Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Soul in Silence Waits: A Homily for Proper 3, Year B, 2012

Homily for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Trinity Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Psalm 62:6-14, Mark 1:14-20

For God alone, my soul in silence waits.

Sometimes we find ourselves waiting.  I can think of several kinds of waiting. For example, there is the kind of waiting that happens when the world seems to stop, when doors close for us, when we cannot do the things we hoped and wanted to do. It is the kind of frustrating and soul searching waiting that we must do when further opportunity seems to dry up.  Another kind of waiting, perhaps related to the first, is the waiting that takes place when we are so overwhelmed by the changes and chances of this world, with our work, with our families, with our responsibilities, that in our all of our overwhelming busy-ness, we are waiting, longing, to just make it through the day.  And yet, there is a third kind of waiting, a waiting of a more intentional sort, the kind of waiting that takes place deep within us, a silent waiting and longing to become who we are called to be, to enter into the plan that God has for our lives, a waiting to hear his voice.

“For God alone, my soul in silence waits,” writes the psalmist.  What is the purpose of my life?  What am I supposed to do while I am on this earth?  What do you want me to do, O Lord?  Why did you create me?  These are all the questions that resonate at some deep level behind that statement, “for God alone, my soul in silence waits.”  We wait to hear the answers to those questions, for they are not simply questions about what I shall do with this life on a day-to-day basis; no, they are questions about who I am.  They are questions about my identity that God alone can answer.

The Gospel of Mark reminds us that it is in a time of waiting that God meets us.  Simon and Andrew, James and John, were hardworking fishermen, involved in the endless cycle of casting and drawing in their nets, day after day.  Were they waiting for something?  Was there something that would draw them out of their daily task into something better? Four fishermen, upon the sea – casting, waiting, and drawing in.  Their life, their very occupation was one of much waiting. And then Jesus appeared to them with his message:  The time is fulfilled, the waiting is over, the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the Good News.  Their waiting was interrupted and they took that incredible risk of laying aside their work. The four men took the risk of leaving behind their life of waiting, and put down their nets and followed him.   As their souls had ever longed to break out of the busy cycle of their lives, so God indeed met them in their waiting and called them forth.

There was something about these fishermen that predisposed them to hearing the call of God, though.  I wonder if it was their habit of waiting.  I wonder if in the combination of busy-ness and drudgery of their work, they had cultivated a pattern of waiting.  They cast their nets, they waited, and they drew in.  The pattern of their work became the pattern into which God entered to call them forth into something new.

The difficulty for many of us is that we lead such frenzied lives that we scarce can find the pattern into which God might be woven into our lives, much less the place where he might enter in.  If we look a little further, though, I think we will all recognize that we are waiting for something.  Are we waiting for a better job?  Are we waiting to move into a new home?  Are we waiting for that child or grandchild to come along?  Are we waiting simply for better times?  It is into this waiting that God casts his fishing net.  It is into this waiting that he reaches out for us.  In our waiting and in our longing we are seeking to be filled by things temporal, but God knows our true hungering and thirsting, and in that time of waiting offers us living water, bread from heaven; into this longing for things temporal, he fills us with things spiritual. 

However, we shall not be surprised if the spiritual food upon which we are fed transforms not only our inner landscape, but our exterior landscape as well.  We shall not be surprised (or maybe we shall!) when we see that our lives change on the outside when they are transformed on the inside.

When the disciples were waiting, Jesus called them.  Not only did they hear the call they recognized the power of the call.  As the psalmist also says, “God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, that power belongs to God.”  The disciples not only heard the call, they believed that the one who called them had the power to change their lives.  The call resonated doubly within their souls and they became fishermen of another sort, turning in their earthly nets, for spiritual nets.  Where once they lived a life of mundane purpose, they now lived for God. 

This is the hopeful message of the Gospel, that in our mundane waiting, in our troubled waiting, in our angst-ridden waiting, in our lonely waiting, Jesus turns that waiting into a kingdom moment.  The waiting that seems to make us so distant from God is the very means God uses to manifest his kingdom.  The question for us will be, as it was for the disciples, will we answer the call?  Will we take the risk of turning in our nets for new and better ones?  We will believe that the time of waiting is over and that the kingdom of God is at hand?

c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, January 15, 2012

You Have Searched Me Out and Known Me: A Homily for Proper 2, Year B, 2012

Homily for Proper 2, Year B, 2012
Sunday, January 15th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139; John 1:43-51

“Lord, you have searched me out and known me.”
-Psalm 139.1

Sometimes, the simpler things bring us to faith.  For all the miracles and stories of wonder-working in the gospels, we must consider what it really is that draws us into a relationship with the living God.  To be sure, there are times in the gospels when Jesus works a miracle and it causes someone to become his disciple.  These, though, are the extraordinary tales. Yes, there have been similar stories through the ages of our history in which miracles have brought people to faith, but what of the countless number who have not known such grand miracles, and yet have believed deeply and profoundly, lived lives of piety and devotion, and proclaimed their faith in the living God? Can one come to faith without miracles? 

The answer of course, is yes.  Yes, with a proviso, that we are considering the word miracle in its narrowest terms.  If we posed the question, can we come to faith without mystery, I think the answer would be no.   Of course, I do not mean mystery in its literary sense, as a kind of story that needs to be solved by a detective. Rather, I mean mystery in the religious sense; the sense of awe and unknowing before God, and at the same time being mysteriously and strangely known by that same God.  The stories we hear today are only slightly miraculous.  However, they overflow with a profound degree of sacred mystery.  It is this sacred mystery that touches most of us in the depths of our souls as Christians, even when miracles are scarce.

 Jesus told Nathanael that he would see great and miraculous things, angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, whatever such a thing might look like!  Yet, this is not what brought Nathanael to faith.  What brought Nathanael to faith was the revelation that he was already known by God. What brought Nathanael to faith was the fact that he, a simple Israelite man, a man without deceit, a man with a sceptic’s eye, might be known, inside and out, by God.  When told by his brother Philip that he and his companions had found the messiah and that he was from Nazareth, Nathanael scoffed.  It might be a bit like saying the Messiah came from Bradford.  And yet, when he went to investigate what he thought would surely be a fraud, Jesus (as is so often the case with those to come to him in St. John’s Gospel) knows all about him already.  Nathanael, puzzled by this, asked him how he knew him, and Jesus, in essence responded, “I’ve had my eye on you. I have seen you under the fig tree.”  A little bit of mystery, and Nathanael made a profound proclamation of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  The King of Israel!” 

 What was it that inspired this proclamation of faith on the part of Nathanael that not only was Jesus simply a teacher, but indeed the Son of the living God and the hope of an Israel whose spirit had been broken?  What was it that caused him in an instant, after having only just met Jesus, to proclaim him as the one foretold by the prophets of old?  It was simply this, that Jesus knew him. It was nothing more, nothing less.  And this is more powerful than any miracle, that God in Christ knows us and seeks us out. For Nathanael, the words of the Psalmist were suddenly real to him, “Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” Sacred mystery!

 In olden times in the Temple, a young lad was sleeping.  He knew little of the ways of God, but was being trained up by the old priest Eli to be a servant of the Lord.  Three times God called out his name, and thrice Samuel was confused.  He thought it was his earthly master, Eli, waking him.  Old  Eli the twice dismisses Samuel, but the third time recognizes that something is up, that God is at work.  He advises his young apprentice that if he hears the call again, he should answer simply, “Here I am, Lord.”  And so when the voice of the Lord calls again a third time, young Samuel, thanks to the wise mentoring of his old master, heeds the call and offers himself up to the God who knows his name.   What was the miracle other than a voice that sounded like that of Eli did Samuel witness?  What was it that brought him to faith?  It was simply this, that he was known by name by the living God. Sacred mystery!

 Back again to first century Galilee – Nathanael’s brother Philip met Jesus first.  He was the one who told Nathanael about the Messiah.  Unlike Nathanael, though, he did not share his brother’s scepticism.  We are simply told by St. John that Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me,” and Philip followed him and ran to tell his brother about him.  What was it that brought Philip to faith?  Was it a grand miracle?  Was it even a good sermon?  No.  It was simply this: Jesus found him.  What do we know about Philip and Nathanael prior to their meeting with Jesus?  We know nothing.  Their names mean nothing to us, and they would remain unknown to history if Jesus had not found them, and called them to proclaim his name to the ends of the earth.  They might have seemed insignificant to others, but they meant much to God.  Sacred mystery!

 As it was with Samuel, God went searching and God went calling.  God seeks and God finds.  God looks into the hearts and lives of men and women, both great and small, both rich and poor and says, “Follow me.”  And why do we follow?  We follow because by some sacred mystery, we realize that everything we are, have been, and will be are known to this man from Nazareth.  We look into the eyes which have gazed into our soul and know that before us is the very God who created us seeking us out not simply because he has something special for us to do, but simply because he loves us and longs to be with us. He longs for a relationship with us, he longs for communion with us.

 It is often said that the purpose and end of the Christian life is that we might partake of the divine life.  The great mystery of our lives is that we are wired to long for God, to seek after God, to attain communion with God. The greater mystery, though, is that though our feebleness prevents us from touching God’s face, in Jesus Christ, God reaches out and touches ours.  The greater mystery is that frail and feeble as we are, imperfect as we are, God longs for us and seeks communion with us.  What is the greatest mystery of all is that as we falteringly seek to partake of the divine life, God draws near to us and selflessly partakes of human life, that we might finally be partakers of the one who is all life and goodness.

 This then, is a miracle.  The miracle of faith is that God knows and longs for communion with each and every one of us, and makes that possible. He knows each of our names, sees into each of our hearts, and even in our brokenness (and perhaps because of our brokenness) longs to partake of our life; that we might partake of his.  Whether we are like Samuel, a little child with no knowledge of God but with a wise mentor who can help us hear his voice, or whether we are like Nathanael, a sceptic who is swayed by a personal encounter, or whether we are like Philip who runs headlong into an unknown future, God is calling us by name.  He has searched us out and known us … and that is why we come to faith.

c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Let Us Praise His Holy Name - A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, 2012

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Name, 2012
Sunday, January 1st, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 2:15-21

“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

-Luke 2:21

Until recent times, the English Church has traditionally kept this day as the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord.  The old 1662 Book of Common Prayer made provision for a celebration of the Holy Name to be kept on August 7.  However, when we read Luke 2:21, we realize that the circumcision and naming of Jesus are one single event and therefore, we should celebrate them together.  To add a third strand to this festival day is that in modern times, January 1st has been kept as the beginning of a civic new year.  And perhaps, this is the first and best place to begin.

New Year’s Day is a fresh start for us.  The day is filled with resolutions about whom we shall become in the upcoming year, with goals of what we wish to achieve, and hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow.  It is a time to repent of all the things we have done that we ought not to have done, and all the things we have not done that we ought to have done.  It is a new beginning, a clean slate, a fresh start.  Thus, it is inescapable that we should continue to celebrate the mystery of Christmas this week (remember indeed, that Christmas is Twelve Days, starting with Christmas day itself, making this Day 8).   The mystery of Christmas is that in Jesus Christ God has given us a new beginning, a fresh start.  The words of the Book of Revelation, “Behold I am making all things new” apply not only to the New Jerusalem that is to come, but the new reality we experience as God comes among us at Christmas in the person of Jesus Christ our Saviour.  The great mystery of Christmas, that God is making all things new in Christ, is also the promise of hope that is ever before us.  The gift of Jesus is a gift of new life for us.  As St. Paul says in Galatians 4, we are no longer slaves but children through adoption.   Consider the metaphor.  In the ancient world (and in many places today) the child without parents is given over to the elements, to poverty and very soon, to death – a fate even worse than slavery.  For one without parents there is no hope; but through brotherhood with Christ, God becomes our loving parent.  And thus we are not, and never shall again be, alone.  Where in our past we had only despair, in our present and our future we are filled with hope and joy because we have God as both our loving father and mother.

But as much as this day is about new beginnings, we are also reminded that we a part of a larger story – the divine disclosure of God to us through the ages.  We are not entirely divorced from our past, and indeed, when we are in Christ we are able to look back at our history and see the hand of God that has directed us to this very moment.  In a past we once thought was hopeless, the Spirit of God which is with us from our birth has been moving within and about us.  In those times we could not discern its presence or its work, but from the vantage point of our redemption in Christ we can see the Spirit’s work everywhere in our history.  The Circumcision of Jesus points directly to this reality.  As God entered into humanity he did so in the context of a humble family in first-century Judea.  This humble family, this Holy Family, did all the things required of them by the Law of God. On the eighth day they took their babe to the Temple, the mother underwent her ritual purification, and the boy was circumcised and named.  His life began in very obedience to the Law he himself was presently fulfilling.  Aspects of that Law would no longer be considered binding to Christians in a very short time, and yet, in order to fulfill all righteousness, Jesus came into the world and began his life under that Holy Law.  As St. Paul has written also in Galatians 4, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” Soon, the Early Church began to realize that the old Law, the former Covenant, had disclosed the New Covenant through signs and prophecies.  The old prefigured the new.  And in the circumcision of Jesus, old became new.

That great nineteenth-century bishop and biblical exegete, Charles Gore, in his commentary on St. Luke, wrote that our focus this day should not be so much on the rite of circumcision, though, but rather on the naming of Jesus.  And thus we recall that Jesus is given the name prophesied by the angel Gabriel when he first came to Mary, “Greetings favoured one… and now you will conceive and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”  We learn also from St. Matthew’s gospel that an angel had also prophesied this birth to Joseph, and told him that the child shall be named Jesus, “for he shall save his people.”  The name of Jesus is thus significant to us, for the name itself is a testimony to our salvation.  This salvation is not only for those born under the law, as St. Paul proclaims, it is for all people.  Thus St. Paul was able to begin a remarkable mission to the gentiles, to those who had never even embraced the old law, because the New Covenant of grace is not simply for a single chosen people, but for all mankind.

Elsewhere, in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul writes about the divine movement of God in Christ and unfolds for us the mystery of salvation, that Christ Jesus who was in the form of God, chose not to cling to his divinity, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, even unto death.  Thus God lifted him up and exalted him giving him the name that is above all names; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

And this is what we celebrate and proclaim this day, the name that is above every name.  It is before this name that we bend the knee.  It is upon hearing this holy name that we bow.  The name of Jesus is for us a token and badge of our redemption. The very name means salvation.  It is the very word of health and life for us.  It is sweetness upon our lips and music to our ears.  It is joy. It is hope. It is love; God’s unfathomable and endless love for us.   Thus today, let us fulfill all righteousness and praise his Holy Name.

c. 2012, The Rev. Daniel F. Graves