Category Archives: Sermons

Reflections given as sermons or homilies at a public service. Members of our community take it in turns to preach to the whole community.

Believing Is Seeing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (11 April 2010)

by Sherman Hesselgrave

Readings:  Acts 5:27-32     Psalm 150      Revelation 1:4-8     John 20:19-31

O breaking and entering God:
There is no place we can hide from your presence,
no deadbolt strong enough to keep you from slipping into our midst,
no barricade too high for your Spirit to surmount;
may your Risen Christ steal into our hearts, our imaginations, and empower us to take your message of healing and forgiveness and grace to a broken world.  Amen.

That prayer was inspired both by today’s gospel reading and by a New Yorker cover that has graced the wall of my office for many years—a Charles Addams drawing for a Valentine’s Day issue that depicts the interior of an apartment whose entry door has a deadbolt lock, a sliding bolt, a chain, and a security bar planted at an angle into the floor.  The man who lives there is staring down at a white envelope with a large red heart on it that someone has slipped beneath the barricaded entrance of his secure world.  Ready or not, grace happens.

During the season of Easter, the 50 days between last week and the Feast of Pentecost, we will hear numerous stories of God’s grace breaking into human experience.  Every year on the Sunday after Easter we read the account of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples, who are hiding behind locked doors, fearful that the same authorities who killed Jesus will hunt them down as well.  Running and hiding is a defense mechanism that has served the human race well.  I can still visualize the swashbuckler in some black and white movie from my childhood declaring: “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.”  But to live perpetually holed up in fear is not why God put us here.

Thomas, the disciple who missed Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the cowering disciples, has earned the moniker, Doubting Thomas, for telling his fellows that unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side, he would not believe.  It is rather unfair to wag a finger at Thomas for his reaction, because, in the end, we have to acknowledge that without doubt, faith is meaningless.  Or, as Frederick Buechner remarked, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.”1  That is one of the things we can take away from the story of Thomas.

Another is that Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to reassure him of the truth.  As disciples who missed out on Jesus’ appearance on Easter Sunday evening, all of us are in the same position as Thomas was.  The reassurance we are given, though, is not through touching the marks of the nails or the wound in the side.  For us, the real presence of Christ is found in the Eucharist, and when we “take and eat” the bread and wine we are literally touching the One who said “do this to remember me.”  “O taste and see how gracious is Yahweh.”2

Which leads to the third thing we can take away from the encounter of Thomas and the Risen One, namely, that believing is seeing.  What humans believe has always shaped what we see.  The names for planets and constellations come from a pre-Copernican belief system about the universe in which people would look at the night sky and see movements and patterns that led them conclude they were observing the activities of gods and goddesses.  Xenophobic beliefs lead people to see those different from themselves as worthy of all sorts of horrors.  But if we trust God the way Jesus taught us to trust God, our faith opens our eyes to see things with the corrective lenses that Jesus left behind for us, and when we need an adjustment, the Holy Spirit acts as divine optometrist.

Huston Smith, the great scholar of world religions, claims that Christianity’s unique and most significant contribution is the concept of forgiveness.  When we look around at the state of human civilization, we see unending cycles of violence: you hit me, I hit you back.  Jesus knew forgiveness is the only way to break the pattern.
Rowan Williams, from the time he served as a parish priest, wrote: “There is no hope of understanding the Resurrection outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed that the empty tomb proves nothing.  We need to add that no amount of apparitions, however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.”3  For Thomas and the other disciples, the “resurrection was an experience of forgiveness. The disciples had all abandoned Jesus, becoming complicit with his murderers. The fact that the resurrection was happening to them was an experience of forgiveness for them.”4

In the early centuries of the Christian church, the season of Easter was a period of introducing the newly baptized to the sacred mysteries—particularly the Eucharist, from which the baptismal candidates had been excluded until their baptism at the Easter Vigil.  There is even a fancy Greek word for this practice: mystagogia.  The baptismal covenant is the articulation of Christian identity, and mystagogy is the process of looking deeper into what it means to be on this journey.  For example, what does it mean to “live eucharistically?”  We are taught that the four-fold action of the Eucharist comes from Jesus and the miracle of the loaves where he took the offered loaves, blessed them, broke them, and gave them.

A bunch of years ago, I had a mystagogical moment that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of living eucharistically.  I was the celebrant and the gifts had been brought to the altar: gifts of bread and wine, and the financial offerings.  As I held the alms basin in my hands I looked down and on top was a five dollar bill on which had been stamped in bold purple block letters: LESBIAN MONEY.  It was a conservative town, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had decided to do some consciousness raising by annotating their currency.  Just as we place the bread and wine on the altar—fruit of the earth and the work of human hands—to be taken, blessed, broken, and shared, our financial offerings—symbols of our life and labour—are also taken, blessed, broken, and shared.  As I looked at that bill I suddenly imagined every bill and envelope sitting there with a unique stamp on it: RETIRED SCHOOLTEACHER MONEY, PHARMACIST MONEY, NURSE MONEY, UNDEREMPLOYED SINGLE MOM MONEY…you get the idea.  St Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, appealed to them to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice,” or as a modern interpreter has rendered it: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”5  What a contrast from the what’s-in-it-for-me view seen through the eyes of the marketplace.

Last time I preached I mentioned the new Holy Trinity mission statement, which now appears on the front cover of our Sunday bulletin.  A self-described agnostic who read the sermon online told me that he was deeply impressed that our mission statement includes this language, and hence, people like him:

We foster lay leadership, include the doubter and the marginalized, and challenge oppression wherever it may be found.

Wherever we are on our spiritual journey, God invites us to take the risk of observing life through the lens of our faith, evaluating with the mind of Christ, and responding with the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As we encircle the altar today, taste and see that God is gracious, touch the Risen Christ in the gifts of bread and wine and in one another, and may all our doubts lead us ever deeper into the mystery that is God.

———————————–

1 Wishful Thinking, (1973), p. 20

2 Psalm 34:8

3 Resurrection, (1982), p. 118

4 From Paul Nuechterlein’s notes of Gil Bailie’s lectures on the Gospel of John.

5 Romans 12:1 (The Message)

The God Who Won’t Let Go

Sermon preached by Sherman Hesselgrave on the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 14, 2010

Compassionate and generous God:

In Christ you have made us participants in your new
creation, where those who have been estranged and
alienated from you and from one another are brought
into the commonwealth of grace through the ministry
of reconciliation. Give us grace to be your
ambassadors of reconciliation wherever we may be.
Amen.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or as I have come to call it, the Parable of the Compassionate Parent, is found only in the Gospel of Luke, and so, unlike many of the other parables of Jesus, we encounter it only once in the lectionary cycle. Three years ago, before Toronto was even a twinkle in my eye, I was scheduled to preach on this set of readings, and the new pastor at the Lutheran Church where I was working at the time recommended a book by Henri Nouwen with which I was not familiar: The Return of the Prodigal Son. The book was written after Nouwen had left his teaching position at Harvard and had come to Toronto to serve as Chaplain to the L’Arche community here. The catalyst for the book was Nouwen’s encounter with Rembrandt’s painting of the same name. The painting is large, like many of Rembrandt’s most famous works–eight and a half by nearly seven feet–and hangs in the Hermitage museum, once the Winter Palace of Russian emperors. Nouwen describes sitting with the painting for long hours, watching the changing light of the day animating the painting’s already dramatic chiaroscuro treatment of the subjects in the scene.

Rembrandt has taken license in his portrayal, for in the biblical narrative, the elder son does not witness the reunion of his younger brother with their father, but arrives on the scene when the party is in full swing. In staging the scene the way he does, Rembrandt reminds us of the confrontation that prompts Jesus to tell this parable: “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The elder son, standing erect and wearing fine red robes also represents the scribes and pharisees, while the man seated nearby, beating his breast, represents the sinners Jesus welcomed and with whom he broke bread. This was one of the artist’s last paintings, having suffered tremendous losses: financial insolvency, five of his children and both of his wives had died. And yet he could create a work of such power and beauty.

One of New Testament scholar Walter Wink’s suggestions for “transforming Bible study” is to find ways to get inside a passage. For instance, in today’s parable, you might enter imaginatively into one or more of the biblical characters and experience them in either their historical setting or in a modern context. Anyone who has donned a costume in Christmas Story has an idea of what it is like to get inside a Bible story; but it is only by plumbing the depths of our imagination that we can begin to live a parable: experience the unspoken curse implicit in the younger son’s request: “I wish you were dead;” smell the ammonia of the pig sty, fume with the seething resentment of the elder son, feel the tears of joy and delight running down the cheeks of the compassionate parent. Who do we identify with in today’s parable? Henri Nouwen tells of explaining to a friend how strongly he had been able to identify with the younger son, whereupon Nouwen’s friend looked at him quite intently and said, “I wonder if you are not more like the elder son.” Nouwen writes: “With these words he opened a new space within me.”

I suddenly saw myself in a completely new way. I saw my jealousy, my anger, my touchiness, doggedness and sullenness, and, most of all, my subtle self-righteousness. I saw how much of a complainer I was and how much of my thinking and feeling was ridden with resentment. For a time it became impossible to see how I could ever have thought of myself as the younger son. I was the elder son for sure, but just as lost as his younger brother, even though I had stayed “home” all my life.1

For most of the twenty-five years I have been a priest I have understood the father in the parable to be God, but reading Nouwen’s thoughts about the painting and parable three years ago “opened a new space within me.” When Jesus exhorts his disciples to “be compassionate as your [Heavenly] Father is compassionate,” 2 he lays down one of the most radical pieces of truth in the Gospel. The compassionate father in today’s parable is the embodiment of spiritual maturity. “No father or mother ever became father or mother without having been a son or daughter,” Nouwen writes, “but every
son or daughter has to consciously choose to step beyond their childhood and become father or mother for others. It is a hard and lonely step to take–especially in a period of history in which parenthood is so hard to live well–but it is a step that is essential for the fulfillment of the spiritual journey.”3

So what does this parable teach us about compassion? Nouwen sees three ways to compassion: grief, forgiveness, and generosity.

Grief,” he writes, “asks me to allow the sins of the world–my own included–to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them. There is no compassion without many tears. If they can’t be tears that stream from my eyes, they have to be at least tears that well up from my heart. When I consider the immense waywardness of God’s children, our lust, our greed, our violence, our anger, our resentment, and when I look at them through the eyes of God’s heart, I cannot but weep and cry out in grief:

Look, my soul, at the way one human being tries to inflict as much pain on another as possible; look at these people plotting to bring harm to their fellows; look at these parents molesting their children; look at this landowner exploiting his workers; look at the violated women, the misused men, the abandoned children. Look my soul, at the world; see the concentration camps, the prisons, the nursing homes, the hospitals, and hear the cries of the poor. 4

Forgiveness is the second way to compassion. Forgiveness allows us to step over–or climb over “the wall of arguments and angry feelings that [we] have erected between [ourselves] and all those whom [we] love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear of being used or hurt again. It is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control…. Grief allows me to see beyond my wall and realize the immense suffering that results from human lostness. It opens my heart to a genuine solidarity with my fellow humans. Forgiveness, [on the other hand,] is a way to step over the wall and welcome others into my heart without expecting anything in return.”5

The third way to compassion is generosity. “In the parable, the father not only gives his departing son everything he asks, but also showers him with gifts on his return. And to his elder son he says: ‘All I have is yours.’ There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his [children]…. [H]e completely gives himself away without reserve.” 6

At our Annual Vestry a few weeks ago, we adopted a new mission statement for Holy Trinity:

The Church of the Holy Trinity is a community of people who seek to express
Christian faith through lives of integrity, justice and compassion. We foster lay
leadership, include the doubter and the marginalized, and challenge oppression
wherever it may be found.

A “community of people who seek to express Christian faith through lives of integrity, justice and compassion.” There it is, firmly embedded in the statement that describes who we say we are as a community. In his homily that day, Christopher Lind, one of our churchwardens spoke to us about building communities of wisdom, and today I stand before you talking about building a community of compassion. I’d say our heart is in the right place, but we have plenty of work yet to do. The most common complaint I hear about Holy Trinity–even from people who are members of the parish–is that, while we are very good at talking about being an inclusive community, there are more than a few people who don’t feel welcome here because somehow they don’t square with the Holy Trinity template.” The Parable of the Compassionate Parent wraps its arms around our circle this morning, and it won’t let go. The Christ who uttered these words to another circle of disciples who needed to grieve the brokenness of their own lives–the hurts that had been inflicted upon them and the wounds they had caused others; the Christ who showed them how to see over the barriers they had erected between one another and how to step over those walls by acts of forgiveness; and the Christ who emptied his own life for his friends is here with us today, and in a few minutes will dine once again with sinners–with you and with me.

1 Return of the Prodigal, p. 18
2 Luke 6:36
3 Return of the Prodigal, p.114
4 Return of the Prodigal, p.120-121
5 Return of the Prodigal, pp. 121-122
6 Return of the Prodigal, p.122

“Building Communities of Wisdom”

A sermon preached on February 28, 2010 by Christopher Lind

Please repeat after me this prayer:

Serenity Prayer (by Reinhold Niebuhr)

“May God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things that I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have been thinking a lot about Wisdom recently. Partly this is because of the difficult choices we are faced with as a community. Partly this is because as individuals we are always and repeatedly faced with decisions where the right answer is not obvious. Maybe we don’t have enough information? Maybe our timeline is too short. Whatever the stress, we find ourselves yearning for the Wisdom of Solomon.

You may remember Solomon as the King of Israel who rendered a famous judgment. Two women were arguing about a baby, each claiming the baby as their own. When Solomon suggested dividing the child in two with a sword and giving each woman a half, one of the women refused the offer saying she would rather lose the baby than have it killed and divided. By this Solomon identified the child’s true mother.

In the Biblical tradition, Solomon is considered the model of wisdom. Solomon is the son of King David and when he becomes King, he prays to God not for long life or wealth or death of his enemies, but for discernment in administering justice. God grants his wish and

“The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)

Other wise men and women are also examples of the Wisdom tradition. These are craftsmen, royal counselors, sorcerors, magicians, astrologers & professional sages (see Isa 3:2-3). So, Joseph in his role as the interpreter of dreams for the Pharaoh is a good example of the Wisdom tradition but so too are the most wise men of all, the 3 Kings from the East, who come every Christmas, right on cue.

As you can see, Wisdom is international (Jer 10:4 “wise ones of all the nations”). Wisdom doesn’t come from just one place. It can come from any place and you know it when you experience it. Wisdom is not limited to Israel and it didn’t originate there but Wisdom was one of the major facets of Near Eastern culture. The book of Proverbs refers to God giving us “30 sayings of admonition & knowledge” (Prov 22:20) and some scholars think they come from an ancient Egyptian wisdom book with 30 chapters. In the same way some scholars think large portions of the book of Job (3:1–42:6) may be a reworked Edomite tale.

Wisdom is also a complex theological term because it represents an alternative way of understanding the statement “Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God”. You see, in the book of Proverbs Wisdom is described as the first work of God at the beginning of Creation (Prov 8:21-31). So, when in the beginning of John’s Gospel we read “in the beginning was the Word” we are seeing the writer of John’s Gospel say that the Word of God is the Wisdom of God. This also makes sense of St. Paul’s claim in 1Corinthians when he describes Christ as “the power of God and the Wisdom of God… [and also as the one] who became for us wisdom from God.” (1Cor 24, 30).

There are different kinds of literature in the Bible. There is history, there’s biography, there is poetry, there are songs, there are letters, there are myths of origin, there are even coded attacks against the Roman empire (like in Revelations). One of the other types of literature is Wisdom literature. It includes Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and some other books in the Apochrypha.

If Solomon is the model for Wisdom, the Proverb is the literary prototype. You all know what a proverb is. It is a short popular saying or an authoritative word. When we speak of the improving economy and say “A rising tide lifts all boats”, or when we describe a hockey team and say “ A chain is only as strong as the weakest link”, we are quoting modern proverbs. However, when we say “A good man is hard to find” we are not quoting an episode of the Bachelorette, we are quoting the prophet Micah (7:2). And when Dr. Phil says “Don’t go to bed angry” I wonder if he knows he is quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:26)?

As you can see, not all Proverbs come from the Book of Proverbs. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, when Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” he is alluding to another proverb heard earlier in the Gospel when he said “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

King David is thought to have composed the Psalms. The Psalms are part of the Wisdom tradition though some are more obviously wise than others. Today’s Psalm confronts the issue of fear & responds with Wisdom. What is the wisdom on offer here?

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

This Sunday is the second Sunday in Lent but it is also our Vestry Sunday which means after this service we have what other organizations would call our Annual General Meeting. At this meeting we will be considering a proposed Mission Statement, some proposed Strategic Directions for the next 3 – 5 years and we will also be discussing a draft Vision statement.

The planning group working on Mission & Vision has worked hard to both represent consensus and also to challenge certain assumptions. We have struggled over what it means to be a parish in the Anglican tradition when the contradictions of the larger Anglican Communion have been laid bare for all to see.

For myself, I wonder what would it mean to claim an identity as part of the wisdom tradition? Wisdom is central to Christianity but it does not originate there. It is international but also local; it is the opposite of folly but is not the same as certainty; it requires memory, action and knowledge: remembering, doing & knowing.

What would it mean for us to identify as a community of wisdom? Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, says that “Wisdom [is] not esoteric, a secret for only mature believers; rather, wisdom [is] a spiritual gift whereby thinking (the head) and knowing (the heart) joined and opened the way to God.” (p. 51) This book is a study of liberal protestant churches in the US that are growing! She describes these as the ‘new village churches’ because they have found a new way to negotiate the relationship between religious faith and a secular culture. “Although they have buildings,” Bass writes, “new village churches are primarily the communal journeys of a people finding a home in tradition, practice and wisdom.” (p. 53)

Wisdom requires doing. It requires a memory of doing the right thing in the past. It requires doing the right thing now and it requires discernment of just exactly what that right thing is: Remembering, doing & knowing.

In the very early church, followers of Jesus were known as the “people of the way” because they were people who were trying to follow the teachings of the wise Jesus as a ‘way of life’. Some people summarize the essence of that way of life as the ‘Golden Rule’: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12 & 22:39). It doesn’t say ‘do unto others as they have done to you’ but ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It is a short popular saying, an authoritative word. It is a proverb! It also exists in ancient Egyptian Wisdom, in Greek Philosophy, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism & Taoism. It is recognized as Wisdom in all the major religions. It is international.

Confucius said that wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection, imitation and experience. He said imitation was the easiest way, reflection was the noblest way and experience was the bitterest way. I recommend that when we consider our vision for the future, we consider what it would mean to claim Wisdom as our orienting image. If this seems like a scary prospect, I can only quote today’s Psalm ““Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

Christopher Lind

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

A Sermon Preached on Nov.15th by Christopher Lind

Dr. Michael Hryniuk is a theologian from the Ukranian Catholic side of the family, the Christian family that is. He is a former Executive Director of the Henri Nouwen Society of Canada and a specialist in spirituality. Spirituality is a famously hard concept to define and I was present at lunch one day when a friend asked him boldly: “Can you define Spirituality in 10 words or less?” Meeting that bid and raising it, he replied: “Sure! I can define it in three words – Meaning, Healing & Belonging”. I have thought a lot about those three words in the last year, and tested them out in a variety of contexts. Every time they have passed the test in flying colours.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging.

Meaning in the context of spirituality refers to a person or a group’s “whole way of life in response to what they perceive to be of ultimate meaning, value, and power”. It is the orienting principle in their life. You find out about a person or a group’s understanding of ultimate meaning either by studying their declarations (their Creed or Mission Statement if you like), or by studying their behaviour. They don’t always add up. When they do add up we call that integrity. When they don’t add up we call that hypocrisy. The Anglican Church of Canada has been struggling with this issue over the question of equal marriage. When we say that all persons are created equal in the eyes of God and ought not to be discriminated against on the grounds of race, class, ability, gender or sexual orientation, are we speaking out of both sides of our mouths? Or are we acting with integrity?

As a congregation we are also grappling with this dilemma. We don’t include the ancient creeds in our Sunday liturgy but we are stumbling slowly toward a mission statement in our strategic planning process in spite of being surrounded by them. We have them painted on our walls, stained into our windows and after a fashion, printed on the front of our bulletins. The meaning of our lives has to do with the purpose and direction of our lives. We are moving slowly because we want to achieve congruence between our behaviour and our beliefs. If we are serious about that direction, you will be able to see it with your eyes as well as hear it with your ears.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Healing in the context of spirituality refers to overcoming the inner split between our true selves and our false selves. It does not refer to curing a disease but to rediscovering the undivided self. We all have these memories, sometimes vivid, sometimes vague, of an innocent childhood that becomes damaged by a corrupted world. For some, this memory is the earliest memory we have. It is also the most powerful and the most damaging and we call it abuse. For others it is not fatal, and we still spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome the distance that has been created. In both cases we have a sense of the sacred being assaulted and it is our own experience of the divine we are trying to recover. In the fifth century, the North African theologian, St. Augustine, captured this idea when he wrote “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

The split that needs to be healed is the split between the presence of the Divine and the absence of the Divine, between our truest, purest self and our damaged, defeated and disoriented self. Our damaged self can be a deceitful self. This self doesn’t want to know what is going on. It wants to hide from the truth. It wants to stay unconscious because the burden of consciousness is too heavy to bear. Groups can be like this – political groups, university departments, nurses unions, corporate boardrooms, even religious groups (especially religious groups). We can ALL be like that. It is a form of original sin, and we are all guilty from time to time. We are broken and we need healing.

Meaning, Healing & Belonging

Belonging in the context of spirituality refers to a recognition that human beings are in their essence, social beings. We are born into and made for community. In the last three or four hundred years, western culture has made progress in affirming the rights and unique character of the individual. This has allowed us to remake society to be a more equal and more just place. One of the costs of this progress has been an obscuring of our mutual interdependence, of our communal nature. From the very beginning, we are born into relationship with others. Before there is a me, there is a we. Another way we have obscured this truth is by confusing belonging with belongings. In a society of great material wealth, we focus our energies on acquiring ever more belongings instead of asking the question, to whom do I belong? Anybody here seen the bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins”? How about a new banner hanging from the wall of the church outside that says: “We all belong to God – Church of the Holy Trinity!”

Today’s Epistle is from the letter to the Hebrews. Hidden in the middle of today’s reading we find the following snippet 10:15-16):

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

This is a quotation. In Deuteronomy (6:4-9) we find the great Hebrew Creed, the Shema which reads: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

(We remember that part for reasons I will explain, but we don’t remember what follows)

Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Keep these in your hearts … fix them on your forehead

You might connect this to Mark’s Gospel (12:28-34). There we read about a Scribe who asks Jesus to name the most important commandment. He replies by quoting the Shema. “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Now if you grew up in the Anglican Church you will remember this from the Book of Common Prayer. In every communion service the prayer book calls for reciting either the 10 commandments or this Summary of the Law. If the worship committee were to ask me for input into revisions of our Sunday liturgy, I would recommend a recovery of this Summary of the Law, which contains the ancient Creed. For me, this represents the core of the spirituality that I want us to be about. It is about integrity, it is about inclusion, it is about meaning, healing and belonging. If, as a congregation, we could adopt this as our mission statement, then I would say with Jesus “[We] are not very far from the kingdom of God”.

I recently attended a memorial service for a woman who died, after a full life, at the age of 92. The service was held at a funeral home and led by an Anglican priest the deceased had never met. I learned at the reception that while the 92 yr. old had identified herself as an Anglican, neither of her children (both in their late 50s) could ever remember her attending church. They speculated that she had stopped going to church after the death of her first child. Her first born, a boy, had died at the age of 9 months of pneumonia. That was over 60 years ago. At that same reception, I met this woman’s daughter-in-law who still had not picked up the ashes of her late husband who died tragically in a car accident, 16 years ago, in his late 30s. Both of these women have experienced, and shared deep tragedy. In different ways, their injuries went unhealed. These injuries are material and corporeal – two people died. But their injuries are also spiritual. The sacred has been profaned and the image of the divine has been violated. They came to experience distance where before they experienced unity. They seek reunion, yet don’t know how to achieve it. They struggled with issues of meaning, needed healing but weren’t sure how to achieve it, knew they belonged to their biological family but had an ambiguous and confused sense of belonging to the Christian family. This funeral was an opportunity for the church to say “You belong to God” and however painful your life has been, Jesus has gone there before you.

Today it is common to hear people describe themselves as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious’. I get the ‘not religious’ part. It means they don’t attend church, or synagogue, or temple or mosque, but what does it mean to be spiritual? I think it means they are seekers after meaning, seekers after healing, and seekers after belonging. That means they are just like you and me.

Community is Letting Go of Fear

Mike Harris, in repealing the Employment Equity Act, said: only those viewed as
competitive deserve a job.  On the other hand, in lowering the welfare rates,
he said only those who had a job deserved an adequate income.  At the same he
changed the Tenant Protection Act so that people without a job or without
adequate income could be evicted for not paying their rent.  Mike Harris was
violent. He forced people to live and die on the street.  However Mike Harris
is not seen as violent.  He is seen as upholding the values of our survival of
the fittest economy.

Victims of violence, myself included, usually respond to violence with
violence.  Many of the victims of Mike Harris’ policies feel powerless,
helpless defeated, devalued and thrown away.  Some escape their subsistence
lives by using suicidal addiction of drugs and alcohol

I am afraid of people who are drunk.  I perceive their behaviour as being out
of control.  I fear I might be physically hurt.  I am vulnerable. But how much
of this fear is real, and how much of it is my projection, I do not know: it
depends on the individual.  I want to run away.  I want to exclude
“them”.  Yet. I know in my bones the violence of exclusion.  I know what
it is like to be a label, seen only as part of an unwanted group—a
‘them’.   I know what it is like to be treated according to another
persons idea of who I am, rather then who I actually am as an individual
person.  I know what it’s like to be left on the periphery of a community,
ignored and excluded. (Fortunately, you at Holy Trinity have gotten to know me
as a person)

Our scripture today is about inclusion.  We read about an Eunuch, someone
rejected, despised and outcast by the early Christian Community..  He wants to
be baptized:  he wants to belong.

Jean Vanier describes the needs of an alcoholic in his book “Be Not
Afraid.”  I shall name the alcoholic John
{John} “is told that he needs to stop drinking: it’s bad for his
health.  But he doesn’t need to be told that—he’s been vomiting all
day…What he wants is to find someone who will give him the force, the
motivation, the thirst for life….He needs strength, he needs to be attached to
someone who will give him life and courage, the peace and the love,. which will
help him…not to take drugs, not to drink, not to be depressed”  [95]

Sara Miles, in her book “Takes this Bread” talks about the challenge of
setting up a food pantry at St. Gregory’s, San Francisco,  Initially, the food
pantry was for people living in nearby housing project. But to her astonishment
it ended up a food pantry run by the people who used the food pantry.

“Just as St. Gregory’s encouraged laypeople to serve as deacons in its
liturgies, at the pantry, the people I thought of as “pantry deacons”—our
volunteers—weren’t a select or professional group….[More and more] were
unofficial; visitors who came to get groceries and then stuck around to help.
They were more often misfits; jobless or homeless or [psychiatric survivors} or
just really poor.  They’d stand in line for weeks, then one day they would
ask if we needed a hand..  The next week, they’d show up early, and the next,
they’d be redesigning our system, explaining to me how things could work
better.  Little by little, these new volunteers were beginning to run the
pantry.

Sara soon found that more and more her role was to listen:   When someone
steals, acts out, loses there temper, there is generally a reason.   Listening
involves being present;  Putting aside one’s own concerns and being present
to the story on another person.  It means imaging what it feels like to live
the story of another person.  Not Easy..

Sara describes her experience of listening:

So I’d sit down with people and let them talk: I’d listen and put my hands
on them at some point.

…I get people like Ed, a fiftyish white guy with long hair who’d frequently
flop down on the curb, begging for help.  One of our most insane and drug addicted visitors, he’d sob and
rant. In no particular sequence, about the secret lessons of First Corinthians,
his imaginary machine gun, his father and the immanence of the Day of
Judgment, the evils of the VA hospital, and his present need for healing
prayer.  I’d sit down on the sidewalk with him and wipe his nose. “Oh
God,’ he’d say. “I can’t go on like this. Help me, help me.:  I was
sort of fond of Ed, despite his hysteria, so I pat his stringy arm and murmur
until he calmed down a bit, then fetch a snack, make a sign of the cross on his
dirty forehead, and send him on his way with a few bags of food. (131)

As people bond together becoming community, support comes from people
unexpectedly. Sara describes;

…I was outside, trying to chat with Christa, the lady with bright pink hair.
I could hear one of our meanest drunks shouting and being nasty to people at the
end of the line.  I went over and asked if he wanted food.  “Hell yeah,”
he snarled.  I could tell he wanted really badly to hit me.
An enormous black guy started to come over, protectively.
“I’m Dave,” he said…his voice was amused and gentle. “You need
help.”  I told Dave no, it was Okay, and walked the drunk away from the line,
telling him I’d get him some food.  When I came back out with the groceries,
the drunk was sitting down on the curb and he’d yanked up a handful of pansies
from our garden and was holding them out to me roots and all.  “Here, he
slurred, ‘for you. I like you  These are for you.  [135-138]

Sara writes about the bonding of community

…Traditionally, Lent was a time of preparation for the death and rebirth of
our baptism….At St. Gregory’s, and especially at the food pantry,   Lent
was embodied in my experience with others.  I could feel it as more then a
metaphor:  Together at the pantry, we really were turning into a people…
We were dying to our individual selves and becoming a
body.  It had sore places and unhealed scars: it wasn’t perfect, but it was
beautiful.  It was Christ body or…a church..  {169-170}

Sara talks about the change in Teddy one of the food pantry users and volunteers

Teddy said he’d hit bottom two years before he walked through our doors.
“I’d been up for seven days straight on meth’ he told me…and finally
crashed under the bridge where I had a little encampment.  When I woke up,
there were rats crawling on me.  That was the moment when something inside me
said, Get out of here and start getting help…
“But,” Teddy went on. “I came here for food, and
then I thought I could volunteer, and volunteering changed me.  After all those
years of being a drug addict, living on the streets, this gave me tht sense that
there was the possibility of happiness again.  Now every time I give out food
and make contact and am able to smile at somebody, even if I can’t speak their
language, I’m just really touched—I’m being fed by it. [214-215]

Teddy still had relapses and fights and weeks of almost unmanageable anxiety,
but being one of the people in charge of the pantry had become what he called a
kind of spiritual practice.  He looked at me earnestly.  ‘It’s very easy
for me to try to control people,” he said.  “But when I’m not sarcastic
or arrogant or egotistical,  I see that the qualities in people that frustrate
me are really about me.  It’s not just about feeding people who come to the
pantry with food.  It’s about nourishing them with love.
[246]

Sara sums up the experience of the food pantry:

“This was the hunger that first drew me to the Table at St. Gregory’s.  It
was the same hunger that drew parents to the pantry to get groceries and brought
them back to blurt out
Help or thank you or some other real word.  It was the hunger of the
volunteers, with their yearning for jokes, lunch, company and work to do.  It
was the hunger of everyone who gave us dollar bills, cans of hominy, apples from
their backyard, huge checks… It was a hunger that had to do with the bodies of
strangers, with offering everything we had, giving away control and receiving
what we needed to live.  Communion.  I wanted communion

On Thursday, as I was leaving Holy Trinity, a man held the door for me.  I
recognized him as one of the people living on the square.  I’m sorry I
don’t know his name.  I asked him;’ How are you doing?”  This is the
House of the Lord, “ he replied, “I am safe here.”

Marilyn Ferrel