Saturday, October 6, 2012

For All Your Goodness and Loving-Kindness

Thanksgiving Sunday
7 October 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            On Saturday, the 8th of September of this year, I joined Herbert O’Driscoll, a wise and well-known figure in Canada, and David Neelands, the Dean of Theology at Trinity College Toronto, at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria.  The occasion was the celebration of the 350th anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the Prayer Book that accompanied many of the early English colonists to North America.  The three of us formed a panel to discuss the importance of this prayer book and the notion of a prayer book itself for the Anglican way of following Christ.

            Now, the Prayer Book of 1662 was forged after twenty-five years of political and religious conflict in England.  A civil war had been fought and a king had been executed.  The monarchy fell and a parliamentary government had arisen.  Families had been torn asunder and persecution fell upon people on all sides of the conflict.  One of the casualties of this quarter century of conflict was the Prayer Book itself.  The victorious Parliament had banned the Prayer Book as well as bishops and cathedral chapters.  Clergy who would not give up the use of the Prayer Book were sent into exile, whether within the British Isles or overseas.  Some of these clergy died from hunger, disease and poverty.

            After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the collapse of the Commonwealth government, the newly-restored king, Charles II, called for a conference to determine the shape of the Church of England after the restoration of the monarchy.  Representatives of the various movements within the Church of England were present, but it must be said that the new Prayer Book, meant to bring harmony, came as a profound disappointment to those who thought that the Church of England was not yet truly reformed.  It is said that thousands of clergy left the Church of England to form the so-called ‘dissenting’ or ‘non-conformist’ churches.

            But something very good came out of the process that led to the creation of the Prayer Book of 1662.  Bishop Edward Reynolds of Norwich, a man who served the Church of England before the Civil War, during the Commonwealth and in the Restoration wrote a prayer which I have treasured all my life, a prayer I believe expresses the Anglican ethos of constant thankfulness.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving-kindness
to us and all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life;
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts
we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up ourselves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory throughout all ages.  Amen.
(The Book of Alternative Services, p. 129)

            On this Thanksgiving Sunday let me share some thoughts arising from this prayer, the General Thanksgiving.

‘We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life.’

            Have you ever pondered the mystery embodied in each and every human being?  None of us, none of us, created ourselves.  Every unique individual that bears a name came into being without any effort on its part.  Life, with all its joys and sorrows, all its successes and failures, all its hopes and disappointments, is given to each one of us as a windfall, whether of genetics, environment or God’s intent.  Life is a gift.

            Have you ever pondered the mystery that is lived out every day of our lives as we walk the journey of our days?  While there are aspects of my life that are under my control, there are numerous others that are really in the control of others.  Take driving.  I do my best to be a safe driver, but I cannot control the person in the lane next to me, in the lane coming towards me.  I trust them to make good decisions, so that all of us can arrive safely to our work places or return safely home to be with family and friends.  Just as my creation is a mystery beyond my control, so, in many ways, is the preservation of my life beyond my control.  Life is a gift.

            Have you ever pondered the mystery of who we are in time and space?  I did not choose to be born into the privileged society that we know as North America.  Whatever blessings have come to me as a result of the accident of my birth as a white, English-speaking male have come freely to me without any merit or hard work on my part.  These blessings raise questions about why there are so many who suffer hardship and deprivation simply because they were born aboriginal or a woman or poor or oppressed by evil rulers.  Knowing that blessings come to me whether I deserve them or not, I am compelled to work to remove any obstacles to the flow of this river of grace to others.  Life is a gift.

            When faced with the many advantages I have, all I can do is bless God and work so that all God’s children can share the many gifts of God’s goodness.

‘We bless you . . . for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.’

            From the very beginning of the Christian movement we have known God to provide us with ‘the means of grace’, the sacraments by which we come to know who and whose we are and by which we are sustained in our sharing in God’s mission to renew creation.

            Most of us were brought to the font as infants or young children by parents who believed that belonging to the Christian community was valuable.  To be baptized is to learn who one truly is, a beloved child made in the image and likeness of God.  This is true of every human being, but those who are baptized become part of a community that knows this, celebrates this and works for this to be realized in the lives of every person who shares this planet.  There is no greater calamity that can befall a human being than to have amnesia and to lose all knowledge of oneself and one’s life story.  We who are baptized are blessed with the knowledge of who we are, so that we can call others to their true selves.

            With every celebration of the eucharist we are brought face to face with the shape of the life of Christ that we are all called to share.  We gather from the scattered places of our lives
  • to hear again words that summon us to be who we truly are,
  • to offer our intercessions, petitions and thanksgivings for the needs, concerns and joys of the world and
  • to share in a meal that reminds us of our need for God’s grace and the love of one another

so that we can be sent forth blessed by God to be a blessing for others.

            We do this again and again and again because we have ‘the hope of glory’, the hope that God working with us, through us and, sometimes, despite us, is bringing above the renewal of creation.  Our hope is sustained by the occasional glimpses we catch of that renewal, whether among us or out in the world.

            And so we bless God for there is nothing else to do when faced with such abundant grace poured out upon us and with the hope set before us.

‘. . . give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service . . . ‘

            You all remember the old saying:  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  To imitate God is, when everything else is stripped away, the essence of religious faith.  In creation God makes room for all that is, seen and unseen.  In preservation God ensures that every living creature has what it needs to survive and, more importantly, thrive.  In the future God promises that all of creation will reach its perfection.  Gratitude for this generosity compels us to act.

            You and I are called to create space for all those who are often crowded out and denied access to the good things of God --- that is why we are working towards a pastoral resource centre here at Saint Faith’s.  You and I are called to be stewards of the time, talents and treasure given us by a loving God so that every one, every living creature, has enough for the fullness of life.  You and I are called to proclaim to a doubting and fearful world the good news that God is for us and that we are God’s work of art being brought to its perfection through Holy Spirit.

            So, at all times and in all places, may we always be aware of God’s mercies.  May our hearts be truly thankful.  And may we walk before God in holiness and righteousness all our days.  Amen.

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