Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Song High Above the Trees - A Homily for Christmas I, 2010

Homily for Christmas 1, Year A, 2010
Sunday, December 26th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 2:13-23

“Herod… was infuriated and he killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under.”
-Matthew 2:16

My wife Athena and I enjoy the television program Madmen. It is the story of a 1960’s Madison Avenue Ad agency which paints a picture not only of that wild world of advertising, but also of everyday middle-class 1960’s life. Although, the events slightly predate us, we share a cultural memory from our early childhoods of the flavor of the day. Many of the little ordinary aspects of daily life that are depicted in that show ring true for us. For example, we both remember sleeping in the back window of the car on long car trips. We remember people smoking everywhere. We remember littering without much sense of consequence to the earth. Many who worked through that period will remember alcohol in the office and sexism and racism in the workplace. What the show depicts so poignantly, though, are those moment that are seared into our cultural consciences, namely events like the freedom marches, the Kennedy assassination and, of course, the Cuban missile crisis.

Although the Cuban missile crisis occurred before I was born, it served as a sign for my generation that we were on the brink of nuclear destruction. Indeed, we grew up in the seventies and eighties believing we would not live to see adulthood. The pessimism and angst of that age seems so far away now. It is now replaced though, for a new generation with wars on terror and the terrors of counter-terrorism. It is replaced by foreign wars in which we are involved that I can scarcely understand and dare not justify. Thus, while the circumstances have changed, our proclivity to hurt one another has not. It is easy for pessimism and angst to grip up once again.

Yet, into our moments of pessimism and angst, a light breaks forth. In the car, listening to my favourite classical music station the other day, I heard the Christmas carol, “Said the night wind to the little lamb,” and I learned something that I did not know, that is probably not news to the rest of you, that this song was written and first performed during the Cuban missile crisis as a plea for peace.

It begins almost as a whisper and finally swells with grandeur as the message of peace is proclaimed throughout the world.

This is how it goes:

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

It seems to me that the world of first century Judea, a world ruled by a tyrant king with so tentative a grip on power that he chooses to slaughter innocent children, is not so different from the world at any time and place in human history. Terror is terror in any age, as the mothers of slain innocents in first century Judea knew only too well. It is surely not so different from a 1960’s whose existence hung on the decisions of Kennedy and Kruschev. The angst we feel from age to age, whether it be the angst of older veterans who are haunted still by the things they saw in Europe or the South pacific during the second world war, or the angst my generation knew under the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, or the angst this new generation must feel in an age of terror and counter terror, is not so different or alien that we cannot understand what it is to live under fear.

But fortunately, there is voice above the trees that calls out in the night, “Fear not!” It is a voice that proclaims to shepherds abiding in the fields that the fearful reality they know need not be the reality into which they live. It is a voice that proclaims to a young couple that through their love and care of a little child, peace will indeed come into the earth. It is a voice in the wind that awakens us from our fear and pessimism and angst. And dare we say it, it is a voice that can indeed form in our own mouths, be we kings or lowly shepherds and proclaim to the world a word of peace. It is a voice that says no to war, no to missiles, no to terror. It is a voice that says no to domestic violence, no to bullying in our schools, and no the hurt we cause others through shame and anger. But it is not primarily a voice that cries no, but a voice that cries YES. Yes, to peace, yes, to love, yes to hope. It is a voice that changes things, a voice that can make tyrants stand down, a voice that transforms our hearts and conforms us into the image and likeness of God. It is a voice of humility and a voice of new life.

Listen to the night wind and you will hear that “yes” and through an encounter with the tiny child, born in a stable, you will be given the boldness and courage to proclaim peace to people everywhere.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves
words and music for "Said the Night Wind to the Little Lamb" by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Witnesses to the Light - A Homily for Christmas Morning, 2010

A Homily for Christmas Morning, 2010
Saturday, December 25th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, On
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 1:1-14

“The Word became flesh.”
-John 1:14


When the sky clouds over, and the snow falls, and darkness reigns for days, oh, how we long for the light! When the days shorten and darkness falls earlier and earlier and the rising of the sun seems so distant and so faint, oh, how we long to feel the rays of warmth on our faces! When night falls and sleep refuses to come and the hours of darkness seem interminable, oh, how we long for the morn to break forth.


In a world of dark thoughts and bleak futures, where is the light? In a world where the weak are forgotten and our human worth is counted by the dark measure of our spending habits, where is the light? In a world where aged mothers and fathers sit forgotten in the darkness of loneliness, and little children cower in the darkness of domestic violence, where is the light?


As soldiers take up arms and march into the darkness of war; as the rulers of this age measure out lives in dark, sterile terms like “collateral damage,” where is the light?

There was a man from God named John. He was not the light, but rather, a witness to the light. He came to testify to the light, to a people who walked in deep darkness, and longed, oh how they longed, to see the light. To them it was but a dream, a hope, a prayer. The light that burned within them seemed so dim, nearly extinguished – it was there, but oh how it needed fanning by the breath of love. Could the light be kindled again? Could the flame be fanned? They hoped and dared dream. The true light which enlightens everyone was coming into the world. For them it was a hope and a dream. For us it is a reality.

The Word became flesh and although darkness threatens, but cannot envelop us. Though darkness falls, it shall not smother us. Though the night comes, the lamp burns and shall not be extinguished, for the darker it gets, the brighter the light of the Word of God burns. And where is the light? Shall we seek it on a distant shore? Is it burning in some distant heaven? No. It is here, in this world, shining its rays into the darkest corners, into the gloomiest places, into the saddest hearts. It is here – the true light that enlightens everyone has come into the world. The Word became flesh, and in his life, we find our life.


Where the light shines, Life is found in abundance; where the flame of love burns, there can be no darkness; where the Spirit of God blows, the winds of night will never extinguish the light: there is and ever will be Life, for that Life is the light of all people.


Into a world of death, Life is born; not fleeting life, but eternal and abundant Life. Into a world of death, Life is born and death will not defeat it or destroy it. Though darkness will fall and cover the earth at midday and many will believe that hope is lost, hope shall not be destroyed for Life cannot be destroyed by death, nor will Love be overwhelmed the darkness of anger, hate, or fear.


Into a world of brokenness, Love is born. To hearts that weep with sadness, Love sows compassion. To lives filled with loneliness, Love becomes a companion. Into lives written off in sin and the darkness of mistaken purpose, Love brings healing and redemption.


Light became flesh. Eternal life became flesh. Love became flesh. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Before us his glory illuminates the world casts away the darkness, for the darkness can neither understand it nor withstand it. Upon us he bestows his light, his life, and his love. Within us his glory shines and unveils our deepest darkest places. Around us his light lifts the darkness of the world and restores relationships and opens the way of peace.

Like John the Baptist of old, we are a people sent from God to testify to the light. We are not the light, and yet we are enlightened by the light. We witness to the light; the true light of love that has that has come into the world. As we adore Christ our God this morn, may our adoration be a witness to the light, and may this world know the radiance of the Word made flesh.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, December 24, 2010

We've Heard it all Before - A Homily for Christmas Eve, 2010

A Homily for Christmas Eve, 2010
Friday, December 24th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:1-10

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.”
--Luke 2:15

The skeptic might say, “We’ve heard it all before,” and choose to stay home. Indeed, by the time Christmas Eve rolls around, the skeptic might be right – from the time that Hallowe’en decorations are put away until the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will have heard the Christmas bells for two solid months. Why should we come together on this night sing the carols that have played without stop since November 1st and hear once again the story of a man and his pregnant wife, the birth of their son in a lowly stable, the song of angels and the awe of shepherds? Why? What is there to be gained from one more round of singing and one more telling of the story? We have heard it all before.

But ah! We have heard it all before! And the story beckons us into its presence and calls us deep into its narrative, inviting us to participate as a shepherd, or bystander, or yes, even a as chorus of angels. The story beckons us once again and we heed the words and come. We join the happy throng that proclaims that Christ is born. Because we have heard it all before, we come. Did we once as children wrap ourselves in a towel or ragged cloth and play a shepherd? Did once a beloved Sunday school teacher enfold us in an oversized choir surplice and place coat hanger wings upon our shoulders and a tinsel halo upon our heads? Were we once given the sacred task of holding a simple doll, transformed this night into a holy child, and rock it in our arms while parents and grandparents looked on, faces aglow, with joy, to see us participating in that old, old story? Were we called upon to be Joseph, Mary, an innkeeper, and angel, or even a sheep, donkey or star? Did we once, wearing five and dime (or dollar store) crowns make the journey down the nave of the church, as wise men once from the east came, to worship the newborn king? And even if we have not participated in such retellings of the story, have we not come from generation to generation, holding the hands of mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, to sing the song of the angels, to journey even in spirit with shepherds and wise men, and kneel before the stable, offering our hearts to the King of Kings, born in low estate?

Ah, we have heard it all before, and what joy that story brings! We have heard it all before and we have shared it all before. In its telling and retelling, in our acting and reenacting of the story, the story shapes us and shapes our lives. The story works away in our hearts and melts away our hardness, our skepticism, our bitterness, and our cynicism. The story, though it be known so well, changes us and transforms us again and again.

We have heard it all before, and as the days slip on the story recedes into the backs of our minds and rests sleepily somewhere in the depths of our hearts. As the days of the year wear on and we face the hardships of life and inevitable sadness that comes simply in the act of living in a world with pain and loss, doubt sets in. As the days slip on, the story becomes one that is harder to hear, harder to believe, harder to tell. The days slip on and the nights become interminably longer and the story disappears into the depths our cultural amnesia, barely visible, barely audible. Just as it seems the dawn will never come and the darkness will never lift, a poor couple emerges from the darkness and find their way once again to a stable and once again a child is born to us.

We have heard it all before, and so we know from the depths of our beings what comes next: in that region, in some region deep within our hearts, shepherds are once again stirred by the angels’ song. And once again, deep within the winter of our souls the ice begins to melt and the story begins to warm us and proclaim to us a song of hope and joy that the darkness is being lifted and the night is far spent. Because we have heard it all before we hear the call to “come and see!” The Lord has worked a miracle and that miracle is not simply the birth of babe in Bethlehem, but the birth of hope for a troubled world and troubled lives. The story that weaves its way into the fabric of our lives is the story of hope for you and for me that though I may sink, from time-to-time, into a dark place I will not be abandoned there but will yet see the dawn break forth and rejoice and be glad that hope springs eternal.
We have heard it all before, and because we have heard it all before the old, old story is always a new and exciting story, because it is a story that changes lives. It is a story, that once told, can never be forgotten and once heard forever leaves the stamp of the divine life on our hearts. It is a story that enacts itself again and again within us and shapes us over and over and over again, molding us into the fullness of beauty that God intends for all his creatures.

We have heard it all before and we come to hear it all again, but not only to hear, but to participate, to journey, to allow ourselves to be shaped by the story of God amongst us, within us, reshaping us, and reshaping the world. We come to see this thing that has taken place, to hear this story, not because it someone else’s fascinating story, but because it is our story. It is the story of our life!

Can you believe, though, that some have not heard it? Some lives have never been shaped by it? Some have never had the wings placed on their shoulders or been wrapped in towels and blankets? Can you believe that some have never held the holy child in their arms and let him work the power of his story in their lives and hearts?

God made this world the stage for his story, and we are the actors, we are the shepherds, the magi, the angels and the holy family, whose lives have been shaped by an encounter with our God in the presence of the tiny child. This is our story, and it is good news for the world. As our lives have been shaped by it, let us sing the story with all our heart and live the story with all our being on the world’s stage that it might become the story of ages for a broken and hurting world. Glory to God in the highest.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hope Blooms in the Desert - A Homily for Advent III, Year A, 2010

Homily for Advent III, Year A, 2010
Sunday, December 12th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 35:1-10

Listening to the news this week, it is becoming clear that Barak Obama has lost his lustre. It was but a short time ago that the hopes and dreams of America were all pinned on this one man. He could only stand to fail to live up to the expectations that he set for himself and the expectations placed upon him by the American people. In fact, last year around this time I remember a comment that I made in a sermon that this was all bound to happen sooner rather than later, and as much as I like the man, I was pretty sure that he was likely not the messiah, contrary to popular opinion. Closer to home, a messiah has risen on the political right. Toronto has a new mayor, and all the hopes and dreams of people of the opposite political stripe to those who would claim to support a Barak Obama are pinned on this man. Like Obama, though, it is clear that the lustre will wear off in short order as well. While Rob Ford has got off to an aggressive start in turning his platform into political reality, he is being met with much opposition and the city hall battles are beginning once again. It can be easy to see why people may feel apathetic to the political process when the lustre wears off any given administration, be they left or right.

None of this is said to disparage those who offer themselves for public service, nor is it to disparage the political process itself. Coming from a family of civil servants I am deeply appreciate those who serve their communities either as elected officials or as professional public servants. The health and well-being of a community is, in large part, the result of the hard work of the people who serve our communities as teachers, librarians, firefighters, police service officers, transit employees, municipal workers, and yes, elected politicians. The combined efforts of these and other professionals serve to create a public sphere in which we can enjoy the fruit of the good society.

And yet, people being people, we have differing views of what the good society is all about. We fight about its meaning and we offer our hopes and dreams to each other. Sadly though, we take delight in dashing each other’s hopes and dreams. And then we take further delight in deriding the one finds themself unable to keep his or her promises. Where we have the potential to come together as a people, the darkness of sin drives us apart and we hurt, rather than build up our fellow citizens.

This phenomenon is nothing new. The world into which the prophet Isaiah spoke was a world of political disappointment; a world in which hope would rise and fall with every new ruler, with every new direction, with every new platform and with every new administration. Between foreign captivity and disappointing kings, the Hebrew people had every reason to give up on hope; and yet, into their despair Isaiah spoke these words, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”

Perhaps these words were received with skepticism. Perhaps; but they were recorded and repeated generation after generation by people who knew much despair and much disappointment. They are repeated even unto this day. They are words that we repeat in Advent because they are words that pierce through the frailty of our humanity, and speak hope to hearts when hope is dashed and promises are broken. What is the hope that these words proclaim? That hope shall continue to blossom, that we shall taste its fruit, even as we journey from disappointment to disappointment.

This is a promise that comes not from human lips but from the mouth of the Lord. While it is that these words speak to a time beyond our time, about a kingdom that is to come, about the culmination of a history in which all things are gathered up in God, they are also words that speak to another reality though, and that is a reality that is set among us, in Christ Jesus. They speak to the reality of God’s presence in the birth of a tiny babe in Bethlehem, God incarnate, God in our midst. They speak to the reality of the presence of that same incarnate God through his abiding Spirit animating our shared life. They speak to the reality of Christ’s presence in the words of Sacred Scripture. They speak to the reality of his abiding presence in our sacramental sharing of his body and blood.

Most importantly, though, these words speak to us when all around have fallen away and we feel most alone, forsaken, and abandoned by broken promises of human hope. When hope should fail us because there is nothing left to cling to, hope prevails because it is the hope of God that rescues us. If we rely only on our own ability to manufacture hope, we shall be perennially disappointed, but if we shift our point of view for but a moment, we will realize that hope is not created by human hearts or human hands, but finds its wellspring in the heart of God. You see, God has hope for us. God believes in us. God has faith in us; and this is the hope to which we cling as Christian people, that is, God’s relentless desire for us to know joy, peace and love. The fruit of God’s faithfulness is our ability to know such things in him in Christ.

One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is called “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” Whereas the eating the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden condemned humanity to death, the eating of fruit of the apple tree which is Jesus Christ gives us life.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared to Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Last year I read a post by a fellow Anglican blogger, Laurel Masse, who said that this is her life in a song. I believe it is the story of my life, too. Perhaps it is the story of our shared humanity. We cannot manufacture faith. We cannot manufacture hope. We cannot manufacture joy, peace or love. These things come from God, but God does share them with overflowing abundance and grace. In the midst of political angst and uncertainty, in the midst of our apathy, in the midst of doubt, “This fruit does make my soul to thrive and keeps my dying faith alive.” When hope seems lost, God sets before us a tree in the desert and that tree is nothing less than God himself, in Jesus Christ. Isaiah tells us that there is a highway that winds its way through the desert, and as we journey along that road we find that hope blossoms like crocuses, valleys are exalted and rough place made plain. Should we be surprised to find along that road an apple tree bearing the fruit of life? Weary with our toil, let us rest for a moment under the tree and find the happiness and hope we long have sought.

A moment under the tree and we shall learn that whether kings rise or fall, whether promises are kept or broken, whether we succeed or whether we fail we can take heart that hope cannot be obliterated for we do not create it, we only share it. The fruit of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree we are called to share. Share it we will, and share it we must, for it is the tree of the fruit of life that blossoms without end and for healing of the nations. We rise from our rest under that tree, having tasted its goodness and we take up our way again on the road, but this time sharing the fruit of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, sharing the hope that good will indeed will reign among people, even if only in fleeting moments until such a time that all things find their consummation in the fruit of hope that awaits us all.

c. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Jesus Christ the Appletree - Words Anonymous (New England c. 18th century)
Music - Elizabet Poston (1905 - 1987).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prepare the Way of the Lord - A Homily for Advent II, Year A, 2010

A Homily for Advent II, Year A, 2010
Sunday, December 5th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 3:1-12

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
-Matthew 3:3 (quoting Isaiah 40)

As I have shared with you before, as a child I was always one who had a terrible time waiting for Christmas morning. Given the chance, I would have opened my presents at the earliest moment possible. Fortunately, my parents always had the good sense to make us boys wait. While other families we knew had this enviable tradition of allowing their children to open just one present on Christmas Eve, this was strictly forbidden in our house. As I reflect back with benefit of age and parenting experience, I now believe my parents were wise in teaching us that good things are worth waiting for.

I suppose I haven’t grown up that much since then. This is still hard today. While I am less excited about opening presents, I find great joy in watching others; especially those close to me tear the paper away from the gifts piled under the tree. And given the chance, I could easily yield to the temptation of my children who annually plead with me, “just one present Dad; can we please just open one present early?!” I must admit, I have to fight off every urge within me to allow it, and consequently deliver that heart-breaking resounding “no!” Fortunately for me, Athena is a strong partner in this heartless act. I have to keep telling myself, and the children, that good things are worth waiting for.

So what do we do while we wait? We make preparation. Until the hour strikes and the gift is given, we wait and prepare. And thus spake St. John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The preparation to which St. John calls his followers, though, is of a strange sort. It does not involve “trimming the hearth and setting the table,” nor does it involve any of the other requisite “hauling out the holly,” or “setting up the tree before my spirits fall again,” or even “carols at the ‘spinnit.’” Rather, it is a work of self-examination. In order to prepare for the coming of the Lord, St. John the Baptist exhorts us to consider the ways in which we have failed ourselves and each other, how we have been hypocrites about what we claim to believe, and about how we have overindulged in unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours. Most importantly, having examined ourselves, we are called to repent.

Now, I sense that this exhortation probably lands with a resounding “thud” into the midst of our pre-Christmas celebrations. “Oh, Father Dan,” you might say, “trimming the tree is so much more fun!” It is true that you will get no argument with me about that. I love trimming the tree with some good carols on the “spinnit.” But let us consider for a moment the nature and purpose of that special gift that is set before us; that gift comes not under the tree or wrapped in paper, but rests under the precarious shelter of the roof of a cattle stable and is wrapped in swaddling bands. This gift, the most precious gift of all, the one for which we wait, is given to us a salve for our human wounds and a balm for our bruised souls. This gift is given to mend broken hearts and broken relationships. It is offered to restore wholeness to broken lives and bring joy to all who have lost their way. This gift is no ordinary gift. No, it is the most amazing of gifts – the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.

Oh, how we long for such a gift and all its benefits. How can we wait for Christmas morning? How can we wait to receive such a blessing and offering of grace? But we must. We must wait and we must prepare. The preparation that is set before us is the preparation of the heart. It is time for us to look within ourselves and realize just how much we need that most precious of gifts and to search out our own brokenness and discover exactly the wounds to which that salve will be applied and the bruises that the balm of Christ will soothe. And most importantly, to search ourselves and understand that there is nothing I can do to heal my wounds, but with the Lord all things are possible: Come, Lord Jesus.

Where meek hearts will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.

c. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Revised Edwardian Homily On Salvation

A Homily for Monday in the Week of Advent I
Framed and Based on the Second of Part of the Edwardian Homily on Salvation
Preached at the Trinity College Chapel
Monday, November 29th, 2010
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves (after Archbishop Thos. Cranmer)
Text: Matthew 8:5-13
(Scriptural References are from the Great Bible of 1539)

Dear friends in Christ, ye have heard how all men ought to seek their justification and righteousness, and how this righteousness commeth unto men by Christ’s death and merits. As good Christian folk ye shall also know that three things are required to the obtaining of our righteousness, that is, God’s mercy, Christ’s justice, and a true and lively faith out of the which faith springeth good works. Yet, ye shall also be aware dear friends, that no man can be justified by his own good works, that no man fulfilleth the law, according to the full request of the law.

These things are of course also attested by St. Paul in both his epistle to the Church in Galatia and in the epistle written to the church in Ephesus. After this wise, to be justified only by this true and lively faith in Christ, speaketh all the old and ancient authors, including Hilary, Basil, and Ambrose. Yet even as these good and ancient authors attesteth (and many more are there to be numbered amongst them) that we are justified by faith, nevertheless, this is not so meant of them, that that the said justifying faith is alone in man, without true repentance, hope, charity, dread, and the fear of God, at any time and season. Nor when they say, that we be justified freely, they mean not that we should or might afterwards be idle, and nothing thereafter required of our part. But this saying, that we be justified by faith only, freely, and without works, is spoken for to take away clearly all merit of our works, as being able to deserve justification at God’s hands, and thereby mostly plainly to express the weakness of man and the goodness of God. This faith the holy scripture teacheth us; this is the strong rock and foundation of Christian religion; this doctrine all old and ancient authors of Christ’s church do approve and setteth for the true glory of Christ, and beateth down the vainglory of man.

Hence we consider that centurion of old, of whom we learn in eighth chapter of St. Matthew, who besought our Lord in consideration of the burthen he knew in the suffering of his servant who lyeth at home sick of the palsye, greviously pained. That dear centurion, having a throrough and full understanding of his own unworthiness before our Lord, pleadeth unto him with such humility, “Syr, I am not worthy, that thou shuldest come under my rofe; but speake the worde only and my servaunt shall be healed.”

What greater humility was ever known in one man than the humility of this centurion who was not a son of Israel? Yet this man understood that our Lord has ordered all things mightily and in an orderly fashion when he said, “For I also my selfe am a man subject to the aucthoryte of another; and have soudiers under me, and I saye to this man, go, he goeth: to another come, and he cometh, and to my servaunt do this and he doeth it.” Our Lord, having been moved by such sensible and true words, marveled and sayd to them them that followed hym: “Verily, I saye unto you I have not founde so great fayth in Israel. I say unto you that men shal come from the eest and west, and shall rest with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kyngdome of heaven.”

With the eyes of God’s mercy and through the merits of Christ’s justice, our Lord gazed upon the countenance of the centurion of old and drew forth from the well of his soul the waters of a true and lively faith such that not only the centurion knew, that day, the mercy and justice of the Lord, but so too, the servant gripped by the palsye, and indeed the whole retinue, knew and tasted the salvation of our God. Thus, being sent upon his way, the centurion, knew the justifying strength of our Lord to heal and to save.

But think not, dear friends that such a justification was wrought by any righteousness on the part of the centurion, but rather hold fast to the truth that justification is not the office of man but of God. The faith of the centurion directed him only to the Lord and the wideness of his mercy. Meditate thoroughly on the story of the centurion and you will find that ye too, indeed all present, although we hear God’s word, and believe it; although we have faith, hope and charity, repentance, dread and fear of God within us, and do never so many works thereunto; yet we must renounce the merit of all our said virtues, as weak and insufficient, and trust only in God’s mercy as that centurion did.

The centurion knew whereof he spake, although he commandeth others, he knew that he liveth under the sovereignty of another and that no good work should raise him from his post to command those things wereof he had no authority to command. To such an end, our Lord saw no faith equal to his in Israel and in such a faith the wideness of God’s mercy was thereby known that “many shall come from eest and west to … to rest with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kyngdome of heaven.” The work of man justifieth not, and the wideness of God’s justice and mercy knoweth not the boundary of nations. Trust only in God’s mercy, and that sacrifice which our high priest and Saviour, Christ Jesus, the son of God, once offered upon the cross, to obtain thereby God’s grace and remission, as well of our original sin in baptism, as of all actuall sin committed in us after our baptism, if we truly repent, and turn unfeignedly to him again.

Even so, as great and good and as godly a virtue as the lively faith is, yet it putteth us from itself, and remitteth or appointeth us unto Christ (as it did the centurion), for to have only, by our Lord, remission of our sins, or justification. So that our faith in Christ saith unto us thus: It is not I that take away your sins, but it is Christ only; and to him only I send you for that purpose, forsaking therein all your good virtues, words, thoughts, and works, and only putting your trust in Christ.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Time Is It? - A Homily for Advent I, Year A, 2010

A Homily for Advent I, Year A, 2010
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 13:11-14

“You know what time it is.”
--Romans 13:11

What time is it?

Like the Christians of Paul’s day, we live between the times. We live in a reality in which Christ has been revealed to us, a reality in which we have tasted the goodness of God, in which we have caught a glimpse of the resurrection of his Christ, in which we have begun to experience his healing and saving grace. But we also live in a reality in which there is still much pain and much brokenness. We live in a world in which we still experience sickness. And we live in a world in which we are all still prone to make terrible mistakes. It is a confusing time in which we await the consummation of the love we have tasted.

Advent is a time between the times. While the world around us sings carols (and indeed, when we leave this place we may go home and listen to some ourselves), we enter the church and we sing hymns of expectation, and speak words of Christ’s imminent arrival, but we resist the urge to sing the carols that belong properly to his arrival on Christmas Eve. Advent is a time to hold in tension the polarities of this confusing double-mindedness, and see if there is anything we can learn “living between the times.”

A couple of weeks ago I preached that I did not mind hearing the carols so early in the shopping malls and on the radio because they are a witness to the world of the reality that we proclaim; namely, that Christ is with us and in the world, restoring it from brokenness to glory. And yet, I have asked, as Anglican tradition has long dictated, that during Advent, in church at least, that we hold back on the carols, that we cease our Alleluias and glorias for a few weeks. So you might be asking, “what gives?” If God is present, if the act of salvation has been won, if death has been defeated in the Resurrection, why do we need to put the brakes on as we approach the wonderful celebration of our Lord’s nativity?

The answer, I think, is that we are a “work in progress.” Yes, it is true that God has acted decisively in Jesus of Nazareth and won for us our salvation and victory over death. Yet, day-by-day, the fruits of that redemption are still being uncovered, and they exist in tension with the unfinished work of the restoration of all things. As I have stated, there is much that is still broken, still hurting, and still evil in this world. God is indeed at work, and he will bring that work to completion; but part of that work involves drawing you and me into the divine life, and into the divine work. The coming of our Lord amongst us in Jesus of Nazareth was the decisive act in which the beauty of God’s plan of restoration and redemption was inaugurated and revealed to and amongst us. The Incarnation of the Lord changed things. And what it changed most was us.

This is why St. Paul tells the Romans -- and yes, these are words that echo across the age to us as well -- to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Cloth yourself in the Lord and be a sign to the world of the redemption won in Christ Jesus. We stand before the powers of this age that refuse to believe that God is alive and active and transforming the world, and we say “no” to evil, “no” to power structures that dehumanize God’s creatures, and “no” to the unhealthy desires that draw us away from God. We put on Christ and we say “yes” to the beauty of all that is Good, “yes” to the hope that the world can be transformed for the building up of the Kingdom of God, and “yes” to the best of human longing and desire for intimacy with each other and with God.

What time is it?

It is a time of decision. The time between the times is a time for choices and a time for decision-making. It is a time in which we ask ourselves if we really and truly believe that the appearance of Jesus began a new era that is working its way to the completion in God. And if our answer is “yes”, it is a time in which we ask ourselves if we want to be a part of that journey. It is a time in which we pray to God as a community and as individuals and ask him to reveal to us the unique vocation we have as a community and as individuals as we participate in the unfolding of his Kingdom.

What time is it?

It is a time to wake up. St. Paul says, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from your sleep.” The liturgical pulling-back that we do in Advent, the reservation of Alleluias and glorias, the change to the colour blue for our hangings and paraments, the lighting of successive candles in anticipation, and finally the singing of hymns and the reading of Scriptures that speak of both the birth of Jesus in a stable and his awesome and great appearance at the end of days, all serve to offer us a sort of wake-up call. They jar us to a moment of awakening and moment of decision. These things remind us that we do indeed “know what time it is!” This jarring change of colour and mood, mingled with restraint in our Christmas excitement and anticipation unveil to us the reality that the “day of the Lord is drawing nigh,” and as St. Paul once again says, “Our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers!”

The wake-up call that we are given is one that reminds us that history is on the move, and in history, God is on the move. As he acted in the creation of the world, in the story of the Hebrew people, in the Christ-event known to us as Jesus of Nazareth, in sending his Spirit upon the Church, and as he has acted through the saints of old, so he continues to act in the church and in the world, today. His voice is calling us to be a part of this movement toward the redemption of the cosmos.

What time is it?

It’s time to put on Christ Jesus and live what we believe, for the salvation we have tasted is at hand, nearer than when we first believed.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Remember Me in Your Kingdom - A Homily for The Reign of Christ, Year C, 2010

Homily for the Reign of Christ, Year C, 2010
Sunday, November 21th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Luke 23:33-43

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
--Luke 23:42

For those who have heard the old, old story again and again, the irony will not be lost on us. As Jesus is nailed to the cross and as it is lifted up, three successive taunts are hurled at him. With bystanders observing mutely, the leaders of the day mocked the Lord saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” Soldiers, having cast lots for his clothing, offered him sour wine and these words of ridicule, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” And finally, even one of the thieves between whom he was crucified called out, “Are you not the messiah? Save yourself, and us!”

The irony of these taunts is so clear to us because we have the end of the story in sight, we know that while Jesus does indeed suffer death, death is not victorious over him. God indeed delivers his Son from the grave. Where soldiers, religious officials and bystanders mocked him because they thought they were seeing the colossal failure of his ministry culminating in his death, we know that quite the opposite is true: that the cross on which he was hung and that the death that he suffered were, in fact, victory for this cynical, hurting world.

An even deeper irony is revealed in our knowledge of the rest of the story: The so-called “bad thief,” the one who mocks Jesus, not only taunts the crucified Lord to save himself, but also to save him and the other criminal with whom he was crucified. We imagine these words being delivered with such hateful disdain and cynicism, and yet we note again the irony, that this act upon the cross will indeed be a saving act. Somehow, though, at least one character in the narrative can see through the fog of cynicism. The so-called “good thief” is the single person in this narrative with eyes to see, the one person who neither passively observes nor maliciously maligns; the one person who sees in this apparent defeat of the messiah, the fruit of redemption. Thus, he reprimands his companion and turns his eyes to his crucified Lord and mouths what were likely his final words, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It would be so, for our Lord proclaimed the words so many of us long to hear in all our human brokenness, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


We all have images of God that are formed in our youth. While some have very gentle and loving images of God, I think it is true even amongst Church going folk that some of our images of God are less than healthy, and perhaps a bit skewed. Some of us have images of an angry God, or a punitive God, or a God who is watching over us waiting for us to make mistakes in order to punish us. Even if these are not our images of God, I am quite certain it is what many people outside the Church think of when they imagine the God of churchgoing people. Religious fanatics have not helped allay these stereotypes, but have fanned the flames of ignorance and intolerance. But whatever our image of God, I expect that from time-to-time, God will surprise us, smash that image and we will behold him (or her), in a new and splendid way. From time-to-time, God smashes the idols of the divine image we have imagined and gives us new eyes to see the divine glory. This is what happened on the hill known as the place of the skull.

If we recall those three derisions leveled at Jesus, they all contained one element, specifically, they asked, if he was indeed a king he should show great power and come down from the cross, destroy his oppressors and liberate his people. Should we cast our minds back to a certain moment of temptation in the desert at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we will realize that the image of God that people expected to see in Jesus has not changed that much. The temptations that Satan set before Jesus, to seize and demonstrate his power, and yes to even use his power to help others, are the same temptations he faces on the cross. He is tempted by the derisions of the onlookers in the same way he is tempted by Satan, to reveal himself in power. On the cross, when he fails to do so, he is mocked.
People had an expectation of what a messiah, what a king, would do and Jesus failed to, refused to, live up to those expectations. Thus, when God delivered him unto death and raised him on the third day, in an event of iconoclastic gentleness, God in Christ shattered the idol of people’s perception of who God is and how God should act. Instead of a warrior king who comes with sword and army, we meet the humble self-giving, self-effacing messiah. And it is he, in all his humility, who saves us. Irony of ironies.

Consider again, that moment outside Jerusalem, when amidst the waving of palm branches and excitement Jesus prepared to enter the holy city. Those who gathered around him were gathered for a political revolution. What did they get? - A messiah who handed himself over freely to the authorities to be crucified. God in Christ shatters the image of our expectations.

The culmination of the liturgical year is a moment in which we praise Christ as our King, as our Messiah. But do we know and understand what kind of king we serve; what sort of King we worship? History is littered by the stories of Kings who use their power to enslave people they are meant to serve and destroy the spirits of those whom they are meant to inspire. History is filled with kings, rulers and statesmen who have sent young men (and women) into battle for the most selfish of causes, and have left mothers widowed and children orphaned all in an insane lust for power. This is, for many, the image that comes to mind with the word “king.”

Sadly, for many such is the image of God. To many in the world, looking in from the outside at Christians (and other people of faith), we are perceived a religious fanatics who will sacrifice principles of gentleness and inclusivity to serve an angry God. And while there are those in all religions who serve such an image, they are most certainly wrongheaded, and if there are Christians who follow such an image of God, they have certainly misread the Gospel. For the Word of life that is set before us today, the Word that hangs on that cross proclaims something else; something very revolutionary, something very shattering, something very iconoclastic about God - namely that the one that has all power chooses not to exercise it. Rather, for the sake of his children, he joins them in their journey of life and death.

If he is the king, the messiah, if he is God, let him save himself and us, cries the “bad thief,” but by not saving himself, by not taking the crown of gold but receiving a crown of thorns, he puts his people before himself and saves them. In the Incarnation, God empties himself, assumes our humanity, suffers the worst that human beings can suffer, and separates himself from the font of his very essence, so that we might be drawn into the divine life. By making our human story his story, his divine story becomes our divine story. He joins us in the communion of earthly life, that we might join him in communion with the Father.

He is not a king who separates himself from us in palaces distant and lavish, but a king who joins us in the muck of life, in the pain of our own trials and disappointment. He draws not a sword against the enemy, but rather turns the heart of the enemy and makes the enemy his friend and redeems what his broken. He appoints a place in paradise for even the convicted thief. What then do we learn about the nature of God, about true kingship, about the king and messiah we worship and proclaim? That true kingship, and indeed all Christian leadership, is rooted in deepest humility and a love that burns even unto death. This is the nature of God and this is the life we drawn into by the cross of Christ: the life of humility, compassion, and love. To Christ our King, compassionate and kind, we ascribe our honour and love unto the end of the age. Lord Jesus, remember us when you come into your kingdom.

C. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Apocalyptic Hope - A Homily for Proper 33, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 33, Year C, 2010
Sunday, November 14th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 65:17-20, Luke 21:5-19

“For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”
--Isiaiah 65:17

As the liturgical year winds its way to its conclusion, the tenor of the texts of the day begin to change. Today we feel ourselves surrounded by apocalyptic words that at once disturb and yet proclaim hope. And while it may be tempting to sidestep such words that offer frightening end-time images, it seems to me that we may be in danger of closing our eyes and shutting our ears to tidings of great joy. Yes, it is no coincidence that as the sound systems in shopping malls and television commercials have begun to ring out such tidings, the words we hear in our sacred liturgy are striking a very different tone. Indeed, as we approach the time of Our Lord’s Advent, or coming to be amongst us, we will hear words not only of a tender babe born in a stable and his mother mild, but also of a great and dreadful king who comes to judge the world. I do believe we do ourselves and the gospel an injustice when we fail to proclaim only part of the story. Perhaps this dissonance sounds loudest at this time of year when shopping mall speakers ring out carols in the midst of growing consumer frenzy.

It should be said that I am not one that gets terribly upset when the carols start playing early in the season (or even before the advent of the season!). I have a confession to make: I was always the first one in the family to pull out the Christmas LP’s (remember those?) and place a stack of them on the old hi-fi stereo (remember those?) and listen to them drop as Perry Como, Bing Crosby and so many others sang words both secular and sacred in praise of the newborn king and in celebration of the season. When the Eaton’s, or Simpson’s Christmas “wish book” would arrive my brother and I would spend hours on the floor pouring over the half dozen or so pages of toys, imagining what Christmas morning would be like with a nice selection of toys, which somehow Santa knew we wanted. The earlier the tree could go up, the better. And while selecting and cutting down the tree was a charming ritual, there was something to be said for that artificial tree we later purchased, as that meant we could start the season earlier and earlier each year. Later in life, I found myself working in retail sales, and I suppose my love of pulling out the Christmas stops early was suited well to that vocation. So you see, I don’t panic when I hear the carols playing in the mall in November. In fact, I rejoice, because they are one of the last places our faith can be proclaimed openly in the public sphere in the midst of a world that so desperately needs to hear that story.

There is another part of the story though, and that is the story we shall encounter as Advent unfolds, and they are words that call us to repentance and words that proclaim justice. The birth of a babe in Bethlehem was certainly meant to bring comfort and joy to all humankind, and especially to bring comfort, joy, and justice to the broken-hearted, the weak, the downtrodden and afflicted. Why was our Lord born into a stable in the lowliest estate? To be amongst the lowliest of God’s people. In this important detail of the Christmas story something important is revealed to us, namely, the justice of God.

And this is what apocalyptic literature is all about, the justice of God. The word “apocalypse” has become to us a frightening and foreboding word, but really, it means nothing else than “revelation.” Therefore, when we encounter apocalyptic literature as we do today in both Isaiah and Luke, we must ask ourselves what is the revelation we are receiving in these terrifying words. In Luke we hear Jesus explain how not a stone of the mightiest edifice known in Palestine, the new Temple constructed by Herod, would remain in place. Amidst the destruction of this symbol of establishment, national pride and stability, there would be dissention, war, earthquake, fire and famine. There will be prophets of hope and prophets of doom. And many will be led astray.

This sounds not unlike our own day, does it not? But of course, this is the enduring power of apocalyptic literature, in that it speaks to the angst of the people of every age. I once heard an interview with an expert in “end-times” thinking. He spoke about how the men in the trenches during the Great War, with bombs falling about them, cried out, “Is this the apocalypse?” And was it? The scholar who was being interviewed said, “of course it was, as it has been for every soldier in battle. What soldier has not cried out, ‘My God, the apocalypse is at hand!’?” Every generation witnesses the injustices of the world, the ways in which human beings treat each other, whether it be in wars, or social policy that dehumanizes the weakest amongst us, or economic systems that value capital over God’s creation, or the bottom line over human lives. Even in the details of our individual human suffering through illness, the inexplicable loss of loved ones, we witness injustice and we are prone to despair. All of us, from time-to-time, cry out, “Is this the apocalypse?”

My friends, the answer is “yes.” But we need not fear, for if the apocalypse is nothing less than a revelation of our God and of both his justice and mercy, then we can only rejoice, for the God that is being revealed is the one who comes amongst us to restore the brokenness of humanity and this world. What is more, this apocalypse, this revelation, is not simply and end-time phenomenon. I choose not to indulge in the guessing of times and dates and conditions of the ultimate return of our Lord and the consummation of history. I shall leave those things a mystery. But what I do proclaim is that God is being revealed in our midst through all our earthly days. To the conditions that seek to destroy the image of God in us, God is appearing. To the unjust systems that corrupt and destroy God’s people and God’s creation, God is appearing. To those in psychological angst, with broken spirits, or deteriorating bodies, God is appearing. It the midst of our darkest days, God is appearing. We need not wait ‘til the end; God appears now! Had we read one more verse into that little apocalypse in Luke we would have read the words, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Hearken then to the words of Isaiah, “For I am about to create a new heaven and new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or called to mind.” The kingdom of God that is breaking through, then, is one in which mercy tempers justice. The justice of God is restorative, not destructive. The call goes out to claim it; shall we our Lord’s call?

You see, my friends, God is revealing himself to us day-by-day, in the midst of troubles of this life. Each day for us, if we choose to see it, is an apocalypse. Each day, there is before us a hand that offers justice and mercy, should we wish to take it. If we listen closely, we will hear a song of justice ring out that proclaims that the things that destroy the creatures of God have no power or victory over us. If we listen closely, we hear a song of mercy that even when we have done wrong, God will welcome us home as his children.

This is why I am not worried when I hear the words of carols sung in the shopping mall in November, for they are words of revelation. They are an apocalypse that rings out in a hurting and broken world. And they are proof that God makes himself known in the unlikeliest of places and the unlikeliest of moments.

c.2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Has Anger Triumphed Over Hope? A Homily for All Souls and Remembrance Sunday

A Homily for All Souls and Remembrance, 2010
Sunday, November 7th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 11:21-27

“Lord , if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
--John 11:21

Today, the threads of three different commemorations are woven together.

First we celebrate the feast day of All Souls, a time when we remember before God all those who have gone before us into the presence of God and whom we shall meet again when we all share in the Resurrection of the dead. While we remember all those who have been near and dear to us and our now on that other shore, we remember in particular those who have gone to the arms of Jesus in this past year. And so as we read those names later in the context of the Holy Eucharist, the tenderness of our hearts will certainly be touched in a special way. While it is a time to mourn our losses, it is also a time to celebrate our hope in Christ that we shall see them again in glorious resurrection bodies, with sure and certain hope that death is not the final story for them, nor for us.

A second thread, so closely woven together with the first, is the theme of Remembrance. We come to today solemnly remembering and giving thanks for those who made that ultimate sacrifice, who laid down their lives for their friends. We remember also those who offered themselves and came home, but came home forever changed. We remember even our enemies who fell in battle and lament the circumstances that made us enemies. We remember the innocent victims of all human conflict and pray to God that he will ever hold before us a different and better way. We remember our troubled past in all its moral ambiguity.

The final thread before us is the example of St. Martin of Tours, an ancient French saint who died in the year 397. It is one of the striking convergences of our secular and ecclesiastical calendars that Remembrance Day and his feast day both fall on November 11th. St. Martin was a Roman solider by profession, possibly a conscript. At some point in his early life Martin was converted to Christianity, and while he was still a catechumen (that is, one preparing for baptism) he met a poor beggar on the road. The beggar implored him to clothe him, so Martin cut his soldier’s cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar that he might be clothed. Later Martin had a vision of Christ wrapped that same half-cloak, saying, “Martin, a mere catechumen, covered me with his garment.” Martin left the army, was baptized and went on to form one of the earliest monastic communities in France.

There are times when it seems inevitable the sword must be taken up against a terrible foe, and yet there are times when Christ sets before us the frailty of our shared humanity and shows us another way. Most veterans I have ever known have wished not that we might glorify the wars in which they fought but rather that we might celebrate the peace we have known, and to work for that same peace so that we might never raise arms again. In St. Martin we meet a powerful example of just such a movement toward peace. St. Martin is the solider that stoops to help the man in need and in doing so not only demonstrates Christian compassion, but seeks eradicate one of the very causes of war, the poverty of the poor man.

At the root of most human conflict is the inhuman way we treat each other, and in particular, how we treat the most vulnerable amongst us. It is characteristic of the human condition to dehumanize the “other,” and thus we distance ourselves from all the we fear. It is the distance we place between ourselves and those who are different from us; it is the radicalization and fragmentation of peoples that comes through poverty, neglect, religious and ethnic hatred that leads us on the path of war. It is against these things that brave men reluctantly took up arms to fight. And it is against these things that Jesus stands when he sets before us the example to take the risk to reach out to those who are the most vulnerable amongst us in love and charity. By tearing his valuable cloak and handing it to the poor man, the one who was so different, the one who was so distanced from Martin in status and wealth, good St. Martin challenged the fear that drives wedges between us as peoples of this world.

The recent municipal elections here in the GTA and the mid-term elections south of the border were deeply disturbing because they were animated with so much anger. There is healthy anger, and there is righteous indignation. Any good therapist will tell you that it is good to name your anger and get it out. But if our anger is what drives us we shall never be partners in the building up of God’s kingdom. “What has happened to hope,” people are asking. Has it been replaced by anger? Anger, and its close cousin, Blaming, well always be close at hand. Indeed, out of her deep sadness and anger, Martha of Bethany blamed Jesus for her brother’s death, simply because Jesus had not come when he was called. Consider the irrationality of the anger that drives the blaming, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s your fault Jesus; death is your fault. Has hope been replaced by anger?

And yet we know the rest of the story, that even in the midst of the anger of Martha of Bethany, in even as she accuses Jesus, resurrection is proclaimed, and Jesus calls out “Lazarus, come forth!” and hope is restored. God repaid anger and blaming not with the sword but with new life.

God looked upon the brokenness of this world and chose not to send a flaming sword to destroy it, but rather to clothe himself in humility, in human flesh, as Jesus of Nazareth, and offer himself in vulnerability to this broken world. To those of us languishing on the side of the road, in the poverty of our humanity, suffering the nakedness of our anger, hate and prejudice, he stretched out his hands in suffering and wrapped us in the torn cloak of his divinity, that we might know his perfect peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.

We live in an imperfect world. It is a world in which people die. It is a world in which people take up arms, out of malice to harm and out of valour to protect. This is the reality in which we live, but there is another reality which is breaking through, and that is the reality the reality of the sacred cloak in which we are wrapped that reminds us that this imperfect world is passing away and we are being enfolded in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as those who have gone before us, whom we remember today, have already tasted.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What St. Paul Prays for the People of Ephesus - A Homily for All Saints, 2010

Homily for All Saints’ Day, Year C, 2010 (translated)
Sunday, October 31st, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Ephesians 1:11-23

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.
-Ephesians 1:17-18

One of the most important things that a priest is called to do is to pray for the people for whom he or she has the care of souls. The Anglican tradition is a tradition rich in prayer. In particular, Anglicans pray the form known as the Daily Office, easily recognized by those who grew up in the tradition of Mattins and Evensong as principal Sunday services. Morning and Evening prayer, offered daily, is a way of prayer shaped by the reading and recitation of Holy Scripture. When Anglicans (and Christians of other traditions who share this liturgical form) pray the Office, our prayer is rooted and grounded in the reality of Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God, revealed in the written Word of God. Thus, when we come to offer our intercessions and cares to God, we offer them enfolded in the words of Holy Scripture.

As we come to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we read a text that is, in effect, a prayer. How helpful it is for us, both as clergy and laypeople, when our words grow stale or even when prayers refuse to form on our lips, to turn to Scripture, and to the Apostle in particular, to learn afresh how to pray. As St. Paul gives thanks for the Ephesians and tells them how he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, he adds these words:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.

Can there be any better prayer that a pastor could offer to God on behalf of his or her people? Can there be any better prayer that any of us, as faithful Christian people, could offer for our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Let us consider for a moment what these words might mean to us.

First, Paul prays that God might give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation. This life is a journey of discovery. We might recall the prayer for the newly baptized person in the baptismal liturgy in the Book of Alternative Services, “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works” (BAS 160). It may be said that the life of the baptized Christian is the journey of discovering the beauty and holiness of God. And how do we come to know such things? Through wisdom and revelation.

On the one hand, there is so much beauty in the world that points to the majesty and greatness of God. Indeed, when asked about how people know God exists, many will simply say look at the stars, or the beauty of the autumnal leaves, or the great complexity of the natural order. In fact, many a scientist has devoted their life to the study of God’s creation because this beauty has driven them with a desire to understand the works of God. The philosopher, the theologian, the scientist, all use the god-given gift of wisdom to seek an understanding of this divinely ordered cosmos. And Paul prays for the people of Ephesus, that they might be given the Spirit of wisdom. May it also be so for all of us.

There are other things, though, that cannot be known through wisdom, reason, or study. These are things that are known only through a special revelation of God. For Christian people, the Holy Scriptures are the place through which this revelation is found. What is this revelation? It is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ. This is where we learn that death has no power over us, that indeed Christ has trampled down death by dying, and defeated the power of Sin that we might have life. This is where we learn that God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself. For the Christians of Paul’s day this revelation came through the reading and hearing of the Hebrew Bible for signs and prophecies about Jesus, for Christians since the second century or so, it has additionally meant reading the stories of Jesus, the acts of the early church, the letters of Paul and other apostles, for their disclosure of Jesus the Christ. Paul prays for the Ephesians that God might be revealed to them. May it also be so for us.

Wisdom and Revelation, two ways to God not alternatives, but complementary, and these are things for which we ought to continue to pray for each other. But why does Paul ask for these things, and why ought we to continue to pray for them? To what end are they important? Paul continues his prayer, “that we may come to know him (Jesus) and that the eyes of our hearts might be enlightened.” Sometimes the Church slips into thinking that it is a service club. Please note, I have nothing against service clubs – indeed, I belonged to one for several years – but the primary work of the Church is not about making the world a better place, but forming Christian people. The Church is a place, or more precisely, a gathering, in which we are nurtured that we might grow into the people God intends us to be. The Church is the gathering in which we pray, learn and serve. It is the gathering in which we are shaped and conformed, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into the likeness of Christ. It is where we come to know Christ and are transformed into the body of Christ. This is what Paul means by enlightenment – that they eyes of our hearts be opened that we might see who it is that we really are in Christ; that we might learn our true identity, and help others on that same journey. It is through the transformation of people, that the world is transformed.

And finally, what do we see with the eyes of hearts opened? We see hope; the hope to which we are called in Christ. This is a hope that the sadness of the world is not the thing that claims us. This is the hope that the broken promises of the world do not claim us. This is the hope that illness and indeed death are not our masters, but rather, we are claimed by a loving God whose love brings joy in the midst of sadness, healing in the midst of brokenness, and life in the midst of death. It is a hope that the world is indeed being transformed, as we hear in the Gospel today -- the poor, the mourners, the despised of the world are blessed in heart of God. With the eyes of hearts opened we see us as God sees us, as saints in light, on the road of becoming who we are in Christ Jesus.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why it Can be Hard to Give Thanks - A Homily for Proper 28, Year C, 2010 (National Thanksgiving)

Homily for Proper 28 (National Thanksgiving), Year C, 2010
Sunday, Oct 10th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 17:11-19

"Were not ten made clean?" (Luke 17:17)

There are certain seasons in our lives when it may seem that we have very little for which to give thanks. Those of us in the so-called “caring professions” know only too well that many people are in the midst of making very difficult journeys. One does not need to be a priest, or a physician, or a counselor to witness the pain that many people are experiencing. How many of us have watched marriages dissolve, or been with loved ones when they receive unwanted news of a chronic or terminal illness? Indeed, there are many amongst us who are experiencing such painful journeys, themselves. Thus, it can seem somewhat forced, or even trite, when we gather together on this particular Sunday of the year and offer thanks for all the goodness in our lives. There are seasons in our lives when we wonder what we have to give thanks for. Whenever we gather as families and friends and make merry at times of festive celebration, there will always be those who feel as though they are on the outside, not able to make merry, for the weight of the world is literally on their shoulders. We ought always to be sensitive to such a reality.

While there are times when we feel we have so little to be thankful for, there are also times when we have much to celebrate. Yet, sometimes that spirit of thanksgiving is overwhelmed by the frenzy that is brought about the thing that is the cause for celebration. I think back, for instance, to the births and infancy of our children. One cannot imagine a more wonderful gift, and yet one cannot imagine a more exhausting and frenzied time of life. It is difficult to pause and give thanks when the blessing becomes an all-consuming responsibility. I think also of someone who was without a job for many months and then finds new employment, only to be overwhelmed with the workload, and the stress of allocating the new income to pay down accumulated debt. Sometimes the joyous things in life can distract us from taking the time to offer a word of thanks.

On the way to Jerusalem, ten lepers approach Jesus, calling out to him, but keeping their distance. Now, the leper of Jesus’ time was an outcast, ritually unclean, and was required to announce his or her presence in a loud voice in order that others might not be rendered ritually impure by coming into contact with them. This is why these particular people call out to Jesus from a distance to have mercy upon them. In this particular case (unlike many of his other healings) Jesus does not touch them, or even proclaim them cured, he simply tells them to go and present themselves to the priests, those who can judge the purity or impurity of any given person. To their great surprise, in hearing this simple instruction, they have been made clean. One of the ten, a Samaritan, thus doubly outcast as he was from a derided race of people, returned to Jesus, knelt down and thanked him; and what of the other nine? Jesus ponders this question with the one that remained; were not ten made well? Why has only one given thanks?

Why did the Samaritan, alone, offer thanks?

Jesus’ words have often been taken as a condemnation of the other nine, but I wonder if this is really the case? Perhaps Jesus has recognized, posing a rhetorical question, that it is not always easy to give thanks. Consider for a moment, the plight of these ten individuals: they had been ostracized and cast out from their society, unable to participate in public life and unable to participate in religious observance at the Jerusalem Temple. They called out for mercy, and they received mercy. Jesus healed them. The healing they truly sought, though, was not simply the restoration of failing bodies, but a kind of social healing, a restoration and reintegration into their society and their religion. Having tasted that possibility, would you or I not do as they did and rush to participate and be a part of the thing from which they had so long been excluded. They sought healing and restoration, and their enthusiasm for what they received was a sort of lived out thanksgiving.

We must probe more deeply, though. Was thanksgiving even required of them? After all, they did exactly what Jesus told them to do – go and show yourselves to the priests. They did not look back, but did what they were told. Is it not somewhat unfair then for Jesus to criticize them for not coming back to offer a word of thanks?

The nine are not unlike most of us, who when having the tide go our way for a change, take full advantage of our good luck and plunge headlong into the stuff of life. I am sure they had thankful hearts because they went forth so enthusiastically.

What that one person in ten realized, though, was that the giver and the gift were one and the same. What that one leper realized was that what Jesus had given him was the opportunity to connect, to no longer be alone or isolated. The other nine plunged headlong into the world, but the last one plunged headlong into God. He realized that he did not need to run off to see the priests to cross the boundary from clean to unclean, from outcast to friend, the opportunity was standing before him. He approached Jesus, knelt down and worshiped him. The boundary that seemed impossible to cross was crossed. The divisions were healed. As he made contact with Jesus, this man was reconciled with God and with his society.

Sometimes, the thankfulness of an entire community is carried in the prayers of a single person.

Illness, broken relationships, bereavement, losses of all kinds, estrangement from friends, all have the potential to isolate us from each other, and in doing so lead us to believe that we are isolated from God. But as much as we may feel this to be true, it is not the case. In isolating us from each other, these pieces of brokenness and loss would have us believe that we are alone and without aid or succour. But this is emphatically not true. God is with us always, and God is always stretching out his healing hand to us in Jesus Christ. And while the body may give way, and while others around us may fall away, God is ever and always enveloping us in love, proclaiming to us that we are not alone, or isolated or without hope. Even more, God is always working to restore us amidst our brokenness to community and to those around us.

Claiming the blessing is often thanksgiving enough. Jesus didn’t recall the other nine and take their healing back. That they were restored to health and wholeness in the community was enough. They could be forgiven for forgetting the formal “thank-you.” Yet, once in a while, when we recognize the blessing, something stirs within us to turn around and glance back, and if we take that moment to do so, we will see a smiling Jesus, delighting in the work of healing, restoration and reconciliation. And seeing the joy on his face, the divine gift of thanksgiving stirs in our hearts, and forms on our lips, and then what could dare stop us from falling down and giving thanks and praise to God?

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Restless Hearts - A Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving, 2010

Homily for Harvest Thanksgiving, 2010
Sunday, October 3rd, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 6:25-35

“I am the bread of life.”
-John 6:35

Toward the end of the fourth century, St. Augustine began his spiritual autobiography with these words: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” It is in the make-up of every human being to long after God and to seek communion with the one who created us and has loved us from before our births. That is why we gather in these buildings, whether they be modeled on Roman public buildings or eighteenth century tents: we come to meet God.

There is so much about our church life, though, that seems distant from God, possibly because there is so much work to do in church. Is it possible, that from time to time as we go about the “business of church” that we mistake the work we do as the substance of our religion? And that we mistake our work as the foundation of our relationship with the God our hearts so long to seek? Of course, I do not wish to suggest that the work we do is of no value, nor do I wish to suggest that it is not holy work. Yet, it must be stated that sometimes the work overwhelms us and we can forget why we are here. Consequently, in all the exhaustion that occurs we may feel farther away from God than ever before, and that God is not in this place but inhabiting some distant realm that is inaccessible to ordinary folk like you and me. Then comes the question we inevitably ask: Why am I here? This is not the existential question of life and death -- although such undertones may be present -- but rather, why do I bother to come to this place every week?

Why do we bother, indeed?

In the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the crowd goes looking for Jesus and finds him on the other side of the sea. A conversation ensues in which they reflect back to an incident in the first part of the chapter in which Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes to feed a multitude. As the conversation unfolds, they ask Jesus “what must we do to perform the works of God?” Ah, that’s the sixty-four thousand dollar question we all seek answered, is it not? What must I do? Just tell me what to do, and I will do it! Those gathered around Jesus are so willing to do God’s will, if they only he would tell them what to do and how to do it.

But the gospel of Christ is not self-help therapy. Any preacher can get up and give you three nice points which tell you three tasks that you can carry out and go home and then you will be close to God. How is it though, that after hearing three points, and perhaps even trying three tasks, that we feel no closer to God than when asked the question in the first place? We put our noses to the grind stone -- doing, doing, doing … and yet we are no closer to God.

It is not what we do though, that makes us capable of touching the divine, rather it is what God does, in Christ Jesus. That is why when the people ask Jesus, “what must we do?” He responds simply, “Believe.” The answer seems so simple, but then we are prompted to ask, “what are we to believe? Show us a sign!” Jesus had, of course, already given them a sign – bread in the wilderness, multiplied beyond imagination and filling every empty person. Upon recalling this, they suddenly realized that this was like the time that the Israelites were given Manna in the wilderness while following Moses. But Jesus reminds them that it was not Moses that gave them bread, but God who gave them bread. Then, he delivered the real truth to them with these words, “I am the bread of life.”

I am the bread of life. What could this mean for them? What does this mean for us? Simply this: for all the groping in the wilderness that we do, it is God who comes to us. Our hearts are indeed restless, and we can search about for God by joining committees, committing to self-help disciplines heard from people like me in a pulpit, signing up for one more task we have not the time or effort to carry out, but none of these things bring us closer to God; it is God who moves closer to us in Christ Jesus. God is constantly in motion toward us. God is constantly seeking us out. If our hearts are restless for God, it is because God is calling to us, longing for us, desiring after us. God is seeking to touch our lives and so within us comes that deep longing God, on our own part, of which St. Augustine spoke.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life,” and these words are meant not only for that crowd two thousand years ago for they continue to speak directly to us today. These words are a claim that God the Father is not a distant far away reality in some netherworld; rather, God the Father is a deeply caring God who feeds his people with bread – not just any bread but the bread of life, Jesus Christ our Lord. In Jesus Christ, God is present and indeed, we feed on him. He is the nourishment that enables life not only in this world but in the next. When we approach the altar and take the bread of the sacrament in our hands, we truly hold the body of our Lord, the bread of life. And when we take that bread within us as our nourishment for everlasting life, we truly feed on our Lord, and the restless heart at last finds its home. We are thus assured of the reality that the old prayer of thanksgiving proclaims so clearly, “that we may every more dwell in him, and he in us.”

What, you may ask, has any of this to do with a celebration of Thanksgiving and Harvest? Much indeed! The very sacramental act that enlivens our shared liturgical life is called “thanksgiving”, the meaning of the Greek word “Eucharist.” We give thanks that God offers himself to us. We give thanks that God is restless until he gathers all his children home. We give thanks that God relentlessly pursues us. And we give thanks that he has made the calming of our restless hearts, our mystic sweet communion, possible in Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.

Thus, the work we share in this community is not about “keeping a church going,” much less doing holy things that we might be closer to God – for these things can only lead to our spiritual, emotional and physical exhaustion – rather, the work we share in community is the proclamation of our joy and thanksgiving that God has reached out to us and made our relationship with him possible, and not just possible, but a reality! Feeding on our Lord who is present and nourishing us into the depths of our hearts, we shall not hunger or thirst, or find ourselves weary, for this work of belief is an expression of our thanksgiving that it is not through our effort but God’s effort that we have a relationship with God. To proclaim this belief in word and deed is to proclaim our joy and thanksgiving that God is indeed present here in this place and in that presence he is transforming this wonderful world from glory to glory. Thanks be to God for calling restless hearts into his presence.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, September 26, 2010

God Longs to be with Us - A Homily for Back to Church Sunday, 2010

A Homily for Back to Church Sunday, 2010
Sunday, Sept 26th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 19:1-10

“A man was there named Zacchaeus.”
-Luke 19:2

It was a new beginning for the man called Zacchaeus.

Now, this Zacchaeus was certainly not the most popular fellow in town; he was, after all, a tax collector. And if our present day tax man has a bad reputation, it was all the much worse in those ancient times when tax men earned their pay by either skimming as much as they could off the top of the tax bill, or extorting citizens for unjust fees. Is it any wonder then that when Jesus came through town and the crowds gathered round, that no one would let Zacchaeus through to the front of the crowd? Zacchaeus was an outcast. As folk pressed in around Jesus, perhaps to see him perform a miracle, perhaps to feel his healing touch, or perhaps to hear Good News spoken into the darkness of the moment, Zacchaeus was squeezed out.

You have to give him credit, though. As the crowds surrounded Jesus, Zacchaeus, who was short of stature, ran up ahead and found a tree to climb. Once above the crowd, he at last caught a glimpse of Jesus, and then, something remarkable happened. Jesus spotted him and called to him! Somehow, Jesus knew him and called to him and uttered the surprising words, “Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down; for I must stay at your house today!” One can only imagine the silence that fell upon the crowd, a crowd that was pressing in around Jesus, longing to be close to the Messiah. One can only imagine the looks old Zacchaeus received when the Lord spotted him in the tree and called to him. But in spite of what others might have thought, Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed Jesus into his home.

It was a new beginning.

I think all of us need new beginnings from time-to-time. Is there anyone amongst us who has never felt that they have not been included, or that they have been cast aside, or that they have been forgotten? Perhaps, like Zacchaeus, we might have a job to do for which we are disliked or outcast. Perhaps, we just don’t feel like we are as important as other people; maybe we just don’t have enough money, or enough status. Perhaps conflict or disappointments have made us feel as though even going to “catch a glimpse” of that parade everyone else is attending is not even worth the effort. Discouragement can enslave us to loneliness and despair. In all of this we, ourselves, are often outcasts.

But, by God’s grace, it is in those very moments that something stirs within us: perhaps we should just take a little look, maybe sneak a little glance, just to see what is happening on the other side of the crowd. As we move a little closer, we know something is happening, and our curiosity stirs us to peer above or through the crowd, and it is at that moment, as we catch a glimpse of him, that Jesus calls our name.

A new beginning.

When it seems that all is lost, Jesus calls our name. When we feel as though we have been abandoned, Jesus calls our name. When we feel that we are outcast and have nothing left to give, Jesus calls our name. And what does he say? Let me come home with you today. At our lowest ebb, when all others fall away, Jesus says, “I want to be with you!”

Let me come home with you today. I want to be with you. As these words penetrate our hearts and break through the disappointment and discouragement of our lives; as these words penetrate our loneliness, we begin to awaken to a startling reality, that we are not alone and never have been alone; that we are not lost and have never been lost! God has searched us out and found us. He has searched us out through all the changes and chances of this life. He has journeyed with us through all our winding roads, but it is only in our recognition that we need him that our eyes our opened to the reality of his divine and abiding presence. It the moment of our deepest longing, we push through that crowd, and our eyes meet his. Before we even get a chance to speak, he speaks to us, and calls to us by name: Let me come home with you today.

A new beginning.

When Jesus calls Zacchaeus’s name, he is changed; he is transformed. He no longer defrauds the poor, and he seeks to make reparation for his wrongs, but most importantly, Zacchaeus is turned from despair to hopefulness, and from sadness to joy. His encounter with Jesus, and his recognition that Jesus longs to be with him, empowers him to long to be with Jesus. Indeed, through this simple encounter, Christ is formed in Zacchaeus.

As we press forward to meet Jesus through the crowdedness of our lives, from our places of disappointment and our moments of brokenness, we can hear him call our names. As he calls to us with the words, “Let me come home with you today,” we realize that we have been found by God and indeed, that we have never been alone. My friends, God longs to be with us both as individuals and as a community, and with that realization comes for us a new beginning.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Farewell Homily for the People of Holy Trinity, Thornhill - Proper 26, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 26, Year C, 2010
Sunday, Sept 19th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Psalm 91

“He who dwells under the shelter of the Most High, abides under the shadow of the Almighty.”
Psalm 91:1

For nearly four years now, this parish has been taking stock of its health through a tool called “Natural Church Development” or “NCD”. Part of the NCD process is a survey in which parishioners have the opportunity to reflect on key aspects of our shared life in this community. One of the many questions asked is, “Do you believe God will work powerfully in this parish in the next five years?”

Sadly, this question sometimes elicits a very negative response. It may be because changing demographics make us wonder if the parish has future viability. Where are the young people? And indeed, where are all the Anglicans? It may be in part because such language of “powerful works of God,” seems much more in accord with images of faith-healing and televangelists, and distant from the experience of this worshiping community. It may also be that sometimes, we simply forget about God as we go about the “stuff” of Church.

Today is my last Sunday with this community and as I prepare to take my leave, I wish to state, even proclaim, without reservation, that I believe God will indeed work powerfully in this community in the next five years. How do I know this? Why do I believe it? I know it and believe it because I have seen it.

It has been my great privilege to have journeyed with this parish for the past three years. It has been a privilege not only because you have welcomed me into your lives and into your hearts, but also because this is a community in which the flame of the living God burns. For one hundred and eighty years God has worked powerfully in this community, drawing first a pioneer people together, later calling the descendents of those same people to take the risk of faith and move this very building to its current location, and is still calling us today to be a city set up on a hill, a light to the world.

That is, of course, the grand sweep of our narrative in Thornhill. There are a myriad of personal stories, though – stories of faith that stand as monuments to the power of our God here in this place. In three short years, a blip in the life of this parish, I have witnessed the power of God working amongst you. God is alive and working powerfully in this place. Perhaps we have to become a little better about sharing these “sightings” as there are many to be shared. Of the many “sightings” I have witnessed, here is one: This past Thursday I had lunch for one last time with our Holy Trinity Quilters. To sit with these wonderful ladies has been a source of weekly joy and encouragement for me. And as I looked around that table, I saw the power and the love of Jesus Christ reigning and shining rays into our broken world. These women are sisters who have upheld each other through sickness, through the death of loved ones, through retirements, through difficult moves, through challenges and disappointments. Week by week they gather in faithful service to each other and to this church, and break bread together. Here is the miracle: Things that would have been too much to bear for one person alone, are lifted and shared, and carried together. How is this possible? Because there in the midst of this love, in the breaking of the bread, Jesus Christ is Risen. Christ has knit these people together and in the midst of much challenge, they have found joy and love in the company of sisters. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen indeed!

This is but one sighting; I could cite so many others. As emails and phone calls have poured in with words of encouragement and farewells, my mind has gone to the intimate pastoral moments I have shared with so many – both the moments of joy when health is restored, new jobs are found, friends and families are reconciled, and also the moments when death comes, or jobs have been lost, or families and friends have fallen away. But I can say with all my heart that I have witnessed the faithfulness of God in all these things; so many sightings. Our Lord is walking with us. Clergy will come and clergy will go, but God has never and will never leave this place. In the days ahead, I would commend you together and as members of your various smaller groups, to consider the sightings of God you have witnessed in your time in this community.

To be sure, any time of transition is a time of anxiety, but be comforted by the truth the psalmist proclaims, “You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High, abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” For one hundred and eighty years, the Most High has made this wonderful place a stronghold for all who put their trust in Him. God is here, and working powerfully in the stories of your lives. Never forget this. I am reminded of the words of that old Christmas carol, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day,” and its culminating verse which has the words, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead nor doth he sleep!” The presence of God is not contingent on any priest. It is not contingent on the perfect congregational development program. It is not contingent on committees, or wardens, or advisory boards or by-laws or church canons. In fact, I believe it is not contingent at all. God has chosen to dwell here, to work powerfully here, to claim this people, to claim you, as his own. Never forget this. Need you then be afraid? What is there to fear? There is no arrow that flies by day, nor any terror of the night that can break the hand of God. God is your refuge; put your trust in Him.

Next week, it is my hope and prayer that each one of you will invite a friend to join you. Bishop Bill and I are perfectly aware that a time of transition is a strange time to expect anyone to come “back to church.” And the temptation will be, of course, to say “maybe next year, when things get back to normal, when we have a new priest, when things settle down.” But my friends, God is here now! We don’t invite friends back to church to boost our numbers or to save the church (saving the church is God’s job, after all, not ours), but rather we invite friends to church because God is here! We invite friends to church because we believe that God is alive, that God is present, and that God, through the power of the cross of Jesus Christ and his glorious resurrection, changes lives. Did you notice that word “change?” That’s right, God changes things. God is here and working powerfully in this time transition. While it has the potential to be a time of anxiety, God sees it as a time to act and changes lives.

So I thank Christ my God, and each of you, for allowing me to begin my ordained ministry amongst at Holy Trinity, in a place where God is working mighty acts of power every day. Keep your eyes peeled for his surprises, take his mighty hand, and allow yourselves to feel the warmth of his loving embrace during this time of transition, and from but a short distance, I believe I will hear word of God’s mighty acts in the parish of Holy Trinity, Thornhill.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves