Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Tale of Two Kings - A Homily for Christmas I, 2013

A Homily for Christmas I, 2013
Sunday, December, 29th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Matthew 2:13-23

“Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went into Egypt…”
--Matthew 2:13

Today we hear the story of two kings.  The first king is a jealous king, a threatened king, an angry king.  The second king is but a child, and yet a child who holds the salvation of the world in his tender hands.  In the background are three others who have been traditionally described as kings, the magi, who have just departed from the stage.  In the forefront is Joseph, the righteous, obedient servant of the Lord; and offstage is the terrible slaughter of the innocent children, victims of Herod’s unrighteous wrath. 

It is one of the peculiarities of our liturgical calendar that we read this story out of sequence.  On Christmas I, we read the second part of the story first, namely, the flight into Egypt and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  Next week, on Epiphany, we shall read the first part, the arrival of the wise men, the magi from the East, the “three kings” of legend to worship and offer gifts to the infant Christ. 

Perhaps in some way reversing the order might seem strangely appropriate in that we know in advance, and we have already seared into our minds, that awful image of Herod’s wrath against the children of Judea.  If the wise men were so wise, why did they visit the insecure Herod and tip him off that they were searching for the one who would be king, the one who would challenge his rule?  Perhaps the natural place to seek out a future king is in a palace and not a stable, but we know what the wise men inadvertently unleashed in their visit to Herod, and we watch with different eyes as they lay their gifts before the infant child, knowing that their actions have set in motion a genocide.

Questions without answers are ever before us in this story.  Why would God allow this massacre? But then, why does God allow any massacre?  What is clear, though, is the darkness into which humanity is fallen, and how dark was the world into which our Lord was born.  Even as the light comes into the world, the darkness still rails against the light. 

Yet, the light comes into the world, and God, in his great condescension, in his great vulnerability in becoming man, trusted himself to man.  God trusted himself, in Christ Jesus, to the righteous man Joseph and the faithful handmaiden Mary.  In a world in which tyrants destroy the lives of infants, God yet had enough trust in humanity to allow himself to be born into the poverty of a stable, nurtured in the womb of the faithful virgin Mary, protected by the hand of the righteous Joseph.  Into such a world in which a Herod reigns, God trusts himself to humanity.  God is indeed the source of all hope.

As we learned in the nativity story according to Matthew, Joseph was indeed a righteous man, but more than that he was an obedient man. When the angel came to him in a dream and told him not to put Mary away because of her unexpected pregnancy, he obeyed.  One must ask: which of us would trust an angel who speaks to us in a dream?  Joseph trusted.  Joseph was obedient to the Lord’s word.  And so when an angel once again came to him in another dream, he was obedient again and led his family out of Israel into Egypt.  Why does Joseph trust?  Why does Joseph obey?  In the nativity according to Luke we read of a faithful and obedient Mary.  I have suggested at other times that Mary’s obedience and faithfulness grew out of being deeply steeped in the story of salvation as she would have learned it through hearing the biblical story read and retold throughout her life.  When she heard that God would use a lowly one such as herself, the words from Isaiah would have resonated within her.  Because she knew the ancient stories, she knew how God acted, and thus that what he was doing was completely in character with all she knew of God.  It was a risk for her to be faithful – faith if always a risk! – but she had faith that God was acting in and through her, and that his actions were completely in character with the God she had learned about and had always worshiped.  And so I think is the case for Joseph.  He was a righteous man, which means a man who would have known his Scriptures, studied them carefully, understood the Law and the Prophets.  Therefore, when an angel in a dream came to him, telling him to depart to Egypt with his family, did he think of another angel who came to Jacob in a dream (Gen 49), telling him to take his family into Egypt?  And what did Jacob find when he got there? That the son he thought was lost, Joseph, was alive, a leader amongst the Egyptians! Joseph, like Jacob obeyed God, and his family lived. 

When it came time to return to Judea, the angel came to Joseph in another dream, telling him of the death of Herod.  Joseph and his family returned, but learned that Herod’s son reigned, so again in a dream he was advised to go into the Galilee.  We learn that the sojourn out of Egypt was to fulfil the prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”  To most Jews the was a reference to the delivery of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, but Joseph clearly understood it on another level.  Joseph knew that another work of salvation was afoot, a salvation of which the former delivery from slavery in Egypt was but a sign.  Recall that Joseph was told to name his child, “Jesus” literally, “the one who saves his people.”  Obedient, righteous Joseph knew that he had a special guardianship of God’s new work of salvation, God’s decisive work of salvation.  And in all of this, Joseph, for our sakes, was obedient.

Yes, the exodus of old is fulfilled for us in the person of Jesus Christ.  Into a world in which tyrants slaughter innocents, comes the saving hand of God.  Into a world in which darkness threatens to envelop us and never let go, comes the light of Christ.  Into a world in which hope seems lost, the hopeful God entrusts himself to the care of the righteous man and the faithful woman.  And that same gospel is entrusted to us today.  It can be hard to believe that in a world such as this God’s hope can prevail. It can be hard to believe that in a world in which tyrants still slaughter innocents, that God is bringing about salvation.  It can be hard to believe that in a world in which much darkness prevails that he light of Christ can still shine.  But not only do we believe it, we proclaim it! For shine it does.   We are witnesses to that light.  Each of us is here, and we worship Christ, because of the saving work he has worked in us.  We are here and worship because God in Christ has acted decisively in our lives.  In Christ we have chosen the King who is a saviour, not the pretender king who is a destroyer.  In Christ we have chosen the King who is gentle, not the one who is jealous.  In Christ we have chosen the King who says suffer the children unto me, not the one who slays all the children that threatens his precarious reign.  We know from the ancient historian Josephus that Herod even slaughtered his own sons when they were a threat to him.  This may seem like a distant, fabulous story from a long-past time, but the human condition has changed little.  Those who seek after power still guard it jealously, and maliciously.  We have the inclination and the ability to do awful things with power.  These acts are not isolated acts found only in first century Judea.  They happen today.

The presence of Jesus, though, has the power to transform us.  As the embryonic Christ grew in the womb of blessed Mary, his presence shaped and transformed the lives of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.  Were they as capable as any other human beings of terrible deeds?  Could they have rejected the Christ?  I imagine they could have, and yet, his very presence even in the womb, inspired a faithfulness and hopefulness in them that changed and shaped their lives forever.  And so it is true for us.  Without Christ what are we?  Without Christ, consider who we might be?  But with Christ, think of who have become, and are becoming!  As Christ is born in our lives, consider how our lives, our hearts, our meaning are reshaped, remoulded, and reformed.  The presence of Christ in the lives of Mary and Joseph inspires faith, encourages obedience, and fosters righteousness.   As the infant Christ shaped Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, so too Christ shapes us.   The Christ leads us on a new exodus, an exodus away from the prince of this age (who would shape and mould us as Herods) into a new and promised land in which we are shaped and moulded in to the image and likeness of the loving God, who has come to us in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The People Who Walked in Darkness - A Sermon for Christmas Eve, 2013

Homily for Christmas Eve, 2013
Tuesday, December 24th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
-Isaiah 9:2

Many have been in the dark in the days leading up to Christmas.  Ice has weighed down power lines. Branches and even the trunks of trees have snapped.  Many have sat in coldness and darkness, and yet wonderful stories of hope, of generosity, and of joy have emerged.  Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a sign given to us in all of this.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the darkness and cold might have awakened us to the insatiability of the consumerism of the season and the unrealistic expectations of family to be in two or three places at one time.  When the angels sing of peace on earth, for many, this may seem the least peaceful time of year.  For many, it is a time filled with pressures, with angst, with exhaustion.  The loss of power and heat, the loss of light and warmth, the snow blocking driveways and entrance ways, perhaps these are a sign to us to be still for a moment and seek the meaning and truth of a season somewhere else than malls and parties. 

Where shall we seek?  Where shall we look?  And where shall we go when our road is blocked and the way seems dark and cold?  The shepherds of old, on a cold, dark wintery night, in the quiet of the darkness heard the song of the angel, and they responded, “Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”  We may not be able to travel to the literal Bethlehem, but can we, ourselves, go even unto another very real Bethlehem and witness this thing which the Lord has done?  With lights out, with driveways blocked, can we yet go even unto Bethlehem?

In the days of the Prophet Isaiah, the people of Israel walked in darkness.  Perhaps they, too, felt as if their way was blocked. Perhaps they, too, felt a coldness and darkness that cut them through to the core.  For them, the darkness was the boots of tramping warriors.  For them the darkness was their loss of faith amidst oppression and corruption.  For them the darkness seemed unending.  But Isaiah reminds them that even the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Yes, even those who have dwelled in the land of deep darkness, upon them a light has shone.

For the people of Isaiah’s day, the hope came in the birth of a new heir – someone who would bring justice, righteousness, and peace. Although this child about whom Isaiah spoke was a king who predated Christ by about eight centuries, Isaiah’s words were also a prophetic utterance concerning another king who would come centuries later, and who, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, is with us still.  The name of the king about whom Isaiah spoke to his contemporaries is lost to us, but the name of the one who ultimately fulfilled his prophecy is written on our hearts for ever and ever, and that name is Jesus Christ, our King and Lord—the one who was born in a stable in Bethlehem, heralded by angels, worshiped by shepherds, adored by magi. 

But in this present time, amid the stamping of feet in Christmas malls, and the reverie of Christmas parties, can we hear the angels’ song?  Can we hear the mother’s lullaby?  Can we hear the babe crying in the night in that cold, dark stable?    With all the clamour our ears become deaf.  With all the hysteria of “doing Christmas right” is it possible that the artificial warmth of our hearths will prevent us from receiving the Good News about which the angels sing? Or of making that journey even unto Bethlehem?

Then suddenly God acts in a surprising and unpredictable way. When the world is struck dark, when our artificial fires fail, when the way to the mall is blocked, we are given a special gift.  It is the gift of being able to gather with that small group of shepherds around that meagre fire, a fire that is soon paled by the warmth of the angelic apparition that fills the sky. Then, and only then, are our hearts prepared to make that trip to Bethlehem.  Then, and only then, are we able like the magi to leave riches, and opulence and the safety of our earthly palaces behind and  make the journey along desert road, our path illumined only by the light of a distant star.  In the darkness, with all light extinguished, we seek the light that never goes out.  In the cold night, we seek the warmth that cannot fail, along our snow-blocked, ice-laden paths, we seek the one whose way is ever open to us.

Oh how difficult it can be to see his light, perceive his warmth, travel his way, when other lights distract our eyes, other fires burn within us, and other roads seem to beckon down their paths.  These things become for us the meaning of life, they masquerade as the meaning of Christmas, they encourage us to rely on them to such an extent that we do not know what we shall do when they fail us. What can we do? Where may we go?

Let us go then, even unto Bethlehem!  No, not that distant war-torn place we see on TV and read of in our papers and on the internet, but that place where heaven touches earth and the cold turns to warm, the darkness turns to light, and the way of life is open for us. Let us turn to the Bethlehem of our hearts, where Christ is born this day! Let us go then even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has done!  For in Bethlehem, there is no artificial light.  In Bethlehem there is no artificial warmth.  In Bethlehem there is no road but one, one that leads directly to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  In Bethlehem, his gates lie open continually. There is not wanting nor destruction within its borders.  Even as all other lights fail, so too shall all nations come to the light that shines in Bethlehem.  And all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Advent began with a prayer that we might be given grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life.  But darkness deceives us. Darkness masquerades as light. Sometimes we do not know that we travel in the darkness, for the lights are so bright, and the fires burn so brilliantly, and all roads seem lit.  Yet, make no mistake, the light we create because we are afraid of the dark is of no enduring consolation.  The fires we light because we are afraid of the coldness within us shall not warm us continually.  The roads we build to make the rough places plain will crumble.  There is only one light, one divine flame, one holy way, and that is Christ our God. 

Sometimes we need to have our lights turned off; sometimes we need to have our furnaces quit;  sometimes we need to have our driveways blocked, to remind us of the true light, the true divine flame, the one true way,  and to seek it.  The angel voices herald it again. The shepherds make the journey again.  The magi once again follow the star.  And in stable, cold and dark, the light shines in the darkness.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Where Did You Get to Know Me? - A Homily for Back to Church Sunday, 2013 (St. Michael & All Angels)

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels, 2013
Sunday, September 29th, 2013 (Back to Church Sunday)
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 1:47-51

“Where did you get to know me?”
-John 1:48

As human beings, we are on a journey.  It is a journey of discovery and a quest for meaning.  I know that sometimes I find myself so caught up in the everyday things of life that the questions of “discovery” and “meaning” become eclipsed by the more mundane questions of “what on earth am I going to make my family for supper?” and “where on earth will I find the time this week to get that haircut?”  Yet, even as such mundane question rumble about in the fronts of our minds, the deeper questions mull about still in the corners of our hearts.  Questions like “what is this life really all about?” “Why am I here?”  Where are we going?” “What is joy?” “Why do I hurt?” “What is love?” “Is there really a God?” are all questions that find their homes deep inside of us and every once in a while they percolate to the surface pushing away for a moment those questions about dinner, shopping, haircuts, and how I will get my kid from one program to the next.  And yet we push them down again.

The truth is, we seek deeper meaning in this life, and we seek the deeper meaning of this life. Even more precisely, we seek the deeper meaning in and of our particular lives.  Sometimes, that question becomes frightening: What if there is no meaning to life?  What if my life has no meaning?  It is often easier to push these questions down and try to forget about them and return to the comparatively easy questions about the pedantic things of everyday life.

I wish to push this line of thought just a little further, though, and ask an even deeper question that has to do with our quest for meaning, and that question is this: What are we really afraid of?  What keeps us pushing these questions down deep inside?  What is a life without meaning?  What does a meaningless life look like? 

Perhaps a life without meaning is a life in which we are forgotten by all others; that we are, in a way, completely unknown.  Maybe it means that we are unloved, or worse, unlovable.  I think there is something in our human condition that, sadly, tends us to despair.  I know that this can be true for me in my weaker and more vulnerable moments.  What if all I do and all the good I try to bring about goes unnoticed, unaccepted, rejected, or worse, is really all for nothing.  Have you ever worried about these things?  Have you ever worried that people will reject you, hate you, fail to honour what you are doing, that there is something wrong with you, or that you are even unlovable?  Well, welcome to the human race.  I think we all feel these things from time to time, in varying degrees.  Sometimes such thoughts are fleeting and for but a moment, at other times, we can become obsessed by them.  But lest you think I am only here to paint a bleak picture, I want you to consider a very special story.

Nathaniel was a skeptic.  I think he may not have been that different from many of us.  He was not won over by easy arguments and likely had an aversion to easy answers.  Now what I don’t know for sure, I am only speculating here, is if his skepticism was just an innate sort of thing, or whether it came from being “burned” too many times.  We cannot know for sure, but it we would not be surprised if he had maybe been conned once or twice in his early days.  Now, a healthy skepticism is certainly not a bad thing, but how many of us have known people whose skepticism has turn to an unhealthy cynicism?  Cynicism is that hopeless place in which we question everything not to seek answers, but to unmask the fallacy that there is meaning and hope in life.  It is a depressing place.  It a place of despair.  Now, was this Nathaniel’s story? We don’t know for sure, but when his brother Philip came and told him that he had met the one about whom Moses, the Law, and the Prophets had spoken (namely, the Messiah), Nathaniel replied skeptically with these words, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Oh how I, myself, have uttered similar words when challenged to believe unbelievable things! Have we not all wondered at various times if anything good could come out of our figurative “Nazareths”?  Perhaps Nathaniel was uttering the ancient version of that proverbial modern phrase, “I’m from Missouri… show me!”  Yet, his brother Philip was convinced by what he had found.  His brother knew he had found something special to share, and thus Philip, looked knowingly at his skeptical brother and said simply, “Come and see.”

Perhaps, like all of us, deep down underneath all the skepticism, Nathaniel had a longing, a deeper longing – a longing for meaning, a hope that this life is not all for nothing, and maybe, just maybe, he brother Philip had found something worth investigating, something he himself was afraid to admit he wanted to see. And so, Nathaniel, the man from Missouri, to a risk and followed Philip, and they went together seeking the Messiah.

One wonders if Nathaniel was thinking all the things we might think in such a situation:  “Why am I doing this?” “Why did I say ‘yes’ to going with him?”  “I know this is going to be a bust.”  “I’m not getting my hopes up only to be let down!” “I’m certainly not going to enjoy this…”  And yet, he came anyway, with all his fears, skepticism and even cynicism intact, and also with his unanswered longing tucked deep within his heart.  With all of his confusion and angst, with his wondering and longing, he came.

When Jesus saw Nathaniel approach he shouted out, “Truly, here is an Israelite in which there is not deceit!”  What did Jesus mean by this?  Perhaps it might be translated into an idiom my late great-grandmother loved use, “There ain’t no flies on him!”  Nathaniel was on not to be easily persuaded or easily fooled.  And Jesus recognized that. Jesus was not criticising Nathaniel – no, he was paying him a compliment.  The very skepticism that others may have found a character flaw, Jesus boldly celebrates.  Jesus likes what he sees when Nathaniel approaches.  Nathaniel does not try to be someone else, someone whom he is not; he simply comes as he is with all his prevailing doubt and secret longing.  Jesus respects that, knows that, and meets him with joy.

Nathaniel might have been justifiably confused. “How do you know about me?” Nathaniel asks.  “Ah,” says Jesus, “I saw you under the fig tree before your brother called you.”  Suddenly, Nathaniel realized that as he had longed to find deeper meaning, deeper meaning had found him.  What he had thought was held secretly in the quiet dark corners of his heart, he learned was actually known to this man who greeted him with respect and joy.  A question was answered for Nathaniel. He was not alone.  He was not unknown.  He was not lost.  He was not unloved. 

These are the question we all have – what if I am alone, unknown, lost and unloved? But as Jesus recognized Nathaniel, even in all his skepticism, and perhaps even will all his cynicism, Nathaniel discovered that even as hard as we might search for meaning and for truth, meaning and truth seek us out and find us.  Jesus recognized Nathaniel for who he was, without judgement, without condemnation, without all that the world might heap on him, and without all the judgement and condemnation that Nathaniel may have heaped on himself. Jesus recognized him, knew him, loved him. Something clicked in Nathaniel in that moment – he was not alone, he was known, he was loved, he was honoured.  Suddenly, and most surprisingly, Nathaniel, the guy from Missouri, made this bold proclamation: “Rabbi! You are the son of God – the king of Israel!”  Imagine what others who knew Nathaniel might have thought as he made this bold proclamation. Imagine what they might have thought as Nathaniel chose to follow Jesus on the way.

Friends, God know us even better than we know ourselves.  When we sit under whatever fig tree we sit under, pondering the deeper questions of hearts, wondering if we are alone, in our angst asking if there is any meaning to this life, if our lives mean anything at all, then think of Nathaniel, and how Jesus knew him. In Christ God knows each and every one of us.  He recognizes us for who we are, and bids us to follow him on the way.

Where there is meaninglessness, we find meaning in him.

Where there is loneliness, we find companionship in him.

Where there is rejection, we find acceptance in him.

Where there is despair, we find hope in him.

And when we feel lost, alone, sitting under whatever solitary tree we sit, rest assured, that even before we know or understand it, Jesus has found us, loved us, and offered himself for us in boundless love.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

God Rejoices in the Recovery of the Lost - A Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2013 "Rally Sunday"

Homily for Proper 24, Year C, 2013 “Rally Sunday”
Sunday, September 15th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 15:1-10

“There is much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
-Luke 15:10.

There are many ways in which we can become lost or feel lost.  In today’s gospel we hear of a God who rejoices in the recovery of lost sinners.  It is like finding the one lost sheep, or the one lost silver coin – even though you may still have ninety-nine more sheep, or nine more silver coins, you still rejoice in the recovery of the one that was lost because it is so precious.  The passage that follows this one, that beloved parable of the prodigal, speaks of the recovery of a lost and found son – moving the analogy away from chattel and money, to a person, a son, something even more precious.

Sin is but one way we can become or feel lost.  When we sin we separate ourselves from the ones we love, and from God. There is much emphasis in Scripture and in Christian theology about how sin can destroy lives and break communities.  What we sometimes forget to emphasize, though is the restoring and healing power of the grace of God.  I once heard of a pastor who preached twenty-six week sermon series on sin.  I thought, “I sure hope he spends another twenty-six weeks (at least) on grace!” The point is not that we should not talk about sin – it is a reality with which we all struggle – but rather that we should talk abundantly about grace.

Every community and every individual will struggle with sin and its effects.  This is no different for us as a parish, or for us as individuals.  But let us hold fast to our faith and hope that God’s grace is not only the remedy but the answer to sin.

I do want to propose another idea, though, which much more radical, and yet in some ways might seem like a “no-brainer”, namely, that God’s grace is the remedy and answer to so much more than sin.  Thus, when we hear of God rejoicing over the recovery of lost sinners in the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, or lost son, I think we might open our ears and our hearts to hearing more about God’s grace than his delight over the recovery of sinners, only, as wonderful a thing as that is!

There are many times in life when we feel or find ourselves lost.  It may be the result of sin, to be sure, but perhaps it was someone else’s sin that has hurt and isolated us.  Or perhaps it was an inexplicable, uncontrollable turn of events.  Or perhaps it is just the circumstances of life, of aging, or of illness that makes us feel lost.  Is there help for us on these occasions? Is there grace for us in these moments? 

I want to think for a moment about these last few years in our parish.  This week we begin our fourth year together in shared ministry in this community.  The events that brought us together were, to be frank, as series of unhappy events.  This  parish had known much hardship and had felt betrayed.  I think it safe to say that amongst many of you there was a feeling of being lost as a church.  For my own part, I left for the first time in my life my own home town where I was comfortable, accepted and at home, to enter into a new ministry in a place where I was not sure I would be accepted, and with an expectation that caused much fear and trembling.  While I was excited, I have to admit to feeling a little bit lost, and out of my depth.  And yet, something wonderful and remarkable happened that brought us, together, from that feeling of being lost and from that place of fear: that something was God’s grace.

In these three years together we have worked hard. In these three years together we have accomplished much.  In these three years together we have found much healing.  And what has been the cause of all of this? We can speak of hard work, and we have worked hard together to be sure, but I think what we must really speak about is the grace of God. People can work hard, but without God’s grace can we really accomplish the goals of the kingdom?

We are called to be faithful, and I believe that over the years, in the midst of great adversity you have been faithful; this parish has remained ever-faithful.  As a priest, I am called to be faithful and model faithfulness, but like you, I am human and can easily falter and fail.  We have come through challenging times, but we celebrate accomplishments today because not a single one of them has been achieved without faithfulness.  And we celebrate the one who has been faithful through it all, even when our faithfulness has seemed precarious. We celebrate our Lord, and his faithfulness. We celebrate the faithfulness of God.  We celebrate that even though we have felt lost, we have been found. We celebrate even more humbly and joyfully because we realize from Scripture that God rejoices over the recovery of what seemed lost.

I believe that healing, restoration, wholeness – these things are the victory of God.  Healing, restoration, and wholeness is the journey we have been on together, with Christ as our master and our guide.  As darkness turns to light in his presence the road is made easier and more navigable. Healing, restoration and wholeness is the journey which is really only brought to completion at the consummation of all things when Christ draws all unto himself and is all in all, when the dead rise in perfect glory.  Yet, the healing, restoration, and wholeness we experience along the way is evidence and a signpost of that complete and perfect healing we shall know in Christ at the last.  I believe we can be confident that God rejoices with us today as we find ourselves on this place along the road.  And that is truly a gift for this present moment, and so we should rejoice today as well.

Therefore, we praise and thank God for his faithfulness in leading us from being lost. We thank God for finding us as we grope along the way, taking questionable turns and following meandering paths.  We thank God because in reality, although we may feel lost at times, he has never really lost us, we just lose ourselves, but in Christ, we are never, ever lost to God.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Counting the Costs - A Homily for Proper 23, Year C, 2013

Homily for Proper 23, Year C, 2013
Sunday, September 8th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 14:25-33

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
-Luke 14:27

Not too long ago, a friend of mine who is a priest in a rural setting made the comment, “You know Dan, all ministry has a cost.”  What he was talking about was the personal cost for us as clergy. He meant that if we want to do ministry, we have to expect that it will take a toll on us personally, that we will have to make sacrifices that are hard, and that this is a good thing for the sake of the gospel. His comments especially had to do with how it is sometimes harder for clergy in more isolated rural areas, and how the costs for a cleric and their families is sometimes greater than those in urban and suburban settings. The support networks aren’t there, and sometimes it feels like colleagues in the bigger, city churches just don’t understand what rural ministry is like.  Usually the funding of such ministries is a struggle, sometimes because of this, it is hard to find good clergy to go to such places, and the ones that offer themselves do so at incredible personal cost.

My friend was talking about the more rural areas of this Diocese, but in my years working for the National Church, I met a lot of clergy (and bishops!) from truly isolated places in this country and around the word, and I can say that it is true, that many clergy have indeed sacrificed much for the gospel.  I surely count myself blessed to be in this wonderful place in which the challenges we have had to meet have been relatively easy.  To be sure we have had to make sacrifices, our shared ministry has had its costs to count, but we are truly blessed.

Today’s lesson from St. Luke reminds us to count the costs of ministry.  The words of Jesus are hard ones.  Unless we are willing to abandon, nay hate (!) family are we able to follow Jesus? How about giving up all our possessions?  Which one of us is able to do these things?  Is Jesus actually asking us to do these things?

Perhaps Jesus is indulging in a bit of hyperbole here.  He also speaks of the builder who carefully measures how much the project will cost and does not take on the project unless he knows he can finish it.  He speaks, too, of the king who first considers if he can win the battle before he wages the war.  Is Jesus asking us to sell all? Is he asking us to abandon our families? 

As I have noted before, and as we have been discovering in our Gospel of Luke study, we are pretty confident that Luke’s Gospel was written to a wealthy house church, whose patron was a wealthy householder named Theophilus. When today’s passage is taken in the context of the whole gospel, I think things become a bit clearer.  Luke consistently relates stories and sayings of Jesus that encourage those who have much to use what they have not for their self-aggrandizement, not for their own glory, but for the building up of the kingdom of God.  This means breaking down those social boundaries of rich and poor, and counting the outcast and the weak as family.  It means using what one has been blessed with, not in small measure, but in sacrificial measure, to right the inequities of the world.  It means using the power that has providentially fallen upon them to reorder the world under the principles of God’s righteousness, God’s justice. 

Jesus suggests, throughout Luke’s Gospel, that the poor already have a leg up on the rich, ironically enough, for they have nothing to lose.  They have nothing that holds them back from clinging fully to Jesus.  They have nothing that holds them back from following Jesus.  They have no investments to worry about, or great houses to tend.  They can follow Jesus without counting the cost, because the cost of not following him is even greater for them.

But for those who have much, who have to worry about mother or father; or for those who have to worry about their homes and their investments, about their staff or their status, following Jesus is much harder and the cost is greater.  That is why Jesus says be like the builder who counts the cost of his building project.  That is why Jesus says be like the king who carefully establishes whether or not he can defeat the enemy.  The cost of not finishing the building or winning the war is great.  If you cannot bear the ultimate cost, then do not embark on the project in the first place.

This is why Jesus reveals to them the worst case scenarios of discipleship.  Those who love you most may hate you for following Jesus, and you may have to say goodbye to them.  Now this may not actually happen, but it has the potential to happen, and Jesus asks, are you prepared for it? We know of course that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross.  If you follow on my way, are you prepared to take up your own cross? Will you suffer death for my sake as I am prepared to suffer death for yours? 

These may seem like distant questions to us, but there are many Christians around the world whose families would hate them for becoming Christians.  There are people who have given up everything to serve Jesus, at extraordinary financial cost.  And even in these days we hear of people dying for their faith. There are Christians still taking up their cross and dying for Jesus, confessing their faith.  In truth, when we cast our glance a bit farther afield that normal, we will find these stories not that distant after all.

But what of the cost of ministry here in Bradford?  Perhaps the scale is not the same as Jesus suggests in today’s gospel, and yet, Jesus uses the extreme case to illustrate inclusively all manner of sacrifice.  The road to recovery in this parish has been a hard one. There is no denying that.  All of you have made sacrifices to restore this church to a place where it can offer viable ministry that makes an impact in this community.  And during harder times, you made extraordinary sacrifices to keep this church community alive hoping against hope for a better day, working tirelessly in faithfulness to those who built, and in commitment to those who will follow.  Most importantly, in the midst of extraordinary sacrifice, you continued to believe in and follow a loving God who has never left you, even during challenging times.  You continued to believe in God’s mission.  You continued to believe in the kingdom values of the Gospel, even though the cost was great. Together and as individuals, each of you something of the cost of discipleship.

But there is one other point, a very important point that is perhaps not so evident from today’s passage from Luke, but becomes clear in light of the whole gospel story.  When we count the cost of discipleship, we can do so with confidence in the outcome, in confidence of what we have to give up, that the cost will not be so great that we cannot bear it, because it is not ours to bear alone.  Yes, we must take up our crosses, but only because Christ has first taken up his.  Our crosses are bearable, because the weight of all those crosses is shared in the weight of the cross that he carried on his shoulders.  And when the weight seems so heavy, when it feels like we are buried under the weight, like we are in a tomb, and we cry who shall roll the stone away, the stone is moved, the weight of the cross is lifted, and the light of the resurrection breaks through! 

Discipleship has a cost, to be sure. And it is a cost that must be counted and faced if we wish to follow Jesus.  Yet, we must never think that it is our cost to bear alone. We must never think that the weight of the cross falls fully on our shoulders.  We will be called upon to bear our portion, but that portion will be all the lighter when we realize that we are part of host of witnesses, a company of disciples, each bearing one another in love through hardship, and bearing us all up, is the one who takes the weight of the world on his shoulders, Christ our God.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Freedom from the Tombs - A Homily for Proper 12, Year C, 2013

Homily for Proper 12, Year C, 2013
Sunday, June 23rd, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 8:26-39

If we believe that Christ has set us free, that Christ brings us new life, and that we have that life in abundance, then what does it truly mean to be free, and to live in abundance and joy?  St. Luke tells us of a man possessed of demons. The demons that lived within him had robbed him of his freedom and of his life.  We are told that he no longer lived amongst his community. He did not live in a house, but in the tombs.  We are told that he wore no clothing, but went about naked.  We are told that when he lost control, people would chain him, but the demons within were so strong that they could not be contained.  No one could do anything for him.  He was a man without a home, without a community, without dignity, without a future – he had been robbed of his life.  He had been a man of the people, a man of the city, and now he was alone with his demons, living as if in hell, living and yet not living at all, residing in the tombs as if he were already dead.

And yet, even as he struggled with the thousand demons that robbed him of his life, his dignity, and his joy, he was not without hope.  Perhaps it was a only a shred of hope that he clung to, but it was hope, nonetheless, for when Jesus set foot in his country, he ran to him and fell down before the Lord.  But the man could not even form his own words.  It was the demons who spoke, whose words formed on his lips. These demons feared Jesus. They feared the man to whom their host had brought them, for they knew that he was more than a man, that he was the son of the Most High God!  And so they shouted and spewed at Jesus, “what have you to do with me?” and then begged him, “Do not torment me.” 

The demons knew true power when they saw it.  For years they had tormented this poor man who had been their host. For years they had robbed him of his life and joy.  For years they had used and abused him.  But when that man struggled against them, and brought them to Jesus, they cowered as if powerless.  They tried to make a deal with Jesus, for they knew he had the power to bind them and send them into the abyss, whence they had come.  They asked him to free them and find them another host -- perhaps that heard of swine over yonder.  We don’t often think of Jesus as a trickster, but trick them he did. He allowed the demons to enter the herd, and immediately, the herd charged over a cliff to their deaths.  Now, you may ask, what happened to the demons?  A demon without a host his robbed of its power, and hurled into the abyss. 

What of the man who had been possessed of this legion of demons? 

He was free.  Not only was he free, he was so thankful to Jesus that he wanted to become a disciple and follow him.  Jesus granted rather that he should be his follower, but not as wandering missionary, but in his home country.  What did people discover about this man when they saw him afresh? They found him clothed, and returned to his home.  Jesus gave him back all that he had lost, and more!  Not only did this man regain his dignity, not only did he regain his home, and his community, but he was given the good news to share with those he loved.  Jesus would not restore his freedom only to enslave him again.  Jesus did not demand that he leave his mother and his brothers and follow him (as he had done with others), rather, he commanded him to return home and spread the joy of his freedom, the joy of his liberation, the joy of his salvation with those he loved dearest and best.

What does it mean for us to find freedom and new life in Christ?  For some it will mean a journey into an unknown land, for others it will mean a transformed life in their own country, but for both, it means freedom from the demons that threaten to rob us of life, liberty, and joy.  When Jesus cast demons from Mary Magdalene, she became part of his retinue, a partner in his itinerant ministry. When Jesus cast demons from the Gerasene man, he became a witness in his home town to all Jesus had done.  Both had their demons, and each had their own special calling in the kingdom of God.  What is clear in both cases though, is that they could not rid themselves of their demons, they needed Jesus.  The most they could do, in their struggle with what possessed them and robbed them of life was to fall down at the feet of Jesus. And when they took that risk, when they used their last remaining strength to fall down before the Lord, the demons cowered before the Most High, and left them. 

Whether our demons be of the spiritual kind or of any other sort, they cower before Jesus.  Jesus has the power to heal us and deliver us from the demons we host within ourselves.  There are the demons of our broken history, both personal and cultural.  There are the demons of bigotry.  There are the demons of unhealthy desire and lust.  There are the demons of avarice and greed.  There are the demons of abuse and neglect. There are the demons of unforgiveness. But these demons all cower before the God of love and peace.  They cower before the power of the gentleness and tenderness. They cower before the power that defeats sin on the cross and death amongst the tombs.  They cower before Jesus.  God’s healing power is there for all, but there is one other detail in these stories that must never be forgotten, each of these people comes to Jesus, or when they are too ill to do so themselves, a loved one brings them to him.

We cannot save ourselves; only Christ saves us.  However, we must want to be saved. We must want the demons cast out.  How many of us have known people who seem happy in their misery, who seem to take joy in the demons that haunt their lives?  How many of us have even wallowed in the delight of misery from time-to-time.  For those who delight in misery, who take pride in the demons that haunt them … well, I will not venture to guess what will come of them, but Scripture is clear about those who come to Jesus.  Can it be expressed any better than in his own words, “Come unto me all ye who weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I shall give you rest”?  Everyone who comes to Jesus, who brings their demons before him, will meet a Lord who gives them rest.  What he gives each of us might be very different, and to be sure, as the demons are cast out, we may learn we have certain crosses to bear, but these crosses lead us to new life, not the tombs. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Joint Heirs with Christ - A Sermon for Pentecost, Year C, 2013

A Homily for Pentecost, Year C, 2013
Sunday, May 19th, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Romans 8:14-17

“For all who are led by the Spirit are children of God.”
Romans 8:14

If we are to truly comprehend the great mystery that is Pentecost, we must not simply rest in hearing once again the story of the Holy Spirit falling on the disciples of Jesus that first Christian Pentecost.  As important as it is to meditate on the event that was Pentecost for the Apostles, it is even more important for us to meditate on our own Pentecost, on our own experience of the Holy Spirit, and what we are given in the Pentecost of our faith.  If  the story of tongues of fire and the sudden understanding of foreign languages seems foreign to our experience, then ought we not to probe more fully into the activity of the Spirit of God in our own lives to truly comprehend what the gift of the Holy Spirit might mean?   In fact, this is precisely what St. Paul does in these four short verses in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans. 

St. Paul begins with these words, “for all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”   This is a powerful assertion of who we are in Christ.   In Christ, through the action of the Holy Spirit, we become God’s children.  I am a child of God. You are a child of God.  What makes this so?  It is the Holy Spirit of God.  The English translation, though, makes the Spirit sound somewhat passive.  When Paul speaks of the Spirit of God leading us, it sounds as though the Spirit is passing by and we choose to join in, to follow along.  Yet, when Paul speaks of being led by the Spirit, this might be more properly understood as being driven by the Spirit, moved by the Spirit.  This sounds much more akin to that first Pentecost when the Spirit falls upon the early Christians and they begin to uncontrollably utter strange tongues.  The Spirit is not a gentle breeze that blows by, but a wind that rages through, or flame that burns passionately.  The Spirit is anything but passive, it does not simply burn, but blazes; it does not simply blow, but rather rushes like a gale-force wind.  All of this is to say that Spirit comes to us with great power, a power to awaken us, to enliven us, to move us in a different direction, to change us.

And this is precisely, according to Paul, what the Spirit does.  When we are led, nay driven! by the Holy Spirit, our very identity changes.  The Spirit that falls upon us, burns within us, rushes through us, is not a spirit that subjects us once again to slavery, or even to a new slavery, but delivers us once and for all from all slavery, bringing us into a new-found freedom as children of God.  Slavery is what we knew before Christ; being a child of God is what we know in Christ.

Pentecost is the answer to one of the great questions that is begged by the Christ event, namely “how does the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, his passion, his resurrection, and his ascension do anything for me?”  How does what happens to Jesus affect me? It is an interesting question.  When we say “Jesus died for my sins,” or “Jesus rose from the dead and gave me new life,” what are we saying, and how do those actions of Jesus transfer to me? What difference does God becoming human make for me?  How does the death of Jesus on the cross take away my sins?  How is it that I am to receive the benefits of his passion? How does his resurrection give me new life?  What is it that connects Jesus with me and me with Jesus?

It is the Holy Spirit.

Consider for a moment the story of St. Mary the virgin. How does God enter into humanity?  How does God, who is above and beyond all creation, become a part of creation?  How does God take human flesh? It is through the agency of the Holy Spirit who falls upon her that humanity is joined to divinity in unconfused perfection.  In her womb, the Holy Spirit knits together humanity and divinity. Through the Spirit of God, God comes to us, as one of us, that our humanity might be joined to his divinity.  Without the Holy Spirit, Jesus is merely a man.  With the Holy Spirit, he is the Word of God, the Logos, bringing God’s redemption not only to the race of humanity, but to the entire cosmos.  It is through the work of the Spirit that God is with us.

But more than God being with us, we are brought into the life of God in a new and startling way.  Where once we were slaves to sin, where once we relied solely on the flawed works of our own flesh, where once death meant despair, in the new reality of Pentecost, we become part of God’s family, freed from the slavery of sin, relieved of working out our salvation on our own merit, delivered from the fear of death, all because we are children of the living God.

The Holy Spirit joins us to Christ in a new and profound way.  His sonship becomes ours sonship.  Where he is a child of God by the power of the Spirit, so too, do we become children of God.  We are no longer captives to the Spirit of slavery, no longer simple retainers in the household or even hired hands, but members of the family.   

And this is why Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  This is the one prayer that Jesus taught us and it begins with our bold proclamation of the new reality we find when we are joined with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It boldly proclaims that God is our father.  We do not pray to him as “our master,” but as “our father.”  This is how Jesus taught us to pray, and he taught us to pray thus because when we are in Christ Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are God’s sons and daughters. This is why St. Paul says, “when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  You see, the Holy Spirit leads, or perhaps more poignantly, drives our spirit in that bold proclamation that God is our father, that we are his children.  When under our own power we would dare not make that claim, and in our own weakness perhaps we cannot claim it, the Holy Spirit gives us the grace and strength to own it with all our being.

And that is why, St. Paul continues, “if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”  Being an heir is a vastly different thing than being a slave.  We do not assume our role as heir on our own though.  When we are once in slavery, it is near impossible to find ourselves free again.  It is near impossible for a slave to earn their way out of slavery, nor is it ever likely that a slave will have the means to buy themselves out of slavery.  If we are slaves we must rely on the grace of another.  That other is none other than Jesus, the true Son of God, who through the working of the Holy Spirit joins us for a moment in our slavery that we might for all time find freedom as sons and daughters of God.  Through the Holy Spirit he joins us in the slavery of our humanity, that we me might join him in the freedom of his sonship.  This is what St. Paul means when he talks about us suffering with Christ that we might also be glorified with him.  He is with us in the depths, that we might be raised with him in the family of God, not only as sons and daughters, but as joint heirs.  We are not even second- or third-born children who might be passed by, but like Jesus, we are first born and privy to all the glory that that privilege brings.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ brings us into the family of God  not in some partial or imperfect way, but in glorious excellence and marvellous egalitarian love.  Christ share his firstborn life with us, every one of us, when we are led and moved by the Spirit.

This is the deeper meaning of Pentecost in our lives, that the work of Christ is not some objective work of God that we gaze upon from a distance, but a work that transforms our very identity from being slaves to sin, and striving, and death, to deliverance, to freedom and life.  And that work of God in Christ is made the work that transforms us, by the power of the Holy Spirit placing Christ in us that we might dwell evermore in him.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Helper of the Helpless and the Saviour of the Lost - A Homily for Easter 4, Year C, 2013

Homily for Easter IV, Year C, 2013
Sunday, April 21st, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: John 10:22-30
Jesus’ claim of John chapter 10 to be the Good Shepherd, and the reminder in Psalm 23 that Jesus our Lord is indeed our shepherd, seem well suited to reflect on the events of the past week.  Whether it be the bombing in Boston, the explosion in Texas, or the earthquake in China; if it be the heightened tensions in the Korean Peninsula; or if it be the general feeling that the world is coming apart, the Good Shepherd has words of hope, compassion, and love for us still.

We stand a step removed from the terrible events of the past week, and yet the ever-watchful eye of the media draws us into the nexus of the horror and pain that is felt any time disaster strikes.  What if it were us?  And so the pain of others easily becomes a pain we carry, for we can see that it might have easily been one of us, or one we love.  Even though we stand somewhat removed from the terror, we find ourselves somehow locked in its grasp.

But for those who were there, even as for those of us who were not; for those who have lost so much, even as for those of us who only feel their loss from a distance, God searches and seeks for us, in our fear, in our sorrow, in our grief, and in our loss.  “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know mine own and mine own know me.”

The great comfort of the Christian gospel is that in precisely moments like these when we ask “where was God?” the answer comes, “here is God.”  We shall never truly understand the answer as to why God does not intervene to prevent evil, or to prevent the forces of nature from causing destruction, or to correct human error to prevent accidents.  Perhaps there are moments when God intervenes, and yet, there are so many when he does not. We have to deal with a universe that unfolds by defined laws and human free will, but does that mean that God is not present, that God does not care?

Quite the opposite, I think.  The whole story of the gospel is that God does care; God does care about the suffering of his people.  In the person of Christ Jesus he enters into our world, into our humanity, and joins our suffering to his – the true definition of “compassion” – to feel with, to suffer with.  God suffers alongside us and God feels our pain.  What is more, God is at work in our lives and in our world redeeming our suffering and redeeming our pain.  It is in the moments in which we feel most abandoned, most alone, most forgotten, that he reminds us that he has never and will never abandon us: “Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am with you.  My rod and staff, they comfort you.”  It is in these moments that the Good Shepherd is seeking us out, calling our names, and reminding us that even though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.  His rule is a gentle one.  He rules as a comforter and refuge, a hope in times of trouble. God’s rule is one in which we learn that the events of the day, as powerful and as awful as they may be, shall not be the story that shapes our lives, but rather his compassion and mercy shall shape our story.   It has often been said during this week, and I think the sentiment is a good one, “when you see evil, when you see harm, look for the helpers.”  It is in acts of mercy, compassion, self-giving and goodness that we shall see the loving hand of the Good Shepherd.

This brings us to a second thought about the Good Shepherd in light of the events of the past week.  Many people have died.  The same questions abound, the same “whys” are cried out.  And for a time, perhaps the only answer is silence.  However, as I look back on the losses of my own life, and as I ponder the mystery of death, I come to realize that although my loved ones have been plucked out of my hands, they have not been plucked out of the hands of God.  A passage often read at funerals, from the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us, “The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God.”  And again, hear the words of the Good Shepherd:  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  There is nothing else I can do for the dead.  It is a harsh and dreadful reality, but even though they have been snatched away from me, they cannot be snatched away from God.  In God, even in death, they find eternal life.  So while human mourning and grief are real, and often crippling, once again, our hope is not in human hands, but in the hands of the almighty, who will not lose even one of his own.  Thus, we find in the Christian gospel words of comfort, but the gospel brings not only comfort, but challenge.

And so this brings me to a third thought, a challenging and difficult thought, and for this I will veer away from the Good Shepherd for a moment and to St. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.  This question has to do with those who hurt us. I first began to formulate these thoughts earlier in the week when I heard of the sickening behaviour that was taking place in London after Lady Thatcher’s death.  As we have all heard, parties broke out and people began singing “Ding, Dong, the witch is dead,” and danced on her grave.  Anyone who participates in such behaviour and calls themselves a Christian is due for a serious reality check and a review of the words of Jesus found in St. Luke’s Sermon on the Plain.  Now, I would be the last one to eulogize Lady Thatcher for the way she governed.  There are many that credit her with saving her country and there are others who claim great suffering under her regime.  First of all, this is the cost of democracy.  We shall have leaders who will pursue policies we do not like, and we shall have the freedom to stand against them. We shall have leaders that do harm, and leaders that shall do good, and we shall often disagree on what constitutes harm and good.  We shall have leaders that we hate.  But I ask you to consider the words of Jesus from Luke chapter 6, and consider what transpired in London: “But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  In our Bible study on Luke this week, we reflected on this passage.  This is perhaps the most revolutionary and world-changing claim of the gospel. Judaism knew “Love your neighbour,” and indeed that is a core value for us, but “love your enemy?”  We find this a hard pill to swallow.  Aren’t we supposed to hate our enemies?  Not if we are Christians.

And what does it mean to “love our enemy?” Well, Jesus tells us: do good to them, bless them, pray for them.  This means that what happened in London when people danced on the grave of Lady Thatcher was the most profoundly unchristian, and indeed, anti-Christian act that one could imagine.  Do the words of Jesus mean anything to us when we behave in such a shameful way.  Now we may say that was not us; that we were not there dancing on the grave, but now consider the events of Boston.  There was much rejoicing at the killing of one suspected perpetrator and the capture of another.  Should we rejoice that an evildoer is caught?  By all means.  Should we congratulate those who bring wrong-doers to justice? By all mean.  Should we breath a sigh of relief that the innocent are once again safe? By all means.  But should we rejoice in the death of a sinner?  I dare say, we should not.  Should we rejoice in the humiliation of a deluded young man?  I dare say, we should not.   To be sure, justice is a principle of the gospel, as well as mercy.  People must be kept safe and those who are dangerous must be removed so as to ensure the public good.  And yet, we can be merciful in all of this.  We should not puff ourselves up with false pride and dance on the grave of a young man who, for whatever mystifying reason turned to wickedness and chose to harm his fellow human beings.  We should not abuse the abuser with torture or humiliation, for even the sinner is still a child of God.  It may be hard to love ones such as these, but can we at least aspire to a greater humanity than what has been demonstrated by their actions? Shall we at least do good to them, where they were unable to do good to us?  Shall we pray for them with hope in our hearts, where they felt their prayers of no avail for us?  Shall we find mercy for them, where they felt no mercy for us?  Jesus reminds us with these very words, “that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” and then admonishes us, “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  These are hard words.  But then I realize that those two boys could just as easily have been my children, or you children.  Even in the midst of all that they had done wrong, would I still not desire mercy even as justice is accordingly meted out?  Would I still not hope, beyond hope, that something good might be salvaged in them?  Would I not pray for them if they were my children, or your children?  And here is the rub, they are God’s children, as wicked as they might be, and we learn that God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, and that we ought to be merciful as he is merciful. 

We need not condone what they did.  Nor should we suggest that justice should not be done.  Yet we ought not to descend into a mutual or similar barbarism and rejoice in wrongdoing or bloodlust.  That is not the Christian.  That is not Christian holiness.  That is not the way of Jesus. The Good Shepherd is a loving shepherd, a merciful shepherd, a shepherd that seeks out the lost, all the while caring for those closest to him.  And so an old prayer from the prayer book comes to mind as I draw this to a close,

“Be mindful, O Lord, of thy people bowed before thee …. Succour all those who are in tribulation, necessity or distress.  Remember for good all those that love us, and those that hate us, and those who have desired us, unworthy as we are to pray for them.  For thou art the helper of the helpless, and the saviour of the lost.” Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Do You Seek the Living Among the Dead? - A Homily for Easter, 2013

Homily for Easter, 2013
Sunday, March 31st, 2013
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 24: 1-12

"Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
-Luke 24:5

The women who faithfully remained with Jesus as he hung upon the cross, who were there when his body was laid in the tomb, were the first to come to that tomb on the early morning following their Sabbath observance.  Their spices were prepared, and they had come to anoint his body.  To their great surprise though, the stone that covered the tomb had been removed; and to their even greater surprise they encountered two men, garbed in dazzling apparel who addressed them: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”  What a strange question this was.  Their Lord was dead and they were here to carry out their appointed task and ministrations.  They were not seeking the living; they were indeed seeking the dead. 

But the men stirred their memories – the memory of something he had said early in his ministry in the Galilee, a memory that was clouded with the passage of time and the dreadful reality of his failed mission which ended on the cross.  The men asked the women to remember. Remember what he said to you.  Remember how he had told them that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.”  Had they forgotten this promise?  Or were they here, actually seeking the living, did they remember, and hope, deep within themselves in the sacred silence of their hearts that maybe, just maybe, he was yet alive? 

When asked to remember, remember they did.  They had not yet seen him, and yet the stirring of their memory stirred within them the belief that he had risen.  His words stirred within them and the seed faith sprung to life in their hearts.  He was not to be found amongst the tombs; he had burst the chains of death; he had sprung forth from the tomb, and although he and not yet appeared to them, they knew with confidence that he was alive.

With great excitement they returned to the apostles and told them all they had seen and all they had heard; and yet, the apostles believed them not.  The apostles who had heard the same words, who were now being asked to remember what Jesus had told them way back in their Galilean days might have remembered his words, but they could not believe what they were being told by the women.  They castigated them for spreading “old wives’ tales.”  They did not believe.

But Peter, the first to have denied his Lord; Peter, who had with deep shame wept over his denial; Peter the first among the apostles who had proved to be the weakest when put to the test; something stirred in Peter.  Perhaps he remembered the words. Perhaps deep within the silence of his own heart he hoped beyond hope that it might be true.  Perhaps, just perhaps, he might be given a second chance.  And so against what must have been his better judgement he rose and ran to the tomb.  And there, on the floor of the tomb he found only the linen cloths.  He had not yet seen Jesus, and yet, he was amazed and his unbelief became belief. 

The women sought the living amongst the dead.  Peter sought the living amongst the dead.  But the one who lives is not to be found amongst the dead.  They cannot believe that he is alive and so they must seek out the place of the dead and look for him. They had seen him die. They knew where he should have been, and yet, that is not where God left him. He did not suffer his holy one to see corruption.

Where do they find him?  As we shall learn as we continue to read St. Luke’s gospel in Eastertide, they meet him as they journey in loneliness, sadness and despair along the Emmaus road. They meet him when they open the Scriptures and break bread together.  They meet him in their gathering together and they meet him in their going out into the world.  They meet him when they forgive each other their wrongs, and they meet him when they witness to his resurrection.  This is all to say that they meet him, not at a tomb, not amongst the dead but amongst the living.

This is the very place we meet him today.  We meet him when we gather round this table and share in receiving his risen and glorified body by faith with thanksgiving. We meet him when we hear the words of the prophets and the apostles opened to us, proclaimed and expounded. We meet him when we forgive each other the wrongs we have done. We meet him when we wash each other’s feet.  We meet him when we go out into the world to serve him in the person of God’s most vulnerable children. We meet him not amongst the dead, but amongst the living.  Seek the Lord where he may be found.

But just as the Father did not leave Christ in hell, just as he did not let his holy one see corruption, neither will he leave us amongst the dead. He does not abandon us to the grave. He does not abandon us to our sinful self-destruction.  He does not leave us amongst the dead or in the tomb.  In the glorious resurrection of Christ we are swept up into the power of his resurrected life.  In the resurrection of Christ, Jesus’ hands reach out to us to pull us from the very depths of despair, loneliness, brokenness, and sin. When we find ourselves walking amongst the dead, he descends to the depths with us and rescues us, restores us, redeems us, that we too might not be found amongst the dead, but the living.  And so that is where we find him today, not amongst the dead, not in a tomb, but in our very midst, risen in body and risen in the communion we share in this age, and risen in the communion we shall know when the final trumpet sounds and we are all raised to that new and glorious perfection. 

Why do you seek the living amongst the dead?  We are afraid it is not true.  We are afraid that death will be the final story that is written for us. We are afraid that what has been proclaimed to us is a lie. But remember what he said.  Remember.  Remember that he said that “the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” The Eucharist we share is an act of that remembrance.  It is a remembrance that as the grave could not contain him, so it shall not contain us.  Our shared ministry is a remembrance that though the powers of death might seek to destroy us in this life, when we act together in ministry we find hope and strength, endurance and fortitude, love and mercy, because the risen Jesus is with us.  When we serve each other, Jesus is with us.  To remember what he said is not simply to recall it, but to live into it.  When the men at the tomb tell the women “he is not here,” they mean among the dead.  When we proclaim he is risen, we are saying “he is here,” amongst the living.  The tomb is but a sign, the communion we share is the reality of Jesus risen from the dead.