Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sermon Feb. 18/18: A new Conscience in Christ

In Genesis, we hear about Noah’s Ark. One of the most popular biblical stories filled with the images of the great flood, the building of ark, animals and a rainbow. Overcome with the more Hollywood image of this tale, we often forget that this is a story about God making a change in His own behavior. God promises to never use divine anger as a means of punishing his divine art piece, creation, and his reflected divine image, humanity.


The God of Israel, is moved with remorseful compassion. In other words, the very thing God set out to do was to create life, not destroy it. How do we know that God was moved by this event? God created the rainbow to be a reminder to God’s self to not give into anger and destroy his creation again—the rainbow is not for us to remember, but for God to remember his side of the contract.

The first temptation we need to resist, then, is believing that God is involved in any horrific acts of violence, and terror within the world in order to punish humanity for it’s sins. As we heard, God promised otherwise. With that said, the second temptation we need to resist is believing that God does not care when horrible things happen. In God’s covenant with Noah and to humanity, God allows for humans to be responsible for their actions and their own free will, but that doesn’t mean God could care less about how we use our freedom.

God teaches us how to use our freedom as means of building peace on earth during times of trial. To teach us, God in Jesus is born as one of us and one who is in solidarity with us. Jesus takes on our life, our struggles, our emotions, and even our doubts in faith during turbulent times so that a new path can be carved for humanity to follow—it is a path that is not easy for him or us.
Proof of the latter is found in the Gospel of Mark who clearly paints a different portrait of Jesus. 

Unlike Matthew’s gospel where Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit who will protect Jesus while he is tempted in the desert, Mark’s Jesus seems to be more resistant and had to be driven out by the Holy Spirit in order to be tempted by the devil for forty days. And for some of us here, Lent might be like the Marcan Jesus, whereby, God drives us out into our own desert for forty days to confront our own temptations and our own iniquities.

When we think we can’t survive our own desert experience, we are reminded that in Jesus we have a path to follow. Jesus, in his humanity, shows us that we can survive the time of trial, and avoid the temptations in our life that do not build us up or God’s church up. Jesus entrusts to us the confidence that we can overcome the most challenging obstacles in our life and horrific events within our world.

Therefore, our Lenten journey is about developing a better conscience as we hear in Peter’s letter; but not a conscience that simply makes moral equations of what is right from wrong so that we can use this formula to judge other people’s intentions, actions and faith. What Peter is getting at is that through our baptism, we enter into a fuller and more meaningful relationship with God that is built on love and forgiveness, not hate and anger.

This relationship develops a unique conscience that awakens our hearts to examine and question how we treat God, how we treat others and how we steward God’s creation. A conscience that takes into account that unity in the church is as vast as the colors found within the rainbow, not conformity based on one dark shadow. A conscience that needles us to speak out against injustices and to defend those who can not defend themselves. A conscience that begs us to not join with the oppressors, but rather, the side of God whose path is always love and mercy. Amen.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Ash Wednesday: Treasures, Fasting, and Increasing God



Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our Lenten journey of fasting, praying, and almsgiving. These acts of penance, are ways in which we can open our hearts to receive God in a more abundant way. In these acts, we experience what God gave up so that we could gain a fulfilling life both in the present day and in eternal life. In today’s gospel, however, we are sternly reminded to practice these acts of penance with humility.   

Jesus warns his disciples not to by like the hypocrites. These pretenders of the faith preformed acts of fasting, prayer and alms giving as a way to gain or to exploit something. Their repayment was getting praise and glorification from others in the community—in essence, they were about using their faith to gain great publicity.

The God in Jesus is quite the opposite. Jesus does not charge us a price for our redemption. He becomes impoverished for our sake taking on the form of a human. He knows our sufferings, pain, illnesses, and he now hungers and thirsts like a mortal. Most importantly, our God took on our sins. God in Jesus becomes in debt, in order for us to gain to an life everlasting in a love relationship with God.

We gain from Christ’s greatest loss through his death on the cursed cross. We no longer hunger or thirst for righteousness, and we are no longer slaves to sin and death. Ultimately we have gained a seat, as unworthy as we are, at the heavenly banquet in God’s Kingdom through the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

Jesus, therefore, warns us to stop storing up treasures on earth. It is not simply materialistic wealth, but an emotional wealth that binds us to emotions and attitudes that are against God’s life giving ways. It is important, then, to remember that when we are called to give something up for lent and to fast, we are not just simply giving up a thing we might enjoy. We are also giving up the emotions and attitudes that prevents us from being Christ like. It is both the object and our relationship with that thing we give up that either prevents us or helps us to see how good we really have it, and how rich our lives really are with God.

  Thus, we give the world a knowledge of Christ’s free love by decreasing our earthly treasures, our bad attitudes and our own self importance so that God can increase in our world! And in case we forget, that is why the church calls us to humbly pray, fast and preform acts of charity as our Saviour did with us and for us. Amen.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Jesus and the man with Leprosy: the Great Exchange



Over the past few Sundays in Mark’s gospel, we have heard about various miracles and healing in the context of Jesus’ ministry.  On the one hand, these miracles represent the reality of God’s kingdom being established in the authority and the person of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, the miracles and healing administered by Jesus reveal to us the temperament of God.  And today’s gospel reveals to us God’s self-sacrificing nature in healing the man with leprosy.
       
Before we can understand the importance of Jesus’ healing, we need to understand how people suffered beyond their physical condition when diagnosed with leprosy.  The Israelites thought that leprosy was a punishment from God for some type of sin that one may have committed. Strict legalism of the law of Moses was enforced, and the person with leprosy was removed and isolated from the community.  The sentencing for this man’s infirmity was executed swiftly and, was unusually cruel.  
       
No one was allowed, including family and friends, to visit the leper, otherwise, they risked becoming unclean both physically and spiritually.  When people approached him, or likewise, he would have to yell to them that he was unclean.  His life ceased to exist.

  In a certain sense, this man’s life became the literal translation of “sin”; sin meaning a complete separation from God.  Therefore, if a person was lucky enough to be cured from their infirmity, it was considered by the Israelite people to be on the same level as raising a person from the dead.
        
As we heard in today’s gospel, Jesus does heal this man with leprosy.  Jesus heals his physical condition which, in turn, restored him to his community, to his loved ones, to his work, and to worship.  This man literally gets his life back.    

In the bigger picture, the God in Jesus takes this man’s place in his uncleanness, in his sufferings and in his sins.  In a unique way Jesus exchanges place with this man so that he could live again.  In this great exchange, it clearly shows something different about God that was not previously understood by God's chosen people.  

Jesus reveals that God is not interested punishing humanity for their sins.  Rather, God takes on our exile, our desperation and our imperfections so that we can fully live.  Proof of the latter is when Jesus touches the unclean man.  Christ takes on what this man feared the most: a lonely existence; the finality of death because of sin; and being left without the opportunity to really live in freedom.    
The disclaimer is that God gives us the freedom to make a choice to ask for forgiveness and mercy.  If we do ask Jesus for help, it is evident that God will do the heavy lifting.  Jesus will take our place, even our iniquities, in order to bring us back into his sheepfold, not away from it.


As a result, we have much to be thankful for.   Our God who in infinite wisdom, mercy and sacrifice has won for us inclusion within the body of Christ no matter our faults, illnesses, or sins.  Amen.

By Rev. Billy Isenor
Last Sunday in Epiphany

Friday, 6 October 2017

A Short Sermon for the Feast of St. Francis

My sisters and brothers in Christ, these pass few days we have heard about many tragedies that have occurred in the world and with in our own city: acts that are so senseless that our communities are often left in suspicion of each other.  It is during these times, we need to look at the heroes of our faith in order to learn how to handle such devastation. And today we commemorate and learn from such a hero in St Francis of Assisi. 
A man whose remarkable life is celebrated by how he embraced poverty to become closer with God in Jesus; he was renowned for his preaching and knowledge of holy scriptures; and, of course, his love for creation and animals—we are reminded of the latter as our furry friends are blessed today.  But, dare I say, S. Francis’s greatest gift is often overlooked, his ability to broker God’s peace during an extraordinary war.
St. Francis’ world was filled with uncertainty and violence.  He was a former war veteran in his youth and he was a prisoner of that war.  He survived his capture because his dad was able to pay a rich ransom.  In the bigger picture, the Roman Catholic Church was in a holy war with the Muslims. Thus, it was these events that shaped S. Francis’s desire for God’s peace; and he preached against the war. 
So Francis’ first goal was to plead with Church authorities to disengage from attacking the Muslims.  Unfortunately, he failed to persuade the Church and was even mocked for his plea.  So St. Francis and Br. Illumanto decided to go into enemy territory to try to build a relationship and preach the gospel to the sultan.  The risks of capture and even death were real, but St. Francis and Br. Illuminato were inspired to proclaim the gospel of Christ that they continued to seek an audience with the Sultan.  They were captured and delivered into the hands of the Sultan himself.
          We do not know what words were exchanged between the Sultan, al-Kamil and S. Francis.   What we do know is that Francis was allowed to preach to the Sultan and that the two had peacefully exchanged religious beliefs.   According to St. Bonventure, the two were so overcome with zeal for the commonalities of their understanding of God, that the sultan insisted that Francis stay with him.  In fact, Al-Kamil was so impressed with St. Francis that the sultan wanted to give Francis many riches.  But Francis in poverty refused these riches, except for an ivory horn which was used for calling the Muslim faithful to prayer.
          St. Francis’ courage to live the gospel seemed to have laid the foundation that allowed the Christians and Muslims to broker peace for a number of years.  It changed St. Francis’s life forever.  We see that change when the Papal army was deployed to invade Egypt again breaking the peace treaty.  So distraught by this action, St. Francis went on a forty day fast and he wrote a prayer that resembled the Muslim meditation on the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God.  At the bottom of the page was a picture that S. Francis drew.  He drew the head of al-Kamil: it was Francis’s pray petitioning God to protect the Sultan, his people and to bring peace.

          St. Francis in every way embraced the peaceful servitude that we heard in John’s gospel and St. Francis was blessed to see God’s design in all of creation, even to those who we might consider our enemies. The life of this great saint, therefore, is relevant example of gospel living for us today, especially, in a world that desperately needs a peaceful hero who is inspired by the peace and love of God in Jesus Christ.  AMEN!
By The Rev. Billy Isenor

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Fundraiser for Men's Spiritual Wellness Retreat

Fundraiser – Men’s Spiritual Wellness Retreat – Fundraiser
Living Life on Life’s Terms

As the ministry of ICPM flourishes within the inner city community a special direction is taken to support more fully men in their spiritual journeys.  Month by month 15 – 20 men gather for fellowship, share the struggles and joys of their life journeys, and  explore together the strengthening aspects of the practice of spirituality when applied to one’s personal life.

The culmination of this year-long activity is the annual retreat held at the Star of the North Retreat Centre, St Albert.  The reflections offered at the retreat echo the archetypical themes of a life journey, and envision the movement across thresholds of change, change that in many cases is more desirable due to the lived experience of the chaos and loss created by addiction and addictive behaviours.  As the Men Spiritual Wellness Group meets, the challenge is to continue, with God’s help, to move through the doorways of healing and reconciliation, advancing into lifestyles of intentional recovery. Rethinking life choices participants are ensured physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.  Life in the Spirit – A beautiful blossoming!

A participant writes … “Thank you! The first thing is – the Retreat is a blessing place. When I was there, I had a different feeling in my body. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was.  My heart is clear now.”

The cost per person for the weekend retreat is $200.  Each participant is asked for a small offering if they are able. The main cost of the retreat is carried by individual donors who wish to support one or two persons who will attend either the Men’s Spiritual Wellness Retreat, Living Life On Life’s Terms - 2017.  If you wish to support this valuable ministry please send your offering of support to:

·         Inner City Pastoral Ministry 10527 96 St NW, Edmonton AB, T5H 2H6 … or donate through …
·         CanadaHelps.org . 


A note of thanks and a tax receipt will be issued!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Great to be sick at home, when you have a home

This week I have nothing exciting to blog about as I was down for the count.  Knocked out by a flu and allergies, I had met my match and waved the white flag.  As I was throwing back the Neo-citron chasers, and watching Netflix on my laptop, I realized that I was very blessed and lucky to have four walls around me, a roof over my head, and heat and electricity to keep me warm and in the lap of luxury until my temporary illness faded off into the sunset.  It is nice to have a home to be sick in and the technology to have pizza delivered to my door while I type these thoughts out to you.

For many who I serve at Inner City Pastoral Ministries, the same can not be said.  I have many people who suffer way worse illnesses in places unfit to live in or they are homeless.  Struggling to find warmth on the street outside in -20 to -30 weather is absurd when healthy, but to hide away in the tunnels of the LRT while sleeping on cold concrete while the body aches for comfort and warmth, is a struggle most of us do not have to endure, thankfully.  

Even the shelters, albeit they are warm, are just 1-2 inch mats put on the ground with around 400 other people around you.  When your sick, it is an impossible situation.  No wonder the community I serve gets irritable some times at us.  

There are no comfy beds, tv's to entertain you, a dog (in my case) to snuggle with, or family and friends to make you soups or warm drinks.  The human touch isn't there.  Yet, my friends, who I am honored to serve, not only survive they do it for years without complaint nor desiring sympathy.  

It makes me think, it is easy to be sick at home...when you have one that is.  

Monday, 6 March 2017

Building New Relationships by Giving Up Stuff

Stop being a hoarder!  Guess what I am giving for lent.  Yes, we are all in that time of year where people give up things they love for lent.  A practice to create a spirit of penance, and focus on God, you know the things that matter.  In recent years, people will give up on the exercise of fasting, and giving up their beloved items for lent because often it makes them unbearable human beings which in turn can be anti-gospel.  Years I ago I decided to give up on "giving up" for lent.

Yet, this year I decided to take up the practice again.  Why?  As you can guess, working in the inner city I see my share of people who need the stuff I don't use.  So my wife and I realized that over the past year we have been collecting, and collecting stuff given to us.  In fact, we don't know what to do with it.  It becomes a contentious debate sometimes and this stuff often becomes a distraction from our daily focus of prayer, life, and family.

So for the forty days of fasting, penance and focusing on God's Word, we have decided to give up the things we don't need and give them to people who do need them.    

Obviously, there is probably about two hundred things I could give up for lent, but this made sense to me because this act brings the wider community into the picture of my penance.  After all,  penance is based on relationship building.  So by giving someone I don't know an extra coat I have not worn for three seasons and having a conversation with them about their story is just that--relationship building.  I do dare put this challenge out to others, it just may help you focus on the Gospel news more and to help build the kingdom by giving help to someone in need.

Happy Forty Days!