Category Archives: From the Incumbent

Reflections from the incumbent of Holy Trinity. This is our parish priest.

Anger as Fuel for Hope: Homily for Advent 1

Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37

Some of you may be a bit leery of an Advent homily entitled “Anger as Fuel for Hope.” Isn’t ‘anger’ one of the seven deadly sins, I hear you ask? Isn’t Advent the rehearsal for the angelic choirs singing about peace on earth, and the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Why buzz kill the season’s hopeful mood? Why, indeed?

Well, for one reason, today’s scripture readings are reminders of the pain and suffering that humans have inflicted upon one another since forever, and testimonials to an understanding or acknowledgement that it will take a wisdom greater than our own to set things right, perhaps even a transcendent wisdom. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” the prophet Isaiah cries out. The story of Christmas has become so romanticized, its rough edges filed down, its scandalous message tied with a bow, the rough places steam-rolled, that it could be the work product of Walt Disney. Continue reading Anger as Fuel for Hope: Homily for Advent 1

Gleanings from the We Make the Road by Walking Bible Study

Each Sunday as we gather at 9:00 AM for the We Make the Road by Walking Bible Study, we begin with this prayer: Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation. In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the centre of this sacred circle through which all creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life. Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever. Amen.

This past Sunday we engaged with some difficult scriptures. The session title was “From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges.” The first passage we read was from Deuteronomy 7: Continue reading Gleanings from the We Make the Road by Walking Bible Study

One Hundred and Sixty-Eight Years of Social Justice

October 28th is the Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude. It was on the eve of this day in 1847 that the Church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated. At the midweek Eucharist today we remembered Simon and Jude, and as I was reading aloud the biographical comment in For All the Saints, I realized how appropriate they are as patrons. “Simon was called ‘the Zealot,’ which suggests that he once belonged to the Jewish resistance movement. …Jude is considered the patron saint of what is shunned by the world, especially lost causes and those who suffer from incurable diseases.” [p. 318]

On Wednesdays, in place of a homily, we have a group reflection on the appointed scripture readings, on the person/s being commemorated, or on what God is doing in our lives or the world around us. The gospel reading from John 15 included this passage: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.One of the Wednesday regulars, Matt indexMcGeachy, related the time from his university experience when the journalist June Callwood spoke to his class about the first time she was arrested for her social justice activism. Ms Callwood was participating in a demonstration on Bloor Street when she saw the police grab a black man and pull him into an alley to give him a beating. She went into the alley and demanded to know why they were doing this. They told her it wasn’t any of her business. She responded that they were public servants–members of the Toronto Police Services–so yes, it was her business. She was arrested for obstructing the police in the performance of their duties. (No cell phone videos in those days.) Continue reading One Hundred and Sixty-Eight Years of Social Justice

Taking Ashes to the Streets

So today was Ash Wednesday, and we took ashes from the midday service at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square to the streets of downtown Toronto. We’d done it a few years ago–when I had a curate and an intern–and had already decided to do it again this year, when, a couple weeks ago, I received a call from a producer of the CBC radio program Tapestry, who had read about the ashes-to-go that Sara Miles writes about in her new book, City of God. They were going to be interviewing her for the show, and had googled to see who in Toronto might be doing it as well. Long and short, Diane Eros came Continue reading Taking Ashes to the Streets

Homily for Lent V: Never Resist A Generous Impulse

 

Sherman Hesselgrave

Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto

17 March 2013

Isaiah 43    Psalm 126      Philippians 3:4b-14       John 12:1-8

 

Stop dwelling on days gone by and brooding over events long past.

I am about to do a new thing;

at this very moment it is unfurling from the bud—

can you not see it? —Isaiah 43

 

Thornton Wilder wrote that the “whole purport of literature…is the notation of the heart.” [The Bridge of San Luis Rey, p.16]

In seminary, I took a course entitled Evil and Recovery: A Christian Perspective on Shakespeare.

One of the most dramatic themes in literature, and well represented in the canon of this great

documentarian of the human heart, is the theme of renewal. And one of the most memorable

insights I took away from that class was a deeper understanding of ‘kindness.’ Whether one is

unpacking the text of As You Like It, King Lear, or The Tempest, what often makes renewal

possible for Shakespeare is the transformative nature of kindness, the recognition that we are all

of one kind. Kind-ness. Whether in the socially stratified world of Elizabeth England, or in our

own, where the chasm between rich and poor expands daily—kindness is the practice of the

biblical command to “love one’s neighbour as oneself.”

By becoming human like us—literally sharing our kind-ness—Jesus, through his actions,

storytelling, and faithfulness, lived the self-sacrificial love that brings about the healing of

creation. Shortly before his death, in the context of the Last Supper/First Eucharist, Jesus gave his

disciples a very easy-to-remember commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He

expected them to figure out that by doing so, they would become partners in God’s plan of

bringing about God’s reign.

We encounter that kind of selfless love in the person of Mary of Bethany. The dinner

given in Jesus’ honour bears some similarities to the meal in the upper room where Jesus will wash

the disciples’ feet a few days later. Mary’s generosity is scandalous to some in Jesus’ entourage; to

them it is extravagantly wasteful to spend the equivalent of a year’s wages for this embarrassing

and sensuous display that would normally be performed on the body of a person after death;

certainly, not at a dinner party.

 

There are two observations about the Bethany scene to which I would draw attention:

First, a closer look at the concept of ‘generosity.’ Though the word itself does not appear, Mary’s

generosity is unequivocal. It is worth noting that our English word, ‘generosity,’ is related to the

Greek and Latin verbs meaning ‘to give birth to.’ I would even go so far as to posit that generosity

is one of the mechanisms God has provided to bring about a “new thing” when a “new thing” is

needed. Anyone who has committed or been the recipient of a random act of kindness knows the

power that generosity can unleash, the hope it can create, the healing it can catalyze. Never

resist a generous impulse is a worthy personal motto.

The second is the inclusion of the detail that “the house was filled with the fragrance of

the ointment.” Recall that, in the previous chapter, when Jesus arrived after Lazarus had been

dead four days, Mary’s sister Martha warned that there would be a stench if the tomb were

opened. Now the fragrance that fills the house is a fragrance more powerful than the stench of

death, perhaps it is even a sign that Jesus’ resurrection will remove the fear of death forever.

Mary’s generosity has transformed the life of this entire household—her generosity is literally in

the air. At the moment, they may not realize the extent of that transformation, but, as

philosophers have noted: life is lived forwards, but understood backwards.

Grace—the generosity of God—is always transformative. In today’s Isaiah reading, the

prophet reminds his audience that God’s grace saved them when they were delivered from

slavery in Egypt, but God does not want them to become fixated on what happened in the past to

the exclusion of the new thing God is doing at this moment. The situation seems bleak on the

ground. Israel is still in captivity in Babylon. Something life-giving—the defeat of Babylon—is

about to bud, but the attention of God’s people is elsewhere. God promises streams in the desert,

but their eyes are on idols. The Second Commandment warns of the danger of placing other

gods before Yahweh. Every idol demands human sacrifice, whether it is Moloch, who required

the sacrifice of children; Aryan Purity, which resulted in the sacrifice of millions who were

deemed not to qualify; Economic Oligarchy, which was called out by the Occupy Wall Street

movement; or Chemical Dependency, which has destroyed families and dragged millions to an

early grave. Whatever draws us away from God draws us away from the deliverance, the “new

thing” God has in store for us.

 

Sometimes we avoid grace because we know it will bring about our transformation, and

we fear change. The comfort of what is familiar trumps the leap of faith we know we should take,

the new thing that will bring new life, but will also move us out of our comfort zone. How many

times have we heard of congregations who say they want to grow, but when new people try to

stake a claim in the community, offering their gifts, which might include doing something a

different way, their ventures are foreclosed because they upset the community’s equilibrium or

threaten domains of power? To walk by faith, and not by sight, means there will be times we

simply can’t see for certain what is around the corner, but we have to step off the curb. We

HAVE to move out of our comfort zones.

Despite Isaiah’s exhortation to stop brooding over events long past, the past is always

present, in the sense that, everywhere we go, we carry the results of every choice we ever made,

and, as T. S. Eliot put it, “every moment is a new and shocking/Valuation of all we have been.”

[Four Quartets, “East Coker,” II]

When the burden of stingy or poor choices overwhelms us, however, God’s grace is capable of

lifting that burden from our hearts and steadying us on a new path. The second verse of today’s

gradual hymn, Holy Woman, Graceful Giver, states this reality in terms of today’s gospel:

Like the vessel [i.e., the ointment jar], we are broken;

Like the ointment, we are token

Of God’s loving unto death;

Like the woman, we are serving;

Like the scolders, ill deserving

Such a rich, forgiving faith. [Words by Susan Palo Cherwien]

Sometimes the “new thing” that God has to offer is a fresh perception of something that

has long been taken for granted. There is a famous optical illusion, called the duck-rabbit

illusion. You have probably seen it. A simple black-and-white drawing that can be perceived

either as the head of a duck or the head of a rabbit.

The image is static; what changes is the way our brains manipulate the visualized information to

interpret it. The night sky looked pretty much the same the before the Copernican revolution as it

did the day after the Aha! moment. But the scientific community would never see it the same

way again. Of course, the Church would take somewhat longer before it could come around. It

is understandable that the Church would be slow to adopt a new way of thinking that overturned

centuries of theological reasoning and assumptions. But, in the end, it had to accommodate the

new perception. As a nun I knew long ago once told me, “The Church changes very slowly—

one funeral at a time.” Sometimes the old ways of seeing simply have to die out before the

perception of God’s vision can come into focus.

God. Promises. Renewal. The “new things” we thirst for—the streams in our desert—flow

from the practice of giving our whole selves in radical trust to God and by faithfully living the

generosity modeled by Jesus, by Mary of Bethany, by the little boy with the five loaves and two

fish, by the father of the Prodigal Child, and by countless saints through the centuries, who

accepted God’s invitation to share in the abundant life that Christ offers all who love God with

heart, soul and mind, and their neighbours as themselves.

Holy Week and Easter Thank Yous and a reflection on the new film, Bully

In 1976, when I crossed the Canterbury bridge and became a member of the Anglican Communion, the revival of the Easter Vigil as the liturgical epicenter of the Christian year was in full swing.  I still have the recipe for Pashka that was served at the Vigil that year, and I made a batch for our very special Vigil at Holy Trinity last night.  For those who asked for it, here it is.
It is intended to be spread on Easter bread:

4  8-ounce (907 grams) of cream cheese
1 cup butter
2 cups  confectioner’s sugar
2  tsp vanilla
3/4-cup  golden raisins or citron
3/4-cup toasted slivered almonds

Soften the cream cheese and butter at room temperature.  Cream them (I use a Kitchen Aid mixer, but the recipe calls for doing it with a wooden spoon).  Gradually add the confectioner’s sugar, then the vanilla.  Finally stir in the raisins/citron and almonds.  Chill.

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One of the things that made the Easter Vigil of 2012 at Holy Trinity so special was the baptism of two candidates and the renewal of baptismal vows of another candidate, all of whom had been part of the first catechumenal process at Holy Trinity.  Several years ago, a member of the Worship Committee mentioned that we needed to take baptism more seriously at Holy Trinity.  Figuring out how to do that was the challenge.  The catechumenate is the ancient process of preparation for baptism or re-affirmation of baptismal promises (AKA Confirmation), and having become a true believer in the catechumenate before coming to Holy Trinity I wondered how and if the process could be introduced at Holy Trinity.  I knew that if it was to be, God would provide the opportunity.

And so it was, that last September, Paul Ives came to church on a Sunday morning with his fiancée Lisa, and afterwards told me that he wanted to be baptized in an Anglican church before they were to be married at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in May of 2012.  He had been dedicated as an infant in England, but never baptized.  When we met for lunch to discuss baptismal preparation, I asked him if he were open to a process that would begin in Advent and continue until baptism at the Easter Vigil on April 7th, and he was game.

Shortly thereafter, as James Johnson, our Property Chair, and I were having supper in the new Eaton Centre food court, following a Property Committee meeting, I mentioned this development to James, as I thought he might be a good sponsor for Paul.  James reminded me that Laura, James’ wife, was also interested in baptism, so I had lunch with Laura, and she, too, was willing to be part of a catechumenal formation process.

Then Margaret Hayley, a retired nurse, who had been steered to Holy Trinity by Cathy Crowe, told me that she wanted to renew her baptismal vows, and it was game on.

I invited Michael Shapcott and Nancy Whitla to join me as the formation team, and Suzanne Rumsey, James Johnson, and Vivian Harrower agreed to serve as sponsors for Laura Johnson, Paul Ives, and Margaret Hayley, respectively.  We met about every three weeks for two hours after church on Sunday to reflect on passages from upcoming Gospel readings, on the Christian faith, on the baptismal covenant, and on the connection between social justice and baptism.

At our last formal meeting, I mentioned that baptism at Holy Trinity had been traditionally done by aspersion (i.e., sprinkling), but that the recovery of the catechumenate had been accompanied by the recovery of baptism by immersion, and that if the candidates preferred to be baptized in that manner, I would look into making that possible.  As it turned out, both candidates decided they would like to be immersed, and that led to some phone calls on my part.  John Hill, who recently retired from St Augustine of Canterbury, told me they had acquired an immersion font and Tay Moss at the Church of the Messiah, also had one.  We ended up with a 150-gallon 6′ x 2′ x 2′ “stock tank” [i.e., a horse trough], that worked perfectly for the job last night.  (We have some at Holy Trinity who were baptized in this manner.  One of our honorary assistants described his baptism by immersion at age 12 in a Baptist church.)

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Holy Week, with every service being unique, and most services being joint services with San Esteban, demands much of our communities.  And with Becca Whitla still on study leave in Cuba, we were down one significant team member.  Thank you to everyone who helped to pitched in to help make Holy Week the rich experience it was.  To Vivian Harrower, Jorge Roncal and Irma Romero, thank you for coordinating Palm Sunday.  To Elizabeth Raybould, brava for pulling off the Maundy Thursday supper with help from Juan Fernando Suarez Perez of San Esteban.  Kudos to  Nancy Whitla, James Harbeck, and Alan Gasser for coordinating the Good Friday Service, which included the musical reflection, “Ashes of Soldiers,” by Colin Eatock (poetry of Walt Whitman) with the composer in attendance.  One of the chief learnings this Holy Week was that having a Children’s Program on Good Friday is a keeper.  Denise Byard, our Children’s Program Coordinator, and the kids used the time to colour the eggs that would be used on Easter Day for the Easter Egg Hunt.  It worked much more smoothly than having to schedule one more activity on Holy Saturday.  The Easter Vigil I have already mentioned.  Michael Shapcott, fairly late in the planning, agreed not only to help coordinate the service with Jorge Roncal, but also to help with the music during the first part of the service. Thanks also to Bill Whitla for putting together the updated Litany of the Saints.  I know how important that is to many of you.  Easter Day has its distinctive challenges: we are indebted to the Houstons, the Sowtons, and the Whitlas for coordinating with funerals homes in the east, north, and west of Toronto, so that the flowering of the Cross could happen this morning.  Thanks to Dick Moore and Carmen Garcia who coordinated the Easter Day service and to Marty Crowder, who pulled the Easter Feast together.  I know many folks brought items to share, and it made for an especially bountiful buffet.  Thanks also, to Alan Gasser for recruiting our organist for Easter Day, Richard Birney-Smith, from Hamilton.

The Holy Trinity staff deserve all our thanks for what they do behind the scenes. Our caretakers Charlotte Cuppage, Sean Dunals, and Adam Bruce have set-ups not only for our various services, but also for the regular tenants, like the Coptic congregation that worships at HT on Saturday or a Yoga workshop that took over our space one night this past week, or the Stained Glass AA group on Friday night.  This was Denise Byard’s first Holy Week and Easter as Children’s Program Coordinator, and her suggestion to add a children’s program on Good Friday proved to be a terrific idea.  Margot Linken, our administrator, like a competent air-traffic controller, helps to keep us all on the proper glide path during this week of weeks.

_______________________

On Good Friday evening, I took in the opening of Bully, the new film about, well, bullying.  The MPAA, in its usual asinine way, had given Bully an R rating because the F-word appeared a few times, which meant that children under the age of 17 could not attend without a “parent or guardian.”  Since the movie’s producers made the film for teenagers most vulnerable to the phenomenon, they pushed back, and with a couple minor tweaks, the film has been rated PG-13 in the States, which means many more people who need to see it will get to see it.

It is a powerful documentary.  It is showing exclusively at the Varsity at the moment, but well worth catching at some point.

It is painful to watch a teenage kid putting up with relentless bullying daily on the school bus, and it is utter torture watching incompetent school administrators “dealing with” incidents of bullying.

Such a conundrum!  What is an unpopular kid to do if he/she has no friends at school?

My thought:  What if this kid had been able to go to a church camp, or was part of a Christian community (not that bullying doesn’t happen at church as well)?  Could life have been different?  Should Holy Trinity be offering something for kids who are bullied at school? What do YOU think?

Talking with an HT parishioner after church this morning about this film, she pointed out an Aha! she had had, namely, that *social exclusion* is the ultimate form of bullying.  As I related this to church history, think of “shunning” in the Anabaptist tradition or “excommunication” in the catholic tradition, I had to concur.  A pretty powerful insight!

While I thank God every day for calling me to Holy Trinity, I am also well aware of the challenges to the ministry we share.
May God’s Spirit continue to guide and empower us for mission in a crazy, f-ed up world.

The Revd Sherman Hesselgrave, Incumbent

Rhythms of Grace (Pride Sunday sermon by Sherman Hesselgrave)

Genesis 2:4b-8, 18-23     Song of Solomon 2:8-13       Galatians 3:23-29     Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Rhythms of Grace

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” — Anne Lamott

If our forebears could join us today, I can only imagine the range of their reactions to Pride Sunday.  “What?! a Sunday to celebrate one of the Seven Deadly Sins?  What has the world come to?  I suppose you have a Greed and Gluttony Sunday as well?”  And we would get to explain that ‘Pride’ in this context is not about one of the cardinal sins, but about undoing the millennia of shaming that human societies and the church have heaped on children of God whose sexual orientation doesn’t coincide with the majority.  In a way, it’s analogous to the phenomenon in the Harry Potter books, where one undoes a spell by saying it backwards.  This is the kind of pride that cancels out layers and layers of shame.  A year or two ago, when an Anglican priest in Uganda decided to push for legislation that would make homosexuality a capital crime, proclaiming that it was against nature, I conspired with an American colleague in New Jersey to inform him just how mistaken he was.  I purchased a copy of Biological Exhuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, a 768-page survey of how homosexual behaviour occurs everywhere in the animal kingdom, from penguins and bottlenose dolphins to vampire bats and giraffes–and Elizabeth, my colleague, mailed it to him.  (Not surprisingly, we didn’t receive a thank-you note.)

It is painful to speculate how many people have died simply for being a member of a sexual minority, by ignorance and misguided legislation, or by bullying or shaming that resulted in suicide; and how many others lived in terror that someone would find out.  I recently watched a four-episode PBS series on the Medicis, the Florentine family that spanned two of the most remarkably creative centuries in human history.  They were the patrons of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Galileo, and the city of Florence was the epicenter of the Italian Renaissance.  Yet tens of thousands of people were put to death in that city alone for so-called crimes against nature.

 

The Medici family had built its empire in part by being the bankers to the pope, and would become a parable of absolute power corrupting absolutely. Two Medicis would eventually become popes, one of whom plundered the Vatican treasury, and then hatched a plan to refill its coffers by selling “indulgences” that would supposedly reduce a person’s time in purgatory before entering heaven.  One could even buy indulgences for loved ones who had predeceased you.  It was a huge success.  But this commercialization of grace was such an affront to an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, that he fired back with the best ammunition he had: a passage of scripture from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome that states unequivocally that we are saved by faith, not by works.  That prophetic moment grew into a great reforming  movement at a time when the church was the most powerful political force in the world.  And while the Roman hierarchy could excommunicate Luther for holding a mirror to their corruption, and silence Galileo for having the audacity to claim that the earth was not the centre of the universe,  both would ultimately by vindicated, although it would take hundreds of years before Rome would apologize  for its treatment of Galileo.

 

And so, a book from which we read every week has been used both to justify the condemnation of Jews, women, scientists, and gays, among others, as well as to provide the antidote for misguided prejudice and abuse.  There are probably some of us in this room who found ourselves uncomfortable during the reading of the passage from Genesis, because the the creation of Adam and Eve has been used as biblical warrant for God’s preference for heterosexuality as the only acceptable combination for interpersonal partnering.  We have all seen the t-shirt: “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”  And if all you do is focus on the punchline of this passage, it’s understandable how one can be persuaded by the rhetoric.  But back up for a minute, and let’s take a closer reading.

First of all, the book of Genesis has not one, but TWO creation stories; the first that unfolds one day at a time, with God looking back on the six days of creation and finding it “very good;” and a second narrative that is much more focussed on relationship.  That’s the one we read from today:

It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them….  The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

Sure, this is the language of biblical mythology–there were no CBC reporters on the scene and written language was still far in the future, so what we have was passed down for generations by oral tradition. Nevertheless, the narrative our ancestors told clearly indicates that God allowed the man to decide what a suitable companion would be; the Creator finally gets it right with Eve, and Adam approves.  One person can read this passage and conclude that it therefore affirms that only a man and a woman can be suitable mates, while another can read the same passage and see how God partnered with the first man to create a companion that depended upon Adam’s approval.  And that opens up the story in a completely different way,  a way that steadily gains credence as more and more people realize that sexual orientation is a gift, rather than a choice, and more than that, a gift wrapped in sufficient mystery that no one can speak authoritatively for someone else.  Yet the Church for much of its history decided that it could do what God was not willing to do by dictating who can be one’s partner in life.

 

If St Paul were writing the Letter to the Galatians today, this morning’s Epistle might have been updated to read:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, or gay or straight; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are … heirs according to the promise.

God’s self-disclosure, or revelation, has been progressive from the beginning.  It’s obvious from even a cursory reading of the Bible.  Jesus promises his disciples that God had yet more truth to reveal, truth they weren’t ready to hear at that time.  But there will always be those who are threatened by truth newly revealed beyond the biblical canon, whether the messenger is a Galileo, or a Martin Luther, or a Martin Luther King.  We don’t need to look very far to see the corrosive effects of power in the world in which we live.

My New Testament professor, Bill Countryman, wrote a popular book entitled, Biblical Authority or Biblical Tyranny? in which he addresses the chequered history of biblical interpretation.  The Bible can be used to bludgeon, marginalize, silence, or even kill indiscriminately.  But the Bible can also speak authoritatively to any age, even our own post-Christian age.  Liberation theology was animated by the story of the Exodus and the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.  Paul’s letter to the Romans helped to kick-start the Protestant Reformation, and Karl Barth’s incendiary commentary on the same epistle in 1919 was described as falling “like a bombshell on the playground of the theologians.”  His teachers had signed a manifesto supporting Germany’s war aims in World War One, and he parted ways with his mentors and the liberal school they represented.  Eugene Peterson, who is responsible for The Message, the contemporary translation of the Bible we used for today’s Gospel, has helped many to see things in the scriptures for the first time.
For example, in the passage from Matthew we just read, Jesus asks the people who have come to hear him:

“Are you tired?  Worn out? Burned out on religion?  Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Those rhythms of grace continue to punctuate our lives.  We know what it is to struggle for justice, to bang on the judge’s door in the middle of the night, to march down a street challenging the power structures of our own day, to write letters on behalf of prisoners half a world away, to telephone or email a politician to demand that voiceless ones are heard; to confront oppressive structures in the church that resist the Holy Spirit’s shaping us into the community Christ promised we could become.

As the Bruce Springsteen song reminds us, “Everybody has a hungry heart”—a heart that longs to be touched by God’s grace.  We are gathered here today, possibly because we have ourselves experienced the rhythms of grace or because we are looking for grace to break into the world we carry around with us every day.  It may be that the delivery vehicle of grace will be a word or a song.  Or perhaps it will be a hug or a story or an action that begins with forming a circle around the bread and the wine and remembering Jesus’ words of promise that we have ALL been made worthy to stand before our Creator, forgiven and whole.

Let me conclude with the same Anne Lamott quote with which I began:

“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

The organ as metaphor

I imagine each of us has a different story of how we came to love organ music. Two things did it for me as a missionary kid growing up at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro: a 7-inch extended play 45-rpm recording of Thurston Dart playing some of Handel’s Aylesford pieces*, and a one-manual, 6-stop Walcker tracker organ that arrived in crates, a gift to our local church, from the Leipzig Missionary Society. My Dad, who had a bit of an engineering background, got the job of putting it together, and I, with some guidance from my piano teacher, got to play for services.

Three decades later, as the Chair of the Liturgy and Music Commission of the diocese where I served before moving to Toronto, I watched more and more congregations moving away from organ music, and for a variety of reasons: Fewer and fewer people could play the organ (at one point I read a frightening remark that there were more organ builders than organ majors—not a sustainable situation); for others, the organ represented the past, and signified an aesthetic with severe limitations. The expense of a pipe organ was another barrier, and in more than one situation, I was called in to mediate conversations between church members who felt it was immoral to be spending so much money on an organ, money that should better be given to the poor. In every instance, I tried to help people understand that both/and had a few advantages over either/or.

There is a reason, I have come to believe, that the organ became the archetypical musical instrument of the church—quite apart from all the glorious music that has been written for it. As the all-time champion of wind instruments, the organ is the perfect metaphor for the relationship between God and the Church. You probably have heard that, in both Hebrew and Greek (the principal languages of the Bible), the words for Spirit, wind, and breath are the same: in Hebrew it’s ruah; in Greek, pneuma. The wind that makes the pipes of an organ sound, and the breath that enables us to sing, are both like the Spirit of God, that blows where it will, breathing life into us and empowering us to do the things God has given us to do.

The Valley of Dry Bones reading, which we usually hear at the Easter Eve service, suggested itself, because all summer, the pipes and parts of this great instrument lay strewn about the church like so many bones, bleached by the sun, as they waited their turn to be reassembled so that, when the wind was turned on again—naturally, it blew a fuse the first time—the breath of life would course through the organ’s winding.

In its nearly 40 years of life, this instrument has comforted mourners at funerals, brought joy to hundreds of baptisms and wedding parties, and of course, helped a congregation to raise its voice in praise to God each week. In the decades to come, it will bring joy and comfort and inspiration to thousands of listeners and worshippers, and for this we give glory to God, and gratitude to the Rathgeb family and to the congregation of Deer Park United Church for the vision to bring this fine instrument to life so that we might all enjoy its beauty and power for generations to come.

* Recorded on “one of the largest and most beautiful of the 17th
century English organs still remaining.” [1958] St. John’s Church,
Wolverhampton