I WILL CONFESS my appreciation of Neil Young is a bit complicated. I suspect if I never had to hear him hold forth on political, economic or environmental matters I would be a happier fellow. That being said, he possesses an undeniable genius, the type unique to poets and artists: an insight and an ability to express truth in a compelling manner that cuts to the quick. I have been thinking a lot this Lent about the title of his 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps. I know this is a slogan from a paint company, but his application of it in light of the challenges of time and the human condition is brilliant. I want to think of it in two ways.
First, and I think this was what Neil Young intended, this is a wonderful challenge for us to actively pursue a kind of renewal and creativity and vitality in our labours. I don’t mind laying my cards on the table for a moment and telling you that I am a traditionalist. Certainly regarding liturgy, I think the Book of Common Prayer has no equal. It is true, it is glorifying to God, it is edifying to a worshipping congregation, and rather than being irrelevant to our current age, I think it has a unique ability to pierce the surface of the modern heart with a richness and depth that is scarce found in contemporary culture. More than that I think the basics of parish ministry are still the most effective: Sunday School, Bible Studies, Parish Missions. There is no better way to evangelise and to make disciples in the local church. I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel when it runs straight and true. I think developing a pattern based on these traditional elements should be the foundation upon which all other parish ministry is built.
So for someone like me (and I suspect most of us), the challenge is to be sure that a commitment to these traditional aspects of ministry do not lead to complacency or allow for a kind of calcification that would deaden the inherent life of the gospel. And that has been a challenge for me: to take time to think creatively about bringing the gospel to my situation. I like to do this in Lent, for both my own life and ministry. I use that wonderful Rule of Life on page 555 of the BCP as the basis for my reflection. Let me encourage you to consider doing the same. Rather than simply maintain a system, we should build creatively on that strong foundation. My experience and observation has been that churches who do build on this traditional foundation, such as St. John’s Vancouver, St. Paul’s (Bloor Street) and St. George’s Halifax, are often the most creative and effective in their ministry. But it must be married with regularly reviewing our ministries and challenging ourselves to try new ways to proclaim the gospel.
The second thing the phrase ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ has lead me to think about is the insidious nature of sin in both the life of the Church and of course my own heart.
In the church, I have begun to wonder of late if we have not underestimated this reality. I don’t know how many times I have heard variations of the following: “As long as I am left alone to preach the gospel, I can remain.” Rust Never Sleeps and it cannot be ignored. As a fan of older cars (somewhat by necessity), you have two options when you see rust develop. You either cut it out or you resign yourself to the eventual destruction of your car. And it is no different with sin. If sin is tolerated within the local body or within the institution, it will seem small and manageable, but unless it is identified and dealt with, it will lead to the corruption of the whole. It is undeniable.
For conservatives remaining within the Anglican Church of Canada it is not enough to be afforded institutional protection or to be left alone. This peace will not last. The corruption will spread and it will only get worse. We must be active agents of eradicating institutional sin, or we will eventually be corrupted by it. It may be slow and silent, but it is certain. Rust Never Sleeps.
Of course it is true of our own hearts as well. Accommodated sin slowly grows and chokes the life out of our prayer lives. How can we come honestly before God, when we know we live with sin? We are like Adam and Eve hiding in the garden, fearful to be seen in our shameful state. And so the distance grows. Slowly our hopes and affections and comfort seek a new home. When we keep sin around like a harmless pet, it will eventually emerge as our master. Rust Never Sleeps.
This may seem more a Lenten reflection than an Easter one, but consider Paul’s resurrection admonition in the third chapter of his Letter to the Colossians. “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above. . . Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth. . . cast off the old self with its evil deeds, and put on the new, which is being refashioned unto knowledge according to the image of its creator. . . .”
We are an Easter People, and let “Mortify the Sin within Us” be our song. TAP