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Holy Monday - Coming into the City

This morning I dropped my wife off at work and headed back towards home only to be stopped at a green light by a police officer directing traffic.  When I came to a halt he was sending rush hour traffic heading south towards downtown through a red light.  There didn't seem to be an accident in the intersection and he looked too old to be a trainee, but maybe, I thought, this is one more way the city is trying to cut down on rush hour traffic tie ups.  

As the light kept changing and the officer kept the flow to the south uninterrupted while backing up all eastbound, westbound and northbound traffic, my initial explanation made no sense.  Nothing seemed to.  After seven or eight minutes of missing green lights, drivers were getting exercised and a few started to honk at the police officer.  Even in those moments when the traffic going south had all but disappeared he kept our flow blocked.  

I started to wonder if he was really even a legitimate police officer.  Had the weather been better and the windows been down I am sure we'd have heard some pretty choice language.  Behind the wheel of a car many of us can be pretty irrational and I half expected someone might just ignore him and go, but if they did, the officer was in a very precarious position.  

Jesus entry into Jerusalem and then into the Temple stopped all the traffic at the beginning of Holy Week and a lot of folk were angry at Jesus.  Yet day after day he came back to the Temple to teach, but as he did it was clear he too was in a very precarious position.  

There were a number of people questioning Jesus' authority too. Who was he to be forgiving sins and to be healing on the Sabbath not to mention cleansing the Temple as he did?  In Nazareth they had said, "Isn't this Joseph and Mary's son? Who does he think he is?"  By the time he got to Jerusalem there were those who said he had a devil in him.  They just wanted life to proceed as normal, and he was in the way.  Before the week would end, Jesus would be as good as run over.  

At first the sound was faint, but in no time the ambulance with its police escort came racing into view and it all started to make sense.  The officer who had stopped the traffic was there to help save a life.  

It wasn't clear to everyone in those days leading up to the cross, but Jesus had also come to save.  He came to save the world from sin and death.  As we gather through these evenings in Holy Week it is for some an opportunity to try to make sense of the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, and for others a time to wonder afresh at God's love.  But for all of us it is a signal to ignore the lights and the voices that say Go and Go faster and instead to stop and pray and listen anew to this One who comes to save the world.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

I was introduced to Marcus Gee on a Wednesday night in the Yorkminster Park gym.  He is a writer for the Globe and Mail and was scouting out a story on the Out of the Cold - a timely story as two people had frozen to death in the streets in the previous nights.  It was only natural to come to Yorkminster Park because the Director of our program, Joyce Rankin, understands the plight of the homeless as well as anyone.  She is on the street by day responding to their needs as a street health nurse and at the church on Wednesdays volunteering as the director.  It was Joyce who introduced me to Marcus.  

At that time the homeless were just coming in and setting up their mats.  He had made his way and sensitively engaged in conversation with several.  It all led to an excellent story that appeared a few weeks later in the Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail and can still be read at

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/joyce-rankin-has-the-worst-job-in-toronto/article22386606/

In the weeks that followed Marcus moved on to a host of other local stories including the renovations of Massey Hall, the protection of heritage sites, the plight of the Gardiner Expressway, concerning developments at the TDSB, the tragic death of Elijah Marsh, and the differences between Mayor Tory's early days and those of the previous administration to name but a few.  To say the least Marcus has been a busy journalist chasing down all these stories and more and yet, come Wednesday night, I kept seeing Marcus at the Out of the Cold.  The temperatures were colder than ever, but the story had long since been put to bed.  

The long and the short of it was revealed in yet another article published in today's Globe and Mail.  Marcus saw another story when he visited our Out of the Cold back in early January and he was right.  There is another story, in fact probably many more stories.  The one he focussed on was the ministry of the YP Out of the Cold Foot Spa which offers foot washing, massage and new sox for the feet of the homeless.  It is no secret our guests at Out of the Cold walk many many miles each day as they move from shelter to soup kitchen to a warm place and on to the next shelter.  And it is no surprise their shoes and sox are well past their best before date. And it is inspiring to see the tender compassion of the volunteers who care for their feet.   

Marcus might have come one night and taken a few pictures and interviewed one or two and put together a collection of words that would have been interesting, but he kept coming back week after week with pen and notepad in hand and it wasn't just Wednesday nights.  He phoned me early in the story's quest asking about the religious origins of foot washing.  He recalled something of the story in John 13 from the one year in his childhood when he attended a nearby Sunday School, but he was taking nothing for granted. 

Marcus has been working on today's story for almost two months.  A journalist doesn't always have that luxury and neither does a preacher, but Marcus' discipline is a lesson for preachers, writers, teachers, journalists and all who till the earth for truth.  It takes me back to one of the very first pieces of advice I received in the workplace.  I was fourteen years old and had been hired by the owner of a large property in Victoria to maintain the gardens and cut the grass.  A neighbour saw me labouring at what seemed like an endless task and he simply said, "I like that you don't take shortcuts, because it takes time to do a good job.  Keep it up."   It was what I needed to hear and I have never forgotten it.  

Marcus tilled the ground on this story and got it right and it has been inspiring to watch and to read.  He transcended the offering of an interesting story and gave us inspiration. Thank you Marcus.   You can read Marcus' story about the foot spa at  

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/the-selfless-souls-who-provide-respite-for-a-citys-sorest-feet/article23448583/

This past Wednesday when I dropped in again on the foot spa and didn't see Marcus I knew the story was ready.  Nonetheless he was there so often I half expected one day I might just find him sitting in the chair offering a cleansing massage to the feet of a homeless guest.  Who knows?  But I am certain that thanks to his story there will be more people wanting to offer compassion and care for the homeless.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

Some years ago one of the great classical preachers of the last century confessed to me that he had tried on a previous Sunday to 'preach like Fred Craddock.'  He had done so as a visiting preacher in a rural church, but had met with what he called, 'disastrous results.'  Never would he try to do so again.  He then looked at me and said, "I just wish I could at least tell a story like Fred Craddock."   "But you don't need to," I replied, "You just need to do what you have always done; study, prepare, pray and be your best self in the pulpit."   

Fred Craddock died last week at the age of 86.  His volume on preaching entitled, As One Without Authority, turned preaching on its ear in the late 20th century.  Many consider the book to be the most important works on preaching of the last one hundred years.  

Fred Craddock visited Yorkminster Park on several occasions both as the featured scholar and preacher of our annual Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship and as a summer preacher.  

Craddock's approach to preaching was to involve the listeners in what often turned out to be an open ended sermon using intuition as his guide for interpretation and application.  Craddock's method was the anti-thesis of the traditional three point sermon in which the minister had always used the authority of the pulpit, scholarship and reason to persuade and inspire the people. 

Often Craddock's preaching took the form of telling a story in which the listener would be caught up, only to drop the ending of the story into the listener's lap before sitting down.  In one famous sermon he talked about a person he had met who had complaints against the unfriendliness of the church he had been attending.  Craddock relived the pastoral conversation in a way that involved the listener relating to times they too might have been made to feel unwelcome.  As the story went on the listener can't help but wonder what the solution might be when Craddock suddenly stops and says, "Say, do you think I could introduce my friend to you?  Would you give my friend a welcome to your church?"   With the preacher back in his seat and out of the picture, it was up to the listeners to go and finish the sermon.  

Some critics would say there is not enough gospel in such a sermon and that the preacher should be preaching as one under the authority of Scripture and clearly explaining the texts verse by verse, but for many clergy and laity alike sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning there was something stirring in Craddock's inductive style of preaching.   He was a warm human being with a deep love of God and God's people and one couldn't help be inspired to follow Christ more closely through Craddock's preaching.   

The title of Craddock's book was never intended to convey that scripture lacked authority, but rather that the station or even person of the preacher did.  Craddock sensed he lacked authority because of his diminutive size and relatively quiet voice which he described as nothing more than "the wind whistling through the gate post."  He was very conscious of these disadvantages when he compared himself to the many great preachers of his youth.  

Some suggest that the style of Craddock was for a brief place and time in history when the average person in the pew not only had an understanding of the gospel but was familiar too with the scriptures.  They argue that Craddock made assumptions about people's Biblical knowledge which can no longer be made.  My sense is that, like the parables of Jesus, there will always be a place for Craddock's inductive approach, but that it is but one approach.  I don't think Craddock ever suggested otherwise.  He taught us that the three point sermon was not the only way.  I think Craddock's greatest gift to the church was to enable clergy to be themselves in the pulpit.  

The great classical preacher I once knew who tried to emulate Craddock's style ended the conversation saying he wasn't even sure if he could really believe Craddock when he is spinning a story.  "Do you think his stories really happened?" he asked.  "All the time," I answered.  All the time was right, but sadly, not anymore.  

The storied sermons of Fred Craddock have sadly come to an end, but  I thank God for raising up this giant of the pulpit and the way he touched our lives and the life of the church.  What a privilege it was to welcome him to Yorkminster Park.  

Grace & Peace

Peter 

The Song and the Soul

Last Sunday I preached on music as a gift of God to inspire us and encourage us during those dark nights of the soul.  During the sermon I made reference to a video clip posted online which is part of a larger 2014 documentary entitled Alive Inside.  I offered to post a link to the video on my blog.  Here it is.  

The documentary film, which won an award at the Sundance Film Festival, illustrates the impact of music played through headphones to patients suffering dementia and or memory loss.   The following clip shows the response of one patient by the name of Henry who has been in a nursing home for ten years.  After listening to the music he comes alive and speaks of the Lord having visited him and of wholeness and love.  Music is a wonderful gift of God to encourage and lift the soul in the darkest of times.   

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HLEr-zP3fc

Grace and Peace, 

Peter 


A Women's Day Hymn?

Saturday was World Day of Prayer or what used to be called, Women's Day of Prayer and Sunday was International Women's Day.  There was a time when the women's movement had a hymn, at least in England it did.  Ninety-nine years ago this month, the great English composer, Hubert Parry was invited to set William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, to music as part of a patriotic effort to inspire the troops in World War One.  He did so as something of a favour to a former student, but no sooner was it done than he had serious reservations about the patriotic intent.  

There are wonderful references to England as the 'green and pleasant land,' but in the poem Blake also makes reference to 'dark Satanic mills.'  Clearly these were the oppressive forces within the nation that God in Christ would enable the faithful to overcome, but Parry was aware that in aid of a war effort Blake's message could be twisted to imply the enemy is beyond our borders while God is on our side.  

There is some debate about whether Blake was referring to a specific mill when he made reference to the 'dark Satanic mills,' or to the whole impact of the Industrial Revolution on the soul of England, or perhaps, as N.T. Wright argues he was referring as a non-conformist to the bullying effect of church hierarchy.  

Parry withdrew the song from the war effort and gave the music enthusiastically to the National Union of Woman's Suffrage Societies upon the request of their leader, Millicent Fawcett.  It was for the Suffragettes fighting for the women't right to vote that he orchestrated the music.  Jerusalem was the Suffragettes hymn. 

In making the hymn the property of the Suffragettes, Parry was aligning himself with Blake who did not write the poem to suggest that England was God's land, but rather to say that Christ in his mercy and grace would aid in the fight against the demons of the day and was calling the faithful to take hold of the sword and bow and climb into the chariot of fire in order to fight God's fight and establish the fullness of God's Kingdom, the New Jerusalem, here and now, whatever our place and time.  Ultimately, the poems reference to England is simply because England was Blake's here and now.  Similarly, Blake's reference to military hardware was metaphorical.  

All of that was a long time ago and so I do not imagine the hymn was sung or the poem recited at any rallies marking Women's Day in 2015, but clearly there was a time in history when the movement for women's rights was rooted in the Christian Gospel and the belief that Christ calls us to build a world in which we are all one in Christ and there is therefore no longer, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, (Galatians 3:28).  

When movements which may have sprung from our faith move on as many inevitably do, as Christians we must not lose sight of the call of Christ to trust God and press on to the fullness of the Kingdom of God. 

There are many excellent renditions of the hymn on Youtube, but the following link will take you to one posted by an American woman, who may not be aware of its historic link to women, but clearly senses the words are about something far greater.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKRHWT6xdEU

Grace and Peace,

Peter


SPRING AHEAD

Early Sunday morning we move our clocks - Spring Ahead - as the saying goes.  We advance our clock by one hour, but if we forget we may end up being late for church.  So please don't forget.  

Some trace the idea back to Roman times and others consider Benjamin Franklin the father of Daylight Savings Time, (DST),  but in fact it was Kiwi entomologist George Vernon Hudson who wanted more hours of daylight in the evening to collect insects.  And so it was in 1895 he proposed that New Zealand move the clocks ahead by two hours in the summer.   The irony from my experience is that it is only after the sun goes down and you put your feet up on the porch to relax that the bugs truly come out.  

There was also a Brit named William Willett who thought it shameful his fellow countrymen missed out on the first few hours of daylight in the summer months and so in 1905 he proposed DST for the U.K. in order to keep the golf courses open later in the day.  His proposal seems to have gone out of bounds off the first tee. 

It wasn't until 1916 the idea of DST took hold, initially in Germany and Austria but within a short time all across Europe.  Sadly the impetus in 1916 was the War effort.  The strategy was to save on energy at home by keeping the lights low later in the day in order to put more of a charge into the troops.  If only saving lives had been deemed as important as saving energy, but war is usually about power for somebody.  

One hundred years later in our own time and place DST helps raise morale as we face the final weeks of winter.  As the boost of an hour pushes the sunset closer to 8 p.m. nature is encouraging us to believe that winter is losing its hold.  The lingering sunset is calling out to us to see that spring truly is ahead.   Once summer comes DST does keep the golf courses open longer and probably lowers the energy bill as long as the air conditioner isn't needed late into the night.  As for the bugs, that is one victory we hope winter has won.  

But in the third week of Lent as we come ever closer to Easter the message of DST pales in comparison to the message of Easter. Easter isn't simply about the changing of a season and a bit of encouragement to get through the last of the cold nights.  Easter is about the final victory of life over death, love over fear and forgiveness over sin, when Christ ascended to the cross only to descend into the tomb of death from where God raised him up on the third day.  Easter is new life and life eternal.  Easter is why Paul wrote that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Had Paul lived in our parts he would have said, Nothing can separate us, not even the longest of Canadian winters.  

So put your clocks ahead on Saturday and plan to be with us to celebrate the resurrection.  No, this is not Easter Sunday, but in the long history of the Christian faith every time believers have gathered on the first day of the week it has been to celebrate our new life in the Risen Christ.  

See you Sunday!  

Grace and peace,

Peter 

Was the York Cave Religious?

I had a call from Tammie Sutherland of City TV last week hot on the trail of unearthing the story behind the strange cave discovered at York University.   She called me in search of 'religious expertise' on the cave that had been discovered at York University.  Until police revealed they had the two diggers who had built the underground 'man cave' as nothing but just that, the city was in a bit of a frenzy about terrorists perhaps planning to attack the venue for the upcoming Pan-Am games which was only yards away.   

But the theory the day Tammie phoned, demanded a Christian interpretation.  It was revealed by police that a rosary had hung in the cave and was adorned with a poppy.  Rosaries are used by Roman Catholics and others in the discipline of prayer and meditation.  As one moves through the beads they are to recite and repeat the Hail Mary, the Lord's Prayer, the Gloria and the Apostles' Creed.  No longer was Tammie looking for a possible terrorist plot, but perhaps an underground monastic community. 

I didn't think a rosary was enough to draw any conclusions about the cave. Perhaps the rosary had been uncovered while digging and simply hung on a nearby nail.  As for the poppy, poppies fall off so easily it is hard not to imagine at least one blowing into such a cave.  

When I seemed unimpressed Tammie played the card the media had not yet reported, "The cave is in the shape of a cross."  She picked up on my silence.   "So there is something to it, isn't there?" she responded.  "Maybe," I said, "After all, Yorkminster Park is in the shape of a cross as are many Gothic churches."   She said she would soon be in the neighbourhood of the church and wanted to drop in and talk about it.  As if it were some sort of trivia show, I asked if I could call a friend. 

Half an hour later, Tammie was speaking to me and my friend, Corey Keeble, Curator Emeritus of the ROM, in the Yorkminster Park sanctuary.   She said, "You were right.  Yorkminster Park is in the shape of a cross. I Google earthed the building and look at this."  With that she showed us an image of the church.   "But what about the cave?" we asked.  "Do you have an image of it?"  She did and had already placed it side by side with the image of Yorkminster Park.  Corey Keeble was the first to point out that the image of the cave she showed us was a perfect Latin cross.  From above it looked like a miniature Yorkminster Park.    

"Why do they build churches in the shape of a cross?" Tammie asked.  Corey introduced her in his delightful way to the cruciform design and together we spoke about the 'nave' or ship of the church being like the ark as the place of refuge from the storms of the world and that ultimately the cross of Christ is our refuge that saves us.  Churches are built in the shape of a cross because the cross of Christ is meant to shape our life together as followers of Jesus.  It calls on us to sacrifice and forgive and love unconditionally.  

So," came her question, "Does the cave have religious significance."  We were certainly not in a position to comment on that question except to shrug our shoulders and say, "Who knows?"   Maybe the builders hadn't finished and had it been complete it would have looked nothing like a cross.  Maybe the cross shape and the rosary beads were intended as a distraction.  Maybe it was nothing but a coincidence.  To know the significance of the design one would need to know the builder of the cave. That of course is a religious observation, but not about the cave so much as about life.  To know the purpose of life it is wise to consult the Creator and listen to the wisdom of his Word.  

Somewhere in the midst of the conversation Corey and I also asked Tammie, "Which direction was the cross facing?"  The answer was north.  "Does that make a difference?" Tammie asked.  Traditionally cruciform churches, synagogues and mosques are built to face east representing Mecca or Jerusalem depending on the faith.  Christians often face east in both worship and burial because it is in the east the sun rises and since our new life is to be found in the Risen Son we journey in life and death towards the Risen Son in the hope and promise of a new day.  East is the direction of the pilgrim.  The northerly direction of the man cave was one less reason to conclude it was related in any way to Christian worship.    

If anyone got a new day it was the two whom the police discovered had built the cave. They were able to come up into the light of day free from any trouble as the police chose to lay no charges and let them off without anyone learning even their names.  The cross gives us all that kind of a new day through the free gift of Christ's forgiveness and grace.  As Charles Wesley put it:    

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th'eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

So was the cave religious?  Probably not, but life certainly seems to be in so many ways. 

Grace and peace,

Peter





What Ever Happened to John Fenton?

In an earlier blog I am afraid I left John Fenton out in the cold on his 10 Km walk for the Yonge St. Mission as part of the 'Coldest Night of the Year' charity walk for the homeless.  It was not only cold that afternoon, but also snowing and blowing hard and slippery underfoot.  As the night went on and I hadn't heard from John, I almost started calling around to emergency departments, but low and behold there he was in church the next morning with a little grin on his face. 

John and Jonanne and their entire team had completed the full ten kilometer walk in those terrible conditions.  He described it as the hardest walk of his life as the sidewalks had not been plowed.  I later learned that 6,000 people had participated in the walk in Toronto, but that only John and his team and completed the full ten kilometers.  Not only did they finish the course, but they far exceeded their goal of $10,000, by raising almost double that amount.  

John has a glow about him these days causing me to wonder if it isn't something more than the nordic poles and his new daily walking regime.   Has this 82 year old discovered the fountain of youth or is he Toronto's version of Benjamin Button?  Hardly.   The glow and the grin come from a place deep in the soul that is saying 'Amen,' to the words of Jesus, who taught us that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and, as St. Francis said, "It is in giving that we receive."  Well done John and Jonanne and team!   

Grace and Peace,

Peter     

John was interviewed on CBC TV shortly before the walk began .   You can watch the interview at  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bz37FcrjylOHVUQyYkt6YVB6cEU/view

I had one of those moments today which I wished I could take back.   It was like meeting someone in the street whom you haven't seen for a while and only realizing after the fact that you called them by the wrong name and  they were too kind to say anything.  Except it wasn't in the street, it was in church, and it wasn't someone I hadn't seen for a while but someone who was being memorialized with flowers in the Chancel. 

The flowers were placed to the glory of God and in loving memory of Hope McBride by her daughter, Hope Hambly.  Hope McBride died before I came to the church and so I did not know her, but I know her daughter and I know better. 

I try to say a word about the person being memorialized and I did so with confidence, but I was talking not about Hope's mother, but about her mother-in-law, whom I did know.   If I have any excuse whatsoever it is simply that Hope cared so lovingly for her mother-in-law, that it was only natural to think she was May's daughter.  She was towards May as Ruth was towards Naomi.  It was like Ruth's spirit lived in Hope as she loved May.

"Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."

Hope's mother was also named Hope and her mother was well named, because when her family moved to China when she was but four, she became very sick with malaria and almost died.  Eventually Hope was back in Canada giving birth to a family of her own with the wonderful Christian names of Hope, Joy, Peter and Christopher and then along came Grace.  

Fortunately at the end of my day, grace came along all over again when I phoned to confess my mistake to Hope and she said, "I forgave you this morning.  You didn't know my mom and so it was an easy mistake to make," said Hope.  I said tell me about your mom and she said, "She was the most wonderful woman in the world." 

I immediately thought of the words of Proverbs 31:28 about the godly woman, whose children rise up and call her blessed.  Bless the memory of this mother to one and all, and bless her children near and far. 

Grace and Hope,

Peter

Coldest Night Walk

Thankfully tonight is not the coldest night of the year as it is pegged by a national charity drive for those working with the homeless.  Last Saturday might have been the coldest night of the year in Toronto, or several of the nights since when temperatures have been well below minus twenty Celsius, but things warmed up to a balmy minus seven in Toronto today.  But as is so often the case in the winter, the warmer temperatures bring a fresh cover of snow and it has been snowing all day long.  

Judging by the grin on John Fenton's face when he was interviewed on CBC this afternoon his spirit was undaunted by the slippery conditions.  He had every intention of completing the ten kilometre walk alongside his wife Jonanne and a few other family members.  And if anyone should know that he is not alone it is John as he sets out on trek in the snow, because friends have rallied round him and his team pledging upwards of $17,000 all of which will go to the work of The Yonge St. Mission with the homeless of Toronto.  

In the CBC interview the octogenarian spoke of having accompanied  his father to the mission some seventy-one years ago when he was eleven years of age and how the sight of such poverty provoked him as a youngster to make a pledge of his own to support the mission.  In the year's since he has been more than true to his word and tonight he is putting a giant exclamation mark behind his many years of service.  

It wasn't long ago John was using a handicapped parking space at the church and hobbling into the church with the aid of canes, but some months ago he traded his canes in for nordic poles and began a rigorous walking regime along the lakeshore where he lives.  Cold temperatures and icy conditions have not kept him from working up to ten and even twelve kilometres a day and now with his debut on CBC TV, John is the new poster boy for nordic pole walking everywhere.  

Many have made pledges for both John and Jonanne and whether he finishes or not in these terrible conditions he has blessed and inspired us all by simply crossing the starting line.  I can only assume he is still out there fighting his way to the way to the finish.  As for Jonanne, we all know she is the salt of the earth and as long as she stays a step ahead of John we can be assured the snow will melt with the touch of her feet and all will be well.  

If you too would like to make a donation to support John and or Jonanne go to https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=586624&langPref=en-CA&Referrer=direct%2fnone#&panel1-3

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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