09 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday - Sermon

Remembrance Sunday

Mark 12: 38-44

By Sharyn Hall

About this time last year, I discovered a book of poetry on a sale table in a large bookstore. It is a volume of poetry written by soldiers during the first world war. We all are familiar with the poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, written by Lt .Col. John McCrae. Lt. Col. McCrae served in the first world war as a surgeon at the battle front and at a hospital in Boulogne, where he died of pneumonia. He is one of the few Canadians in this book. There are 30 soldier/poets presented in this collection of poetry, most were born in Britain, all died in World War I. A few of these soldiers had never written a verse before the war. Many died without seeing their work in print, likely never thought of themselves as poets, but their poetry survives as testaments to the realities of war.

Over seventy collections of English language poetry, each the work of a single fallen soldier, appeared during the war and in the months that followed. Most of those poetry collections went out of print soon after they were published. With a few exceptions like John McCrae, the poetic voices of these soldiers were silenced. So this slim volume of war poems allows those voices to be heard again. Some of the poems describe the horrors of war, the appalling conditions, the terrible injuries and the deaths of so many young men.

In a poem entitled, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, Wilfrid Owen describes the terrible loss of those too young.

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

Wilfrid Owen was born in Shropshire, England. He enlisted in 1915 at the age of 22. In May 1917, while serving in the trenches in France, he was caught in an explosion, and sent home to England to recover. He returned to France in August 1918, and was awarded the Military Cross two months later. On November 4, seven days before the Armistice, he was killed by enemy machine-gun fire. Many believe that Wilfrid Owen could have become one of the great English poets of his generation.

Also in November 1918, when the war was ending, a collection of poems entitled, ‘A Canadian Twilight and other Poems of War and Peace, was published. The author was Bernard Freeman Trotter, who was born in Toronto but spent much of his youth in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He enlisted and set sail for Europe in 1916. A little over a year later, he was killed by a shell while serving as a Transport Officer at the Front. One of his poems ironically is entitled, ‘Ici Repose’, saying in French, ‘Here I rest’, and that is where he is buried.

A little cross of weather-silvered wood,

Hung with a garish wreath of tinselled wire,

And on it carved a legend – thus it runs:

‘Ici Repose’ – Add that name you will

And multiply by thousands: in the fields,

Along the roads, beneath the trees – one here,

A dozen there, to each its simple tale

Of one more jewel threaded star-like on

The sacrificial rosary of France.

What do we understand as sacrifice?

The word, ‘sacrifice’, is defined in the dictionary as giving up something of value for the sake of something else more important or worthy. Our story from the gospel of Mark is about sacrifice. The poor widow gave a sacrificial offering to the temple treasury. The widow’s sacrifice is not really about money. It was a small amount of money, but it was sacrificial because it was all she had. She did not keep money back for her own security or comfort. By giving all she had, she placed herself in God’s hands. If there was no-one to care for her, no family or compassionate friends, she could die as a beggar in the street. She gave up what little she had of value for the sake of something more worthy, for the sake of honouring her God. All that she had and all that she was belonged to God.

Today we honour those who sacrificed all that they had and all that they were for the worthy cause of peace, and we believe that they belong to God. We remember those who endured the war, suffered in the war, and died in the war. We remember not only soldiers, sailors and airmen who were combatants, but we also remember nurses, doctors and transport drivers who worked in terrible conditions to care for the wounded and the dying. We remember civilian populations who suffered bombings, deprivations, persecutions and in some places, occupation by enemy forces. During wartime, sacrifice is a way of life. We speak of the ultimate sacrifice of those who died, but sacrifice in war is pervasive into the hearts and minds of all people. People sacrifice health and happiness, hopes and aspirations, love and loved ones.

These thirty poets who died as soldiers are a small representation of the loss to humanity of people who could have contributed to literature, or art, or medicine, or commerce, or science or international diplomacy. Can we find people who have seen war and yet speak peace? Can we find people who have seen war and work for reconciliation among enemies? Can we find people who can see the suffering of their enemy and sacrifice their hurt and anger to help others?

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen, Scotland. He enlisted in 1914 at the age of 19. Less than a year later he was commissioned as a captain, and in the same year was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos. In one of his poems entitled, ‘To Germany’, Captain Sorley recognized that all people suffer in war, and despite his youth, he had the vision to see that reconciliation must come after the war is ended if peace is to be possible.

When it is peace, then we may view again

With new-won eyes each other’s truer form,

And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm

We’ll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,

When it is peace. But until peace, the storm,

The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

After WWI, there was another war with Germany and Italy and Japan, then wars in Korea and the Middle East and now Afghanistan. There is terrorism and oppression in many countries, so peace seems as elusive as ever.

Lt. Col. John McCrae wrote in a poem entitled, ‘The Anxious Dead’:

Bid [the Dead] be patient, and some day, anon,

They shall feel earth enrapt in silence deep;

Shall greet, in wonderment, the quiet dawn,

And in content may turn them to their sleep.

Let us never lose hope for peace, and with God’s help, let us work for peace and reconciliation among the great diversity of people in God’s world. We owe our work for peace to those who died and suffered, and those who continue to die and suffer in the ravages of brutal war. Amen.

Information and poetry for this sermon have been taken from, ‘In Flanders Fields and Other Poems of the First World War’, edited by Brian Busby. London: Arcturus Publishing Ltd., 2005 and 2008.

For more information on Bernard Trotter see:


08 November 2009

All Saints B

All Saints

Isaiah 25: 6-9

John 11: 32-44

St. Luke’s Church, Burlington

1 November 2009

It is the tradition at St. Luke’s to invite the families of those in our Parish who have died in the past year, to come to this all saints service because we will especially remember their loved ones today.

Why do we remember them today On All Saints? It’s because it is their day!

Come again? Aren’t we talking about Saints? Don’t we mean the famous people of the Bible like St.s Peter, Paul, James and John, Mary and Martha? Or the famous saints in Church History like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Teresa or John of the Cross? Aren’t those the Saints that we celebrate on All Saints day?

Well, yes, they are Saints, but that isn’t all that the word, “Saint” means. St. Paul, when he writes to the different Churches around the Mediterranean Sea often addressed his letters: to the Saints in Ephesus or Achaia, or sometimes he wrote to the Church as those who are called to be Saints. Paul understood the word, “Saint” to mean the faithful people of the Church.

When I celebrate the feast of All Saints, I really want to celebrate all of the Saints: those famous ones, and those whom I have never met, and perhaps which very few have ever known. We are all connected, and this is what is meant by the words, “Communion of Saints.” It means that we are part of something which is bigger than what we perceive with our senses. It means we belong to a community which stretches before, through and beyond even time itself. It is called the community of saints.

And so today we meet, in the Gospel, the story of Jesus bringing abundant life into a situation which seemed without hope. Jesus raises Lazarus, his friend, and the brother of Mary and Martha. The scene is charged with emotion. Mary cannot help voicing her disappointment with Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary’s faith in Jesus is strong. She knows that he could have saved her brother.

Everyone is weeping, and Jesus, seeing their tears, is moved to weep as well. There are some Christians who seem to think that weeping and mourning are signs of weakness, or of lack of faith. But Jesus shows us that tears are holy. When we weep, when we mourn, we do not do so alone. The Gospel says that Jesus was deeply moved. Jesus, in the depths of his soul, is moving in Holy space and time. And in this holy movement, Jesus reaches through to life. Our tears of mourning can bring us to life as well.

Martha’s common sense speaks about human experience regarding death and decay: “Lord, already there is a stench, because he has been dead four days.” Our common sense can trick us as well. We, too, can become trapped in the practical, the mundane, the concrete - so much so that we can even come to believe that all of reality is contained simply in the physical world!

Jesus knows there is more. Life isn’t to be contained. It must be freed to move and walk and to dance, even. Life must escape the tomb. Jesus gets the people around him to help. He says, “Take away the stone.” And they move the stone from the entrance to the cave. And, it says, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

Why did Jesus have to cry out so loudly? What is it in us that needs to be roused from our cave? Have we become comfortable in there? Are we used to it now? Do we feel protected in there? Are we afraid of the freedom and movement of new life?

No matter: Jesus’ voice can call us out of there. And Lazarus arrives at the entrance to the tomb, still bound up like a mummy! And Jesus gets the people to help once again. “Unbind him, and let him go.”

This is the reason that we belong to the Communion of Saints. This is why we are a Church. We have work to do. Our task is to roll away stones, to unbind and let go free. Our task is to witness and further the movement of life in the midst of death, and joy flowing along with the tears.

There are others who will try to close all that life up, to bind it and bury it, to sink into hopelessness, fearing to move - thinking that they are simply alone.

But we are called to be Saints. We are called to be deeply moved, as Jesus was: and even to weep, and then to act: to break open the tombs and unbind those held captive and to move with them.

What we celebrate today is this life which is free: the life which Jesus came to proclaim to us. This life is what we witnessed in our loved ones who have gone to join the communion of Saints. And it is the life which is renewed in them beyond our sight. And it is the life which is symbolized by a feast, as the Old Testament says, “The Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud which is cast over all people, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. ..... Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Today we are blessed to have among us those who have been mourning their loved ones this year. They are a blessing to us because they remind us of this story of Martha and Mary, mourning their brother Lazarus. They remind us that mourning is a holy thing and something which Jesus sanctified with his own tears.

Those who mourn are also a blessing to us because Jesus walked into that sad scene and brought life with him. Jesus brought Lazarus out of the darkness and death of the tomb into the light of life.

Jesus promises us that he will bring us and our loved ones to new life as well. We simply need to obey his command: “Come out”

We too, just like Lazarus, can leave the darkness of the tomb, and walk in the light of day. And we can be people who roll away the tomb and unbind others to give them the freedom of faith.

Today, let us remember our loved ones with love and with the certain hope of a life which is stronger than death and which bursts forth out of the tomb into freedom. Amen.

Proper30 B - Bartimaeus

SERMON for 25 October 2009

By Sharyn Hall

Mark 10: 46-52

On Thanksgiving Monday, my husband and I decided to go to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. We were fortunate that the traffic was light and the crowds were small, even though there was a special limited exhibit of the scroll of the Ten Commandments. The exhibits are very well presented with extensive displays about the region around the Dead Sea where the scrolls were discovered, and the political and cultural context of the time period.

I suppose someone could look at these brown fragments of ancient parchment with black writing and wonder, why all the fuss? Why such anxiety about preserving these bits of parchment? Why all the excitement about their discovery? Why the political disputes over ownership and control? Someone else could look at these fragments of ancient parchment and see the struggle of humanity to understand our relationship with God.

These fragments tell us that people in an age thousands of years ago turned to the same body of scriptures for inspiration that we read today, and yet these bits of parchment say different things to different people. I am amazed at their antiquity. To me, they represent the eternal wonder and search for God, which transcends nations, cultures and civilizations. Unfortunately, I cannot read Hebrew, but someone who has that ability would be able to compare the words and phrases in the scrolls to their own Hebrew Bibles and experience the link of faith over centuries. Someone of the Jewish race and faith would feel the link with their Jewish ancestors, who cherished these scrolls.

When people gaze at the scrolls, what do they see? Do they see only the past, or do they see something ancient, which speaks to us today? We see not only with our eyes, but also with our minds, our imaginations and with our spiritual awareness. In the ancient world, prophets were often called seers, not only because they might see into the future, but also because they could see the divine presence in the ordinary world. They could see significance and meaning beyond the visible reality.

We often use the verbs to see and to understand as synonymous. We might say to someone, ‘Do you see?’, when we really are asking, ‘Do you understand?’. And conversely, we might say, ‘Are you blind?’, when we really mean, ‘Don’t you understand?’. The link between blindness and lack of understanding was an ancient concept, which we find often in the Bible. A person who was blind was mistakenly believed to be incapable of understanding the world around him because he could not see that world. A blind man was regarded as useless because he could not do meaningful work, so he became a beggar. However, sometimes a blind man developed perception and insight, almost as if these gifts were compensation for the lack of physical sight.

We see an example of this in our gospel story. Bartimeus is a blind beggar. His blindness has relegated him to the dust of the road. He is dismissed as ignorant as well as helpless, and an outcast from the social order. To many, he is a nuisance and they try to stifle his cry for help. The people around Jesus can see Jesus, the preacher from Nazareth, but do they understand who Jesus is? Bartimeus cannot see Jesus, but he knows who Jesus is. He calls out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’. To call Jesus, Son of David, was to name Jesus the Messiah. The title, Son of David, was both political and divine. It signified the anointed one of God, who also was the rightful king of the Jews. Blind Bartimeus knew that the Jesus he could not see was the long-awaited Messiah. He had the gift of insight into the true identity of Jesus.

That word, ‘insight’, is so very appropriate to this story. Bartimeus did not have the ability to see out into the world, but he did have the ability to see into the presence of God in Jesus. Bartimeus had faith in God’s mercy and he knew in his heart that Jesus had the power to heal in God’s name. In both the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures, there are numerous examples of mercy for the blind, because it was considered one of the most common and debilitating afflictions. Blindness also was understood as a metaphor for the inability to recognize the presence of God. People lived by a detailed list of religious laws, but they were blind to the presence of God in acts of mercy, justice and love. People criticized Jesus for breaking the rules, but they could not see that Jesus fulfilled God’s covenant to love God’s people.

Being physically blind is a frightening hardship. To live in a world of darkness seems like a cruel fate, but to live without hope or faith in the merciful presence of God is a deeper darkness. Sometimes the pain, sorrow and afflictions of people seem beyond what a human soul can bear, but the worst affliction is hopelessness. Bartimeus had faith and hope in Jesus. He was healed, but not by Jesus. Jesus declares that Bartimeus was healed by his own faith, by his gift of insight, by his conviction that Jesus was sent by God to bring hope and healing to our world.

Some of you have already travelled to Toronto to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. A parish excursion is planned for later in November. It is an opportunity to see these ancient scriptures, which rarely are allowed to travel out of the Middle East. We can marvel at these ancient Hebrew scriptures, but what insight do we gain? How can seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls strengthen our faith in an unseen God? The answers to those questions will depend on how each one of us searches for God in our lives. We should be encouraged by the message given to us many times in those scriptures, the message that God always is reaching out to welcome us into a relationship filled with hope, mercy and love. Thanks be to God.