Sunday, June 21, 2009

Teacher, Do You Not Care That We Are Perishing? - A Homily for Proper 12, Year B

Homily for Proper 12, Year B, 2009
Sunday, June 21st, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 4:35-41

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
- Mark 4:38

The feeling of being “afloat at sea” can be a frightening feeling. It is a metaphor that we might use when we feel as though things are out of our control or when we are unable to reach our destination, to get to the other side. How many of us have felt the distance of the horizon and longed that the wind would pick up and move us more quickly toward our goal, closer to our destination? Then the wind comes, and instead of the gentle breeze that will carry us closer, it begins to toss us to and fro until we find ourselves caught in a raging storm. Being “afloat at sea” maybe wasn’t so bad after all. For a moment the destination is not all that important. Instead, we focus on surviving the tempest that rages about us and we are likely to cry out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

The disciples were on a journey with Jesus. He gathered them about him and went from place to place teaching, casting out demons, and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near. As we have said many times over this past year as we have journeyed through Mark’s story of Jesus, the disciples are not always sharpest knives in the drawer. Clearly, Jesus’ miracles, his parables, his exorcisms, and his prophetic utterances, were all intended to point to the reality that in him God’s kingdom was already breaking through. Yet, as we know, the disciples did not quite understand his message or actions. Time and again the misinterpreted him and misunderstood him. They expected the kingdom to look very different from the kind of kingdom he proclaimed. Thus, they longed eagerly to “reach the other side,” to get to the place where it all made sense, where the kingdom (as they understood it) would finally come on earth. They missed the point that in Christ Jesus it had already come.

Thus, as they journeyed across the sea and a storm arose, tossing them to and fro, they were afraid that they were going die. Even though they had their Lord in their midst, they feared that as the waters crashed over the edge, this day would be there last. Surprisingly, an unworried Jesus slept in the stern, apparently oblivious to the whole thing. In a moment of final desperation they cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke, uttered the words, “Peace, be still.” And the wind and rain stopped, and the sea went calm. They muttered amongst themselves, “who is this that even the wind and sea obey him.” Even as he calmed the storm about them, they still were not sure what to make of him. They still did not realize that the kingdom was breaking through in their midst.

Earlier this week as I was considering this text, I read it to my wife, Athena (and I do share this story with her full permission and blessing). When I got to the part in which the disciples cried out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” She responded with a resounding “no!” Athena is, of course, a teacher. As she approaches the end of the school year and moves into exams, there are many students, who in spite of her best efforts, have done very little and have not cared much about their learning. It is often these ones that panic in the last moments of the academic year, and who are prone to call out to a teacher exhausted from trying every angle, every multiple-learning style, having adjusted and modified the curriculum in every imaginable way, to a teacher who feels like hiding and sleeping in the stern of the boat, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” I think most of us can empathize with such a teacher and would be inclined to join in the resounding “no!” After all, every chance has already been given. Of course, the teacher that lives in my home is a compassionate teacher, as are most teachers I know, who really do long for the best for their students. Yet, who can blame them for shaking their heads at those who refuse to learn? Can we really begrudge them that secret “no” that they harbour in their hearts when the student cries out “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

But “no” is not the answer that Jesus gives. While we may seek to identify with the frustrated, tired teacher, who has done his or her best, we are actually meant to identify with the floundering disciples, who unwisely prayed for the wind and got a storm, who time and time again misunderstood the message and missed the mark, who long to be anywhere else but where they find themselves, even when where they find themselves may be the most important place to be. Let’s face it, most of us are poor students of this classroom we call life. Most of us make mistake after mistake, desire the things that are not best for us, wish our lives away and long to be anywhere or anytime else than our present place and present time. Most of us fail to recognize the kingdom of God amongst us, much less the presence of our Lord. Even if we do believe our Lord is with us, we may believe that he is sleeping and does not care.

The truth is that Jesus is with us and Jesus does care. When we call out he does answer and if we are wise and teachable, we will see that his presence is real and his kingdom does indeed come among us. Consider carefully what Jesus does. He does not immediately transport them to the other side, but he does still the storm. They do not immediately get to where they are going, rather, they learn the value in being where they find themselves. And most importantly, they learn that they are not alone when they seem adrift on the calm waters of the sea – they learn that the Lord is present amongst them.

Thus, we may find ourselves adrift, with the other side seeming so far away. We may find ourselves in the midst of a tempest, with waters crashing in over the sides of the boat, but what Mark means to tell us in this story is that getting to the other shore may not be the most important thing. Rather, it may be simply realizing – no, let me say it more emphatically – simply believing that even in the midst of being adrift or being tossed to and fro, that Jesus Christ is with us and will not forsake us. It is believing that the kingdom of God is to be found not in the arriving at the other side, but in the tempest that tosses us about. Perhaps the waters will crash about us, but we will know in our hearts his abiding presence and his assuring words, “peace, be still.” Yesterday, today, and tomorrow his words are the same. With the eyes of faith we will know his peace in the midst of the storm or when we are adrift, and we shall fear nothing.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. Not to be reproduced or redistributed without the express, written permission of the author.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Healing Ministry - As If Someone Would Scatter Some Seed on the Ground

Homily for Proper 11, Year B, 2009
Sunday, June 14th, 2009
Preached at the Lay Anointers’ Training Weekend
Manresa Centre, Pickering, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 4:26-34

The following homily was preached at the Lay Anointers' Training Weekend on June 14th, 2009. This is a weekend in which lay people come together for training in sacramental healing ministry, offered by members of the Bishop's Committee on Healing (Diocese of Toronto).

“The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter some seed on the ground…”
--Mark 4:26

The view that the world has of the healing ministry is one of glamour, sensationalism, and curiosity. If we are to believe the images broadcast by the popular media (and many are indeed hard to believe), it is a ministry characterized by spectacular miracle followed by spectacular miracle. As the line up of those with every sort of affliction approaches the healer we witness the lame rise up and walk, ears of the deaf unstopped, and the blind receiving their sight. Whatever is happening in these televised moments, be it authentic miracles or the manipulation of charlatans, one thing is certain, for those of us involved the day-to-day work of the healing ministry, the continuous parade of miracles broadcast across our screen is anything but what we encounter in our ministries.

There will be those who suggest that if only our faith was greater, if only we used the right words, if only we did this, that or the other thing, we too would see the such miracles in our churches and amongst our people. This way of thinking is plagued by two mistakes, though. First, it places undue emphasis on what we do, and secondly, it assumes that all miracles take a certain shape.

Jesus told his disciples two parables. The first was about a seed that was scattered on the ground and grew as the farmer slept. The process was anything but spectacular and anything but sensational. The farmer simply scattered some seeds and went to bed. Day in and day out the plant, without his aid, began to grow. It grew and it grew and it grew until finally it ripened, producing a bountiful harvest.

As participants in our Lord’s ministry of healing we find that much of what we do is the work of scattering seeds. As someone approaches us and asks for anointing and healing prayer, we offer it freely and without reservation. We scatter the seed of healing and then get out of the way, leaving it to God, the ground of all being, to give the growth and offer His healing touch. This is not to say that we walk away or cease to care, indeed we can and should continue to care for those who seek our prayer and the sacraments of the church. Indeed, the farmer of this story is not uninterested in the growth of the seed, rather he marvels that it grows without his tending, and is humbled and reminded that it is God who is the one doing the work. He marvels that even in his simple act of faithfulness, in scattering the seed, God’s faithfulness produces an abundant harvest in the fullness of God’s time. It is a parable to remind us that it is God that gives the growth and that everything comes in season, not necessarily when we would wish to see it.

In the second parable, Jesus tells us about a mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds that when sown grows up to become the greatest of all shrubs, that even the birds of the air make their nests in its shade. This parable reminds us of the potential in one tiny seed. And yes, the seed we sow as we anoint and pray for another is a tiny seed indeed. We have but a small part in the work of healing, but what God can do with that tiny, planted seed is extraordinary indeed.

Finally, both parables speak to the reality that what is to come is hidden in very small and unassuming packages. This is so true of the healing ministry. We start small, and believe that God will turn what is planted into something grand and glorious not in the blink of an eye but in due season. To the trained eye, one seed can be distinguished from another, but to the average person, a seed, is a seed, is a seed; and certainly compared to the differences in the many varieties of plants that are produced, they all start off a lot alike. Yet, what is common in each seed planted is that it has within it, hidden, the kingdom of God. The healing ministry, at its very essence is a sign of God’s kingdom breaking through. The healing ministry, and every moment and piece of healing granted by our Great Physician points toward the healing of humanity and our reconciliation to a loving God. In every act and process of healing, in every tiny seed of healing, is nursed the healing of the cosmos.

What comes forth from those tiny seeds, what the branches and fruit might look like, is often a mystery. God alone knows how to nurture the seed of healing within us. For some it will be deliverance from physical affliction, for others it will be the coming to peace of a troubled mind or spirit, for others it will be the reconciliation of family and friends, and for some it will be a holy death. But whatever healing God gives, whatever surprising growth he gives to that little seed scattered and sown, in that seed, God’s kingdom is found and bursts forth.

For us as partners in the healing ministry then, let us not be discouraged when we see not the sensational results that we might hope or expect, rather may our Lord and Saviour simply teach us to be faithful sowers of the healing seed of Christ, patient gardener open to surprises, and humble servants who stand in awe of the abundant harvest of our God.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Company of Wise Women -- A Homily for the Feast of the Visitation of the BVM to Elizabeth

Homily for the Feast of the Visitation of the BVM to Elizabeth
Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009
The Convent of the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 1:39-56

“…And Mary remained with her about three months.”
-- Luke 1:56

There are times in our lives when we need the counsel, friendship, and companionship of someone wiser than us. In the early days of our faith journey, the seed of faith that grows within our hearts can set before us what may seem like frightening burdens amidst all the hopeful potentialities of an unfolding life of faith. A heart strangely warmed is but one moment in birth of faith. Standing at the beginning of the road of unknown mystery is another.

There is no need to rehearse the social setting of Mary’s surprising pregnancy. We all know the societal judgments under which she would stand condemned. Furthermore, our Lady’s enthusiastic “yes” to the announcement of the Angel Gabriel, like a heart strangely warmed by the seed of faith, would most assuredly have as its companion the common travelers known as doubt and fear. Thus, she turned, as so many of us have in such times to someone who could mentor her, counsel her, and journey with her on the unfolding road ahead. She turned to a wise woman, her cousin Elizabeth to be her shepherd through the valley of her uncertain journey.

I recall, many years ago now, in the very early days of my unfolding sense of vocation, I sought the counsel of a wise man. Under the direction of another mentor, who sensed a burgeoning vocation even before I had, I was sent to the old convent on Botham road, to visit a certain Bishop Henry Hill. In the early days of an unfolding and frightening call, and a journey that would last some twelve years before I was ordained, this wise and generous older man opened his arms and his heart to a frightened younger man who clung only to the seed of faith growing within him and was facing an uncertain call into an uncertain future.

There are many who have crossed the threshold of this convent with similar stories. Each story is unique in its own way, but I would not be surprised if most shared a common thread, the heart strangely warmed and uncertainty about what that means. Many have come, men and women in all the stages of life, seeking mentors, companions, counsel, and friends for the journey. They come, as Mary did, seeking the companionship of wise women who will greet them with words, “come in and simply ‘be’ amongst us.”

There is a detail of this story, though, that is never to be forgotten, namely, that for even the wisest amongst us nurture still the seed of faith within them. Even as the journey is long and we find ourselves having journeyed farther down that road, God imparts to us, as he did to Elizabeth new gifts, new surprises -- often new and rather shocking surprises. Thus, when young Mary comes to stay with Elizabeth she is met by a friend and companion who is also journeying the same road… a little farther along perhaps; perhaps with a little more perspective, a little more experience, but the same road nonetheless. Ultimately, what Mary and Elizabeth learn in their shared journey is that they need each other. And Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months.

They day would come when Elizabeth would be gathered up into the company of her long departed mothers and Mary would find herself further down that road. At the foot of the cross, her dying Son would gaze down upon her and that beloved disciple and commend them to each other, “Woman behold your son; son behold your mother.” In the sorrow of that day she would hold and console that young man, and indeed an infant church, who she collectively held in her embrace and whose tears would flow against her bosom. And as the Resurrection light of Easter broke through, she would once again feel her heart strangely warmed, and be startled by the surprising road opening ever before her. As she pondered these things in her heart she would turn to find many rushing to her, as the seed of an infant faith grew within them, and questions, fears and doubts rushed over them. Wise woman as she was, her faith would then leap within her at their coming, and she would journey with them on the Gospel road, a companion, a friend, a wise woman of faith.

Copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves