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

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