Homily for Lent 2 (St. Patrick’s Day)
Scripture Readings: Genesis 15:1-12,17-18 Psalm 27 Luke 13:31-35
by Michael Creal
The committee planning for Lent this year chose “sustainability” as a Lenten theme. Sustainability is a term that came into currency at a famous 1987 Conference on the Environment and the economy held in Norway and presided over by the Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundland. She was a major leader at that conference and she defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the poor without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
It was a conference filled with optimism and promise, and what was called the Brundland Declaration was hailed as the way forward because, it was hoped, the conflict between environmental concerns and concerns about the economy could actually be addressed creatively, without either concern being pushed aside. Maurice Strong, a Canadian, also played a major role in that conference
What came out of it? For one thing, “round tables” on the environment and the economy were established in a number of countries, including Canada. At one point I was invited to participate in a strategic planning session of the Canadian Round Table which was made up of environmentalists, presidents of large companies like the Aluminum company of Canada and academics. The Canadian Round table, legislated by the Government in the hope that this would provide a setting to think constructively about a sustainable future, was abolished by Stephen Harper.
Well that vision and all that hope seems a dream of the past. Conferences, focused now more specifically on the environment and global warming, continue to be held but with many deadlines pushed into the future, lots of stalling and a fair bit of entrenched opposition; the most recent conference was the one in Paris.
Clearly the environment – or what we, and indigenous people call God’s creation – is under siege. One of the gloomiest accounts of this is found in David Wallace Well’s book, “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Global Warming,” reviewed by a star writer last Wednesday. But I don’t have to persuade you about how serious the issue is. The world of today, in an economic environment where “winners take all” and a handful of high tech executives control vast amounts of wealth and power – to say nothing of the oil lobby – is simply not, it seems to me, sustainable. And while advancing technology excites a lot of people, and while every new area of technological development – nuclear, biotech, cybertech, robotics, artificial intelligence present, on the one hand, exciting possibilities, they also present alarming threats as most scientists readily admit. And the political capacity to contain those threats and to find ways to address the dangerous and increasing gap between the rich 1% and the rest of the population, which the Brundland Declaration tried to address, seems pretty frail.
So, here we are.
Let’s go back to the Abraham story. The overall story is a story of faith as a venture into the unknown – with unknown dangers – but a venture into the unknown but with a promise from Yaweh – this is the covenant with Abraham – that something great will come of it. Well, for us today faith is certainly a venture into the unknown. The unknown for me, personally, at my age, is how my last days will pan out. I can’t know what they will entail but I venture into that unknown in faith without even knowing whether hearing aids are available in the next life. But seriously, and more important, I identify with my family, my friends, the various communities to which I belong and certainly this one here at HT as we confront whatever the future may bring. Words from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets may express how some of us feel in today’s world: he writes “There are only hints and guesses; hints followed by guesses and the rest is prayer, discipline, thought and action. The hints, half understood, the gift half understood is Incarnation.” That is, God at work within us, God in our midst, whatever the years ahead may bring. That, is the New Covenant.
David Adams Richards in that very brief passage read today in place of the epistle puts it a bit less ambiguously than Eliot. If you are not familiar with his work, he is a Canadian writer who has won any number of awards including the Governor General’s award twice. In his novels, Richards writes about his own people in the Miramachi area of New Brunswick, people with whom he identifies deeply, many of them living in desperate poverty, afflicted with various addictions (he himself suffered through a long period of alcoholism). Violence and murder were part of his world, the world he describes in his novels. Murderers were sometimes among his drinking companions. But he writes about all his subjects with enormous compassion and understanding. That’s the compelling thing about David Adams Richards for his readers – and certainly for me.
So that’s the context of the passage read this morning, in which he says in his own totally honest way, “Faith has guided me away not from sin and wrong – never that – or from failing with my children , or my wife and I failing with each other – never that either – but away from what I had once believed in, that liberty is bought with power – you can tease many meanings out of that phrase “liberty bought with power” but, at the very least, I think it expresses his view that revolutionaries of one kind or another that promise freedom through a revolution where they gain power simply don’t, simply can’t , deliver – I’ll just leave that with you – he goes on faith has guided me towards a more astonishing recognition of the sacred in our midst.” Not an abstract idea for him but a reality.
The sacred in the midst of that world he describes in his novels. So here is another way of talking about Incarnation, the sacred in the midst of poverty, homelessness, violence, injustice. This kind of faith can be the basis, the underlying strength for our mission and ministry here at HT.
And so for us, as individuals and as a community, set in a situation of considerable uncertainty, what is it that WE want to sustain? What do we need to sustain?
Many things. I’ll name a few. The integrity of creation – we can agree on that but how is another question and a huge one. Think of Jesus in today’s gospel weeping over the fate of Jerusalem and imagine Jesus weeping over the fate of our whole planet if we fail to act. And, as we consider all this, it’s important to keep in mind Wendell Berry’s distinction between the local and the global. At the very least, we can act on the local level-for instance, Merilie says no more plastic bottles at HT – while making it as clear as possible to any policy makers who will listen, where we stand on the global.
We certainly would want to sustain HT as a caring community. That means, at the very least, caring for each other, caring for everyone who enters this space: members of HT, people who are present on Sunday mornings, visitors who enter the church in the course of the week, and so on.
And beyond that, we would want to develop and sustain our relationship with members of the first nations community. If #6 became a Centre for reconciliation and healing, we could certainly find ways of supporting that.
Sustaining our commitment to the homeless , at a minimum in terms of witness at the homeless memorial but also, doing whatever we can to help eliminate the problem so obvious here in downtown Toronto – but also in the whole region. There are many people in the community concerned about this with whom we can work.
Sustaining our commitment to help settle refugees, and to work on behalf of those refugees who fall between the cracks in our refugee determination system and face deportation to situations of danger.
All that and maybe more
A couple of weeks ago, we passed a motion at the Vestry meeting about a new structure for our future ministry. There are some unclarities that need to be addressed, it seems to me, and that might take some time. But it is important to get it right, to work in a way that minimizes confusion, avoids unnecessary conflict and works for all of us. And as we try to determine exactly what we are summoned to do and be in the future, Mary Jo Leddy’s words of last week are important to keep in mind. She talked about where the Centre lies. The “Centre” she referred to as a mystery, a power we call God, and the liturgy is the way we name our truest, deepest way of being in the world, relating to that Centre. That way we must sustain both because it gives us perspective and also because it will sustain us as a community as we move into the future.