Sunday, February 27, 2011

Inscribed on God's Hand - A Homily for Proper 8, Year A, 2011

Homily for Proper 8, Year A, 2011
Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 49:8-16a

“See, I have inscribed you on the palm of my hands.”
-Isaiah 49:16

Sometimes it can be hard to believe. Each of us will have moments in which we feel our faith wavering, or even more poignantly, moments when we find ourselves wondering if we believe anything at all. Sometimes, when I encounter other Christians, those filled with such zeal and passion, those who have a Bible verse at the ready for every little problem life throws at them, those who speak of all the exciting wonders God is working in their lives on a daily basis, I take a long, hard look at myself and I ask myself if I really do have any faith at all. In times like this is can be helpful to do a little storytelling, to look back on times when I have felt moved, when I have felt close to God, but even then, sometimes the distance we feel from God can be discouraging. Whether that distance comes from comparing ourselves with others who seem to have caught that holy flame, or whether it comes because we are experiencing other sorts of crises, such as a chronic or terminal illness, the loss of a job, or the breakdown of a family, the feeling of being distant from God can be deeply discouraging.

I suspect that this feeling is one of the reasons God appoints prophets, for one of the things that prophets do is to speak into the vacuum of the seeming absence of God in our lives. Prophets proclaim to a people for whom hope has slipped away that hope may again be restored, the fires of faith again rekindled, and that joy shall return. We often hear talk of prophets speaking about the injustices of the world, and we hear talk about prophets calling sinners to repentance, but there is also a powerful strain of the prophetic tradition in which the prophet proclaims the faithfulness of God when we so profoundly feel God’s absence.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed to his people that God was drawing them out of captivity and restoring them, but they could not see it. They had lived in darkness for so long that they could not catch a glimpse of the light. He called them to sing for joy and to exult, but there was no joy in their hearts. They told Isaiah, “The Lord has forsaken us! Our Lord has forgotten us!” To which Isaiah responded with this powerful metaphor, “Can a woman forget her nursing child; and show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” God loves his people as much as a nursing mother loves her child, and yet, even if that image was not powerful enough, believe this, he says, I have inscribed you upon my hand.

God has imprinted his people upon his hand. What wonderful words of comfort we find in these words, for though it may seem to me that I have somehow lost the imprint of God on my being, I can be assured that my being is imprinted upon God. The prophet Isaiah proclaims this profound truth to a discouraged people. To a people who believed that they had been forsaken by God, who knew captivity at the hands of foreign rulers, who had searched and searched and could not find God anywhere in their situation, the prophet proclaimed that God had imprinted them upon his hand – a powerful symbol that God’s people would never be without the blessing of his touch, that they would always be held firmly in his hand. Thus, when they felt most alone, when their faith failed, God’s faith did not. He loved them so much that he imprinted them upon himself that his people might ever be close to him.

These are words of great hope, then, for you and for me. Oh, how weak and fragile is my faith. How little strength I have in and of myself to keep the faith, much less follow Jesus and proclaim him. But oh, what a gracious and loving God we worship whose faith in us strengthens us beyond any faith you or I could manufacture on our own! What a hope we have when hope seems distant, because the hope we lay hold to is not a hope we dream but a hope God dreams! What joy we touch in that hope because it is not a joy we can muster but a joy that overflows from the heart of God for his creation and for his people!

Difficult as it may be to believe at times, the prophet proclaims that God has not left his people. The time would come again when another generation would feel discouraged, feel abandoned, feel the absence of God; and into their presence as child was born. A rabbi would later gather disciples around him and proclaim the same truth of God’s love for his people. If God cares for the sparrow that falls from the sky, or clothes the grass of the field which is alive today and gone tomorrow, how much more he cares for his people in their sadness and loneliness. These words brought comfort, these words proclaimed the presence of God, but what the disciples would later understand was that the one who spoke these words of comfort was none other than their God in their very midst.

When I forget the baptismal cross that is signed upon my forehead that marks me as Christ’s own forever, God does not forget it, for God has imprinted us, even with all our brokenness and doubt upon himself, upon his own very being, in the crucified Christ, that through him we might be grafted into his divine nature. When the world encloses us round and we lose sight of a distant God, God makes the journey across the chasm that separates us and imprints humanity upon himself that we might share in his faithfulness: that his faith should be our faith, that his hope should be our hope, and his joy might be our joy. This faith, this hope, this joy, are the marks of his love. And it is to this divine love that I cling when I find that human faith, hope and joy are beyond my ability to muster.

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, February 20, 2011

We are God's Temple -- A Homily for Proper 7, Year A, 2011

Homily for Proper 7, Year A, 2011
Sunday, February 20th, 2011
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Cor 3: 10-11, 16-23

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple?”
-I Cor 3:16

In each generation we are called to be builders. The kingdom of God is an edifice that grows and changes with each generation of Christians; and with each generation new possibilities are revealed. The glorious possibilities that are before us are unveiled when we realize that we build on the work of others. Even a little child standing on the shoulders of a giant can see farther than the giant alone. Thus, we stand today on the shoulders of giants, not simply the giants of this parish who have gone before us, but the giants of Christendom, our mothers and fathers in the faith, whose lives punctuate a two thousand year history of proclaiming Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. This is reality of the edifice to which we add ourselves as living stones.

As all who have ever been involved in building projects or home renovations know, every building project has its challenges; every home improvement has its hurdles. Sometimes it can be money. At other times, members of the construction team may have trouble getting along. Sometimes fatigue sets in. Sometimes the rules change when a new building code is introduced. Yes, at times it can feel like the challenges and obstacles are too great.

When the challenges seem so profound, it can be helpful to stop and rest for a moment, to stand back and gaze upon the edifice and ponder, for a moment, our place in time and our part in the project of building the kingdom of God.

Sometimes when we look back on the great builders of the past, we wonder how we can ever measure up. Osler, Hill, Creighton, Hopkins, and so many others – they were great builders in this parish, and certainly men whose work I cast my gaze upon with admiration and awe. We all look back to the heroes of our past, mothers and fathers, mentors and friends, who have played their part in the building of the edifices of our individuals lives, who helped make us who we are; and we wonder, can I ever do that for someone else?

Looking back on the great people of our lives and of our history can be an inspiring thing, but it can also be an intimidating thing. Sometimes we can stand gazing upon the edifice that they have built and idolize the builders so much that we forget that we stand with a trowel in hand and task to perform. In Corinth, there was so much devotion to the builders and their work, that this is what the Corinthian people forgot. They boasted of their great builders, of Paul, of Cephas, of Apollos. Each pointed to the parts of the building so carefully and lovingly constructed by their favourite builders, forgetting all the while that they, too, were called to be builders.

The temple that we build is not an edifice that can be seen and touched by human hands. It is not a building, but a community. It is not a house, but a household. It is our shared life in Christ. The edifice of this temple is adorned with acts of kindness, demonstrations of love and compassion, and gestures of faith. The edifice of this temple is adorned with the labour and love of generations offering themselves not only to each other, but to the living and loving God. As we stand back and gaze we see memorials to the magnificent builders of the past, and yet we see new possibilities upon the stones they laid. Standing back for a moment we appreciate the edifice, and are inspired by the labourers of old, and we imagine what the structure will look like when we have done our piece, placed our living stones upon the walls. Standing back for a moment we are granted a certain perspective; that the task is not ours alone. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and we lay stones upon which future generations will stand. We realize that we have a part to play. We begin to imagine, and we are reinvigorated for the task that lies ahead.

Have you ever see one of those great European cathedrals? On my living room wall hangs a nineteenth century picture of York Minster Cathedral. Athena and I visited this cathedral in 1995. At the time, the edifice was covered in a scaffold, for necessary renovations and repairs. Even so, we stood back and admired it in awe. In an age when buildings go up over night, it can be helpful for us to remember that a cathedral takes generations to build; and even when we think it completed the work goes on and a scaffold once again goes up. Think of the builders who invest in that structure that never see it through to completion, yet they know that they take part in a holy task, a grand work, an act of faith. That cathedral on my wall reminds me that our work as the people of God is such a thing, and indeed the kingdom of God is such a thing. We shall not see it completed and yet it matters not what we see, what matters is that we form a part of the edifice, as living stones, built upon other living stones – Paul and Apollos, Osler, Creighton, and Hopkins, and oh so many more!

The building only stands though, for one reason, and that is the cornerstone upon which it is laid. That cornerstone is our Lord Jesus Christ. We take up our place in the edifice with confidence because we know the rock upon which it is built. We continue to build because we know that the foundation cannot be shaken. We build to the sky because the Temple is built on Christ and belongs to God. We belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, and God’s work will not be destroyed.

c. 2011, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves