Saturday, November 24, 2012

How Can We Keep from Singing?

RCL Proper 34C:  The Reign of Christ
25 November 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

2 Samuel 23.1-7; Psalm 132.1-12 [13-18]; Revelation 1.4b-8; John 18.33-37 [38]
            Twenty years ago this weekend I was leading a worship workshop in a local parish.  This parish had a significant number of recent members who had little to no knowledge of the Anglican tradition.  The parish leadership thought that a workshop on worship would be one stage in helping this community grow in its understanding of how its distinctive character could be expressed within the parameters of Anglican thought and practice.

            One of the things that I was trying to do was to show them that the lectionary was not a weight around their neck.  I worked with them on the concept of ‘proclamation’ by noting that we speak of the ‘proclamation of the Word’ not the ‘readings’.  In other words, I pointed out to them that the Word of God could be proclaimed in word and song, in dance and drama, in ways that would enhance the possibility that the Word would actually touch those who heard.

            So in planning the Sunday liturgy I asked them to include one additional verse in the selection from the gospel according to John:  “Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’”  (John 18.38)  I then had them set up the reading as ‘reader’s theatre’ where three voices would narrate the story:  a narrator, Jesus and Pilate.  They thought that this was great and the next morning the liturgy progressed well.  At the end of the gospel, Pilate’s voice duly asked the question, “What is truth?”
            I was sitting in the congregation.  I stood up and said, “I would like to answer that question.”  With this I went to the lectern and began my sermon.

            On this Sunday when we celebrate the reign of Christ, when we proclaim that Jesus, to the exclusion of all other claims to our loyalty, is ‘Lord’, the question, “What is truth?” rings as pressing as it did two thousand years ago in Jerusalem and twenty years ago in Vancouver.

            Those of you who participated in our inaugural book club and who read The Lemon Tree will know that the book is about truth --- but whose perspective on the truth?  Should we look at the events of the last sixty-five years from the Israeli perspective and celebrate the establishment of a modern multi-party democracy that shares many of the values of Canadian society?  Or should we look at the events of the last sixty-five years from the Palestinian perspective and lament the callousness of Arab governments toward the plight of the Palestinians as well as the continued loss of land, life and hope that seems to colour both Gaza and the West Bank?

            Despite the claims of religious and scientific fundamentalists truth is like a multi-faceted diamond.  We can agree that the gem is beautiful and that it exists, but when we try to describe the stone we will quickly find that our perspective will colour our perception.  This is not a counsel of despair but a reminder that truth is best discerned when we seek as many perspectives on the question before us as we possibly can.

            For example, as the early Christians began to develop the canon of the New Testament, they did not give into the temptation to preserve only one account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Among the competing perspectives, four finally came to be held by the various communities to be authoritative:  Mark, then Matthew and Luke, then John.  But even as these four gospels were enshrined within the canon, the tradition was careful to add an important phrase to each title:  They are the gospels ‘according to’, a reminder that they each tell the story from point of view of a particular author or editor who comes from a distinctive Christian community.

            But all four tell the story of a Jewish rabbi who was revealed to be not only a gift teacher and healer but ‘God among us’, ‘Immanuel’.  All four tell the story of a spiritual teacher who challenged the limits of his religious community and who ran afoul of both the religious and civil authorities.  All four tell the story of a man executed for sedition who did not remain confined to the tomb but who was raised and empowered his followers to change the world.

            What is truth?  The truth is that Jesus continues to inspire women and men throughout the world to work for justice and peace even if that work leads to persecution, imprisonment and death.  The truth is that Jesus continues to work through small communities throughout the world who are unwilling to accept the status quo and are willing to work to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and free those who are in spiritual, emotional and physical bondage.  The truth is that Jesus continues to reign in the lives of millions of people throughout the world despite the claims of political ideologies and economic systems.

            At our recent special synod on the proposed diocesan financial campaign there were many voices.  Some were little short of despair as they described the state of their congregations.  But these voices were, in my opinion, in the minority.  While they should not be ignored, they should not be considered the consensus.  In many and varied ways throughout the day I heard a more hopeful message:  ‘We have good news to proclaim.  Let us work together to proclaim it.’  In these voices I heard the echoes of our proclamation of faith:  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

            As we approach Advent, I invite you to join me in answering Pilate’s question.  Let us share with one another our perspectives on the truth that we celebrate this day, the truth that “Since Love is lord of heaven and earth, how can [we] keep from singing?”  Let us speak the truth to a world that seeks truth, sometimes in all the wrong places.  Let us remember that the last word is not spoken by the Pilates of our world but by God.  And that word is ‘yes’; ‘yes’ to you and to me; ‘yes’ to all those who are seeking hope; ‘yes’ to the whole of creation.  Amen.

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