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Praise for the Choir's Praise

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I received the following note from Barbara McDougall O.C. who has been very involved in our refugee ministries and was also federal Minister of External Affairs; Employment and Immigration and several other portfolios during her years as a Member of the Canadian Parliament.  I was encouraged, though not surprised, to receive her praise for the choir's singing last week at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, England. 


From Barbara McDougall O.C.

"I was in London last week, taking a few days timeout. I stayed in my favourite small hotel, owned and managed by the same family for four generations, conveniently located near Buckingham Palace, in case the Queen wanted me to drop in for tea. (She didn't call. Shucks.)

It is also within an easy walk of Green Park, on the Mall leading to the Palace, where there is a beautiful memorial to Canada's veterans and war dead. It is a subtle and elegant sculpture, very low key, sensitively rendered, and discreet, and I visit it every time I am in London. It is a reminder of to all of how special our country is, and to me that my father, coincidentally a deacon at Yorkminster Park in the late1940's, was based in London for nearly three years during World War II and lived in Kensington, not far away. I recommend to every Canadian passing through London that this is a special memorial for us.

But last week's visit had a particular highlight: the evensong service at St Paul's Cathedral led by William Maddox and the Yorkminster Park choir. I attended two of the services, and have to pass on to you how beautifully the choir sang, and how superb the organ was at the hands of William Maddox. Although the cathedral is always full of tourists wearing baggy shorts and back packs, many of them walking back and forth and gazing upwards to the spectacular dome, oblivious to the fact that a service is going on, it was interesting that many paused to listen at least for a few minutes. And those who had managed to find a chair and stayed for the full service (only about 45 minutes,) were rewarded with an elegant liturgy - 400 years old according to the program - executed superbly, as one would expect, by the YP choir.

I'm sure there were other Yorkminster people and families there, although I didn't recognize anyone, but my purpose in writing this is to ask you to spread the word among the congregation how proud we can be of our splendid choir and its contribution to a great Christian tradition, and in a great historic place. And please tell the choir members too!"



Into the Mystery

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Into the mystery - It's a new day and though I know not what may come my way, the sun is up and we are not alone. So much to be thankful for... always.


Memories of the Okanagan

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I am partial to fridge magnets, but Janet prefers more serious souvenirs. Four years ago on a visit to the Carcajou Cherry Orchards on the edge of picturesque Summerland, B.C., Janet fell in love with an unusual poppy which she wanted to take with her as a keepsake. Of course the idea was crazy. Chances are the delicate little flower which seemed to grow wild in the orchard wouldn't have survived a transplant from one end of their garden to another, let alone one end of the country to the next. We didn't take the poppy with us, but we did drive off with a pretty nice bag of cherries. 

The Carcajou Orchard was a special place because it was where Jessica and Alex worked each summer after they finished tree planting in northern B.C. A few months after our visit the owners of the orchard, Keith and Jan Carlson, arrived in Toronto for Jessica and Alex's wedding and presented Janet with a tiny momento of our visit tucked inside an envelope. Needless to say it wasn't a fridge magnet, but a pocket full of poppy seeds of the Bombast Rose variety, and each year since, there have been more and more poking through the ground in our Toronto garden and as they bloom we can't help but think back to that beautiful spot where the cherries grow from down on the shores of Lake Okanagan to halfway up Giant Head Mountain, and where the fruit tastes so sweet that even in the winter they call the town Summerland.

Grace and Peace

Peter 

St. Elias Blog - 08-16.JPGThose who participated in our 2010 Pilgrimage of Sacred Spaces visit to St. Elias Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in Brampton will never forget the unique splendour of the space and the warm welcome of Father Roman Galadza. And so our hearts ached for them when St. Elias was destroyed by fire just prior to Easter in 2014. But Father Galadza promised to rebuild and he and his people have persevered with this vision. On a recent sojourn west of the city I stopped in on St. Elias. The church has been raised up from the ashes as a magnificent symbol in this community of the power of Christ's resurrection to raise us all from death to life eternal. May God continue to bless Father Roman and the people of St. Elias as they proclaim the Risen Christ in word and in deed.

The Osprey

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Day after day we see an osprey.  
watching the water below.
He is waiting for prey 
It's just nature's way.
Yet, maybe he's here
to teach us not fear
but to watch and to pray, 
day after day after day.

The Sweet Spot

P1160100.jpgI visited Leonard Sweet, (one of our Lester Randall preachers of 2015), recently in his octagonal shaped inner sanctum where he pens his many books and countless sermons. It was the entrance to his study that caught my attention first as it was an old nautical door taken from a ship. To begin with the door is not nearly high enough to accommodate a man of Leonard's six foot plus stature. What's more, to add to the challenge of entering the study, the door frame rises six to eight inches from the floor creating a threshold that one could easily trip over. However, it is all by design he reassured me. He went on to explain that his study is where he prepares to preach and in order to do so effectively he must be both humble and confident, thus a door frame that forces him to bow down to the Lord and a ledge that encourages him to step up in faith. He didn't comment on the nautical theme, but clearly one's entry into the word is nothing less than a grand adventure. So bow down, step up, set your sails and wait on the Spirit as you open the Word.

Summer Blooms

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"How's your summer been?" I asked a young college student from down the street whom I hadn't seen since the late spring. "Great so far," he replied. I liked his answer as he was not only positive about what has already unfolded, but still looking ahead to so much more. As the shorter evenings become more noticeable we can lament the loss of summer and fail to notice summer's beauty continuing to burst into bloom. 

Summer is a time to slow down, breathe deeply of the splendour all around, and give thanks. I am so blessed each day by new blooms in the garden with their delicate petals, intricate designs and rich bright colours. And of course I am blessed by my children who kept it watered while we were away. Each flower is a call to wonder and gratitude.

The Song of the Wren

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I saw a wren again today, or should I say I heard it. I also heard one last summer on the shores of Lake Erie and I am told they sing in Toronto too, but it was earlier today on a walk through a rural estuary that the song again captured my heart. 

The wren is not the prettiest bird in the forest and might well be mistaken for a simple sparrow were it not for its song. It is plain brown in colour and pudgy in shape with a tail feather that won't sit down, but when it sings, oh when it sings, it all but gives me wings. 

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The wren is like one of those remarkable people who always finds the good and virtuous thing on which to dwell. We want such people around. In fact we need to surround ourselves with a choir of such voices. I believe the song of the wren lives in all our hearts waiting to be sung and when it is, we are closer to the Kingdom of God. 

The Soil and the Soul

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I saw some beautiful blue and purple hydrangeas while out on a walk this evening.  We are more familiar with the white and pink hydrangeas in Toronto, but in fact the only difference between a pink or red hydrangea and a blue or purple one is the chemicals in the soil.  From what I understand, white hydrangeas are pretty much static in terms of their colour, but not so with the pink, red, blue and purple hydrangeas.  Those of the red and pink tones simply have higher levels of phosphorous in their soils which can be enhanced with the addition of lime, whereas the bluer hydrangeas have levels of aluminum in the soil that give them their colour.  

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There is a sense in which we are like hydrangeas.  The nutrients that feed our souls give shade to our character.  Someone was recently speaking about the way fear and ignorance feed racist tendencies.  In contrast the Spirit of Christ, when we abide in him and his word abides in us, shades our lives with the tones of his love and grace for one and all.  It is never too late to adjust the soil on which our souls feed and when we feed on Christ, though completely unaware, we enhance our true beauty through acts of love and kindness.  

Our friend, the Rev. Mrs. Fleming Rutledge of New York City, who served as a keynote speaker at last year's Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship sent me a piece she posted to her blog yesterday and I am posting it here with her permission.  

She speaks courageously and powerfully to the divide in America and contending that the whole church must give voice to the whole gospel in light of today's challenges.  She speaks of it as one of the most important issues of her lifetime.  Her blog of two days earlier entitled 'We Don't Deserve the Black Church,' was deeply moving and can be read at:   http://ruminations.generousorthodoxy.org/2016/07/we-dont-deserve-forbearance-of-black_12.html

To read more of this profoundly insightful Christian leader go to:

http://generousorthodoxy.org/

WORDS TO THE CHURCH IN OUR PRESENT NATIONAL CRISIS 

By Fleming Rutledge, (July 14, 2016) 

This morning's New York Times front page drives me to my laptop to write what I intend to be the most important blog post I have ever written (I have posted 355 messages on my Ruminations in the past 5 years, and 420 in Tips for the Times). This new post follows along with my immediately preceding one on Ruminations, called "We don't deserve the black church").

If I, at the age of almost 79, am ever going to put my reputation (such as it is) for preaching and teaching on the line, it's now. If I have ever written or spoken about anything whatsoever, I venture to put this post at the top of the table of contents. If I have ever been helpful to anyone seeking my guidance in the church at any time for any reason, now is the moment for me to throw all the small weight I have, God being my helper, behind what I have to say today.

My beloved professor and mentor Paul L. Lehmann used to throw around the phrase status confessionis a good deal--too often, I sometimes thought. From time to time I have wondered if the status confessionis weren't upon us, for example during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. I am quite sure that it is upon us now. Here is a definition:
status confessionis: "a state of confessing," is a dire situation in which the church must stand up for the integrity of the gospel and the authority of the Word of God it confesses, or else lose its soul. The Latin term arose during Lutheran doctrinal debates in the 16th century, but it has grown out of its original context. Today it is particularly associated with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, who used it in the context of the church's response to the rise of the Third Reich.
I believe that the soul of the American church is at stake as it has not been since the Civil Rights movement fifty years ago, when the white churches presented a very mixed and sometimes shameful face to the nation. Today I believe that all the congregations of this country--Roman Catholic, Protestant mainline, the various mainline breakaways, Pentecostal, nondenominational, Anabaptist, Seventh Day Adventist, black, Hispanic, Korean, Chinese, liberal, conservative, orthodox, revisionist, you name it--are called to the same vocation in these deeply threatening times when the American experiment is at stake. I believe that any preacher in the American church today who fails to speak out in no uncertain terms, not just on one Sunday but on many Sundays, about the climate we rather suddenly find ourselves in, has forfeited his or her claim to preach the Word of the living God.

In the African-American church, it is customary to invite political figures to speak and even to endorse some of them. It would probably be a mistake for white churches to take up this custom. However, it is quite possible to preach many biblical sermons on the themes of mutual love and forbearance across racial, religious, ethnic and other lines without ever mentioning the name of a political candidate or a political party. The message of the old Adam and the new Adam in Romans 5:12-21 (for example) is universal and can be made unmistakably relevant to our current plight. Most of us know that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies and bless those who curse us, but we Christians are not setting a good example. I do not hear prayers for our enemies in our churches, only prayers for "our troops." This is meant to be a correction of our failure to support our troops in Vietnam, but we are in a new situation now. Never were prayers for our enemies more important to our identity as disciples of Christ.

There are countless texts that can be expounded in our situation, and not all of them are from the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. To give just one obvious example: Deut. 24:11-22, with its repeated reminder that "you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt."  (In fact, I'll venture to say that almost any passage from Scripture will lead to the same conclusions when read from the perspective of our crucified Lord.) The conservative churches have shied away from this sort of preaching because of antipathy toward what's seen as the substitution of social justice messages for the biblical gospel, but now, if ever, is the time to shuck off that false dichotomy. President Obama gave us some good texts in his address at the memorial service for the five police officers: "I will give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you," says the prophet Ezekiel...and Obama pleaded, "That's what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart." He also quoted I John 3:18, "Let us love, not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth."

If the preaching and teaching of the church, week in and week out, is grounded in the gospel of a Lord who was crucified for all sinners (Romans 8:3-4), it would not be so easy for us to fall back into tribal patterns, fear of people not like us, guilt by association, the demonizing of perceived enemies, and other non-Christian habits of mind. It would be easier for the average Christian in the workplace or club or family gathering to speak up against these pernicious divisions that we now see coming out from under the rocks. When a sincere Christian like Tim Tebow is led astray by false teaching, we see that anything can happen.

A dear friend in South Africa called yesterday and asked me what was going on in the United States, how this sudden unleashing of xenophobia and nativism could have happened. I groped for an answer. My best thinking is that the often-invoked factor of "anger" is not sufficient explanation. I believe the Bible and all great literature teaches us that there is a fault line in all of human nature, not just in certain subgroups.  In those fortunate enough to have grown up in a strong culture of respect and forbearance, this fault line is more deeply suppressed, not so likely to break through the restraints of civilized behavior. In those who are estranged from such familial and group cultures, the ugly instincts that lie within us all are just waiting for permission to appear in public. Thus, many people who have not been brought up in a Christian community like "Mother Emanuel" in Charleston, where the black members of a Bible study refrained from grabbing their guns when nine of their number were murdered by a white man, will react in a fashion not consonant with the evangelical message, no matter how they may identify as evangelical. Similarly, there are a great many Jews who are so strongly grounded in their own story ("you were slaves in the land of Egypt") that they are disproportionately represented in philanthropic groups supporting the oppressed and needy; whereas other Jews not so deeply grounded (e.g., Bernie Madoff, the "Den of Thieves") will drift away from their own roots and commit crimes against their own tradition.

The Body of Christ, when it is working the way God means it to, is a living illustration of what God intends for humankind. It is a "culture," if you will, that is stronger than the flawed individuals who are its members. Great heroes like Bonhoeffer have emerged from the church, but every day there are small, nonheroic people who rise up and resist injustice in the name of Christ. This is the Christian community acting as the branches of the Vine which is Christ.

Christians in America are on the verge of committing crimes against the gospel.  Let us who are preachers and teachers and church leaders rise up and meet this challenge, not counting the cost but being faithful to the Lord who promises that he will be with us to the end of the world. He has guaranteed that his Word will not return to him empty.

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A few months ago, when the primaries were just beginning, I heard a commentator say that he hoped Donald Trump would soon have to step out of the running, because the longer he stayed in, the more Americans would feel that they had permission to express hostile and violent thoughts about blacks, Jews, immigrants, Muslims, Hispanics, and other perceived enemies. Now it has come true; the genie is out of the bottle. Here is the link to today's front page:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/14/us/politics/donald-trump-white-identity.html?ref=todayspaper

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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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