Sunday, November 25, 2012

What is Truth? - A Homily for the Reign of Christ, Year B, 2012

Homily for the Reign of Christ, Year B, 2012
Sunday, Nov 25th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 18: 33-38

Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”
-          John 18:38

The rulers of this age are often more obsessed with holding on to power than using the power vested in them for the good of society. Often, it can seem as if the goal of politics is to assume power, rather administer justice and truth for the good of the people who delegate power to them in the first place.  In the political sphere, justice and truth are often the very first things that are sacrificed on the altar of power.  We have witnessed in the recent presidential campaign to the south candidates of all persuasions attempting to create truth, manufacturing realities that would project them (or return them) to power.  It no longer seems to matter if the truth I peddle has no relation to the facts that are clearly documented.  If I say enough times “this is true,” if I shout loudly enough, “this is true!” if I get enough people to believe that “this is true,” then by God, it is true! 

What is truth?

Why was Pilate so deathly afraid of Jesus?  In St. John’s Gospel we confront a conflicted Pilate, one that paces the room, one that goes in and out to the crowd, taking a poll as it were, or perhaps convening a focus group.  Pilate seems concerned to do the right thing.  But what is the right thing?  He has no inner resources make the right decision.  He allows fickle public opinion to sway him.  He fears the mob outside his window.  He fears the Emperor.  He fears what people will think of him.  He fears Jesus, a potential revolutionary.  And he fears losing his grip on power; his grip over his small little piece of the kingdom.

It is said that Jesus is a king.  Pilate wishes that this claim had not been made, for if it is true, then he must be rid of this man.  No leader relishes making difficult decisions like this.  No leader wishes to have the life of a person in his hands.  To administer justice is a great responsibility, and in the context of the Roman Empire, it meant meting out the death penalty to the seditious.  But Jesus has not claimed that he is a king.  “Are you the king of the Judeans?” Pilate asks.  Jesus obfuscates.  “Where did you hear this?  Did someone else tell you?”  He avoids the answer, which surely frustrates Pilate.  But Jesus also asks, “Do you ask this on your own account?”  What possibly could this mean?  It must only mean that Pilate has some deep suspicions of his own.  But where would these suspicions come from?  Does Pilate recognize something intrinsic in Jesus?  Does Pilate somehow have an inkling that standing before him is the true King, not some pale earthly imitation, but the true King of Kings?  Does Pilate know true kingship when he sees it?  Is this what Jesus is asking: “have you heard rumours about me, or do you recognize me for who I am?”

Pilate in turn obfuscates, “I am not a Judean. Your own people have handed you over. What have you done?”  But really, it is not what Jesus has done that makes him threatening, it is who he is.  Pilate knows he cannot execute him if he has not done anything seditious. If Jesus led an uprising, if he claimed to be a king, Pilate could condemn him.  But does Pilate really wish to condemn him?  It seems Pilate vacillates between a desire to do his duty, to cling to power, to protect the kingship of Caesar, and a recognition that true power stands before him and he must desperately seek to release this man.

“My kingdom is not of this world.”  Aha, so he admits he is a king.  Pilate has him.  “You are a king!”  To which Jesus responds, “You say that I am a king.”   Is Jesus a king or is he not?  This is the dilemma before Pilate.  Has Jesus claimed the treasonous title or not?  Pilate is torn.  And then Jesus explains who he is.  In a skillful circumlocution, Jesus explains the nature of his kingship.  His kingdom is not of this world.  He is not a ruler of territory, but the ruler of truth: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  Jesus is the King of Truth.  To which Pilate responds, “What is truth?”

Is Pilate’s question rhetorical, or does he really fail to see the Truth of God standing before him? In the end, Pilate decides to wash his hands of Jesus, to release him to the mob, but the mob insists that Pilate crucify him: “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar,” they cry.   Pilate chooses his truth.  He chooses the truth that has been fabricated by Rome, the truth that has been fabricated by an angry mob of religious zealots, the truth that has been fabricated in the tortured indecision of his own soul, and he crucifies God’s truth.  Truth stood before Pilate, and Pilate embraced falsehood.

What is it that drives us to embrace falsehood?  Is it fear? – the fear of losing control, the fear of losing power, the fear of the unknown?  Are we afraid of the change that will come in our lives when we realize we have followed false gods and idols of our own creating?  Are we afraid of the change that comes when we embrace the truth?  When we embrace Jesus, when we turn to Christ, our lives change, but Jesus is the Lord of that transformation and his promise is that he shall see us through all the changes of our lives.  When we embrace Jesus, he continues to embrace us, even when we feel we cannot hold on any longer.  When we embrace Jesus we embrace the truth.  And when we embrace the truth, we find that we no longer need to hold on to false truths of our own manufacturing, or false truths that others have peddled to keep themselves in power over us.  When we embrace the truth, unlike Pilate, we learn who our real ruler is, to which kingdom we truly belong, and we learn that to serve the King of Truth is to live in perfect freedom.
c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Sunday, November 11, 2012

To Remember is to Work for Peace - A Homily for Remembrance Day

A Homily for Remembrance Day 2012
Sunday, Nov. 11th, 2012
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves

“Blessed are the Peacemakers”

Last year, a dear friend gave me a button.  The words on the button are: “to remember is to work for peace.”  I choose to wear that button alongside my poppy to help me understand and interpret what it is that we are called to remember each year, and what it is we are called to do as the result of that remembrance.  Remembrance of a sacrifice should inform the way we live, remembrance of a sacrifice should shape the life of our community, remembrance of a sacrifice should shape the larger narratives of which we choose to be a part.  Thus, as a Christian on Remembrance Day, I not only think back on the sacrifices offered by brave men and women in all ages in service of their country, but I think back on the sacrifice of God, because more than anything else, the story of the crucified God is the story that shapes our lives as Christian people.  More than anything else, it is the story that shapes the community of all faithful Christians, and above all it IS the narrative of which we a part.

In Christ Jesus, God made the ultimate sacrifice: of giving up the power of his divinity for a time, walking amongst us, getting to know us as a human being, feeling our pain and the suffering of our condition, and finally offering himself on the cross that we might live.  And in his defeat of death, we come to realize that we need no longer be enslaved to the destructive power of death.  In his sacrifice on the cross and his victory over the grave, the proclamation “death no more has dominion over him,” means that death no more has dominion over us.  Yet, the final defeat of the destructive forces that seek to destroy and corrupt God’s children is yet to come.  This, my friends, is why we still fight wars.  We have tasted the goodness of God in the land of the living, but as human beings, as the race of humanity, we have not yet chosen to believe in his ultimate goodness. 

What was that sacrifice all about?  It was about reconciliation; reconciliation between human beings. It was about restoration; the restoration of humanity to God. It was about healing; healing as individuals, and healing as nations.  It was about healing our bodies and healing our souls.  And what is the underlying theme that connects reconciliation, restoration, and healing? Peace.  Jesus came to bring us peace.

In less than two months (and I suspect as we do our Christmas shopping) we shall hear again the words of the angels to the shepherds.  What were those words?  “Peace on earth, good will to all.”  Peace on earth.  The first evangelical proclamation that was heard when Jesus was born was “Peace on earth, good will to all.”  In the words of the Benedictus, which we have just sung, the prophecy with respect to Christ is that he is the one that will “guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Finally, when Jesus knows he will depart, what does he do?  He breaths the Holy Spirit upon his disciples with the words, “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.  Not as the world gives, but as the Father in heaven gives.”

As Christian people, we must take seriously the fact that peace is the narrative of our lives.  Of all the veterans I have known, and loved, and to whom I have ministered over the years, this is what they have asked us to remember.  They have wanted us to remember the sacrifice offered for peace.  My grandfather, who was a serviceman during the Second World War, was not atypical of men of his generation. He did not want us dwelling on the war. “We don’t talk about the war, son,” he would say so frequently.  He did not want us dwelling on the horrors of the war.  He wanted us to continue to live in peace.  Many of those men could not live in peace.  My grandfather would fall asleep in his chair at night and dream, and sometimes shout and weep.  My great-uncle, who was a gunner in the Second World War, needed his sister, my grandmother, to sit with him through many a long night and hold his hand as they wept and prayed together, as she helped to assuage his conscience and calm his troubled spirit.  They desired for us a world of peace.

Thus, it pains me greatly that last night I heard some troubling words from our local member of parliament.  He said that the vision of Canada as peacemakers was the incorrect way to understand ourselves as a nation; that we had been led astray by previous administrations in this thinking.  I was truly shocked to hear him utter the words we are a martial nation.  Do you understand what that means?  We are a nation of warriors.  He was making the claim that our wars define us as a country. That is is our wars that have made us strong. It is thus my duty both as a Christian, and as your Legion padre and pastor to make an adamant renunciation of his claim as un-Christian and, I believe, un-Canadian. He was making a claim that I can neither accept nor condone, that war is what makes us Canadian.  A much more thoughtful tone was reflected by our member of the provincial legislature and also by our mayor.  They reminded us that war has touched our lives, that war has shaped us, and that war has consequences and sacrifices that affect us all. They are very right. However, if we choose to believe being a martial nation is who we are, that being warriors is our core identity, then we have lost the battle after all, and we have turned our backs on the Prince of Peace.

I am not proud of a country that chooses to define itself as a warrior nation.  I am proud of a country that calls itself a peacemaker.  Our member of parliament was not wrong when he talked about how much war has shaped us, but he was extraordinarily wrong and irresponsible in claiming that this should be our narrative.  We choose the narrative under which we shall live.  Events shape us, but so do our choices about what those events mean to us, and how we shall live as a result of those events.  Shall we choose to be known as warriors or as peacemakers?  I think the veterans I have known would shudder that their children and grandchildren should be asked to take up the mantle of warrior over that of peacemaker.  We get to choose, and what shall our choice be?  The great Abraham Lincoln, to a country ravaged by war and internal strife, reminded his people that this war and conflict were not to be their narrative, but rather, the hour had come to “appeal to our better angels.”

The hour is now, for us as Canadians and citizens of the Kingdom of God, to “appeal to our better angels.”  Shall we follow the powers of the world which glorify conflict and strife?  Or shall we follow the Prince of Peace who brings, peace, and reconciliation, and restoration, and healing in his wings?  Shall we embrace the words of Jesus, “blessed are the peacemakers?”  Shall we seek to walk in the footsteps of the one who “guides our feet into the way of peace?”   Shall the song of the Christmas angel be our song, “Peace on earth, good will to all?”

To remember is to work for peace.

I choose to read John McCrae’s 1915 poem perhaps a little differently than others, but I think my reading has merit, because it truly honours the sacrifice of the one who wrote it, and the ones described in it.  When McCrae talks about taking up the quarrel with the foe, I do not believe he speaks of German, or Russian, or Taliban, or the earthly foes of his or any other age.  I think he speaks of the foe of war itself.  For he throws to us, not a sword, not the weapon of a warrior, but a torch, the beacon of a peacemaker.  A sword cuts down; a torch casts light into dark places.  And the darkness upon which that light is cast is the darkness of war, the darkness of human sinfulness and brokenness, the darkness of our own souls, and the souls with whom we engage in conflict.  But, it is indeed light that chases away the darkness, transforming dark place of hopelessness into hopeful places of light.  The darkness fears light more than it fears the sword. 

To us, from failing hands, is thrown a torch, not a sword.  We are to take up that torch and cast light into dark places.  We are called to make peace, not war.  We are called to hold that torch high, to let its light become the narrative of our lives, instead of the darkness that is wrought by the sword.  McCrae’s poem calls us not to a martial life, but a life of peace.  And if we break faith with this vision, with this story, the dead shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders field. 

To remember is to work for peace.

c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves