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A Prayer for Orlando

We have all been listening this week to the pain and agony of Orlando.  Over and over, I have been moved, but not sure what to say.  After all, who am I to speak?  I am not gay.  I am not a Muslim nor an American and such brutality makes no sense, but things do need to be said.  I have come back to the wise words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who I believe once preached at Yorkminster Park.  He was a Lutheran pastor who spent seven years in a Nazi concentration camp for his opposition to the Third Reich.  Niemoller wrote,

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Socialist.  

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."

I am not gay and so I don't pretend to know or even imagine the pain and fear that has enveloped the LGBTQ community since the Sunday morning massacre in Orlando.  But these are our brothers and sisters, our children, our friends and our neighbours who work and worship with us side by side.  And as a follower of Christ, I must  stand in solidarity with them against all hatred and fear directed at them believing this is the posture of Jesus.  For God so loved the world . . .

I am not a Muslim and so I don't pretend to know or even imagine the pain and fear that has enveloped this religious community which again feels grossly misrepresented and let down by fanatical extremists and now feels afraid of potential repercussions directed their way.  Are not these also our neighbours and friends?  As a follower of Christ, I must stand in solidarity with them against all hatred and fear directed at them believing this too is the posture of Jesus.  For God so loved the world . . .

I am not persecuted for my faith and so I can't begin to imagine the pain and fear that daily envelops Christians, Muslims, Jews, Druze and others who live in vulnerability as religious minorities around the world.  Yet these are our sisters and brothers in believing.  And as a follower of Christ, and as a Baptist I must champion their religious liberty and the importance of their freedom of conscience.  Anything less is an assault on my own.   And as follower of Christ, I must pray for all who persecute, and I must hope and believe that love will one day rule the world.  For God so loves the world . . .

These are all neighbours and friends and even if someone turns out to be my enemy, I am a Christian and my first response must always be love.  Jesus made it so clear.  Over and over he said, "Love your neighbour as yourself . . ." "Love one another . . ."  "Love your enemies and pray . . ." "For God so loved the world . . ."

And so we pray...

Loving God, forgive us for too often giving in to fear and allowing it to turn our hearts against you and against one another.  We pray for your healing peace to be upon the people of Orlando and the families and loved ones who grieve.  We pray too for all the bullies of this world, near and far, asking that they might encounter you in their hearts, and at last discover they are not called to be gods in this world, but that wonderfully you do love them and call them to their true meaning in love and service.

Now by the power of your Holy Spirit liberate us all to love and serve.  Set us free, O God, from the slavery to sin and the fear that so easily leads us astray.  Lead us instead to that day when swords will be beat into plough shares, guns into pruning sheers, and the lion and lamb will lie down together.  O God, guide us by the power of your Spirit, to embrace your Kingdom's call on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

It was a privilege to share in the leadership of the 30th Annual Neighbourhood Inter-Faith Event.  I was invited to offer the Christian perspective on a panel presentation on 'The Language of War and Peace in our Religious Tradtions, with my friend, Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl and a brilliant young lawyer, Azeezah Kanji, of the Noor Cultural Centre, (Islam).   I was pinch-hitting for the Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton, General Secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches who was called away a few weeks prior.

In my own presentation, I established that both the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the example of Jesus in the face of violence are at the heart and soul of the Christian position on war and peace, but that since Constantine's vision of Christ, (Oct. 28, 312), on the eve of his victorious battle to gain control of the Roman Empire and the subsequent establishment of earthly 'Christian' kingdoms with armies and military agendas, Christ's teachings have been all the more challenging.  

I cited various times in history such as the Crusades, (1095 - 1291), when Christians engaged in and used the language of 'Holy War.'   The Western Church  seemed to find the use of such language easier than the church in the East. However, it was Thomas Aquinas, (1225 - 1274) in the West whose teachings sought to severely limit warfare in the name of Christ, through his positions on 'just war,' and 'holy war.'  

Finally, while I noted the use of Christian language and imagery by political leaders of the west during wars right through the 20th century and the manner in which the militaristic language of hymns often lent support to these efforts, I was able to focus on the many movements to return the church to the teachings of Christ on war and peace through groups and individuals in Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant communities like the Mennonites, Martin Luther King Jr. Abuna Elias Chacour and so many others.  

I also made reference to the Pax Dei, (Peace of God), movement which began in 989 and continued through the Middle Ages in an effort to end warfare in Europe.  I suggested that in light of nuclear weaponry and religious fanaticism a new Pax Dei must be embraced and proclaimed in the name of God by the leaders of our three religions.  Such an effort could be instrumental in stemming the tide against tarnishing the name of religion.  I also said that as religious leaders we should hold political leaders to account when they begin to invoke the name of God in support of military efforts or aims as in accordance with Thomas Aquinas.   

Rabbi Frydman-Kohl articulated two traditions in Judaism, one which is less adverse to using the militaristic language in regard to the faith and a second Rabbinic tradition of preaching and promoting peace.  As always Rabbi Frydman-Kohl was deep and profound.  Azeezah Kanji has a sharp legal mind and spoke passionately for an understanding of her faith as a religion of peace.  

The focus of much of Azeezah Kanji's has been summarized in the article in the Canadian Jewish News and the Rabbi's pushback is contained both there and in his own Facebook posting.   http://www.cjnews.com/news/canada/interfaith-panel-discussion-touches-contemporary-politics 

At one point Azeezah seemed to downplay the plight of Christians in the Middle East as incidental compared to the suffering of Muslims at the hands of Daesh (ISIS).  Both Rabbi Frydman-Kohl and I responded to assert that the suffering of Christians is very significant and that from the reports there appears to be a clear Daesh agenda shared by militant Islamic groups in other places to not only remove Christians but also the evidence of their historic presence in the community which often dates back to the first generation of the church.  

In retrospect I only wish that I had been able to ask the Rabbi about some of the rich prophetic Hebrew Scriptures about peace like Isaiah 2; Isaiah 11 and Micah 4.  So many of the great images of peace such as swords being beat into ploughshares, the lion and lamb lying down together, children learning of war no more, and each man at peace beneath their fig tree.  Let us continue to look to such a day in faith.  

I was assisted greatly in my preparations by a young historian in the church named Eric McGeer, who has written extensively in this field.  Thank you Eric.

Grace and Peace,

Peter

Inspiration from Attawapiskat

Today's online edition of the Globe and Mail contains a story about the people of Attawapiskat who in recent months have faced an epidemic of suicides and attempted suicides about which Canada feels deeply grieved.    However, the article was not reporting on the crisis, but rather on a donation the people of Attawapiskat have raised to help the people of Fort McMurray.  The news jumps off the page because instinctively we think that when we are in need we have to focus solely on our own well being.  The gift is so counter-intuitive that when the Red Cross received it they contacted the Chief of Attawapiskat, Bruce Shisheesh and quoted him as saying, "We want to help."  It was the Red Cross who broke the story, not the people of Attawapiskat.   

I found the news inspiring.  It's not that it was an extraordinary amount of money, but it reminded me of a wise saying a Jewish friend once offered me, "One is never too poor to be generous."   The news from Attawapiskat offers us hope as it also brings to mind a line from St. Francis' prayer, "It is in giving that we receive."   There is a great spiritual depth in our First Nation community and we do well to learn from it.   My prayer is that through this act of caring and helping Fort McMurray, the people of Attawapiskat will discover the truth of Jesus' words when he taught that true greatness comes in serving others.  I pray too, that as such greatness is achieved, it will turn the world on its ears and as Jesus said, "The first shall be last and the last first."  

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

A Prayer for Fort McMurray

The fire that is raging in Fort McMurray, Alberta has gone viral and the images which have spread around the world are being called 'apocalyptic.'  There have been many 'great fires' that have consumed portions of great cities, but most of them took place before the radical advances made in firefighting and fire prevention over the last 150 years and before the advances of modern photography, and so there simply aren't many photographs of anything quite like it in our country.  And a great part of the shock of course is that it is within our own borders and a town which so many of us have a connection to through a relative or friend who has made Fort McMurray their home if only for a chapter in their lives.  

We may not hear much about them anymore, but Toronto has suffered at least three great fires in its history.  The fire of 1849 destroyed St. James Cathedral and the St. Lawrence Market district.  It was said the flames of the fire could be seen across the lake in St. Catharines.  The fire of 1904 started at Bay and Wellington and consumed entire blocks of our city before it could finally be brought under control, but only after firefighters from Hamilton and Buffalo arrived on the scene to help.  In the end they said it was rain that put it out.  They are now saying that rain is what is needed in Fort McMurray.  

Some will remind us that a fire can have beneficial long term results and it is very true, but this is not the time for such philosophical comforts.  A fire also has devastating short term effects.   The 1904 fire in Toronto left 5,000 people without jobs and the 1900 Hull, Quebec fire left 40% of the Hull population homeless before jumping the river and similarly effecting 15% of Ottawa's population. Fort McMurray appears to be on just such a path of devastation and destruction.  Entire neighbourhoods have been destroyed.  Homes filled with priceless memories and keepsakes and computers filled with work and information are gone.  Thankfully there have not been many deaths yet, but our hearts can't help go out to its countless citizens on the highway of refugees leading south.  

Wonderfully, communities to the south are opening their homes and community centres and politicians are promising help.  These things can bring out the best in us and we must pray it continues to do so, but some voices are already being less than kind in search of someone or something to blame.  After the London fire rumours persisted that the fires were started by foreigners and xenophobia spread like a second fire.  We must silence these voices.  These people have left everything behind and have no idea if or when they can return.  Many will have lost their jobs, businesses and livelihood.  Children have been dislodged from the only home they have known.  Our hearts have to go out to them.  As Canadians we must offer our help wherever we can in their aid and as believers we must pray.  I invite you to use this prayer to guide you in your prayers.   


Gracious God you are our one true hope in all the calamities of life.  Through the generations you have been our refuge and strength and a very present help in trouble, and so we turn to you as we think of the people of Fort McMurray who now gather their children and flee for safety.  Watch over their steps and keep them safe and well.  We pray for the children taken from home and school and the friendships they enjoy.  Comfort them in your peace.   We pray for those fighting the fire and all who stay behind to offer help and assistance.  Protect them.  We pray for the land parched, thirsty and now burned.  Bring rain to halt the fire and heal the wounded earth. Breath hope into the hearts of the people.  Restore the community, strengthen her spirit and unite us as a nation in our resolve to care for our brothers and sisters now stranded like refugees within our own borders.  Merrciful God, restore too the dreams that have been shattered and the hopes that have been eclipsed.   All of these things we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.  


Grace and Peace, 

Peter 

"My sheep listen to my voice..."

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"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me."  These words of Jesus from John chapter ten were the text for my sermon last week and speak deeply into my own faith.  The words brought to mind a day five years ago when 

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while exploring ancient Greek, Roman and Christian ruins outside the Biblical town of Sardis, I looked up an embankment and discovered a lamb looking down at me.  

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I climbed the embankment and discovered a scattered flock, but a few moments later a shepherd appeared in the distance calling the sheep and one by one they responded and followed him.  Indeed the sheep knew his voice and clearly he knew each one.   It wasn't long before the shepherd reached me and with a smile handed me the young lamb that had been looking down at me.  In that moment I was reminded of Jesus words to Peter, "Feed my sheep."  The words of the Risen Christ to Peter were full of grace and that moment I had with the shepherd was for me a sign of a greater grace in my own life. 

To hear me tell the story of the shepherd go to:  http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/index.php

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

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In the Smell of Bread

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Had I shut my eyes before I entered the church today I'd have thought I'd passed through the front door of a bakery.  There is something almost sacred about the smell of fresh bread in a church.  Legend has it that Garfield Weston was taken onto the bakery floor in the arms of his father George when he was only days old in order to put him in the smell of bread.  I like that story and I referred to it in a sermon a few weeks back, because I think that is what the church should be doing.  

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But there was something almost spicy in the air today as well.  So I followed my nose to the main kitchen and surprise, surprise, there I found Rhoda Hill, Mary Stevens and Glenyce MacDonald baking hot cross buns for a great cause.   The buns will be on sale tomorrow for $5 a tray and the proceeds will go towards the Oneida STM in August.  

Hot cross buns have traditionally been associated with Good Friday and the end of Lent.  The cross on top symbolizes the cross of Christ and the spices represent the burial of Jesus.  I hope the smell of bread lingers in the church till tomorrow.  I hope it never fades.  Church should always be seeking to put us in the smell of bread, the Bread of Life. 

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

p.s. Don't forget to set your clocks ahead an hour tonight or the buns may be all gone before you arrive.

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Coldest Night of the Year - NOT

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The Nordickids, or as I prefer to call them, the Fenton Flyers, completed the full 10K of the Coldest Night of the Year Walk on a night that was mercifully mild.  The warmer temperatures made the sidewalks more crowded, and at some points made the problem of homelessness all the more obvious.   Raising awareness about homelessness in Canada is the purpose for the walk as well as to raise funds for organizations that work directly with them.  

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The Toronto walk brought out hundreds of enthusiastic young walkers all of whom were raising money for the Yonge Street Mission.  It was nice to be reunited with my old friend Rick Tobias, who has been with the mission for well over thirty years.  Kim and Ben were there too, to lend the generous support of the Dalton School to our team.  John wore the Dalton backpack with pride!  Alana Walker was also there though she'd been drafted in the first round to walk with another team, but we were all in it for the same great cause.  

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As for our team, we were led by our courageous octogenarian captain, John Fenton, whose wife, Jonanne, was with him every step of the way.  Our team included our dear friend Ibrahim who stayed close to John, and Christopher Milthorpe who stayed a step ahead.  For those who didn't think I would make it, I had my wife at my side along with my son, Jamie, and daughter, Caitlin along with her boyfriend Chris Reid a kilometre or two ahead.  

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Our captain, John Fenton, was awarded at the outset for being the leading fundraiser with almost $14,000 in support.  The team as a whole raised close to $27,000, so thanks to one and all for your support.  

If only we could say there will be no need for such a walk next year as we are so much closer to eliminating the problem of homelessness.  Let's keep hoping and praying and walking too.  

Grace & Peace 

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There perched on the branches outside my study window on the coldest day of the year was a visitor from another season to remind me that spring cannot be far away.  

The fur like feathers of the robin's breast on a cold winter's day sang to me of the wonder of it all.  The Creator has provided us with the warmth we need to endure the cold and hard times. In the human family we do not have feathers to fly away or fur to keep us warm, but we have the communion of one other and we have the love that builds and binds community.       

When life is cold and hard we can learn from this robin who was there to drink of the fruit of the vine.  We too must stay close to the Vine, which is Christ, and drink of his blood soaked grace that our lives might be immersed in his love. As we do, the cold will lose its hold and the spring of new beginnings will rise within our hearts.  

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

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HOC2.jpgI was with our friend, John McDermott, today at one of my favourite places, The House of Compassion, where John presented Sister Susan Davy csj, the Executive Director of the House of Compassion, with a gift from the proceeds of the John McDermott Family Christmas Concert at Yorkminster Park back on December 22.  Sister Susan and the staff were thrilled with the gift of more than $9,300.  The House of Compassion is so grateful and the church so blessed by John's great music and generous spirit.   HOC3.JPG

But that's not all John did.  On an earlier visit to the House of Compassion John had noticed the Chef, Keith Bundock, mixing dough the old fashioned way and realized that preparing multiple meals each day for the twenty-one residents plus staff, Keith might benefit from some better equipment.  It felt like Christmas all over again when John presented Keith with a new KitchenAid Mix Master.  Bravo John!    

If you missed the concert you can still watch it online at:  http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/index.php?id=388

The House of Compassion of Toronto is a charitable organization founded in 1988 by people from Yorkminster Park to provide a permanent supportive home to people living with severe and persistent mental illness. The 24 hour support provided by staff enables our residents to live in the community with dignity, respect and hope.  

Sister Susan will be introduced to the congregation at Yorkminster Park on Sunday morning and a reception will be held following the service.  Please come and help us welcome her to this new calling.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

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Yes, I have joined John and Jonanne Fenton on TEAM NORDICKIDS to walk ten kilometres in 'THE COLDEST NIGHT OF THE YEAR,' a charity walk on Saturday, February 20th designed to raise awareness and funding for the homeless across Canada.   

It is going to be cold out there and the walk will remind us of the plight of the homeless who trek back and forth across our city logging endless miles from soup kitchens to Out of the Cold shelters like our own at Yorkminster Park.  Unlike the homeless I will have on a good pair of walking boots with my own bed to look forward to at the journey's end, but hopefully I will come away more appreciative of the importance of the service offered by organizations that work with the homeless and the need to bring an end to homelessness in our land.  

I have joined Team Nordickids, because I have a deep appreciation for John and Jonanne Fenton who support me each Sunday morning in their prayers.  For several years John parked in one of our handicap spaces and even then could barely hobble in to church, but within a short time of taking up nordic pole walking 18 months ago, my 83 year old friend became something of a walking miracle.  

Last year the event literally fell on the coldest night of the year and John and Jonanne's team was the only Toronto team to complete the full ten kilometres.  Nonetheless, the next morning they were in my study praying with me as usual.  It is an honour to have them on my team and I am now honoured to be on theirs.  

Team Nordickids is walking to raise funds for the Yonge Street Mission, an organization for which I have great appreciation and respect.   

To learn more about the walk and to support our team,  or any member of our team, go to:  https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=668329

To watch a CBC interview with John prior to last year's walk go to: https://www.behance.net/gallery/24002295/CBC-NEWS-BROADCAST-John-Fenton-interview

Please pray we won't have to walk for the homeless again next year.  It is time for homelessness to end!   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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