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Proper 10, Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Journeying By Stages

Readings: Genesis 12:1-9; Psalm 33:1-12; Romans 4:13-25; Matthew 9:9-13

My grandmother was enrapt by the history of her family. She shared that passion with us as we grew up. On her side of the family, we go back in this area to 1803 and on my grandfather’s side to 1797. Both families were pioneers in Muddy York. One family came from Ireland looking for free land and a better life. The other family were United Empire Loyalists. They had already moved once from their homeland to settle in Pennsylvania, and then were uprooted by war and came to Canada looking for freedom. The stories of their hardships are part of our family lore. It reminds me that the glory of human history is in its pioneers.

Many motives cause people to uproot their lives and move to a new country. Millions in our world are on the move because they are refugees, people without a home. They move in search of work or to avoid famine or drought. Even in our own country people move because of labour conditions. Many of you in this congregation will have an understanding of what it means to leave your homeland and make a new home. What prompted you? Was it inner restlessness, ambition, thirst for a new way of life? Were you looking for opportunities for yourself or your children? Can you see the hand of God in making such a move?

Abraham was on the move. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God said to him. Then, sweetening the pot, God promised him, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” And so at the age of seventy-five he faithfully responded to God’s call. It opened up new possibilities in his life. He moved by stages, stopping and waiting for God to lead him on to the next place. That seems to me a good way to travel on our life’s journey, a good way to view our own journey through life. As I look back on my own life, I see stages. I see where God has been leading, even when I was not certain of where my life should be going. At every stage of my life I see God’s plan for me opening up the way, making it plain.

This past week I participated in a clergy conference. The theme was “From Beleaguered to Beloved”. It was about our call to move faithfully from stage to stage as God works in our lives. We heard stories of peoples’ journeys, the pain, the suffering, the feelings of being beleaguered, of being overwhelmed by life. We heard too how their relationship to God carried them through, helping them to realize that they were beloved. It caused me to once again reflect on the stages of my own journey.

I knew that I was beloved of God when I was very young. I knew too that I was called by God to be a priest. Of course, when I was six years old it was not even a remote possibility. And yet I knew at that early age that I would be a priest. I knew that God was leading me in that direction. I made my choices based on that knowledge. I studied music, not only because I had a gift for it, but also so that I could do meaningful work in the church. In my high school year book I wrote that I planned to go to Teacher’s College and then later to study theology.

I did go to Teacher’s College, and then up north to teach in a Residential School. That brings me to the second stage of my life. Just weeks before I was to leave, my younger brother died in an accident. That tragedy was a defining moment in my young life. That time in Fort George up on James Bay was painful. I was dealing with grief, loss and loneliness. I dealt not only with my own grief, but with the pain of the children I taught. At the age of five or six, they were taken away from their families and villages and flown into a strange community where they lived in dormitories with children they did not know, eating strange food and being forced to speak a language they did not understand.

I came back home to go to university and was coerced into a cultic group that had grown up around my father. It was charismatic, centred on the healing ministry, and that can be fine, but to say the least, it was not a well balanced view of the faith. The views on healing and exorcism were extreme. It was judgemental. It was abusive. It became more so as the years went on. A young woman, a member of the group, died tragically and without medical attention. The group became even more extreme and separated themselves from the Church. The leaders of the group including my father controlled the lives of its members who lived in community, practicing shunning and some other very disturbing practices.

I left the group, but not without serious scars. For a long time I wondered if I was right to leave. I blamed myself for not being holy enough or good enough. It was a stage of my life when I struggled constantly with thoughts of suicide.

Through all that period of my life, I never lost my faith. There were, of course, times when I wondered if God had forgotten about me. But God was there, gently calling me back into wholeness. I began to teach music and became a church organist. Music fed my soul. The church became a place of solace and healing.

I began to hear about the ordination of women. My feelings of inadequacy held me back from considering my call. But God kept calling. When I could no longer say no I responded to God. I remember the wonderful conversation I had with my parish priest. I made an appointment with him. He was sure that I was going to quit as organist, and so as soon as I entered the room, he offered me a raise. I explained why I was there. Leaning back in his chair he said to me, “To be avoided if at all possible!” I spent the next hour telling him all the things in my heart, all the reasons why I needed to respond to God’s call. He leaned back again. He repeated what he had said before. “To be avoided if at all possible!” I almost screamed at him. “I have to do this!” “Well, then,” he said, “That’s wonderful!”

And it has been! This next stage of the journey! There are still days when I feel totally inadequate, when I struggle with anger and grief and pain. But I know the joy that comes from answering God’s call. I know as Abraham knew the joy of living as if God’s promises are true. I know the joy of faithfully following God’s lead. I know the joy of living passionately. I know the joy of sharing my faith with others. I know that I am beloved of God.

Whatever stage you are at in your faith journey, I pray that you will listen to God’s call. Listen to God’s call to be, no matter what it is that God is calling you to. Listen to God’s call to be beloved.

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