Saturday, April 4, 2015

Are We 'There' Yet? Discovering Mission (Easter 5 April 2015)

RCL Easter B
5 April 2015

Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Are We 'There' Yet?

Chapter 4:  Discovering Mission

Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist on Easter.

I began my teaching career at Vancouver School of Theology at a historic moment in the life of the School  In May of 1987 the Faculty voted to enter into a partnership with the Native Ministry Consortium to create the first Master of Divinity degree to be offered by extension to women and men serving in aboriginal communities.  As a Faculty we agreed to learn from aboriginal cultures and to adapt the curriculum to reflect aboriginal values and ways of learning.

One of the dimensions of the programme that I particularly loved required Vancouver-based professors travelling to aboriginal communities throughout North America to facilitate seminars within those communities.  During my twenty-three years of involvement I travelled to aboriginal communities in Alaska, Alberta, British Columbia, California, Manitoba and South Dakota to teach and to learn.

An early trip took me to the Nass Valley in northern British Columbia.  On the road to New Aiyansh we passed through an area that had been clear-cut.  For me the scene came as a shock.  Although there is a forestry industry in Colorado where I had grown up, I had not ever seen such a large area where the trees had been systematically harvested.  I remember thinking to myself, 'It's dead.  Everything is dead.'  But then came the moment of seeing with new eyes.

I saw a small cedar growing out of a very large stump.  I asked my driver if we could pull over.  We got out and walked over to the stump.  There, in a cleft in the stump, this small cedar was reaching for the sky.  'We call them "nurse stumps",' said my host.  'Sometimes the tree itself will send a new shoot up through the stump.  Sometimes a bird or a squirrel or the wind deposits seeds in a crack.  Eventually the seeds sprout and a new tree grows.'  I took a photo which I cannot now find --- but the image is firmly rooted in my memory.

She came to the garden early in the morning.  Just one week ago the forest of her hopes had been vast and there seemed to be no obstacles to the restoration of the people of Israel.  She could imagine the Romans leaving her country and the renewal of God's covenant, written no longer on stone tablets but in the hearts of those who had heard and followed Jesus of Nazareth.  Then the axes were laid to the trees of her hope.

First, there was that episode in the Temple when Jesus raged and scattered the very people who might have proven to be allies in his ministry of restoration and renewal.  Then there were the debates in the courts of the Temple as various religious leaders challenged Jesus and dared him to declare himself as 'Messiah'.

Then came that night.  They had gathered for dinner as they had so many times before.  They ate and drank and listened to his words.  But this night was different.  He washed their feet and talked about love, friendship, truth and suffering.  In that garden where they had stopped many times before, the mood was tense.  Suddenly the police arrived, led by Judas, and the trees started falling quickly.

She had hoped that the Roman governor would resist the calls for Jesus' death, but the political situation was fragile and he gave in.  She endured the journey to the place of execution and the execution itself.  Then she and the others hid themselves among the throngs who had come to celebrate the Passover.

On this morning she gathered up her courage and went to visit the clear-cut of her hope.  And then she saw it --- the nurse stump.  An empty tomb.  And then another one --- Strangers who spoke words of hope.  And then the new growth itself --- Jesus himself, changed and changing, but she knew him.

'Are we "there" yet?' Mary asked Jesus.  'No,' he said, 'there's still a lot to be done and you are among the ones I expect to continue the work I have begun.'  'What work?' she asked.  'Proclaim and live this truth:  Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is yours because I have loved you.' (cf. Desmond Tutu as quoted in Janet Morley, ed., Bread of Tomorrow:  Prayers for the Church Year 1992, 117)

On this Sunday throughout the world Christians gather, many in danger, to share this truth with their neighbours.  It is a truth that we do not simply recite as a formula, but a truth that we endeavour to make present in the way that we live and work in our communities.  It is a truth that is not suited for greeting cards, because it is a truth that offered freely but becomes costly when anyone believes it.  It is a truth that we treasure, because it is the promise of what already true but not yet fully true.  It is truth  we proclaim, because it is the mission that God has entrusted to us.

On this Sunday, as we have on every Easter for the past eighty generations, we look out at the clear-cut places of our world --- neighbourhoods that are impoverished, regions torn by war and persecution, eco-sytems threatened by human recklessness, individual human lives burdened by poverty or addiction or loneliness or other ills --- and we dare to see new life growing from the stumps.  It is not our vocation to 'explain' the resurrection of Jesus because it cannot be 'explained'.  The resurrection can only be lived as a witness to the truth embodied in the life, teaching and ministry of Jesus:  Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death; victory is ours through Jesus who loved us.

Does evil still strive to thwart goodness?  Yes, but not everywhere and for ever.  Does hate still try to overwhelm the better angels of love?  Yes, but not everywhere and for ever.  Does the darkness still seek to cast its shadow over the light?  Yes, but not everywhere and for ever.  Does death still cast its chill over life?  Yes, but not everywhere and for ever.

Are we 'there' yet?  No, we're not.  But the good news is that we know where we are going, how we're going to get there and Who is with us on the journey.

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