Homily for Pentecost 17 2008
Exodus 12:1-14 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
Psalm 149 Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre. For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory. Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches. Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters and their nobles with chains of iron, to execute on them the judgment decreed. This is glory for all his faithful ones. Praise the LORD!
Romans 13:8-14 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Matthew 18:15-20 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
“This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.” That’s so true for me. It’s a new beginning, not as momentous as the Israelites leaving slavery in Egypt to find the promised land, but I can at least see a parallel there: we have left one place, and we are about to begin again, but we are at the moment in a kind of transitional place, an in-between place – and for us, the West Coast seems at least a little like our promised land!
To use another biblical reference, you really don’t know me from Adam, and yet you have invited me to be part of a significant and sensitive aspect of your lives – the religious and spiritual part – which is the most deeply personal and vulnerable aspect of who we are. Some may be a bit hesitant about that. When a new priest enters, people, quite rightly, wonder about agendas. So I should say something about that.
My agenda at the moment is getting to know you, and giving you the opportunity to get to know me. That way we can move beyond fears and stereotypes and past experiences, and into relationship, which is a much more real and effective place to be with each other. The Bible equates “knowing” with loving or intimacy. You can’t love someone you don’t know. Conversely, you can’t really get to know someone unless you are to some degree motivated by love.
(If it doesn’t sound too hokey), it would be accurate to say that my agenda is love. Jesus, when asked to sum up what he was about – what everything is about — said: “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 . . .” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.” As Julian of Norwich said: “Love was God’s meaning.”
Love is my agenda: encouraging people to love God and each other. That is a mutual process. In any call it’s never a one-way proposition — I always assume I have much to learn and receive, as well as something to offer. God’s blessings and covenants are always mutual.
I am not coming as a politician promising a new era of peace and prosperity (you’ll get enough of that in the next few weeks from our federal politicians). I don’t think of myself as some kind of Messiah (that’s been done), and I am sure that there may well be mixed feelings about a new priest arriving. Often there is unfinished business – unrecognized grief over the loss of a former pastor which may express itself in a variety of ways – reluctance to trust; anger; resentment; etc. A new priest’s arrival doesn’t necessarily make everything easy. There will no doubt be times of struggle as we deal with areas of hurt and areas which need healing; there will be times when people are dealing with pain and disappointment and tending to doubt their faith in God and the Church. The more we learn to trust each other, the better such things can surface and receive the care, compassion, understanding and grace that they need to heal.
I have found that it’s in times of dealing with struggle that the deeper things are often revealed, so it’s important not to avoid the difficult stuff or shun it, because then people think that their real stuff isn’t welcome, or that they have to go elsewhere to be authentic.
Today’s Gospel is a bit difficult. People often associate the church with a sick kind of perfectionism, along with shaming and scolding behaviours. There is no doubt some basis for that reaction, but, so you know, I don’t see it as being my job to scold people into good behavior – to be a hall monitor in the school of life. As one of those kids who did lots of “hall time” in school, I often have found a lot of the most interesting stuff often happens at the edges – at the boundaries – so it’s good to pay attention to our edges — including those tentative people who venture our way seeking to explore that mysterious dimensions we call spirituality. I look forward to getting to know all of you – and I also look forward to being proud and confident enough about the quality of life at St John’s that I and all of us will feel good about inviting people to be here with us – to explore – to share – for support – for friendship – for meaning and purpose in life.
One of the things that attracted me to St John’s was that it seems like such an inclusive and progressive community. That was evident to me Tuesday night (the Induction). I am VERY grateful for the warm welcome I have had so far. In the covenant of ministry I committed myself (and we committed ourselves) to a number of significant things (which I intend to reflect on over the next weeks) – one was: “Grant, we look to you to lead and encourage us to be an open and welcoming community … let the doors be open to everyone.” And in the response I said: ”I invite you all to join me in welcoming all who would come into the fellowship of the people of God.” “If you build it, they will come.” People come with their problems, their questions, their dreams and ideas, and to me it’s important to be open to all of that.
Where can we truly be heard? Where can we be honest? I’m from Saskatchewan, so I think that makes me a pretty “down to earth” sort of person, and so I hope you will know that you have in me someone who will take you seriously, deal with you respectfully, and create space where you can tell and explore and interpret your story – let your life speak, as it were. A poll taken in the U.S. a number of years ago suggested that for many people, finding a church where the pastor would deal seriously and non-judgmentally with people’s doubts and questions was a significant factor in whether they would attend. To me, that’s right at the heart of the matter. Everybody has doubts and questions – everyone has experiences which fall outside the conventional – everyone doubts themselves on occasion – everyone gets down on themselves. Sometimes a word of encouragement or reassurance – sometimes just being heard — can validate and affirm what you’re about.
One of the great privileges and joys of being a pastor is that people share their stories, and I want to let you know that I look forward to hearing your stories – and holding them up in the light of God’s story (which is a love story) – and encouraging you to see how your personal story intersects and blends into the great story God is working.
I welcome the opportunity – the privilege – of being there to listen, to encourage, to help you see the good in yourself and in the world. I hope that, as I have been welcomed, so I (and all of us) can extend the same kind of welcome to all who come, believing that each person who shows up is somehow being called here – that each one is important somehow, and has particular gifts which can enrich the life of our faith community.
I am here to share my journey with you, and to encourage you in yours. In that process, I hope it becomes OUR journey rather than a number of individual ones. The hockey sweater is symbolic – it speaks of the importance of team spirit — church is always an open invitation to be part of a team. I am here to facilitate you finding and enjoying the fullness of your own being your own person – living into the fullness of freedom and joy that only God can give, and in the process discovering what a joy it is, what a privilege it is, to be part of a community where the love of God, and the spirit of God, and the gracious person of Jesus, are the defining characteristics.
Sue and I have uprooted ourselves and travelled a long way to this new land of promise. Like the people of Israel after they escaped Egypt, we will both continue to be in transition for a while – and so will you — but we both look forward to finding our place here, and walking forward in mutual support, mutual respect and mutual ministry.