Bishop Linda Nicholls’ homily, Synod service, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Ontario, May 27, 2018.
First I want to extend a very warm welcome to Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our Primate, as he joins us in Huron for our Synod. Fred has served the Anglican Church of Canada as Primate since 2007. He will finish his time as Primate at the end of General Synod in 2019 so it is a gift that he is able to be with us for the next few days – and to be our celebrant tonight. Welcome Fred!
Just over a week ago I spent time in Assisi, Italy at meetings with the steering committee of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). During our meeting we had an opportunity to take a walking pilgrimage around various sites of significance for St. Francis and St. Clare – birthplace (and Francis’ carousing spot!) and churches built to mark their lives and witness. Francis gave up a life of privilege and wealth and chose a life of poverty and compassionate service that continues to inspire Christians of all denominations today. Clare, an intelligent women from a wealthy family, fled the marital engagement arranged for her, to follow Francis’ footsteps and establish the order of the Poor Clare’s and live a life of prayer and stability in enclosure.
The Celtic tradition invites us to recognize ‘thin places’ – places where the presence of God is tangible to us in new ways. Assisi is one of those place – physically beautiful high on a hill in Umbria – the chatter of birds constant in the air; the immanence of Francis and Clare as you walk the streets they had walked – and the places of prayer and churches soaked in the prayers of pilgrims through centuries of pilgrimages. One that remains in my heart is a visit to the Church of San Damiano – the ruined church where Francis came to pray and heard God calling him to ‘rebuild my church’. Francis took that to mean rebuild the physical building which he set out to do and it later became the home of the Poor Clares until St. Clare’s death. However, later Francis realized it was more than the building – it was a call to ‘Rebuild my Church’ – to renew the life of people of God. That is the call that will stay in my heart – God’s call to Francis in that ‘thin place’ of Assisi is the continuing call of every baptised Christian.
That is our call today. ‘Rebuild my church’ – renew the life of God’s people. I bought this small San Damiano cross to sit in my office as a reminder! Rebuild my Church! It does sometimes mean rebuild my church physically as we did last year in this very Cathedral. But this physical building and all our buildings will only have significance if there is a vibrant, living community of disciples connected with it – ‘like living stones, let yourselves be built* into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ -(I Peter 2:4b, 5). That is the call Isaiah heard in his vision – ‘Who will go for us?’ ‘Here I am – Send me’! That is the call of the disciples – fellow heirs with Christ – given the Holy Spirit so that we may know we are children of God – adopted through Christ. Set free by living in – abiding in the Word.
Rebuild my Church – To rebuild it we must remember its purpose for you build something according to what it is intended to do and be. The Church is God’s people – loved, forgiven, freed – and called to show the world the life of Jesus Christ. With boldness, compassion, and joy we are to live the Good News!
A week ago many watched the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. In the midst of the pomp and circumstance – amid the fascinators and paparazzi – amid the famous and the wealthy – Presiding Bishop of TEC, Michael Curry, boldly proclaimed the Good News – surprising more than a few by frequently mentioning the name of Jesus. When later asked what was behind his sermon – he said simply , “The Good News of Jesus Christ”. That is what we are called to do. To be fearless and joyful in the face of a cynical world that finds mentioning Jesus distasteful; to be compassionate and filled with grace in a world that shuns those who are different or poor; to see the world through the eyes of its creator and choose life over convenience.
Rebuild my Church – to be so bold, compassionate and perceptive, disciples must live from the heart of their faith each day – must know the mind of Christ because they have spent time listening to God in scripture and in prayer – must see the world with the eyes of Christ so they recognize where Jesus is already at work and invites our help.
When I find myself bogged down in the difficulties and challenges of leadership, unable to see the way clearly – it is often because I have neglected the disciplines that will help me to see and hear God at work in the midst of the struggles. It is because I have neglected those habits and practices of a disciple – skipped morning prayer; forgotten to spend time reading scripture; been so tied up with the practicalities of worship that I have neglected to actually be present IN worship….forgotten that is God’s Church – not mine – and I need to listen to God FIRST to hear what is needed not what I think is needed.
At a recent clergy day Canon Judy Paulsen suggested that the word ‘apprentice’ might be a more understandable word for ‘disciple’ today. She commented that when asked to define a disciple most people pointed to clergy!! Rather – we are ALL apprentices – being trained in the ways of God to share the Good News. An apprentice lives with the master – watches, learns, practices over and over again in order to become proficient in the trade. Our trade is that of being and sharing Good News – and it is a lifetime apprenticeship. Each stage of our lives invites us to learn and know the Good News in fresh ways.
Every day is a new day to practice our trade – to practice those habits that will keep us close to the source of the Good News. Our tradition as Anglicans and our baptismal covenant point us to daily prayer; reading of scripture; participating in eucharist and worship; confession and reconciliation; loving neighbour as self; caring about creation, justice and dignity for all and sharing our faith.
Rebuild my church! Alison Morgan also sees discipleship as ‘apprenticeship’:
‘Discipleship than can be defined as a form of apprenticeship undertaken in community. To recognise this radically alters our understanding of it. It means that our focus should be not on what we know, but rather on who we are becoming. To become a disciple of Jesus is to embark, with others, on a journey; it is to decide to submit our whole life, in all its parts, to God. Discipleship cannot be done by turning up once a week for an evening class, or even a sermon; it is a courageous, collective vote for change.” (pg 262)
It was the passion and joy of the early disciples that made people want to listen and know more about Jesus. It was their way of life, care for one another and care for those around them that shone as distinctive. It was their fearless witness to Jesus that drew others to ask for themselves.
What nurtures in you that kind of joy and passion for God? Where are the thin places in your life where God is present? When and how do we share that good news with others in our family, parish or community?
As we enter into our Synod – as we consider how we will ‘rebuild God’s church’ here in Huron; listen and watch for the thin places of God’s presence. Write them down – share them with your home parish or with a friend. Then commit to those habits that will keep you looking for those moments of God’s presence – in your own life or in the life of the world – prayer, scripture reading, compassionate living. St. Francis and St. Clare lived what they knew of God – and inspired generations of Christians. Pope Francis chose his name well and carefully as a sign of all that he is choosing to do to witness to God’s grace and compassion. Each of us as an apprentice – a disciple of Jesus Christ – is called to ‘Rebuild God’s Church’ in and through our daily lives. May we be inspired by all who have gone before us – those around us whose passion is a witness – and may we live courageously into our own discipleship.