Sunday, July 25, 2010

Can't Get No Satisfaction? - A Homily for Proper 17, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 17, Year C, 2010
Sunday, July 25th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Colossians 2:6-19

“Continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
--Colossians 2:6-7

There is an old country and western song that my grandfather used to sing that went a little something like this:

How many times have you heard someone say:
if I had his money,
I’d do thing my way.
But little do they know,
it’s so hard to find,
one rich man in ten,
with a satisfied mind.

This old song has stuck with me over the years, perhaps because I have so often identified with its sentiment; and if its not about having more money, its about leading a different life, following a different path, about living somewhere else, or being someone else. If rock and roll is more to your taste, perhaps the Rolling Stones said it well, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” How hard it is to be satisfied with who we are and the life we have. I suppose that we all long for something new or different because the journey we make in this life is not always an easy one. Truly, there are moments that can be unbearable.

But there is also joy.

Today marks the completion of three wonderful years for me here at Holy Trinity, and it has been my privilege to journey with so many of you through the changes and chances of this life, and I have certainly journeyed with many of you through very difficult moments. To take one area of parish life, my time here has been marked with more funerals than I would have ever expected. What a privilege it continues to be to journey with you in such intimate moment, but oh, the pain that has been experienced and shared on the journey. In such moments in which we lose those nearest and dearest to us, is it not natural that we should wish to be anywhere other than where we are?

There are so many other painful journeys that I have witnessed. As a community and as individuals we all face the pain and fear of transition, whether it be lost jobs, unexpected illnesses, expected and unexpected deaths, or the moving away of dearly beloved friends, sometimes it can all be a bit too much to take. Our gaze may be distracted for a moment by others for whom the world and their life in it are going so well that we might wish, for a moment at least, that we had their life and their place in the world, instead of our own. It can be awfully difficult to be satisfied with our own lot when we see others doing so well and living in such abundant happiness. It is the age-old question, “why me?”

The truth is, that our lives are all punctuated with moments of joy and moments of sorrow, moments of hope and moments of regret. As a priest in this place what a wonderful privilege it is to be invited into all sorts of moments and all types of joys and sorrows. I constantly remind myself of this privilege and give thanks to God for it, and for each of you.

In nearly all of Paul’s letters (he did have the occasional angry slip), he began by giving thanks to God for the people he had been called to serve. We often gloss over these words of thanksgiving, and what a shame that is. Paul’s joy and thanksgiving for his people suggests something profound about the Christian life, because Paul had cause more than any to wish for another lot in life, and to be fair, he did sometimes express a wish to be done with the hardships of this life. On at least one occasion, he stated that he longed to depart this life, to be rid of its afflictions, and to be with Christ. Paul tells us that he lived with a “thorn in his flesh” – code for some kind of physical disability. Paul, who has been held in such esteem by generations of Christians, was really an ordinary sort of fellow, who knew something of pain and loss, who was prone to lose his temper, and wrestled with his own faith, as the inconsistencies of his thought often reveal. Yet, amidst his own brokenness and ever so fragile humanity, he was sure of something: Paul was confident that in the midst of all life’s mess, his life and hope was founded on Christ. He believed this about his own life and he believed it about the lives of those he loved and served, and this was the source of his joy and thanksgiving.

A life and hope founded on Christ. How hard for us this is to believe when we face the troubles of this life. During troubled times, when we are most dissatisfied indeed with what life has thrown at us, it is much easier to long to be somewhere else and pray for a different life. How normal this is, and how perfectly human it is. Yet, in all my journeys with people through their brokenness and grief, how consistently have I seen the light of Christ shine brightly into their lives and warm their failing hearts! When we would expect to see all hope disappear that is when hope reveals itself. This is when Christ is known amongst the people of God. I know, for I have seen it time and again, and like Paul, I give thanks to God for it.

In the middle of our longing to be somewhere else, God, in Christ Jesus, longs to be with us. When we turn to run away, God turns and runs toward us. When we run to the darkest room to hide, the door opens and our Lord unexpectedly appears. Where there is a tomb, instead we find verdant pastures green where life springs forth eternally. In deepest darkness a light chooses to shine and cast away the darkness.

In the entirety of Paul’s writings, suffering and joy are always mingled together. There is nowhere else to be other than where we are, for when we are in Christ, Christ is never “somewhere else,” but always and ever “here” with us.

To this end Paul reminds us, “to continue our lives in him, rooted and built up in him, established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Paul can say this because God roots himself in us in Christ Jesus. The Christian God, our Christ, is not one that is distant or far away, but one that dwells amongst us, rooting himself in humanity itself, building up the lives of his people, and establishing himself in our hearts. Can we be other than thankful for this grace and love?

This grace and love does not make the mess of life go away, but rather gives us a friend and a hope when the mess seems so lonely and hopeless. Furthermore, that grace and love is a sign of the grace and love that is yet to be known in the fullness of God’s kingdom – but that is for later. For now, we are not without that grace and love, and amidst the toils and snares of this life, that’s all the satisfaction any of us need. Would we wish for anything else?

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves
(the song satisfied mind was written by Jack Rhodes and Joe Hayes)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

In Him All Things Hold Together - A Homily for Proper 16, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 16, Year C, 2010
Sunday, July 18th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Text: Colossians 2:15-28

“…and in him, all things hold together.”
--Col. 2:17

During times of transition and change, we may be apt to feel that things can so easily spin out of control. As we move from a well-established reality into a place of uncertainty, we may feel a certain anxiety about the future. We may at once ask questions like, will all we hold dear be respected by those who follow? At the same time, we might wonder if those who follow will have the courage to chart a new and necessary course for the future? Will I be able to be a part of that future? These and many other uncertainties fill our heads and our hearts and we wonder, wonder, wonder.

To feel anxiety about the unknown is, of course, to be human. Thus, through a time of transition we need to be gentle with each other, as anxiety is known to fuel tension, and tension to fuel conflict. We need to bear each other with love and patience as we journey through the uncertain waters of change.

Each of us will find ourselves at different places on this vast sea of transition. There will be some who will stand before the waters and say, I’m not very good at swimming and I’m not sure that I trust that boat – I think I’ll drive around the lake. There will be others that will not have even noticed the boat and have jumped in and started their marathon swim to the other side. There will be still others who climb aboard the sailing vessel on the sea of change and as the wind fills the sails, revel in the breeze that blows in their face. And perhaps as storms brew on that lake there will be some who take charge and steer it through tempestuous waters. Likewise, there will be others that prefer to take refuge in the safety of the hold. On the sea of transition there will be many and various ways of making the voyage, and I remind you all, to be gentle with each other and honour the way each person makes the journey.

In the diversity of ways in which we make that journey across an uncertain sea, it may seem to us that the community slips apart, loses its focus and cohesion, as each person takes up that journey in their own way. This may produce a further anxiety - that the whole world is falling apart. Let us remember that our community will not be the first to make such a journey; countless are the numbers that have gone before us.

Moses led the Hebrew people out of Egypt to a promised land. The journey was not easy, and there was much anxiety, and much struggle. Centuries later the same people sojourned many years in exile before they returned home, and there was much anxiety, and much struggle. And through the ages people have journied and people have struggled with the anxiety that the journey of change brings. One hundred and eighty years ago some faithful Christians built a little white church on a hill, and God only knows the struggles and anxieties they had that are now forgotten to us. Sixty years ago, descendents of those faithful people picked up their church, board by board, in the midst of much struggle and anxiety, and replanted their holy place here on this soil.

So yes, we are part of a long line of sojourners who have journeyed through anxiety and fear. We look about us today, and see very few young people in our midst. We look about our community and see some very dramatic demographic shifts that have occurred in the last twenty years. We wonder and ponder if the next priest who comes will be able to lead us into the Promised Land where anxiety and fear and struggle will be no more. But if we are to learn anything from our ancestors, it is that anxiety and struggle are but a part of our earthly journey, and that the sea of transition, while we may have moments of rest on the shore, is part of the world in which we inhabit. So then, if anxiety, struggle, transition and change are all part and parcel of this life, what hope do we have?

There is another journey that has been made.

It is a journey that was filled with more anxiety and struggle than any journey of any people in any time or age. It is the journey that begins in a stable in Bethlehem, that reaches its dramatic intensity in the halls of a Roman governor and an unjust trial, that climaxes in a brutal execution on hill far away, and finds its dramatic resolution in a empty garden tomb, a risen man, an ascended and glorified Lord.

That journey gives shape to all the journeys we take in this earthly pilgrimage. As the people of God may seem to be going off in every direction, we are reminded by Paul, that “Christ is the head of the church; he is the beginning, the first born from the dead.” He is our captain on the journey and “he holds all things together.” Thus, we need not fear the anxiety and struggle of the journey, for our captain is in control. He rules the waves and the winds, and he shall bear his people across stormy waters whether they swim, whether they sail, or whether they drive around the sea; he shall bear them up.

He has journeyed with us through our deepest uncertainty and in our deepest anxiety, namely the grave and beyond, shall the earthly journeys that lie ahead be too much for him to captain? I think not. Therefore, I say to you this day, let him lead you. The one who has led you this far will not abandon or forsake you on your way. As he led a people long ago to a promised land, and as he has led countless Christians, and in particular, the ancestors of this place, so he leads us again. Do you see him at the helm? He is there, and in him the fullness of God dwells in our midst. Under his banner we go forward and he will ensure that we shall indeed continue, “securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that we have heard.”

c. the Rev. Daniel F. Graves, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bear One Another's Burdens - A Homily for Proper 14, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 14, Year C, 2010
Sunday, July 4th, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Galatians 6:1-16

“Bear one another’s burdens and this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”--Galatians 6:2

The Galatian community was one that was torn apart by a religious conflict. Paul had proclaimed to them a gospel of freedom, a gospel that did not entail keeping the Law of Moses. It came as a great surprise to him therefore that after his departure, certain teachers began instructing the Galatians that they needed to conform to Jewish Law in order to be fully Christian. It is likely that this community was originally a gentile community who had not previously kept the commandments of the Torah. What infuriated Paul so much was that he had proclaimed a Gospel of freedom, only to find that it was being replaced by the burden of further religious requirements. How could the people of that community so quickly abandon the freedom they found in the gospel he preached? In the end, Paul does not care so much about whether or not taking on the requirements of Torah is a good or bad thing, for in many ways, he suggests that it is a matter indifferent, for “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision are anything,” he declares, “but a new creation is everything!” Rather, he was deeply concerned to the point of anger because the new creation was being obscured with absolutist claims by the judaizing faction about what were actually non-essential conditions for receiving the gospel of Christ.

This first century argument is, at first glance, far removed from us today. It is unlikely that any of us shall ever consider the keeping of the Jewish law as a prerequisite for Christian faith. Yet, if we consider more generally the problem that Paul was addressing, we realize that it is not so far from our door. Paul was speaking about the burdens we place upon ourselves in order that we might live out our faith. He is speaking about self-imposed prerequisites to Christianity that obscure its purpose rather than fulfill it. Such prerequisites are characteristically manifested in ethical terms, such as “I need to be a better person to follow Jesus,” or framed negatively, “I musn’t be a good Christian because I am having trouble loving my enemy, much less my neighbour.” These formulations come at things in entirely the wrong way. Of course, I hate my neighbour, they never cut their grass and their dandelions seed on my lawn. I hate them every time I look out my window at that mess of a yard of theirs! If loving your neighbour, much less your enemy, were a prerequisite to being a Christian we would have no Christians in the world, or at least no honest Christians. But thankfully, the gospel of Christ is not about what I can do for Christ, but what Christ does for me, and more profoundly, what Christ does for us as a people, and for the world.

And what does Christ do?

He lifts the burden that the world places upon us and the burdens that we place upon each other and ourselves. This was the problem in Galatia: not only were new teachers placing new burdens upon the Church of Galatia, but the Galatians were happily taking on these new burdens! Ah, ever it is so in the Church. There is always more work to be done, more committees on which to volunteer, more burdens we can carry as individuals and as a church. Oh, the temptation of it all, and we are so sure it will make us better Christians. And yet, when all is said and done, we are anything but a new creation. We emerge tired, exhausted, angry and cynical. The question we must stop to ask, though, is “is this what Christ wants of me.” For Paul, the answer is an emphatic “no!” What Christ wants is to lift that burden from our shoulders, that he might raise us up to a new and better way of being, to a place where his service is perfect freedom.

At Holy Trinity, as we journey into this new time, awaiting the arrival of a new rector, the uncertainty of the future can be a burden, but it need not be so if we listen to Paul and allow our Lord to take that burden upon himself. One can feel the anxiety as we enter this new time, and yet, how that anxiety lifts when we let God carry the burden. As we let go of the burden, it then remarkable to look around our community and recognize that no single one of us needs to carry the burden of the future. We look around our community and we recognize that God has imparted all the gifts necessary in the Church for the facing of these days! What is a burden to the one may be the joy of another. By letting Christ bear our burdens he enlivens a holy vocation amongst his people, for in the body of Christ we share in the work of bearing one another’s burdens. Instead of taking on a greater load as individuals, as the community, as the body of Christ, we look upon those who cannot stand under the weight and we shoulder it with them. In such a manner, the load, the burden dissipates and Christ is made known amongst his people.

The burdens we carry as human beings are unbearable on our own. Whether it is the burden of caring for a spouse, child, or parent who is sick, or if it is the burden of mistakes we have made or wrongs we have done, we wilt under the weight of such things -- things put upon us, and things brought upon us through our own sinfulness. And then there is the weight of change and all the uncertainty it brings. Ultimately the day will come when we stand in front of our judge, as Paul says, “carrying our load.” I know that if I am to be judged by how well I carry that load, I will not be counted worthy of the task. But as Christian people, another hope, another reality, is set before us. It is a heavenly reality. It is the reality of the Kingdom of God in which my load is not mine to bear alone, for it is Christ who bears it for me and with me. Christ lifts the load of the weight that the world sets upon me, and lifts the load of the weight of my own failings, my own regret, and my own sinfulness and carries it to the cross where that weight is crucified and buried. As a stone is rolled in front of that tomb where that terrible weight is laid to rest, so also a stone is rolled away, and from that tomb emerges a new creation. The new creation that emerges is the body of Christ, the faithful of the Church who embody the freeing work of Christ in their common ethic of bearing each other’s burdens. When the weight becomes too much for the one, it is crucified and buried, as the community, the body of Christ, takes that weight upon itself in selfless love. We do not need to bear the weight alone, for Christ is ever with us in the gathering of his faithful people, and ever drawing us together that we might not only bear each other’s burdens but bear one another, in Christ-like love.

C. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves