Saturday, September 18, 2010

Better Formative than Popular

Notes on RCL Proper 25C for Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

19 September 2010

Focus text:  Jeremiah 8.18-9.1

1)    When I think back to my days as a student, I can remember many of my teachers.

a)    Some of them were the popular teachers, whether because they were friendly to their students or because they tended to be more generous in their grading.
b)    Some of them were the unpopular teachers for reasons that are the mirror versions of the reasons why other teachers were popular.
c)     Then there is a group of teachers whom I call formative.  What is interesting to me about this group is that several of them were never popular but they have influenced me to this very day.

2)    One such teacher was Nancy Galbraith who taught me English in grades eight and nine.

a)    She was the descendant of an eastern family of New England ‘blue-bloods’ who had chosen to come to the wilderness of the Front Range of the Rockies to educate the children of those settlers who had abandoned good sense and civilization.
b)    Her husband had been an officer in the Army of the United States and a prisoner of war of the Japanese.  His health had been shattered by his imprisonment, but I remember that his eyes were always full of life and his mouth always ready to turn into a smile.
c)     The Galbraith’s lived in the Broadmoor area of Colorado Springs, our Shaughnessy if you will, but Mrs Galbraith chose to teach at North Junior High School, a public school whose students were mostly the children of working and lower middle-class families.
d)    She was strict and precise.  She demanded clear writing and thinking.  She did not joke with us.  She corrected our regional pronunciation of American English in favour of a more educated dialect.
e)    She was the only teacher I remember who ever invited us to her home to watch some of the great programming that American stations used to have such as the Hallmark Hall of Fame which produced plays and other dramatic programming of significance.  Hers was the first colour television I ever saw.
f)     In grade nine she took us to see ‘A Man for All Seasons’, the movie version of Robert Bolt’s play about Thomas More.  To this day I can recite various sections by heart and Bolt’s vision of integrity continues to influence and critique me.
g)    Mrs Galbraith was a formative teacher but never a popular teacher.

3)    Jeremiah the prophet is another person whom I would call formative but not popular.

a)    He was the son of a priest and, no doubt, a young man familiar with the privileges of life in the priestly class of Judean society.  He was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps.
b)    His times, however, were troubled ones.  To the north the kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and was presently under the control of the Babylonians, the successors to the Assyrian empire.  To the east Babylon was growing in power and imposing its will on its smaller and weaker western neighbour. 
c)     When Jeremiah was in his late twenties, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and a portion of the ruling class was exiled to Babylon.  A later revolt by the Judeans resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 586 and the exile of the remaining members of the ruling class.
d)    Instead of the life of a priest Jeremiah hears God’s call to the vocation of a prophet, the other pole of the religious life of his people during this time.  Prophets disrupt the status quo and cause no end of turmoil to those who wish to maintain their power and their prestige.
e)    Jeremiah has been compelled by his vocation to speak words to his people that have hurt them and spoken to them of destruction, but it has not been without cost to Jeremiah:  “For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” (Jeremiah 8.21)
f)     To this day his words are read again and again in the liturgical assemblies of Jews and Christians, reminding us that the Holy One who created us and called into relationship with God and with one another can tear down as well as build up.
g)    Jeremiah is what I would call a formative prophet rather than a popular one.

4)    Formative teachers teach us how to think.  Formative prophets teach us how to look at God’s horizon rather than to our own short-term self-interest.  Formative teachers and prophets also dare to speak the truth even when it is not popular.

5)    For the past ten years or so our diocese and our congregation have been hearing to teachers and prophets who have spoken the truth even when we may not have wished to hear it.

a)    The truth is that religious faith, especially the generous and wise tradition we know as Anglicanism, is not popular, either with those who distrust religion or with those who prefer more absolutes in their lives.
b)    The truth is that Christian faith is more about a movement of people throughout the ages who have come to know Jesus as the way, the truth and the life  and less about visible and concrete structures, as useful as they sometimes are.
c)     The truth is that Christian faith has more in common with the desert journey of the people of Israel, moving from one oasis to another so as not to exhaust its resources, than with an all-inclusive cruise on a luxury liner, as comfortable and as enjoyable as that can be.
d)    The truth is that all that I have just said is good news even as it comes with a price.

6)    What we need are formative rather than popular teachers and prophets.

a)    Formative teachers and prophets dare to demand clear and critical thinking.
b)    Formative teachers and prophets dare to challenge us to speak in a language which moves beyond our region into the broader community of which we are a part.
c)     Formative teachers and prophets dare to speak the truth even when that truth will challenge long-held beliefs and require re-visioning the ways we have done things.
d)    I believe that such formative teachers and prophets are already in our midst and even in our pews today.

7)    My hope is that the Ministry Assessment Process in which we are engaged with Saint Alban’s, Saint Anne’s and Saint Augustine’s will be formative for our ministry in this region of the Diocese.

a)    This parish of Saint Faith’s has been on this road before and we are now asked to travel it again.
b)    As we travel this road, let us think clearly but, more importantly, keep our eyes on God’s horizon.
c)     On God’s horizon is a community of Christians
i)     who exercise faithful stewardship of their time, talent and treasure;
ii)   who worship in spirit and in truth;
iii) who share the good news of Jesus of Nazareth with others;
iv)   who commit themselves to study and prayer to empower their ministry and
v)     who care for one another so that we can become fully alive in the image and likeness of God.

8)    This is not necessarily a popular journey, but it is definitely more memorable because it will form us into living stones for God’s reign of justice and peace.  Amen.