Saturday, November 6, 2010

Worship and the Stewardship of Memory

[This sermon was preached at Saint Anselm's Anglican Church on the University Endowment Lands on 7 November 2010.  As part of the annual stewardship campaign I was asked to preach on worship as an act of stewardship.  Since the parish was also keeping the Sunday as an anticipation of Remembrance Day, I chose to preach about worship and remembering.]

Saint Anselm’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Haggai 1.15b-2.9; Psalm 145.1-5, 17-21 or Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2.1-5, 13-17; Luke 20.27-38

Opening Prayers

Eternal God, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace adn ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lvies and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  [The Book of Alternative Services for RCL Proper 32C]

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and redirect our hearts.  Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgement.  Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection, through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.  Amen.  [Evangelical Lutheran Worship for RCL Proper 32C]

Almighty God, you hold all the powers of the universe within your hands, and we are your children.  Turn us to the splendour of life in you, transforming us through Jesus Christ our Saviour, and strengthening us in every good deed and word; through him who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.  [Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for RCL Proper 32C]

            When Paula and I first came to Canada, we were struck by how Canadians celebrated the 11th of November.  By All Saints poppies began to spring up on the lapels of TV news anchors, politicians and the general population.  Young people, sometimes accompanied by older people from one veterans organization or another, solicited donations at malls and street-side businesses.

            One Remembrance Day I was driving around in the pouring rain and listening to CBC 2 --- the old CBC 2.  As eleven o’clock approached, the announcer advised listeners of the time and that there would be two minutes of silence followed by the playing of ‘Last Post’.  I noticed cars pulling over to the side of the road.  At first I wasn’t quite sure why but it then dawned on me what the drivers were doing --- pulling over to honour the silence.

            Some of you may know that Paula and I come from military families.  My kinsmen fought in the American Revolution and in the Civil War on the federal side.  My maternal grandfather was a soldier in World War I and all three of my uncles served during World War II, two of them as airborne troops in the D-Day invasion.  Both of our fathers served in the United States Air Force.

            But we grew up in a United States where the 11th of November is known as ‘Veterans Day’ and is not universally a civic holiday.  No poppies.  No young people at the doors of malls and stores.  No silence.  No cars pulling over to the side of the road.  No civic observations at the cenotaph.  No remembering.

            Remembering is more than an intellectual activity.  Remembering what is truly important and central to our identity requires enacting our memory, putting our bodies where our thoughts are.  We may even make changes to our environment so that it too serves as a aide memoire.  How we measure the passage of days, even hours within those days, take on significance as we mark a day as being festal, whether civic, cultural or religious, or as being ‘ordinary’.  Time, space and our physical activities as well as our minds are engaged in this human activity we call ‘remembering’.

            Why do we remember?  While we may have many answers to this question, let me offer you an answer rooted in the Christian understanding of time and space:  We remember the past in order to enact in the present the future for which we hope and work.  To wear a poppy during the days leading up to Remembrance Day is a concrete embodiment of our hopes for the future:  Today’s poppy is a ritual enactment of yesterday’s sacrifices made by our forebears in order to shape a future in which all God’s children shall be free.  Why?  Because amnesia can be deadly, physically, spiritually and intellectually.

            Christian worship is just such an enactment, an act of memory.  When the Christian community gathers for worship, the memory of more than 100,000 Sundays becomes incarnate in our world and, whether the world views us as relevant or irrelevant, they cannot ignore our existence.  When the Christian community proclaims the ancient scriptures of the Hebrew people and the earliest apostolic community, printed words become inspired, that is to say, filled with breath so that they can be heard by a new generation and remind all, young and old, that God calls us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.  When the Christian community offers up its prayers of intercession, thanksgiving and petition, the persons, places and concerns we name become present to us just as they have always been present to God.  When the Christian community breaks the bread and pours the wine, this place is filled with the presence of the living Christ with all his power to transfigure us into his likeness just as surely as Jesus of Nazareth had power to transform a motley assembly of women and men into a movement that changed human history.  When the Christian community is sent forth from its places of worship, we go forth as agents of the mission God began when creation first came into being and the vast expanse of interstellar space found this fragile earth, our island home, in its midst.

            True remembering is not about dwelling in the past or comforting an unpleasant present.  True remembering is about the future and, for Christians, working with God who is creating, redeeming and sanctifying the whole of creation so that it might become truly alive.

            Regular participation in the worship of the Christian community is a choice we make, an act of the stewardship of time.  The good steward, as an agent of the one whom the steward serves, needs to remember why he or she cares for time, talent and treasure.    Our time, our talents and our financial resources are means by which we enable our Christian community to participate in God’s renewal of our lives and the lives of all.

            Our past failures and successes, fears and hopes, cowardice and courage are made present in our worship so that our future might be held less in thrall to our failures, fears and cowardice and transformed by our successes, hopes and courage.  In worship we ritually enact the whole of our relationship with the living God so that, when we leave this place of worship, we might enact in our lives and embody in our very selves the future to which the good news of God in Christ points us.  Here the past is remembered not with the moist eyes of nostalgia but with the clear eyes of a faith oriented towards what lies beyond the immediate horizon --- the Land of hope and glory that God is at work bringing into being --- always through us, sometimes despite us.

            So, my sisters and brothers, remember who we are and why we have come to this holy house of prayer and study.  Remember our baptism into Christ and that each of us bears upon our forehead the sign of the cross, a symbol more lasting and more transformative than the precious poppies which now blossom upon our clothing, a symbol indelibly pressed upon our bodies that cannot be removed unlike those that will pass away only to re-appear in a year’s time.  Remember and be thankful.  Remember and use the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has given us to work for the future shaped by the sacrifice of the Cross and the promise of Resurrection.

Let us pray.

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light,
look favourably on your whole Church,
that wonderful and sacred mystery.
By the effectual working of your providence,
carry out in tranquillity the plan of salvation.
Let the whole world see and know
that things which were cast down are being raised up,
and things which had grown old are being made new,
and that all things are being brought to their perfection
by him through whom all things were made,
your Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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