Saturday, June 30, 2012

We Stand on Guard

Canada Day
1 July 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Parish
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Isaiah 32.1-5, 16-18; Psalm 100; Colossians 3.12-17; John 15.12-17

For an audio recording of the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. service, please click here.

            On the first of July 1942 my father was thirteen going on fourteen and my mother nine going on ten.  All three of my uncles were serving in the armed forces, one for Great Britain, two for the United States.  My English grandparents were involved in the home front and my American grandparents paid close attention to the newspapers as they tried to imagine what my uncles were doing.

            Our present Queen was then Princess Elizabeth.  The war in Europe was not going particularly well for the Allies, although the ‘second fronts’ in North Africa and the Soviet Union were beginning to exert pressure on the Axis forces in those regions.  In the Pacific and Asia the naval forces of the United States were beginning, just beginning, to claw back the advances that the Japanese had made in the preceding eighteen months, while British and Chinese forces were chipping away at the Japanese.

            It was into this context that the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who was to die before the war was over, published a slim book entitled Christianity and the Social Order.  In this book Temple looked back on the social and economic upheavals of the preceding twenty years and cast his gaze forward to the decades ahead.  Among the many ideas that found expression in this book were six principles that Temple believed were essential for a society that claimed to be just.

  1. Every child should find itself the member of a family housed with decency and dignity.
  2. Every child should have an opportunity for education up to maturity.
  3. Every citizen should have sufficient income to make a home and to bring up her or his children properly.
  4. Every worker should have a voice in the conduct of the business or industry in which he or she works.
  5. Every citizen should have sufficient leisure --- two days’ rest in seven and an annual holiday with pay.
  6. Every citizen should be guaranteed freedom of worship, speech, assembly and association.

           To many of those who were in power in 1942, Temple’s principles were seen as a direct assault on their power and their prestige.  As has happened so many times both in the past and in the present, a leader of the church was accused of meddling in the affairs of the state and was advised to go home and mind his own knitting.  Temple responded to his critics with words which I hold to be true and which I have quoted, in one form or another, many times:  “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

           With these words Temple hearkened his readers and critics back to the Greek origins of that institution we know call ‘the church’.  The English word ‘church’ is derived from the Greek word ekklēsia which means ‘a public assembly of citizens summoned from their private affairs to take counsel and action on behalf of the common good of all, citizen and non-citizen alike’.  You and I, members of the ekklēsia of Christ, exist not for ourselves but for those who are outside our assembly.  Upon us God has placed the responsibility to do justice, to love as faithfully as God loves us and to walk humbly with God as stewards of the riches of God’s grace.

            This religious obligation will inevitably lead us to advocate for those who have no voice and who are in any need or trouble.  We will call upon our political authorities to develop public policies that serve the common good of all people rather than the partisan ideologies and interests of the few.  Today in Canada we see a public debate about the role of churches and other non-governmental organizations in the making of public policy.  Although there are those who would wish us to be silent and to tend to our knitting, we cannot be silent when we see children living in poverty, citizens living without decent housing and families struggling to put food on their tables and clothes on their bodies.

            The concerns we have espouse no political agenda, whether Conservative, New Democrat or Liberal.  We espouse the agenda of ekklēsia  as we live out our vocation to speak for the voiceless and to be co-creators with God of the peaceable kingdom so longed hoped for.  Because of this vocation neither silence nor inaction is an option for us.

            Today we celebrate one hundred and forty-five years of this national experiment we call Canada.  We celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the accession of Queen Elizabeth to the throne, a woman who has committed her life to public service.  There is much to celebrate and much for us to give thanks.  But even as our neighbours celebrate, the ekklēsia remembers, we remember, that there is still much to be done.  The six principles Archbishop Temple espoused seventy years ago have not yet been achieved, whether here in Canada or in our world.

            It is fitting that our national anthem speaks of standing on guard.  In so many ways, my friends, this is our vocation.  We stand on guard for God’s reign of justice and peace.  We stand on guard for children and families, especially for those who are poor, homeless or poorly-housed and hungry.  We stand on guard because that is what the ekklēsia is called to do, even when we discomfort the comfortable and challenge the powerful.

            May we who share Christ’s body live his risen life.  May we who drink his cup bring life to others.  May we whom the Spirit lights give light to the world.  May our God keep us firm in the hope set before us, so that we and all God’s children may be free and the whole earth live to praise God’s name.  Amen.

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