Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We Have Found the Messiah

Homily for St. Andrew’s Day (Translated)
Wednesday, November 28th, 2007
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 4:18-22

In the early chapters of St. Matthew’s gospel, we meet he apostle Andrew very briefly. He is a fisherman, the brother of Simon Peter who, with his brother, drops everything to take up that call, “follow thou me.” For him there is no looking back only pressing forward with the new task to become, as our older translations say, a fisher of men. Perhaps, in the terseness of this short anecdote we sense the excitement of the brothers as they take up their new lives as apostles of the Lord.

Could they have imagined what would happen in the days ahead? Legend tells us that both became great evangelists to the far reaches of the known world: Peter to Rome, Andrew to Scythia. Church tradition also reveals that both were crucified, Peter upside down and Andrew on an X-shaped cross. From the simple life of Galilean fishermen to martyrs for the gospel; would they have taken up this new life had they known?

Probably fifteen years ago, I heard Bishop Arthur Brown preach a sermon on St. Andrew. I believe that he took as his text the somewhat more detailed passage from St. John’s gospel in which Andrew answered the call of Jesus to “come and see.” This same apostle then went and found his brother Simon and then ran to his friend Philip and told them, “We have found the Messiah.” While I cannot remember all the details of Bishop Brown’s sermon, one particular refrain has remained with me to this day. As he exegeted the passage, he asked again and again, “who’s your Andrew?” The question is poignant because while Andrew is one who drops everything to follow the Lord, he is also one invites others on the journey with him. He runs, not walks, to gather others. With excitement, with joy, with passion, he lets all the world know that the Messiah has come. His passion does not end when his initial excitement wanes, for we know that he followed his Lord, even unto death.

And so the question remains: Who is your Andrew? When I work with those seeking baptism I often ask this question. Who is you Andrew? In whom have you seen the spark? Who was it that first led you on the path? Who was it in their thoughts, words, or deeds that helped that spark within you come alive? Who introduced you to the one who was knew you from your mother’s womb, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? From whom did you receive the faith once delivered to the saints? Who was your Andrew?

Finally, to whom shall we be “Andrew?” The spark having been lit within us, and we ourselves having taken up the Christian life, to whom shall we deliver the faith? Will we have the passion and excitement to seek out Simons and Philips and tell them we have seen the Lord?

St. Andrew’s day toggles the end and the beginning of the liturgical year. Sometimes we celebrate it before the first Sunday of Advent, sometimes after the first Sunday. Regardless, this makes it the perfect occasion to recommit ourselves to that task of being Andrew to a broken and hurting world, and at the coming of that Holy Babe, announce to those around us we have found the Messiah.

Text copyright The Rev. Daniel F. Graves, 2007. This text may not be reproduced or distributed by any means, in whole, or in part, without the express written permission of the author.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Becoming the Good Thief

Sermon for the Reign of Christ
Sunday, November 25th, 2007
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 23:33-43

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
--Luke 23:42

The desire to demonstrate power through a show of force is not a new urge. If we find ourselves concerned with the growing tendency of our society to beat others into our own image and likeness, into conformity with our principles, political, moral, ethical or religious, then we stand with many across the ages who have felt powerless against belligerent exercises of unjust power. But we must remember that none of us are immune to the temptation to exercise power and force over others who are different from us. So, as we stand shocked and awed by the tyranny of others, can we dare to recognize the tyranny we exercise in our own lives over those less powerful than us?

There is a very real sense that the exercise of power is a good thing, that power equals strength. Indeed, most of us would rather work for a strong leader than serve under a weak one. Thus, we are sometimes seduced by the strong leader who demonstrates, with acts of power, their strength. We might laud their show of force as decisive, as the mark of one that is in control, that knows his or her own mind, that will not be swayed by others. But to what end is the power exercised and to what good? What good is a decisive king if his subjects go hungry, remain oppressed, are silenced upon the questioning his authority? What does it profit any of us to have peace, order, and security if indeed we have lost our souls?

Three convicted criminals were led up a hill to the place of their execution. The crime was sedition; the punishment was death by crucifixion. The peace of the empire was at stake. The king, the emperor, had been challenged by back-water upstarts. It is likely that the emperor, himself, never heard the name Jesus of Nazareth, nor those of two bandits crucified on his right and left. There was a way of maintaining peace, order and security in the empire, and the local governors, the instruments of the state knew it well.

We know little of the two men crucified with Jesus. Their names are lost to us. Both Matthew and Mark speak of them as “revolutionaries” while Luke simply calls them “robbers” or “bandits.” The implication, though, is that they themselves were men of violence; men who sought to overturn the rule of the Emperor through sedition, violence, the use of force. To fight force with force; for this, they were condemned. And what of the man, Jesus? A revolutionary? Certainly – but of what sort? He was not above shows of power and acts of force. He had overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple court, after all. But more often then not, his acts of power were miracles, healings, signs of God’s mercy and sacraments of God’s love for a broken humanity and hope of reconciliation for a conflicted world. He gave sight to the blind, he mended broken hearts, and he set free those who were tormented in their minds and in their spirits. He saved others through his gentle touch and compassionate words – a different kind of power.

“He saved others! Let him save himself!” Who dared shout these words as he hung on that rood of death? Who dared mock and taunt the Son of God in the passion of his suffering? The leaders of the people. The soldiers who crucified him. Even one crucified with him who had likely stood against the tyrannical power of the emperor. Who are these who mocked and taunted him? They are you and I. They are both those who held power and those who stood against tyranny. They are you and I – waiting, hoping, longing for a show of power to prove themselves wrong. They placed a placard above his head, ironically proclaiming him king. But in some sense hoping beyond hope that he was a king. “Show us your power! Make us believe! If you can do it, if you are a king, if you can save yourself we will follow you, we will bow down before you, we will worship you! Show us your power!” But nothing happens, darkness descends and hope is lost. He is no king; he has no power.

But then a voice, one thief rebukes the other who taunts the would-be messiah: “We are justly condemned, but this man has done no wrong.” It is a moment of crisis for this thief who is about to face his own death. Who in his own acts of power and shows of force has failed to see his goals met. Power and force have done him no good, and there he hangs justly condemned. But in this moment of crisis, his mind clear, he sees all that has gone before him and catches a glimpse of eternity – a glimpse of what God’s kingdom is truly like. In his moment of clarity he penetrates the fog of misunderstanding. The outstretched arms of the man between him and his fellow thief are not nailed to the cross in defeat, but rather, are outstretched for the healing of the nations. They are arms that embrace; they are arms that welcome home even the most brutal blackguards and hopeless sinners. He recognizes in the outstretched arms of this man, not defeat, but triumph, not weakness, but power. True power, in compassion, in love, the power of God to heal the world. And as his life drained from him, his wasted, bloodstained life, the good thief turned his head and uttered these simple words, “Jesus, remember me, as you come into your kingdom.” And beyond remembrance, Jesus offers him eternal friendship and companionship: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” In the words of St. Ambrose of Milan: “More abundant is the favour shown than the request that was made.”

In Jesus’ dying moments a criminal receives a share of the Christian destiny in the Kingdom of God. Those who mocked know not what they asked, for indeed a show of great power was made, not in force, but in humility and weakness. For it was not simply one criminal who was received that day, but with outstretched arms, our Lord opened the way for all humanity, broken as we are. The “Good Thief” is good not because he has done anything good, but because he has allowed himself to be known by the one who sought him out from before the foundation of the world. In his own weakness he met the humility of God at the cross and was born to new life in God’s kingdom of reconciliation.

Life is filled with moments in which we find ourselves crucified. In which all power is taken from us. There is a great temptation to grasp at power in order to raise ourselves up from despair. There is a great temptation to trample others in our grasping at that power. There is a great temptation to believe that in one great show of force we can resolve our brokenness. We cannot. We stand crucified with our Lord. And the moment of choice is ever before us: we can choose the lot of the one thief, who taunted and mocked to the very end, believing only in the fallacy of the force of might, or we, with the good thief, can turn to Jesus in our brokenness, in our own crucifixion, and ask him to remember us in his kingdom.

Copyright 2007, by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express written permission of the author.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Greater Love hath No Man than This: A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Sermon Preached on Remembrance Sunday, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 15:12-17

“I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” --John 15:17

What shall we do for love? To what does love drive us? How shall we show our love? Love is commanded by our Lord, and each of us, in our own way seek to live out the call to “love one another, as I have loved you.” Sometimes our different understandings of what it means to love, or what we do for love, or how we show our love, can lead to conflict amongst us. Even more poignantly, it may often lead to conflict within each person’s own heart and conscience. Each year, as we prepare to remember those who have fallen in battle, I find myself deeply conflicted – conflicted by our Lord’s promise to lead us into the way of peace and the continual call we face in our world to take up arms against injustice and tyranny that is contrary to the peace and justice of God. I find myself conflicted because I think that both those who lay down arms and those who take up arms often do so out of a sense of love. Both gestures will surely involve sacrifice and the giving over of self, possibly to the utter loss of self. Both gestures may, indeed, find themselves firmly rooted in this very gospel, “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

A couple of years ago, I was in a parish in which there were three “sons of the parish” fighting in Afghanistan. One was a nurse, another a military police office, and the third a gunner. One was killed. And at the same time that we were praying for them, and all members of our military, we were also praying for James Loney and the other members of the Christian Peacemaker Team who were held hostage in Iraq. One of them was ultimately killed. I recall standing and praying the prayers of the people in which we remembered all of these individuals, each acting out of the same call to love, the same sense that there is no greater love than that one should lay down one’s life for friends. The same love; lived out in very different actions. And would I dare say whose love was greater? I cannot, I dare not.

It would seem to me that each was driven by a call to do the greater good: a call to end injustice in the world; a longing for the end of violence; a passion to work for the perfect day when war shall be no more, when pain and suffering shall be no more, when mourning and crying shall be no more. Who amongst us cannot admire the courage and the sacrifice of any who shall risk their lives, or ultimately, make the supreme sacrifice for the sake of his or her friend?

At the heart of the sacrifice, whether the soldier who offers him or herself in battle, or the peacemaker who stands between blaring rifles, is the shared hope and longing that we may somehow be reconciled with those from whom we are estranged. Each earnestly desires love over hate, and peace over war. The hope and longing of either the soldier or the peacemaker is that in the act of vulnerability and risk, we might find a way through to a better world. That in offering up ourselves, others might live.

In our Lord, we find the pattern of this desire, and ultimately its fulfillment. Our Lord came to unite the estranged in brotherhood, in sisterhood, in friendship. In him we learn not only the example to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, but also the example to pray for those who hate us. As he gave up his life as a ransom for many, he expected “the many” to be, not only his friends, those who followed him, fickle as they were, but those who despised him, those who crucified him: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In Christ, we meet the supreme reconciler, the one who reconciles all things to each other, to himself, and to his Father in heaven. Each of us, in Christ, shares in this ministry of reconciliation.

The soldier and the peacemaker, each offer themselves in risk, in vulnerability – each willing to lay down their lives. But is it the violence of life offered up that brings reconciliation? Is it the death itself that will bring peace? No. It is the love with which a life is offered. It is the love of friend, and indeed enemy in which the life is offered that has the power to transform. It is not the death of Jesus that brings us to new life, but the love of Jesus in his self-offering, even unto death. Our salvation is in the fact that God became human and that in the Incarnation divine love became human love in order that human love might become divine. And in this offering of love, we become friends – friends of God, and friends to each other, those who love us, and those who hate us.

Today, as we remember before God all who offered their lives in the midst of human conflict, we do so not glorifying death but recalling the love with which such sacrifices have been made. And we do so with the hope that all humanity might be reconciled and united in divine friendship, no longer strangers, but brothers and sisters as children of the new creation.

Copyright 2007, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. The sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means without the express written persmission of the author.