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.”
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)