Just Do It, With God’s Help

I didn’t grow up going to summer camp, but in the years since I’ve been ordained, I’ve grown to love it.  Summer camp offers kids from various walks of life the opportunity to get away, to set down their electronic devices, and to just be kids.  Summer camp is hot, it is loud, it is messy, and it is a whole lot of fun.  Most importantly, it provides an opportunity for young adults to share the love of Christ with a new crop of kids, just as their counselors did before.  In the Diocese of Kentucky, All Saints’ runs four, week-long sessions for children and youth from rising second graders all the way on up to high school seniors.  You’ll note from the dark circles under my eyes that I’ve spent this last week serving as Chaplain to the New Horizons Camp for fifth and sixth graders.  Our theme this summer was “The Circus is Coming,” and our key verse came from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

Glory isn’t a word that we use much anymore, so the first thing we had to do was try to work out a definition.  In the world’s eyes, glory is given to those who accomplish notable achievements.  This week, a ticker-tape parade was held in New York City to celebrate the glory of victory for the World Cup Champion, United States Women’s National Team.  Glory can be used as a synonym for magnificence or great beauty, as in, the sun setting behind the trees at camp was glorious, or to describe anything that is distinctive or due extra pride or honor.  It’s not that any of these things are bad, in and of themselves, but the world’s understanding of glory can lead to misunderstandings about to whom glory is rightfully given.  When glory is something that can only earned only by the most elite, the most beautiful, the most athletic, or the rich and the famous, we marginalize all of us who tend to be pretty good at our crafts, and often forget the One from whom all good gifts are given and from whom all blessings flow.

We shared with the campers that as Christians, we give glory first and foremost to God.  God is the single most glorious thing in all the world, and so we offer God all the glory through praise, worship, and by giving thanks in all things.  Each of us who has been created in the image of God share in that glory.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we all share in the responsibility of reflecting, albeit imperfectly, the glory of God into the world, by letting our light so shine before others that they might see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

Which brings us to the final definition of the word glory.  If you’re doing a Google search of the word, you’ll have to expand the box and scroll a bit, but way down there, the fourth definition of the noun form of glory is “a luminous ring or halo, especially as depicted around the head of Jesus Christ or a saint.”  The way in which Jesus and the saints were able to shine their light into the world was so obvious, that over time, when people made artwork about them, they showed that glory shining brightly round about them.  What we discovered, however, was that, like glory, sainthood isn’t just for those deemed most special.  All Saints’ Camp is named All Saints’ in honor of every disciple of Jesus who has ever set foot on that property, each of whom are saints of God.  All of us are called to reflect the light of Christ into the world.  All of us are called to reflect the glory of God in our spheres of influence.  All of us carry our own halos around with us as we make the love of God known.

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life.”  Luke tells us that the lawyer who brought this question to Jesus had come to test him.  He had heard of the glorious works done by this new Rabbi on the scene and wanted to see if he passed the right tests.  Jesus can be frustratingly enigmatic in these cases.  He rarely answers a question like this directly, and Luke 10:25-37 is no exception.  Jesus answers the lawyer’s question with one of his own, turning the work of revelation back on the one who was seeking.  “You’re the expert in the Law, how do you read its requirements?” Jesus asks the man.  In Luke’s account, the abundantly clear and truly challenging requirements of the Kingdom of God don’t come from the lips of Jesus, but rather, from this lawyer who came to challenge him.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, in perhaps his most transparent moment in all the Gospels, simply replies, “Do this, and you will live,” or as a famous shoe company has put it for years, “Just do it.”

Would that it was so easy just to love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The Law of Christ is so very straightforward and yet, it seems to be almost impossibly simple.  Loving God is the easier of the two requirements, so we’ll start there.  The expert in the Law notes that loving God is not just something we that we feel, but it requires our whole humanity to do properly.  We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our strength, and with all of our mind.  Loving God in this way means putting God first on the priority list in our lives.  It means giving God thanks in all things.  It means offering God praise in all circumstances.  It means showing God our admiration and respect no matter what is happening around us.  In short, as we learned at summer camp this week, loving God with our whole lives means giving God all the glory.

Loving our neighbors is by far the tougher bit.  As halo carrying members of the glory of God club, we are called, through stories like the Good Samaritan, to reflect the light of Christ to everyone we meet.  Unlike the priest and the Levite who are so worried about protecting their own glory; trying to keep their halos from becoming tarnished by the man who had been robbed, it is the Samaritan, who had no illusion of an unblemished halo, who took the risk to reach out and be a true neighbor to one who was in need along the side of the road.

“Just do it” has been a pretty good slogan for Nike over the years, and it would behoove us as Christians to follow it in our daily attempts at loving God and loving our neighbor, however, the ability to “just do it” requires one other component.  For Episcopalians, that piece is found in the Baptismal Covenant, a series of eight questions that define the basics of the Christian faith.  Five of the questions deal directly with how we will live as followers of Jesus, and they are answered in the same way, “I will with God’s help.”  Shining with the light of Christ, bringing the glory of God into the world, living into the Great Commandments; these are not things any of us can do on our own.  So, if I might be so bold as to add something to the words of Jesus, we might be better off hearing him tell the lawyer not simply, “just do it,” but “just do it, love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself, and let the glory of God shine through you; do it all, with God’s help.”  Amen.

We all feebly struggle

A friend of mine from seminary is fond of saying that it is through our hymns the we best articulate our heresies.  His particular point of interest was in the Christmas hymn, “Hark! The herald angels sing” and the line, “Veiled in flesh, the godhead see,” which bears the weight of the 2nd century gnostic heresy.  Gnosticism was built on the idea that creation is evil and God is good, and so Jesus couldn’t have actually been both God and human.  Rather, either the Christ was a lesser god that had been sent to earth, or that he was God, veiled in flesh, but not actually incarnated.  Anyway, it fits the meter and is a classic hymn by Charles Wesley, so we sing it every Christmas, without fear.

Another example comes around on All Saints’ Sunday when we sing “We feebly struggle, they in glory shine” in the midst of “For all the saints, who from their labors rest.”  While not quite rising to the level of heresy, this line tends to add to our misunderstandings about sainthood.  It probably actually means that while we continue to struggle on earth while those who have gone before rest in God’s eternal glory in heaven, but the popular understanding of sainthood has been so muddied by Roman Catholicism that it tends to feed this idea that saints are some sort of other worldly Christians, the likes of which we will never attain.  It is not uncommon for me to be talking with someone about sainthood, be they a regular church-goer or totally de-churched, and they will bring up the need for verifiable miracles, beatifications, and canonization.  These are the things of news stories, as we hear about Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa making their way through the process of sainthood after their deaths.

The reaction to this often goes one of two ways.  Some are in awe of the faith and good works that have been done by people like Mother Teresa.  “We feebly struggle, but they in glory shine” indeed.  They are enamored with their religious celebrity and wonder if they could even be half the Christian these saints were in their lives.  More often, the response is confusion.  They’ve read the stories of Teresa’s struggle with doubt or know about John Paul’s role in covering up the child abuse scandals, and wonder how anyone could think of them as better than any of the rest of us.  The most critical response to the concept of sainthood is often tied in with a very popular reason for not going to church these days, “They’re all just hypocrites anyway, preaching one thing and living another.”

My response to this criticism is to admit, readily and fully, that we all feebly struggle.  Whether we are talking about Saint Francis, Mary Magdalene, Howard Surface, or Mary Jo Cook, the life of faith is for all of us, a daily struggle.  As Mother Becca said last week, every morning, as foot hits the floor, we must make the choice to follow Jesus.  That doesn’t mean that we will be perfect, far from it, but it means that as we feebly struggle, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to redeem us, and the Father’s love to sustain us.  The church is full of hypocrites, and the communion of saints is full of them too, which is why we set aside this Feast of All Saints, to give thanks to God for the grace that carries all of us sinners.

We are living in an era in which the news is full of famous men who claim to follow Jesus but seem to have become famous mostly because they are doing terrible things.  Our lives are inundated with stories of violence, power, manipulation, and oppression.  Violent misogynists and anti-Semites have become the famous men of our time, and it is the work of the Church this All Saints’ Sunday that we should listen to the author of Ecclesiasticus and focus our attention on the righteous and godly women and men who have lived the struggle and “have perished as though they never existed.”

See, what makes you a saint isn’t the amazing things you do, but rather what God is doing through you.  In the New Testament, when Paul writes about the saints, he uses it as a synonym for disciples.  There, he doesn’t even mean those who have already died in the faith, but rather all who have ever sought the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.  While it is the custom here at Christ Church to list, by name, the saints of this parish who have died in the past year, the list of saints properly includes all of us as well.  In a deeply counter-cultural move, we name as saints not only those whose names are written on monuments or carried in the news, but also regular folk who have lived their lives in pursuit of the Kingdom of God.

The reality of All Saints’ Day that the Ecclesiasticus lesson names so well is that it is a day set aside to remember any and all who have lived in the faith of Christ.  It is especially our opportunity as the Church on earth to give thanks to God for those who have worked toward justice and peace, those who have tried their best to respect the dignity of every human being, those who have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and cared for the marginalized, and those who have prayed and worked for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in heaven.  In a world that prefers to name the infamous, it is the church’s job to lift up as holy examples those who might have become as though they were never born, but in their day, did what they could to make this world a better place.

For we who remain on earth, sometimes feebly struggling to follow the Way of Love, All Saints’ Day is a chance to rededicate ourselves to the mission of the Gospel.  As Joshua challenged the tribes of Israel, so All Saints’ Day challenges us to choose this day whom we will serve.  Will we seek after the Kingdom of God or the kingdoms of this world?  Will we subscribe to a theology of God’s abundance or fall into the trap of our own scarcity?  Will we look at the world in love or fall back in fear?  With God’s help, these choices must be made daily, if not hour by hour or minute by minute.  As another classic All Saints’ hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God,” puts it, “the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  Dear saints of God, as we walk through the struggle of this great ordeal together, what will you choose?  Will you choose sainthood?  Will you choose blessedness?  Will you, with God’s help, choose the Way of Love in Kingdom of God?  Amen.

For all the saints who from their labors rest

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via CatholicLane.com (I really hope Popes wear the triple tiara in heaven)

One of the peculiarities of the life and ministry of an ordained minister is the role that place plays in one’s ministry.  Having taken a new call at the first of this year, I am no longer a priest in Foley, AL, but a priest in Bowling Green, KY.  This means a lot of things.  Personally, it means that the beach is no longer ten minutes away, fresh seafood is not readily available, and October mornings in the 30s.  Professionally, what has struck me most profoundly is the immediate switching on and off of pastoral relationships.

While I still pray for and love the people of Saint Paul’s, I am not longer their pastor.  In a social media world, it means being very careful about how I reach out to posts of illness and loss.  It means that I won’t officiate the funerals of people with whom I had long and fruitful relationships.  On the other hand, here in Bowling Green, the move means an immediate beginning to relationships.  I step in to long-term health issues, family dynamics, and restorations.  Reasonably, it takes a while to build these relationships, and sometimes, life short-circuits them.  Officiating funerals in the early stages of one’s tenure is an interesting experience.  I may not know the deceased at all, perhaps we only met a few times, maybe health problems meant that even if we did meet, we were never really able to know each other.

While I may not be able to offer the same sort of personal reflection that I used to in Foley, my role these days isn’t all that different than it once was, to share the good news of the hope of the resurrection in Christ Jesus.  My job at a funeral is to offer thanks to God “for all the saints, who from their labors rest,” while at the same time ensuring that even in our grief the name of “Jesus be for ever blessed” and highlight “their rock, their fortress, and their might.”  Because in the end, the Feast of All Saints’ is less about the millions who have followed the way of Jesus, even Popes in triple tiaras, but the Savior whom they followed in life and in whose rest they now live eternally.

Happy All Saints’ Day, dear reader!

Not when, but what

My non-Episcopal readers will notice that this is one of only a handful of weeks in the Lectionary cycle when the Common in Revised Common Lectionary proves false.  My Episcopal readers will notice that the same is true from the Common in our Common Prayer, which gets a pass this week as some congregations will choose to transfer the propers for All Saints’ Day to Sunday, while others will continue the never-ending march of ordinary time with Proper 26A.  My friend, Evan Garner, has handled the question of when quite well in his blog today.  I’ll wait while you read it.

Since I will be involved in services on November 1st and the transferred Sunday, my concern this week is less about when we celebrate All Saints’, and more about what lessons we might use to do so.  I have long been an advocate for petitioning one’s bishop to ask permission to use the old Book of Common Prayer lectionary for the Feast of All Saints’.  In both sets of lessons, you’ll get a snippet from Revelation 7.  In both, you’ll hear the Beatitudes from Matthew.  The difference comes in the BCP lectionary’s use of the Apocryphal text of Ecclesiasticus, which is also known as Sirach or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach.  It was, in its day, a popular handbook of wisdom for study in educational settings (HarperCollins Study Bible, 1530), and it appears in the RCL only a few times during the three year cycle.

I like to hold on to this old tradition because of the balance the Ecclesiasticus lesson strikes between the Feast of All Saints’ and the less often celebrated, non-Major Feast of the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2nd.  The lesson opens by “singing the praises of famous men [and women],” but eventually turns its attention to those who “have perished as though they had never existed.”  To my mind, this lesson navigates the various themes one must juggle on a singular All Saints’ Day celebration better than the 1 John lesson of the RCL.  This came alive to me one All Saints’ Day as I preached a Sunday evening service in a congregation that was not my own, in their parish hall, the walls of which were lined with old, dead, white guys for whom various things had been named.  It has returned with vigor this year as I now serve a congregation with a penchant for naming things after clergy (not that that’s a bad thing, in and of itself).

Taking time to sing the praises of famous men [and women] is important, but so too is the commemoration of Aunt Sally, Gerald, or Joe, who were faithful disciples in their day, but of whom there is no written record.  On All Saints’ Day, it seems to me, it is important for us to take the time to honor both, for without them, the Church is not what it is today.

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Named as saints – a sermon

My final sermon at Saint Paul’s is available on the website, or you can read it here.


Some of you may not know this about me, while some of you have experienced it firsthand.  I am terrible with names.  So bad, in fact, that there is a voice inside my head that actively encourages me to steer clear of them whenever possible.  As I’m shaking your hand, giving a hug, or just making eye contact, I can hear it start.  “You think her name is Sue, but you aren’t sure.  You should know her name, but you’ll mess it up and hurt her feelings.  Just don’t do it; just say, ‘Hello dear,’ or something equally pathetically innocuous.”  Being bad at names is really a poor quality in a priest.  Names are powerful.  We feel known when someone calls us by name.  We feel equally unknown when we are called “buddy,” “darling,” or “dude.”  More than that, our names carry meaning in them.  Some carry generations of family history.  For example, after my grandmother died, we found in her genealogy records that my dad, John Pankey, carries the same Americanized name that our ancestor Jean Pantier took when he emigrated from France in the early 18th century.  How cool is that!?!  Other names carry the weight of even more history, names that are imbued with meaning from deep in the past.

In fact, names have carried meaning for thousands of years.  The Old Testament is rife with names with deep meaning.  Even in the very beginning, we get the name Adam for the first man from the Hebrew word which means both “man” and the “dust” from which humankind was created.  His wife, Eve, is named the Hebrew word for “life” because she is the mother of all humanity.  Place names were important as well.  After wrestling all night with God near the Jabbok, which means “emptying,” Jacob (trickster) gets a new name, Israel (God prevails) and he named the place Peniel, which means “the face of God.”  All throughout the Old Testament names do more than simply name people and places, but they fill them with meaning.  Nowhere is this more true than in our lesson from Isaiah this morning.  Here we find ourselves in the middle of the story of King Ahaz who is fearful as he is about to come under attack from the Assyrians.  Isaiah, God’s prophet and mouthpiece, promises that if Ahaz remains faithful to God, he will prevail.  The sign of the promise will be the birth of a baby to a young woman who will be called Immanuel, or God with us.  Ahaz is ultimately unsuccessful; he just can’t keep the faith, and the promised birth of Emmanuel doesn’t happen.

More than seven hundred years later, Matthew interprets the circumstances of the birth of Jesus to his young mother, a virgin named Mary, as the fulfillment of that ancient promise.  The child’s given name is Jesus, which means “God saves;” a name given to both of his parents by an angel of the Lord, but there is no doubt in Matthew’s mind that Jesus is the child promised to Ahaz as the assurance of the final victory of Israel, when God moved into the neighborhood for good.  Emmanuel, God with us, was born to Mary, whose name means both “bitter” and “beloved;” she will experience both in her life, and her betrothed Joseph, whose name means “may God increase.”  What is amazing about this story, seven hundred years after it was supposed to take place, is that once Emmanuel came to be God with us, God never left.  God was with us, God is with us, and God will forever be with us, thanks to the life-giving sacrifice of sending God’s only Son to be born of a virgin and to live and die as one of us.

For roughly two thousand years now, Jesus hasn’t been on earth, and yet, God continues to be with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit keeps Emmanuel in the present, always here to show us the way to the Father, the how-tos of the Kingdom of God.  The Spirit, a lifetime of God with us, is a gift given to every one of us in our baptism.  With deference to the power of names in the Old Testament, the Church has long tied baptism and the gift of Emmanuel with naming.  For hundreds of years, a child was formally named at their baptismal ceremony.  Those who were baptized later in life often changed their name at baptism, giving up the pagan names of their youth for Christian names of discipleship.  Some of you may have a second middle name from a long ago Roman Catholic baptism for the very same reason.  This morning [at 10 o’clock], we welcome Hadley Caroline Wing into the Body of Christ.  I’ve not had a chance to talk with her parents as to why they chose Hadley Caroline, but even if they just thought it was pretty, it still comes with great meaning.  Hadley is an Old English word for a field covered in heather, a gorgeous purple flower.  Caroline is a feminine form of the name Charles which means strong.  May she be a perfect balance of splendor and strength.  She is born to her parents Andrew and Kacey.  Andrew means manly and Kacey is the Gaelic word for watchful or vigilant.  Hadley Caroline, under the care of strong and careful parents, today receives a new name, one that all of us who are baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ share: saint.

Though names are also important in the New Testament, what with Simon (listener) becoming Peter (rock) and Saul (inquired of God) becomes Paul (humble), what seems to be even more important is our common relationship in Jesus Christ.  Throughout the New Testament, all the disciples of Jesus are referred to again and again as saints.  In Greek, saint is hagios which means “set apart by God, holy one, or consecrated.”  To be saints, then, is first and foremost to acknowledge our total dependence upon God.  Every good work, every possession, even our very breath comes from God.  We are invited into sainthood, it is not earned.  The very act of becoming a saint is the grace-filled gift of God, which is why in the Episcopal Church we baptize infants.  This is the sign for us that none of us are able to work our way into God’s love, but rather it is the gift of a God whose very nature is love and relationship.

In response to the gift of God’s love, and with the help of the Holy Spirit who is always with us, we engage in the work of holiness, which is summed up in the Baptismal Covenant that we will all reaffirm in just a few minutes.  By the power of the Spirit, God with us at work in our lives calls us to live lives worthy of the Gospel; lives of faithful service to God and to each other; lives committed to the restoration of right relationship with God, with one another, and with all of Creation.  Today, on a day that the Scripture lessons are all about names, we welcome Hadley Caroline into the family of saints, and make our vow to labor alongside her in building up the Kingdom of God.

I would be remiss to not mention that today also happens to be my last sermon here at Saint Paul’s.  On a day that is also about sainthood, I give thanks for the saints of this congregation.  You have loved me and allowed me to love you in return.  You have raised me from a baby priest.  You have cared for my family, loved on my children, and supported us in good times and in bad.  I will be forever grateful for our time together as we have sought to learn what it means to be disciples of Jesus and saints of God.  May God bless Hadley Caroline.  May God bless her family.  And may God bless the Saint Paul’s family as you continue working with the Spirit to discern the power of Emmanuel, God in your midst, from this day forth and forever more.  Amen.

Our Title

There is a theme developing this week.  After three days of focusing on the names and titles that Jesus carries in Matthew’s account of his birth, today, I want to turn our attention to the most important preaching question: so what?  All this etymology of names doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans if it doesn’t have an impact on our lives.  Today, then, my focus turns to the title we carry as believers in Jesus, the Messiah, who is God with us.

It seems clear that the makers of the RCL would have the preacher see how Paul’s opening words to the Church in Rome tie everything together in a nice little bow.  The Prophet Isaiah promised the coming of the Son, born of Mary, who came to save the world.  That’s a nice tidy package, but the power really comes in what might be considered a throw away line, Paul’s salutation.

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“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints”

Those who follow Jesus as the Christ and Emmanuel carry the title of saints.  In Greek, saint is hagios which means “set apart by God, holy one, consecrated.”  To be saints, then, is first and foremost to acknowledge our total dependence upon God.  Every good work, every possession, even our very breath comes from God.  We are invited into sainthood, it is not earned.  The very act of becoming a saint is the grace-filled gift of God.  Secondarily to that is the work of holiness.  By the power of the Spirit at work in our lives, we are called to live lives worthy of the Gospel; lives of faithful service to God and to each other; lives committed to the restoration of right relationship.

What is key in all of this, for me, is the realization that every disciple of Jesus is a saint.  There might be those who are called to a deeper devotion, to a fuller sacrifice, or to a particularly powerful ministry.  These we might call Saints with a capital S, much like Jesus is the capital letters Anointed One, but every follower of Jesus has a call to holiness, to sacrificial love, and to a ministry in and for the world in thanksgiving for the saving love of God in Jesus the Christ.  What is your calling?  How are you living out your sainthood?

Let us sing the praises of famous men…

In an email to his clergy, the Bishop of my diocese gave us permission to use the Propers for All Saints’ Day from the old Book of Common Prayer Lectionary.  As I read that note, almost an aside at the end of a longer letter, my heart rejoiced.  “He gets it!” I thought, “There is still the heart and soul of a parish priest behind that purple shirt.”  As you might have guessed by now, I am of the opinion that the BCP lectionary is far superior to the RCL on the Feast of All Saints’.  IT isn’t because of the Gospel lesson, on  which I am so fond of preaching: both give us a version of the Beatitudes, more on that tomorrow.

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Instead, it is the passage from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 44:1-10, 13-14, that I find so very appealing.  The pericope begins with a lack of gender neutral language that is uncommon in the NRSV, but if one looks past the use of men when it could just as easily be “men and women,” the heart of the Feast of All Saints comes into focus.  While there is a tradition in Roman Catholicism to celebrate the Feast as a triduum: All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls, each with its own particular nuanced theological focus, in naming All Saints’ Day a Principal Feast and declaring that it should be celebrated twice, once on November 1st and again on the first Sunday following the same, the Book of Common Prayer seems to lift up this Feast as catch all for all three.

The lesson from Ecclesiasticus reminds us of the proper understanding of All Saints’ Day as a day to remember all the saints.  We remember not only those “famous men” like Augustine, Francis, and Thomas Cranmer and “famous women” like Perpetua, Clare, and Elizabeth I, but also those “who have perished as though they had never existed.”  Saints like Michael, Jim, and Anna whom we buried here at Saint Paul’s this year.  None of them was perfect, each “feebly struggled” as the old hymn says, but all of them set their faith on the sure and certain hope of the resurrection through Jesus Christ.

For those of us who are left behind, saints in the church militant waiting for the day of triumph, the call of All Saints’ Day is to live lives worthy of the title saint.  To press forward in witness of Christ’s love, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, and recovery of sight to the blind.  Some of us may be remembered as “famous men and women,” but most will leave no great lasting memory.  Still, the calling is the same: to love God, love neighbor, and change the world.

God sends servant after servant after servant – Tuesday in Holy Week

Each post this week will focus on the biblical account of the events that occurred in the last week of Jesus’ life.  Today’s reading is from Mark 11:27-12:12 (NRSV).

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” -they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watchtower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?” When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.


 

Today is the penultimate face-off for Lent Madness 2014.  If you’ve never heard of Lent Madness, well, shame on me for not having highlighted it earlier, but it is a bracket style tournament between 32 saints of the Church to win the coveted Golden Halo on Spy Wednesday.  The brain child of The Rev. Mess’rs Tim Schenk and Scott Gunn, Lent Madness is a great way to learn about the varied ways in which the Gospel message has been proclaimed over the course of the last 2,000+ years.  Enough back-story, today’s match-up is between two powerful voices for reform within the Anglican/Episcopal Church: Charles Wesley (1707-1788_, the more reluctant of the brothers who are credited with starting Methodism, and Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), Bishop of Massachusetts and general ne’er-do-well clergyman.

Phillips Brooks claim to fame is his preaching, said to be able to preach 200 words a minute (I preach about 115), Brooks complained bitterly about his time at Virginia Theological Seminary and then spent his career calling Episcopalians to be active in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.  For example, he was a staunch supporter of the North during the Civil War: one of his chief complaints about VTS dealt with its history of slavery.  The Wesley brothers gained the name “Methodists” as a pejorative: it seems folks weren’t too keen on their strict adherence to religion and practical piety, but their call to take seriously the Gospel message of Jesus, to preach it to the ends of the earth, and to allow it to change one’s life was nothing new.  The saints of the Church have been calling us to this higher calling of life in the Kingdom from the very beginning.

Brooks and Wesley were two in a long line of servants that the Lord has sent to “collect his produce,” that is to say, to bring forth his Kingdom.  In today’s lesson from Mark, we hear Jesus tell the Parable of the Wicked Tenants.  It is perhaps his most difficult parable to unpack as it is filled with allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures and dripping with the socio-religio-political tensions of the early 1st century in Jerusalem, but as we remember Wesley and Brooks today, I’m aware that the parable lives on in the life of the Church.  We continue to struggle to be faithful to the will of God.  Institutions, by their very nature, are neither good nor evil, but they do have a tendency toward self-preservation, and the Gospel of Jesus can be downright dangerous.  I’m thankful for servant after servant after servant who has come to call to Kingdom living, and I pray that when we are so called, our response will be one of faithfulness and trust in the goodness of God’s will for creation.

Oh, and while we’re at it, go over to Lent Madness and vote for Phillips Brooks!