From the very first time I heard it, Jackson Browne’s “Rebel Jesus” has haunted me. In a season dominated by nostalgia, Browne’s stark view of the historical Jesus calls us to remember the one who stood with the poor and the oppressed, the outcast and the wounded. As we enter the season of Advent, can we hold nostalgia at bay long enough to engage our deepest longings and desires for peace? Not some nostalgic peace that stretches only so far as our own needs, or our own loved ones, but the peace that embraces those beyond our circles of care? Can our compassion for the earth and all her creatures move us beyond the idol we have made of the baby in the manger, toward the complexity of embracing the desires and longings of a rebel we probably wouldn’t want to entertain at our festive gatherings? Or will our seasonal madness crucify the rebel once again?
This year, like all the rest, my challenge is to live somewhere within the tension created by the rebel Jesus and the one his contemporary detractors condemned as a glutton and a drunkard; between choosing life and recognizing my culpability in the cries of the ones still waiting for us to join the rebellion.
Advent is a time of waiting in the darkness…if we dare…trusting that the light will come…knowing that the light needs reflectors in order to dispel the darkness! May your Advent be filled with the challenges of rebellion!
The written version of the sermon I preached the last time Luke 21:25-36 came around in the Lectionary. As always the written word is but an approximation of the Word preached.
We have learned to ask questions. Why did the followers of Jesus tell the stories they told about him? Why did the followers of Jesus they tell the stories about Jesus in the way they told them? These questions have revealed new insights into the scriptures and we helped us to understand how Jesus followers understood the life death and resurrection of Jesus.
As we begin a new church year, there is another question that we need to learn to ask. Why did the designers of the church lectionary decided that on this the first day all over the world church goers should read from this particular text from the Gospel according to Luke? It is the first Sunday in Advent, why not read something from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke? What are we doing in the 21st chapter of the Gospel According to Luke and why do we have to listen to Jesus going on about the end? Why did the designers of the lectionary decide that we needed to hear what has been described as Jesus’ mini account of the apocalypse? Why take us into this particular darkness?
“Signs will appear in the sun, the moon and the stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish, distraught at the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the earth. The powers in the heavens will be shaken. After that, people will see the Chosen One coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your ransom is near at hand.” And Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, or any other tree. You see when they’re budding and know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things happening, know that the reign of God is near. The truth is, this generation will not pass away until all this takes place. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
We know that the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote very near the end of the first century, some 50 to 70 years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Some 20 to 30 years after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and for all intents and purposes put an end to the world as Jews and the followers of Jesus had known it. Scholars tell us that in all likelihood the writer of the Gospel according to Luke created this story to reassure the followers of Jesus that even in their present darkness, even though it looked as if the heavens and the earth were passing away, Jesus words will not pass away. But why did the designers of the Revised Common Lectionary decided to begin the church year with this story of Jesus’ apocalyptic vision?
Well the Luke part is easy. This new year is the third in the lectionary’s 3 year cycle and so the mainline churches, that is the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, United, and many other denominations who get their weekly readings from the Revised Common Lectionary read primarily from the Gospel According to Matthew in year A, Mark in Year B and Luke in year C. (John does not have it’s own year and is only read during Christmas and Easter of years A,B, and C.) But why begin with chapter 21 of Luke? Why not Chapter One? Why not begin with that wonderful story of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the birth of John the Baptist? Surely a birth story is more fitting for the first Sunday in Advent when preachers are supposed to preach about hope?
I must confess that I am tempted to ignore the lectionary and skip the darkness of the apocalypse. But the more I read about darkness and the foreboding, the more I realize that at a time of the year when all the world wants to sentimentalize, trivialize and retailize the Christmas story, perhaps we who follow Christ ought to begin our preparations with a sojourn into the darkness.
We do well to remember that even now, for a great many of our sisters and brothers and perhaps even for us the world is coming to an end. And in even in the darkness we need not fear, for God is with us. In the darkness the realization that Christ is coming provides the hope we need to venture forth.
This year, I find myself venturing into Advent not dreading the end, but with the longing for the world to come to an end. I’d very much like the world as we know it to end. I’d like the wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine to come to an end. I long for an end to the regime in Iran that insists on escalating the tensions between our two cultures with their ever-expanding nuclear program. I’d like our own government to live up to its own mandate to put an end to poverty and homelessness here in Canada. I’d like to see the end of an economic system that enslaves 80% of the world’s population in poverty. I’d like to see an end to violence, hunger, plagues and war. But I’ve long since given up the hope that we will be rescued from systemic evil that causes so much grief in the world by a divine rescuer swooping in from somewhere above the clouds.
My hope for the future does not in an apocalyptic vision of Jesus returning to sort out the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff, rewarding the former and barbecuing the latter. This super-saviour that has long been the hope of Christian communities weighed down and oppressed by savage governments and their policies. While destruction, pain, and oppression are a part of our global reality, a spaceman-saviour is not. We know that, despite our wishes and projections, hope does not come from outer-space. Hope has to be found in our here and now. It has to be worked for, discovered, accepted and developed. This doesn’t mean that as so many pundits and pseudo-intellectuals would have us believe, that God does not exist and we should abandon all hope and run screaming from the church. This does mean that rather than looking to the heavens for salvation, we should look around us, and see that our God is located within our experience, our struggles, our communities and our hearts. Christians believe that God is love.
We believe that permeating our lives, our land, our communities, and all that is beyond us there is a powerful love that can touch our lives. That love is on our side, is for us, and can hold us. That love reaches out to us in a neighbour’s smile, in the strident concerns of a protester, the embrace of a lover and even in a government handout. Love comes in a myriad of ways. Just like hope. That love we call God. That love called God is with us. We are sacred, blest, and loved. The Holy Spirit of love is within us, like a seed waiting to grow and flourish.
Advent is the season pregnant with possibility, when we nurture that love within and prepare to give it birth. The seeds of love are waiting to grow and flourish. Even in the angriest person, in the most arrogant businessman, in the most ridiculous politician, in the toughest tyrant, or the worst murderer, there is a holy seed of love waiting. Those seeds need tending, they need nurturing and they will grow. Hope is not a mental exercise. You don’t just stand up and decide that you are going to be hope-filled. Hope is the result of a combination of encounters with others, our personal receptivity, and our awareness of the spiritual power of love that infuses all of life. Seeds will grow out of the darkness. Advent is a time to build hope. Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas by tending the hope-filled seeds within each other.
Advent is pregnant with possibility, a time to anticipate the coming of Christ by opening our eyes to the Christ growing within us. Advent is a time to acknowledge that at the heart of our world there is a power of love that reaches out to us, believes in us and sustains us, and that power of love is God.
We need not fear the darkness. For it is in the darkness that we will find the seeds. Hope lies in the darkness of our experience. The light of the Holy One is within us. And so this advent, as in all others. we will tell the stories of our experience. And in those stories we will discover the stirrings of Christ who waits to be born in us.
Many of those stories will begin in song. I don’t know what it is about we humans but we tend to sing our best stories. Music opens us in ways that mere words cannot. So let me begin our Advent journey with a story about songs sung in the darkness.
It was a dark and dreary time filled with fear and anticipation. Many years have past, but I can still remember her excitement at being chosen to play the part of the Angel Gabriel in the Sunday School Christmas pageant. Anna was just nine years old and never before had she been well enough at Christmas to take on a role in the annual church extravaganza. When she was just eighteen months old, Anna was diagnosed with leukemia and had spent most of her little life battling the disease.
But this year was different, this year Anna was ready she knew her lines and she must have tried on her angel costume about a million times. My memory is a little fuzzy but I believe that, that year, Christmas fell in the middle of the week.
The pageant was scheduled to take place the Sunday before Christmas Eve. On the Saturday before the pageant was to take place, Anna’s mother called me with the bad news. Anna was in hospital. Her white blood count was dangerously low and it didn’t look like Anna was going to make it home in time for Christmas let alone for the performance of the pageant. Anna’s mother asked me if I would help out with the hospital visiting.
Over the years, a group of us had become all too familiar with this particular routine. Anna had two siblings that kept her parents very busy. Anna didn’t like to be alone when she was in hospital and so friends of the family used to help out when needed. Because I lived only a few blocks from the children’s hospital and because Anna liked my bedtime stories I often found myself taking the night shift with Anna.
Bedtime at the hospital was quite the routine. Anna loved to be told the same bedtime stories over and over again. It sometimes took a couple of hours to get her to the point where she would even consider closing her eyes. And when she got to this point Anna always insisted that I sing to her.
Now you are all too well aware of the fact that my abilities as a chanteuse are severely limited. I’m simply not a great singer. God clearly didn’t see fit to grant me the ability to carry a tune. But this didn’t seem bother Anna. For some unknown reason – perhaps she was tone deaf— or maybe she just had a warped sense of humor—but Anna loved to hear me sing. And so on the Saturday evening before the pageant was to take place, I found myself at Anna’s bedside.
I had already told her several of her favorite bedtime stories when Anna asked if I would read her a story. She pointed to a brand new picture book that lay on the cabinet beside here bed. The book had no words, just pictures. The pictures told the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the shepherds who were watching their flocks out in the fields.
As I turned the pages Anna and I took turns telling the various parts of the story to one another. When we got to the part where the Angel Gabriel appeared before the shepherds, Anna took over and she knew her part well. “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
Anna delivered her lines perfectly and then went on with the story. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying”Anna signalled to me to join her in the angels’ lines: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!”
As I spoke the all too familiar lines, a huge lump rose up in my throat. I wanted nothing more than to curse God. What kind of God allows a beautiful little angel to be stricken with a cruel disease? What kind of God allows the dreams of a beautiful little girl to be destroyed by lousy timing? What kind of God, promises peace on earth and then disappears for 2000 years leaving us to our own devices?
I managed to keep my questions to myself as we continued to turn the pages. When we got to the last scene of the book, Anna declared how wonderful it was that the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the wise guys and Mary and Joseph all got to hear the angels sing. I said that according to the story only the shepherds heard the angels’ song. But Anna told me not to be silly because surely the angels would have started singing again when they saw that everyone had finally arrived at the stable. I asked Anna what she thought the angels might have sung. Anna got a wicked little grin on her face and insisted that they probably sang her favorite bedtime song. I just laughed at the mere thought of angels singing that particular song to the baby Jesus.
You see, over the years of tucking Anna in, I was forced to try to sing quite a few lullabies to her. And with my limited abilities, I can assure you that it wasn’t easy. Not for me and not, I’m sure for the nurses who may have overheard my feeble attempts. But of all my crappy renditions, Anna’s absolute favourite was “You are my sunshine.” And so staring down at the picture of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, the shepherds, wise guys and assorted angels, I began to sing Anna’s favourite lullaby for the baby Jesus.
In order to spare the other people in the ward, I sang ever so softly. “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you please don’t take my Sunshine away.”
When I’d finished singing, Anna sang a lullaby for the baby Jesus. And I’ve never heard Away in a Manger sung so sweetly. By the time Anna got to the last verse, a few others had joined in.
That’s how it began. A couple of nurses and some of the other children and their parents joined us in an impromptu caroling session. We sang all the Christmas carols we could think of. And when we couldn’t think of another carol Anna asked me to sing her other favorite.
I couldn’t remember what her other favorite was. Anna just smiled and said you know the one where I get to pretend to play the drum. I thought she meant the little drummer boy and I said that I was sorry but, I don’t think I ever knew that that was one of her favorites.
But from the expression on Anna’s face it was clear that I’d guessed wrong. Anna began to beat out a rhythm on the table by her bed.
And I remembered. Kum by Ah My Lord …someone’s crying lord;… someone’s fighting lord; ….someone’s hurting lord;….someone’s praying Lord;….Come by here
Little Anna didn’t win her battle with leukemia. She died that following spring. But like Christ, Anna lives. She lives in me and she lives in the lives of every life her little life touched.
In a world gone mad, in a world where we have yet to learn just how to love one another, Christ comes to us. When we are hurting or in pain, when our world is darkest, Christ comes to us. When we are sick and tired. Christ comes to us. When we have given up and can no longer bear to hope. Christ comes to us. Because our God is the one who takes on flesh and dwells among us.
Christ is Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Christ, laughs with us, cries with us, rejoices with us, suffers with us, heals with us, walks with us, shouts with us, struggles with us and loves with us. Christ dies with us and we are raised with Christ and born again. And because Christ is with us, death has lost its sting. Because our God is always with us, we will live forever more. And so, today God stands with us and speaks to us a word of hope a word that is the hope of the world.
Come by here my lord, come by here. Come by here and help us to bring the good news of great joy for all the people. Come by here and help us to sing Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace good will to all. Come by here my Lord. Come by here. Amen
Do we have the courage to confront our doubt in worship? This is the challenge that Peter Rollins who describes “the game” of certainty and triumphalism that passes for worship and insists that God must function as a “feel-good” entity rather than One who helps us engage our suffering, the Mystery, our doubts and uncertainties. Rollins calls for worship leaders who are willing to engage the dark night of the soul and create liturgies of unknowing. Are worshippers ready? Perhaps their hungry for opportunities to confront their realities in worship.
Matthew Fox is working to invigorate worship. Silenced by the Vatican and expelled from the Dominican Order, Fox continues to be the most read catholic theologian of our time. For several years Fox has been developing worship for a post-modern world. Taking the cyberspace revolution into sacred space. Quoting African spiritual teacher Malidoma Some who insists that there is no community without ritual, Fox has infused what he learned about rave masses in the United Kingdom with his own Creation Spirituality to create worship for 21st century Americans and dubbed this new form the “cosmic mass.”
“Our first 18 minute dance is during the Via Positiva, the last at the Via Transformativa wherein we receive the energy to be the spiritual warriors we need to be to transform society after we leave worship. In between there is a deep experience of shared grief (via negativa) often including wailing and lamentation and the sharing of communion (via creativa). At the close of the service is a “via transformativa” dance or warrior dance which prepares us to go into the world and back to our communities as healers and strong defenders of compassion. A variety of ages is always represented as well as many kinds of artists and people from diverse religious backgrounds ranging from Christian to Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Pagan. The worship is so pre-modern in many respects that many find home there. Beauty is everywhere present. And one might say, magic.”
I can’t help wondering what form a cosmic mass might take among Canadian middle-class Christians???
During the season of Advent we approach the MYSTERY through story and song. Unable to fully express our deepest longings with words, we engage the stories handed down to us by our ancestors. Trusting these stories not as history but as truth. For as Marcus Borg teaches, these stories may not have actually happened this way, but they are always happening. Over and over again, we see ourselves and our longings for hope, peace, joy and love in the stories we tell during this season of desire. In the video below Phyllis Tickle tells the stories that speak of the longings and desires of our ancestors. Today, we would do well to remember the stories of old as precursors to the telling of our own stories of longing. For just as our ancestors had the wisdom to engage the MYSTERY with stories, we too know of our need to engage the MYSTERY with our stories. What stories are gestating within us? What stories will we give birth to this Advent.
For those of you using mobile devices my apologies but bliptv is availablehere
Our thanks to Trinity Anglican Church in Aurora who graciously hosted a splendid event on Nov.16-18 at which the great Phyllis Tickle shared her wealth of wisdom on the “the great emergence” that is rocking our world. Phyllis claims that she is not a preacher, but the homily she delivered on the Melchizedek’s importance to Emergence Christianity’s understanding of “where it all began,” suggests that Phyllis is mistaken about her homiletical prowess.
I put away my work and I spent the early morning hours with an old friend. There have been too many theological tomes of late so I have enjoyed thumbing through poetry and rediscovering those things I know in my bones. This morning Mary Oliver swept me down to the riverside and I have been communing with the enfleshed Mystery that lies at the heart of all. I offer her splendid piece simply entitled “POEM” Enjoy!
I am indebted to the Rev. Robert Hensley who provided the turn of phrase “nothing butter” to describe reductionists and directed me to the work of John Polkinghorne whose book Quarks, Chaos and Christianity provides all of the physics cited in this sermon. I first discovered Polkinghorne’s work in his 2003 publication: Living with Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas & Epiphany and since then I have enjoyed his gentle way of opening my non-scientific mind to a plethora of possibilities.
For those who are reluctant to give up the doctrine of “original sin”, Evolutionary Christian evangelist Michael Dowd offers an intriguing re-interpretation of the human condition that uses evolutionary science to offer good news. While I prefer to speak of “original blessing” a la Matthew Fox, Dowd’s re-interpetation offers a radical re-working of a doctrine that has entrenched so many of us in “worm theology” bemoaning our sinfulness. To get a better understanding of Dowd’s approach, I recommend his book “Thank God for Evolution” or check out his website
Looking forward to lectures this weekend by Phyllis Tickle. For those of you who will not be able to make it to Trinity Anglican in Aurora, enjoy this video of Tickle doing what she does best, teaching.
In the gospel reading which will be read this Sunday in mainline congregations, the writer of the Gospel According to Mark puts words about the destruction of the Temple into the mouth of Jesus. I can’t help wondering, if we really are a people who believe in resurrection, why are we so reluctant to let our notions about “church” die. Surely, we have enough faith to open ourselves to what may emerge as the last rites are said over the church of bygone days.
Discovering this video of Mary Oliver reading her poetry is like running into an old friend . I have not communed with her work for a long time and listening to her read her work reminds me to look for the sacred in all things for all things are in the Divine and the Divine is in all. Oliver puts flesh upon my panentheist musing. Enjoy!
Each time I dip into the Qur’an I am surprised by some new insight and I can’t help wondering why I don’t sip more frequently from this deep well’s thirst-quenching wisdom. Over the years, I have tried to keep up my study of Islam which I first began during my years as an undergraduate in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia. Back then I believed that anyone who intended to seek a career in the church had better understand the religions of the world. Fortunately my naiveté was matched by my enthusiasm and I quickly learned that, despite my good intentions, there was no way to simply learn about the religions of the world. One doesn’t just apply one’s self to the study of a religion and learn what one needs to know and then move on. Islam like any religion that has survived and evolved over centuries, is a multifaceted and multilayered way of living. While I can from time to time open myself to the riches that Islam has to offer, I can only ever hope to be someone who peers in from the outside.
Like many outsiders I find reading from the Qur’an challenging to the point of being daunting. I require a reading partner to guide me along the way.Recently, I discovered the work of Lesley Hazelton, a self-described agnostic Jew whose unique view of Islam is both enlightening and engaging. Hazleton’s work on Islam includes the 2010 publication “After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Sia-Sunni Split in Islam”. But I came to know about her via her engaging TED Talk which you can view below. I have just pre-ordered her forth-coming book “The First Muslim: The Story of Muhammad”.
Some have dubbed Hazleton as Karen Armstrong’s successor. While the comparison is apt, Hazelton’s style is very different from her illustrious counterpart. Hazelton is a psychologist/journalist/historian whose colourful approach, pithy language and diligent research earned her this description by Paul Constant writing for Amazon:
Over the last decade, Hazleton has produced a trilogy of books—Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother, Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible’s Harlot Queen, and After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam—that are difficult to categorize. The books land at the intersection of history, religion, and literary criticism; they are informed by hundreds of texts and intensive traveling to the Middle East (Hazleton spent the 1970s living in Jerusalem); and they sing in the voice of a writer who has finally figured out exactly what she wants to say. Her characters are figures who have been trapped, untouchable, in amber for decades by organized religion.
Any given chapter of these books may include a fictionalized narrative of life in biblical times, a puckish interpretation of three wildly differing accounts of an event that occurred over 2,000 years ago, and a personal account of Hazleton’s own travels. In Jezebel, Hazleton undertakes an ambitious rehabilitation of the queen of Israel whose name has become synonymous with whorish behavior. In a fraught passage, Hazleton visits the birthplace of Elijah, the prophet who destroyed Jezebel’s reputation and demanded that she be torn to pieces by dogs in what is the most brutal, explicit murder to take place in the Bible. Of course, Hazleton is beset by ravenous wild dogs: “The car shuddered under the assault. In front of me, open jaws spattered drool on the windshield. To one side, fangs loomed inches from my eyes.”
When I compliment Hazleton for including that passage—you risk breaking the spell for readers when you pepper a historical narrative with personal anecdotes, but the dog attack is perfectly placed to make Jezebel’s story more compelling for the reader—she beams with pride, recalling that as she raced away from Elijah’s birthplace, she thought, “Oh, fuck. No one’s going to believe that happened. It was just too fucking perfect!”
Although only recently acquainted with her work, I am finding Hazleton to be a charmingly rigorous companion as I dip into the oasis of Islam. Her company is giving me the courage to drink more deeply than I have previously dared for fear of drowning in unfamiliar pools.
Enjoy her brief TED Talk which I am sure will wet your appetite for the full lecture given to the Young Muslim Association at the Islamic Centre of America that you will find below.
Since quoting Walter Wink in my sermon yesterday, I learned that he died a few months ago. I will always be indebted to this amazing teacher for all that I have learned and continue to learn from him. The videos below comprise the various parts of a lecture that Wink offered on the subject of Jesus’ teaching on Non-Violence. For anyone who aspires to follow Jesus this lecture is a must see. Wink’s books are well worn friends that I have often thumbed through to find more than a nugget or two to enable me to teach anew something that I have long since come to know as a result of Wink’s excellent work! His excellent trilogy: Naming the Powers, Engaging the Powers, and The Powers that Be along with Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Wayshould be at every preacher’s fingertips as we proclaim Jesus’ radical way of being in the world.
The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies. You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars.
The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.
After dinner, the young woman suggested that they pop down to the pub for a chat with her Grandmother’s neighbors. Usually, her Grandmother would have jumped at the chance to show her granddaughter off to her friends. But she seemed more than a little reluctant on this occasion. She so rarely refused her granddaughter anything, but it still took a great deal of cajoling before the young woman managed to talk her Grandmother into venturing out into the world. As they were putting on their coats to leave, the Grandmother asked her granddaughter to remove the white poppy from her coat.
The young woman looked at her Grandmother’s red poppy and refused. She began to lecture in that pompous way that only young people who don’t know any better can about the horrors of war and the need to stand up for peace. Her Grandmother insisted that she could stand up anywhere that she wanted to for peace but not in her local, not in front of her friends, not tonight. And then their battle began in earnest. They started calmly, but firmly arguing over the damn poppies. Before long, they were shouting and eventually the Grandmother, stormed out of the house and went to the pub without her granddaughter.
The young woman discretely went to bed before her Grandmother came home. Each woman slept fitfully, bemoaning the fact that they had declared their own kind of war.
Early the next morning the young woman rose quietly, hoping to dash off to London before her Grandmother awoke. She was just about to make a clean get away, when her Grandmother came into the living room. She was carrying a uniform. A uniform the young woman had never seen before; a uniform that stopped the young woman cold in her tracks.
Over breakfast the old woman explained that during the Second World War, she had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The men were all off fighting and so the government had consented to letting women do their bit. Her job in the WAAFs was carried out on the home front. Every evening after she had fed her kids supper, she would send them off to the air-raid shelter with a neighbour, then she would put on her uniform and head off to the hills over Birmingham, where she would “man” an anti-aircraft gun.
After telling the young woman stories that she had rarely told anyone before, the old woman invited granddaughter to come her to British Legion later that morning. Awed by all she had been told, the young woman changed her plans and agreed to meet her Grandmother down at the Legion hall in about an hour.
On her way to the Legion hall, the young woman bought a red poppy and timidly pinned it to her lapel. When she finally caught up with her Grandmother, the old woman couldn’t help but smile when she saw the red poppy pinned to her beloved granddaughter’s lapel.
The young woman couldn’t manage a smile. Not threw her tears. The young woman was overcome by the sight of the white poppy that was pinned to her Grandmother’s lapel.
The two women fell into one another’s arms and for a moment, just a moment the two held one another other in the presence of a peace beyond words; a peace which surpasses all our understanding. The peace that only love can achieve. The peace that the world is dying to experience.
As the last post was trumpeted on that cold November 11th, separated by generations, perspectives, opinions, and commitments, two women stood united in love and remembered. Together they stood hoping against hope for peace.
All Saints’ Day is a day for remembering. The word saint simply means “holy”. In the New Testament, all those who believe and were baptized were referred to as saints. It wasn’t until round about the third century that the church began using the word saint to refer to those who had been martyred for the faith. Over time these martyred saints were held up for veneration and people used to pray to them to intercede on their behalf. I’m not going to go into all of the institutional abuses that led Martin Luther and the later reformers to abolish the veneration of the saints. Except to say, that while the Reformation put an end to the veneration of the saints in the protestant churches, it did not abolish the concept of sainthood.
Within the mainline protestant denominations, we use the term in much the same way as it was used in the New Testament to describe the faithful. We talk about the communion of saints to describe all the faithful who have gone before us who now rest in God, together with all the living who walk in faith. So today as we celebrate the saints, we give thanks for all the faithful those living and those who have gone before us.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Joyce of Belfast. St. Joyce who in her own way taught her children to love God and to pray always. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Joyce of Belfast, my Mom, who was the first to teach me the Lord’s Prayer, and who puts flesh on Christ’s command that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Today I remember and give thanks for the life and witness of St. John of Wales, whose life in the church as a choir-boy was followed by long years of self-exile and whose keen wit and lack of patience with hypocrisy instilled in me a desire for honesty and integrity in the articulation and living of the faith. I give thanks for St. John, my Dad, whose open heart has stretched his discerning mind and enabled many to see the humour in this God-given life we live.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Valerie of Ladner. St. Valerie so loved and feared God that she dared to reach out and invite a wayward soul to come and worship God. St. Valerie sang God’s praise, rejoiced in the communion of saints and helped a young friend find a home in God’s holy church. And so toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Valerie, my high school friend, who was the first to invite me to come and worship God.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Wilton of Lunenburg. St. Wilton loved God all the days of his life and served God with gladness and distinction. St. Wilton went far beyond his call as pastor, he opened up the scriptures to those who eagerly sought the truth of God’s Word with love and dedication and he went on to inspire a diligence to scholarship that nurtured the faith of so many young people. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Wilton, my first pastor, who taught me to be uncompromising in my study of the scriptures, and steadfast in my love for God.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Lola of Washington. St. Lola whose appreciation for God’s grace overflowed in her love for the world. St. Lola whose desire to share God’s grace and truth, led her to give of her time and talent to the care and redemption of so many young seekers. St. Lola whose love for God’s creation inspired her to teach so many of us to give thanks to God for all that God has made. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Lola, my mentor in the faith, who taught me to love as I have been loved.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Fritz of Chicago. St. Fritz whose dedication to the Word of God was displayed in all he did. St. Fritz who opened so many minds to the beauty of God’s ways, who taught, inspired and entertained as he sought to reveal the wonders of God’s unimaginable grace. St. Fritz who taught me that no question is unaskable for it is God who blessed us with minds and who bids us to use them in our love for God and for one another. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Fritz, my friend, who was the first to call me to the ordained ministry of Word and sacrament.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God, for the life and witness of St.s Sharon and Irene of Pt. Roberts, St. Ellen of Lonsdale, St.s Jerry and Daniel of Minnesota, St. Nancy of Seattle, St. Anne of Vancouver, St. Donald of UBC, St.s Carol, John, Eduard, and Donna of Waterloo, and for the great cloud of witness both living and dead who have testified to God’s love in my life.
Toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the cloud of witnesses who gather to worship God and to love one another in the parish I serve. I give thanks for all the glorious saints of Holy Cross who have nourished, challenged and helped me to grow in Christ.
Today, I encourage each and every one of you, to remember and rejoice, as you give thanks to God for the great cloud of witnesses who have been a blessing to you; who have revealed God’s love to you; who have taught you God’s holy Word of truth; who have loved you, nourished you, challenged you and inspired you to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and to love your neighbours as you love yourself.
Who are the saints in your life? Think about the saints who revealed God’s love to you. Remember and rejoice for by their love, they taught you God’s Word, and taught you to celebrate God’s grace. Remember and rejoice in the saints of God, who are responsible for having passed the gifts of faith on to each of us. Saints who you may never read about in the church history books, but saints who by their life and witness managed to reveal a measure of God’s amazing grace to the world.
These saints of God who are so dear to us and so precious to God, are just ordinary folks who in the course of seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ, in striving to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, they ended up touching our lives in ways that changed us and had a profound effect on who we are today.
Today is a day for remembering and rejoicing in the communion of saints. Today is a day for giving thanks to God for their lives and for the witnesses that they have been and are in our lives. But today is also a day for looking around us to discover our own place in the communion of the saints. Take just a moment to think about how people will remember and give thanks for your sainthood. Whose faith have you nourished? Whose faith will you nourish? How will you nourish people in the faith? What role are you prepared to play in the Communion of Saints?
The Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III says it well listen to St. Otis preach it!