Don’t be surprised


Sermon for May 21, 2023


Anyone who promises you a life without suffering is a damned liar.

Seriously, anyone who says that you can have a life of unmitigated happiness, without pain, without suffering, without struggle, that person is a liar and I say damned liar very intentionally because that message doesn’t come from God. It comes from someplace or someone else. And it is a message we hear all the time. 

Politicians, clergy, journalists, activists, ad executives…there are good people in all of those professions, with good intentions, but they are all prone to falling into the devil’s trap, and the trap is this: confusing making the world a better place with making the world a perfect place. They confuse alleviating suffering with eliminating suffering. Alleviating suffering and eliminating suffering may sound like similar goals, but the truth is they couldn’t be more different. Because one of them is a commandment of God and the other is a temptation of the devil.

In our epistle this morning, Peter says to the church “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings.” Do not be surprised that you are suffering Peter says. Do not be surprised. Jesus told us that we would suffer. If we didn’t have any suffering or any struggle in this life, then Christ would be a liar and our faith would likely be in vain. Don’t be surprised. Especially if you are following a crucified man, don’t be surprised to find some crosses in your life. That’s the bad news, but the good news is that if we are sharers in Christ’s sufferings then we are also gonna be sharers in his glory. Christ does not promise us a life without pain or struggle, but what he does promise us is the Holy Spirit. Having the Holy Spirit means that we never have to struggle alone. We are never abandoned by God when we have his spirit. That spirit is his presence with us in the midst of suffering. It is his spirit which gives us strength and patience. It is the spirit that heals us. And it is his spirit that gives us wisdom and courage to respond to suffering when we encounter it. That is why Peter can say that if you are feeling rejected and reviled right now, especially if you are being rejected for being a follower of Jesus, you are still blessed, because you have the Spirit of God resting on you.

But, Peter has more to say, and as usual the lectionary tries to cut all the good bits out. Immediately after Peter says you have the spirit of God resting on you, he says: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.” Some suffering we bring on ourselves and some suffering just happens. Now, I am not a believer in Karma, which is the idea that people get what they deserve. I am a believer in grace, which is the idea that people don’t get what they deserve and that that is a very good thing. But still I do believe in a world of cause and effect, and sometimes we do cause our own suffering. There is a difference between suffering for trying to follow the commandments and suffering because you’re not trying to follow them or can’t be bothered.  Like Peter, I think that it would be a very good thing if you weren’t the chief cause of your own suffering. Now you may be thinking that you’re not a murderer, a thief, or even a criminal, but I will warn you that mischief maker is a pretty broad category that not many of us are going to escape. Because we are all sinful humans, we are all gonna have some of both types of suffering in our lives, we can all be mischief makers from time to time, and I trust the Lord to forgive and judge righteously, but we need to be careful not to blame God when we are suffering for our own bad behaviour, and dare I say, stupidity. And we should try to avoid that as much as we can. But there is plenty of suffering we are never going to be able to avoid. 

Peter says, “let those who suffer in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful creator, while continuing to do good.” Trust God and do good. That’s the answer. Whether you are suffering or not, trust God and do good. Trust God, not yourselves. Don’t be too confident that your suffering is from your good behavior and someone else’s suffering is from their bad behavior. Don’t be proud or arrogant. Trust God, do good, but be humble about it. Peter says “all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

I think the idea that we, through our own good choices and our own good deeds, are someday going to completely eliminate suffering, appeals to our pride. We want to save the world and somehow we keep getting this idea that God has somehow promised us a life without suffering. We think it is an achievable goal. We think it is a right. But Jesus doesn’t promise us that. He promises us the Holy Spirit, he promises us grace, he promises us his love and protection in the midst of our suffering. But we will suffer. Here is the problem with mistaking alleviating suffering with eliminating suffering: one of them is something that all of us can do, and one of them is something that none of us can do. One of them is achievable, the other isn’t. 

You can alleviate suffering by handing someone a glass of water. A kind word, a thoughtful gesture, showing love, compassion and mercy, these things alleviate suffering and we all can do them. They alleviate suffering, but they don’t eliminate it. If your goal is eliminating suffering, small acts of compassion and love won’t really help. So why bother with them? That’s the problem with trying to eliminate suffering: the goal is too big. And we end up focusing so much on achieving the impossible that we usually end up neglecting the possible. It is the same with every type of suffering we try to eliminate: poverty, racism, sexism. We all have the power to make someone’s life better through small acts of compassion, mercy and kindness. We can all do some good, and even if there isn’t much we can do, we can be present with people who are suffering and even that does some good. But if the only way we think we can be victorious in this fight is through the complete elimination of suffering, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. We will give up on the little acts of kindness altogether if we don’t see in each one of them a little victory over the evil and suffering that is present in the world. That is how we truly fail. This is how some revolutionary regimes end up perpetrating some of the greatest evils on the world. People become convinced that a perfect, suffering-free world is achievable and then somehow it doesn’t matter how much suffering has to be inflicted to make it happen. But Jesus didn’t command us to fix the world. What he commanded us to wash one another’s feet and to love one another.

We are all going to suffer in this life. Our Lord told us that that would be the case. And you never know how someone might be suffering, because it doesn’t always show on the surface. There is deep physical pain, there is psychological pain, there is always stuff going on in people’s lives that you know nothing about. Our job as Christians is to respond to suffering when we encounter it with mercy and grace. Our job is to alleviate suffering when we can, doing what we can, but not being overwhelmed or distracted by the misguided desire to fix everything or everyone and not falling prey to the false notion that God’s people are ever going to be able to eliminate suffering from their lives or the lives of others. Following Jesus will not eliminate suffering from your life, so we don’t need to be surprised when it comes along. But the cross is always a reminder to us that we don’t suffer alone. Our Lord is with us in our suffering and promises us grace and glory on the other side of suffering. 

Redeemed and alleviated suffering is the promise of Christ. Eliminated and avoided suffering is the someone else’s lie. 



Sermon for the Coronation Evensong

May 7th, 2023

There is only one true priest in the church. I have said this many times. We have only one great high priest and that is Our Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, hear I stand and there Father Matt sits, two individuals that have been each ordained as priests to serve God and his church. But you see, our priesthood is really just a sharing in Christ’s priesthood. It is his words that we proclaim, his offering that we offer, his blessing that we share. It is his example and teaching that we each seek to follow, although perhaps feebly and falteringly at times. All the power in the ministry of the priesthood belongs to Christ, it is not our own. The same thing can be said of the glory: the fancy robes and the attention we sometimes get and the respect that is often afforded us, it doesn’t belong to us as individuals, it belongs to Christ. We don’t deserve any of this. When we are ordained we are given the opportunity to share in his priesthood, but make no mistake, it is his priesthood. We are called, ordained or set-apart for a special vocation, but it’s not because there is anything individually extraordinary about either one of us; what really matters for priests is our ability and willingness to serve the one who truly is extraordinary. 

Now everything that I have just said about priests could, I think, equally be said about Kings and Queens. There is only one true King in this world. There is but one King of the Universe and that is our Lord Jesus Christ; the king of kings and lord of lords. There may be many different kings and queens that serve in his name, but kings, like priests are at their best when they are truly aware of who the real king is, and who they are truly serving. Kings, like priests don’t really deserve the honor and glory they are given, but then at the end of the day it isn’t really being given to them. It is being given to the one they serve. That is really what the pomp and circumstance is all about. 

Have any of you ever been to the ordination of a priest? If you go to a priestly ordination, it more or less goes like this: the candidate is first presented, then the candidate makes solemn vows and affirmations, there are prayers and symbolic acts of humility, scripture readings and a sermon, then the candidate is touched by the bishop and anointed with holy oil. Then the priest is vested according to his or her office with fancy robes, and is often given symbolic gifts that remind them of the work that they are to do. Then the eucharist is celebrated and finally the new priest is sent out to do the work that God has called him or her to do. If this order of service sounds vaguely familiar to you, it may be because this is quite similar to what you will have witnessed at yesterday’s coronation of King Charles III. For good reason.

To be an anointed king is to be set apart for a special vocation. We don’t often think of kings and queens as being ordained in the sense that priests are, but there is nonetheless something quite holy about the work that they are charged to do. Serving others is holy work. Living your life as a symbol that points people to a higher power, and sacred ideals and timeless values is holy work. Serving the king of kings, even as a king, is holy work. Which is why the coronation service only really works in the church in the context of Christian worship. Kings, like priests, need to be reminded of where their power comes from and who they truly serve. The work that they are called to do is holy work, and because it is extremely difficult work, kings and queens deserve our prayers. 

There will always be those who look at all of this and say “why bother?” There are people who think that monarchy is unsuitable for the modern age and a waste of time, money and resources. Oh well. There are people that don’t see the point of kings, just like there are people that don’t see the point of priests. Often these are the same people. Some people just don’t want to believe that there is a king of kings or a great high priest, much less that he calls ordinary men and women into his service. Oh well. You can preach your best sermon, and some will still remain unconverted. Oh well. If you want to live a drab life, without glory or majesty, without spectacle or reverence, without honor and duty, without beauty and mystery, then go right ahead, but its not the life for me. And as I think we witnessed both with the spectacle of the late queen’s funeral and with the majesty of yesterday’s coronation service, it isn’t a life that many people truly want. We need the majesty and the pomp and circumstance. We need holy oils and sacred rituals. We all need to be reminded, kings, priests and lay folks too, we all need to be reminded that we serve a majestic, higher power, and that through that power we can do amazing things, not in serving ourselves, but in serving God and others. We have all been anointed by the one whose very name means “anointed”: Christ. 

Today we give thanks for the coronation of King Charles III. May it be a reminder to all of us that we too have been anointed to serve the same king that he does. 




I think that it is critical for Christians always to remember that the head of our faith, the head of the church, the individual that we hold and believe to be God incarnate and the savior of the world, is someone that the world rejected. Rejected. The founder of our faith is someone who was rejected. You would think that the cross would make that clear to us, but it is amazing how often we forget it. We forget that Christianity hasn’t always been popular. Jesus hangs on the cross because he was rejected. When the people had a choice, they chose Barabbas. 

Sure, Jesus had a following for a while. He had known popularity; thousands had flocked to hear him preach or to be healed by him, but on the day that it really mattered, on the day when people were asked to choose, they chose Barabbas. When we got to choose, we didn’t choose God. We have to remember that, because as people of faith we are called to be concerned with the will of God. Things like right and wrong, that should matter to us. God’s will for our lives, God’s will for the world, that should matter to us. We should care. Maybe we will never be perfect; maybe we will always make mistakes, but we still need to be able to recognize that they are, in fact, mistakes. God, and God’s will should matter to us. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 

But the cross should be an everlasting reminder that sometimes, many times, God’s will is not popular. God is not popular. Jesus was not always popular. Jesus was rejected. 

But Peter says that “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The cornerstone, the bedrock of our faith, is a stone that had been rejected by others. Thought unworthy, useless, flawed, maybe even weak. It was examined and cast aside by mortals, and yet it was precious in God’s sight. Peter didn’t make that line up though, he’s quoting from Psalm 118. Peter was writing his letter to share the good news of Jesus, but the fact that humans often reject God and God’s will, that was old news. Because you see this human tendency to reject and dismiss things, including individuals, that God values and treasures, this wasn’t a new phenomenon in Jesus’s day, this was human nature right from the get-go. Right from the beginning there has been this huge gap between what God wants and what we want. We have a long history of making bad choices, not just as individuals, but as entire societies. So what that means for us is, and what we must always remember, is that discerning the will of God is NEVER as simple as figuring out or following what is popular. What humans gleefully choose is often the opposite of God’s will. Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat. You just can’t trust opinion polls. Just because something is popular, doesn’t mean that it is good. 

Now that has always been a challenge for humans, but I think it is an even bigger challenge for us now in the 21st century in the age of social media, because we are constantly polling everyone, instantly, all the time. Everything is measured in likes and shares. People treat surveys like they are divine oracles. We are surveyed on everything. And we are constantly told, in subtle and not subtle ways, that might makes right. Millions of people can’t be wrong can they? Or can they? 

Every week when we pass through the doors of this church, we step out of a world where popularity is everything, and we come face to face with a God who was rejected. Jesus was rejected. So that should always give us some perspective on popularity. At least popularity among us humans. In God’s eyes and in God’s kingdom, human popularity doesn’t mean anything. God can take rejects and turn them into a chosen race and a royal priesthood. 

That’s the good news: you don’t need to worry about being unpopular, or having an unpopular religion or unpopular beliefs. Being rejected by the world does not mean that you are rejected by God. That’s the good news.

But here’s the bad news. The bad news is that that means that you actually have to do the work of discerning and learning God’s will. And when you have done that you must find the will and the strength to do what is right and to be faithful, even if it means going your own way and taking an unpopular path. You can’t just go along with the crowd. You have to think and decide for yourself. That’s hard. 

But the cross is also a reminder to us that even though the world has a very long history of casting down things that are truly precious, God has an equally long history of raising them back up again. The resurrection, which we celebrate at every service, but most especially at this time of year, is not God’s seal of approval on our good judgements and opinions, but quite the opposite. It is God taking a stone that we had rejected and thought unworthy, and making it the chief cornerstone of a grand new temple and kingdom.