“The Best of Times_ The Worst of Times”

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					         “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times”
                     Wycliffe College Convocation

                             May 9, 2005

I am especially humbled to receive this honour from Wycliffe
College because I’m an Anglican, and I came to this tradition by
choice as an adult. The Anglican Church, especially Trinity
Anglican Church in Streetsville, has become my immediate
community of faith. They have been generous, and supportive in
ways that I could never have imagined. Your recognition of me
tonight is truly a reflection of their faithfulness in affirming me.

Also, I would like to thank my co-workers and the Board at World
Vision Canada. They indulge me, challenge me and grasp the
mission of caring for others with an unbridled passion. This
degree honours them as well.

Finally, I want to thank my family – Diane, my wife, who is an
example of Christian service and devotion par excellence, and our
two children, Jaymes and Jocelyn, who have willingly sacrificed so
that their father and mother can serve others. To my mother and
father I thank them for teaching me to follow Jesus and to love

This is all very humbling to me because I have tried with at least
some success to live by the idea that recognition on this earth
needs to be seen more as a surprise rather than a right.

What to say to graduates on this special occasion. Some would be
relieved if I stopped right now. You could begin the next phase of
your journey that much sooner. Ah – but not so fast, I have to do
something to warrant this tremendous honour. Perhaps I could
dispense advice like Miss Piggy – “Never purchase beauty

products in a hardware store” Or the theological equivalent:
“Never trust a spiritual guru who offers free steak knives with his
latest DVD.”

Instead, I want to suggest to you that as you begin the next turn in
your vocation that you are prepared for the best and the worst.
Charles Dickens said it well in A Tale Of Two Cities: “It was the
best of times; it was the worst of times.” These are appropriate
words to describe the ambiguity of our time as well.

The best of times

  • I can be in a remote region of Tanzania and use my mobile
    phone to communicate with a supporter in Toronto.
  • Experts tell us that we have the worldwide resources to
    overcome world hunger.
  • We have more books and information to teach and inform us
    than ever in history
  • Modern medical science can now extend life in extraordinary
    ways. Heart transplants, lung transplants, liver replacements,
    hip replacements as well as sophisticated cancer treatments.
  • In a recent Ipsos Reid poll, 43% of Canadians said they have
    a relationship with Jesus.
  • In Western countries more people are living the “good life”
    than ever before.

The worst of times

  • Fear of terrorism has infected our society in a profound way
  • 1 billion people still live on less than a dollar a day. 27,000
    children die every day from hunger and its related diseases. I
    met a successful businessman in Colombia who grew up in
    an urban slum. He told me, “I know what it’s like to be so

      hungry that you think about killing your neighbour to get
      some food.”
  •   Life expectancy is actually declining in many countries in
      sub-Saharan African because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
      The average life expectancy for a man in Tanzania is 42.
  •   4.2 billion people have yet to make a commitment to follow
  •   While many people claim a relationship with Jesus, church
      attendance has declined to 19% in Canada. A few years ago
      it was 23%.
  •   You only have to look at our own Parliament to see the
      desperation in our own land. I was visiting MPs and
      Senators last week. They were good people with a strong
      commitment to serve their country well, yet they have a deep
      disappointment at what has happened. At Question Period
      you could cut the rancour and mean-spiritedness with a knife.

In her 2002 Massey Lectures entitled “Beyond Fate,” Margaret
Visser described our time “as not a permissive one, but an addicted
one.” It’s a combination of boredom and materialism mixed with a
generous dose of consumerism. Graduates, this is the world that
we older folk have bequeathed to you. And yes we geezers are still
trying to stand in our canoe and bail water at the same time, but in
the end you will take charge whether we are in the canoe or not.

So tonight -- some advice from someone who has been in the
church and alongside the church for over 50 years, and seen the
church at work in scores of countries around the world. At a very
personal level, I’ve been blessed to be part of growing and
outstanding churches in three different countries – Canada,
Australia, and the USA.

First, Remember the mission!

You are on a mission to reach others. Jesus said, “Let your light so
shine before others that they will see your good works and give
glory to your father in heaven.” He also said, “Go into all the
world and make disciples.…” You cannot imagine how many
churches and other Christian organizations lose their way on this
point. Doctrine, lifestyle, moral failure, hubris, fear, loss of risk-
taking and broken relationships can drive Christian ministry into
the ground or make it so harmless that it attracts no one. If you
don’t have a passion and abiding commitment to see lives
transformed including your own, find another profession. We
don’t need more dull church services and lukewarm pastors and

In the words of theologian P.T. Forsyth, our task is to challenge the
culture to take Jesus and the New Testament as seriously as they
do the book of Man, Church and Society.

Pursue big possibilities. We Christians should be thinking big
thoughts and dreaming up big possibilities because the devil
doesn’t need any more help to keep us thinking small.

Stay positive. Our scripture reading in John reminds us that life is
about finding opportunities to glorify God through acts of service,
justice and compassion. Speculating on the spiritual causes of
someone’s illness can be both dangerous and distracting. Some
things are mysteries that defy our human understanding.

I’m increasingly drawn by the idea of when -- not why. O Lord
Jesus come and help us. Be our supreme YES! In the words of the
prophet Isaiah in chapter 65, “When Lord, will a child no longer be
born to only live a few days? When will those who plant vineyards
eat of the fruit, when will those who build houses dwell in them?”

You are also on a journey to make sure you are on the right
mission. It’s a journey of self-discovery. No one can do this for

you. Academic training is important, essential and helpful. But
you will have to reflect on all of life to find your answers.

Do you have the gifts and calling to be an effective pastor and
priest, teacher, professor or lay leader? Yes, it’s true that
sometimes God uses someone who has none of the right gifts, but
in my experience that is the exception. Most of the time God
chooses people with the right gifts to develop the right
competencies to do the job. What none of us have at the beginning
is experience, which means gifts waiting to be expressed and

Mission is costly. It will take your best and often not in the way
you think. It’s like Basil in Faulty Towers who says, “The hotel
business would be really great if it wasn’t for people.” Get
accustomed to dealing with relationship challenges, and don’t let
them distract from the mission to reach others. In fact they are part
of your mission.

Second, allow yourself to be outraged.
Cultivate your holy discomfort with the way things are. In other
words, maintain your outrage! If you don’t have any, may the
Lord help you find it.

Just last month, I sat in a wretched hovel with a young mother
whose body is ravaged by full-blown AIDS. Her husband has
already died from the disease. Her three little children stand mute
before us, caught in this nightmare of human destruction. There is
a ring of stones for the cooking fire; a single battered cooking pot
and a plastic jug to carry water from the well five kilometers away.
In the corner is a bamboo mat with one piece of cloth. The entire
family huddles together there to sleep. The thatched roof is
blackened with smoke from the cooking fire and sunlight peeks
through the broken patches.

When we ask what she fears most, the mother replies, “I only want
to live two more years so my oldest daughter won’t be forced to be
a street child.” She’s being polite because street child really means
prostitute. This little girl is heading for a life of selling her body in
order to feed the family.

Inside I go crazy because I know that even though our government
passed Bill C-9 almost a year ago – legislation to allow generic
drug companies to produce anti-retroviral drugs at a cheaper cost --
not one tablet has been produced. I know that if even a significant
portion of the Christian community tithed there would be resources
to meet this challenge. I know that our neglect of the HIV/AIDS
pandemic in Africa is riddled with racism. We would never allow
this to happen in a Western country. Our callousness and neglect
towards Africa’s children and their mothers seems to know no

You tell me how one executive can be worth a $70 million bonus
last year and we still allow children to go hungry. We have hungry
children even in this country and we put up with it. I‘ve been
around and I know the drill of all the good business reasons for this
kind of payout. But when you put it next to the Gospel, I just don’t
buy it.

It’s in these moments of outrage that we are forced to remember
who we really are and what we stand for. And of course we have
to ask -- are we going to get mad or are we going to channel our
passion into making a difference?

      A quote from theologian Karl Rahner has challenged my own
      life in the past decade. He says, “The number one cause of
      atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim God with their
      mouths and deny him with their lifestyles is what an
      unbelieving world finds simply unbelievable.”

My only hope is the cross of Jesus. If God’s son died in this
horrible way, then in some convoluted logic it explains why the
crucifixion of the poor continues day after day. And it also
explains that I better choose whose side I’m on. Is it Jesus or the
way of the world?

I have a hope that some day we Christians will be known more for
our generosity than our judging. Jean Vanier tells a story about a
conversation he had with a bishop, “ You in L’Arche are
responsible for a Copernican revolution,” the bishop said. “Up
until now we used to say that we should do good to the poor. You
are saying that the poor are doing good to you.” Vanier responded
by saying, “The people we are healing are in fact healing us, even
if they do not realize it. They call us to love and awaken within us
what is most precious: compassion.”

That kind of thinking breaks through one of the great fallacies that
hinders mission -- you have to have it together before you can
minister to others. In fact it’s just the opposite. God honours us
wherever we are on the road of transformation and service. Often
it’s in the very doing that God speaks clearly and plainly to us. I
have witnessed people coming to faith while serving on a mission
to build houses for the poor. God appears to be more interested in
the willing than the perfected.

I long for the day when we will take the high road in these
theological disputes that weather so quickly. I have a hope that
Jesus will look more at our future than our past. He knows that
looking backward only gets us deeper in the ditch. I have a dream
that evangelism and social action will draw us together rather than
separate us. I have hope that God will give you new insights that
will take us through the contentions and disagreements that

paralyze our ministry and distract us from the most important

Finally, be ready to serve.

In Ephesians 2:10, St. Paul writes, “For we are what he has made
us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand to be our way of life.”

Years ago, the missionary doctor, Albert Schweitzer, spoke to
graduates at a school in England. He said: “I do not know what
your destiny will be. Some of you will perhaps occupy remarkable
positions. But I know one thing. The only ones among you who
will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to

I’m reminded of a story from the second century. The great
Christian apologist, Justin Martyr said that in his day, farmers in
Galilee were still using the wooden plows made by Jesus. They
were well-crafted, practical and sturdy implements. Alongside the
cross, here is a picture of Jesus giving his best to create a plow that
will help care for a family’s basic needs.

Recently I was in a barrio in Bogota, Colombia. Driving into the
community we passed by a military control point with sandbags
piled five meters high and soldiers on guard. Community
members are living in shacks and roughly constructed houses.
Various paramilitaries and guerrillas operate in the twists and turns
of this struggling community.

Inside the community there is a little church with 70 members who
have found Jesus in the midst of the whirlwind. They offer a hot
lunch to slum children, supported by World Vision. Their pastor
describes his vision for the future. He has already staked out a new

building that will serve as a community hall and place of worship.
He lives with his wife and two young children in this place. His
face beams as he speaks with praise to the Lord and his dream for
this community.

By the world’s standards he is a madman. Yet in reality he is a
man after God’s own heart who has found the secret of mission
and service. And in God’s economy, he is a person who has only a
widow’s mite to place on the altar, but he has given everything he
has in service to the mission. Not for him low-risk Christianity.

What are some of the things that will feed your soul in the midst of
service? For me it’s the absolute joy I feel when someone shares
his or her newfound joy in committing his or her life to Jesus. And
the absolute cream on the cake is if I was a contributor.

For me it’s the pure satisfaction of seeing hungry children and their
families with food, education and a grasp on some kind of
sustainable future.

For me it’s the overwhelming emotional roller coaster of a ride
when I serve as a communion assistant. I make it my practice to
look into the eyes of every person I serve. Some look at me, others
look away, but it is the purest, sweetest moment of my Christian
experience. It’s like lightning on a lake – beware because this can
change your life. Sometimes the presence of God just explodes. I
know the stories of some that I serve. Sometimes the eye contact
gives a message that goes deep. My eyes began to tear and I bite
my lip not to distract from those receiving the Sacrament. On this
wretched earth full of broken lives, unfulfilled yearnings and the
mad pursuit of power and wealth, the hope and life of Jesus infuses
my soul. I’m ready to do battle for another day.

In the end our service is about love – love for Jesus and love for
human beings one at a time. There are no shortcuts and no hidden
formulas. We serve an upfront God who lays it on the line right
from the beginning. We struggle against principalities and powers
and we struggle against ourselves. But love makes our final
departure from this earth a celebration rather than a dirge. Our
family doctor shared these words from the mortician down the
street. “Doctor, you may slow down your patients’ journey, but in
the end I get ‘em all.” So live your life with the end in mind.

Graduates, today we celebrate that God has given us the
opportunity for preparation and training. I hope you can party
today in thankfulness to God and the support of those around you.
But get ready. We are in a battle for our lives and for those we
serve. Do you know your mission? Is there some outrage lurking
deep in your heart? Will you serve? Are you prepared to love? In
the best of times in the worst of times -- God help us all. Amen.


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