Saturday, August 25, 2012

What Story Shall We Tell?

RCL Proper 21B (Thematic)
26 August 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Readings:  Joshua 24.1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34.15-22; Ephesians 6.10-20; John 6.56-69

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

            Recently I have been reading Bernard Cornwell’s trilogy that re-tells the legend of Arthur.  Recent historical study has given some credence to the existence of a military leader who led the Britons, the ancestors of the Welsh and Cornish, in their struggle against the invading Anglo-Saxons, the ancestors of the English, during the late fifth and early sixth centuries.  Since the historical data is relatively slim, re-telling the story of Arthur is a novelist’s delight.  One’s imagination has greater freedom when the facts are so shrouded in mystery.

            What I love about fiction, especially historical fiction, is that the writer can tell a ‘true’ story that may or may not be factual.  In telling the story the writer has an opportunity to interpret known facts and offer the reader a possible reconstruction.  Some stories are more improbable than others, such as the recent spate of horror stories that cast historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln as vampire hunters.  These stories say something about our contemporary culture and our desire to find something  about the supernatural darkness lurking behind or just outside our day-to-day reality, but these stories rarely offer us a compelling alternative understanding of our lives.

            Unlike casting Abraham Lincoln as a vampire hunter, the legends of Arthur continue to be told and re-told because there these stories tell us something about ourselves and our own life-stories.  At their core the legends of Arthur are about the desire to defend one culture, thought of as sophisticated and cosmopolitan, against the threat posed by another culture, thought of as militaristic and violent.  What makes these stories even more compelling is that we know how the story ends:  the Celtic culture of Arthur is eventually overcome by the Saxon culture of the invaders.  Great Britain, once the domain of the Britons, becomes what we now know as England, Scotland and Wales.  English law, English language and English culture becomes dominant and Celtic laws, languages and cultures cling to what is sometimes called the ‘Celtic fringe’.

            My own children embody these ancient stories.  From my side they carry on the story of Celts, Anglo-Saxons and Normans.  On Paula’s side they carry on some of the same stories as my family but have added the stories of Spaniards, both Christian and Jewish.  When they were little, we would often listen to Celtic music, both traditional and contemporary.  From time to time I would ask them, “What does this music tell us?”  If no answer was forthcoming, I would often say, “This music reminds us that there was a time when some people tried to silence our Celtic voices.  But they did not succeed.”  Arthur may not have succeeded in sending the Saxons away, but he did not fail in keeping the story of my ancestors alive so that it could thrive today.

            So why does an author tell the story of what might be seen as a ‘doomed cause’?  He or she tells the story because telling the story releases its truth and that truth sets the readers free to shape their future.

            When the ancient editor of what we now call the book of Joshua put pen to parchment, he lived in a time when the glory days of the kingdom of David and Solomon were past.  On more than one occasion the people had been defeated in war and were just recovering from more than seventy years of exile.  Their belief in the covenants that God had made with Noah, with Abraham and with Moses had been severely tested.  All around them were numerous alternatives to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and some were no doubt tempted to follow these alternatives.

            Rather than weave a story of endings, the editor of Joshua tells a story of beginnings.  He weaves together all the stories of Israel’s past, whether factual or not, stories that remind the people that God has acted and has promised to act.  In this story a fugitive people fleeing from the greatest empire of their day return to the land of their origins, now the home of many other peoples.  This fugitive people regains lands once thought lost and become a corporate sign of God’s faithfulness.

            This story ends with the renewal of the covenant at Shechem.  Joshua is described as speaking to the people of his time, but in truth he is speaking to the people of the editor’s time:  “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  (Joshua 24.15)
            “It is true,” the editor is saying, “that we have witnessed evil times and have wondered whether God is still for us.  Some of us have chosen other paths, but God is faithful to the covenant.  So choose which story you will live:  the story of assimilation and defeat or the story of faithfulness and resistance.”
            So why does the editor tell the story of what in hindsight might be seen as a ‘doomed cause’?  He tells the story because telling the story releases its truth and that truth sets the people free to shape their future.

            When the writer of the gospel of John put pen to parchment and wrote what we know as the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John, he was writing to a people who were experiencing the early stages of opposition and persecution.  The generation of Jesus’ first apostles was dying and, despite all their hopes, Jesus had not returned.  Although the followers of Jesus understood themselves to be part of God’s covenant people, their friends and families saw them as misguided at best, heretics at worst.

            Rather than paper over the conflict, the writer of the Gospel according to John confronts it head-on.  He reminds his fellow believers that Jesus has not abandoned them and that in every celebration of the eucharist Jesus is present and gives himself to them.  To his fellow Jews, especially those who oppose the ‘Jesus movement’, he connects Jesus with the events of Jewish history and describes Jesus as the one in whom God’s saving purposes are embodied.

            Chapter six of the Gospel ends with some of Jesus’ followers shaking their heads and turning away:  “So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’”  (John 6.67-69)  Although Jesus asks the question of his immediate followers, it is clear that the writer of John is directing the question at his own contemporaries.

            “It is true,” the evangelist says to us, “we are living through times of conflict.  We all expected Jesus’ return, but it seems we are meant to wait longer and to form a new community.  We face opposition and experience defections.  So choose the story you will live:  the story of an impossible dream and disappointment or the story of God’s abiding presence and our mission.”

            So why does the evangelist tell the story of conflict and opposition?  He tells the story because telling the story releases its truth and that truth sets the people free to shape their future.

            Despite centuries of persecution and marginalization, the Jewish people continue to proclaim their faith in the God of Israel, the God of the covenants.  Despite all efforts to silence the voices of the early Christian movement, we are still sharing with the world the good news of God in Christ, the potential to life an abundant life in the here and now even as we work for God’s future.

            Three Sundays from now we shall celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the founding of this parish.  When we came into existence as a parish, our neighbourhood was very different and the climate was friendlier to religious communities.  But our neighbourhood has changed over these past six and a half decades and attitudes towards religious communities range from ignorance through indifference to hostility.

            In our present climate it is very tempting to tell stories of ‘the good old days’ and to bemoan the present.  While it is right to remember our past, let us not forget why we remember the past:  We remember the past in order to shape our future.  And if we find some of the attitudes towards religious communities troubling, then we need to do all we can to share the ‘good news’ of what we are doing and why we are doing it.

            You and I have chosen to serve the Lord; let us not be shy in telling others why we have made this choice.  You and I have discovered the words of life here; let us not be reluctant to share with others the life we have found here.  While we are facing significant challenges, I do not believe our story is finished.  All around us are people who are searching for what we have found.

            It is true, I say to you, we are living through a time when the Anglican way of following Jesus of Nazareth seems in decline.  We may not have expected this, but our tradition offers us ways to proclaim our faith that will help us weather the stormy present and offers our neighbours, young and old, male and female, newly arrived and long-time resident, a way to discover God’s presence and life in the here and now.  So let us choose the story we will live:  either a story of disappointment and decline or a story of our continuing role in God’s mission and our commitment to that role.

            As for this household of Saint Faith, I think that we shall choose to serve the Lord, for it is in this household God has spoken and continues to speak to us the words of life.  Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Eat This Bread and Drink This Wine: The Way of Wisdom

RCL Proper 20B
19 August 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Proverbs 9.1-6; Psalm 34.9-14; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58
         As I look back on my two and a half decades of teaching at Vancouver School of Theology, I realize that I belong to a select club.  I am the only professor of liturgical studies whom I know who has supervised two graduate students whose research involved the connections between Christian worship and cannibalism.  If you know of any others, please let me know.  I am sure that we can start our own academic society!

         One thesis was on the recovery of aboriginal styles of music among the indigenous people of Taiwan.  The graduate student, Hayu Yudaw Chang, who now teaches in the Presbyterian church in Taiwan, looked at traditional songs associated with raids that usually led to the execution of captives and ritual cannibalism.  These style of song was banned by the early missionaries but maintained a strong following among the people.  He examined whether the style of music could be rehabilitated and suggested that it could.

         The other thesis was written by the present Archbishop of Melanesia, David Vunagi.  His question was this:  Why was the 'high-church' Anglican tradition accepted by the people of Solomon Islands rather than the 'low-church' tradition?  Among the reasons he identified was the tradition of ritual cannibalism that existed on many of the islands.  'High-church' missionaries spoke of eating the body and blood of Christ and sometimes used rather realistic imagery to teach about the eucharist.  This language connected with cultural patterns.

         In today's readings we are confronted with the challenge of following the way of wisdom.  For the writer of the gospel according to John, the way of wisdom involves an intimate relationship with Jesus, a relationship that results in a union of Christ with the believer.  The language the evangelist uses is graphic and it is little wonder that there are some early followers of Jesus and some of the Jewish opposition who cannot accept this idea as expressed by John.  The law of Moses forbade eating meat that still had blood in it and contact with blood rendered a person unfit for participation in Jewish rituals until he or she underwent a period of purification.

         But the evangelist is using language which the communities represented by my two graduate students would recognize.  They would appreciate the idea that intimacy and union require some kind of physical communion with the person whose qualities were attractive.  This meant either sexual relations or, in the case of some Taiwanese and Melanesian communities, ritual cannibalism.  But lest we think this language is limited to distant aboriginal communities, let us remind of ourselves of some of our language, such as, "I love you so much, I could just eat you up!"

         Now, be assured that I am not advocating the introduction of ritual cannibalism to contemporary Christian practice.  What I am trying to illustrate is the deep-seated desire of every human being to have a relationship with another person, with a community or with that mystery we call God that involves our whole being:  soul, mind, heart and strength.  We long for a wholeness of self that unites us with one another, with God and, dare I say, with the sometimes confusing and competing elements of our selves.

         What we are seeking is expressed in today's reading from Proverbs and reiterated in the Psalm.  In Proverbs there is an extended reflection on wisdom, not as an idea but as a person.  Wisdom is accessible to those who "[lay] aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight" (Proverbs 9.6 in the New Revised Standard Version).  But Wisdom is not simply gained; one must actively seek it, and so the writer of Psalm 34 invites us by saying, "[come], my people, I will teach you how to reverence the Holy One" (Psalm 34.11 in Songs for the Holy One).  What Jesus offers to his listeners in today's gospel is difficult and it is no wonder that some turn aside from this path.

         Wisdom is not found by reading the Scriptures but by exploring with others what these words, written to an audience separated from us by time and culture, mean to us in our time and in our own context.  Wisdom is not found by reciting creeds but by 'loving the questions' these ancient seek to engage:

  • Who is God?
  • What is the relationship between this God and Jesus of Nazareth?
  • Does God continue to work in time and space?

Wisdom is not found by disparaging the insights of other faiths and cultures nor by ignoring the insights gained by contemporary social and scientific research but by entering into a conversation with these other faiths and cultures and by considering how contemporary social and scientific research helps us understand ourselves and our universe.

         Wisdom, you see, is not a collection of proverbs or a particular code of behaviour; wisdom is a way of living.  It is a path towards understanding who we are and what God expects of us as we travel towards our final purpose.  As Christians we believe that this final purpose is the kingdom of God, the restoration of relationships between God and humanity, between each and every human being and between the whole of creation.

         Because wisdom is not a thing but a way, you and I have to learn what to bring along as we journey together.  We bring the Scriptures, a corporate witness to the God who is the source of wisdom.  We bring our reason, that wonderful common sense that comes from experience, a faculty that always asks questions.  We bring our traditions such as the sacraments, daily prayer and study that help give some coherence to our journey.

         Most importantly, we travel together.  The way of wisdom is best travelled in the company of fellow seekers.  When we travel together, we benefit from the insights that even the most unexpected pilgrim can bring to the journey.  No one has all the gifts necessary for this journey; we need each other, male and female, rich and poor, young and old, sometimes wise and often foolish.

         The way of wisdom leads us to action.  While contemplation is a necessary part of the religious life and thoughtful reflection on matters indispensable, wisdom eventually calls us to act.  In Luke's gospel Jesus responds to a challenge to his ministry of reaching out to the disenfranchised, those whom the conventionally religious thought lost for ever, by reminding his critics that "[wisdom] is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7.35).  Wisdom may call us to act in ways that some think foolish or unconventional, such as putting a playground in our front yard or establishing a centre to support newcomers to Canada and the poor, but act we must.

         My friends, we are all on this journey together because we seek to be one with God and with God's purposes for us and for all God's children.  We listen to the words of Scripture so that God's words might become our words.  We offer our prayers for ourselves and others so that God will empower us to be the answer to what we ask.  We share in this bread and wine, symbols of the life of Christ, so that the life of God present in Christ might become present in us.  The way of wisdom is "a way of life that all should reverence, and none should lightly undertake" (The Book of Alternative Services, 542), but a way of life in which "(we) give (ourselves to each other and to God) in love, (so that we) shall grow together and be united in that love, as Christ is united with (the) Church" (The Book of Alternative Services, 541).

         Come, my friends, let us lay aside immaturity and live and walk in the way of insight.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

News Flash Re School for Diakonia!

The Rev’d Dr Richard Leggett
Phone 604.266.8011
Fax 604.266.8096
7284 Cypress Street
Vancouver BC V6P 5M3
The School for Diakonia
The Diocese of New Westminster

news flash!

The School for Diakonia announces a change in the schedule for its Michaelmas Term Seminar entitled
‘By Water and the Spirit:  An Introduction to the Theology of the Creeds’

Vancouver BC, August 15, 2012:  Are you tired of crossing your fingers when we recite the Creed?  Do you want to explore in greater depth what questions the Creeds are attempting to answer?  Dr Richard Geoffrey Leggett, Coordinator of Diaconal Formation, invites all and any interested Anglicans to participate in ‘By Water and the Spirit:  An Introduction to the Theology of the Creeds’, the Michaelmas Term seminar for the School for Diakonia but with a new schedule of sessions!  The seminar will meet at Saint Faith’s Anglican Church (57th Avenue and Cypress Street) from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. on three Saturdays this fall:  the 29th of September, the 27th of October and the 24th of November.  The cost is $150 for the three sessions and does not include the cost of the three texts.  Limited financial aid is available. 

The seminars of the School for Diakonia are designed for applicants and postulants for the diaconate, but are open to any and all Anglicans who want to add another dimension to their life of faith.  Interested persons may contact Dr Leggett by e-mail at or by telephone at 604.266.8011 or by mail at Saint Faith’s Anglican Church, 7284 Cypress Street, Vancouver BC V6P 5M3.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Be Not Afraid

An Open Letter to Cole Michael Sywulych and Isla Kerstin Sywulych

To here an audio recording of this Letter as read at the 10.00 a.m. eucharist please click here.

12 August 2012

Dear Cole and Isla,

            Today you are being baptized and will begin what I hope will be an exciting and joy-filled life as a member of the Christian community.  I am writing this letter in the hopes that some years from now, probably after I have retired, you will know something about the people who believe that Jesus of Nazareth shows us how to be truly alive and how God helps us to become the people that we are created to be.

            So I want to tell you why I am a Christian.  There are many other ways of following God in the world and I think that they each offer us a way of understanding who God is and what God expects of us.  But I am a Christian and today your parents have chosen to bring you here so that you can begin your life by following this path to know and love God and to become a wonderful sign of God’s love to other people.

            It is very important for me to tell you why I am Christian because of something that happened on this past Thursday morning.  I was walking down Broadway towards the office of one of my doctors for an appointment.  A man passed by me on my right and, as he passed me, he handed me a little slip of paper, about the size of a business card.  He never said a word to me, just handed me this piece of paper.

            I won’t tell you exactly what was written on the paper; it’s not that important for you to know right now.  What I can tell you is that the man thought of himself as a Christian and that what was written on the paper goes against everything I believe Jesus taught us and against everything I believe about who God is and what God expect of us.  So I thought it was important on this day, this special day for you, to tell you what I believe and what I believe is the heart of the Christian story.

I believe that God created us in love and for love.

            Cole and Isla, there are many Christians who spend most of their lives afraid of God.  They think that God is angry with us and that God tries to find every reason to condemn us.  They try to make other people afraid, and they hope that by making other people afraid those people will choose to follow the way of Jesus.  It’s a strange way of sharing our faith, but, I’m sad to say, it seems to work from time to time.

            But this is not what I believe about the God who created the universe, who gave us the knowledge to travel millions of kilometers to other planets and who brings forth life in all its diversity.  The God I know and the God in whom I believe created us because God loves.  When you love someone, you do not want them to be afraid of you.  You want them to know everything about you and you want to know everything about the one you love.  You do everything you can to help the other person grow up and become the best person he or she can be. 

            This is why God created the universe; so that we might love and be loved.  Only then can we all fulfill our potential.

I believe that God does not like the walls we build that separate us from God and from each other.

            The truth is, Cole and Isla, that we are not perfect.  We may try hard to love, but we all make mistakes and sometimes make bad decisions.  Sometimes we make too much of how we are different from other people and make the mistake of thinking that our differences make us better than others.  Sometimes we become selfish and forget to care for other people.  We begin to think that we are the centre of the universe.

            When these things happen, we build walls.  We think that these walls will protect us and keep others out, but all they do is make our world smaller and smaller.  As our worlds become smaller, we become less and less human.

            This has happened so many times in the history of the world that God has tried many times to show us how to live with one another.  One of those ways is the way of Jesus of Nazareth.  I follow the way of Jesus because I find it the best way I know to break down the walls we build and to build bridges to connect me with other people whose way of thinking may be different from mine.  I follow the way of Jesus because I find it the best way I know to learn who God is and what God wants me to do in my life.

I believe that God speaks to us every day in many and different ways.

            There are people who think that the only way God speaks to us is through the words of the Bible.  I believe that God does speak to us through the Bible, but the meaning of the words are not always clear.  These words were written by people who loved God many long years ago and we have to use many tools to understand what these words mean to us now.

            But the Bible is not the only way God speaks to us.  God speaks to us when scientists make new discoveries about the universe, our earth and living things.  God speaks to us when a friend says the word we have needed to hear.  God speaks to us when people who have been fighting one another or who have not trusted one another find a way to stop fighting and to trust one another.  God speaks to us in literature and movies and music.  What I find hard to believe is how many people there are who believe that God is not speaking to us!

I believe that God wants us to be part of something big.

            Cole and Isla, today you will baptized and become a member of something big.  It’s called the Church.  The Church is a special group of people who believe, like I believe, that God created us in love and for love, that God does not like the walls we build to separate ourselves from God and from each other and that God speaks to us every day in many and different ways. 

            Some people believe that ‘church-people’ only care about buildings and love to fight about all sorts of things.  It’s true that we do care about our buildings and that we do fight about all sorts of things.  But the most important thing we do is to come together and to work together to share in the great work that God is doing in the world.  The ‘big something’ God is doing right now and throughout all time is finding people who will help God take care of the world, help people live together in peace and give shelter and food to those who have none.

            Almost sixty years ago my mother and father brought me to be baptized.  I was only three months old then, but I am still here today.  I am here because I want to be part of what God is doing in the world.  I want to share the good news of God’s love shown to us in creation, God’s love shown to us in Jesus, God’s love shown to us every day.

            I hope that you will read these words one day.  I hope that when you read them you will understand a little bit of what I have written.  I hope that you will be discovering God’s love in every moment of your lives.  I hope that you will be doing your own part in God’s ‘big something’.

In Christ’s love,

Richard +

Friday, August 10, 2012

Choose Love

The Marriage of Blair Casey and Josie Fenton

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
11 August 2012

Texts:  Colossians 3.12-17 and Matthew 5.1-10

         I have long harboured a wish to be a contestant on Jeopardy.  Ever since I was in university I have enjoyed the challenge of providing the right questions and have shaken my head when educated people cannot seem to figure out the most obvious responses.

         I have even come up with my own category:  “Popular Misquotations”.  For example, it is not “Money is the root of all evil,” but “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  Another is one I happened across yesterday as I was doing my lunch-time crossword.  The cue was “Exchanged a wedding vow.”  I can hear the players press their buzzers and say with confidence, “What is ‘I do’, Alex.”  Burrrp!  “No,” Alex says, “What is ‘I will’.”

         The difference between ‘I do’ and ‘I will’ is more than mere semantics.  It is the difference between a moment and a life-time, the difference between an immediate feeling and a conscious decision with unimaginable future consequences.

         It is the difference implicit in the two readings from the New Testament that were chosen for today’s celebration.  When the writer of Colossians says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” he is not speaking about the love that lovers have for each other or the love that family members share or the love that friends have, but self-giving and self-sacrificing love, a love that consciously chooses to put the other before self.  When Jesus describes those who are ‘blessed’, he is speaking about those who choose to remain faithful to God even in the most difficult of circumstances.

         Blair and Josie, this is a special day in your relationship with one another, with your families and your friends.  It is right that we should celebrate it with flowers and music, food and dancing, carefully-chosen clothes and formal rites.  No one can doubt how you feel about each other in this moment.  But what is far more important is how you, in the years ahead, bring to completeness what you begin today.  It has never been simply a question of whether you do love one another.  It has always been a question of how you will love one another.

         Love that is mature and life-giving is not just an emotion; it is a commitment made by one’s heart, soul and mind acting in harmony.  It is a choice we make every day; some days many times just in one day we face the decision of how best to love and cherish one another so that we can become truly ourselves as God has made each one of us to be.

  • It is easy to love ‘for better’ but a harder choice to love ‘for worse’.
  • It is easy to love ‘for richer’ but a harder choice to love ‘for poorer’.
  • It is easy to love ‘in health’ but a harder choice to love ‘in sickness’.

         The pattern of life you are choosing to enter today is not just a private matter between the two of you.  It is a manner of life that touches all of us.  You will need the support of others, whether that support takes the form of a friend who listens carefully or the form of the wisdom of those who have also chosen this manner of life.  I remember a very dark time, early in my marriage, when I was sustained by the knowledge that Paula and I were not alone but were surrounded and upheld by friends and family.

         Blair and Josie, treasure this day.  May you find the promises you make this day life-giving.  May the choice to love come quickly to your hearts and minds and souls.  May no clouds ever darken your days and may joy surround you like the light of the sun.  May you always be upheld by the strength of family and friends.  Amen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Become Who You Are

The Transfiguration of the Lord (anticipated)
5 August 2012

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

It is God's intention that each one of us be 'transfigured', that is to say, that we become who we were created to be, as God's beloved made in the divine image.  Transfiguration is best achieved when we live in hope rather than fear.

If you want to learn more, then click here and you will hear the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. Eucharist at Saint Faith's.



Saturday, August 4, 2012

An Honest Heart, a Joyful Heart, a Pure Heart

A Celebration of the Life of John Phillips
4 August 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

To hear an audio recording of the Sermon as preached at John's funeral, please click here.

            When I finished speaking with Eleanor the morning of John’s death and began my preparations to drive to the house to be with her, I found myself humming again and again a nineteenth-century Welsh song that I had recently learned.

Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.

Calon lân yn llawn daioni,
Tecach yw na’r lili dlos:
Dim ond calon lân all ganu
Canu’r dydd a chanu’r nos.

The English translation of the refrain is a bit more religious than the Welsh, but it retains the spirit if not the letter of the original.

I’d not ask a life that’s easy,
Gold and pearls so little mean,
Rather seek a heart that’s joyful,
Heart that’s honest, heart that’s clean.

Heart that’s clean and filled with virtue,
Fairer far than lilies white,
Only pure hearts praise God truly,
Praise him all the day and night.

I have been pondering why this song came to mind on that morning and I think that I have begun to grasp why.  It is an honest heart that searches and a joyful heart that tells stories about what has been found and a pure heart that is able to sing, at all times and in all places, about the searching and the stories.

           Genuine religious faith is about searching for meaning.  Indeed the medieval theologian, Anselm, described theology as ‘faith seeking understanding’.  There are those who believe religious faith is primarily about doctrines, but I do not share that view.  We are all caught within that web of mystery we call ‘life’ and all of us, whether we call ourselves religious or not, seek to understand how this web came into being, how it works and where its various strands lead us and connect us.  The ‘calon onest’, the ‘honest heart’, spends a whole lifetime in that search for meaning.

            But this search for meaning within the mystery is not without discoveries.  But once again these discoveries are less about creeds and controversies than they are about relationships that can only be described by stories.  At the heart of the intertwined Jewish and Christian faiths are the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the stories of liberation from oppression, the stories of an itinerant rabbi from Galilee and the stories of his earliest disciples.  From these stories we glean meaning for our own life stories and we find ways to weave our own histories into this tapestry that tells the story of God’s gracious creating, redeeming and renewing love for us and for all creation.  The ‘calon hapus’, the ‘joyful heart’, cannot help but tell those stories.

            And what better way is there to tell stories than by singing?  In a recent book about singing in the Christian tradition, Kathleen Harmon describes how singing involves our whole being as our minds and bodies and our hearts and souls unite to share our joys and sorrows and our hopes and fears with one another and with the world.  Harmon notes that singing involves us in the mystery of time.  When we sing, time is no longer an abstraction; it is embodied in us as we mark the tempo and breathe time into our lungs in order to make music.  The ‘calon lân’, the ‘pure heart’, cannot help but sing as an expression of its searching and its story-telling.

            Although my association with Saint Faith’s began when my wife, Paula, became Rector in December of 1998, my relationship with John really began last year when I became Priest-in-charge.  Living in Surrey made my visits to White Rock easier; I could drop by on my way into Vancouver or on my way home.  During those visits I met a man of faith, a faith that was not afraid to search, a faith that found joy in telling stories and a faith that found expression in song. 

            His accomplishments in his chosen field of research and teaching testify to his inquiring and discerning mind, surely as great a gift of the Holy Spirit as any other.  His commitment to recovering the stories of his forebears testifies to his sense of continuity and future hope.  His love of music, especially of singing, testifies to his love of community and his love of creating something wonderful with others.

            Today we bid farewell to this man whose honest heart did not cease to search, whose joyful heart did not cease to tell the stories of creation, whether great or small, universal or particular, and whose pure heart did not cease to sing, even when his own voice was stilled.

Nid wy’n gofyn bywyd moethus,
Aur y byd na’i berlau mân:
Gofyn wyf am galon hapus,
Calon onest, calon lân.

I’d not ask a life that’s easy,
Gold and pearls so little mean,
Rather seek a heart that’s joyful,
Heart that’s honest, heart that’s clean.  Amen.