I’m posting this as our first attempt to record on the new sound system. If you listen, please let me know if you think the sound quality has improved. You can listen here, or read on.
I often wonder how it is that particular lesson gets associated with a particular feast day. Sometimes, like in the case of the Martyrs, it seems like the Church has three options for martyrs and just picks one at random. Sometimes, it seems like someone threw darts at a wall full of Scripture references. On rare occasions, however, the lessons appointed for the feast of a saint are absolutely perfect. This is the case today as the Church remembers William Temple. Temple is one of our more recent saints: born in 1881, ordained a Deacon in 1909, Priest in 1910 and elected Bishop of Manchester in 1921. He went on to serve as Archbishop of York from 1929 until he was elected Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942. He is the last Archbishop of Canterbury to die in office, succumbing to Gout and the strenuous schedule of the Archbishop’s office in the midst of World War II on October 26, 1944.
The lesson for Christmas 1, a portion of the beautiful Prologue to John’s Gospel is the perfect text for Archbishop Temple because of the profound way in which the Incarnation of Jesus impacted his ministry. In 1906, William Temple, whose Father, Frederick was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1896 until 1902, applied for ordination. His Bishop refused his application for fear that he was a heretic: It seems that the twenty-five year old Temple was a bit too willy-nilly with the Incarnation – having a hard time subscribing to the Virgin Birth and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus. After three years of prayer and study, however, his views began to change enough that the Bishop of Exeter agreed to ordain him. As his ministry developed, the Incarnation of Jesus would become the central focus of his life and work.
Temple never knew want, the children of Archbishop’s rarely do, but he had an unflinching passion to serve the poor and a constant pursuit of social justice, especially for the working poor. William Temple saw good in every human being because in Jesus Christ God took flesh and dwelt among us, or as Eugene Peterson would later write, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” As such, Temple wrote, “God made sacred the personality of every man and woman.” As his Incarnational theology developed, Temple would realize that in the Incarnation God did more than give worth and meaning to human beings, but to every aspect of life. Quite literally, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed everything, which is why it is so fitting that John’s great hymn on the incarnation should be the lesson appointed for the Feast of William Temple.
The Word of God took on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. In the Incarnation, God took on everything that wasn’t God in order to save us from ourselves, which motivated William Temple’s most famous quote that he probably never said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” God left heaven behind to reach out to humanity desperately in need of salvation, and for William Temple, the Incarnation was to be our example for life. As Christians, we are called to leave what is known and comfortable in order to serve and save those in need. It is by following the example of the Incarnation that the Kingdom of God is built on earth as it is in heaven. So this afternoon, as we remember the life and ministry of William Temple, let us commit to being a people of the Incarnation, willing to go forth to a world in need in love and service. Amen.