HOMILY FOR AUGUST 12, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
Pentecost 12, August 12, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“Walk in Love”
This is the last time I will be preaching as your interim priest. You must be so relieved. There is nothing more that I need to say to you. At the same time, there is so much more that God still has to say for your lives. And with the Scripture reading from the book of Ephesians this morning, it all coming down to an exhortation: continue to walk in love!
This is a happy ending for us. St. Johns has called a new priest, Vivian Lam, who will join the community in November. With the hard work of your wardens and the assistance of the Diocese, you have a bridge priest, Tim Morgan, who will be with you from August 27th until your incumbent arrives. And I am being called onward to a new position as interim at St. Faith, Vancouver this week. All is working out according to God’s purpose. But this is not a fairy tale. Happily-ever-after doesn’t mean that the job is done and we can shut the book. Now in this new chapter of your lives you will have to work hard to maintain good relationships.
It’s like a wedding. So much effort gets put into the big day. The dress, the flowers, the reception. Balancing out the expectations of your parents and in-laws and other family members. Stressing out about all the details that might mar the perfect day. Then, when it is over- the union is blessed and the reception hall floor is mopped- you are tired and a bit cranky and wish all the relations would go home again. That’s the point when you really have to concentrate energy to love one another. I was at the 50th wedding anniversary of an aunt and uncle on Friday. That’s a long time to put up with each other. I’ve seen them at their best, and their worst. I’ve witnessed family fractures and a lot of second chances. They are not a perfect couple, but they have learned at least one thing along the way in my large and imperfect family: staying together takes a lot of energy. You have to believe it is worth the effort.
It’s not about being nice. One of the downfalls of the church is that we think it is about being nice to one another. There is an old saying: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Too often, we can’t and we don’t. Tensions remain because we are silent in the fear of not being seen as nice. We are called to speak the truth and to do so in love. That is difficult. I have often wondered how to balance those demands. My grandmother used to tell me to use the following criteria: ask “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” Only when I could answer “Yes” to all three was it something to share. This perhaps gets us out of the witch’s dilemma in the play Into the Woods. It is a complicated and fascinating treatment of what people do to themselves and each other when they lie about what they want and need. In the song, “The Last Midnight”, the witch laments all the trouble that humans have caused.
“You’re so nice”, she sings,
“You’re not good,
You’re not bad,
You’re just nice.
I’m not good,
I’m not bad,
I’m just right.”
I know the temptation to be right, and to prove it, can trump competing needs to be forgiving and loving. After all, doesn’t God want us to speak the truth? Right? We are to speak the truth to our neighbour, as the writer of Ephesians tells us in Chapter 4 verse 25. But it is not about speaking the truth at the cost of severing a relationship. As we live out our baptismal ministry in community, there are rules that govern our behaviour.
Above all, we want to be imitators of Christ. So how did Jesus go about speaking truth? He always did so in the context of relationship. He cared for the people of Israel. He cared for the faith tradition that looked to the one God as their King and Lord. He got angry, but it was anger directed at injustices and systems. He never let it get in the way of loving and forgiving an individual. What he taught was what would build up people in faith and encourage them to be honest and to use their talents for good. He did not let bitterness and grievances rule his actions, but shared himself fully as the Bread of Life for the world.
I want you to take the words of Ephesians to heart, especially during the next few months. You will disagree, but do not let anger lead you into hurtful words or actions. Do not give up when there is conflict between you and another. Seize it as an opportunity to practice being a more faithful imitator of Christ, and work to reconcile with your brothers and sisters. Think before you speak: is this something that will help build up faith? How can I share it so that the other will see my sincerity and love? And when you do disagree, as you will, “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us” (verse 32). There is a temptation in this parish of thinking that the hard work is done, and you could coast a bit. But I want you to know that this is the time when your lay leaders and your clergy too need even more support from you.
You are being sent another encourager in the Rev. Tim Morgan. He will help cheer you on to your goal of the new life in Christ. But it is up to you not to backslide and put even more work on the shoulders of the parish council and the wardens. Don’t lose the ground you have gained. Ephesians Chapter 5 verse 1 says in the Bible translation that was read out, “live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Live in love is literally in the Greek walk in love. That’s active, not passive. You are to move forward with each other. And you can, knowing that in Jesus the sacrifice for you has already been made. You are forgiven and you are free to walk in this way. Walk in love. That’s more important that being nice or being right. You don’t need me to tell you that.
Go now in peace, never be afraid,
God will go with you each hour of every day.
Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true,
Know He will guide you in all you do.
Go now in love and show you believe,
Reach out to others so all the world can see.
God will be there watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith, and in love. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018