Saturday, March 8, 2014

9 March 2014: Do Not Be Afraid! (RCL Lent 1A)

RCL Lent 1A
9 March 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         A little more than two years ago our Diocese initiated a new programme called ‘Screening in Faith’.  The purpose of this programme is to ensure that those exercising ministry in our Diocese have no criminal records as well as screened to make sure that the people we serve are safe and can trust in the ministry we offer.

         I drove down to the Main Street station of the Vancouver Police Department, completed the required form, presented the letter from the Diocese asking for the police records check and then waited as the young clerk entered the information into her computer terminal.  After a few minutes, she smiled and said, ‘Well, this is a surprise.  It won’t let me complete the form.  I’ll try again.’  I wasn't worried; after all, there were probably many requests flowing through the electronic universe.

         About ten more minutes passed without any success.  The clerk said, ‘This has never happened to me before.  I cannot give you a report.  If you want to continue the process, then you will have to obtain a money order in the amount of $100, be finger-printed and then wait for a report from the RCMP.’  Now I was worried.  In an instant I found myself racing through my past, trying to figure out what was going on.

         As I left the station to find my bank and obtain the necessary money order, I began to worry and I do mean worry.  Was I being double-checked because I had not filed my US tax returns for a number of years?  ‘No,’ I thought, ‘there are thousands of us in Canada.’  Had the RCMP discovered that, as a university student, I had briefly subscribed to the Socialist Workers’ Party newspaper?  ‘That’s ridiculous,’ I laughed, ‘how many university students have done such things?.’

         My mind was still re-tracing the path of my life when I returned to the station.  I was quickly and, I must say, politely finger-printed by a sympathetic technician.  The clerk who took my payment, not the same one who had unsuccessfully received my earlier application, smiled and said, ‘These things happen, you know.  It’s probably nothing.’  For the next two weeks I was anxious and jumped at almost every telephone call.

         Then one night I was watching ‘The National’ on CBC.  They broke the story that the RCMP, over the objections of many municipal police forces, had instituted new rules.  Any person applying for a police records check whose gender and birthdate were the same as a known criminal offender was now required to be finger-printed and the report cleared through the RCMP’s own process.

         I had been one of the first persons caught in this new procedure.  Somewhere in Canada there is a man, born on the same day as I was, who has a criminal record.  He and I are linked in the digital memory of the RCMP and, in the future, I may have to undergo this process again.  I am suspect by association; his guilt is, in a very small way, attached to my name and my birthday.

         But having said this, I must confess to you that I do have secrets.  All of us have secrets.  All of us have or have had secrets that have festered in our hearts, our minds, even our very souls.  We have lost sleep over these secrets and, I am sure, from time to time have been deeply worried that these secrets will eventually surface.

         ‘While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning’ says the Psalmist, ‘for your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.’ (Psalm 32.3, 4)  The Psalmist knows what you and I know; there are secrets, guilty secrets, unpleasant secrets, that we conceal not only from our family and friends, but even from ourselves.  We allow these secrets to sink into some deep pool, hoping that they will remain there.  But the current changes and the secrets rise closer to the surface, causing us mental and physical suffering.

         The mental and physical suffering is not sent to us by God; it is not an active punishment that God inflicts upon us.  To the contrary, God waits, just beyond the boundary of our suffering, anxious to offer us compassion, forgiveness and renewed life.  Our suffering is caused by our own refusal to acknowledge the reason for our anguish and to open the door to God’s mercy and grace.  The Psalmist writes, ‘Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.’

         This saying is true and worthy of all to be received:  Confession is not only good for the soul; it is good for the body, mind, heart and soul.  The word ‘confess’ has at its root a Latin word meaning ‘to speak, to utter’.  Secrets lose their power when they are spoken and there are many ways to speak them safely and with confidence.

         One way is to utter them to God in prayer.  I have found in my own life of prayer that I find greater meaning in actually speaking the words that are forming in my heart rather than trust them to silence.  There are times when speaking the truth to God, ‘to [whom] all hearts are open, all desires known, and from [whom] no secrets are hidden,’ (‘Collect for Purity’, BAS 185) liberates me from the burden those secrets, those fears put upon me.  We have all had moments when we have tried to deceive ourselves by our silence, but speaking the truth to God removes the blinders from our eyes and we are freed.

         Then there are times when our secrets must be spoken to those who are most likely to be either sufferers with us or the unknowing victims of our secrets.  I am speaking about the secrets that genuinely harm another person.  Carrying such secrets often causes far more harm to those who bear them than the pain that might be caused by speaking them.

         From the earliest days of the Christian movement we have recognized a third way of speaking secrets:  speaking the secret to another trusted confidant who can help us say the words and free the soul to new life.  Through the centuries this has sometimes been called ‘confession’ or ‘penance’, but I prefer the older term of ‘reconciliation’.  When we are burdened by secret guilts and fears, we cannot be ministers of reconciliation in a world desperate in need of such ministers.  We cannot undertake to forgive others as God has forgiven us; we are too heavily burdened by our own sins to ease the burden of others.  But there are trusted people, ordained and lay, who can hear the words spoken so that we can hear the promise of compassion and forgiveness.

         So, my friends, let us search the deep waters of our hearts, minds and souls.  Let us take hold of God’s compassion and, if needs be, draw out of the depths those secrets which burden us.  Let us speak them out loud, whether to God in prayer or to another beloved of God who can help us shed the weight these secrets lay upon us.  For mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord and joy for all who dare to let God’s light scatter the darkness that clouds our souls.  Amen.

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