Sunday, November 29, 2009

Your Redemption Draweth Nigh! A Homily for Advent I, Year C, 2009

Homily for Advent 1, Year C, 2009
Sunday, November 29th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 21:25-36

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
-- Luke 21:28

I am an early riser. I am also an avid listener to CBC radio. By the time I get into my car in the morning I have often listened to the newscast about a half dozen times. I don’t like to miss it even when I’ve already heard the news several times that morning. While there may be much overlap, the national news at the top of the hour is different from the local news on the half hour. Then there are the interviews and commentary in-between, and of course, there is always the breaking news. Often, I will be able to catch the beginning of the program, “The Current,” on my way to work, and on my way back down to the church for evening meetings, I enjoy “As it Happens,” both of which reflect on current news events with insightful and provocative interviews. It is nice to end my day driving home from evening meetings listening to “Ideas,” a thoughtful program that features documentary presentations on subjects of an intellectual nature. If I am out during the day visiting I often pick up bits and pieces of programming and catch up on arts and entertainment news and commentary on my way to and from visits and meetings. It is a wonderful world of news, is it not?

One day this week I couldn’t take it any more. I shut off the radio and slipped in one of my favourite Frank Sinatra CDs and breathed a sigh of relief as the “Chairman of the Board” crooned on, “Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away…”

Perhaps you will know that feeling. There is a lot going on in the world, in our lives, in our workplaces, and in our homes. If we don’t have enough confusion and trouble in our own circles we are more than willing to invite the confusion and trouble of the world into our lives by turning on the radio, the television, or the internet. And while it is wonderful to know what is going on out there, and I am all for exposing ourselves to a broad range of thoughts, ideas, and information, sometimes it can seem a bit much. Sometimes, it can seem as if the world is coming apart, locally on the half-hour and globally every hour, with traffic and weather on “the tens.”

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faints from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…” No wonder we want to fly away, whether it be escaping simply through the words of a Sinatra song, or more seriously, and more tragically for some, the decision to give up on life and the world altogether.

Yet, it is at this precise moment, the moment in which we want to escape that we hear the command, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption draweth nigh!” What? Amidst the confusion of nations; amidst the confusion of our homes; amidst the confusion of voices around us; amidst distress, loss, foreboding and fear, our redemption draweth nigh? When these things happens our natural tendency is to run for the hills, to hide our faces, to “duck and cover,” but no – stand up, raise your head, your salvation is near!

This is a shocking command because contrary to what many people may think the Christian faith has never been about escaping a terrible world and its apparent hopeless plight. In the early of Christianity a heresy arose called Gnosticism. One of its principal errors was divorcing of the spiritual from the material. In Gnostic thought the material world is bad and the spiritual world is good. In Gnostic thought the redeemer is the one who delivers the enlightened believer from the evil material world into the spiritual realm. But our Christian faith is entirely rooted and grounded in a God who enters into the material world not to destroy it, nor to ferret us out of it, but to redeem in, restore, it remake it. And in all of this, we are invited to be God’s co-creators.

It is precisely at the moment when we are overwhelmed; it is precisely in the moment when we feel like abandoning hope in the world God has created; it is precisely in the moment when we long to fly away, that God enters in. God enters in to bring hope to those who suffer violence at the hand of another, to break the rod of the oppressor. God enters in to comfort and weep with those whose hearts are broken, those who have lost one so dear to them. God enters in to calm the souls of those who are afraid, who have become immobilized by anxiety, depression and hopelessness. And God enters in as the events of the hurting world seem oh so overwhelming to those of us who long only for peace and tranquility amongst nations. God enters in not to destroy this world and the men and women in it, but to redeem the Earth and all its peoples.

“I look from afar, and Lo! I see the power of God coming and a cloud covering the whole Earth!” (From the Matin Responsary for Advent)

Therefore, we shall not run to the hills or flee from the world, as tempting as the words “come fly with me” may be. Rather we shall be alert, stand tall, and lift up our heads in joyful anticipation that God is about to do a new thing. Let us go out to meet him and say, “Art thou he that should come and reign over thy people Israel?” Surely he is the one. Our redemption, and the redemption of the whole world, as troubled as it is, is drawing nigh.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Story of Three Kings - A Homily for the Feast of St. Edmund the Martyr

Homily for the Feast of St. Edmund-the-Martyr
Friday, November 20th, 2009
Convent of the Sisters of St. John the Divine
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 2 Kings 23.21-25, 29-30a

A Story of Three Kings --

--not the three kings we normally think about in Epiphanytide, but rather three kings from different times and places, but all united under the banner of faithfulness and self-offering.

The First king – Josiah

Following a period of faithlessness, turmoil and confusion, a new king arises, a faithful king, one that we are told loves the Lord with all his heart, soul and might. One who returns to the Law of the Lord. We are told that in his time, the Passover is celebrated again for the first time in many years. The portion of the text we do not read today reminds us that the Lord’s wrath was still kindled against Judah for its sins. Our text then picks up again and we then learn that Josiah perishes in a battle with the Egyptians. His servants carry him back in a chariot, the throne of a great king, to be buried in Jerusalem amidst great honour. In a time of turmoil, faithlessness and broken humanity, the Lord raised up a faithful king, unlike any before or since, we are told, to be a sign to his people. The image of Josiah is a powerful one, an image appropriated throughout the ages of the faithful monarch who reforms a broken society. Diarmaid MacCulloch, a historian of sixteenth century Church History suggests that the boy king, Edward VI, was a new Josiah, bringing restoring true religion and piety to his people.

The Second King – The Christ

Then comes another king, the King of Kings, upon whom so much expectation is placed. As we approach the eve of the celebration of his reign, of his enthronement as king of kings and lord of lords, we are constantly called to remember that his throne is a cross and his crown a crown of thorns. He rides not on a warrior’s chariot, but on a lowly donkey; his birthplace is not a palace but a stable; his followers not a courtly retinue, but a rag-tag band of itinerants who have chosen unemployment over the honour of riches. Yet in this king’s reign, restoration is accomplished – restoration and reconciliation, the very heart of true religion. Faithfulness and self-offering, not the grasping of power and authority are the things that transform a broken world. He is incarnation of faithfulness and self-offering that Josiah could only embody in “type” and “sign”. The Christ is the fulfillment of the type and sign of faithful Josiah.

The Third King – Edmund the Martyr

In 870 in East Anglia, we meet our third king, Edmund, whose feast day we celebrate today. Should we seek the details of horrific and sensational death we shall find them in Edmund’s martyrdom – tied to a tree, scourged, pierced with an arrow, and finally decapitated by Viking marauders. The cause of his martyrdom was simple – he refused to renounce his faith and his fealty to his Lord and master. He would have been allowed to live had he renounced his faith and ruled as a vassal king to Viking overlords. Yet, Edmund knew that he could only serve one Lord and master, and it wasn’t the Vikings. Consider his death – scourged, tied to a tree, his body pierced. He took up his cross indeed and followed in the footsteps of his Lord and King. Another legend tells us that he was decapitated and his head thrown into the woods. His followers began looking for the head and calling out to it, “Father, where are you!?” To which the lost head beckoned back, “I am here, my sons!” They searched and searched and followed the voice until it was found under the watchful eye of a starving wolf. The wolf had not eaten the head but had protected it. Edmund’s followers retrieved the head and reunited it with the body. The wolf, sent by God, disappeared again into the forest. Edmund was buried in the place that is now known as Bury St. Edmunds. We are told that one hundred years later Edmund was exhumed and his head had reattached to his body with only a thin red line on his neck to indicate his martyrdom. His skin and flesh were soft and pure as the driven snow.

In his wonderful book, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, Peter Ackroyd speaks about the literature of this period (in particular Beowulf, but certainly this could be applied to such legends as that of Edmund) as an act of the historical imagination. Surely such stories of Edmund, rooted in the fact of his martyrdom speak to the more profound realities of faithfulness and self-offering, and the yet more profound reality of resurrection. I would venture to say that in the gift of imagination, God grants us the ability to deepen the understanding of our eyes of faith but what was true about Edmund was not simply that he followed in the footsteps of his Lord and Master amidst the reality of a brutal, broken world, but the reality that though his body was brutalized his spirit could not be destroyed. The metaphor of pure soft skin and a re-attached head speak to the spiritual reality that violence, anger, brutality and hate cannot destroy us. Death will not and never shall have dominion over us. This is what the Reign of Christ means to us. The sting of death has been swallowed up in the faithfulness and self-offering of Love Divine.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Birth Pangs of the New Creation: A Homily for Proper 33, Year B

Homily for Proper 33, Year B
Sunday, November 15th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 13:1-8

“For these are but the beginnings of the birth pangs.”
--Mark 13:8

What are we prepared to lose? What are we prepared to give up? We are learning that in spite of changing demographics in this community there are tremendous opportunities for the Kingdom of God to be experienced here in Thornhill. We are also learning that Holy Trinity can indeed be a part of sharing the Good News of that kingdom. We have recently received a report that indicates that there are over four thousand Anglicans that live within our parish boundaries. Furthermore, that report indicates that there are over ten thousand people that live within our parish boundaries that have no religious affiliation. We also learn that amongst those number there is a goodly percentage of those people under the age of twenty. Thus, in spite of what we might think, there is a tremendous mission field in this community. Even more exciting news, as we shall learn in more detail in the weeks ahead as the result of our third Natural Church Development Survey are released, is that we are becoming more comfortable about reaching out and sharing our faith with others. If “Back to Church Sunday” was any indication (approximately 50 people accepted invitations to join us that day), we are indeed becoming more and more confident about sharing our faith journey with those around us. We stand at the threshold of new and wondrous possibilities. God is calling us into a new day, and indeed into a new era. I believe that all signs indicate that we are ready to accept that call. There is a question though, of what we are willing to lose to journey into this new land and into this new era? The call is not without cost; no journey forward can be made without leaving something behind. What are we willing to give up?

As Jesus and his disciples exited the Temple, that grand edifice which was a monument the architectural vision of Herod the Great under whose patronage this latest version was constructed, the disciples of Jesus marveled at its grandeur, beauty, and apparent permanence, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Their rapture in the architectural magnificence of the Temple was interrupted by the words of Jesus, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone of them will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” How hard it must have been to hear these words. The Temple stood as a monument to their faith, the greatness of their God, and was considered to be the very place where heaven met earth, yet Jesus claimed that its great stones would fall. And he was right. Within fifty years the Temple was destroyed and both Judaism and Christianity were left to discern the religious and spiritual landscape into which God was now calling them.

The spiritual landscape in times of discernment will seem fraught with obstacles indeed. It may seem like the edifice with which we are so comfortable and so enraptured is crumbling down. There may be temptations to go off course, to follow different captains, it may seem like we are at war with one another. But Jesus offers a word of hope, fear not, “for these are but the beginnings of the birth pangs.”

This section of Mark’s Gospel is the beginning of a section we call the “little apocalypse”, because it goes on to describe an apocalyptic end-times scenario. I have spoken before about how difficult this imagery may be to us mainstream Christians, but let us consider this passage in the context of Mark’s message. We are now drawing close to the end of our liturgical year, which will culminate next week with the feast of the Reign of Christ. We will cease reading Mark’s Gospel until three years hence when we take it up again. Cast your mind back to last year at this time when we began talking about Mark’s message of Jesus. Near the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus introduces his mission with the words, “repent, believe, for the kingdom of God has come near.” Literally, the kingdom is at hand. Throughout this year this has been the interpretive key to which we have always turned as we have journeyed with St. Mark, the kingdom is at hand, drawing near, breaking through as we speak. It is this message that Jesus repeats at the beginning of the Markan “little apocalypse” as we draw near to the concluding our reading of the Gospel of Mark, namely, we are now experiencing the birth pangs of the kingdom. This is the oft-neglected hope of apocalyptic literature, the end is nigh, but so too is the beginning!

Those who have experienced giving birth, and those who have witnessed a birth will know that it is not an easy thing. Perhaps the phrase “birth pangs” is even too light a word. There is first the tremendous physical pain of birth itself, which is accompanied by the fear that something might go wrong, and then when the child comes, so too comes shocking realization that the life of family will never be the same again with the addition of this new member. Uncertainty, upheaval, suffering, pain, trauma, fear, and yet new life, new joy, new birth, new hope -- this is the message of Jesus as his disciples marvel at the magnificent edifice of the Herodian Temple. It is time for one glory to give way to another. A baby is on the way. What we have experienced to date in our life together has been wonderful, has it not? The edifice of our shared life is grand and something to marvel at, but Jesus is here to remind us, don’t cling to it too dearly, for the best is yet to come. What are you willing to give up? Which stones have to fall? Shall we choose to move forward as this era ends and another begins? Can we face the day with bravery, courage, and faith that this is not the end, but rather the birth of a new glorious day?

I believe that we stand like the disciples marveling at an edifice, for us it is the edifice of Anglican Christianity in Thornhill. We have reason to celebrate it, rejoice in it, marvel at it, and all that it has been to us. But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, our Lord stands in our midst reminding us that he is about to do a new thing. This is not the end, but rather a new beginning. When a child is born our lives must change, but what a joy it is to change when we hold that lovely child in our arms and experience new life and new hope. We will have to give up many things precious to us, but who would not give them up when we realize that the child who is about to be born in our midst is, once again, the little child of Bethlehem in who brings life to world?

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Gift of Joy and Wonder: A Homily for All Saints Day and a Celebration of Holy Baptism

Homily for All Saints Day, Year B, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 11:32-44

Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?
--John 11:41

The culminating prayer in our baptismal liturgy petitions God to give the candidates of baptism “the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” I certainly realize that as we travel this road of life that it can often be difficult to find and experience joy and wonder. Our souls have such a deep longing for these things, though. The birth of children and the welcoming of these children into the household of God is a moment in which we seek to claim God’s joy and wonder for them and for ourselves. It is a moment in which we see the road of life begin to open with glorious possibilities. It is a road of mystery, in the best sense of sacred mystery, in which we affirm our belief that God’s loving hand and life-giving Spirit will forever guide and animate the journey of this life for each and every Christian person.

This is a claim we make even amidst the troubles of the day. We have seen a people gripped by fear this past week as worries about the H1H1 virus have caused long line-ups at vaccination clinics. To a large degree, we have cause to be frightened, for we have seen the all-too frightening consequences of this virus. Fear exerts a power over us that threatens to tear the fabric of society and our souls. Whether or not the vaccination program has been competently administered is not a matter that is with my expertise and I am not capable of judging it. Yet, consider the anger, frustration, and panic that has been exhibited as people fear they will lose their place in line, or not get the vaccination in time. Consider what such anger, frustration and panic does to our community, and consider what it does to our souls.

In a town called Bethany, not far from Jerusalem, a dear friend of Jesus had fallen ill. Jesus, that great healer, did not get there on time and Lazarus died. When he finally arrived, Lazarus’ sister Mary was beside herself with grief. Panic and perhaps even anger had given way to despondency. She dropped to the feet of her Lord and wept bitterly, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And he joined her in her tears, Jesus himself wept.

Then words of derision came from the crowd, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” We know the rest of the story, the stone is rolled away, and Jesus utters the words “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man walks again.

For those in our lives who walk with pain and loss, in particular the loss of ones so dear, this passage may, on the surface, be cold comfort. We do not see the dead raised as Lazarus was raised. Yet, I would ask us to consider one oft-neglected phrase uttered by Jesus before he raised Lazarus, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Jesus entered a town filled with fear, with anger, with frustration about him and about his ministry. He was met with derision and unbelief. Yet as the people wept, he wept, and as the people’s hearts were filled with trouble, so was his heart troubled. He joined them in depth of their despair and suffered alongside them -- Lazarus was his friend, too, remember.

But even as his heart was troubled and even as he wept with them, he reminded them of a promise he made, that if they believed they would see God’s glory. On that day in Bethany, when belief was so hard, God’s glory broke through. The miracle they witnessed was a miracle that pointed to the greatest miracle this world has ever known, the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The raising of Lazarus, as grand as it might seem to us who have not witnessed such things, is but a sign of the act of God that would restore life to the world. On that day in Bethany, when all seemed lost, God revealed his glory to a hurting and wounded people. He gave them the gift of faith, of belief, and the gift of joy and wonder.

Baptism is not inoculation to the pains and hurts of this life. It is not a vaccine that will protect us from illness or mortal death. Rather, baptism is the claim of a loving God on our lives that we shall never be left alone in such moments and that even in the midst of pain, grief, loss, frustration, anger and fear, God will reveal his glory. God does not bring these things upon us, and yet, somehow in divine mystery, just as he did in a lowly stable, God enters in, unexpected and unbidden and we behold his glory. Baptism is about saying “yes” to that glory; it is about believing in the light that shines in the darkness.

Thus, we welcome today these new Christians. We know that at times their lives will be easy and at other times, difficult. Yet we welcome them in full confidence and knowledge that they belong to Christ and that at the most unexpected moments along the road, he shall reveal himself to them and they shall marvel with joy and wonder at all his glorious works.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves