted out of ignorance, not appreciating the nature of its relationship with God. This also suggests some mitigation of Israel’s guilt. Still, this will not prevent Israel from experiencing God’s judgment for its infidelity. Its infidelity continued until its cities were destroyed, its land desolate, and Jerusalem abandoned. Still, God did not allow Israel to destroy itself, but keeps a few survivors alive. These survivors have accepted their situation as the Lord’s doing and they recognize the miracles that God worked in keeping them alive.” (Collegeville 1260)

So a few things are true then. First, Israel has actually behaved in ways that displease God and there have been serious consequences. This isn’t just random anger and disappointment, it’s justified. Secondly, God’s disappointment will not be God’s final word on the subject.   The people of Israel can always decide to make better choices.

Another thing we need to keep in mind is that we are reading a written text with a particular structure. The first people to hear these words or read this text would have understood the format and known what to expect. They would have known that just because we start in a negative place, that doesn’t mean we’re going to end there.

When I mark a paper, one of the things I am required to do is point out all the ways that the paper falls short of what is expected. Typos are sometimes funny, but they’re also errors that the student should have caught before submitting the paper. I laugh, but I also deduct points.

I deduct points for all sorts of things, but the main question I am asking when I mark a paper is, “Does this assignment meant the required criteria?”  Or in other words, did the student do what I told them to do?   You can give me the most brilliant paper ever written on the history of the classical guitar in modern folk music, but if what I asked for was a paper on this passage from Isaiah, you’re going to fail.

And the students expect this. They understand the process of submitting a paper and receiving this kind of feedback.  The wise ones review what I have said and use it to submit a better paper next time.

And it doesn’t help the student if I ignore all the things they did that don’t meet the criteria of the assignment. If I don’t point out things they can improve for next time it’s highly unlikely that they will learn and – improve - next time.   It’s all part of the learning process, and they know it. (Even if they don’t love it.)

Isaiah’s message from God begins with a litany of the ways that Israel has failed to live up to God’s expectations and the negative ways their choices have impacted that relationship.  The language is blunt, the message clear.  If this was a paper, they’re getting a failing grade.

It’s hard for me to read this kind of language, especially because I understand it to be language coming from God. God is love right? Is this what love looks like?

Maybe, because it’s honest. Would I prefer it if God really felt this way but lied about it?

I don’t think so.  I want to hear the truth, even if it’s hard.

And would Israel learn if God didn’t speak this way? Maybe not. These hard words may be the exact wake up call they needed.

In the past few weeks the Christian church has made the news in a number of ways – Anglican Bishops gathering for the Lambeth conference, the Pope visiting Canada.

Although my general impression is that some Bishops have behaved very badly at Lambeth and that God’s heart breaks at some of their choices, I’m mostly choosing to ignore the day to day news that leaks out and wait until the end of the conference when hopefully we will have fuller coverage and a clearer picture of what happened.   Bishop Geoff has said on Facebook that we have reasons to be encouraged, and I want to believe him, even when I’m not seeing those reasons myself just now.  I need to wait to hear the full story.

I also have mixed feelings about the Pope’s visit.  Here is what I wanted: I wanted the Pope to sound a little more like our gospel passage. I wanted him to clearly repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. To say that these ideas are and have always been sinful, that they hurt people, and that he is sorry.   I wanted him to say similar things about colonialism and residential schools.

He said some of those things, and I am grateful for that, but he did not say all of them.

At least in the coverage I saw of the Pope’s words, however, he did speak clearly like our Isaiah passage. He left some key things out in my opinion, like the Doctrine of Discovery, but when he said something was wrong, he said it was wrong. He didn’t hide behind wishy washy language. He didn’t minimize the damage.

Which was an important thing for him to do.

Because you can’t offer an effective apology if you don’t fully acknowledge that what you did was wrong. You can’t authentically repent if you don’t really think there was anything to repent of.

And acknowledging what was wrong, apologizing and pledging to do better going forward are essential components of the healing process.

The people of Israel, Bishops, Popes, they can all drift off course, but so can we. What are the ways where you may also have gotten off course? Where have we as a parish gotten off course?

These are important questions to chew on, but don’t get stuck there. Remember that being honest about the hard stuff is just the first step in a process that leads to better choices and new life. Don’t lose hope.

So we’ve heard the hard part, God is not happy with Israel, so what is Israel supposed to do now? What are we supposed to do now?

What comes next?

Once God, speaking through Isaiah, has clearly laid out the nature of the problem, has clearly explained all the ways that Israel has fallen short and the negative impact of their choices, God now can shift to do two things:

  • Call the people to repent and change their ways
  • Forgive

So what is God calling them to do?

God is calling them to stop doing a number of things. To stop putting all their energy into religious festivals and sacrifices.  These can be good things, but they have stopped being good things because Israel has forgotten to do the most important things. They have forgotten to work to ensure that their society is a just one. And, “without justice, Israel’s worship of the Lord is an empty shell.” (Collegeville, 1260)

This, according to Isaiah, is what God really cares about and expects of the people who follow God:

cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Care for the people in society most in need of care.

This is what pleases God.

As I mentioned earlier, this passage is a specific type of literature with a structure and format that the people would have understood and expected.  It’s prophecy, and prophecy is a tradition of calling the people of God back to their covenant with God by pointing out where they are currently not living into that covenant.[1]

It's easy to lose our way and get off course. God knows this, God expects it, God doesn’t love it, but God is always there to welcome us when we return to the path.

God will welcome us again and again and again.

Our gospel passage begins like this, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” (32)

These words are good news for us today. Not matter how you feel, no matter how far you have strayed from the path, no matter how far we as a parish may have gone off course, this is Christ’s message to all of us: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (32)

We have no reason to be afraid. God is with us and desires only good things for us.

Which is good news indeed.


[1] Thanks Jordan of 2Fab for this description.