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

Sunday, September 12, 2010

There are no Write-offs with God - A Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2010

Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 15:1-10

"What woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?"
--Luke 15:8

I am a terrible one for losing or misplacing things. Sometimes I am so preoccupied by other matters that after making a cup of tea I will place the sugar in the refrigerator and the milk in the cupboard. Athena doesn’t even need to ask me any more where these things are. After fifteen years of marriage, she has learned how my distracted mind works.

I used to have a little leather change purse that my grandmother made for my grandfather. After he died she gave it to me. I treasured it very much, but sadly, one day I lost it, never to be found again. This brings me to my current problem. I am constantly losing pocket change in the chairs, in the couch, and in the car. One day this week I got out of the car, carrying an armful of things, and loose change came out of my pockets onto the ground, and a penny rolled under the car. It was raining, so I quickly gathered up most of the change, but decided I wasn’t going to get down on my hands and knees for a penny and rushed into the church. Some things just don’t seem to be worth going after.

When I was manager of the Anglican Book Centre at Church House, I learned a great deal from the General Synod’s Treasurer, a wonderful man named Jim who had the most impressive Scottish accent. When we would take inventory and come up with the discrepancy list, and begin the search for what was lost, he taught us that certain things must be found and accounted for (namely things of great value) and that there were other things (like little trinkets) that were simply “not material.” Some things just weren’t going after. That day as I dropped that change, the penny under the car just seemed to be “not material.”

I think most of us have had moments when we have realized that we have just needed to cut our losses in some way or another. There are some things that are not worth going after. This need not be limited to tangible things. There may be dreams that we have needed to let go of or hopes that we must leave unfulfilled. To return to the old accounting terminology, there are many things we may just need to “write off.”

How fortunate we are then, to have a God that does not believe in “write-offs.” The God we worship deems all of us, and indeed all his creation, of infinite value. When I hear those parables, parables of lost sheep, lost coins, and a third parable about a certain lost son that follows immediately on today’s texts, I wonder if I would go and search for that one coin in ten, or one sheep in a hundred that was lost. I wonder if, having taken inventory, I would count the loss as “not material” and “write it off” grateful for what I still had. Jesus suggests to the Pharisees that they would of course go after what was lost. But I wonder if hearing his words they might share similar thoughts to my own and begin questioning whether or not they would really seek out what was lost. At first glance, it because this parable contains a question directed at the Pharisees (“who among you would not go searching?”), it would appear that the parable is a moral lesson about what we should do and how we should act. When I think about how I would act though, and the pennies that I have left under the car, and the “write-offs” that are strewn about my life, I doubt I can live up to such a standard.

But, upon deeper reflection, the story is less about what we would do and more about what God does. These are parables meant to instruct us on the nature of God. And as we consider the text more closely, we realize that Jesus does not intend for us to align ourselves with the one who does the seeking but as the one being sought out! Recognizing that more than likely, we would not seek out what is lost, our attention turns to what has been lost and in what is lost we begin to see our own story. We are not the Pharisees, whom Jesus questions, but the lost sheep, the lost coin, or the lost son.

Who amongst us has not felt left behind or misplaced or discarded at some moment or another by those in whom we placed our trust. Oh, this feeling can come in so many ways – the unexpected news that we have been downsized; the breakdown of a marriage and impact that has on family members; the death of one dearly loved; or more to the point of the parable, when we have done something that we dearly regret that has isolated us from others. So many situations may leave us feeling abandoned or unimportant. More than once I have felt like a “write-off.” I expect this is true for others as well. We are the lost sheep, the lost coin.

The Good News is that God relentlessly pursues that one sheep in a hundred, that one in coin in ten, that penny under the car, that misplaced trinket, that forlorn lonely one, and yes, even and especially, the sinner. There is not one that is not precious in sight. We deal not with a distant, aloof God, but with one who, in the person of Jesus Christ, chose to walk amongst us through the uncertainty of life and seek us out when hearts are broken and mistakes are made. A lost coin, a lost sheep, a lost soul, these are all precious in his sight. God longs deeply and everlastingly to enfold each and every one of us in the embrace of divine love.

This is a love that brings about reconciliation in the midst of conflict, comfort in the midst of loss, and healing in the midst of brokenness. It is a love offered unto death and yet is more powerful than death, for it is a love that broke the chains of death in the Resurrection of our Lord. It is a love that scours creation for what is lost and restores it to glory. There is no coin of so small a denomination that it matters not to the Lord. There is no sinner with so great a sin that God’s love cannot redeem. The lamp of God shines into the darkest corners and finds us shedding rays of hope and love.

Thus in moments when we feel most alone, fear not, for there are no “write-offs” in the Kingdom of God.

c. 2010, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves