Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Let Us Go and See this Thing that has Come to Pass -- A Sermon for Christmas

Homily for Christmas Eve, Year B, 2008
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-21

Let Us Go and See this Thing that Has Come to Pass

I bring you Good News of great joy, which shall be for all people. A Word has gone out to all the nations, a Word that echoes across the ages into our hearts and souls this very night. A Word has gone out, more enduring, more powerful than any word or decree uttered by any emperor, king, or ruler of any age. A Word has gone out not only into the darkest corners of the world but into the darkest corners of our hearts. It is a Word that came to shepherds abiding in the field; it is a Word that reached distant wise men who pondered the stars; it is a Word that was birthed in the willing hearts of a young and frightened couple in a stable in Bethlehem – the Word made flesh, Jesus our Lord and King.

I bring you Good News of great joy that what was cast down is now being raised up, what was old is being made new, what is broken is being restored. Let us go then and see this thing that God has made known unto us. Let us see what God has done. Yes, my friends what has been made known and what has been done. We speak not about the past or only about the future but about the present. We speak about today.

We live in a world full of crisis, and we may look longingly back at an idyllic golden age (that never really was), or we may hope against hope for a better day to come. At times its seems like our only hope is rooted in the hope of tomorrow. In a world of terrorism and wars on terrorism, in a world in which gun violence grips our cities, in a world in which poverty and epidemic run rampant, in a world in which our environment seems irreversibly destroyed, we feebly hope that tomorrow will be a better day. But the hope of tomorrow is a feeble one indeed. If we have not fared well in the past, and if we have not acted well in the present, what hope have we for tomorrow?

But the Christmas message is not a message for tomorrow. It is not a pipe dream for the future. It is the breaking through of a reality that God has acted and is acting now. Hope is not long past or future-flung, it is now, in Christ. Will any of us dare to believe it is so? In the midst of economic crisis, ecological crisis, socio-political crisis, can we, will we, dare we believe that a Word has gone forth and that God has acted?

Can you believe it?

Consider for a moment that in the muck and mire of first century Palestine, under foreign domination and oppression, in the midst of political uncertainty, terrorist uprising, economic disparity, God came into the world. To a people without hope, to a people with a broken spirit, to a people who longed for a better tomorrow but feared it would never come, God entered in. He did not tarry, he came and the word uttered to the people, to shepherds abiding in the field was not “wait,” but “come hither and see what God has done.” To these ancients God became human and lived amongst them.

And to you, whose heart is broken this night, he comes.

And to you, who have lost your job and fear what the future holds, he comes.

And to you, whose retirement savings have disappeared these past few months, he comes.

And to you, as your family life is in turmoil, he comes.

And to you, who have lost your beloved this past year, he comes.

And to you, who fear for the anxiety of tomorrow, he comes.

Unto each one of us, in our personal brokenness, into the muck and mire of our lives, into the complicated business we call “life”, into the confusion of our lives, he comes with healing in his wings. You may not hear angels singing or trumpets heralding his coming, but he has come.
To any who were once alone but comforted by another, he has come.

To any who have made a terrible mistake and felt the forgiveness of another, he has come.

To any who have lost something or someone dear and felt the outpouring of love and support by family and friends, he has come.

And even in the silence of the moment when all seems lost, even in that silence, he is there.

These are the angelic choruses that herald his living and abiding presence among us. These are the heavenly songs here on earth that remind us we are not alone, and what is more, that we have been saved from every evil that the world can throw at us. This is the Glory of God illumined all around.

Angels appeared to trembling shepherds. The Glory of the Lord shone round about them enveloping them and calming their fear with joyous tidings that the Lord had come. A Word of hope came to them and they turned their faces toward Bethlehem, and they were not afraid. In the love and care of others in Christ, we are enfolded in that same glory and in that same love. And in our comfort and care of others we enfold them in that same love. Thus we have no cause to fear for Christ is born and the world is changed. We are surrounded by the glory of God. And we turn.

Seek the signs of the Word made flesh. God is disclosing them moment-by-moment in spite of, and in the midst of a broken world. Seek the signs not in the courts of kings, or the halls of parliaments, or in the offices of Bay Street. Seek them not at the end of a rifle or in the commands of generals or in the movements of armies, for God discloses himself in gentleness, in deep humility, in the arms of an unwed teenaged mother, in the dampness of a lowly stable.

In acts of gentleness, in kindness and humility he is made known to us. In acts of forgiveness, contrition, and compassion he comes. God is found in brokenness. God is found in our poverty, both spiritual and material. Yet make no mistake, his humility is his power and his poverty is his strength, for it is in his humiliation that our broken hearts are mended and in his poverty that we are richly filled. Let us go then unto Bethlehem seeing and believing this thing that the Lord has done.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What Was Kept Secret for Long Ages is now Disclosed

Homily for Advent IV, Year B, 2008
Sunday, December 21st, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38.

"What was kept secret for long ages is now disclosed"

At the end of my sermon series this past summer I promised one more homily on Romans this year. And so, on this fourth Sunday of Advent we are confronted by the concluding verses of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, a glorious doxology extolling the revelation of the mystery of God in the Christ-event. How utterly appropriate it is that we read this text concurrently with the great annunciation text found in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38), for was it not upon this announcement to Mary about the birth of a son to her, the Son of the Most High God, that the entirety of Paul’s proclamation is founded? What was kept secret for many ages was indeed revealed in that announcement to Mary. What was hidden was suddenly disclosed. It was in that moment that all of human history, all of the history of the people of Israel suddenly made sense. It was in the words of that angel that the words of the prophets were broken open. It was in that angelic song that not only the stories of old came to life, but that the stories of their own lives finally made sense. It was in these words that the Word of God, Jesus Christ, was disclosed once and for all. In that very announcement the world became aware of what St. John would later proclaim…the Word, the Logos of God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, was there from the beginning, from creation, in creation, in the guiding of sacred history, and now, in our very midst – the Word becoming flesh.

Thus, St. Paul can look back through the prophets, the Law, the writings of his ancestors and behold the Christ. That is why St. Paul, who once so zealously persecuted the Church with those ancient Scriptures ready at hand can now look upon those same Scriptures and find his Lord and Christ revealed through them and alive in them. It is this revelation to St. Paul that brought about the obedience of faith in him and this revelation that he proclaims not only to the people of his own day, of Rome, of Corinth, of Ephesus, of Galatia, of Thessalonica, of Colossae, but also across the pages of history to the people of our day, Toronto, London, Tokyo, Mexico City, New York, Moscow, to places great, and yes to place small. That message is this: that Christ has come to save us, great and small, rich and poor, young and old, wise and foolish. He proclaims a Christ revealed in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings of old, through whom the world was created, who guided his people through the wilderness, who carried them through exile and yes, in the fullness of time, was made human that we might partake of the divine nature. He proclaims a saviour who came not only for a single people but for the whole world, a light to the nations, through the grace and mercy and power of God, a gospel made known to all the gentiles.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent we stand on the cusp of hearing that old, old story once again of shepherds kneeling before his crib to adore him. But what is it that gave the shepherds their courage to leave their flocks and draw nigh? What is it that would eventually lead eastern magi to undertake a lengthy journey to pay him homage? What is it that gave a young man courage to embrace his bride whom he should otherwise put away in shame? And what is it that would enable a frightened young girl to utter the profound words, “be it unto me according to your word?”—words that would change the world?

It is the proclamation of the Word, itself, for as St. Paul says, “God … is able to strengthen you according to (the) gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ.” The very proclamation of the Word made flesh turns fear to joy, weakness to strength, despair to hope. The very proclamation of the Word made flesh enables us to look back over our lives and our history and see the hand of God leading us to our place of “yes,” to our place of “let it be unto me according to your word.” It is this proclamation of the Word made flesh, of Jesus our Saviour born, crucified, and risen in glory, that vanquishes all our fear and doubt, all our insecurities, all our frailties. Is not the message of Paul, after all, a consistent message of “not me, but Christ in me?” The proclamation of Paul throughout his entire corpus of writing, and the message of the angel to Mary, is a consistent message that it is not our effort that matters, but our “yes”, our “let it be unto me according to your word,” our acknowledgement that with God all things are possible. And so it comes to pass that in the birth of a tiny child in a stable cold and dark, with God all things are possible.

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.

Text Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Behold Your God and Be Not Afraid!

Sermon for Advent II, Year B, 2008
Sunday, December 7th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

Over the last couple of weeks we have been speaking about apocalyptic literature. It has been recognized that the images in apocalyptic literature have the potential to stir up great fear. To be sure, certain groups will capitalize on this fear, using it to encourage conversion. However, if our faith if based on fear, we are not set free as the gospel promises, but are enslaved. For the Word of the Lord is not a word of fear but a word of hope. It is a word that touches us in our deepest inner selves and transforms us, changes us, and empowers us. It is a word, as spoken through the prophet Isaiah that not only calls us forth and changes us, but calls the people of God to speak it aloud to the whole world, “O Zion that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, behold your God!”

Be not afraid. As we confront some of the biblical images written about in the prophets and in book of Revelation, and yes, even in the gospels themselves, there is a temptation for us to be afraid. And why are we afraid? We are afraid because maybe, just maybe, the images are not so distant, not so esoteric. Maybe, just maybe, they speak of real evil in the world; they speak of real brokenness; they speak of a people without hope. And we wonder, are these texts speaking about our world, our lives, our sense of hopelessness? When we consider this possibility, these are texts that make us tremble.

But do we miss the point, though, when we allow ourselves to be overcome by the frightening images of apocalyptic literature? I believe we do. A couple of weeks ago, it was asked of me, how do we know the false prophets of any age? The false prophets are the ones that use fear to further their cause and enslave the people. I will say it again; the Word of the Lord is a word of hope that sets free, not a word that enslaves through fear. Consider those moments in Holy Scripture when God reaches out to humanity. How does God greet his people? He does so with the words, “Fear not!”

Consider for a moment Hagar, in her desperation in the wilderness as she was about to abandon her son, an angel of the Lord appeared to her with the words, “Fear not!” And as the Hebrew people were pursued into the wilderness and to the shore of the Red Sea, what were the words that Moses spoke to them? “Fear not! Stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you this day!” And when a man named Joseph considered putting away an unwed pregnant woman to whom he was betrothed, an angel of the Lord appeared with these words “Fear not, take her as your wife!” And to an aging priest of the Temple named Zechariah, who had no offspring, who was seized by terror at the appearing of an angel of the Lord, that same angel uttered these words, “Fear not!” And to a young woman trembling at the call to be the mother of God incarnate came this angelic proclamation: “Fear not, Mary, for the Lord is with you!” And to shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, an angelic chorus singing of the glorious birth of the Saviour of the world, greeted those frightened shepherds with these words, “Fear not!” At the tomb of the Lord an angel spoke to the frightened women who had come to anoint his body, “Fear not, he is not here, he is risen.” And finally, as our Lord appeared to those same women and sent them forth with a message to the apostles, he did so with these very words, “fear not.”

Is this not the revelation, or apocalypse, of our Lord? The very words that are spoken whenever an angel appears or whenever God greets his people? “Fear not.” This is the revelation of our God to his people, and this is his encouragement and promise, that whatever the world has to throw at us, we need not fear. To those who are alone, fear not! To those who have made terrible mistakes, fear not! To those who are sick or suffering, fear not. And even to those who walk through thick darkness, and the valley of the shadow of death, fear not, for I am with thee.

Fear not, because the rough places through which you travel are being made plain. Fear not because the mountains that block your way are being made low. Fear not because the crooked pathway is being made straight.

It is one thing, though, to believe that this message is a message for us, the faithful people of God. Yet, can we believe that it is also a message for the world. Do we realize or understand our role in shouting that message from the high places? Do we make it part of our faith journey to say to a hurting world, to those around us, without fear, that God in Christ is alive and well, that his word endures forever, and that amidst the brokenness of human lives and the hopelessness that is proclaimed by the powers of this world that Jesus enters in to our lives and comes again and again to those in need, sorrow or distress?

One of my favourite all-time movies about Jesus is the movie musical Godspell. The film begins with John the Baptist portrayed as a New York busker coming across the Brooklyn Bridge singing “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He soon calls a series of ordinary folk together, from the drudgery of their hopeless, nameless existence to follow Jesus. As the film unfolds the disciples gather around Jesus in a seemingly empty New York City. The ensemble cast take up many roles, even playing the parts of the antagonists, thus demonstrating the good and evil in each one of us. Finally, the story reaches its climax in the death of Jesus. The most interesting thing about this interpretation of the Jesus story is the fact that there is no resurrection proper. Instead, the disciples take up the body of Jesus, and carry him into the world. Yet, they return to a world once again populated by crowds, carrying the body of their Lord, not in a solemn funeral procession but with joy and singing, reprising the opening joyful song, prepare ye the way of the Lord.

In fact, I believe the Resurrection is preached and depicted in this musical adaptation of the story of Jesus. The disciples begin the story surrounded by an oppressive New York city that doesn’t care about them and holds no hope. Yet they are captivated by a Word, a Word that calls them forth, a Word that transforms them, a Word that gives them hope. Then, when all hope should seem to be lost in the death of their master, their hope is not lost, and they return to that old world, but with different eyes and with a different power and with a sense of joy and hope. What has changed for them? They carry the body of the Lord into the world. They are no longer a people gripped by fear but a people transformed by hope. The Lord has transformed them and through them he is transforming the world.

If they had returned to the world without him, they would be powerless. Yet, they leap into the world as if every mountain has been made low and every rough place plain, because for them, in Christ it has. They return into the world, beholding their God. Without fear and with the great hope that what God has done for them in Christ, he will do for the world, they return into that world. And they cannot contain themselves. The lives of those that carry him may come to an end, but the Word of Hope will never die. The grass withers and fadeth away but the Word of the Lord endures forever. As his body has been brought into the world and as his word is heard, so shall the lives of men and women in every age be changed and transformed, and so, too, shall they take his body in their hands and proclaim with loud voices the hope that is set before them. Beholding their God they take up the call in a glorious procession, for all others to hear: Prepare ye the way of the Lord!

And with these words, our Lord comes to us again this season. Our call to watch and wait is transformed into a call to proclaim the day of his coming. Behold your God, and be not afraid. Take up his call without fear, without regret, without trepidation, because you know the good news of glad tidings that he brings. You know the joy and hope that he has given us. And you know that it is he that makes straight the crooked paths of our lives, makes smooth the rough places of our spirits, and lifts us from the deep valleys of our broken hearts. Carry his body into the world, proclaim the Word from every high place. Behold your God, and be not afraid.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I Will Seek Out My Sheep: A Sermon for the Reign of Christ

Homily for the Feast of the Reign of Christ, Year A
Sunday, November 23rd 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

“I will seek out my sheep”
--Ezekiel 34: 12

I have recently been giving some thought to apocalyptic theology. Last week, in our youth confirmation class we had questions raised about the meaning and interpretation of the images in the book of Revelation. In our parish newsletter and recently on my blog I wrote about the so-called “Little Apocalypse” in the thirteenth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel. In both cases, I noted that we as mainstream Christians have tended to shy away from such texts, fearing them to be too difficult to understand, resisting the urge to dig into them with enthusiasm, and thus leaving them within the realm and ownership of certain very conservative strands of Christianity. Yet, I think that apocalyptic theology, that is, theology that tends to focus on the appearance of Christ at the end times, has something to say to us, the everyday people of God, in our present situation.

Apocalyptic thought is usually painted in very black and white terms. There is evil and good. Which side are we on? However, I think that this question may be a bit of a “red herring,” for underneath all apocalyptic thought is the presumption that God, in his goodness, saves his people – and not only saves them, but recreates them and all creation, making all things new. God, in Christ, is transforming the created order into its final purpose. Thus, I think the question for us is, can this be true? Do we see it? Do we believe it?

The other thing that needs to be said about apocalyptic theology, and about biblical prophecy in general is that it is never really about predicting the future, but interpreting the present time. Now, by this I do not intend to suggest, as some do, that by reading the newspapers we will be able to identify the ten-horned beast of the apocalypse. This kind of simplistic association of a biblical image or metaphor with a particular person in our time is surely wrong-headed and dangerous. However, the writers of such apocalyptic and prophetic literature surely had individuals of their own day in mind, and spoke in a sort of code so that they would end up on the chopping blocks, themselves. What apocalyptic and prophetic texts suggest is that in every age there are tyrants that rise up, there are crises that are bigger than what we can handle, and there is always before us the real possibility that we will lose hope.

Years ago I heard one writer – this was during the Reagan years and the height of nuclear tension – asked if he thought we were on the brink of the apocalypse. He laughed a very serious laugh and noted, has not every generation been on the brink of the apocalypse? Did not the men in the trenches in the First World War look to heaven and cry, “My God, this is the apocalypse!” And so I concur – each age must face its own apocalyptic threat.
When terrorists run planes into buildings; when the climate seems to have changed irreparably; when we stand powerlessly in the midst of economic turmoil; do we not stand with hands outstretched and cry unto God, “Is this the apocalypse?” And of course, the greater danger is that we will simply buy into the apathy of the times and find ourselves not on the side of the righteous but aligned with the great whore, Babylon.

It is of course, so easy to place the blame. Our leaders have failed us. Certainly this was the view of Ezekiel. The people that found themselves in Exile were there because of the past failure and continued failure of their religious leaders. This oracle from Ezekiel is an oracle of hope in which God brings the righteous out of captivity and pronounces with judgment on those leaders who have failed in their responsibility, who have lived off of the fat of the land and the backs of the people. He calls them fat sheep that will be separated from the lean ones. Similarly, with this oracle surely in mind, Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats.

For those of who lead, those of us who are religious leaders, and those of you who lead in your workplaces and communities, these are hard words. We must ask the question, have we worked for the kingdom or have we worked to fill ourselves?

Let us not forget that the word “apocalypse” simply means “revelation.” And for us, as Christian people, this is the revealing of God in Christ. Has this not already happened in the Incarnation; in the appearing of God amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ? Is this not the reality that we confess in the words of our faith an in our creeds? And does he not come again and again to us, to each of us, in every generation, in every age?

So, amidst all this angst of a world coming apart; amidst our fear that we can do nothing to change the course of the mighty rivers of world events; amidst the struggle of leaders to do what is right when the current tempts us in the wrong direction, God comes to us with the words, “I will seek out my sheep.” And what comforting word these are, for who is it that does the seeking? Is it you or I? No. It is God in Christ. It is God who presses into the world in all its brokenness and seeks out you and me. It is God who risks and offers up his own life on the cross for you and me. It is God whose love eclipses our hatred and enfolds us as we resist enfolding. It is not up to you or me, it is up to God – and God has acted. He has appeared. The apocalypse is now, and it is good news for the whole world.

It is good news because although we as leaders may fail to lead, God will not fail.

It is good news because although we as Christians may fail in virtue, piety, and faithfulness, God will not fail.

It is good news because although kingdoms rise and fall through pride, arrogance, and power, God’s kingdom will never fail.

I recall our eleventh primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Michael Peers, offering these words, “We’re in it for the long haul.” His words are words of hope because it is true: while rulers rise and fall, we stand with Shepherd who fell and rose. Or rather – it is he who stands with us.

In every age the voice of the oppressed has called out for justice. Apocalyptic theology tells us that God will indeed execute judgment, or rather that the oppressors through their actions may have already executed judgment upon themselves. When Ezekiel speaks in today’s texts about the separation of the lean sheep and the fat sheep, and the deliverance of the oppressed and the punishment of those who have filled themselves unjustly, we must ask ourselves, in what way might we be amongst the “fat sheep.” Surely, we are not without guilt, both as leaders and as privileged people in the world. But are we without hope?

God continues to seek out his sheep even to the last. When Ezekiel enumerates the fate of the lean and the fat sheep, he adds this additional comment: “He shall feed them with justice.” To whom does this statement refer? One interpretation suggests he metes out justice by rewarding the good and exterminating the evil. Yet, if we read this statement through the lens of our Christian faith, and through the work of Christ, is not the justice of God that our Shepherd comes to seek out the lost sheep, the ones who have gone astray, and yes, even the evil ones? It is so easy to speak in terms of good and evil, and yet, what is evil if not human brokenness and disappointment? What is evil if not weakness hidden behind feigned power? What is evil if not insecurity and fear? Are there any amongst us who have not been the victims of brokenness, disappointment, weakness or insecurity and fear? And are there any amongst us who have not allowed ourselves to be overwhelmed by such things in negative ways? Ezekiel tells us that God promises to seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. And this is precisely what he has done in Jesus Christ. What if God is seeking out all of humanity, the good and the bad, and seeking to bring about reconciliation, healing, and wholeness to all? This is a hard message because we, as human beings, have one view of justice. But God has another.

Is not the justice of God this: “I came not to seek the righteous but the sinner?” God became human that each of us, in all our brokenness might be made whole. I suggest to you today that each of us has within us both the “lean” and the “fat.” Each of us is both sheep and goat. Each of us is both sinner and saint. The work of Christ is the reconciliation of our inner struggle. The work of Christ is the healing of this dichotomy. The work of Christ, and the justice of God in Christ, is transformation of brokenness into wholeness. When this happens in any one of us, the world is healed, and we do indeed behold and witness the revelation, the apocalypse, of kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ before our very eyes.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This sermon may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I Have Called You Friends -- A Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

Homily for Remembrance Sunday
Sunday November 9th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 15:12-17

"I have called you friends."
John 15:15

Upon my shelf sits a multi-volume history of civilization, inherited from my paternal grandfather, The History of Civilization, by Will Durant. Toward the opening of his first volume, he writes: “Civilization is not something inborn or imperishable; it must be acquired anew by every generation.”

As the nazi juggernaut moved forward, and as political appeasement failed, a generation of men and women searched their consciences and rose to answer the call of the day. They stood against a machine of death because they valued life and chose life for those of us who were to follow. For the sake of civilization, each of them made a sacrifice, and for the sake of civilization, many made the ultimate sacrifice. For the men and women of the day, participation in the War was beyond the acquisition and appropriation of civilization for themselves, it was about the very survival of civilization. And hoping to see the end of the war, it was about the hope that a better day would ultimately dawn. To them we owe a debt that can never be repaid. To those who came home and to those who fell our humble gratitude is annually extended upon this day.

“No greater love has this, that a man should lay down his life for his friend.” Surely this is the one Scripture that interprets the sacrifice made both by those who fell and by those who came home. Surely these are the words of Jesus to which we have annually turned to understand both the offering and the loss of that courageous generation. To lay down one’s life can mean so many things. There are those who sacrificed unto death, but there are those who came home came home changed forever, physically scarred, emotionally scarred, psychologically scarred. There is not one who went that did not lay down his life in one way or another… all for the love of his friend.

“I have called you friends.” What shall a man who did not live through the War say on such a day? What have I to offer to the many here lived through such times? I am afraid that I have little or nothing to offer. Over the past couple of weeks I have discussed today’s reading from St. John with many friends. One wrote me to say that in the context of Remembrance Day the focus on this text from John is, of course the words of Jesus, “No greater love has this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Other sayings of Jesus that form a part of the passage, such as “I have called you friends,” are for another time. Yet, I wonder... for while I may have little or nothing to offer on such a day, surely our Lord, in his full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, once offered, continues to offer himself to us. How exactly does he do that? He does it day-by-day, in times of war and in times of peace with these simple words, “I have called you friends.” These are words that cut us to the core. These are words that express a reality so revolutionary and so beautiful. These are words that change me. These are words that change us. Because when the spectre of evil looms and those around us, especially the weak and vulnerable, become the victims of unjust threats and violence, who amongst us is not moved to put our very being on the line to see the forces of darkness put in abeyance? God himself felt this way about us, and so in friendship he offered up himself tasting pain and tasting death that we might be called friends. God understands the pain and anquish of our souls, and yet, he redeems it.

The rhetoric of good and evil and light and darkness is so much a part of the conflicts we face today. I did not live through the War. I’m told that they were simpler times and that moral judgments were easier to make. I shall leave that to the consciences of those who lived through such times. However, I am compelled to speak to the consciences of those who live in the present time. I note, for myself at least, how easy it is to rise in righteous indignation when I feel under attack. But are we too quick to make judgments about the evil in another and stand against so-called darkness when we have not stopped to examine the darkness within ourselves? Whether it be wars in far off lands or wars within the Church, we perceive ourselves to be the defenders of what is right and the “other” to be part of an axis of evil, against which we must valiantly fight. We see ourselves as taking up the torch bequeathed to us from our fallen fathers.

“Take up your quarrel with the foe:
to you with failing hands we throw
the torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with those who die
We shall not sleep…”

But is their battle our battle? Do we blindly take a torch without understanding what it is that we are carrying? Are we under the delusion that the wars we fight and the battles that we wage are part of the same war fought so long ago? Do we examine what we fight and why we feel we must fight? They discerned the call of God and did what they felt they must do to be a civilized people in their own day? What is God calling us to do today?

I cannot judge the consciences of the people of another generation. I believe that they in good conscience saw a foe and rose against it, to the end that they took Jesus’ words very seriously and laid down their lives for their friends. However, I must judge the consciences of men and women of my own age – my own conscience included -- and begin to ask the question: who, or what, is the foe?

Who, or what, is the foe of our age against which we are called to stand? Is the foe not our human ignorance and fear of those who are different from us? Is not the foe our own impatience with a world changing faster than we can understand? Is not the foe our inability to listen to the voices of those from the margins? Is not the foe our vengeance and thirst for retribution? Is not the foe our sense of entitlement? And yet we do not recognize the foe. Again and again we mistake our brother or sister for our enemy, and in lashing out at them, we destroy ourselves. In doing so we choose not to acquire civilization for this generation but to destroy it. Will Durant is also reported to have said, “a civilization is not conquered from without until it is destroyed from within.”

So my friends, as we press on to the future (with the deepest admiration and respect for those who have taken up the battle in their own day), we must ask ourselves, what is the torch that is passed from failing hand? As we lay hold of the awesome responsibility of taking that torch in our own day, let us be clear not only about the foe against which we must constantly make a stand, but about the very nature of the torch itself.

Is it not the light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot – can never! --overcome? Is it not that battle against evil in whatever form it takes? Is it not the battle against war itself, the greatest evil created by human hands? Is it not the battle against the deep sinfulness within us that compels us to destroy each other? Did our fathers fight that we should take up arms or did they fight that we should lay them down?

“I have called you friends.” Did Jesus lay down his life that we should continue to stand against each other, or that we should stand together as friends? Jesus saw in the midst of his less than perfect company of followers not sinners, but friends. He saw past the surface, past the tarnished visage, past the tax collector, past the revolutionary zealot, and yes even past the betrayer, and called them friends.

The terrorist. The Wall Street embezzler. The corrupt politician. Can I see past the labels and the visages? Of course I cannot. I am but a man. But Jesus can and does. What is more he calls them friends. He calls each of us friends because when his light shines upon us, all that darkens of our souls is washed away by his brilliance and his love. The brilliance of his light is given to us in our creation and is restored to as he seeks us out again and again as we ever fail in our struggle to be a civilized species.

What is it that is passed on from Flanders Field? Note that it is not a sword but a torch, a light. It is a light that illumines the darkness in which we all walk; a light that reveals the true darkness, the true enemy, the true foe -- the darkness of our own hearts; and it is a light that vanquishes that darkness forever. The torch has been passed from Flanders Field, yet, it is but a shadow of the torch that was passed not on battlefield, but on hill, lo those years ago, from other failing hands, pierced hands, and arms stretched wide in suffering and in love. From the hands nailed to the Cross, into the hands of a company of friends, His light – and not only his light but his very presence – is carried into the world.

Let us keep faith, then, with the one who died, or rather, may he keep us in His faith that all people might be called friends and not enemies; brothers and sisters and not strangers; beloved, not hated; precious, not reviled. Through His grace may we love each other as He has loved us. His love alone, the love that laid down its life for us, can cut through our prejudice, hatred, and anger… search your conscience. Is it not so?

After fifty years of chronicling the history of Civilization, Will Durant stated his final lesson, gleaned from his amassed learning: “Love one another. My final lesson of history is the same as that of Jesus.”

May it be so. Come, Lord Jesus.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

We are Determined to Share with You Not only the Gospel of God but also Ourselves.

Sermon for Proper 30, Year A
Sunday, October 26th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also ourselves, because you have become very dear to us.”
--1 Thess 2:8

What is it that humans have feared most from age to age? More that war, more than poverty, more than disease – humans are afraid of being alone. Indeed, I would venture to say that underlying most of the things that grip us with fear is the fear of being alone. War, poverty, disease – these are all things that, when all is said and done, precipitate some kind of loss. At the heart of loss, is separation. And when we are separated from each other, from those we love and care for, through distance, illness, or death, we are alone. To probe even deeper, the aloneness that we feel when separated from each other makes us wonder if we are alone in the universe. Here, I speak not of the cosmic realm, but of the eternal realm. What if, when all is said and done, we are truly alone?

There are many people in this world whose faith in God seems so assured that I wonder if this question ever crosses their minds? I admire such faith, but I must be honest, it is not the experience of most of the people that I meet. And if I am to be quite honest, it is not always my experience. I have acknowledged previously, because I believe that honesty about things spiritual is incumbent upon us all, that there are times in the depth of my dark nights that I feel alone, and I wonder. I wonder about the promises of God. I wonder what comes next. I wonder about the afterlife and our resurrection from the dead. I wonder if my life means anything at all. I wonder about God. I wonder if I am alone.

Ironically, though, I don’t think that I am alone in this wondering. Who amongst us has not wondered in such wise? Who amongst us has not had those moments of feeling desperately isolated and alone? Who amongst us has, through isolation from fellow human beings, not felt isolated from God? I think we all have. But the first thing that I wish to say is this: that in our shared struggles around loneliness and aloneness, we realize that we are not alone. We all share in this struggle and we all share in the realization that it holds a very destructive power over us. I think we all know that loneliness and aloneness can threaten our bodies, minds and spirits. Loneliness and aloneness can destroy us. Our struggle with being alone is a struggle we share as part of our human condition.

What is so destructive, though, is the fact that we have so little power to change this. We cannot will ourselves out of loneliness. What brings an end to loneliness, what ends our experience of aloneness, is the presence of another. And so to this end, St. Paul writes to the people of Thessalonica, “So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also ourselves, because you have become very dear to us.” And in those comforting words, a people who felt alone in the world, because of persecution, because of rejection, because of all the things the breed loneliness, knew they were loved. Paul’s words signify a certain reality that Paul sought to impart not only comfort, but his own very loving presence to them. And what is more, he sought to impart through his own loving presence, the loving presence of a loving God.

One of the devices frequently employed by Paul as he wrote to communities around the Mediterranean was this very literary device in which he seeks to impart his presence through the means of a letter. Paul could not be with every community at every time. But he always promised that he was coming soon, and was indeed already with them through his love and his letter writing. But for Paul, it was never really about his own presence and his own love for the people, but about God’s presence and God’s love. He hoped and prayed and believed that in making his love known, they would know something of the love of God and in this experience of love, know something of God’s presence. He hoped and prayed and believed that they would not be alone, that none of us would be alone.

What Paul sought to enact for the people of Thessalonica, and for Christians everywhere (and this is why we still read him today, and why his letters speak across the ages), was this: A loving God continues to seek us out, as individual and as a people. As individuals who are lost and alone, and as people who wander in the wilderness together, and yet apart, God presses forward, seeks us out, gathers us in. Why is this so? Because we have become very dear to him, not through our own merit, not through our own striving, not through works of the Law, but simply because it is in the nature of God to love his people more passionately than we could ever hope to love back. God is determined to share himself with us. God is determined to share his love with us. God is determined that we should not be alone.

This is indeed the Good News of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ. Because God has walked amongst us in Christ, therefore we are not alone. Because God has shared himself with us, therefore we are not alone. Because God has given us the gift of human love, the gift to love each other, therefore we are not alone. Surely, the darkness of night continues to fall, and moments of loneliness will continue to wash over us, but we are not alone. Wars and rumours of wars may threaten to separate us from friend and neighbour, but we are not alone. Surely, those around us will abandon and forsake us, through the shattering of friendships, marriages, and even through death, but we are not, nor shall ever be alone. For God is determined when our determination fails. God is faithful when our faith diminished. God is present when all around us disappear. And most importantly God is ever seeking us out, sharing himself with us, and imprinting upon our hearts his wonderful words of life.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rejoice in the Lord Always

Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving
Senior’s Luncheon
Wednesday, October 8th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Philippians 4:4-9

“Rejoice in the Lord always.”
-Phil 4:4

St. Paul writes to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” It is, of course, easy to rejoice when things are going well. As our annual celebration of thanksgiving comes around and we see the bounty around us in this wonderful country, in this community, and even in this church, it is easy to find words of thanksgiving to God for all the ways in which we have been blessed.

Thanksgiving has two sides, though. There are those who go without the necessities of life on a daily basis – people who we cannot see in far away places, and people we choose not to see in this our own community. It then becomes somewhat more difficult for me to give thanks for what I have because then I must examine, why do I have so much and why do they have so little? Where is the justice in that? Where is the mercy of God? Is it easy for them to give thanks?

However, there is a reality that these two portraits fail to present. Even the wealthiest amongst us are not without pain, suffering, regret and some kind of poverty or another. Those who have much have much to lose, and often they do. Even if all our financial and material needs are met, we still lose loved ones to tragic illness or tragic accidents; we still face broken relationships; we still face the reality of a broken world. We have much to rejoice over, but we also have much to lament over.

And who has not seen blessing in the eyes of the poorest pauper? I remember talking with a street busker once who was not a wealthy man, but he constantly gave thanks for his life and all that he had. His spirit of thanksgiving was a blessing to those who passed by and spoke with him and heard his music. Who amongst us has not been touched by the generosity and gentleness of one who has less than we, and yet is thankful for even the slightest thing?

Be we rich or poor or middle class, each of us has within us poverty and wealth. When St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was impeded from being with them because he was imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Yet, he exudes great joy. Was he suffering? Certainly – he was in prison. Was he conflict? Certainly – he longed to leave this realm to be with Christ. What St. Paul understood, though, was that suffering and joy are not single children. Suffering and joy are twin siblings that walk together. To consider them anything else is to delude ourselves. Paul’s experience ran the gamut from poverty to jubilation – and he experienced both things not as polarities but as partners in his human experience and as the result of his life in Christ.

The Church at Philippi was very likely a wealthy community, funding many of Paul’s missions, and yet, it seems as if they were experiencing suffering under some kind of persecution. There seem to have been conflict in the community. Today’s passage follows an exhortation by Paul for two members (two faithful members who had suffered much for the gospel) to be reconciled with each other. Suffering and joy exist together in an ongoing tension. Indeed, he holds up our Lord and Saviour as the primary model of this suffering and joy, for Christ suffered greatly for our sake but is now exalted so that we, too, might be exalted. God, himself, participated in both our suffering and our joy. Thus, all our suffering and joy is made holy in his suffering and joy.

I suppose then, that this is one of the things that make us both human and hallowed. In our suffering we can taste the suffering of another and not only feel compassion but be stirred to walk with them, help them lift their burden and carry their load. In our joy we can touch the joy of another and celebrate the blessings of each other’s lives. To be truly human, as God created us to be, is to be touched and moved by the life and experience of our fellow creatures.

Let us be stirred, then, to give a hand to those who suffer, walk in poverty, are filled with sadness, and need a companion, for do we not all experience some kind of poverty at some time or another? And let us rejoice with those who celebrate good news and abundant blessing, for are we not all blessed in one sense or another? Let us be of the same mind as Christ our Lord, who suffered and rejoiced, not for his sake but for ours. Let our suffering and joy be made holy, in him, in service to our fellow creatures.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Do Not Worry: A Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving

Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving, Year A, 2008
Sunday, October 5th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 6:25-33

Do not worry. How easy it is to offer this platitude when there is so much to worry about. The very suggestion not to worry seems to undercut the reality of the stress, pain or fear that we might be experiencing over any given crisis. How many times has a friend or loved one told you not to worry about someone or something and you have wished that your friend, well-meaning as they are, would simply go away? The well-meaning friend hopes that in offering this counsel will alleviate your worry, and perhaps even alleviate their own worry about you and everything that you are facing. Yet, such counsel and advice is often taken as the counsel of Job’s friends, as not really helpful advice at all. For to worry is to be a person invested in the world and invested in the stuff of life. I must worry about my children when I send them off either to kindergarten or university. I must worry about the safety of our schools and streets. I must worry about an aging parent whose health is declining. I must worry about a friend in financial need. Don’t tell me not to worry.

This week has been a week of financial worry for many who have invested in the markets, or for those who have pensions heavily invested in these same financial markets. This week has been a worry for those south of the border who have homes and houses on the line. There is cause for worry for many folk. We have cause to worry for the places in the world that are torn apart by warfare and strife. We have cause to worry for the poorest amongst us in the world who go without the basic necessities of life on a daily basis. We have cause to worry about our young men and women overseas. We have so much too worry about.

To deny our worry would be to deny a piece of ourselves and to deny a piece of our humanity. If we are to live with any authenticity we must admit that we do indeed worry and not push it down inside of us and pretend that we have some kind of superhuman resistance to it. Similarly, I believe that as friends to those who find themselves in crisis, we should resist the urge to tell others not to worry, when there is indeed cause for worry. Rather we should stand alongside those in their angst and offer them companionship and love as they authentically struggle with the challenges and worries that they encounter along life’s road.

Thus, these words of Jesus -- “do not worry” -- are difficult for us. Should we even take them seriously? Are they actually a realistic admonishment? Should we consider that they apply to others who have better resilience to crisis than you or me?

I suppose that more important than, “Do not worry,” is the comforting reality of Jesus’ abiding presence with us. As I have said so often about St. Matthew’s Gospel, it is a gospel about the enduring presence of Christ in our lives. The text begins with the fulfillment of the prophecy about the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, literally, God with us, and concludes with Jesus’ promise to be with us always even unto the end of the age. Having “book-ended” his Gospel in this way, I believe that this promise of presence is the key that we must constantly use to unlock Matthew’s text. To this end, I think that this is what this little story is really about. In the midst of our worry, in the midst of crisis, in the midst of sadness, in the midst of fear, in the midst of loss, Jesus is with us.

Jesus is with us not as one who negates our worry or angst but as one who helps us bear it on the road. Thus, when we look to the birds of the air or the lilies of the field we come to understand that God journeys with the whole created order through the seasons. As it is with us, so is it also for the Earth: for the earth, there are good seasons and bad. There are times where there is too much rain, or too much snow, or too much heat… but shall we say God has abandoned the Earth? There are times when the harvest is plentiful and there are times when the harvest is sparse. Shall we say that God has abandoned the wind or the sky or the earth or the sea? The seasons cycle through their days and yet comes another dawn, a new morn, a new sun and a new moon, new growth, and yes, so too again will follow the withering of the grass and the falling of the leaves and the sleeping of the earth. But as God attends the seasons of the Earth, so too, he attends the seasons of our lives. He is with us as joy is birthed and he is with us when death brings sadness. He is with us as we fall in love and with us when love is broken. He is with us in the brightness of our mornings and in the deep frightening stillness of our nights. He is with us always.

Do not worry. This phrase then takes on a new meaning because our counselor is not merely a well-meaning friend offering platitudinous counsel, but a companion who shares our fear, knows our pain, tastes our burden. In the crucible of our lives he lives and moves and has his being. And in his crucible is our burden lifted, carried, and redeemed in the sight of God.

We do not know why we face certain kinds of suffering in this life. And while these sufferings may feel like they are put upon us, let us never forget that our God is the one who helps bear the burden and lift our suffering and worry from us. Let us never forget that we are not left alone, or comfortless, or companionless.

Do not worry. This is not the counsel of a well-meaning, but wrong-headed friend, but a promise. It is a promise – a promise that our worry is never ours to bear alone; a promise that whatever suffering we face is a suffering that will be shared by the one who hung for us on the tree of life; a promise that dark though the road may be, Jesus will ever be a light to our feet and a lantern to our path.

Worry does not go away simply because someone tells us not to worry. Our fears and worries dissipate only when another helps us carry them, and lift them from our shoulders. Let us therefore embrace the reality of our worry, the reality of our fear, the reality of our struggle, and the reality of our pain and angst, for it is in embracing the reality of our lives that Jesus extends a hand to walk with us. It is in facing the reality of our lives that we are offered not empty words of consolation, but a promise of divine friendship, which is the gift beyond all measure and a harvest more bountiful than wealth of riches and gold.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Follow Me

Homily for the Feast of St. Matthew
Sunday, September 21st, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 9:9-13

“Follow me…” and he got up and followed him.
- Matthew 9:9

If a certain first century tax collector named Matthew was to be caught up somehow in the space/time continuum and transported to our present day and witness the celebrations held in his honour, see the churches dedicated to his memory, and notice the prefix of “Saint” added to his name, he would certainly be forgiven for thinking that he must be the victim of a case of mistaken identity. Surely, this festival and those churches could not be in honour of him, the hated tax collector! And if one of his contemporaries happened to have been caught up in that same time warp with him, he surely would have added, “I know the man well, and believe me… he ain’t no saint!” What happened that this most notorious of sinners should come to be thought of as one the preeminent saints of the Church?

Let us first consider, what was so bad about this man anyway? As modern people we may scratch our heads at the notion that being a tax collector was about as bad as one could get, but in ancient times tax collectors were looked upon with considerable distain and loathing. Often, they were free-agent local contractors who collected taxes on behalf of the hated Roman occupiers. Thus, to some extent, they were probably looked upon as collaborators. Furthermore, many were known for either skimming off the top or overcharging and pocketing considerable sums of money for themselves. They were individuals who should have served the public good but who abused their civic duty. In today’s terms we might draw an analogy with those, who, as members of respected professions engage in questionably ethical behaviour. Whether they be civil servants corrupted by access to the public purse, or the so-called ambulance-chasers of certain guilds, we can begin to understand the low regard in which this particular professional might have been held. To this end, tax collectors were grouped alongside all other kinds of sinners, such as prostitutes, thieves, rapists, and murderers, and in the case of today’s gospel, were singled out as especially bad.

However, by the end of the first century, the Church had a special book, claiming to come from the hand of this most heinous tax collector -- The Gospel According to St. Matthew, which has become the first book of our New Testament. To those who knew Matthew the tax collector, this most certainly would have come as a surprise. Scholars debate whether or not our tax -collecting friend was actually the author of this book, but it seems certain that the traditions within it go back to him. What is especially interesting is that this particular gospel soon achieved a preeminent status in the Church as the first amongst four gospels, and indeed has often been called “The Church’s book.” By the early second century, one writer, Papias (whose words are preserved in fourth century Church Historian Eusebius of Ceasarea) notes the importance of Matthew’s gospel by stating, “Matthew collected the oracles (of Jesus) in the Hebrew language and each interpreted them as best he could” (Eusebius Ecc. Hist. III.39.16). Later in the second century, the great Ireneus of Lyons also knows of this gospel and its preeminence. By the middle ages, several versions of his martyrdom existed, having him meet his demise in the defense of the faith variously in Persia, Ethiopia, or Pontus. Reputed relics of St. Matthew are found across Europe and remain to this day places of pilgrimage.

The question remains, though, how did this notorious sinner become the celebrated saint? The answer is deceptively simple and can be found in his response to that invitation offered by Jesus on that afternoon so long ago: “Follow me.”

The story is a simple one and so much remains untold. Jesus was simply walking by, caught sight of Matthew and offered him an invitation to become his follower, his disciple. We are simply told that Matthew “got up and followed him.” We are not told of what angst might have been on Matthew’s heart leading up to that moment. We are not told of the risk he took in leaving all behind. We are not told of how he might have felt at being offered a place in this special band of disciples given how his fellows disdained him. We are only told that he got up and followed Jesus.

I suppose that it really is as simple as that for each of us. We can wrestle and wrangle over what being a follower of Jesus might mean for us. What are the challenges of following Jesus? What will I have to give up? What lies ahead for me? What will people think of me? Will I be acceptable to God? Am I fit for God’s work? All these questions may pass before us – these and more – but ultimately we must face that moment of truth when all the questions and concerns are eclipsed by the invitation. Will I say yes to that invitation? Will I rise up and follow him?

Jesus sees beyond and through our doubt and angst into the depths of our truest selves and issues that call that cuts through all that distracts us. The terseness of the call illustrates that this is how he saw Matthew. He looked beyond all that separated Matthew from his fellow citizens. He saw Matthew with different eyes. Consider that the name Matthew derives from a Semitic word that means “gift from God.” Matthew may have been despised and rejected by amongst whom he lived and worked. And very likely, there was good cause to despise such a man. Yet, Jesus looked beyond what the world could see. He looked beyond even how Matthew might have viewed himself and recognized the man who was a gift from God, and invited him to follow him on his journey.

I am conscious, though, that the name “Matthew” might also be a play on the Greek word for disciple, mathetes. So again, the one who we might cast aside, the one who we might despise is gathered up by that great shepherd of our souls and recognized as being of great value to the kingdom of God. Jesus looked beyond the tax collector and saw the disciple. Our Lord looks into the depths of each one of us, beyond the things others do not like about us, and beyond the things that we do not like about ourselves, and recognizes and calls the disciple in each one of us.

I am also conscious that while Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple, Matthew became something more. A disciple is one who “follows behind” and indeed this is the sense of the Greek phrase that here we find translated, “follow me.” An apostle, on the other hand, is one who goes ahead, with a message and a proclamation. Thus, not only did Jesus recognize within Matthew the follower, he saw what he could become, which was the herald of good tidings, the apostle.

We catch a glimpse of this reality within the text because Matthew’s conversion is immediately followed by Jesus sitting at dinner not only with Matthew, but with many tax collectors and sinners. What has Matthew’s conversion done but lead others to Christ! By following he became a leader. Others around, others who felt unworthy, other who felt unloved, others who felt themselves to be the outcasts, others who believed that they had nothing to offer, others who believed they had no beauty within themselves, recognized that they, too, were gifts from God. Through the witness of Matthew’s discipleship, they were able to let go of everything that held them in bondage to their brokenness and sit in the presence of the Lord feeling loved and affirmed simply as children of God.

The message is as sure today as it was then. Underneath the rubble of my own mistakes and missteps, and underneath the wounds of our broken relationships there exists a person who is a gift to the world. Although we may not be able to see it ourselves and even others may write us off, Jesus looks deeply through the fog of our lives and utters those words, “follow me – be my disciple – I choose you.”

And if we dare to say yes, we too shall find that we are called not only to be disciples but called to be heralds and apostles of this scandalous message that each created person is indeed valuable and precious, that each one of us is a gift from God and have a gift to offer, and that there is no one who is not precious and beautiful in the sight of God.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Prayer as Being

Homily for Proper 22, Year A
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 12:9-21

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
-- Romans 12:21

In today’s epistle, the Apostle reiterates some of the most important teachings that we find in the Gospel. He admonishes his audience to be genuine in love, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in honour. Be ardent, zealous, hopeful, patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, and contribute to the needs of the saints. And finally, do not repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good. Is it not true that many, if not all of these Christian virtues are difficult to observe and maintain? How many of us are truly able to turn the other cheek, or offer hospitality to one who has offended us? Are any of these virtues actually possible? How many of us actually live with the belief that good will indeed overcome evil?

If we have learned anything over the past several weeks of journeying with Paul, I hope that it is this, that these things are not possible without Christ. Indeed, if we seek these virtues under our own power we shall never attain to them. If these virtues are at all possible, it is our Lord and God working through us in Jesus Christ -- not me, but Christ in me. This is why the Apostle commands us to persevere in prayer. Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. In prayer we bring before God the pains and sorrows of this weary world, and in prayer we lay before God our own brokenness and our sinfulness. What is more, in prayer we receive great peace. In prayer God enfolds us in love. In prayer, when all about us comes crashing down and all seems lost, God enfolds us in his loving arms and keeps us and reminds us that all shall indeed be well. In prayer, God reminds us not to be overcome by the world but to meet the world in its suffering.

Indeed, it was in suffering world to which our Lord Jesus Christ stretched out his hands on the cross, and it was this same suffering world that he redeemed in his Resurrection. Even on the road to the cross, even in Gethsemane, even on Golgotha – Jesus Christ was not overcome by evil, but overcame evil with good, for on the third day, as we all know, he rose from the dead, reconciling all things to God.

Yes, it is difficult for us to live with Christian virtue, to live in love and charity with our neighbour, and to love those who persecute us. But look to our Lord on the Cross and remember this, it is not me but Christ in me. It is not you, but Christ in you. Friends, if we rely on our own power to overcome evil with good, it shall never be done. But if we rely on Christ, who transforms us and transforms the world, all things are possible. It is not simply a matter of “what would Jesus do?” but “what has Jesus done.” He has trampled down the power of sin and death. He has overcome evil with what is good. And in him we have died to our old selves in order that we might be alive to God.

This is the truth to which Paul has spoken throughout the letter to the Romans, and this is the truth into which we are called to live. If we live into this truth we shall indeed be transformed and those Christian virtues that seem so difficult for each of us will become a way of life.

A man came to Jesus and asked him to heal his child who was severely afflicted. “Just believe,” Jesus told him. What was the man’s response? Was it not the response that might come from the lips of any of us – words of hope and yet words of doubt? “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.” This is where most of us stand, is it not, with a desire to believe, a desire to live the Christian life, but with a fear that it is all an illusion? Yet, in Jesus’ presence, the man was encouraged and his prayer was granted.

Persevere in prayer. This is perhaps the most important encouragement in today’s passage from Romans. It is, of course, a vow that each of us have made in our baptisms: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” And what is our answer? “I will with God’s help.” Paul knows that we cannot do it on our own and thus in our Baptism we make our promise, which is actually a plea for help.

Persevere in prayer. How shall we do this? And is persevering in prayer a “work” toward our salvation, the kind of thing that Paul cautions against? I do not think so. For prayer, although often described as a work (and to be sure, prayer does take effort and discipline), is actually a way of being. It is a relationship rather than a task. Relationships take time and effort, but they are primarily about simply being together. So it is with prayer. Thus, if we believe that prayer is not so much a task but a relationship, then we believe that prayer is simply about being with God.

Now, how do we set about being with God, which is, I believe the primary task of prayer? First, I think that we must set aside a regular time to be with God, everyday. A relationship that does not have intention and commitment is really not a relationship at all. Set aside some time, even just a little bit. Think of how much joy it brings to you and a spouse, a friend or child, to have a regular bit of time together, even if it is just for a short while. Take the time.

Next, be intentional about how you spend the time. Any relationship is built upon shared experience and mutual conversation. What might time with God look like and what shape will our conversation take? Traditionally, our shared experience as a Christian people is the Holy Scripture. The Bible is our story. Our conversation is our reflection on this story, our grappling with it, our questioning of it, our praying it. There are many ways of prayer, but as Anglicans we have a particular gift, the gift of the Daily Office. The Daily Office is a daily cycle of daily prayer and reading in which we hear and pray the word of God day-by-day as a way of being with God and talking with God. If we hope to become a people with a passionate spirituality, then we must listen to God in our Holy Scripture and converse with God in prayer. There can be no substitute. We hear people say that the Bible does not have meaning for them, but have they chosen to take the time to read it faithfully in the context of prayer?

To this end, I issue you a challenge. I am calling this challenge “The Gospel of Mark Challenge.” I am encouraging, even challenging you, to take fifteen minutes every day to pray the Daily Office and read a little bit of Mark’s Gospel from beginning to end. The Gospel of St. Mark has sixteen chapters. This means that by reading half a chapter a day, you can read it through in about a month. But read it through as part of a little service that you do at a set time of the day, a time of your choosing. Many of you will own a Book of Alternative Services or Book of Common Prayer. Morning and Evening Prayer can be found in both these books. You can do a fuller or abbreviated service, depending on how you feel. You can do Morning or Evening Prayer; it is your choice. Each service makes provision for readings from Scripture. You don’t have to read a lot, just half a chapter of Mark (that’s a couple of paragraphs). Make the space in your life for a relationship with God, and be intentional about how you will use the time.

Finally, I offer two other thoughts. These thoughts are intended to help you keep at it. First, if you miss a day, that’s okay. No need to double-up on your reading or prayers. Just pick up where you left off. There is no pressure to meet any deadline. The only imperative is that we start today, not tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes. Secondly, let’s read together shall we? I’ll make the commitment to read along beside you in my daily prayer. Furthermore, I’m making the commitment to be available to you to help you in your reading: Drop me an email, leave me a voicemail message. I will be reflecting regularly on my website about interesting and challenging bits of the text, and attempting to reflect on questions that emerge. I invite you to journey with me.

As I said earlier, prayer is not so much about doing. It is about being – being with God and being together as a Christian people. If we persevere in prayer we shall find God waiting patiently for us. And we shall find a God who helps us in our weakness and comforts us in our sorrow. We shall find a God who will be virtuous when we cannot be virtuous, who forgives when we cannot forgive, who does all those things that Paul commands even when we cannot. Yet, we shall also find that his virtues will become our virtues and yes, come to discover that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Text Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed by any means, either in whole or part, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Becoming Who I Am

Homily for Proper 21, Year A
Sunday, August 24th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 12:1-8

“So that you may discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
-- Romans 12:2

Who am I? What is my place in the world, in the Church, and in the kingdom of God? These are questions that cut to the core of our being and essential for each of us to address if we are to live out our lives with purpose and according to God’s will. These are also questions to which St. Paul turns in the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Having spent the previous eleven chapters probing very deeply the theological essence and understanding of new life in Christ, Paul turns from an exposition of the content of faith to offering ethical instruction on how we are to live as Christian people. He begins by addressing the very question that cuts to the core of each of us, the existential question: Who am I and what is my reason for being?

Thus, I suggest that in these few chapters Paul is addressing the question of our authenticity as Christian people. If we are born anew in Christ, if indeed we have died with him in the waters of baptism, who have we become as we are raised to new life and live in him? His answer, I believe, is threefold. If we are indeed alive to God in Christ, he calls us first to uncover who we are in our relationship with the living God. Secondly, he asks us to consider who we are with respect to the world in which we live. And finally, he exhorts us to consider our relationship with each other in our participation in the body of Christ, that is, the Church.

Consider for a moment the first point. Who are we, who have we become, or better yet, who are we becoming in our relationship with the living God. Paul exhorts us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is our spiritual worship. These words would have certainly evoked within the original hearers several admonishments from the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, Hosea 6:6, “For I desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”, and of course, Psalm 50:14, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the most High.” Thus, Paul was surely evoking both within the narrative thought world of his first century Jewish listeners and the cultural world of his gentile audience a traditional image of sacrifice turned on its head – the offering of self, rather than ritual, cultic sacrifice.

Some months ago, I spoke about a similar passage found in the First Letter of Peter, and I drew the obvious connection to our post-communion prayer from the BCP: “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.” I do not wish to traverse extensively over ground upon which I have so recently trod, but I do wish to point out that where the New Revised Standard Version of our Bible reads “spiritual worship” in Romans 12:1, the term might be better translated, “reasonable worship.” The BCP prayer certainly picks up this variant meaning. Furthermore, in ancient parlance, to say that we present “our bodies,” is to be understood as connoting “our whole selves.” Thus, in St. Paul’s understanding, what God asks of us is the offering of our whole selves, not just our minds or our hearts, but also our bodies, to God. We offer to God all that we are and all that we have. Again, this evokes a well-known saying of Jesus (which he actually cribbed from the Hebrew Scriptures), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Now, at the outset this might seem to sound like a tall order, but I suggest that it instead rather simple, and indeed, quite liberating. Consider this: God does not ask us to offer what we have not or who we are not, but to offer what we have and who we are. This is what is reasonable and holy in the sight of God. It involves no striving, nor perfection. We are who we are, good or bad, and all the complexity in-between; wherever we are, who ever we are, whenever we are – God asks us to come to him, as the old hymn says, “Just as I am.” It is the entirety of our being that God seeks. Not just our spirits, souls, or minds, but also our bodies, all that has been created in his image, all that he deemed good in our creation, and yes, also every thing and every way in which we have failed to conform to that image. Just as I am.

This inevitably leads to the second point, found in verse two, in which Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to the world (or more literally, to the present age), but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that we may discern the will of God. Thus the question becomes, “Who am I in this present age; in this beautiful, wonderful, but confusing, complicated, and oft-disappointing world?” Well, if we have come to understand that we are God’s and that in Christ we offer ourselves back to him, then we cannot belong to another. The present age cannot be our master. Who then, are we to be with respect to the world? About one thing, we must be perfectly clear, and I believe Paul is clear on this point because he would not have offered extensive moral exhortation about how to live in the world if he did not believe it, namely, that the Christian life is not about escapism. Just as it is not about escaping our bodies, as the Gnostics and their modern heirs would have, neither is it about escaping this present world. The world is God’s creation. All creation belongs to God. All time is His. Yet, there are forces and powers in this age that rebel against God and his good creation. Indeed, within us we sense sinful desires that draw us from the love of God. Lest we think that these are all external forces, let us remember that each of us has within us the capacity to do great harm to our fellow human beings. Thus, let us not be conformed to what draws us from God, but be transformed. What can this mean, though, to be transformed. I suggest that it means nothing less than learning to see with the eyes of God – to see the world as God sees it, with love, hope, compassion and delight. What is more, it means that we must begin to see ourselves as God sees us, with love, hope, compassion and delight. A recurring theme in the letters of Paul, found especially in Philippians chapter 2, is the exhortation that we might have the mind of Christ. That is, to see as God sees, to act as God acts, to relate to each other and the world as God would relate to us.

We are fond of saying that we were created in image and likeness of God, but Eastern Orthodox theology makes a certain distinction: We were created in the image of God and while that image may be become tarnished it is never completed obscured. God, thus, became man that we might be transformed into his likeness. To be transformed in Christ is to find our truest self, which is both the image and likeness of God. Therefore, in the words of a prominent theologian H.A. Williams, the Christian life is the process of “becoming who I am.” Or to think of it another way, the Christian life is about learning to see myself as God sees me, not through my own eyes but through the eyes of Christ. When we can do this, then we shall the world as God sees it and understand more clearly our place in it.

Finally, we come to ask the question, who am I in the Kingdom of God? As Paul does, elsewhere, he invokes the image of a body, not just any body, but the body of Christ. And as Paul made clear to the Corinthians, so too he explains to the Romans, a body has many parts, and all the parts are necessary to the ordered working of the whole. Whereas the problem in Corinth was that one wanted to be hand when they were a foot, and another wanted to be an eye when they were an ear, in Romans Paul is simply offering the metaphor as a way of understanding that our callings and vocations are gifts from God. Each of us are given talents and skills which we are to offer for the building of the kingdom. Consider again the prayer, we offer “our selves, our souls and bodies,” which is our reasonable worship. Thus, to take up our gifts, to live into them, to live them out is also an act of worship. Paul identifies seven gifts because in the ancient world seven was the number of perfection. The number is purely symbolic; there are as many gifts as there are people. Thus, it is my duty to ask you to consider, explore, and discern your gifts. What is the special talent God has given you? Have your nurtured that gift? Have you honoured that gift? Have you used it for the building up of God’s kingdom? St. Paul also tells us that God gives us a measure of faith with our gifts that enables us to activate them, engage them, to live into them that we might faithfully fulfill the work to which we are called, not only as individuals but as a holy people, God’s Holy Church. When each of us faithfully engages our gifts, then together, as the body of Christ, we can be so much more than simply the sum of our parts, we can bring Christ’s body to the world – A body that has the power to heal a broken humanity and a broken world.

Who am I? What is my place in the world? Who is God calling me to be in his kingdom? The answer of course is simple: God is calling me to be me. Not as I see myself, but as God sees me. God is calling each of us, in our brokenness, and yes, even our sinfulness to become who we are. God is calling us, in the midst of an age that seeks but refuses to see, to see ourselves as he sees us. God is calling us to look within ourselves and claim our talents and skills. God is calling us to look at ourselves and the world through the his eyes, to have the mind of Christ in all things, and most of all, to become who we are, a holy people created in the image of God and growing day by day into his likeness.

Text copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shall We Mistake the Branch for the Root?

Homily for Proper 20, Year A
Sunday, August 17th, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
-- Romans 11:29

The Revised Common Lectionary, the ecumenical table of readings from Scripture that we follow week by week has been a blessing to the Church. In adopting this lectionary, mainstream Christian denominations, such as Anglicans, Roman Catholics, The United Church, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (amongst others) are committed to a shared journey through the same weekly lessons from Scripture over a three-year cycle. Much more of the Bible is read than many of us ever covered before in our respective denominational lectionaries; and yet, there are still portions that are left unread. Such is the case with today’s reading from Romans in which we read the first verse-and-a-half of Romans chapter eleven and then skip ahead to verses twenty-nine through thirty-two. As a result the intervening verses are never read during the regular Sunday worship in churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary.

Why did the framers of the lectionary leave out certain portions of Scripture? While I rejoice in the fact that we have a shared ecumenical lectionary and I encourage its use, the omission of certain portions of Scripture has continued to bother me throughout the years. I first recognized this tendency in the lectionary some years ago when I was preaching on the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Revelation, which contains a series of “blessings and woes.” The lectionary only included every other verse, the ones with the blessings, while the woes were omitted. Indeed, when one canvasses which passages from Revelation actually make the cut it becomes clear that most difficult passages have been removed and the ones that remain are the hymnic passages in which hosts gather round the throne and praise God. Several other examples could be cited.

At the time that I first encountered this editorial policy, I had the good fortune to be a staff member of the National Office of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. One of my fellow staff members had been a member of the editorial committee of the Revised Common Lectionary. I asked this person why these decisions were made and was told that some of the more difficult passages were removed because the preacher would have to spend a lot of time explaining the difficult parts of the text before they could ever get to preaching the Good News.

Well, that answer never really satisfied me. First of all, I believe that the difficult passages of Scripture are to be confronted and grappled with. Secondly, it places a low estimation on the preachers of the Church and their ability to deal with difficult passages of Scripture (You, the faithful people of the Church will, of course, be the ones ultimately to decide if this assumption is justified). And finally, given that today is one of those cases in which a significant chunk of Scripture has been edited out, I have had to spend the first third of my sermon explaining why it has been excised. Perhaps the time would have been better-spent exegeting the text rather than exegeting the rationale of the lectionary editors. To this end, I turn to today’s text from Romans, what is there and what is not.

In the eleventh chapter of Romans, Paul is wrestling with the fate of Israel, given the dawning of a new age in the Christ event. As Paul has been arguing throughout the letter, we are saved not by works of the Law but rather through God’s grace and are made righteous by faith. Now, if this is indeed the case, what is to become of those with whom the first covenant was made, namely historic Israel? Lest we think this to be either an academic or merely historical question, let us consider for an instant that this question might be very germane in this very community of Thornhill in which we live, a community in which Christian and Jew live side-by-side.

In the missing chapters Paul seeks to explain the fate of Israel. The heart of his argument is this: that because Israel rejected the Jesus as Messiah, this created an opportunity for the gentiles to receive Christ, and thus be grafted onto the tree of Israel. In Paul’s reasoning God used the tragedy of Israel’s disobedience to bring about his purpose of including all of humanity in the family of God, and not simply one nation, alone. We should also note that Paul did not create this theology ex nihilo. Rather, we know from the prophets that Israel expected the incorporation of the gentiles into their nation. Indeed, consider texts such as Isaiah 60, “The gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” Thus, Paul stands within a tradition of Jewish theologizing about the incorporation of the gentiles. Furthermore, he states that God has allowed a remnant to remain faithful, presumably those who chose to follow the Christ. Indeed Paul writes to a mixed Jewish/Gentile Christian community in Rome. Now, to our modern sensibilities this may seem a distasteful notion, that only Jews who became Christians would be considered part of the true Israel, but again, Paul is consistent with his biblical tradition in which again and again, the people of Israel refuse to follow God while a remnant remains to faithfully lead the way forward to a renewed covenant relationship with God. Paul is a thoroughly Jewish theologian in this respect.

The problem to be faced in this passage by modern interpreters – the problem the framers of the lectionary wish to protect us from considering – is what is called, in technical terms, supersessionism. Supersessionism is the belief that Christianity has superceded and indeed replaced Judaism. It is a belief that Judaism is no longer a viable religion, nor an authentic way to God. It asserts that in rejecting the Jesus as the Christ, Jews have not only abandoned any hope of salvation but that God has indeed revoked his covenant with them. Is this what St. Paul is actually saying?

On one level it would appear so. In fact, he asserts that the incorporation of gentiles into Israel and the example of their faith will be the cause for those Jews not among the remnant to once again be reincorporated. Yet, this is not the end purpose of Paul’s discussion -- he is not satisfied either to pass judgment on those members of Israel who have not turned to Christ, nor is he satisfied to assert that they are cut off from God. As the lectionary editors have left out the problematic text, they have also left out a text in which Paul grapples with the very problem he presents. In response to this problem, Paul offers the image of an olive tree. Certain branches (i.e., disobedient members of Israel) have been broken off and trimmed, while the gentiles (i.e., us), a wild olive shoot, have been grafted into their place to “share in the rich root of the olive tree.” Yet he adds that while it was true that some were broken off through unbelief, we only remain through faith. We must never forget that we, too, are but branches and that we, too, may be trimmed should we mistake ourselves for a root or trunk, rather than a branch. As James Dunn, a prominent Anglican scholar of St. Paul remarks, (Dunn: Theology of St. Paul, 526) “there is no room for pride, which is the antithesis of faith, only godly fear.” Dunn goes on to point out that Paul’s metaphor is that of a single tree, not one that is cut down and replaced by another. Thus, we are grafted onto the tree of Israel and the roots are the patriarchs & prophets. This, of course, is why we do not abandon the Hebrew Scriptures but choose to read them as part of our Christian Canon of Scripture. And what is more, the Hebrew Bible continues to maintain its revelatory power as sacred Scripture for Jews of any age, and yet as Christians, reading it in the context of the Incarnation & Resurrection, Hebrew Scriptures are also Christian Scriptures that point to, and reveal the Christ.

The whole point of Paul’s metaphor of the tree is simple: Having been grafted on to the tree – shall we lord it over others? The branch does not support the tree, the root does. To this end we share in a journey with our Jewish brothers and sisters who draw life from the same root and occupy the same tree. All of us are living “between the times,” we are caught between present and future fulfillment. As Christians, we have had died and are risen with Christ and yet we wait to taste that bodily resurrection from the dead. Similarly, our Jewish brothers and sisters who have received the Law devoutly follow it, and yet also await its consummation.

As I noted earlier, the concept of the gentiles becoming incorporated into Israel was an important theme of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. But what we learn from this chapter of Romans is that the concept of Israel is more expansive than the Jews expected – the gentiles did come understand the God of Israel as their creator and Saviour – but not through the law but rather through the grace of God in Christ. The challenge is for us both to see each other as members of God’s family and as members of the house of Israel. This is a difficult task given our competing claims of exclusivity. It is difficult for both for Jews and for Christians. On the one hand, for Jews the requirement to uphold the law would seem to exclude Christians who reject the works of the Law. On the other hand, Christian claims of the exclusivity of Christ, especially given our appeal to texts such as John 14:6 (No one comes to the Father except through me), exclude those who do not come to God through the second person of the Trinity. What makes this all the more problematic is the fact that Christians and Jews have fought, slandered and abused each other (and there is blame on both sides, here), rather than seeing ourselves as children of the same God and branches on the same tree.

The challenge for us as Christians is not only to consider a broader understanding of Israel than we had previously thought (and this remains a challenge as well for our Jewish siblings), but also to remain open to the reality that perhaps there are other branches on the tree as well. Shall we be swift to condemn and mistake ourselves for a root when we are but a branch? In this metaphor of the olive tree Paul cautions us against believing that we hold a place of privilege above others in the eyes of God.

I recognize, though that this conclusion does not answer every question or hold up against every proof-text which claims either Jewish or Christian exclusivity. To this end I offer my own humble experience: As a Christian person, I have an experience of the living God in Christ. I know Christ to be my saviour and through our Scriptures, the lives of the saints, the lives of faithful Christians known to me, I know him to be the Saviour and redeemer of Christian People everywhere, and yes, even Saviour of the World. This is the point from which I must invariably begin. But I cannot speak for others or from the perspective of others, who claim as well to have an experience and relationship with the living God. Yet, shall my certainty of God’s offering in Christ prevent me from sitting down with another and seeking to understand them? And worse, shall my certainty lead me to condemn them. God forbid it, for we are all God’s children.

There is a sobering thing about what Paul is saying. He suggests that the stumbling of one branch of Israel is what brought us (the gentiles) into Israel. Shall my stumbling and lack of understanding be the thing makes room for another? I must face the reality that it may not be my faithful preaching, my zealous belief, my longing for God that allows another branch to be grafted on, but my stumbling, my mistakes, and my brokenness. The fearsome reality of God is that God can make use of my brokenness, disobedience and imperfection to bring about the fullness of his will just as easily as he can make use of my obedience and zeal, for as St. Paul says in Romans 11:32, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience that he may be merciful to all.” We are all sinners: Christians, Jews, and Muslims, what have you. If we are human then we sin. If we are human we are prone to arrogance. If we are human, we are imperfect. God alone is sovereign and perfect. But we must always remember, if we are human, God’s mercy is open to us all.

In the end, and this is indeed the part of the passage included by the editors of the lectionary, Paul opts to believe in the expansive graciousness of God. He states emphatically about God’s covenant with historic Israel, “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Therefore, let us meet each other in a spirit of humility, bringing not only the fullness of our convictions and beliefs, but also a recognition of the sovereignty of God and a healthy sense of our own limitations. Let us sit together, in silence if necessary, but at least together, that God may bring about the work of reconciliation, and that the tree of Israel, which is the whole human family, may grow into fullness and beauty in the sight of God.

“O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways!”

Copyright 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.