Sunday, October 18, 2009

Anointed to Bring Good News - A Homily of for the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist and Physician, 2009

A Homily for the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist and Physician
Sunday, November 18th, 2009
Holy Trinity, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 4:14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

This reading was followed by one of the shortest sermons in history, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” This is how Jesus began his public ministry; the rest was commentary and action. The entire ministry of Jesus is the proclamation to a broken and hurting world that through the power of the Holy Spirit we are free. Bodily sickness, broken relationships, broken hearts, troubled souls, mental illness, will not imprison us and lock us away from God’s loving embrace.

This is not to say we will not know pain, or loss, or brokenness. This is not say that these forces will not exert considerable power over us. Nor is this to say that any of these things are unworthy of being felt or experienced. To know pain, loss and brokenness is part of being human. To face illness of any sort is to face the reality that we must all let go of the gift of this earthly life at some point. Yet, to face this reality is not to debase the value of life but rather to affirm life for what it is -- a glimpse of the divine glory yet to be revealed.

There will be moments when that glory seems obscured. There will be moments when it is hard to believe that we are free, that we are fully alive, and that we are loved by God. If we read further in today’s passage, we realize that those who heard Jesus’ words had a hard time believing his proclamation. And when we are faced with the reality of illness, brokenness and life’s troubles, we can have a hard time believing it. The captives are free? The blind receive sight? The poor are raised up? It can be hard to believe.

Yet, something stirs us and contrary to the belief of a certain retired Episcopal bishop, I don’t believe it is simply the fear of death (although the fear of death does exert a profound influence over us), rather, I believe it is because as Christian people we know deep within our hearts that we belong to Christ. This is the reality that centres our being and this is the reality that gives us the words “pray for me,” when all seems lost. This is the truth that we proclaim when stand before another beloved child of God and ask to be anointed for health and wholeness.

In the ministry of anointing we proclaim who we are, and whose we are. Never forget that Jesus himself is the anointed one, for what do the ancient words “Christ” and “Messiah” mean, but anointed one? In baptism we too are anointed. We are signed with holy oil with the sign of the cross and marked as Christ’s own forever. Thus, to be a Christian is literally to be an anointed one. In baptism, we “put on Christ,” and the signification with oil is a proclamation that we are clothed with the same Spirit and power that clothes our Lord and conforms us to his likeness.

What is it that we do, then, when we seek anointing for healing and wholeness? It is nothing less than a reenactment of that baptismal anointing when we first put on Christ. When we come forward to be anointed for healing and wholeness we are proclaiming again and again in the midst of a broken world, in spite of our broken bodies, from the depths of our broken hearts that we are Christ’s own forever. We belong to Christ ever and always, and we stand firm in the truth as the apostle so boldly proclaimed that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able so separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In whatever way we are imprisoned or oppressed, in an ageing or broken bodies, in the darkness of depression, or the prison of our foolish decisions, God will not allow our imprisonment to destroy our soul. In whatever way we are poor, be it poverty of wealth, poverty of the Spirit, or poverty of relationships, God will not leave us without the riches of his abiding presence. In whatever way our vision is obscured, the road ahead clouded by the fog of uncertainty, the anxiety of fear that blinds us, or even the dark veil of death that frightens us, God will not leave us without his sight in the illumination of our hearts by his Holy Spirit.

Thus, whether or we are sick or well, we are the Lord’s. To come for anointing it to proclaim this reality in the midst of pain, in the midst of poverty, in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of fear, and yes, even in the midst of death. It is to proclaim that the reign of God is here. It is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. And while we stand and receive that holy balm which is salve for our troubled souls, we claim not only that reality for ourselves but we proclaim that reality for the rest of the world and for the whole of wounded humanity. When you are anointed you proclaim that the Scripture is fulfilled in this very moment, in our hearing. Let the rest of the world take note, this is the year of the Lord’s favour. Though this illness may lay me low I am the Lord’s, though I may be spared I am the Lord’s. It matters not to me, for I am the Lord’s.

This, my friends, is the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what the healing ministry of Jesus was about, the unbreakable claim of the loving Christ no matter the brokenness of our lives. The Holy Spirit has come upon us and anointed each of us with power to proclaim this Good News to the world around us.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, October 9, 2009

What Must I Do To Inherit Eternal Life? A Sermon for Proper 28, Year B, 2009

Sermon for Proper 28
Sunday, October 11th, 2009
Preached at Holy Trinity, Thornhill
Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 10:17-31

As the disciples travelled along the road, a young man, a man of great piety, and of considerable wealth approached Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus queried him: Have you kept the commandments of our ancestors? Yes, sir, I have, since my youth. A moment of silence followed, and then Jesus gazed into his eyes, indeed into his heart, with a penetrating gaze. Not a gaze of condemnation, but a gaze of compassion, a hopeful longing gaze, a gaze of divine love. And with this gaze he gave him two tasks: Sell it all, everything you have… and follow me. Leave it all behind, all the cares and troubles that come from wealth laboriously acquired and zealously guarded. Let go of it all, and follow me.

St. Mark is not speaking of an evil man here, but a man who lived a holy and pious life, and certainly a man who, if he followed the commandments of God walked not only in the ways of righteousness but also in the ways of justice. But one wonders what he really desired when he approached Jesus on that day so long ago. Recall his words, what must I do to INHERIT eternal life? Inherit eternal life. Did he mean to possess it as he possessed his wealth? And perhaps he did believe that just as wealth was something to be owned, perhaps also was eternal life. Why would he think any different. What must I do to acquire it, own it, make it my own? Perhaps he also had a glimmer of hope. Perhaps, just maybe, his wealth was indicative of a blessing already upon him. Perhaps his great piety had already earned him what he sought. Perhaps, he asked himself, have I already purchased everlasting bliss through keeping the commandments, through my piety, through my holiness?

It seems to me that in this brief encounter Jesus attempted to change the entire way this young man thought about the world. But was he ready for it? The rich young man approached Jesus seeking to be taught, calling him teacher, but was he ready for the lesson Jesus was about to teach? Was he ready to have his world changed? Was he ready to receive the love offered by that loving gaze? Sadly, he was not. And are we ready for it?

Are we ready to have our worldview challenged? Do we realize when we approach the Lord in prayer, seeking for an answer to the things that trouble our souls, that we are asking to be challenged? Are we open to having our understanding of the Gospel challenged by opening our ears to the challenging words of our Lord and master? Have we not kept the commandments of our ancestors? Do we not come week-by-week to this altar? Do we not place an envelope in the plate? Do we not claim our pews and seats within this place with confidence of our inheritance? Teacher, what must we do to inherit eternal life? Are we prepared to have our Lord gaze upon us, with those loving but challenging eyes and tell us what we really must do? Will we hear his words, will his love penetrate our frigid, obdurate hearts? Will we set aside what prevents us from following our Lord, or will we turn with the young man, and return to a life of safety and security?

What is it to which we cling? What is it that we possess that anchors us in the cares of the world and prevents us from hearing the words of that timeless call, “Follow thou, me?” For that young man in Mark’s Gospel, it was the mistaken belief that eternal life was something to be possessed. He fundamentally misunderstood the fact that eternal life is not something to be owned, like his earthly wealth and possessions. Nor was it something that he could earn, through acts of piety or even justice and mercy. Rather, it is, through God’s graciousness, something to be lived into. Consider the loving eyes of Jesus, looking upon this young, foolish man. God already loved him, God already longed to bestow blessing upon him. “O dear, dear friend, focus not on what ties you to this life, but gaze upon me and look into my eyes, the eyes of love,” says Jesus, “and you will know eternal life. Leave behind the things that sparkle and distract your gaze, look upon your salvation, and follow me.” Oh what words of love and hope, and oh how our hearts break to know that this youngster could not receive them. He was rich with wealth and piety, but truly poor for he rejected the blessing of God.

And so the call goes out to us today. Eternal life does not begin sometime after we have crossed the way from life to death. Rather, it breaks through into the present reality of this life as we follow the way of Jesus, leaving behind the anchors that moor us to our limited potential. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. What can Jesus have meant by this oft-repeated proverb, but this: With our eyes on what anchors us to this transitory life, we too shall live a transitory, finite existence. But, oh, if we shift our gaze and turn to the one that beckons us to follow him on the road of life, what wonders we shall see, what graces we shall know, what joy we shall experience, even in the midst of the loss of what we leave behind.

What is it that holds each one of us back from following that way? I suggest that it is the mistaken belief that this world is home. But it cannot, and never can be home. It is but a road on which we travel. We are a people on the way. We may acquire wealth but it will slip through our grasp. We may receive great honour of position or state in life, but these honours are soon forgotten and the moment of glory passes. And even our loved ones and family, our friends, they too, pass through this transitory life and depart from our eyes. The world changes, and the things of this life pass away, but God changeth not. Even as the things of this world pass through our grasp, the longing, loving eyes of Jesus are ever fixed on us, reminding us that we are on a journey, a journey home. A journey in which we travel together, in which we taste eternal life, not as something that we can earn, or hold, or possess, but rather as a new and glorious reality that God is opening before us as we live our lives along that road, following Jesus.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Says the young man. “How can I possess it like I possess wealth and piety. What must I do?” Lovingly, longingly Jesus gazes at him, and each one of us, “Turn from the foolish belief that you can own it, work for it, or possess it. Lay down your fear and your angst that makes you cling to the things of this world, and follow me. It is not possible for you to do anything to possess eternal life. It is beyond human power. Rather it is through the graciousness of God, for with God all things are possible.

c. 2009 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves