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Game On

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Down the hall from my office singers were auditioning for the Orpheus choir as I left the church late yesterday afternoon.  When I asked the manager to say hello to the conductor, she said, "He will be free in a few minutes."  "But I am off to the ball game with my son," I replied.  No sooner were the words out of my mouth than those waiting to audition rose to their feet as if I were about to begin the game with the national anthem.  All these young artists look at me with envy and said they wished they were going. 

You couldn't have given these tickets away last year at this time, or maybe even six weeks ago.  Yet throughout the day, whenever I mentioned that I was going to the game, people I would never have thought of as sports fans started talking about the previous night's game.  Suddenly baseball is on everyone's radar.  

As I was travelling down to the game on the subway I began to wonder if church could ever get back on the public radar the way baseball has in this city.  Church once owned Sundays in this city.  There were lineups outside churches on Sunday evenings similar to the lineups the Jays are now attracting. 

Ever since the baseball strike of 1994 the stadium, which dates back to the glory days of the Jays, has seemed like a cavern and from time to time some suggest downsizing, until now.  Now it is 1993 all over again and the ticket is the hottest item in town.  Could it happen for the church?  Few believe it will because the glory days that our buildings reflect were in an era when the church owned Sunday.  With legislation that prevented sports and shopping on the Lord's Day, the church was the only game in town. 

When it comes to baseball, some like the nail biters, but I prefer the blowouts.  Nonetheless, last night's10th inning walk off homer by Ryan Goins was very special.  Our Jays had lost the lead twice and we didn't know if they had it in them to come back after letting it slip away in the bottom of the ninth.  The Jays are the masters of the ten run victory, but they need to learn to win the close games before they get to the playoffs, because once there, they'll be up against tough pitching night after night.  

As we rode home on the crowded subway the world seemed abuzz with Blue Jay talk, but funny enough, from the seat behind I heard a young man wearing a Jay's cap actually talking about the sermon he'd heard last Sunday.  Considering what had been on my mind as I rode down to the game it almost seemed like God was winking from above with a smile as if to say his church has a few comebacks in it even yet.  Of course it does.    

One day when I look back on last night's game it won't be the sell-out crowd I remember, or even the walk off home run by an unlikely hero.  It will be the wonderful time I spent with my son a few days before his wedding.  I will remember the joy of coming out a winner as a father with three grown children who have surprised me over and over with their love, joy and goodness.  They are my heroes.  Maybe in the church the score at the end of the day has little to do with attendance or budgets, but simply whether we are awake to the love, grace and beauty all around us and how well we share it with others.  God is smiling all around us.  Wake up.  Game on.  

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

p.s. to watch the wedding live on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. EST go to - http://www.yorkminsterpark.com/gather/webcast/livecast.php

A Prayer for Jimmy Carter

If someone offered me the opportunity to meet anyone in the world, I think I might pick Jimmy Carter, and not because it now seems he is not long for this world.  Last week we learned that at ninety years of age Jimmy Carter is engaged in a  battle with cancer in his liver and now his brain.  He is receiving treatment but the prognosis is not as strong as his courage.  

Jimmy Carter was a one term President of the United States whose 4 years in the White House are often maligned though his critics also commend him for his work as a former President which includes Habitat for Humanity, and the Carter Centre's work for peace, health and democracy around the world.  

Needless to say, I am not a scholar of American history, and so I can't pretend to comment on the effectiveness of his presidency, but it seems to me that those who write him off as a president completely overlook his remarkable leadership of the Camp David Accord in which he brokered what has been a lasting peace between two former Middle-Eastern enemies - Israel and Egypt.  

Despite endless efforts there has been no breakthrough in the middle-east like it since that time.   The accounts of the accord leave little doubt it was Carter who not only brought Israel and Egypt to the table, but who also kept them there.  I am sure he brought that same strength and faith to the White House every day, but those were tough times economically and in the end his presidency was undone by something sadly beyond his control, a hostage taking in a foreign land.  

Were I granted the chance to meet the man, I would probably find myself tongue tied and unable to say anything of significance, but I wouldn't want to say anything anyways, except perhaps to ask a few questions.  I would just love to listen to the man.  I would love to know how he keeps up the fight for human rights and democracy when he witnesses setback after setback.  I would want to ask him about Israel and Palestine.  I would be keen to learn about the keys to the success of his marriage.  Last week he said the best decision he ever made was to marry Roslyn.  I would love to hear him speak about the Bible.  He continues to teach his Sunday School class each week in the Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia.  It would also be interesting to hear how he deals with the endless criticisms of his presidency.  There is so much to learn from this man and I have little doubt that faith would be at the forefront of every topic and of his latest endeavour, dying, which he seems to be entering into with the same smile and grace that has always blessed his living.  

I probably wouldn't know what to say in his presence, but as his absence approaches we can and should pray for the man.  

Gracious God, we give you thanks for those who step forward to lead your people in times of change and challenge.  In particular we you thank you for your servant Jimmy Cater who sets an example of courage and trust in living and dying.  We thank you for the passion with which he pursues justice and freedom for all people and his refusal to stop smiling. We thank you for the love he shares with Roslyn and pray they continue to grow in your grace and strength.  We thank you for his love of the Word, and his desire to be true to the Living Word.  We pray that he would be aware always of your loving presence and that this one who has made homes for so many would rest assured of the home you have prepared for him through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.  


Happy Canada Day!

I love Canada and have many fond memories of Canada Day.  One year when the children were very young and the Confederation Bridge was but a dream, we found ourselves waiting for the ferry to PEI.  As we waited a band played 'O Canada' at the terminal and the children waded into a sea of lupins growing wild on the roadside.  We have spent Canada Day on the road driving across this vast land and heard and seen afternoon picnics and recreational sporting tournaments in province after province with the same flag waving over all and with children's faces all painted with the same maple leaf.  Once while returning from a family celebration north of the city, we drove through one small Ontario town after another at dusk.  And the children were convinced each town was awaiting our arrival before setting off the first of the fireworks.  Our land is vast and great and Canada Day is a magical celebration of the wonder of it all.  

While we have travelled vastly in this country, I quickly came to realize whatever the day, Newfoundland is like no place.  Small towns and hamlets on the eastern shore get their air conditioning on hot summer days from icebergs that float into their bay or inlet, and the warmest element of all is the hospitality of the people.  Where else could one ask an innkeeper the whereabouts of the nearest laundry mat only to have them persuade you to leave it with them so you could make the most of your time on the rock? 

You have to love Newfoundland, but don't expect to wake up to celebrations in St. John's on Canada Day.  Ninety-nine years ago on July 1 before they had become part of this nation, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment having survived Gallipoli in Turkey emerged from the trenches at Beaumont-Hamel in the Battle of the Somme on the Western Front at 8:45 a.m. That day ninety percent of Newfoundland's fighting force was lost.  Gone in a few hours was a generation of young men.   Few other places made such a sacrifice during the war to end all wars and they paid the price in one day - July 1, 1916.   

And so it is the citizens of the rock rightly spend the morning of July 1 marking the sacrifice of their forebears, with poppies and forget-me-nots at military memorials, but when the afternoon arrives and it is still morning in the rest of the country the mourning for the fallen is followed by celebrations of Canada Day.  They are a big hearted people.  How blessed we are to have Newfoundland in the family we call Canada.  I say we all mark a moment of silence with them on the morning of Canada Day and remember the greatness of this land was only achieved by great sacrifice.  

One year we were in Scotland on July 1 and spotted a Canadian flag flying from a window on the Royal Mile and one of the children in a loud voice wished everyone on the open upper level of the bus a Happy Canada day and started to sing 'O Canada.'  It is a great land a great day and wherever you are, whether you are Canadian or not, I wish you the peace and goodwill of Canada.  

Grace & Peace,

Peter 

A month ago we visited the German Benedictine chapel at Tabgha on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee where Christian pilgrims have been coming for at least 1600 years, as it is believed to be the place where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.  The mosaic of loaves and fishes built into the chapel floor dates back to the fifth century and has become one of the most recognizable Christian symbols in the Holy Land.  The pattern of the Tabgha mosaic can be found in gift shops on everything from ceramics to t-shirts.  The site is one of the busiest screed spaces along the Galilean seashore attracting upwards of 5,000 pilgrims each day.  

We held a brief service in the Narthex of the chapel where we read the familiar story, prayed and sang a hymn before entering the chapel where pilgrims sit and pray in silence around the magnificent mosaic.  The chapel is located steps from the Sea of Galilee and within a few hundred yards of a Benedictine monastery to the west and the Franciscan Church of the Primacy of Peter to the east. 

I don't know if anyone was in the chapel early yesterday morning when a gang of young thugs launched an arson attack intent on destroying the church and the mosaic, but it is clear from the graffiti they left behind that the purpose of their attack was to cleanse the land of idolatry and "cut down the idol worshippers."  

There were two people injured by smoke inhalation and the damage to the church is in the millions of dollars, but no one was killed.  From the photographs I have seen online it would appear the area where we gathered to worship has been badly damaged.    

The graffiti would seem to point the finger at fanatical young settlers from one of the radical Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The attack has been denounced by Israeli leaders as a hate crime.  I learned about it in an email from a former Toronto Rabbi now living in Jerusalem.   He is horrified by the developments as are most Israelis.  Thankfully no one was killed and the attack took place under the cover of darkness when the site was still quiet.  

A day or two prior to our visit to Tabgha we had stood on the safe side of the Israeli Syrian border and looked across to a town that had been conquered earlier in the year by ISIS forces.  It is so easy to assume that evil is there and we are here on the safe side, but evil is all around us.  

A young white man attended Bible Study on Wednesday evening at a historic African American Church in Charleston, North Carolina.  He was welcomed and no doubt came face to face with the love of Christ, but chose fear and hatred instead and opened fire on nine Christians whose only intent that night had been to study the Bible and pray.  We don't yet know, but he may have even thought himself a Christian.  Evil was apparently trying to spark a race war that night.  The perpetrators of the attack in Tabgha were probably not looking to pick a fight, but were probably hoping to scare away potential visitors to the Holy Land.  The fact the act has been so quickly condemned should serve to reassure tourists.  

Rather than be provoked to warfare or to give in to fear, we must insist on justice.  The temptation towards vengeance must be resisted.  Within a stone's throw of Tabgha is the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus instructed his followers to turn the other cheek and not repay evil with evil, but to do unto others as we would have done unto us.  He called us to love and pray for our enemies and when push came to shove he did exactly that.  

Evil still seems at a safe distance on this side of the Canadian border, but we mustn't fool ourselves.  It was only a matter of weeks ago that the phrase, 'cultural genocide' 'was applied to our nation's treatment of aboriginal peoples.   Evil is never far away and knocks on the door of the heart whenever fear and greed and selfishness are given a welcome.  

I am moved by the Pope's encyclical about the environment which was also released yesterday.  He spoke courageously about the threat of climate change and the filth we have made of this planet.  Often times the threats to the global environment are rooted in the same fear and greed and pride that causes people to want to start wars.  We must start to clean up the planet and on all sides of every border we need to start with the heart.  

The chapel in Tabgha has apparently been closed for the next three days.  Perhaps over the course of these days we as Christians should tune our hearts afresh to the One who still stills the storms, feeds the hungry and prays, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  And it is time to renew our resolve to work and pray that Christ's longing for God's will to be done would be fulfilled on earth as it is in heaven.  

The first time the church was shut down for three days everything turned around.    So whether we are burdened for peace in the middle-east, an end to the racial divide in America, a healing between our nation and the first nations, or the health of the planet, we must launch out in faith, clinging to love, and expecting nothing less of our God than resurrection and new life.  

Grace and  Peace,  

Peter    



Summer So Close

 

Summer is upon us and how wonderful it is. It doesn't officially start until 12:38 p.m. on June 21, but it is already starting to blossom in the heart.   For me this season brings back the fondest memories of childhood adventures.  Sometimes it is through a soothing swim on a hot day, or the smoky air of a cottage campfire that like a time machine transports our souls momentarily at least to a simpler time, while delivering us from the burden of too many busy days.  Even the creak of a rocking chair on the porch can seem to echo the comforting voice of  loved ones long since gone.  And when we dig in the warm moist earth with seeds and roots now bursting and blooming all around we can all but hear nature's great symphony through which God invites us to be young again.  Summer is not quite here, but how blessed is the thought.  I can hardly wait for the first taste of sweet corn and tomatoes fresh from the vine.  Let us cup our ears and let the music begin. 

Grace and peace,

Peter

The Jordan to Jerusalem

Sunday started with morning worship on the banks of the Jordan River.   We thought of where we would normally be on a Sunday morning and offered prayers for the church and family back home.  

Our first impression of the Jordan was that it is neither deep nor wide as the song of Michael rowing his boat has always suggested.  When we read the story of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land we were nonetheless grateful that they had passed through on dry ground because, honestly, who would want to touch the water?  The water was green and uninviting and so as we read the story of the leper Naaman being instructed by the prophet Elisha to dip himself in the river seven times we understood his reluctance.

Then of course we read a text  concerning John the Baptist immersing great numbers of people in the Jordan River as witness to their repentance and faith.  They too must have faced the dirty water Naaman resisted, but they swallowed pride and surrendered their guilt and fear and everything else that stood in the way of a new life in God's promises.  And as a sign of our identity with our own baptisms we sang the baptismal hymn, 'Just as I am.'  

A few hours later we arrived in Jerusalem and looked over the city from the Mount to Olives from which Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Our  arrival in the city coincided with Jerusalem Day when some ultra-nationalistic Israeli Jews remember the conquest of east Jerusalem in 1967.  It is not a day of celebration for all and so there was great tension in the city when we arrived.  Roads were closed, helicopters were buzzing overhead, and soldiers were on the lookout everywhere even in our hotel. 

Our day ended in evensong at the Anglican Cathedral adjacent to our hotel. Even there Jerusalem Day with all its tension was the subject of the homily, but it ended with a warning not to jump to conclusions.  The presiding priest cautioned us saying that those who come to Jerusalem for a week are ready to write a book on how to solve the problems, while those who stay a month write an article and those who stay a year have no idea what to say because they have come to realize how deeply complicated the issues in Jerusalem are. 

Even in church we could hear the helicopters buzzing overhead and my mind went back to the quiet spot where we began the day on the Jordan River.  Perhaps the secret to at least beginning to solve my own problems lies buried in the Jordan River - a place of humility, penance, and grace.  I wonder if others might see the wisdom of beginning a day in such a place.  

Grace and peace,

Peter

p.s. At all times all day Sunday we felt very safe and Monday was a day of real peace in the city.  All is well.  

Tabor - 'Tis good Lord to be here

The Church of the Transfiguration sits atop Mount Tabor, the location which the church father, Origen, identified as the site of the transfiguration in the fourth century and has been a destination of Christian pilgrims ever since.  Other traditions have suggested Mount Hermon, but through the ages churches have been built atop Mount Tabor.  Today there is both a Greek Orthodox church and the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration. 

Antonio Baruluzzi designed the Franciscan church which was built in 1924 atop the ruins of two earlier churches dating back to the 4th and 12th centuries.  The porches of the church offer such spectacular vistas of the surrounding territory that one could almost forget to enter the church, yet the Sanctuary is no less impressive.   

The vistas and viewpoint however came at a cost.  In reading the text I have always wondered how the nine disciples who were not invited to come up the mountain with Jesus felt at being left behind to do his work on the plain.  Remembering how the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, it  seemed to me the nine left behind might have been resentful, but after our  vehicle climbed the endless hair pin turns on the ascent one could only wonder how long it must have taken to make the climb and how tiring it must have been.  It would have been nothing less than exhausting and the three chosen for the ascent must have had their moments on the way up when they envied those left below.  And perhaps those left behind considered themselves blessed.  

But for the disciples it wasn't the vistas they discovered at the top of the mountain that would sustain them, but the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah - the law and the prophets - and above all the voice of God identifying Jesus as the beloved Son and instructing them to listen to him.  It was only right to build churches atop the mountain through the ages for pilgrims to enter in search of the Word that rises above even the wonder of creation, and to encounter the light of God's redeeming love in Christ.  

Long after the mountaintop experience at Tabor I still found myself singing the old Transfiguration hymn, Tis good Lord to be here.  

1 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Thy glory fills the night;

Thy face and garments, like the sun,

Shine with unborrowed light.

2 'Tis good, Lord, to be here,

Thy beauty to behold

Where Moses and Elijah stand,

Thy messengers of old.

3 Fulfiller of the past

And hope of things to be,

We hail Thy body glorified

And our redemption see.

4 Before we taste of death,

We see Thy kingdom come;

We long to hold the vision bright,

And make this hill our home.

5 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Yet we may not remain;

But since you bidst us leave the mount,

Come with us to the plain.And our redemption see.


Grace and Peace,
Peter

The Hidden Waterfall

About half way between the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum sits the tiny church of St. Peter's Primacy in the same spot it is believed a stranger once called from the shore to a dejected band of fisherman who had been out all night with nothing to show for it.  The group truly were disheartened having returned to the very things they had once left in order to follow Jesus.  As wonderful as the resurrection was, Jesus was no longer with them 24/7, nor they with him, and so what else were they to do than what they had always done?  

In fact the chief fisherman may have been wondering if he had truly been with Jesus at all having professed to be the one would never let him down, only to have denied him three times.  But of course the stranger was the Risen Christ and he had come to restore Peter and to renew his call.  

Here we were reading again the account of John 21 in the very spot where it is believed they came ashore with their nets filled to overflowing.  Our guide told us one of the primary reasons this is believed to have been the site is because of the seven springs that surround it.  One of them is known as the hidden waterfall - called such because the spring bubbles up several feet making it the natural place for fisherman to come ashore and wash their nets.  Perhaps it was near this exact spot that Peter felt his own soul cleansed by Jesus' call to feed his sheep.  

The thought that Peter had found his way home to the Risen Christ in the vicinity of the hidden waterfall couldn't help but bring to mind the words of the poet, T. S. Elliot from his poem Four Quartets.  

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea...

Here was Peter and here were we arriving where we started and knowing it for the first time.  Our pilgrims one by one, instinctively and without instruction started taking off their shoes to step into the Sea of Galilee.  Deep down we all knew it was holy ground.   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

The Beatitudes In The Wind

Within a short distance of Capernaum we visited three sacred sites associated with Jesus' life and ministry and in each place there was a church or chapel in which to pray.  At the Mount of Beatitudes is a beautiful Franciscan church on the hilltop looking down on a natural amphitheatre and beyond it to the Sea of Galilee at the bottom of the hill.  

The lush garden lined with date-palms and cypress trees was alive with colourful bougainvillea and the fragrant crown of thorns.  Our pilgrims stood on the porch of the church where we read the Beatitudes, sang a hymn and prayed before entering the church to meditate and pray.  

As we stood on the porch we were aware of a tremendous wind from the Sea of Galilee.  It was only natural that someone asked how thousands of people could possibly have heard Jesus without a loud speaker?  And learning the wind was not so unusual in these parts the question also arose about the effect of such a wind on the acoustics.  It made it hard enough for us to hear each other on the porch.  Of course it is entirely possible that before he addressed the thousands in the amphitheatre Jesus had a little conversation with the wind saying, "Peace, be still." It wouldn't have been the first time.  

It is hard to hear the Sermon on the Mount on the calmest of days.  The Beattitudes all but turn the world upside down - our world - my world.  It is counter-intuitive to suggest the poor are the blessed ones and along with them those who mourn and even the meek.  Perhaps we can't hear it without the wind, at least not without the Holy Spirit..  And when we truly listen and let Jesus' words speak to our hearts we too will know the peace of Christ whom even the wind and the waves obey.  

Grace and Peace,
Peter 

Capernaum - Lost & Found

We were among the first to set foot in Capernaum this morning.  The town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus called home had been lost for many centuries until the last when archaeologists unearthed an ancient church beneath which was evidence of yet an earlier church and then finally the floor of a home.  Whose home might have made a good foundation for a first century church?  

In Mark chapter one we read of Jesus visiting in the home of Simon and Andrew, two local fisherman.  Simon's mother-in-law was very sick and Jesus healed her.  By the time supper was over they ventured out only to discover a world of sick and infirmed at the doorstep longing to be healed.  Surely this was the house where the first house church met and upon which the later churches were built.   We know not her name, but it is referred to as the home of Simon's mother in-law. 

Out the door and up the street lie the ruins of an ancient synagogue, undoubtedly the very place where Jesus cast out a demon in Mark chapter one.   And somewhere nearby is the house where the paralytic was lowered through the roof to be declared forgiven and cleansed by Jesus before being instructed to arise, take up his mat and walk.  Somewhere along the same shore Levi the tax collector was invited by Jesus to come and follow and he was given a new name for the venture - Matthew. 

In this very place, Christ made his home in the world.  There is nothing flashy about it and there probably never was.  The people were weary and broken each in their own way, which is why he came.  For in chapter two when the religious leaders questioned why a so called 'prophet' would be eating and drinking with sinners he replied that the physician comes to heal the sick not those who are well.  And so it was Jesus came to heal the sick and forgive the sinners.  

I sometimes wonder if I don't lose sight of this great truth just as the ruins of Capernaum had been lost sight of for many centuries.  Jesus came to mend and forgive a broken and sinful world and he is still among us longing to do the same through our witness and service in love.    

As we left I found myself quietly singing, "My Lord, you wore no royal crown..."  It was the third verse that truly spoke to me,

You did not live a world away

in hermit's cell or desert cave,

but felt our pain and shared each day

with those you came to seek and save.

I love going to  Capernaum and I am glad it was found, but perhaps it was meant to be lost for a time so that Christ might be found in our cities and in our hearts bearing witness to the forgiveness, mercy and grace of the Kingdom of God through our lives.  

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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