Saturday, November 15, 2014

Keeping Up in Faith, Hope and Love (Pentecost 23: 16 November 2014)

RCL Proper 33A
16 November 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

         Over the years my television viewing has been increasing drawn towards British programming.  I am sure that my interest arises from having an English mother and grandparents who helped to form my sense of humour and my appreciation for the British tendency to sustain a story with thoughtful dialogue and excellent cinematography rather than heart-stopping action or stunning good look..  Fortunately, between PBS and the Knowledge Network, my viewing tastes are well served.
         One of my favourite programmes is ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, a comedy that was aired from 1990 to 1995.  The story line focuses on Hyacinth Bucket, a middle-aged, middle-class woman who is desperately seeking a place in the ‘higher’ classes despite her humble origins.  She insists on pronouncing her married name as ‘Bouquet’ despite being spelled ‘Bucket’ --- but then who are we to judge her when ‘Worcester’ becomes ‘Wooster’ and ‘St John’ ‘Sinjin’?
         In each episode Hyacinth suffers an assault on her self-constructed identity.  Sometimes she succeeds in sustaining ‘appearances’, but, more often than not, she fails.  Hyacinth is not the most admirable of people, but I admit to having some sympathy for her.  There are aspects of my own life’s story that centre around ‘keeping up appearances’, so I am aware of both the rewards and the costs of such an effort.
         In his first letter to the Christian community in Thessalonika, Paul addresses the questions that have arisen about the promised return of Christ.  It is good for us to remember that this letter is probably the oldest text in the New Testament, written around the year 50 ce.  If we follow the traditional dating of the crucifixion, then Paul is writing about twenty to twenty-five years later.  The first generation of Christians is beginning to die and the resistance of the imperial authorities to this socially-disruptive and seemingly anti-imperial cult is beginning to grow.  The Emperor Claudius, during whose reign Paul is writing, had expelled Jews and the followers of ‘Chrestus’ from Rome due to street fights between the two religious groups.  Within a few years Paul will be hauled before the Jewish and then Roman authorities, events described in the Acts of the Apostles.
         The Thessalonians have asked Paul what they should do.  Is the Messiah coming soon?  ‘I don’t know,’ Paul writes.  But what Paul does know is that the Christian community needs to do more than just ‘keep up appearances’.  He encourages the Thessalonians to remember that, despite the uncertainty of when Christ will return and the growing hostility to the Christian movement, they are ‘children of light and children of the day’ (1 Thessalonians 5.5).  In such a time as theirs, Paul exhorts them to ‘put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation’ (1 Thessalonians 5.8b).  In other words, ‘keep calm and carry on’.
         Some years later the writer of the Gospel according to Matthew will record a parable, attributed to Jesus, which, in some ways, mirrors Paul’s advice to the Christians in Thessalonika.  Although the parable has some hard edges, at its heart is the exhortation to the Christian community to set aside speculation on the coming of Christ and make use of the gifts and resources God has entrusted to them to further the mission of God begun in Christ.  Keep calm.  Act wisely.  Carry on.  God’s day is surely coming.
         In the thirty-three years I have been ordained, I have served in two provinces of the Anglican Communion, three dioceses and, on the business of the Church, travelled to England, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and Myanmar.  I have travelled to aboriginal communities in British Columbia, Manitoba and South Dakota.  In all of those places I have met Christians who know who they are, children of light and children of day, who do not need to keep up appearances.  They do not need to pretend that there are no challenges to the Christian movement and that the cost of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ is welcomed by many of their neighbours.  But these sisters and brothers of ours keep calm and carry on.
         We cannot pretend that we do not face our own challenges here in Vancouver as we attempt to share the good news of God in Christ.  We cannot deny that our proclamation of the good news has to penetrate the cultural and social interference caused by a widespread distrust of religious institutions, by the struggles of two-income families to meet the costs of living in this metropolitan region and by differing views among our neighbours about what constitutes ‘family values’.  We are not so different from the Christians in Thessalonika who are wondering what to do as generations pass and obstacles rise.
         So what shall we do?  First, we keep calm.  If, as we believe, God’s promises are sure, then God is working out the divine purposes in our time and circumstances.  We can neither hasten nor delay the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace.
         Second, we use our resources wisely.  I have never been fit enough to be a long-distance runner nor, even if I were fitter, does my build lend itself to that athletic activity.  But I am a trained historian, a long-distance story-teller, if you will.  As Christians we are here for the long haul.  Whether as a congregation or as a diocese, we need to be good stewards of our resources, whether we are talking about financial resources, physical resources or the extraordinary talents, skills and knowledge of our people.  Just this past week, our Church Committee spent profitable time discussing for the first but not the last time how we might best use the talents, skills and knowledge of the members of this congregation. 
         Finally, we carry on.  Whether we have two hundred people in the pews or thirty-five, I continue to believe that God’s purposes include the presence of an Anglican community in this neighbourhood.  We paint our building, outside and inside, because our neighbours need us to be beautiful.  We reach out to various community partners because our neighbours need us to bring them together.  Beginning in January of this coming year I will be spending one Thursday a month with other rectors and vicars learning ways of helping our congregations grow, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers, so that we can carry on in the ministries God has entrusted to us.
         So, my sisters and brothers in Christ, let us do more than ‘keep up appearances’.  Let us keep calm in hope.  Let us use our resources wisely in faith.  Let us carry in love.  Amen.


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