August 5, 2012

ON A VERY BUSY WEEKEND OF CELEBRATIONS

                                                          Sermon delivered by the Reverend Father Bill Smith
                                           at Holy Faith Episcopal Church, Port St Lucie, on 5 August 2012

 

There are fifty-two weekends in a year – fifty-three this year – but very few have the number of celebrations of anniversaries as occur over this weekend.  Tomorrow, for example, is the traditional date for celebrating the Transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour.  Jesus, as the Synoptic Gospels tell us, had gone up a mountain with Peter, and James and John, and had there been seen with the representatives of the Law, Moses, and of the Prophets, Elijah, and then he had been transfigured in their sight as those two other figures had disappeared.  And then a voice was heard proclaiming, “This is my Son; listen to him.”  In other words, if we are to do the will of God, we are to be open in our hearts and minds, our deeds and actions, to the promptings of the Living Word of God rather than to written words, no matter how well beloved, simply because they have come down to us through the ages. 

Yesterday would have been the one hundred and twelfth anniversary of the birth of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, a woman, nay, a queen, respected for the examples of loyalty and faithfulness to her husband and to the role that he filled in the wider world, and also for her loyalty and faithfulness to people of all walks of life, especially those who were victims of violence of any kind.  Today we are watching the thirtieth celebration of the quadrennial Olympic Games being held in London.  Seventy years ago that part of London was being bombed by the Luftwaffe every night (or so it seemed at the time), and the next day the King and Queen would go into those wrecked and shattered communities with words of hope and encouragement.  But it was only when Buckingham Palace had been hit by a Nazi bomb that she felt she could look at those Cockney East-enders eye-to-eye with both sympathy and empathy.

Yesterday also marked the start of the Great War, the War to end All Wars, in 1914.  Well, that War ended with the destruction of empires at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives as foolish generals and politicians failed to understand that eighteenth century politics and military strategies were woefully irrelevant and even murderously dangerous in the twentieth century.  And, of course, it was not the War that ended All Wars, and politicians still resort to warfare and generals still resort to murderously dangerous strategies a century later.  As the song has it, “When will they ever learn?  When will they ever learn?”

Indeed, warfare has grown even more dangerous, and we are reminded of this as we recall that tomorrow not only marks the Transfiguration of the Prince of Peace, but also the anniversary of the detonation of the first nuclear weapon over Hiroshima in 1945, an explosion that was described at the time as “brighter than a thousand suns”, but an explosion that has cast a long shadow over this world for two-thirds of a century ever since.  Of all the horrors of war, the nuclear arsenal of an increasing number of nations is the most ghastly, and if any idiotic politician or power-mad general should set off a chain reaction of explosions of these weapons, it would not only be ghastly but ghostly.  We would all perish and become but ghosts.

Moving on another seventeen years, today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Norma Jean Baker, or, as she is better known, Marilyn Monroe, a woman who was certainly no great saint but who might well be called a martyr to the culture of the fifties and sixties when all too many people were destroyed by that culture to provide pleasure and profit for others.  Not that that was a new phenomenon, nor one that no longer prevails.  We still make living idols of mere mortals who excel in the fields of sports and entertainment, calling them stars and even superstars, as though their place is in the skies above rather than walking with those of us who have feet of clay.  Yet they are just like us, with feet of very frail clay, and they will turn to dust and ashes as will all of us, some of them, sadly, taking their own lives under very tragic circumstances.  The Decalogue teaches us that we should not make graven images of anything or anyone upon Earth, and although we may well not have made such graven images ourselves, the photographic images we have of our sports and entertainment heroes and heroines are often of much more significance for many people, even in supposedly Christian societies, than that of the one whose Transfiguration is celebrated at this season.

Marilyn Monroe’s image vied with that of Princess Margaret on the front page of the Jamaican Daily Gleaner commemorating another event that occurred a half-century ago tomorrow.  The Princess had come to Jamaica to hand over the Instruments of Independence.  Some would say a new nation was born that day, but that is not quite accurate.  A new sovereign state was created by that exchange of instruments, but Jamaica and the other island nations in the Caribbean basin, and a couple of mainland continental ones as well, that were to follow the path of independence over the weeks, months and years that followed, were all nations in their own right, made up of a people whose nativities had been in those lands.  Jamaicans were Jamaicans before there was a State called Jamaica, because Jamaica was a nation long before it became a sovereign state.

Jamaica adopted a national motto that could well have been adopted by any national state in the region, and, indeed, had been adopted by another nation in the region of the Caribbean basin nearly two centuries earlier.  The Founding Fathers of the United States of America chose to express it in Latin, which was not the living language of any of its citizens. E pluribus Unum – Out of many, one.  Jamaica’s leaders at Independence preferred to express that thought in English, “Out of many, one people”.  That might not have been the reality of 1962, but it surely represented a great vision of what could be.

There were two other significant symbols of the new State’s nationality that broke in upon the consciousness of Jamaicans, and of the rest of the world.  The first, and for many the most obvious, was the new State’s new flag.  As the United Kingdom’s Union Jack was lowered, a new flag was being raised, the by-now familiar yellow cross of Saint Andrew emblazoned across a background of black and green triangles.  Apart from the Christian symbol of the cross of the first Christian missionary, the man who called his brother Simon Peter to come to meet Jesus, this new flag bore no relation to that of the former ruling authority.  The United States of America had adopted and adapted the red, white and blue of its former rulers, thereby ignoring the heritage of immigrants other than those from Britain.  But Jamaica went a different route entirely.  Whether it was intentional or not, the colours of the new Jamaican flag were the same as those of Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, an organization that embraced not only Africans of a diversity of African tribes and languages, but other peoples who, like the Black Africans, had migrated to what was now called South Africa.  Jamaica’s new flag was and is an expression of the concept, “Out of Many, One People”.  It was and is a strong affirmation of what all the former British territories had become, a diversity of peoples from across a wide spectrum of the cultures and, in some places such as Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, from a cross-section of the religions of this world.

The second symbol of the nation’s new statehood was and is its national anthem.  Again, Jamaica took a very different approach from that of its larger neighbour.  The Jamaican anthem is no paean to a national symbol, proudly though the stars and stripes are lauded here in the United States.  No.  Right there in the very first two words of their national anthem Jamaicans sing out loudly and clearly that their unity, their “Out of many, one people” heritage, is entirely due to the commonality of all in the parenthood of the one who is known as “Eternal Father”.  Moreover, it is integral to the life of Jamaica and Jamaicans that the Eternal Father “bless our land, [and] guide it with [his] mighty hand.”

Integral, then, to the Jamaican nation, and to several other states the native sons and daughters of which are involved in our celebrations today, are the Fatherhood of God and the Cross of Christ.  It does not matter what ones ancestry might be, expressed in the terms of Genesis, all are children of Noah, drawn together into a New Ark, in order to face the challenges of this world and to this world, as symbolized in those other anniversaries that fall at this time of year.

And this morning we shall have the privilege and joy of welcoming another passenger on that New Ark.  And if there is anyone who represents the concept, E pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one people”, to the full, it is our candidate for baptism.  He carries in his veins the blood of a diversity of people.  Both his parents were born in Asia, his father in the Philippines and his mother in Thailand.  Of his grandparents, one grandfather is certainly of the United States, a descendant of those who came to this country to escape religious discrimination, if not persecution, in their native land.  One grandmother carries Italian and Filipina genes in her DNA.  Who can tell the variety of genetic influences in his other grandmother?  She is Jamaican, certainly, but her father carried the family name of a prominent noble family going back to the time of the Norman Conquest, and her mother carries a very Irish name.  As to the other grandfather, his family name is solidly Anglo-Saxon.  Talk about “Out of many, one people”; in this young man’s case it is “Out of many, one person.”   

And he carries the names of two great saints, Aidan and Edward, one an Irishman who evangelized in what is now northern England, and the other a king of Danish descent who ruled England until the early days of 1066 and whose chief legacy is to be seen in London to this day, the great Minster to the West of the City of London, better known as Westminster Abbey.  I do not think that we have had an Aidan in the family before, but I am delighted that this grandson will carry that name, as the seminary I attended was named for Saint Aidan – and incidentally, Aidan was a redheaded Irishman.  Edward is a family name.  Aidan’s uncle carries it as did the grandfather of Aidan’s grandfather.  I understand that Edward means “Guardian of the Earth”, so that, given that four of his forebears have worked or are working for the United Nations,that would seem to be an apt name.

Today we baptize him, as Jesus exhorted us to do in his final charge to the early Christians, as recorded in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.  We do this to incorporate him into the body of Christ, who was himself baptized to identify himself with us in our fallen-ness so that he might carry that fallen-ness to the Cross and so redeem all those who might fall.  And so we identify Aidan Edward with the crucified Christ who has gone through Death for us and whose Resurrection Life is graciously bestowed upon all of us through baptism.

So Aidan Edward, the one who as one person comes from many people, now becomes part of that one Body made up of many people, all filled with and by the Spirit of Christ Crucified and Resurrected.  May he indeed be a true child of the Eternal Father and always rejoice in the Cross.  And when he sees that green and golden and black flag which is a part of his heritage, may he rejoice to know who he really is – one out of many, and one a part of many. 

Click here for today’s “Collect and Lessons”