7 June 2015
Saint Faith's Anglican Church
Click here to listen to the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 Eucharist on Sunday the 7th.
When I was in seminary, my classmates and I became thoroughly immersed into the liturgical year. Our Professor of Church History, Bill Petersen, made us memorize the various holy days and commemorations in the American Episcopal church year. Sometimes, one of my classmates and I would be quietly eating our breakfast and Bill would sneak up behind us. "June 1st," he would say or "Justin Martyr". He expected us to give the name of the saint or the saint's story or the year the saint died.
Because of that training, I look at the year differently than some people. While I can't say I remember every holy day or commemoration, I do know many. This way of looking at the year keeps me grounded in the long saga we call 'the church in history'. This past week is no exception.
On Monday the church remembered Justin of Rome, a teacher who, according to legend was a student of Polycarp of Smyrna who, in his turn, was a study of John the evangelist. Justin wrote a famous work addressed to the Roman emperor in which Justin said, in so many words, the Roman mythological world was broken. It was broken, Justin argued, because it did not recognize who was the Author of creation and who, through the Word, had instilled a pattern. Now that the Word had become flesh in Jesus, Justin told the emperor, the system had been fixed. The emperor disagreed and, sometime around the year 150, Justin was executed.
On Tuesday the church remembered more than 40 Christians who died in the city of Lyons in southern France around the year 177. These men and women, some just teenagers, lived a life that said to their neighbours, 'The Roman imperial system is broken. It's a system that is based on the idea that what's good for the rich is good for Rome and what is good for Rome is what's good for everyone in the Mediterranean world.'
'But the good news is,' they told their neighbours, 'that God has provided a way to repair the brokenness of the Empire. Acknowledge that we are all sisters and brothers. Share in the body and blood of Christ, given to us in the bread and wine of the eucharist. Then you will experience the healing our world needs.' Their neighbours accused the Christians of incest and cannibalism. The Christians were tortured, executed and their bodies thrown into the Rhône river.
On Wednesday we remembered the martyrs of Uganda. The first group were killed by the King of Uganda in 1888 for daring to tell him that his cruelty was breaking the kingdom apart. The more recent martyr, Archbishop Janani Luwum, was killed in 1977 for telling Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator, that his cruelty and extra-judicial murders were destroying the country.
Throughout the centuries Christians have dared to proclaim to those in power that the world that God created and that God loves is broken. It has been broken by human sin, especially when the powerful and the privileged use their power and privilege to oppress the weak and marginalized. Sometimes, tragically, Christians themselves have been ensnared by power and privilege. We forget the stories of Justin of Rome, the martyrs of Lyons and the martyrs of Uganda. But God, ever merciful, refuses to let us remain trapped in the illusion that power and privilege are signs of God's favour.
The world is broken, but that does not mean that it cannot be fixed. The world is broken, but that does not mean God has forgotten us. The world is broken, but that does not mean that its brokenness is eternal. We who bear the sign of the cross upon our foreheads know that there is a way to repair the damage, but it is a difficult way; it is the way of Jesus of Nazareth.
Last week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission told us that Canada is broken. To be honest, that's really not news. We have known for decades that there is systemic injustice in our country directed against First Nations. Why are aboriginal men more likely to be convicted and sent to prison than non-aboriginal men? Why are there more aboriginal children in care than non-aboriginal children? Why is the aboriginal suicide rate higher than the national average? These are the questions that the Royal Commission of twenty years ago asked; these are the questions the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have asked.
As Anglicans we have acknowledged our role in contributing to this systemic injustice and prejudice. This Parish chose to contribute more than it was asked to the Reconciliation Fund. And now, we must be among those voices that dare to speak to power and say, 'Our country is broken, but we can repair it. We are willing to pay the cost of upholding the dignity of all our sisters and brothers, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. We dare to hope that a day will dawn, perhaps even in our own lifetimes, that will see new relationships.'
The good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth is that the brokenness of our world is not God's will nor is it God's last word. God's last word is spoken in our lives, in how we choose to participate in the healing of the world rather than contribute further to its fracturing. Justin knew that this was possible. The martyrs in Lyons and in Uganda knew that this was possible. Our aboriginal sisters and brothers, many who share our faith and many who do not, dare to hope that the healing of our world is possible. And it is, if we are willing to take the risk and to shoulder the work.