Thursday, December 29, 2016

Homily, Thursday in Christmas Week preached by Sr. Constance Joanna SSJD

St. John’s Convent, December 29, 2016
Sr. Constance Joanna

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”
These are the theme words that are spoken in the beautiful 2011 film The Help. It takes place at the height of the American Civil Rights Movement in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi – ostensibly the worst of all the states for its mistreatment and persecution of African Americans.

Aibileen, the black housemaid for a prominent and wealthy Jackson family, says to the toddler she looks after, in her southern black Creole dialect: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” She makes the child repeat the words. And when Aibileen is later fired because she has spoken out against the injustices to African Americans, she speaks these words to the child again, and again makes her repeat them. “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” As she leaves the house, the toddler screams after her, “Aibileen, don’t leave.” Aibileen is the only person in her life who has made her feel special, who has taught her that she is loved.

The words are in strong contrast to the institutionalized racism of the south. Somehow Aibileen must have grown up hearing these words from her own mother – how else could she possibly have survived the verbal abuse she received from her white employers? Particularly the “you is kind” part.

But would this white toddler that she looks after grow up to teach her children that they were special and loved? Or would she simply interpret the words as an expression of her own sense of entitlement? Would she be kind as well as smart and important? That is an issue at the heart of today’s readings.

In the gospel, Mary and Joseph bring their child to be presented to God in the temple, and they make the customary offering required of a poor family – a couple of small birds. They did what many young couples did at the time. But there was something special about this child and this event. Simeon, known to the people in Jerusalem as a holy man who prayed for the coming of the Messiah, took the child in his arms and praised God in the words we have come to know as the Song of Simeon and which we sing at Compline every night:
He could now die rejoicing because his hope had been fulfilled:

Lord, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32)

How that song must have warmed the hearts of Mary and Joseph – and most likely the child as well. Even at 40 days old, a child knows when he or she is loved; a child can feel the meaning of the words “you are special, you are kind, you are smart.” Even if they can’t yet process the words intellectually, they know they mean “you are loved.”

And Simeon’s song was not the first time that Mary and Joseph had heard words about their special child. Mary heard them from the angel Gabriel. Joseph heard the message when an angel spoke to him in a dream. Mary heard it again when she visited her cousin Elizabeth and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt for joy, Elizabeth responding with the words “blessed are you and blessed is the child in your womb.” They both heard it on the night of Jesus’ birth, from angels and from shepherds. This child is special, holy, loved. He will also be kind, and smart, and important – not self-important but important because he is God’s beloved and important to salvation history.

And – Simeon now adds when he blesses Mary and Joseph – “he is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34)

This holy and special child has come to teach that every human being is holy and special, and that message is going to threaten the establishment – as it did 2,000 years later in Jackson, Mississippi. And as it is doing now in Europe and North America.

Writing nearly 100 years after Jesus’ birth, and with the hindsight of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, someone in the community of St. John wrote:

Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. (1 John 2:9-11)

This is a really strong reminder that while God has created each of us to be unique, special, holy – to be God’s beloved – we have also been created to share that love, to love others as God loves us.

The toddler’s mother in the movie declares “I am a Christian woman” and yet she has no respect for either the lower classes of white people she calls “white trash” or for black people. But Aibileen demonstrates a love for her own children and her own people as well as for the rich white children she looks after and for the ostracized “white trash.” Her love is universal, and like Jesus it drives her to work for justice.

Aibileen is clearly a follower of Jesus, and she lives out Jesus’ teachings. She is also a kind of Simeon who can raise up a child and say “you are special.”

May you be kind, sharing Jesus’ love with all.

May you be smart – smart enough to know how desperately others need your love.

And may you know you’re important – not with the self-importance that can cause us to treat each other unkindly, but with the importance that comes from knowing we are God’s beloved and are meant to share God’s love in every way we can.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Homily for St. John’s Day, December 27, 2016

The Rev. Lucy Reid, Incumbant of St. Aidan in the Beach, Toronto

Readings: Sirach 15:1-6; Psalm 93; 1 John 1:1-9 John 21:19-24

It’s such a privilege and a pleasure for me to be here with you on your patronal festival. Thank you. And may I wish you all a merry Christmas and a hopeful new year.

I want to share some reflections that come from the writings of John Philip Newell on John the Evangelist, or John the Beloved as he is sometimes called. Newell writes that in the Celtic tradition when John leans into Jesus at the last supper he is listening to the heartbeat of God. And, seen that way, Newell writes:
He became a symbol of the practice of listening—listening deep within ourselves, within one another, and within the body of the earth for the beat of the Sacred Presence.

And he continues:
Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world?
-Newell, The Rebirthing of God, 2014 (Skylight: New York) xvii.

In the passage from Sirach that we heard before the gospel today, describing the one who seeks and finds Wisdom, it says that such a one “will lean on her.” This echoes the image of John leaning into Jesus, who embodied Holy Wisdom.

When we encounter true wisdom, we discover or remember who we are, and who God is.
As Newell writes, The gospel is given to tell us what we do not know or what we have forgotten, and that is who we are, sons and daughters of the One from whom all things come. It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing and how we should be relating to one another as individuals and as nations and as an entire earth community.
John Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts, 2008 (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) p7-8.

The contemplative life, as you know better than I, enables us to listen to the heartbeat of God, to hear our true name, to see as God sees with compassion and hope. Sometimes the contemplative life simply enables us to keep calm and carry on in the midst of the messy brokenness and pain of the world around.

The contemplative way helps us all to see the treasure hidden in the field, the Christ child in the most ordinary of places, the handprints of God in all of creation.

Newell shares another image to convey this hidden truth:
A nineteenth-century teacher in the Celtic world, Alexander Scott, used the analogy of royal garments. Apparently in his day, royal garments were woven through with a costly thread, a thread of gold. And if somehow the golden thread were taken out of the garment, the whole garment would unravel. So it is, he said, with the image of God woven into the fabric of our being. If it were taken out of us, we would unravel. We would cease to be. So the image of God is not simply a characteristic of who we are, which may or may not be there, depending on whether or not we have been baptized. The image of God is the essence of our being. It is the core of the human soul. We are sacred not because we have been baptized or because we belong to one faith tradition over another. We are sacred because we have been born.
- Newell, Christ of the Celts, 2008 (Jossey-Bass: San Francisco) 2-4.

John the Beloved shows us this golden thread.
May we, like him, lean into the loving heart of Jesus, lean into Wisdom, and listen to the heartbeat of God. Amen.

Read about Lucy Reid's spiritual journey HERE 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Homily: Advent 2, Year A

St. John’s Convent, December 4, 2016

Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD

Isaiah 11.1-10         Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19
Romans 15.4-13 Matthew 3.1-12


The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight.” (Isaiah 40.3; Matthew 3.3)

In the classic TV animated film first shown in 1965, Charlie is a typical post-modern guy going through an existential crisis as he is growing up. He feels bad about himself: a failure, unloved, ridiculed, alienated from his culture but seeking meaning in his life, desperate to be accepted, longing for unconditional love which he has found not in his peers, not yet in God, but in his beloved and faithful dog. (Don’t forget though that dog is God spelled backward!)

In 2016 Charlie is just as relevant as he was 50 years ago. It seems as if a lot has changed in western society – and it has – but one thing that has not changed is peoples’ longing for God, for acceptance, for belonging, for love.

When the story opens, Charlie is feeling depressed. He hates the commercialization of Christmas but doesn’t understand why because he doesn’t really understand Christmas. He goes to Lucy for psychiatric help and the advice she gives him is to direct a Christmas play – she is sure that will give him the “Christmas spirit” (whatever that is) and will get him out of his doldrums.

But Charlie doesn’t have an easy job keeping a bunch of rude and unruly children focussed on a Christmas play. He probably feels like John the Baptist and would like to yell “you brood of vipers!” except that he doesn’t have the courage to do so. His friends just erode his lack of self-confidence more and he gets more despondent. He decides the one thing that might make the whole play hang together is a Christmas tree. Lucy wants him to get a nice shiny aluminum tree, but he is determined to find a real one – and ends up with the last one on the lot – a straggling, struggling little rut of a tree – rather a projection of Charlie’s view of himself.

When he gets the tree back to the auditorium where they’re rehearsing the play, all the kids mock him and make fun of the tree before leaving Charlie alone with the tree and Linus. Charlie cries the existentialist cry: “Does anyone know what Christmas is really about?” Or he might say, “is there any meaning to life?” Linus replies by reciting the narrative from Luke about the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds.

Charlie regains enough composure to take the tree home to decorate, thinking that will help. The single ornament he puts on it makes the tree lopsided, even more ridiculous looking and he thinks he has killed the tree. But with Linus taking the lead, the other kids show up and take the decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse (presumably with Snoopy’s permission) and decorate the tree. The story ends joyfully with everyone singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and it reminds me of today’s passage from Romans:

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15.5)

The little community of “Peanuts” has come together against all odds, overcome their differences, and harmoniously giving glory to Jesus. Charlie, in his vulnerability, has led them to that place of reconciliation and rejoicing.

Charlie, it seems to me, is a lot like John the Baptist, the “voice crying in the wilderness” which is the theme of the second Sunday of Advent. He is the one among the children who has a passionate longing for the coming of the Messiah, though he would not use that word. He knows there is something more that the values of the society he’s living in.

The same was true for John. He came proclaiming repentance in preparation for the coming of Jesus, “the one who is greater than I”. While Charlie wasn’t asking people to repent in the same way, his mission was certainly to prepare the way for Jesus, to open his own eyes to the truth of what Christmas is about and to get others to see. His seeking Lucy’s help, his agreeing to direct the play, his looking for a real tree instead of an aluminum one, were ways of preparing the way – both for himself, to get himself out of his depression, and for his friends, family, and schoolmates.

And that tree! – Isaiah tells us that the coming Messiah is the branch of Jesse – another way of saying the descendent of David. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,” says Isaiah, “and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him . . . “ Charlie the Baptist’s tree reminds me of that branch of Jesse – just a small branch, a sapling really, like the tiny human born in a stable. Charlie’s tree reminds us of what great beauty can grow from something unremarkable –  even “despised, forsaken, rejected” as Isaiah describes the Messiah in another place.

And on that small branch of Jesse, we read, will rest the Spirit of the Lord – the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

And his coming will bring healing for people and renewal for creation: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the calf and the lion – all will lie down together in the peaceable kingdom – “and a little child shall lead them.”

The little child in Isaiah reflects Jesus, the sapling, the little shoot from the root of Jesse. But it also reminds us of Charlie the Baptist or John the Baptist. John was, after all, only a few months older than his cousin Jesus. The vision of the Messiah was passed o to him from his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah. And so the grown-up John started as a sapling himself, a shoot form the roots of Elizabeth and Zechariah – one child preparing the way for another.

And what of us? Each of us is called to be a baptist, a forerunner – perhaps not literally baptizing people but certainly preparing the way for them to become followers of Jesus.

And how do we do that? I think the experience of Charlie and his friends can teach us a lot. We stick together. We help each other. We try our best to live in peace together just like the lion and the lamb. And after all is said and done, even when we give each other a hard time, even in conflict and hurt and misunderstanding, we help each other through the rough times, decorating a tree for someone who has hurt us or whom we have hurt when they are at the end of their rope as Charlie was, and allowing the beauty of the sapling to grow out of an unlikely beginning.

“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain” Isaiah goes on to say. “For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”

May each of us be open to be used by the Spirit to bring the knowledge of the Lord to those who are desperate to know about God and the Son and the Spirit. May each of us nurture the Jesse tree we have been given. And may we stand tall and straight, like beautiful trees ourselves, so that we may be signs of the coming Reign of God.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Canada Day preached by Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD


Homily: Canada Day

St. John’s Convent, July 1, 2016

Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD


Isaiah 32:1-5, 16-18Psalm 85:7-13

Colossians 3:12-17John 15:12-17




Canada Day is a special time for celebrating the goodness of our country – its values of openness and inclusivity, its commitment to human rights and dignity, its courage in coming to grips with the dark side of  its past (as with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), it’s leadership on the world stage in economic and social progress.


But it’s impossible to maintain that spirit of gratitude, or to celebrate this wonderful country, without an awareness of the unprecedented suffering of people in so many parts of the world, the increase in protectionism and nationalism in so many places including directly south of our border, and the violence that reigns in so many countries in place of democratic freedoms. 


It makes me a little nostalgic for better times – or at least what seemed better at the time. When I ived in Detroit back in the 1970s, one of the most popular things to do at the beginning of July was to go down to the International Freedom Festival on the Detroit River. It took place on the weekend closest to July 1 and July 4 and celebrated both Canada Day and U.S. Independence Day. It was fun to see people celebrating on both sides of the river, in Detroit and Windsor. There would be a carnival atmosphere in both cities – both countries – with thousands of people celebrating the great value of freedom that we all felt was shared by Canada and the US. Barges in the middle of the river were the site of fabulous firework displays, and if you got tired of what was going on in one city you could get in your car and drive across the the bridge or the tunnel to the city on the other side. No one had to have a passport in those days to cross between the U.S. and Canada.


The International Freedom Festival no longer exists – beginning in 2007 it was split into two different events, one in Windsor and one in Detroit. To me that’s a sad commentary on what we understand as shared values of freedom and democracy, and it reminds me of the discouraging way in which not only the U.S. but so-called free countries around the world are reacting to migration and the refugee crisis by putting up walls of regulations that we believe will protect us from each other.


I am so grateful to live in Canada, where we have enough walls of regulations ourselves  but at least where many people – I would hope most – are still open to welcoming the strangers, refugees, people who know longer have a country of their own.And yet we too are in danger of being sucked into the radical protectionism and nationalism that we are seeing in so many places around the world.


The readings today call us to something different. The passage from Isaiah presents a vision of rulers who will reign with righteousness, with justice. The imagery in the passage is all life-giving: they will be “like a hiding-place from the wind . . . like streams of water in a dry place . . .  like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” And the rulers will no longer be fools or villains; they will exercise good judgement. They will speak “readily and distinctly” – we might say truthfully and transparently. What an amazing vision.


Sometimes I think we have caught it here in Canada, but sometimes I worry that we could so easily lose that vision which is so beautifully and seductively described in the psalm: “my people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” God will “give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.


This does not happen magically or without struggle and courage. Paul speaks, in his letter to the Colossians, of our responsibility to help bring about this vision of peaceful government and wise and generous leadership. ”As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another . . . forgive one another . . let the peace of Christ rule in your hearst . . . and be thankful . . . teach and admonish one another . . .” And above all, Paul says, be grateful: “with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”


In other words, a peaceful and just country comes from peaceful and just citizens – and grateful ones. We bear a responsibility in our own small spheres to treat one another the way we wish world leaders and countries would treat each other, not closing down our personal borders, not being isolationist, not being fearful of other people, not looking out just for ourselves.


Jesus knew about the fear of those who are different. He knew about the fear that rises in our hearts when we are asked to welcome others into our midst. He knew about the courage needed to stay open to those who hate and fear you. And in the last days of his life, as he was walking with the disciples in the vineyard, he told them, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That is the ultimate sacrifice demanded by the kind of leadership that Isaiah described. We lay down our lives – perhaps not physically (at least not often here in Canada) but spiritually and emotionally – to welcome the stranger.


The events of these past 10 days have left me (and I’m sure many of you) feeling overwhelmed by evil in our world, and as we anticipate the events that will unfold this summer in the U.S., our courage can be shaken. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, writing about the attacks on the airport in Istanbul, called our church to prayer:


Join me in praying for all who travel and for all whose work is ensuring their security and safety.


Let us remember before God all the victims of the bombings in Istanbul and their loved ones who grieve.


Let us pray all those seriously injured and traumatized and those who tend them in hospitals.


Let us pray too for all who are perpetrators of religiously-based violence and the chaos it brings.


Pray for conversion of hearts.


Pray that the world be free of such crimes against humanity.


Pray that we all live by the counsel given by God through his servant Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God.”


I would add to this our prayer for the people of the United States as they move into the  Republican National Convention in Cleveland which opens July 18 and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia the following week, that somehow the people of the United States may have generous and wise hearts in the decisions they make.


I would add also prayer for the discussion and vote on changes to the marriage canon that will come to our own General Synod next week, that our church may show itself to be generous andopen and inclusive.


I would add prayer for Great Britain and the EU as they struggle with the outcome of the Brexit vote, that they may resist the xenophobic extremist groups and continue to maintain a stance of openness to refugees, immigrants, and the dispossesed of their own country.


And for the hundreds of thousands of refugees desperate to get into Europe, thousands of whom have died in the Mediterranean.


And finally, thinking of that freedom festival in Detroit/Windsor,I leave you with the words inscribed on the Statute of Liberty in New York Harbour, because I think they express the very bestvision of what both our countries can be.The words come from a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883, and they were paraphrased in the litany we used this morning

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"


“Wretched refuse” – hard words, describing the way many people still treat refugees. “Desperate migrants” might better describe it today. May the USA and Canada and all countries be inspired to lift their lamps beside the golden door of safety, generosity, and welcome.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Homily for the Feast of St. John in Eastertide preached by The Reverend Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate/SSJD

May 6, 2016


John 20: 1 – 8        1 John 1:1-9


Have you noticed in the resurrection narratives, that there are a lot of people running in these stories? They are either running from the tomb, to the tomb, or back to and forth from, the tomb. 


In John’s telling, Mary runs from the empty tomb to find Peter, then he and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, go racing back there, running neck and neck. The other disciple, who in some translations, is also known at the Beloved Disciple, actually beats Peter to the tomb. But then he stops, just at the opening, and Peter goes rushing past him, straight to the finish line inside the tomb.


Now, I know it wasn’t actually a race to see who got inside the tomb first. But that tidbit about the Beloved Disciple kind of throwing the race is an interesting bit of detail that the writer of the story thought worth mentioning.


While it may seem somewhat comical to us hearing it retold in our own day, all of this running thither and yon speaks to me of the sense of urgency, of the panic, fear, maybe even dread, that those first disciples must have felt, just 3 days after the worst day of their lives. 


Mary Magdalene had been first on the scene, and when she discovers the great stone removed, she imagines the worst and goes in search of Peter (the already perceived leader of the group, despite his denial and disappearance) and she tells him. And so that’s when he and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, scramble back there, jostling one another on the way. Surely we can identify with their eagerness. The evidence that something untoward has happened, is laid before us. Peter enters the tomb first. With the same kind of forensic detail we have come to expect from the myriad of crime shows on television these days, there is a thorough description of the scene: the linen wrappings are there. The cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, isn’t lying with the rest of the linen wrappings but was rather, rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple also went in.  While the statement doesn’t say so in so many words, it is clear that nothing else is in the tomb.


An extremely interesting fact is recorded in the witness statement: the other disciple, whoas has already been established, reached the tomb first, not only went in – he also “saw” (presumably meaning, that there was no body) – and he believed.  However, it’s not immediately clear what it is that he believed.


Had we read on another 2 verses to kind of finish the thought or the paragraph, we would have heard that “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”


These verses make it clear that neither Peter nor the other disciple can as yet comprehend the full implications of what they’ve seen – and they won’t, until they connect it with the scriptures. When they return home to the rest of their company, all they can verify is that the tomb is in fact empty. Although we can infer from other passages in this Gospel of John that what the beloved disciple now believes is that Jesus is who he says he is; verse 9, the verse we didn’t read, suggests that even in this belief, at this point, he lacks the proper context for understanding that what they have witnessed is no mere disappearance – it is resurrection.


What we see unfolding here is the very essence of our Christian faithThe resurrection is central to us, for without it, we cannot, with any integrity, gather here and proclaim faith in a God who created us, a God who knows and loves us, who calls us by name and hears our cries, who forgives with redeeming love,  who welcomes us into the fold with loving arms. Our God, the Keeper of Promises.


Though there is still some debate as to the dates of when the Gospels were written, they were most assuredly completed before the close of the first century and were therefore written by eyewitnesses or under the direction of eyewitnesses. Likewise the epistles, the letters to the various emerging churches, give us singularly enticing snapshots into the life of early Christians; for they chronicle their maturing faith. In the portion from the first Letter of John we hear a compelling statement from an eyewitness, reflecting on his experience: 


“what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to itso that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”


Imagine receiving that on a postcard from Ephesus on one of those days when your faith is weak and your resolve faltering? Imagine receiving that message of joy and encouragement on a day when your faith is strong and your hope buoyant. Wow! What a difference it would have made.


Eugene Peterson says that “we Christians are stationed at a crossroads. As people of an Easter faith, we are here to affirm the primacy of life over death, to give a witness to the connectedness and preciousness of all life, to engage in the practice of resurrection.”


This idea of practicing resurrection comes from a poem by Wendell Berry. He writes: “every day do something that won’t compute. Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing. Take all that you have and be poor. Love someone who does not deserve it. Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.” What if we were to really live this faith we profess? What if we were treally believe – and trust with that first century zeal?


Today we celebrate this Feast of St. John, the Beloved disciple, who saw – and believed – and practiced resurrection by living fully into the faith he professed. We also celebrate and givethanks for this Community of Sisters which bears the name of the Beloved disciple, and with those who today make initial promises, with one who renews her promises, and another who makes her life promises as Oblates of this Sisterhood. Together with Associates and many friends, and indeed the whole world, we share the joy of the Resurrection and of our common life together. Amen. Alleluia!


The Rev. Frances Drolet-Smith, Oblate, SSJD

Monday, May 2, 2016

"Community and Healing" - Homily for Easter 6c - Oblate Triennial Conference

St. John’s Convent, May 1, 2016
Homilist: Sr. Constance Joanna SSJD

Acts 16.9-15    Psalm 67   Revelation 21.10,22 - 22.5   John 5.1-9

It is wonderful to have this amazing family altogether for a week. I have heard both Sisters and Oblates comment that it’s a bit like a family reunion, and it’s true. It’s a family has changed and grown over the past three years. We have lost some dear Oblates, including those who were among the very first. We have lost some Sisters too. But we have gained new Oblates, and new Sisters. Our Alongsider program is healthy, and we are looking forward to welcoming both new Alongsiders and the first crop of Companions in September. The Spirit is surely moving among us.

And we see that movement of the Spirit quite dramatically in our readings for this morning – readings that speak to us of community, of growth, and of healing. Growth and healing (whether individual or corporate) always take place in community. And that is a truth that goes back to the Hebrew scriptures, when God established a covenant with the Jewish people. The theme of covenant community – or intentional community as it’s often described today – is woven throughout the Hebrew scriptures and comes to a new flowering in the New Testament.

The gospel narrative today is about community, or more accurately, about a man who is without community but finds it with Jesus. The man has been sick for many years. Because he has no friends or family to help him, he is unable to get into the pool which has the healing waters. No one has reached out to help him.

When Jesus asks him if he wants to be made well, the man does what so many of us do – instead of saying “Yes!” he gives reasons why he cannot be healed – no one will help him be the first to get into the water when it is stirred up, he says. What does he mean? Well, the story behind the Pool of Siloam is that every so often an angel stirs up the water to make it turbulent, and the first person to get into it is the one who is healed. The image of turbulent water is a potent one in scripture. It is always associated with generativist, healing, and new life. And it’s a major theme in some of the key stories of the Easter Vigil – the creation story in Genesis when the Spirit of God moves over the face of the water, the story of Noah and the flood, of Jonah on the turbulent sea, of the Exodus. Today’s story reminds me also of Jesus calming the storm at sea – a story that so captured the imagination of the gospel writers that we actually have 6 different variations on it in the different gospels.

The healing properties of the pool at Beth-zatha and the importance of the water being disturbed is a clue that something important is going to happen to the sick man. But interestingly the healing happens without the aid of the water.

True miracles happen when we become aware of the presence of God in our lives. And that is what happens to this sick man. The promise of the turbulent water hasn’t helped him. For 38 years he has waited his turn to get into the pool when it is stirred up, and he has never made it. But the miracle happens when God walks into his life in the person of Jesus. He doesn’t even need to get into the water. We might think he has missed a kind of baptism. But the presence of Jesus trumps all ceremony, all magical beliefs about angels stirring up the waters. It even trumps the sacraments.

Jesus simply ignores the water and says to the man, “Stand up, take up your mat and walk. “The man obeys. He trusts Jesus, and simply does what he is asked. At once he is healed. And because he is healed he no longer has to depend on his illness. He no longer has to beg. He is one of those people who discovered how following Jesus brought him into a community of love, where the healing power of Jesus has a ripple effect far beyond even the examples we have in the gospels.

The early church began like that, with a group of friends and disciples who tried to follow the way of Jesus after the resurrection, and that’s why we read from the Book of Acts during the Easter season. The community of the first Christians was not so different from this little band of disciples here in this chapel this morning. It wasn’t so different from loving families, or strong parish communities in which people care for each other as well as those outside the church. The early Christians became Christ for one another. They brought resurrection to one another. They allowed God to work in them and through them. And that is where the miracles come in. When we have our eyes open, we can see the presence of God everywhere, and when we are aware of the presence of God in our lives, then we can be open to being healed ourselves and also open to bring that healing love of God into the lives of others.

Today’s reading from Acts describes a dramatic example of that. After the resurrection, the disciples had focussed primarily on spreading Jesus’ message within the Jewish community, and Peter was a leader in that mission. But then along came Paul, a Jew and a Roman citizen, and once he was converted to Christianity, he felt a strong call to share the gospel with the gentiles – those outside the Jewish community. So in today’s reading it’s significant that Paul has a vision – a message from that Holy Spirit really – that he should go to Macedonia, in Greek or gentile territory.

When Paul and his companions come into Macedonia, they go to a place of prayer down near the river (there’s that water again!), and find a group of women there with their leader, Lydia. We are told that “the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul,” she and her household were baptized, and she invited Paul and his companions to come and stay at her home. Lydia was a mother, the spiritual head of a household that would have included a large extended family, probably not a nuclear family as we might envision it’s the number of people who were baptised was probably quite large. Lydia was responsible for that extended family, that new Christian community. She was also a merchant, we are told, a dealer in purple cloth. Like so many mothers of today, she had to multitask, looking after children, a large household, and her business. Even more, she was a missionary of sorts, helping to spread the gospel to the people in Macedonia, and undoubtedly getting other women in her circle involved in making the church inclusive of gentiles.

What does this have to say to us in the church today? I think it is a call to us to get outside our comfort zone, to take our part in making our Christian communities welcoming and inclusive places – even more, reaching out beyond our communities to those outside the church.

And in all of this, Jesus is here in our midst. All we have to do is recognize him. He is here in the faces of each other. He is here in the love we share with each other and those who share our journeys through life. In a special way he is here in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Unlike the man by the pool of Beth-zatha, we do not now see Jesus in the flesh. But we know him in his risen body, and so we celebrate his presence in the sacrament of thanksgiving – the Eucharist. And we pray for healing and unity – in ourselves, in our churches and communities, in our world. As we receive the bread and wine of the sacrament we anticipate that time when the sacraments are superseded by Jesus himself.

In the reading from the book of Revelation John gives us a vision of that time.
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb... 
This vision of the holy city, without a temple, without sacraments, with only the presence of God and the tree of life – is a vision of a restored Eden, but more than that, a vision of the unity, reconciliation, and peace that we so long for in our world and so desperately need to pray for. I’d like to end with a prayer for the fulfillment of that vision, taken from the last verse of my favourite Eucharistic hymn. 
So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
may we be one with all thy Church above,
one with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
one with thy saints in one unbounded love;
more bless├Ęd still, in peace and love to be
one with the Trinity in Unity.