Homily for Proper 18
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 9:1-5
As Christian people, we speak frequently about the importance of community. In community we first learn the faith of our mothers and fathers; in community we are nurtured and grow to maturity in the faith; and in community we are upheld and supported through the various stages of our lives – times of joy and times of trouble. In community we share a common meal around a common table and celebrate our common life as we partake of the bread of life. So much of our life is lived in community.
But there is one area of our lives when the idea of community cascades out of sight, if only for a moment, and that moment is the moment of decision. We may make a decision with input from those around us, with advice from experts, or with the concern of loved ones in mind, but ultimately, we own our decision and make them fully on our own. To make a decision may be commonplace or it may be profound, but any decision is always fraught with unknown implications. Any decision involves risk, be it large or small. Thus, it is up to each one of us to make the decisions of our lives and claim the consequences of our decisions. Having made a decision we may then return to the life and fellowship of the community and seek its support and nurture, but the moment of decision remains a solitary moment in which all around us disappear momentarily from view and we stand alone with our consciences and with the risk of losing ourselves.
As Christian people, though, we are never really alone, for as we step apart from those around us to face our moment of truth, the silence of that eternal moment is penetrated by the presence of the eternal one made flesh in our midst. There is another who stands with us in that otherwise lonely moment, the invisible God, made visible in Jesus Christ.
There is much talk these days, not only in our own parish Church, but around this diocese in general, that Anglicans do not feel that they possess a “passionate spirituality.” The research tells us that Anglicans in this diocese, at least, do not feel the presence of God in their lives. There are any number of correctives suggested, from bible studies, to prayer groups, to focus groups, to spiritual direction and counseling, but I believe one thing if I believe anything, that while each of these are valuable tools, they count for nothing if, in the moments of decision, we fail to come face to face with our deepest fears, take the risk that we are going to lose ourselves, and plunge headlong into God’s loving care in Christ. Will our spiritual life grow and develop if we keep insisting that passionate spirituality is something that we can conjure up ourselves with hard work and persistent effort? I think not.
Ultimately faith is about one thing – confronting our human frailty, our human fallibility, and yes, our mortality and to realize that we are frail, fallible and mortal, and that God alone is strong, infallible and immortal. “Frail as summer’s flower we flourish blows the wind and it is gone, but while mortals rise and perish, God endures, unchanging on.” When we finally reach that moment when we confront our frailty and mortality it is a moment of crisis, because it means giving up believing in our own power to solve every problem and bind every wound of our lives. It means giving up believing that we shall live forever. It means taking a risk with the gift we are given, not selfishly clinging to this life but letting it go and offering it back up to God. And in that moment of crisis, to stand face to face with Christ our Lord and say all that I am and all that I have are yours O Lord, “All things come of thee, and of thine own have I given thee.”
This moment may indeed be the moment of our Christian conversion, but is certainly not limited to it. Any moment of crisis in our lives is the moment in which we are faced with a question and a decision: “Will I try to save myself from this moment or shall I plunge into the depths of Christ and allow Christ to be my life, my all?” My friends, if this, in each moment of challenge, each moment of trial, each moment of angst, is the decision we make then we will be confirmed again and again in our faith, and we shall live a life of great fulfillment, a life of great meaning, even in the midst of suffering, loss, and death.
Embracing our pain and calling upon the Lord in those solitary moments in which we seem so alone – this is the road to a passionate spirituality. There is no other.
St. Paul knew this only too well, for time and time again he turned to Christ when all might otherwise seem lost and when all around had abandoned him, relying only on His grace. And God’s grace is sufficient unto the day. Paul also knew that in spite of his best preaching, his most valiant efforts, his most persuasive rhetoric, that he was himself powerless to save another. The decision, to turn to Christ in our moment of despair, is left to each of us alone.
In today’s epistle Paul longs to sacrifice himself for his brothers and sisters who have not embraced Christ, who still labour under the Law, under the illusion that their human works and effort would lead them to God, under the illusion that if only they followed the right program they would find favour with God. Paul knew that it is only an encounter with Christ that will reveal God’s grace. Paul knew and understood that just as he could not labour for his own salvation, neither could he labour for another. He could only share the Good News. Paul knew that the role of the community was, and is, to stand alongside brothers and sisters as they journey through the moments of crisis in life, encouraging them, sharing the good news, helping them forward in Christ, as they meet the living God in their darkest moments.
And so my friends, those moments of crisis that inevitably come, are ultimately between each one of us and the Lord, in which we face the angst of our humanity. As you face the moments of despair in your life, the moments of sadness, the moments of regret, the moments of fear, the moments of anxiety, the moments of pain, turn to the Lord. Turn to Christ. Take the risk of letting go, take the risk of offering him the wheel. It is that very point of decision in which we meet the living God and ask him, “Who do you want me to be in the midst of this crisis, and who do you want me to be as the result of this crisis?” And we affirm, “Lord Jesus, you alone can take me there.” In these times, in the moment of crisis, Christ will indeed make the way known. Every mountain will be laid low, every deep valley exalted, and through the breaking mist of your dissipating loneliness you shall see a whole company of friends and witness present alongside you to share the journey of faith, the Church of God, all of us gathered here together, a passionate people, in Christian love.
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.