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.

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

Maiden Voyage

Years ago, I was preparing an address for my first congregational meeting as the new pastor. I had titled it “Great Expectations” and—in that age before laptops—given the manuscript to my secretary to type. As I proofed the typescript, I spotted a typographical error that made me burst out laughing. I had written something about our common “hopes and dreams,” but it had come out “hopes and dreads.” The more I reflected on the error, the more I realized it had revealed a truth of its own. New beginnings are, indeed, about hopes and dreams; but new beginnings also come with fears about how the future will play out.

It is probably a good idea that the Gospel reading appointed for the Sunday after Easter is always the same: the risen Christ appearing out of nowhere and announcing “Shalom” to the disciples, who have been paralyzed by fear and hunkered down behind bolted doors since the crucifixion. I see this as one of many examples of God giving Jesus’ followers exactly what they needed to start them in the direction of a hopeful future. ‘Shalom’ is a much richer word than ‘peace,’ for it also connotes wellness and wholeness, nothing missing, nothing broken. It was the word they needed to hear after their world had collapsed and they didn’t know where to turn. It was the word that rolled back the stone and drew them out of their tomb of fear.

The risen Christ still comes into our midst and speaks to us with words of encouragement, words of prodding, words of vision, words of hope. I’m sure it is clichéd now to call Christians ‘Easter People,’ but I love the season of Easter and everything about it, because it reveals the essence of the gift we as Christians have to offer a broken world. From Easter sprang the original vision of who we are as Jesus’ followers, and how we are to focus our energies.

Easter blessings,
Sherman

Words & Community

How many preachers do we have in our congregation today? How many of you preach fairly regularly? Let’s say at least once a year? How many of you have preached a sermon on at least one occasion in your life? Let’s see all the hands.

I think I will use that show of hands in support of my claim that Holy Trinity is a very articulate community. We place a very high value on words. Especially when they are used in theological discourse.

Holy Trinity values and attracts people who believe in the power of words to bring the living Christ into our midst. We place a great deal of faith in the power of words to define who we are as a Christian people and to unite us in a common vision for our church and a common ministry to the world around us.

I know I’m stretching a point here. That none among us really believe that we can articulate our way to salvation. But I wonder if sometimes we don’t forget that. We get so caught up in our wordiness, most of the time our very articulate wordiness, that we forget the inadequacy of words to capture the deepest truth of our being, let alone the true essence and wonder of God.

… sermon continues

The preceding was a transcript of the first 2 minutes of a 14 minute sermon available as an mp3 audio download.

The struggle against homelessness

At noon this coming Tuesday, a small group of people will meet on Trinity Square just outside the south door of the church to remember all the people who have died homeless on the streets of our city. We will light candles, read the names of those who have died in the past month, hear remembrances from people who knew them, observe a short period of silence, read a poem, listen to a song, share announcements of events related to the struggle against homelessness and perhaps express some frustration at our inability to effect change. Then we will come inside the church for lunch.

On other days when the church is open to the public, homeless people will come and go. Some will sleep for hours on couches at the back of the church. Some will use the phone. Some will chat with the People Presence volunteer or with the caretaker on duty. Most will be quiet and respectful of the space. A few will be loud and disruptive. By virtue of their humanity, all will challenge us to treat them with dignity and respect. And, by their very presence, each one of them will challenge us to question what we can do, what we are doing, to make a real difference in their lives.

There is no question that the thing they need most is a home. There is no question that Holy Trinity has a role to play, and has long played a key role, in advocating for more affordable housing. There is no question that the work of advocacy is intense, that it consumes a lot of time and energy, and that those who are deeply involved in it have little time to respond in more immediate ways.

There is also no question that social change takes time and that, even when the public will to act is strong, houses are not built overnight. So as the behind the scenes advocacy work is going on ­ and just how much of that is going on at Holy Trinity right now? ­ the need remains for Holy Trinity to offer some level of hospitality to the homeless people who come here. Is it enough to let them sleep at the back of the church when the doors are open, give them an occasional cup of coffee and share our Sunday lunch with them? Could we be doing more, should we be doing more, to bring a measure of comfort and dignity to their lives right now?

Some people at Holy Trinity think we should and they are willing to take the lead in doing it. At a congregational meeting after the service next Sunday (January 13) they will be sharing a proposal and asking for the support of others. Please come and listen to what they have to say. Even if what they propose is not what you believe most needs to be done, please give them your attention and offer them your gratitude for the care for the homeless that they are expressing on behalf of this church. Let’s receive their proposal as a call to consider what Holy Trinity’s response to homelessness ought to be at this particular moment in its history and given that, by their very presence in our church, homeless people require a response from us.