Sermon Archives

Sunday, July 23, 2017
The 7th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Our Rock and Salvation

Loving God, you alone can reconcile our past, present and future. Give us your courage and compassion so that we might bear witness to you. Amen.

The years that I spent discerning a call to ordained ministry were turbulent - full of growth, healing, and upheaval. During that process, I found myself searching for a place of stability.

One of the places I found was the Holy Cross community. The Order of the Holy Cross is an Anglican Benedictine monastic community, located in various places across the world including: Canada, South Africa, and the United States, and at other points in time, Ghana and Liberia.

Fr. Christian Swayne, a monk and a priest, was one of the residents at the Priory in Toronto. He had wonderful stories about his time as head of the community in Liberia, his time in Ghana, and his childhood, growing up in Toronto.

One day he announced that he had been diagnosed with an accelerated form of Alzheimer’s.

He shared the strategies he developed as his disease progressed. He kept to set routines, and used the same routes around the neighbourhood and on the subway. As much as possible, he continued to engage with the life of the community.

Once he went to the Pride Parade in Toronto and got separated from the party he went with. When he realized he was lost, he decided to stay in one place until someone found him again. He celebrated his newfound freedom to decline invitations when he didn’t want to do something and relished the permission to take care of himself. He seemed so even-keel and open about his experience; I asked him if he ever felt anxious, sad or afraid.

He replied that he did sometimes, but once he realized that he could ignore the voices of fear that began babbling as soon as something or someone didn’t look familiar, things weren’t so bad. Fr. Christian seemed able to place his sense of stability and well-being in something other than his life circumstances.

Our passage from Isaiah signals a shift in Israel’s understanding of their God, Yahweh, in the midst of great upheaval. Scholars call the author of this part of Isaiah “Second Isaiah”, thought to be written about 2 centuries after the Prophet Isaiah’s lifetime.

Second Isaiah was written during the captivity – when the Babylonian Empire captured Israel and sent the Jews to live in exile in Babylon. At this point in the captivity, the Babylonian empire was collapsing and the Persian Empire was on the rise. With the dominance of the Persian Empire, came the prospect for the Jews of returning back to Israel.

Prior to this point, the prophets were mostly concerned with warning Israel of the consequences of living in disregard for God’s desire for their community. The community had mixed narratives - some saw the exile as God’s punishment; others saw the exile as an apparent failure of their God, who proved inferior to the Babylonian deities.

In our passage today, Yahweh places other gods on trial, challenging their ability to tell the future (an important sign of divine power in Babylonian worship). Yahweh calls forth the Jewish exiles as witnesses.

Amidst all this change, we have what scholars consider to be the first and most striking statement of monotheism to occur in the Hebrew Bible: “I am the first and I am the last, besides me there is no god.” (Is 44:6). As the change and turbulence increased, the prophet reassured the people that Yahweh was the only God and that there was no need to be afraid.

This weekend Metro Detroit commemorates the events of July 1967. Events that some in this congregation witnessed first-hand, events that changed the course of lives of many in Detroit and beyond, events that gave voice to the anger and unrest caused by the living conditions experienced by the African American community in Detroit.

Fifty years later we take time to remember those who lost their lives and those whose lives were affected. We tell and listen to the stories and ask what has changed since that time? What conditions in Detroit led to the civil unrest? Have we listened to what those voices were witnessing to?

The Christ Church community has also seen a lot of transition. And this year continues to be punctuated by change – loss of long-time parish members and the departure of program staff members.

Transitions are emotionally saturated times, that may usher in a variety of feelings like grief, anxiety, gratitude, confusion and anger. They can be opportunities for self-reflection and discernment. They can spark deep questions about who we are, what gave rise to the transitions, and what spirit we want bring to these moments of change.

Do we close in on ourselves, shielding ourselves from the change until it passes? Or do we open our hearts to God, accepting the invitation to walk a little more slowly, quieting ourselves down to listening for the still small voice of God?

In the passage from Isaiah, Yahweh calls on Israel to be a witness to the world on Yahweh’s behalf. Yahweh asks the people to remember what was told to them, and to recall the experience of Yahweh’s active participation in human history. 

Transitions can be challenging, as things we thought were stable begin to feel more like shifting sand. In those moments of uncertainty it can help to use scripture as an anchor for God’s promises or as a way to voice our fear and hopes in prayer. It can also help to remember our own experiences of God’s love, as a reminder that God is always present, loving us tenderly as a mother cares for her child. 

How can this church be a witness to the God of life who brings forth healing and restoration?

Clarence Jordan, the founder of Koinonia Farm - that small Christian community that the Mission Trippers served at this summer, decided that Koinonia was to be a racially integrated community from the beginning, a place where everyone ate together, was paid equally, and lived together. That small Christian community was to serve as a demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God.

I wonder what it might look like for us to think of ourselves – our own souls and our communities - as demonstration plots for God’s kingdom. Places to practice kingdom values and holiness – honesty, vulnerability, patience, kindness, compassion – towards ourselves and towards each other.

In these demonstration plots, we can experiment with opening our hearts to God. Knowing that although God won’t shield us from change or suffering, we can trust in God to create beauty, growth and life out of chaos.

Even when sometimes all we can do is hang on, living without resolution, living in that liminal space between night and day, between exile and the promised land, trusting that God will journey with us – our rock and our salvation.