An Epiphany Reflection

Matthew 2:1-12
2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2:2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
2:5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
2:6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”
2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.
2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”
2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Reflection
January 6th is known as the Feast Day of Epiphany, the day Christians in the west celebrate the first manifestation of Christ to the gentile world. The arrival of the magi in Bethlehem at the very beginning of Christ’s life was indeed a sign that God was in Christ reconciling not only the nation of Israel, but indeed the whole world to himself. The presence of these foreigners from Babylon with their ‘non-kosher foods’ and their ‘unclean’ ways was a very early indication of what would become clearer and clearer in the teachings of Jesus, that God’s love and forgiveness is for the whole world. Whether it was the Samaritan woman at the well or the workers in his parable who came at the end of the day, Jesus had come to break down the barriers and throw open the doors to God’s Kingdom to one and all.

There is indeed a wonderful truth to celebrate at Epiphany, but Epiphany also presents us with a challenge. When the magi arrived in Jerusalem asking for the whereabouts of the newborn king, Herod was frightened and all Jerusalem with him. Herod knew intuitively that to welcome a new king meant surrendering his own control and power. Ironically when Jesus came as King of Kings he did so by surrendering his heavenly throne and crown and living among us in complete love and service. His love makes it so much easier to let go of our fear and need to be in control. Matthew informs us the magi went home by a different road. When the magi worshipped Jesus they changed their way home to God, or God changed it for them. Sadly Herod chose to change nothing and held to the hatred and fear that had ruled his life. Epiphany reminds us that every day we have a choice to make as to who sits on the throne of our life. Will it be Jesus or me? When we choose Jesus his perfect love will drive all fear away.

Prayer
Gracious God we give you thanks for opening your arms of love to us and to all people. Day by day help us to open our hearts to Jesus in new ways that his love and grace might rule in all things. And as we open our hearts to him, help us to open our hearts to the world around that we might fulfill our calling to love you with our whole being and our neighbour as ourself, through Jesus Christ, Amen.


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A WATCHNIGHT PRAYER

I am often asked why we have a service on New Year’s Eve. I remember going to the New Year’s Eve Watchnight from the time I was in my early teens, but the tradition of Watchnight goes back much further than my adolescence.

Indeed, the tradition of Watchnight service grew out of the Moravian church which gathered late on New Year’s Eve to enter the new year together in prayer. While the Moravian Church was born in 15th century Bohemia, the Watchnight tradition itself probably stems from a renewal movement in that church during 1722, the same year a number of Moravians arrived on British soil. The Moravian Watchnight service soon came to the attention of John Wesley who introduced the service into the Methodist Church. In the Methodist Watchnight service the people would re-covenant themselves to God and to one another.

Baptists and most other Protestants also began worship traditions based on the Moravian idea of entering the New Year in prayer. On December 31, 1862, Watchnight took on special meaning to African Americans as they gathered not only to pray in the new year, but also to prayerfully await confirmation of the enactment of Abraham Lincoln’s Declaration of Emancipation which took effect January 1, 1863.

So it is at Yorkminster Park that we gather on New Year’s Eve at 11:15 to enter the new year reflecting with gratitude for the blessings of the past year and putting our trust in God for the year ahead. I invite you to pray with me in this same spirit. May God bless you as we enter this new year in faith.

A PRAYER FOR THE TURNING OF THE YEAR
Gracious and merciful God, you are the Eternal One, who ages not with the passing of time and whose patience is not exasperated by the ticking of a clock and so we turn to you in these hours that mark the passing of yet another year.
We pause this day to count our blessings giving thanks for the beauty of the turning of the seasons and the bounty of the harvest, and for the opportunities this year has afforded us to grow and mature as people. As we look back on this old year we thank you for the births of children and grandchildren into our lives and the arrivals of new friends from far away places. We thank you for the freedoms this year brought to refugees who have newly arrived on our shores and the joy we found in being part of the process. We thank you for the gift of work in this past year and for the new skills gained by many. We thank you too for advances in science and technology this year which offer hope for the year ahead. We are grateful too for breakthroughs in diplomacy and peacemaking gained in this year.
As we look back we are particularly mindful of those who have died in this past year. In the midst of grief and sorrow we give you thanks for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, who entered time and space to take upon himself our mortality, sin and death that through his death and resurrection we might share in the promise of life eternal now and forever. In this hope we give you thanks for this new year and so as we enter it we let go of the old ways of sin and guilt and pray that your new ways of love and forgiveness and peace might take hold of us afresh.
As we enter the new year, awaken us to the wonders all about us and the joy of human love. May this new year be full of mercy and healing and hope for those who live in the shadows of oppression and poverty and may our concern for the broken and wounded grow that the light of your eternal day might begin to dawn on our world. We pay these things in the name of the One who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Walking Together – Monday

Walking Together – A Daily Devotional
Monday, November 25, 2019
Today’s Texts Micah 7:11-20; Matthew 14: 22-36; 1 Peter 4: 7-19; Matt. 20: 29-34; Psalm 144

Focus Text: 1 Peter 4: 7-19
The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 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, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, what will be the end for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?” Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

“Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” As he wrote these words, Peter had a strong sense that the second coming of Christ was at hand and that therefore all Christians should keep their houses in order. He believed that order started with love. When Peter wrote that love covers a multitude of sins he meant that we must be slow to anger and quick to forgive and not be broadcasters of others’ faults and weaknesses. One can’t help but think of 1 Cor. 13 where Paul writes, “… Love is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs… It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” However, because 1 Cor. 13 seems to be reserved for weddings we may fall into the trap of thinking it was written only for wives and husbands, but Paul wrote those words for the church and especially for those in the church who were not getting along.

When Peter wrote, “Love covers a multitude of sins,” he too was writing to the church. He prefaced those words by echoing the words Jesus had spoken in the Upper Room, “Above all love one another.” Not only does this mean we forgive a multitude of sins but also that we take no delight in and gossip over another’s downfall, and that we quietly pray for our friends and enemies alike and hold nothing back in love. It is not easy, because some of those sins may involve times when someone stepped on our toes or trampled on our pride, but Peter instructs us to let go. It doesn’t mean we can forgive all sin – only God can do that but we can pray for help in that good work. And of course there are some sins we must not turn a blind eye to, but even in those times when we need to be tough, we must seek to ensure that we are driven only by love.

This text also reveals that Peter was painfully aware that some of his readers were suffering persecution for their faith. Nonetheless he instructed them to pursue love and not vengeance or hatred. The only way I know to triumph in love in the face of such obstacles is to cling to Jesus and to the cross and let the words of Jesus ring true in our hearts and allow them to speak through our lives, “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” Christ’s redemptive work on the cross covered all sin. Thanks be to God.

Prayer

Gracious God, you know us better than we know ourselves. Search our hearts and see if there be any unclean way in us and forgive us that we might live in the love of Jesus. Thank you for your love and forgiveness poured out on the cross and extended afresh with every sunrise. O Lord your mercies are new every morning. Even so may your love and mercy echo through our lives that those lost in the shadows might look to your new day, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

ADVENT & CHRISTMAS 2019 at YORKMINSTER PARK BAPTIST CHURCH

2019 Schedule of Special Christmas Concerts and Services
at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St.
www.yorkminsterpark.com

*November 26 – Trees go up in the YP Sanctuary – volunteers needed from 7 a.m. till 11 a.m

*November 29 at 7 p.m. – Harp and Holly – Celtic Yuletide Concert
to raise funds for House of Compassion
featuring legendary celtic harpist Sharlene Wallace and friend (Sharlene plays at our Iona service) Tickets from church office $26 or on Eventbrite
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/harp-holly-tickets-79739608315
For a taste of their music please go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udAYsQq8S88
To learn more about the House of Compassion, an important charitable organization started by people at Yorkminster Park go to: https://hoctoronto.com/

SUNDAY DEC. 1 – ADVENT 1
*11 a.m. the Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes preaching – service includes Communion
*7 p.m. Iona Liturgy with the celtic band Iona Passage – homily by the Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Dec. 3 & Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. – The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Festival of Carols
https://www.tmchoir.org/201920-season/foc2019/

*Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. CITY CAROL SING
a fundraising concert with CITY TV for our Churches on the Hill Food Bank, and food banks across the country. (to be broadcast Christmas Day and Christmas Eve)
featuring Bach Children’s Chorus, Hedgerow Singers, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Choir, the Hogtown Brass and LUNCH AT ALLEN’S (Murray McLaughlin, Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas) To sample the music of these legendary Canadian singers go to:
http://www.lunchatallens.ca/
doors open at 1 p.m. – a free will offering will be taken for the Food Bank.

SUNDAY DEC. 8 – ADVENT 2
*11 a.m. the Rev. Dr. J. Peter Holmes preaching, service includes Baptism and the Dedication of newborns
*7 p.m. the Rev. Dale Rose preaching – Helena Bowkun offering preludes 6:40 p.m.

Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. The Bach Children’s Chorus and the Hannaford Street Silver Band present: Winter’s Song
tickets at: https://www.bachchildrenschorus.ca/events/winters-song
or: http://hssb.ca/#

Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Handel’s MESSIAH presented by Elmer Iseler Singers and the Amadeus Choir, directed by Lydia Adams
*200 tickets are available from the church office or on Sundays – all proceeds from these 200 tickets go to the support of the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Refugee Support Ministries.
https://elmeriselersingers.com/events/messiah2019/

*Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. Service of Comfort and Hope – a hopeful and compassionate service or worship designed for those who approach Christmas with the emotions of grief and loss in their hearts and minds.
Lunch to follow.

SUNDAY DECEMBER 15 – ADVENT 3
*11 a.m. White Gifts – Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes preaching
*4:30 p.m. CAROLS BY CANDLELIGHT – the inspirational Christmas presentation by the YP choirs and musicians. (doors open at 3:30 p.m. with free will offering)

Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. John McDermott Family Christmas with Dala and Michelle Kasaboski
tickets at the door $25 – https://johnmcdermott.com/?m=3

SUNDAY DECEMBER 22, ADVENT 4
*11 a.m Family Christmas Service – homily by the Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes
*4:30 p.m. Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

CHRISTMAS EVE (Tues. Dec. 24)
*4 p.m. Bethlehem on Yonge – bundle up for this intergenerational interactive event on the Yorkminster Park grounds then join us in Cameron Hall to sing carols and sip hot chocolate. While this year’s event does not feature live animals it will be full of delightful surprises for the child in each one.
*11 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight with YP Choir and special guests tenor, Richard Margison and legendary Canadian actor R.H. Thomson. – homily by the Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

*CHRISTMAS DAY COMMUNION (Wed. Dec. 25)
homily by the Rev. Dale Rose – service includes Communion

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29
*11 a.m. the Rev. Dale Rose preaching
No 7 p.m. service

New Year’s Eve (Tues. Dec. 31)
11:15 p.m. Watchnight Service homily by the Rev. Dale Rose

*Denotes a service, concert, or event organized by Yorkminster Park Baptist Church service,
All other concerts involve outside musicians whom we are honoured to have using our space to add to the larger community’s celebration of Christmas. All of the above events are open to the public. All are welcome.

REMEMBRANCE DAY

Remembrance Day – devotional

A reflection on Matthew 15: 1-20 with reference to Nehemiah 9:1-25; Revelation 18: 1-8; from the texts of the Daily Office.

Today is Remembrance Day in Canada and on the surface none of these texts prescribed by our ancient schedule of daily readings would seem to fit the occasion and yet as we dig a little deeper we will discover again that the Word of God always has a word for our lives. The Nehemiah reading speaks to a nation’s desire to start out on the right foot after a period of warfare and exile. This involves remembering God’s goodness and unfailing love and mercy and repenting of the pride that had led the nation away from faith in God. The Revelation reading was a prophetic reminder to the early church facing persecution, that evil nations and rulers will all fall and they will have to answer to God. This is a word that still speaks to Christians suffering for their faith. These readings remind me of a chorus written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu that we often sing at our Iona liturgy services on the first Sunday evening of the month. Here is a link to the chorus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1ydJ4JTEYw

Neither does the Matthew reading seem to have anything to say about Remembrance Day. In it the religious leaders accused Jesus’ disciples of not adhering to some of the religious cleansing rituals which involved washing one’s hands before a meal. These were healthy rituals to be sure, but Jesus response was to point out that his critics were focused on getting everything clean on the outside while neglecting their hearts on the inside. Their external cleansing rituals were intended to make them more presentable to God, but Jesus could see that what was needed was a cleansing from within of the sources of murder, greed, adultery, jealousy and lies. Jesus contended that if the religious leaders had been attending to the cleansing of the heart they would have been far less prone to judge the disciples and far more likely to have been caring for their aging parents and for others in need, but sadly they were not. I can’t help but think that if everyone applied this teaching, the world would be flooded with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, spears would be transformed to farm implements and war would be no more. But rather than judge the world we need to begin by getting our own hearts right with God.

Prayer

We remember with grateful hearts those who gave their lives to protect our liberties and we pray for the protection of those who this day continue to serve the security and defence of our nation near and far. Stir our heats by the power of your Holy Spirit that we might be wise stewards of these freedoms and faithful followers of Jesus Christ who laid down his life for us on the cross.

ALL SAINTS’ DAY

ALL SAINTS’ Day
Reflection on Luke 6: 20-31 & Ephesians 1: 1-11
Todays is All Saints Day. Marie Lu is a popular young American writer who recently wrote, “None of us are Saints. We can all do better.” While I don’t doubt we can all do better, I have to take exception to her notion that a saint is someone who is perfect. The Gospel reading for All Saints Day this year is taken from Luke’s version of Jesus’ Beatitudes. The very first of the beatitudes in Luke is ‘Blessed are the poor,’ which Matthew recorded as ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Some make much of the apparent different wording between the gospel writers, but I believe it was a sermon Jesus repeated in village after village. After all it contains the heart of his teaching and even when one preaches the same sermon twice it does not come out the same.

Perhaps in our place and time it might have come out as, ‘Blessed are you when you are spent emotionally and physically with nothing left to give.’ Why? Perhaps it is then that we begin to truly rely on God. Or maybe Jesus would say, ‘Blessed are you when you are broke or broken,’ for the same reason. Our resources are spent and now at last we let go and trust God who as the Ephesians reading puts it, ‘lavishes us with the riches of his grace,’ (Eph. 1:8)

A saint is someone who knows they are broken and turns in faith to the God who came among us in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, to pour out the currency of his life upon the cross that we might be made whole and live for Christ and enter into the inheritance of the saints. I prefer what Nelson Mandela said about saints, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” By the power of the Holy Spirit let us persevere as true saints do.

Prayer – Today’s prayer is adapted from the Ephesians reading.
God of our Lord Jesus Christ, Father of glory, we pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation that we might grow in our understanding of Christ, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the true riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for we who believe, according to the working of his great power….Amen.

P.S. I got away last evening for some time of meditation and writing but in addition to my devotional for the day I add the following poem.

A SNOWY ALL SAINTS

Drove up to Meaford north of town
colourful leaves were mostly down
pumpkins on porches were aglow
but this morning I woke up to snow!

Yes All Saints Day is robed in white
for those who persevered the night.
It will likely melt this afternoon,
but can’t get winter tires too soon.

Dark clouds rise over Georgian Bay
Will dump lots more in coming days.
Batten the hatches, fix the roof
winter’s coming, I’ve got the proof!

Rev. Dr. A. Leonard Griffith – 1920-2019

We are saddened by the loss of a wonderful mentor and friend, the Rev. Dr. A. Leonard Griffith who slipped away early Sunday morning. Leonard was one of the greatest preachers to ever grace the pulpits of this land. His keen insights into both Scripture and the human experience, his remarkable memory, and his deep devotion to Christ and the church endeared him to so many. So great was his following that more than twenty books of his collected sermons were published.

In his sixties Leonard entered the classroom to teach the skill he had mastered and I was blessed to be there for every course he taught, never missing a class. He was so kind to me. He introduced me to his great friend, John Gladstone and then to Kerr Spiers – my two predecessors. And he preached at so many great occasions at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church and in my own life and ministry. He also gave the inaugural lecture and sermon of the Lester Randall Preaching Fellowship.

Janet and I dropped in on Leonard a few weeks ago, only a day or two shy of his 99th birthday. His mind was alert. His faith was strong and he was as inquisitive as ever. But there was one thing there was no question about, the care and support of his family. He expressed great gratitude for their love. And so our prayers today are with his wife Merelie, and his daughters Mary Griffith and Anne Rutherford and their families.


A Memorial Service will be held at St. Paul’s Bloor St., (Anglican) on Friday, May 10th at 11 a.m.
Thank you dear friend.
Rest in peace, rise in glory.
JPHolmes


A Prayer on the Ides of March

We woke up today to the horrific news of shootings in two mosques in Christ Church, New Zealand in which at least 49 people were killed during Friday prayers. These terrorist acts are evil and as Christians we must stand in solidarity with any group of people whether religious or not who come under such attack. And we must work and pray for the day when love is the law in every heart and concern for one another erases all fear, and united as one we find peace for all beneath the shadow of God’s wings. I have written the following prayer which I invite you to pray with me. I also invite you to reach out to your Muslim friends and colleagues and tell them we are praying for their community.

A Prayer on the Ides of March 2019

The heart of humanity aches this day
for those who only went to pray
to God in their week’s most sacred hour
to be gunned down by a malevolent power

There are times when a crime defies any rhyme
or reason apart from what it is in a word
Sin! But who let it in?
Hate! And who took its poison bait?
Evil! Who listened to that Devil?

O God, we all do when in one way or another
we close ourselves to the sister or brother
and even the Christ in a stranger’s guise
and look instead through fearful hateful eyes.

O let the rain fall down and the thunder sound
and remind us we’re on holy ground.
Wash away all pride from deep within
let the burning bush consume all sin
cleanse our soul and unite our hearts
and give this world a fresh new start
that all might sense your grace
without regard for creed or race
and see you smile on every face.
For you O God are love.

In this spirit we pray for all who grieve
for loved ones lost so suddenly and senselessly.
May they hear in the midst of the storm
your still small voice of calm.
We pray for those wounded too,
for medical teams and first to the scenes,
To the nation of New Zealand and the people of Islam
bring a peace that passes not away.

We pray for this world.
O God, let there be light all through this night
Give love the last word and make things right.
May your kingdom come and your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
For you O God, are love.
Amen.
JPH 15-03-19

Grace and Peace,

Upon Seeing our First Grandchild for the First Time

For weeks she’s been told to hurry her birth
then eleven days past maximum girth
Abigail stole our hearts without a word
cooing softly. Beautiful baby bird
with angel wings took flight from womb to light
awakening us all to end of night.

JPH 05-01-19

Welcome Abigail Susan Holmes born in Toronto on January 5, 2019 at 6 a.m. weighing 7 lbs 11 ounces. Congratulations to mom and dad, Michelle and Jamie Holmes!

Saints in Stained Glass

Saints are often compared to stained glass in a church – people through whom the light of God shines. A visit to the Art Zone Glass Studio recently gave members of the Yorkminster Park Baptist Church Stained Glass Window Committee a deeper appreciation for the process of the artistry in creating a stained glass window.

First the glass is blown and then cut into hundreds of pieces and assembled in a jigsaw format according to a grand design with each piece doing its part. Then the glass is further prepared with an acid etching that provides variations to the colour. Eventually it is painted or stained and fired in a kiln before the lead is applied to bond the pieces as one. It is only after all of this handiwork is hung in a window frame and the light pours through that someone will notice the likeness to a saint.

The saintly side of our beings often comes to light only after such a process. The Spirit breaths life and the vine is cut and pruned that it might bear fruit. Some of our colour has to fade and much that is black and white needs to be shaded with love and grace. And no one of us can do it without the others. We are all part of something so much greater than our individual selves – the body of Christ. And Christ’s is the light that bonds us together bringing beauty and love to light.

I look forward to the completion of a new window, but mostly I look forward to the fullness of God’s life and light revealed in the body of Christ.

Grace and Peace

Peter