A Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 26, 2021
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
In Easton, Pennsylvania
Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served
but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give
themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom,
patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the
suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him
who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus
Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
By the Happy Goodman Singers
Oh, give up, let Jesus take over, oh yeah
And He’ll make a way for you
Well, if you’ve got mountains that you can’t climb
Oh, and if you’ve got rivers that you can’t cross
And if you’ve got valleys that you can’t span
Let Jesus, let Jesus take a hold of your hand
Now if you got burdens too hard to bear
Oh, and if you load is more than your share
Kneel, kneel down, talk to Jesus because I, I know and I know He cares
And He’ll, He’ll make a way, make a way for us somehow
Sing it together, sing it, let Jesus take over
Oh, give up and let Jesus take over
Oh, give it up and let Jesus take over
And He’ll make a way, say He’ll make a way
He’ll make a way for you
There is a special field of theology called “ecclesiology.” The name is derived from two Greek words, “ecclesia,” and “logia.” While we could translate ecclesia as church—it really means “the gathered community.” Logia, as anyone who ever studied for the S.A.T. remembers is “words about, “or more commonly, “the study of.”
Ecclesiology asks essential, vital, and ultimate questions. What is the Church? What is the mission and purpose of the Church? What should the Church be doing? How should the Church operate? What does it mean to be a member of the Church? Who is allowed to be a member of the Church?
In an attempt to address these questions—and many others, Avery Cardinal Dulles, of happy memory, wrote a helpful book—which all Roman Catholic seminarians of my day were required to read. It was called “Models of the Church.” To greatly simplify the nuanced thought of Dulles, In it he addressed, among others, two primary models—“the Institutional,” and “The Charismatic.” Cardinal Dulles suggested that the conflict between these two ways of understanding the Church are at the very center of most of the conflicts and problems which the Church has experienced over the centuries. Because at the heart of this conflict is the issue of control!
Sadly, the need for control, the desire to control, and the actions taken to gain and maintain control have been like a drug for Christians. Once consumed, it never fully satisfied. And, when combined with fear, it led to actions which were counter-productive, because they brought about the very opposite of what the Church was supposed to be.
Inevitably, this need for control, leads to excess. At first, it appears to do a good thing—perhaps it clarifies a point which has been a source of anger and division. Perhaps it helps a community to move beyond a hurt or mistake, or failing. But all too soon, it begins to draw lines in the sand. Either you are with us or you are against us. Some are included, others are excluded. Sadly, it even goes farther—most of the Ecumenical Councils, for instance concluded with the famous sentence, “Those who hold the heresy, let them be anathema, let them be accursed, let them be damned!
This temptation is nothing new for Christians, Jesus addresses it head on in the Holy Gospel, According to Saint Mark, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
What a fascinating encounter. The disciples want to control the “Jesus brand.” They act as copyright police. The issue a lawsuit to force the outsider to cease and desist. This is our Jesus, not yours, only we have the right to say who will use his name. Only we have the right to say who will be included among his followers. It appears that their actions are motivated by fear. Unless they step in, who knows what this itinerant exorcist will do or say. What damage might he do? What will people think?
Jesus, though, operates from a place of trust. He is far more interested in including, rather, than excluding. He is willing to find common ground. He understands that his followers are going to have more than enough enemies, and wants them to find friends wherever they can. Jesus realizes that ultimately that his Abba is control, and that he can not be. And, so, he is not afraid to trust that God’s plan will best be accomplished when everyone is included and allowed to fulfill their vocation within the body of the gathered assembly. As he goes on to point out, that does not mean that there will not be conflicts, that does not mean that there will be disagreements, that does not mean that there will not be mistakes. But, if the leaders of the community are able to act with love, humility, and with a desire to serve and not control, they will be able to move forward in good, healthy, and holy ways.
There are the two opposites here, the call to enter into community, and the desire to shepherd the community together along the road to Beloved Community. God calls whomever God wills to enter into community. That is beyond the control of humans. It is the community who receives those persons who show up at the door. The question is how will they be received? Over the centuries this has been a real challenge.
What if the person is a
What if they are
What if they are a
From a group which we have identified as our enemy
What if they are
What if they are
Ill: physically, mentally, emotionally
Are addicted to alcohol or some other drug
What if they appear dangerous
What if they are a criminal
What if they have been incarcerated
What if they are
Hurt by religion
Spiritual but not religious
What are we to do? What does Jesus want us to do? Are we willing to run the risk of welcoming them? Are we willing to invite them to join with us at our table? Are we willing to share with them the Sacraments? All the sacraments, or only some? Are we willing to pray with them, to help them discern the vocation which God has given them? Are we willing to help them find their place around our altar, and at our business meeting? Are we willing to give them a voice, to allow them to use that voice, and to prayerfully discern what God is telling us through them?
So many have been hurt, abused, wounded, and damaged by people of faith. It is not so much that they do not want to be people of faith. Rather, it is that they are afraid to trust again. They have been told that they are evil, sinful, flawed. They have had scripture quoted at them, and well-meaning people point out their flaws, mistakes, and errors. They have been threatened with the fires of hell. No wonder they are afraid to walk through our doors. And yet, in so many cases, they have a hunger for God, a longing for community, a desire to find a home.
What might it mean to them if we said: “Welcome,” and really meant it? What might it mean if we told them that God loves them, that they are beautiful, and that in them we see a reflection of God. What might it mean if we thank them for the gift that they are, for the talents which they offer to share with us? What might it mean if we apologize for the hurt which they have experienced—even if we did not cause that harm or hurt? What might it mean if we really listened to them, and made them feel that they had been heard?
As good Anglicans, we are not people of either/or, we are people of both/and. We are not afraid to find a way to reconcile the Institutional and the Charismatic. But, we must know this, we are entering an age and time in which new expressions of the Charismatic are being poured out by God. The challenge for the Institution will be to celebrate, to welcome, to include—and above all to trust that this is the work of God. We must respond then with trust in God, and with thankful hearts because of the wonderful ways in which God is doing new and exciting things here and now.