All Saints ... on the path of humility
Trinity Parish, Nanaimo

October 30, 2016

~ Download this homily


“This is the path of humility: to seek the lowest place. This is the path our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, took when his Father sent him. He chose the path of humility. And we are here because his path was powerful enough to change our own prideful hearts, to seek, to try, and to follow him.”

~ Bishop Gary Gordon


I was happy to see how Foster presides (Foster Freed, minister of Trinity United congregation in Nanaimo). He’s kind of moving around all the time, so that’s going to be very good for me, because that’s how I like to speak about the word of God, kind of moving around.

Foster, Fr. Joe, Bishop Remi, brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s good to be here. Although I must say, I had to get up rather early this morning, because Fr. Joe wanted me to come and celebrate the 9AM Catholic liturgy, and of course when I got here, having prepared a homily, he said, “And you can’t preach, Bishop!” That’s like telling the sun not to come up in the morning! 

Foster, I forgot to ask you, what length of time is Trinity United congregation used to in terms of preaching?

“Only rarely do we have to order in pizzas. I generally go 17 – 20 minutes.”

Oh boy!

My brother was married in this church, just about 30 years ago. So there’s a certain sense of family here for me, a certain sense of coming home, in a way. A couple years before I got to the Island, my brother moved to the Island too, and now he’s only five minutes away from where I live. My two nephews went to UVic, and so there’s a whole lot of good feelings for me.

One of the things I am always aware of in the ecumenical work that I do, in particular for the last ten years with the Anglican communion on the Anglican Catholic Bishops Dialogue, that is very much part of our Christian tradition, is the saintly grace of repentance. When I was working in the Fraser Valley, working among our First Nations brothers and sisters there 30 years ago, there was a lingering sense of competition between the first preachers of the Word that arrived in Stó:lō territory, between the Methodist and the Catholic churches. That was a kind of unhealthy rivalry for what we would describe back in those days as ‘the proper way to be saved’. And so, before I share my reflection on the Word of God that we’ve heard proclaimed, I want to apologize, and say I’m sorry, to my United brothers and sisters, for that animosity, that pride, that human condition of having to win at all costs. 

I am sorry, and I apologize.

The path before us, as we stumble into the future, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that there is significant stumbling into the future as Christian people, Bishop Remi’s brief words at the beginning of the service put it well: When there is opportunity to do something together, that should be followed, as a prescription towards the full visible communion that Christ prayed for: That they may be one, as you, Father, and I, are one. And so there is this grace of together, here in this building, this visible sign, this ecumenical centre.

The good news is that in the going-forward-together, there is, I believe, something that has transformed in our hearts as we have grown to know each other. As a childhood pastor of mine used to say to us almost every day in school, “You cannot love whom you do not know.” This coming-to-know has created a dynamic of love and respect, which allows us, when we stumble, to come alongside and pick each other up.

How much more beautiful could it be than being able to pick each other up, as frail, weak, human beings? Foster has given me a tremendous direction in the Word I’m sharing with you, a quotation from Søren Kierkegaard, whom I studied too, acknowledging Reformation Day: purity of heart, singleheartedness, keeps us focused on the road ahead. And the saints, as Foster has told us, have left us a way forward. Kierkegaard, Mother Teresa, and, as the Book of Revelation tells us, a cloud of witnesses to faith in Jesus Christ, as broken as that has been in our histories.

A cloud of witnesses. That cloud of witnesses has witnessed time in and time out to this singleheartedness, this focus, this imitation of the communion of the most holy Trinity, a communion of love, three persons.

But we do have our work cut out for us. As Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, formerly the head of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, told me and a number of Catholic bishops, the road of ecumenism has no exits. The road of ecumenism has no exits. We may be in a traffic jam from time to time, gridlock on the Malahat—it’s okay because we’re on the road, and the road has no exits.

So let me demonstrate a way forward along the road. If we reflect back on Reformation Day,— 2017 will be 500 years, and we’re getting ready for a grand, global celebration—and we look at what Luther nailed to the church door, we can see that it may well have been an invitation to reform and renewal, and that much of what he had to say is, in fact, part  of the Roman Catholic Church. How about that.

So—we’re a little slow! And we are sometimes impatient! God had to take God’s people into the desert for 40 years before the penny dropped. It’s OK to be a little slow. But here is a way forward. For at the time, almost 500 years ago, we know there were many other factors at play that were hindering the proclamation of the Gospel in the world. Hearts had become hardened, probably mostly because of pride and certainly prideful worldly powers Well, I guess that goes even further back, to Adam and Eve. Pride.

And the saints, over the centuries, have shown another path. Humility. Purity of heart, singleheartedness. I would suggest that this was the way of our Saviour, Jesus Christ: his humble acceptance of suffering and death, to assume the condition of a slave and becoming humbler yet, accepting death, death on the cross. He has shown us the path. It is a humble path. It is a powerful path. It is the power of humility which, as we look at our world today, we pray for the Holy Spirit to overwhelm the hearts of so many political and religious leaders, and nations, and people, to this humble path. For the path of aggression, violence and counter-violence, and the worldly solutions that we have sought for peace, have come to nought. As Pope Francis said, we have World War III, piecemeal. And it is true.

So what is this humble path? Let me demonstrate. A path that is seldom chosen, but is profoundly powerful. I’ve got some water here: it’s one of the wonderful symbols that brings us in to communion—baptism. But the water itself is the way forward. Don’t get excited! The two pastors here … don’t be frightened! Don’t worry! It’s only water.

(Pouring water on a small table)

Where’s the maintenance committee?

“They may be getting a little upset right now!”

It’s the Year of Mercy! It’ll dry. I made sure I didn’t put the table over top of the electrical outlets.

Water. The single greatest element on the planet, and yet also gravely threatened by our activities. But water—an amazing gift that keeps us alive, that is essential. Like the air we breathe, this most humble of elements is the most precious, for without it, there is no life.

Water. Taken for granted, and indeed, on this emerald isle, comes down far too often from the skies … but … water is life.

Water always seeks the lowest place. Water always flows downward, never upward. If I kept pouring water on that table for 50 years, eventually there’d be a hole in the table. Have you seen the Grand Canyon? Have you seen the Fraser Canyon? This is water. Water moves mountains. Whatever hardness there is, water can move it. There’s nothing like the humble, inconsequential presence of water that transforms the face of the earth.

This is the path of humility: to seek the lowest place. This is the path our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, took when his Father sent him. He chose the path of humility. And we are here because his path was powerful enough to change our own prideful hearts, to seek, to try, and to follow him. The saints, over the centuries, discovered that way forward. It is humility. It is purity of heart. 

There is no more powerful, transformative, restorative process on this planet than when we have a good heart and a strong mind to take the humble way. As we look back at history I must admit that it’s seldom been tried. But I believe now is the time, for the sake of the environment, for the sake of humankind, for the sake of peace and justice.

There is only one path forward. It is to become as humble as water itself, so that the mountains of hardened hearts can become flesh, and that we can help each other as we stumble along to our eternal home.

Peace, deep peace be with you all.

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