Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Following Holy Faith

Feast of Saint Faith
6 October 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  Isaiah 44.1-8; Psalm 87; 1 Peter 2.4-10; John 17.6-19
         Many miles to the south of Colorado Springs lies the small city of Santa Fe, the capital of the state of New Mexico.  The full name of the city, when it was established by the Spanish in the late sixteenth century, is ‘La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de San Francisco de Asís’ or, in English, ‘the Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi’.  Throughout my childhood, trips to Santa Fe were infrequent but long-awaited.  The old centre of the city retains its colonial Spanish architecture and ambience.  Pueblo jewelers, potters and other artists sell their works, often displayed on beautiful rugs and blankets, throughout the central plaza.

         The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Francis and is full of original colonial and aboriginal artwork.  It has recently been remodeled to reflect the centrality of baptism and the eucharist to the Christian life, but the remodeling has not reduced the fusion of Spanish and Pueblo culture.  It is one of my favourite cathedrals in the world.

         But I want to draw your attention to the original name of the city:  the Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi.  It’s an odd phrase, isn’t it:  the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi?  Yet, on this day when we celebrate our own patron, Saint Faith, in close proximity to the feast of Saint Francis, a more widely-celebrated saint, there are actually some important connections.

         First, let me remind you of our patron.  Faith, according to legend, was a beautiful young woman who lived in Agen, a town in Aquitaine, towards the end of the third century of the common era.  The dates of her death vary; some scholars suggest she died between the years 287 and 290, while others think her death came during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian in 303.  But while the dates of her death vary, the story of her martyrdom remains constant.

         Dacian, the Roman governor, initiated a persecution of Christians in his region.  Faith was brought before him and, as was customary, Dacian attempted to cajole her into offering a sacrifice to the Roman gods in honour of the Emperor.  Faith refused and declared that the Roman gods were idols.  As a Christian, she said, she could not and would not offer sacrifice.  Dacian became enraged and ordered her to be tortured to death by being bound to a brazier over a red-hot fire.  When several on-lookers protested, he had them beheaded.  Faith died without denying her trust in the Holy One of Israel whom we know through Jesus of Nazareth.

         Let’s jump forward a thousand years to Francis of Assisi.  His story is widely known and widely misunderstood.  In a world where status counted for everything, where might meant right and where the Church had become more of a political power than the body of Christ, Francis dared to challenge these assumptions.  He realized that the real power of the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth is found in the imitation of Jesus rather than in theological speculation or ecclesial structures.  He is supposed to have said, “Preach the gospel.  When necessary, use words.”

         This was the ‘holy faith’ of Saint Francis and, I dare to say, the ‘holy faith’ of our own patron, Saint Faith.  Both understood the gospel is more about a way of life than it is a theological system.  Please don’t get me wrong; I value reflection upon what it means to follow Jesus of Nazareth.  I value forms of worship which help shape us to live this life.  I value ways of being church together that help us look beyond the walls of our buildings or the boundaries of our neighbourhoods.  But at the heart of this reflection, this worship, this organization lies the good news of God in Jesus:  Do justice.  Love steadfastly.  Walk humbly with God.

         Last week, while I was away, we began our fall stewardship programme.  As is natural in many congregations, our focus is on the use of the financial assets that God has entrusted to us.  Doing justice, loving steadfastly and walking humbly with God in Metro Vancouver in the twenty-first century requires financial resources as well as the resources of volunteer hours and the knowledge and skills of every member of Saint Faith’s.  But there is another dimension to stewardship that I want us to consider at this time as well.  I want us all to consider our stewardship of our ‘holy faith’.

         One dimension of that stewardship is a life of prayer.  It’s true that we gather here Sunday after Sunday, holy day after holy day, to pray together.  Let us never give up sharing our life together in worship.  But many of us, and I count myself among them, struggle to have a regular time of prayer each day.  There are many ways of doing this, most of them quite simple.  This Advent I am planning a series of ‘Coffee Hour Seminars’ on ways of praying that I hope will strengthen all of us.

         Another dimension of the stewardship of ‘holy faith’ is a word that sends fear into most Anglican hearts:  evangelism.  For the past two years we have celebrated ‘Back to Church Sunday’ as a reminder of this stewardship that is year-round.  The simple truth is that God seeks to bring all people into a loving and compassionate relationship with their Creator and with their neighbours, far and near.  The other simple truth is that many people, including a fair number of our neighbours, have no idea how to develop such a relationship.  Many have ideas that Christians are judgmental, obsessed with sex and sin, enshrined behind the walls of their church buildings and unaware of the needs and concerns of the world around them.  Some believe that the acquisition of more and more ‘things’ and the trappings of wealth are expressions of genuine joy and deep meaning.

         While I am certain of the importance of the stewardship of prayer to our lives, I am even more certain of the vital importance of the stewardship of evangelism in today’s world.  If we remain silent in the face of the abuses of religious faith that surround us in North America as well as in the world, then we shall fail in our baptismal commitment to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.

         And we have good news to share!  Here in this place, in response to the good news of God in Christ, we care for one another.  Here in this place we care for our neighbours by offering a place for children to grow, a place for the victims of addiction to heal, a place where neighbours to meet for various purposes.  Here in this place we reach out to those who do not share in the bounty of this province and this country.  Here in this place those who do not know the good news hear it and share in the love and compassion of God.  Is this not a ‘holy faith’ worth sharing?

         I say these words not to engender guilt but to encourage faith.  We have much to share that is hidden from the sight of our neighbours and friends.  We continue as a congregation to do our best to unveil the riches of the Christian way of living, but all of us, as best as we are able, where and when the moment is right, have the opportunity to say to another, ‘This is what I know it means to be a Christian.  Here I have found a depth to living that strengthens me, enlivens me and gives me joy.  Come and see!’

         Here in this place, this plot of ground dedicated to God in the name of a young woman who lived following the way of Christ, may we find wisdom, joy and peace.  To this place may we bid others come and join us in this way of justice, steadfast love and humility.  Amen.

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