Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why Are We Here? A Homily for Proper 2, Year A, 2011

Homily for Proper 2, Year A, 2011
Sunday, January 16th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 1:29-42

“…but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
-John 1:31

Why are we here? I don’t mean that in the larger existential sense, but rather, the more particular sense. Why are we here as a church community? What are we about? To what end do we exist? There will be as many answers to that question as there are people who belong to this church. Many wonderful answers can be given: I am here because this is a community in which I am loved through good times and bad; I am here because what we do on Sunday mornings spiritually recharges me for the rest of the week; I am here because the words of Scripture challenge me to live my life differently; I am here because I need healing; I am here because God has called me here; I am here because I love the music of our faith and the song God puts in our hearts; I am here because it reminds me I am not alone; I am here to worship the God who created me, loves me, and redeems me. I am here because my mother made me get out of bed this morning and come.

These are all wonderful answers, and honest answers. Many more could be given. I should like to propose one that occurred to me as I read the words of John the Baptist, in John 1:31, “but I come baptizing with water for this reason, that Jesus might be revealed to Israel.” To the question, “why are you here?” John the Baptist responds, “I am here that Jesus might be known to the world.” To make Jesus known, to reveal Jesus, this is one of the most important reasons we are here.

Now, on one level this might be considered an act of hubris and arrogance, for of course, it is not we that make Jesus known, but the Holy Spirit of God that reveals Jesus. Indeed, John the Baptist goes on to describe how he knew Jesus was the messiah, the Christ: “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.” John the Baptist recognized the Messiah because the Spirit of God revealed Jesus to him AS messiah. And yet, John has a role to play. What he has seen and what he has heard, he is called to proclaim, and in his act of proclamation, Jesus is revealed to others.

A day passes, and John continues to go about his baptizing. He is standing with his two disciples and Jesus passes by. What does John do? He grabs his disciples by the arms and point out Jesus, probably a very non-descript man of his day, and proclaims, “Behold the lamb of God!” John directs others toward Jesus the Christ. The Spirit of God moves John to participate in the revealing of the messiah. He does not say, “Look, there’s that fellow from Nazareth, Jesus,” instead he proclaims as deeper truth what has been revealed to him. What has been revealed to him he now reveals to others, “behold the lamb of God.” What does this mean? He is the one that will save his people. He is the one who will deliver them from their sins. He is their Passover lamb.

In the act of recognition, Jesus turns to John’s disciples and asks: “What are you looking for?” Did they really know what they were looking for? They only knew something remarkable was happening, that something special was being revealed to them, and so they asked strange question, “where are you staying?” And he said, “Come and see.” Come and see -- words that are mysterious, and yet words that invite. Come and see.

Later yet, one of those same disciples, a man named Andrew, after spending some time with Jesus, returned home to his brother, Simon, and told him “We have found the Messiah.” Something had been revealed to Andrew because John had introduced him to Jesus, and he accepted Jesus’ invitation, to “come and see.” A day with Jesus, and Andrew knew he had found the messiah; and so he invited his brother, he revealed Jesus to his brother, and Simon came before Jesus and Jesus gave him the new name of Peter. In meeting Jesus, something profound was revealed to Simon, namely, who Simon was to be – a rock, upon which Christ’s church would be built. Suddenly, Simon’s existential question, “why am I here?” was answered.

Today, this church sits, a city set upon a hill, as a light to this community, and we ask why are we here? Amidst the myriad of valid and valued reasons, this is perhaps the most important one: that Jesus might be revealed to this community and to this world. Why are we here? Why do we baptize? Why do we sing songs and hymns? Why do we read our Sacred Scriptures and share our sacred meal? That Jesus might be revealed.

When we revisit some of the reasons that we are here, we realize that many of them are because Jesus has been revealed to us, and in our reasons for coming, Jesus is continually revealed to us: We are not alone; we have a song in our hearts; we are loved and cared for in good times and bad; we have found healing. And yes, even “my mother made me come” is a revelation, too. It is sign that God doesn’t give up on us; that sometimes God has to drag us out of bed and into action. All of the reason we gather reveal Jesus to us. We are here because we respond week-by-week to the words, “Come and see.”

But “come and see” are words spoken not only to us, but something we are called to speak to others. For as the Spirit of God revealed Jesus to John, so John revealed Jesus to Andrew, and so Andrew revealed Jesus to Peter. Oh the wondrous things that happened through the sharing of Jesus with friends and families. But always remember, sharing is an invitation, never a command. Sharing Jesus begins with the words “come and see.” That is our part in the journey of revelation. We invite and pray for the Spirit to descend like a dove, that those who join us will indeed see in our love, our worship and our community the face of God in Christ, and will indeed leave this place proclaiming, “I have found the messiah,” and with joy and excitement offer that invitation to another.

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Song of Delight - A Homily for the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 2011

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, Year A, 2011
Sunday, January 9th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 42:1-9

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights.
-Isaiah 42:1

Isaiah sings of a servant, and what a strange thing to sing about! When you think about it, how many songs are written to extol the glories of the hired help? Songs are sung about kings and princes, songs are sung about lovers and heroes, but how many popular songs are written about the servant? I suppose with some thinking we might posit an example or two, but when we pause to consider it, the servant is indeed a strange person to sing about. I suppose that if we were to seek a modern equivalent, it would perhaps be like singing a ballad about the Walmart greeter. Nothing against the Walmart greeter, of course, it is just that he or she is not normally the subject of panegyric praise.

The book of the prophet Isaiah contains several songs about the servant; perhaps the most famous is his song about the suffering servant. Many will recognize from our Good Friday liturgy the words, “He was wounded for our transgression, bruised for our iniquities.” Today we hear another one of those songs, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights!” These songs that Isaiah sung resonated with the people of the Early Church. They would have been familiar songs, well-known sacred songs of their Jewish heritage. They identified with these songs.

There is much debate in scholarship over who Isaiah thought the servant to be, but it is fairly clear that the people of ancient Judea considered the songs to be about them as a nation. The servant was the chosen one, in whom God delights, who walks in his way, who has his Spirit. But the servant is also the one who suffers, who seems abandoned, and yet is never abandoned. The people of Judea could certainly feel their own story being sung in the words of these ancient servant songs. And so, I believe, it was.

But songs have many layers of meaning, and sacred songs all the more so. Thus, it is no surprise that for the early Christians, new layers of meaning began to resonate in these well-worn and time-honoured sacred songs after they experienced the Risen Jesus in their midst. They sung them once again as they gathered, and as they heard the old, old song, once again, they heard it now with fresh ears. The suffering servant became for them, Jesus on the cross: “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities; like a sheep he was led to the slaughter; he was despised and reject; a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

The servant song we hear today is of a different sort, but it brought to life the story of Jesus with no less power: “Here is my servant, my chosen, in whom my soul delights: I will put my strength on him; I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness; I have given you as a covenant to the people; a light to the nations, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”

Instead of passion of Jesus evoked by the suffering servant song, this song brought to mind the coming of Jesus, the giving of light to the world, and all that that coming brings, especially release from captivity for the poor, the weak, the persecuted and those weighed down by sin and guilt. It called to mind his baptism, the pouring forth of God’s Spirit upon him, his vocation as the chosen Messiah of God, his identity as God’s beloved child and servant, and importantly as the incarnation of God’s righteousness. When the people of the Early Church recalled the baptism of Jesus, this was the song they sung, for it extolled the servant who consented to be baptized in humility by John, in order that the righteousness of God might be fulfilled, even though he need not be baptized. For them, this song was about Jesus, and so it is for us, as well.

Thus, we sing this song still and new layers of meaning continue to burst forth. As we approach the font today, to welcome new Christians into the family, and to renew our own Baptismal vows and covenant, we hear these words, “Here are my servants, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my heart delights; I have put my spirit upon them, and they will bring forth justice to the nations!” The song that was sung about an unknown servant became the song of an ancient people who felt their chosenness in their delivery from the bondage of Egyptian slavery into a promised land, is also the song of Jesus our Lord who delivers us through the waters of baptism into new life. But oh so importantly, it is for us today our song, the song of our servanthood, the song of our deliverance, the song of our chosenness, and the song of our vocation to live out and proclaim the love of God. As baptized Christians, the ancient song becomes our song, we become his children and yes, servants of God, and of one another.

And all of a sudden it makes sense. We can sing songs extolling kings and queens, great men and women. These songs will always abound, but there is another song that echoes from age-to-age, the song of the servant, and it is a song that God sings! God sings a song of praise delighting in his people. It is a song he sings with passion and with love. It is a song he sings with joy and delight. It is a song he sang at the creation of humanity and a song he will sing at the consummation of all history. It is a song he sings of us, his servants, his children, in whom he delights.

c. 2011 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves