Friday, May 30, 2008

I Am Not Ashamed of the Gospel

Homily for Proper 9, Year A
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.
--Romans 1:16

There may be many things about which we are ashamed. One only needs to probe beneath the surface of our lives to realize that there are some things that we have done that we would rather not share with others. There are different levels of shame. For example, it has been a number of years since I allowed my time as the manager of a Dairy Queen store to drop off my resume. While managing a Dairy is nothing to be ashamed of, I’d rather just keep it to myself. Why do I not wish to share this fact with a prospective employer? Of what am I ashamed? On a somewhat deeper level, I rarely tell people that I dropped out of Art College at age nineteen because I simply wasn’t good enough and didn’t have the personal discipline to cut it as a professional artist. I suppose that nearly twenty years later I still carry some shame and embarrassment about this failure. And I certainly know that there were times when I worked in a management position at the Anglican Book Centre that I made and was involved in decisions that I would certainly not make again. Of these I can say that I carry regret and yes, some shame.

Each of us will harbour feelings of guilt and shame over things done and left undone, over associations with people we have known, groups with which we have been affiliated, places we have worked. Yes, there will be mistakes in our lives about which we are ashamed, regretful and sorry. To make mistakes is part of being human. Similarly, to grow beyond childish things is also very human. We remain, though, the sum of our parts, and to some extent the shames and regrets of our past always remain a glimpse away in the rear-view mirrors of our lives.

But there is something about which I am not ashamed, and there is something about which none of us should be ashamed, and that is the Gospel of Christ. As Christian people we stand alongside St. Paul in this confession of faith. And might I say it is one of the earliest Christian proclamations of faith. I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. I am not ashamed because when I look back on the things in my own life that I would rather keep to myself I know and understand that under my own power it is so easy to take a wrong turn, make a bad choice. I understand that under my own power I really have no ability make the right choices for my life. I understand that when I have thought thus, my choices have been less than exemplary and that when pressed to share them with others, I would rather keep them to myself.

Next week Canon Greg and I will be away on a clergy conference. The topic is Passionate Spirituality: From Beleaguered to Beloved. One of the activities in which we will be participating will be a small group time in which we are supposed to share with other clergy a moment in which we have felt beleaguered in ministry. I can tell you that there are many of us who feel a great reluctance to participate in this kind of sharing. I know that I will be careful about what I want to share. And I must ask myself why. In addition to worrying about the judgment of our peers, I think that it is because in our beleaguered moments we believe that we are alone, that we are operating under our own power, and as such when we fail we will necessarily feel that the world has come crashing down and that we are to be deeply ashamed of the darkness in which we find ourselves. But what if we were to believe that even in that loneliest place, to our surprise, that our Lord was with still? What if we were to believe that in our darkest hour, God had not left us but was pressing more deeply and passionately toward us? What if we were to believe that in our deepest angst over our failures and shame that the power of God was most poignant and purposeful in our lives?

I am not ashamed of the Gospel because even in my deepest shame, my deepest regret, in my darkest hour, the power of God is working for my salvation. Even as I grope in the wilderness, the wellspring of life, the dayspring from on high visits me. And I come to realize, perhaps in the moment of crisis, or perhaps through retrospection, that it never was and never can be my power that will bring me to the purpose and fullness my life, but only the power of God in Christ Jesus.

When we turn toward this font and make the promises of baptism we do so acknowledging a help, a help that comes from the Most High: “I will with God’s help.” And we answer these questions, “Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching; will you seek and serve Christ in all persons; will you repent and return to the Lord, will you strive for justice and peace,” we answer them all with, “I will with God’s help.” But we do not answer in this manner simply as matter of course but as a matter of faith. It is a faith that is rooted both in our experience of God’s help and our own human frailty. It is rooted in our experience of God meeting and calling us first, and also our experience of not quite making it under our own power and our need to call on God in times of trouble. The call is made in crisis and yet God does not come running because he is already present, already helping us, already lifting us on eagles’ wings, already urging us on even before we make the call.

Each person’s story will be different, but this is the common story of our faith of which I am not ashamed: That God loved us, has never left us, and walks with us in Christ Jesus, even though we turn away again and again. God never ceases to care for us. This is our faith, of which I am not ashamed: That God is our helper in every time of trouble in our lives. This is our faith, of which I am not ashamed: That God goes with us, even when we foolishly try to bear the load of our lives under our own strength. This is our faith, of which I am not ashamed: That God goes before us even in the darkest moment, our death, shows it to be the way of everlasting life. This is the faith we share and we are not ashamed. This is the righteousness of God, that remarkable reality that God cares even for you and even for me. This is such an exciting reality that it is something we wish to share with each other – the power of the Gospel, the power of God, in our lives. This is what St. Paul means when he says that it is “revealed through faith for faith.” Simply put, the footprints of God in our individual lives serves for the building up of the faith of the Church as a whole. The faith I learned was a gift from God through my fathers and mothers in the faith, and the faith of these young ones will be a gift for those who follow them in years to come. Our shared faith, of which we are not ashamed, is a shared gift, for the building up of the Church, of the Kingdom and for the Glory of God. What God has done for you means a whole lot for the life of the Church and for the transformation of the world. The old, old story is new again, in the life of every Christian.

Today, two young girls are presented for baptism and several other youngsters gather around this altar to make their First Holy Communion. Each new Christian and each new communicant brings the whole of their lives, their very being before God, all that they have and all that they are, every good gift that God has given them and they offer it up to God to be a gift to this community of believers and a light to a broken and lost world. They bring their faith, unashamed, they bring the power God, unashamed, and they bring Good News, unashamed, to broken and hurting world. And that Good News is this: that in Christ, love conquers fear, and hope conquers shame.

To this end, while each of us will harbour things about which we are ashamed, and moments in our past we would rather forget, the power of God transforms us and moves us forward. Shame will not be our master nor failure our companion. And this I say emphatically to you young people: Claim Christ as your companion and master and make hope and love your way. When we glance back on the wonderful works God has done in our lives, and when we look upon these young people committing their lives to follow the way of Christ, how then can we ever be ashamed of this Gospel and its power? Nay, we shall not be ashamed to renounce all that separates us from God and proclaim with a sure confidence that Christ is our Lord. For we know that even in our most beleaguered moments that we stand with a Lord whose love is stronger even than death.

The homily is c. 2008 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves and may not be reproduced or redistributed, in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.

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