Saturday, July 23, 2011

Walk On!

RCL Proper 17A
24 July 2011

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

            When I bought my new Jeep in November of last year, it came with a particular bonus:  satellite radio.  Now I am relatively immune from the uncertainties of radio waves and can listen to music without commercial interruption as I travel from Surrey into Vancouver.  One of the channels is devoted to Broadway musicals and I frequently tune in to listen to a wonderful selection of the various show tunes from the many musical which have appeared over so many years.

            Yesterday the programme I was listening to played an interview with the late Oscar Hammerstein, the great Broadway lyricist.  In it he spoke about his philosophy of life, a philosophy based on his belief on the importance of our solidarity with one another and with God.  As the interview drew to a close, the interviewer mentioned the title of a song from one of my least favourite musicals, Carousel.  Without a breath or a pause Hammerstein recited the song, one that many of you may know.

When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

His recitation brought back memories of the school choir that I sang in during grades seven, eight and nine when we sang this song to a packed auditorium.  When we were finished, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

            As the past week drew to a close, this song could be the theme song for our world.  The United Nations has declared a famine in the Horn of Africa where millions of people are on the move searching for food, water and shelter, while a Somalian militia restricts the access that aid agencies have to the afflicted area.  In one refugee camp in Kenya there are an estimated three hundred thousand people with more than a thousand crossing the border every day.  Most if not all of these people have walked for days and weeks seeking help and the question is whether they will walk alone or whether the world will follow the lead of our own government which has pledged $50 million and promised to match, dollar for dollar, the gifts made by individuals to various aid agencies.

            As if a famine was not enough to burden our consciences, the explosion of a bomb in downtown Oslo and the shooting of more than eighty people, mostly young people, at a summer camp outside the city has most of us shaking our heads and wondering where such violence comes from.  Since it appears that the gunman is a self-described Christian fundamentalist, we can prepare ourselves for the barrage of comments in which religious faith will be described as the source of most of the world’s violence.  The Norwegian prime minister has spoken about the importance of this event as being a stimulus to strengthen his country’s democracy and reminded people of the quiet but firm pride of the Norwegian people.

            So what can religious people say at a time like this?  No credible Christian leader can suggest that these events are, in some fashion, an expression of God’s will, but the more difficult question is why God permits such things to happen.  Trying to answer this question has been a task undertaken by generation after generation of Christian writers and thinkers with no single answer gaining the theological high ground.  At the end of the day all one can say is this:  I do not know why God allows such things to happen.  I only know that, at times such as this, God calls us to the kind of solidarity Oscar Hammerstein writes of in his song:  Keep our heads high.  Hold on to the hope that the evil is not God’s last word.  Walk on together rather than alone.

            Almost two thousand years ago the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome.  His purpose was two-fold:  to elicit their support in his planned trip to Spain and to quell a developing conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  It has to be said that he did not achieve either purpose.  There is no evidence that Paul ever travelled to Spain nor that the church in Rome provided any financial support for this venture.  There is every piece of evidence that the conflict between Jewish and Gentile Christians escalated.  Over the next hundred years any concessions to Jewish believers were withdrawn and in two hundred years to be Jewish and Christian was seen as contradictory.  All of us here know the sorry history of the Christian persecution of the Jews over the many centuries, culminating in the events of the Second World War. 

            While Paul failed to achieve his purposes, he did leave us with a legacy of words which Christians have found meaningful over the centuries as they have faced disappointment, death and tragedy:  “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8.38-39) 

            What is the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord?  It is love that is willing to give oneself for the well-being of the other.  It is love that is willing to chose solidarity with the beloved rather than remain aloof and distance.  It is love that is unconditional, reaching out even to those who some may consider as unlovable or as unworthy of love. That love manifests itself even in the midst of tragedy and terror.

            When Paul writes that “(we) know that all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8.28), he reminds us that in all things, whether comprehensible or incomprehensible, whether joyful or sorrowful, whether showing us at our best or at our worst, God works for good.  God is not complacent nor passive in the face of the tragedies of the past week nor in any of the tragedies we see, whether earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, forest fires in Canada and political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.  God is working through those who chose to become God’s agents, believers and unbelievers alike.

            Famine cannot separate those who hunger from the love of God made known to them in the person of aid workers who risk their lives and devote themselves to providing refugees with the necessities of life.  Bombs and gunshots cannot separate those who have been wounded and those who mourn from the love of God made known to them in the person of medical personnel, counsellors and political leaders who refuse to be diverted from the paths of peace and inclusion by those who choose the politics of violence and exclusion.  Even in these moments God works to raise up people who have been cast down, to make new circumstances that have grown old and to bring all of creation to its perfection, decade by decade, century by century, millennium by millennium, aeon by aeon.

            Oscar Hammerstein was right, you know.  We have been created for solidarity with one another and with God.  We have been created to love sacrificially and unconditionally.  When we face the tragedies of our times, we have a choice to be overwhelmed by them or to rise to the occasion, walking with heads held high and hope in our hearts.  Anything less is a denial of our birthright as children of God who need not fear anything that seeks to separate us from the love of the One who created us, who redeemed us and who continues to work in us to bring us to our true selves.

When you walk through the storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on, through the wind
Walk on, through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone


Monday, July 18, 2011

The Best of Times

The Ordination of Will Ferrey to the Diaconate
8 May 2011

St George the Martyr Anglican Church
Victoria BC

The Rev’d Dr. Richard Geoffrey Leggett

+ My sisters and brothers, I speak to you in the name of God, Three in One and One in Three, the Weaver who weaves us into the pattern of the Word through the shuttle of the Spirit.  Amen.

         In 1859 an English novelist published a work that began with a memorable paragraph that many an student of English literature has memorized.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

These memorable words form the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  The novel, if you remember, takes place during that period of the French Revolution known as the ‘Reign of Terror’, as the guillotine claimed both aristocrats and revolutionaries alike and England trembled with the thought of republicanism being exported across the Channel.

         But as is often the case with genuine literary brilliance, Dickens’ words express the emotions and views of people beyond the nineteenth century audience for whom Dickens wrote his novel.  Indeed, his words are timeless in their recognition that any period in history has its promises and its curses.

         A case in point was the ancient city of Alexandria, a cosmopolitan metropolis of several million people:  Egyptians, Greeks, peoples from all around the Mediterranean, peoples from Asia and Africa and, in particular, one of the largest Jewish communities outside of Palestine.  There had always been particular tensions between the Jewish, Greek and Egyptian communities in the city.

         These tensions reached their height in the year 38.  In the past the Jewish community had sent a traditional declaration of loyalty to the emperor on the occasion of his accession.  But in the year 38 the Roman governor had failed to send this declaration of loyalty to the new emperor, Gaius Caligula, whether intentionally or not is still not clear.  This political lapse was complicated later that year during the visit of Herod Agrippa, the titular Jewish king, who had been sent to Alexandria on a mission from Caligula.  Herod had never been popular with the Jewish people and it appears that the Jews of Alexandria insulted him in some fashion.  When the governor failed to take action, the Greek and Egyptian population rose up to take direct action against the Jewish community.

         Jews were forced to abandon their homes in four of the five districts of the city and were forced into what we would now call a ‘ghetto’.  Jewish businesses were destroyed and thousands of Jews were killed on the streets, in the amphitheatre and by extra-judicial executions.  Statues and pictures of Caligula were forcibly placed in Jewish synagogues causing the Jews to rise up to resist the desecration of their places for prayer and teaching.  Eventually the riots came to an end, but the damage done to the Jewish community lasted until the year 117.  In that year the emperor Trajan annihilated the Jewish community in Alexandria as part of the Roman effort to quell yet another Jewish rebellion in Palestine.

         Sometime during these troubles, a member of the Jewish community in Alexandria took pen in hand and wrote what we now call the book of Wisdom or the Wisdom of Solomon.  A portion of this book is frequently read at funerals particularly because of its simple yet hopeful beginning:  “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them.  In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”  (Wisdom 3.1-3)

         Less familiar but no less meaningful are the words we have just heard in praise of Wisdom.  Imagine, for a moment, that you are living in a city torn by ethnic strife and that you belong to a segment of the community upon whom the authorities have declared an open season.  Imagine that context and then ponder whether you would have been able to write, “Although (Wisdom) is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets . . . Compared with the light (Wisdom) is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.”  (Wisdom 7.27, 29b-30)  Imagine writing these words as the cries of women, men and children filter in from the streets where they are being beaten and killed.

         Even if the present time is fraught with evil and injustice, the author affirms that it is still wiser to act morally and faithfully because moral and faithful actions plant the seeds that will eventually bloom into the harvest of righteousness, peace and justice.  Perhaps the writer of Wisdom expected the seeds to sprout in the next generation, but he probably did not live to see this happen.

         Jump forward more than thirteen centuries into medieval England.  Throughout the country agricultural workers are being displaced as lands are diverted from farming to sheep in order to fuel England’s growing wool industry.  Towns are growing and the old order, dependent upon land as the foundation of wealth, is faced with the growth of what we would now call the ‘money’ economy, a phenomenon we are all too familiar with after the financial collapse of recent years.  The social order is undergoing a seismic shift, including the emergence of English as the language of both rich and poor.

         Politically England is entering a lengthy period of instability as the growing tensions between the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster would lead to a lengthy civil war ending in 1453 with the victory of Henry Twdwr of Lancaster over Richard III of York.  Internationally England is embroiled in a series of wars with France that lasted from 1337 to 1453, leaving thousands of families without husbands, fathers and sons, and the national economy wrecked by taxation to fund military endeavours.

         Into this turmoil the voice of a woman whom we now know as Dame Julian of Norwich sought to speak words of calm and words of hope.

The heart of Julian’s visions was the knowledge of God in the crucified Christ. Because the Saviour bore and nurtured a new humanity on the cross, she took up an image often employed by other spiritual teachers in the Middle Ages and likened him to a mother. This image of Christ, and all else in her book, found fulfillment in the divine love. For in everything that God showed her, Julian wrote, “Love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us, and that his love has never slackened, nor ever shall.”  (For All the Saints, p. 164)

Julian dared to say to a troubled time that all will be well and all manner of things will be well, because she knew the abyss of God’s love was infinitely deeper than the abyss of sin and death.  Her words encouraged her contemporaries and these words continue to inspire us more than six hundred years after they were first shown to her.

         Although it may have been the best of times and the worst of times, a time of light and a time of darkness, there is one certainty:  For times such as the writer of Wisdom, Julian and Dickens faced, God provided them with the leadership that was needed.

         This afternoon we gather to confirm, by prayer and the laying on of hands, God’s call to Will to exercise the ministry of a deacon in preparation for his eventual transition to the ministry of a presbyter.  Will comes to this moment at a time when our community of faith, indeed many communities of faith, are divided and, in the eyes of many observers, dispirited.

         Our Sunday assemblies are no longer the destination of choice for the majority of people who live in British Columbia.  Religious discourse has, in many ways, been reduced to the repetition of catchy slogans, whether of ‘orthodoxy’ or ‘progress’, that often do not bear the weight of closer scrutiny.  The media tends to portray all religious people as fundamentalists or as vaguely spiritual people who try to explain away the distinctive claims of the religious communities to which they belong in the hopes of broader public acceptance.  We are compelled to resort to civil law to defend our commitments to justice, peace and the dignity of every human being.

         For a time such as ours, God provides the leadership we need.

         Will, the distinctive order that you are being called to exercise as a deacon is older than the one you will eventually exercise as a presbyter.  In preparation for that ministry, the church requires you to serve, for a time, as a prophet, an interpreter, an animator of the church’s ministry beyond its self-identified boundaries, so that we might respond to the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.  Your leadership in diakonia is even more vital in such a time as this when it is tempting for the church to withdraw within itself and tend to its perceived wounds rather than courageously proclaiming good news to the oppressed, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners.

         Let me re-tell a familiar parable.  There once was a village on the banks of a large river.  One day the villagers spotted a body in the river.  They recovered the body and were able to revive the person, but that person never recovered her memory as to how she had come to be in the river.  Day after day, more bodies floated by, sometimes one, sometimes more than one, some recovered living, others dead.  None of the survivors could remember how they had come to be in the river, but it was clear from their dress and accents that they all belonged to the same community.

         Finally the elders summoned all the villagers to a council.  A small group of the villagers were given the task of helping the survivors integrate into the life of the village.  Another group was given the task of watching the river, day and night, to rescue bodies and to bury with reverence the dead.  Then five young people were called before the elders.  “We entrust to you,” the elders said, “the most important task.  Go upstream.  Find the community these people come from.  Find out why they ended up in the river.  Then make sure it stops.”

         Will, you will join, for a short time, your diaconal colleagues in a ministry of agency rather than servanthood.  While it is important to attend to the symptoms of the ills of our society, whether those are poverty, homelessness, hunger, despair, your most important task, as the church’s agent, is in discovering the causes of such ills and marshalling the church’s resources to change the structures keep the poor poor, the hungry hungry, the homeless homeless and the despairing despairing.  You are to join the deacons in going upstream to find out why we keep finding bodies floating past our village.

         As a transitional deacon and, later, as a presbyter, you will share with your diaconal and presbyteral colleagues in the ministry of Christ the good shepherd.  There are times for the flock to remain close together and time for the flock to move on to new and greener pastures.  Christ, the shepherd of the flock, will need both its presbyters and its deacons, one to maintain the unity and integrity of the flock, the other to help us move into new places.  Like sheep dogs you may even have to nip a few heels and growl convincingly when necessary.

         In all that you do remember that the church is the ekklēsia, ‘a public assembly of free citizens summoned from their daily pursuits to take counsel and to take action for the common good of all’.  The ekklēsia is called to be a ‘thin place’ where God’s presence and purposes for the whole of creation can become evident to all, whether of our faith or another faith or none.  The ekklēsia is called to speak God’s wisdom to the powerful foolish and to risk critique and even condemnation when we dare to say that this is not always ‘the best place on earth’ for many of its residents.

         So I say to all who are gathered in this church of Saint George the Martyr and especially to you, Will,

  • speak persuasively of God;
  • speak boldly for God and
  • nurture the ekklēsia with all the skill, wisdom and strength you possess.

             Whether this is the best of times or the worst, whether this is an age of wisdom or of foolishness, whether this is an epoch of belief or incredulity, whether this is a season of light or of darkness, whether this is the spring of hope or the winter of despair, I cannot say.  It is never for those who live in a given time to judge its quality or to name its character.  We are called to live as best as we can and as faithfully as we can using all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, to trust that God’s power is greater than our fragile vessels and to care for all of God’s people, whether of our household or not.

             One thing, however, is certain.  God does not leave us bereft of the leadership we need for the facing of our times.  Today, Will, you will join  that leadership and kneel before the bishop to make solemn promises that will bind you to the public exercise of accountable and responsible ministry. Today there may be others, sitting in front of us, sitting to our right and to our left or perhaps behind us who will also hear the same call.  Knowing this I might even dare to say that this moment is the best of times.

             May Wisdom pass into our souls and make us friends of God and prophets.  May we speak God’s word in the best of times and the worst of times.  May we share God’s love in darkness and in light.  May we do so knowing that all will be well and all manner of things shall be well.  Amen.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Where Are Our Bethels?

    RCL Proper 16A
    17 July 2011

    Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
    Vancouver BC

    + Creator of the heavens and the earth,
    may our eyes see your face;
    may our ears hear your voice;
    may our hands touch your presence;
    may our mouths taste your goodness and
    may our noses scent the aroma of your grace.

             When I was the curate at Christ Church Denver, I took an extended engagement as a house-sitter for a friend who had gone off to graduate school leaving a three-bedroom home behind.  While she was away, she met a Baptist minister who needed a place to stay in Denver for two nights a week for three months.  I agreed and he used the spare bedroom at the house.

             Our paths rarely crossed given our schedules, so we had few opportunities to chat with one another.  But one evening our stars aligned and we sat at the dining room table and chatted about many things.  What I remember most about our conversation was our very different views of the world around us. 

             He saw creation as being under the control of the forces of evil and the church as a place of safety, a refuge from a world that had fallen into decay.  I, on the other hand, thought of creation as God’s handiwork, marred and scarred by human sin for sure, but still a source of revelation, full of places and moments when we catch in the present a glimpse of God’s promise and our future.  To me the church’s role was not so much as a refuge from evil but as a witness to creation as the arena of God’s creating, redeeming and sanctifying activity.  Sometimes our role is to say to others whose sight is obscured or misdirected, “Did you see that?  Over there!  Surely God is in this place and we did not know it!”

             Now our friend Jacob is a man in trouble in a situation that can only be described as precarious.  He has swindled his older brother --- twice --- and is on the run to find some place of refuge.  As he flees, every rock, every bush must appear to be a possible place of ambush.  Every person he meets on the way must be a possible assassin.  This is not a safe world for Jacob.

             Exhausted by his flight Jacob falls to sleep and dreams.  His dream reveals to him the deeper truth:  every place, every time is sacred space and sacred moment.  All of creation is what the ancient Celts called a ‘thin’ place where God’s presence is merely a breath or a glance away from our perception.

             He then does what religious people have done for thousands of years:  he marks the spot with some stones to say to one and to all, “Here I have experienced the presence of the living God!”  But Jacob’s stones, only meant to be a reminder of Jacob’s encounter with the living God while on his journey of self-discovery, evolve over time to become a sanctuary. 

             Human beings need sanctuaries, but we can lose sight of the potential sacredness of all places and all times if we restrict God and God’s activity only to these enclosed spaces and defined times of worship.  If we do this, then we actually help those forces of evil that seek to distort and destroy the works and creatures of God.  We try to tame God; we try to enclose God and end up giving over too much space and time to those who oppose and fear God and God’s purposes.

             Sanctuaries are useful places, but they outlive their usefulness of they come to be seen as one of the only places God is present in creation.  When this happens, it is as if a milestone, a trail marker, becomes the destination rather than pointing the way for the weary traveller.

             We treasure our places of worship and so we should.  In these places we have heard the word of God proclaimed and shared the bread and wine of new life.  In these places we have been baptized and married, celebrated happy occasions and mourned our dead.  But the Word proclaimed here is not meant to be contained within these walls.  The bread of life broken and the wine of new life poured are not meant to be consumed only at this table at this hour.

             Our buildings and our worship are dependable signs that point us out of the doors and into the ‘thin’ place which is Vancouver or Richmond or Surrey or wherever we may find ourselves.  In that ‘thin’ place we are called to help others discover that where we live and work and seek leisure are Bethels, ‘houses of God’ where God awaits us and is working in us and for us.  Surely God is in all these places and all these times and we often do not know it.

             Paul writes that all of creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God (Romans 8.19).  Let me say that God waits with eager longing for the children of God to discover the sacredness of the whole of creation and to discover that God is present in every place and moment --- if only we would open our eyes and hearts to see and feel this presence.

             As we leave worship today, let us be aware that God’s thin places are all around us, just waiting for us to point to them and then enter into them.  May we, like Jacob, discover the many houses of God that surround us and point us towards our promised home.  Amen.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    Liturgical Suggestions for Pentecost 5

    Here are some liturgical suggestions for sunday, 17 july 2011.

    RCL Proper 16A
    17 July 2011

    Collect of the Day
    O God of Jacob,
    you speak in the light of day
    and in the dark of night
    when our sleeping is filled with dreams of heaven and earth.
    May Jacob’s vision
    remind us to be open and watchful,
    ready to discover your presence in our midst,
    Jesus your incarnate Word,
    who with you and the Holy Spirit
    lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.
    Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (emended)

    The Readings
    Genesis 28.10-19a
    Psalm 139.1-12, 23-24
    Romans 8.12-25
    Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

    The Affirmation of Faith
    You, O God, are supreme and holy.
    You create our world and give us life.
    Your purpose overarches everything we do.
    You have always been with us.
    You are God.

    You, O God, are infinitely generous,
    good beyond all measure.
    You came to us before we came to you.
    You have revealed and proved
    your love for us in Jesus Christ,
    who lives and died and rose again.
    You are with us now.
    You are God.

    You, O God, are Holy Spirit.
    You empower us to be your gospel in the world.
    You reconcile and heal; you overcome death.

    You are our God.  We worship you.
    A New Zealand Prayer Book

    Prayer over the Gifts
    Holy One,
    receive all the gifts we offer you this day
    and make us faithful stewards
    of the fragile bounty of this earth
    so that we may be entrusted with the riches of heaven.
    We ask this in Christ’s name.  Amen.
    Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (emended)

    Prayer after Communion
    All your works praise you, O Lord.
    And your faithful servants bless you.

    Gracious God,
    we thank you for feeding us
    with the body and blood
    of your Son Jesus Christ.
    May we, who share his body,
    live his risen life;
    we, who drink his cup,
    bring life to others;
    we, whom the Spirit lights,
    give light to the world.
    Keep us firm in the hope
    you have set before us,
    so that we and all your children shall be free,
    and the whole earth live to praise your name;
    through Christ our Lord.
    The Book of Alternative Services

    The doxology, “Glory to God”, is not used.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Let's Hear It for Esau!

    RCL Proper 15A
    10 July 2011

    Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
    Vancouver BC

             On Saturday I travelled with Archdeacon John Struthers, the diocesan  Director of Deacons, to a meeting in Sardis.  He had programmed our destination into his GPS device, ‘Miss Creepie’, and off we went.  Just before we drove into the parking lot of our destination, ‘Miss Creepie’ announced, “You have arrived at your destination.”  John turned to me and said, “I have always wanted to ‘arrive’.  Haven’t you?”  I laughed at the double-meaning, but his comment stuck with me.

             Over the course of the last year I have learned something significant about myself.  While there are people who have a long-term objective towards which they work for most of their lives, I realized that I have had short- to medium-term objectives that have led me, step by step, to where I presently find myself.  My tendency towards short- and medium-term objectives means that I have not always been the greatest long-range planner among my peers.  Consequently I have responded to the various opportunities that have crossed my path without any conscious thought to where these opportunities might bring me as I approached retirement.

             Now I cannot complain about these opportunities.  I have taught every age from preschool to graduate school to senior citizens.  I have served in small parishes and large parishes, in a diocesan office and in a provincial theological college.  I have travelled to aboriginal communities in North America, the Solomon Islands and Myanmar.  I have been a member of national and international committees and commissions.  Any complaint on my part would the worst kind of ingratitude.

             But now that I am approaching what is likely to be the last seven to ten years of so-called ‘active’ ministry, I realize that I have never had a life’s destination to which all these opportunities where way-stations.  In many ways I have navigated the currents of the river of life with my eyes set only on the next bend or the next rapids rather than the journey’s end.

             While my life has been blessed, I have to admit that there have been some costs to this manner of living.  From time to time I have chased rabbits when I might have focused on keeping the main thing the main thing.  Like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, I have not been as successful as the ant in preparing for the coming years of retirement.  So, from time to time, I envy my peers who seem to have prepared for each step, each stage in the journey, and have ‘arrived’.  Unlike them, I do not feel as if I have ‘arrived’.

             Jacob has a plan and his brother, Esau, poses a bit of an obstacle.  Now Jacob is fortunate to have a mother who has always ‘loved him best’.  So the two of them keep their eyes open to every opportunity that will advance their cause:  to replace Esau, the older, with Jacob, the younger, as heir to Isaac.  Esau, like me and others, I suspect, has short- and medium-term objectives, the most immediate one being his deep hunger.  So when his brother, Jacob, offers  him food in exchange for Esau’s birthright, Esau cannot see beyond the bend of the river and takes the food.  The long-range planner triumphs over the short-term planner and the rest, as they say, is history.

             It is Jacob’s sons who will become the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, not Esau’s.  We will come to speak of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Esau.  Esau will become the hairy brute who is swindled by his smooth-skinned brother, perhaps giving rise to a frequent prejudiced among the descendants of Western Europeans who tend to prefer smooth-skinned men as public icons to more hairy fellows.  Poor old Esau, doomed to be known forever as the man who gave up his birthright for nothing.

             As members of this parish we have been bequeathed a precious birthright:  a vision of an Anglican presence in this part of the city of Vancouver that ministers to the needs of our neighbourhood and beyond.  It is not insignificant to say that it is a vision of an Anglican presence.  While we do not and never should disparage any other religious tradition, Anglicans have a particular heritage of valuing historic continuity without losing sight of the demands of the present.  We understand our heritage not so much as a precious commodity to be sealed away and protected from the elements but as a source of wisdom that empowers us to witness to our faith in the here and now.

             This vision has a concrete presence in our lands and buildings.  These lands and buildings were given into our stewardship in order to serve the vision of ministry in this neighbourhood and beyond.  Forty years ago the parish decided to sell the property just across the lane in part to fund the re-modelling of the present church to serve our ministry better.  Five months ago the Vestry made a similar decision to authorize the Trustees to sell the Rectory --- not to fund a deficit or to maintain the status quo --- but to provide the resources to continue the ministry begun almost sixty-five years ago.

             Selling the Rectory is not the only opportunity we must use to develop a long-term plan for ministry in this part of the city.  At some point in the coming months our Ministry Assessment Process team will be asking all of us to share in identifying what our preferred future as a congregation is.  This fall we shall be calling upon all our members to grow in their stewardship of the time, talents and treasure God has entrusted to us.  Each of these opportunities will be stages in our congregational journey and most journeys worth taking always involve stops and events along the way.

             I do want to close, however, with a good word for Esau and other short- to medium-term planners.  If you read Genesis 36, you will see that Esau does pretty well for himself and becomes the progenitor of a great family that rivals Jacob.  Esau may not have arrived at the destination that he thought would be his when he was Isaac’s heir, but he does not do badly.  He ‘arrives’, I think, because he forgives Jacob and begins to work on building a future despite the disappointment of his early short-sightedness.

             We cannot always see around the bend and know where the river will take us.  We can only do the best we can, with the resources we have, to arrive at the bend we can see, secure enough to be ready to undertake the next stage in our personal and communal journey of faith.  So let all of us unite, short-, medium- and long-range planners alike!  Let us so value our heritage that we are unafraid to use it to reach our journey’s end --- fullness of life with God.  Amen.

    Saturday, July 2, 2011

    Ich dien.

    A sermon preached during the celebrations of the 144th anniversary of Confederation and the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Canada.

             In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, there is scene where Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chancellor and primary advisor on foreign affairs, is forced to yield the insignia of chancellor to a stern Duke of Norfolk.  Wolsey has fallen into disfavour because he has failed to obtain an annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, thus forcing the king to take extraordinary means to divorce Catherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn.

             Wolsey’s failure enraged Henry who stripped Wolsey of his state offices and finally had Wolsey arraigned for treason.  On his way to London to answer the charges, Wolsey fell ill and died at Leicester at the end of November 1530.  Among his final words are these:  “If I had served my God as diligently as I did my king, he would not have given me over in my grey hairs.”

    Archbishop Thomas Cranmer
             Thomas Cranmer, another bishop who served Henry VIII and Henry’s son, Edward VI, faithfully, would, as Archbishop of Canterbury, preside over the legal process that pronounced Henry divorced from Catherine, paving the way for Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.  But when Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry and Catherine of Aragon, came to throne after Edward’s death, she had Cranmer arrested and tried for heresy.  Twenty-six years after Wolsey’s death, Cranmer was burnt at the stake in Oxford.

             Throughout the centuries Christians have struggled with this question:  What does it mean to be a good citizen?  For those of us in the Anglican tradition, being a good citizen was often synonymous with being a member in good standing of the Church of England.  For centuries Anglicans, whether in England or in Canada, enjoyed a privileged position with perquisites denied the adherents of other Christian traditions and other religious faiths.

             During the early nineteenth century the English parliament debated whether to extend the right to vote to Roman Catholics and members of the so-called ‘dissenting churches’.  The story is told that, during the debates in the House of Lords, a lay lord asked one of the bishops, “My Lord, is there salvation outside the Church of England?”  “Yes, there is,” the bishop replied, “but no gentleman would avail himself of it!”  It was during this same period that non-Anglicans finally began to win the right to be attorneys at law, to graduate with a degree from Cambridge and Oxford and to be officers in the British army.

             Here in Canada Jews were granted political rights in 1832, earlier than elsewhere in the British Empire.  But the connection with ‘mother church’ remained strong and it was not until the 1950’s that ‘The Church of England in the Dominion of Canada’ became ‘The Anglican Church of Canada’.  Bishop Hill, the first bishop of what was then called ‘Columbia’, assumed that his letters patent from Queen Victoria entitled him to be the bishop of the British colonies on Vancouver Island and the mainland.  But Edward Cridge, chaplain to the Hudson Bay Company in Victoria, was reluctant to accept this claim and, when he and Bishop Hill came to ecclesiastical blows in the 1860’s with a trial that went into the civil courts, Cridge pointed out that the Church of England was not established in these colonies and that the Crown had no right to appoint bishops.

             Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.  I welcome the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to Canada and I have no desire to change the constitutional monarchy that is the form of government we have here in Canada.  I am happy to carry a British passport as well as my Canadian and United States passports.  I am very happy that the Duke of Cambridge, as a serving officer in the Royal Air Force, is stationed on Anglesey, the homeland of my Welsh ancestors.  The idea I want you to get is that we have a long history as Anglicans as being close to the civil government --- don’t forget the residential schools --- but those days are gone.

             Being a good citizen, a good Christian citizen, is far more complex than the old relationship.  The character of the Christian citizen will be one that Carl Schürz, the German-American journalist who served as a general of the federal forces during the Civil War, articulated in a toast during that war:  “My country right or wrong.  When right, to be kept right.  When wrong, to be put right.”  The Christian citizen is always called to hold the state accountable to the principles of our faith.

             These principles are not unknown.  They are expressed in two of the readings we have heard this day.  First we heard the unknown writer of the letter to the Colossians who says, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.  And be thankful.”  (Colossians 3.12, 14-15)  Then we heard the same principle articulated in the gospel according to John, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  (John 15.12-13)

             The fundamental principle of Christian citizenship is that the church exists primarily for its non-members and is bound to ensure that the state does not exist for its own self-interest but for the interests of the voiceless, the powerless, the homeless and those whom the majority might consider expendable.  When the state proposes policies which benefit the powerful at the expense of the powerless, then it is the obligation of the church, even at the risk of losing its existing privileges, to challenge the state and call it to clothe itself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

             Despite all the possible deficiencies of a hereditary monarchy, there is one attribute that I admire amidst the present generation of the royal family:  Their awareness of privilege has opened the eyes of some to the reality of the underprivileged, the struggling and those to whom society often turns a blind eye.  It is interesting to note that aboriginal people in Canada claim the Crown as a non-political ally in their battles with the changing governments since Confederation.  The rights of aboriginal peoples were not guaranteed by Parliament but by the Crown, an authority which extends beyond the mandate of any government, whether Liberal, Progressive Conservative or Conservative.

             We are right to celebrate the one hundred and forty-four years of Confederation.  We have much to be grateful for.  We have much still to achieve in order to create a truly just society in which every person, whether citizen or not, can grow into the full stature of Christ, our measure of human maturity.  When we give our offering today, let us remember that the funds we collect are not for the continuation of a social institution but for the continuation of a voice that calls upon the state to tear down any barriers to the dignity of every human being.  When we share in the bread and wine of the eucharist, let us remember that we eat this bread and drink this cup as a sign of our solidarity with those who have no food nor drink.  When we go forth from this assembly into the waning days of a long weekend, let us remember that we go forth to love and serve the Lord, not in the abstract, but in the people among whom we live and work.

             Let the Christian citizens who gather here today take as their motto the motto of the Prince of Wales:  “Ich dien.”  “I serve.”  May it be so today and all the tomorrows that follow.  Amen.