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