The following sermon notes, although a year old, seem appropriate today.
James 1: 17 – 21
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or
shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by
the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow
to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s
righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth
of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the
power to save your souls (NRSV)
John 16: 5 – 15
But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are
you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled
your hearts. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage
that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you;
but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the
world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because
they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the
Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of
this world has been condemned.
‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When
the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he
will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will
declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he
will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is
mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it
to you. (NRSV)
SERMON PROPER BEGINS
1870 is a long time ago. The U.S. civil war had ended 5 years previously.
Disabled veterans were a common sight. Families still felt the loss of
children, spouses, parents. Reaching across the barriers of war, Julia
Ward Howe attempted to find common ground among women of both the U.S. north and south, a common ground rooted in their experience as mothers of those who had lived through war. On the other side of the greeting card holiday world, Mother’s Day was proclaimed with the following words:
Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870
by Julia Ward Howe
Arise then…women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
“We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those
of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”
From the voice of a devastated Earth
a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God –
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.
A world without war, a world where the voices of those often pushed aside
in the rush to war are heard, a world where peace that is greater than the
immediate end of a conflict is to be born—this was the vision shared in
1870 on Mother’s Day.
In a time and place where war is again around us, where violence is seen as
the best way to address conflict, let us remember the women of two opposing sides who found common ground in their desire to ensure that the suffering they knew all too well would not occur again.
This was a generous gift to the world. The book of James tells us that all
such gifts are ultimately from the creator.
Our world is constantly filled with such gifts. In the midst of the
destructive reality of the great depression of the 1930s, when anger and
hopelessness abounded around the world there were gifts of an alternative
way of living, of initiatives to transform the world that would be based on love and not on hate, on trying to live in harmony with the creator and not in competition with the creator and one another. In 1935 four members of the Student Christian Movement—Art Dayfoot, Alex Sim, Archie Manson and Donald MacLean—went to a conference in Indianapolis, Indiana to listen to and learn from Toyohiko Kagawa—a Japanese Christian active in labour, co-operative and peace circles. Kagawa described a new model of co-operative living, one based on shared responsibility and less on pooled equity. Low income people could, together, run a co-operative that met their housing needs. They returned from Indiana and founded Campus Co-operative Homes—the oldest housing co-operative in Canada, If not for their willingness to listen and learn from those from other cultures, not only would then be no Campus Co-op—the co-op housing movement in Canada would have a different nature. Housing co-operatives would be like condominiums, not primarily mixed income communities of individuals sharing their resources to meet common needs.
There are more complex gifts in many times and places. In Israel/Palestine
at this time a network of Muslim, Christian and Jewish people meet
regularly to discuss matters as diverse as different wedding traditions and
how to maintain diverse communities in times of conflict. The Interfaith
Encounter Association brings together people who are committed to nothing
more than being good neighbours, of caring for the well-being of all. In a
place of inter-communal conflict, this is truly revolutionary. This is
truly a gift from above.
This month a family arrived in Canada from Afghanistan—they are refugees
seeking a new home here. This month Canada rounded up labourers to
deport them—individuals being removed from a place where they
established homes and families and friends. Our country is one both where
strangers are welcomed and where strangers are turned away. Being open to
the gifts of the creator would have us be consistently open to always
welcome the stranger into our community.
All of us can be open to the divine spirit—it isn’t difficult. It would
mean we’d be like the young woman in Holland who opened her home to provide a haven to two Jewish children during the Nazi occupation, described in Saturday’s Toronto Star. It would mean that we’d not shy away from those that are marginalised in our community—from those with AIDS and other diseases we still fear; from those who spent time in our jails and prisons; from those living on the streets. It would mean nothing truly radical—merely treating one another with respect. It would be truly revolutionary—seeking to put aside fear and anger and hatred is seeking to put aside the justifications for war and violence and oppression.
Being open to the divine spirit within ourselves and to seek to find it in
others is a form of spirituality we don’t read much about. It isn’t as
focused as meditation; it isn’t as formal as prayer. But it is an
essential way to being an aware, active, vibrant person of faith. It is
through such openness that we come to realise that we are not alone in
creation, that whatever challenges faith us we never face them alone. It
is through such openness that we can find delight and joy in bearing
witness to the needs of our world and those that are not able to speak for
Jesus’ mother, Mary, in Luke 1: 46 – 55 (The Magnificat) responds to the
new life of Jesus and that is possible for all through Jesus when she says:
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
This gift of wonder and a vision of a transforming divine presence remains
with us. We hear its echoes in formal studies of process and liberation
and feminist theologies. We hear its echoes in pleas, such as Julia Ward
Howe’s Mother’s Day Declaration, for a world where all voices are woven
together to find a way to live in harmony within creation. We hear its
echoes in the actions, from supporting a food bank to non-violently, openly, persistently calling for an end to war.
The Spirit of Truth is here with us to guide us towards a new creation, a
new Jerusalem, a new way of living for and with all. In the midst of all
the demands and pressures of life, let us be open to this active spiritual discipline of radical, living love.