Saturday, August 13, 2011

Someone With Skin On

Feast of Mary the Virgin
14 August 2011
Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

+ May our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour.  Amen.

1      On a dark and stormy night a young father and his son were home alone.  The boy had gone to bed, but the storm caused him so much fear that the boy called out for his father numerous times.  His father went in to the boy a couple of times but did not stay.  When the boy called out yet again, his father said, “Do not worry; God is with you!”  To this the boy replied, “I know that, but right now I want someone with skin on!”

2      King Ahaz of Judah is also facing a crisis.  His neighbours have tried to involve him in a revolt against Assyria, the region’s dominant superpower.  Ahaz has refused and now his neighbours have united to invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem.  What should Ahaz do?

3      Isaiah the prophet assures Ahaz that the God of Israel will not abandon the descendants of David.  In very poetic language Isaiah tells Ahaz that a son will be born to him and will reign after him.  But Ahaz wants someone with skin on --- right now --- and sends messengers to the king of Assyria requesting military assistance.  Assyrian armies roll in and Ahaz’s neighbours are crushed.

4      There is, however, a price to pay.  Judah becomes an Assyrian vassal state and Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son, born in fulfillment of God’s promise spoken through Isaiah, will reign with an Assyrian cloud forever on his horizon.

5      Throughout human history we have always wanted someone with skin on to bring us safely through our storms.  Like Ahaz we usually want someone who possesses what passes for power in our world:  military force, political authority, expert knowledge.  Whether our crisis is political and social unrest, economic and financial uncertainty nations or war and civil strife, we want power with skin on --- and we want it now.  Divine promises are all well and good, but, when in doubt, bring in the uniforms and the suits and the brains.

6      You and I, however, are witnesses to a different response to human crises.  It’s still a response with skin on, but it’s not about power.  It’s about love made flesh, made concrete in the real places and times in which ordinary people are born, live and die.  Empires rise and fall; markets go bull and bear; institutions wax and wane; love made flesh endures.

7      Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, is facing a crisis.  She has had an extraordinary experience of God’s presence and a choice has been laid before her:  Say ‘yes’ to God and become a scandal or say ‘no’ and live an ordinary life with Joseph, a sure bet with skin on.  She says ‘yes’ to God, becomes a scandal yet discovers God’s two-fold gift:  Joseph, an honourable man who takes a risk and marries her despite the scandal and Jesus, Immanuel, ‘God with skin on’, who changes the course of all human history.

8      Mary pays a price.  Her son will not follow in his step-father’s footsteps and a sword will pierce her heart as he is betrayed and dies on a Roman cross.  But she will also be rewarded with his resurrection and the Christian celebration through two millennia of her ‘yes’ to God’s outrageous request.

9      I left Canterbury at 7.30 on the morning of Sunday, the 7th of August, the day after my conference ended.  My train ride from Canterbury West to Saint Pancras Station in London was comfortable and uneventful.  Although the subway from Saint Pancras to Heathrow was crowded for most of the way, it too went without incident.

10    I had to pay £44 in baggage fees because my one check-in bag, loaded with books acquired at the Consultation, was over-weight.  But despite the levy, I was in a happy mood as I enjoyed breakfast in the main departure lounge.  All was right in my world and I was a happy traveller.

11    At 12.30 I was ushered off with my fellow Air Canada passengers to our departure gate.  It was then that I learned that all was not right with the world, at least in Britain, after a night of rioting.  Grim-faced police, politicians and social scientists appeared, one after another, to speak words of condemnation, defiance and analysis.  All was not well in England’s cities nor, do I suspect, in its green and gentle hills.

12    What is there to be done when thousands of people, especially young people, have given up any hope of a meaningful job or of a change in their social circumstances?  Royal fairy-tale weddings are too fragile to wallpaper over the fissures in a society with deep structural challenges.  Stern parental lectures from politicians from privileged backgrounds are unconvincing to families who no longer believe, if they ever did believe, in a society where everything was possible for those who worked hard.
13    Throughout England there are small communities like Saint Faith’s who are quietly embodying God’s love in troubled neighbourhoods.  Long after the police presence recedes to ‘normal’ levels and political attention turns elsewhere, Christian and non-Christian communities of faith will continue to say ‘yes’ to God’s outrageous appeal and they will birth love, God’s love, into their neighbourhoods.  This love will not produce overnight results and there will be setbacks as well as successes, but lives will be changed and hope will take root.

14    Love made flesh takes many forms.  Yesterday Saint Faith’s joined other community groups in hosting the Kidney Foundation’s first ever ‘Market Fair’.  The goal was to heighten awareness of the continued and growing need for organ donation and donors in British Columbia, a province where 85% of the population think that organ donation is a good thing but only 17% of the population has actually registered.  I can think of no more concrete example of embodied love than the gift of an organ or tissue to one in need, whether such a gift is given in life or after death. 

15    We chose to be involved for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is our commitment to be God’s love with skin on in this place and at this time, to be stewards not only our financial resources but to put our bodies where our words about good stewardship are.  Christians ought to be responsible stewards of the goods of their bodies as well as with the goods of their bank accounts.

16    Although history generally records the deeds of power performed by monarchs and other rulers, we celebrate today a deed done by a young Judean woman who said ‘yes’ to God.  By her ‘yes’ God’s love took flesh and dwelt among us.  By her ‘yes’ an apostolic community came into existence through whom the mission of her son reaches into all the world, whether in the dark corners where poverty and hopelessness abound or in the brighter spaces where prosperity and comforts dull our awareness of the needs, both physical and spiritual, of our sisters and brothers.

17    All around us are voices who cry out, “We want someone with skin on!”  Some are in communities where poverty and hopelessness abound.  Others reside in the comfortable homes that surround this parish.  May God grant us the grace and the courage and the will to respond, “Here we are!”  Amen.

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