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
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
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
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. مراهنات كرة قدم 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.