St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Letting Go in the Kingdom of God”
Collect: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
[On an interesting fluke of the daily lectionary and the Sunday lectionary, today’s Gospel reading is the exact same as Sunday’s. Weird. I just do not want you to be surprised on Sunday. Yes, they are exactly the same.]
One of the hard parts, but very necessary parts, of doing Christian ministry is letting go. I am not talking about the possessions, or the sins that “cling so closely.” I am speaking of letting go of something can be just as hard. Sometimes we have to let go of people, people we love, trust, and with whom we share deep relationships.
When I would mentor new teachers at the middle schools where I worked, I would often hear the new folks complain about how mean the eighth graders were, especially about now as they entered their spring semester, their FINAL semester with us. Now eighth graders should not be expected to be emotionally mature. We asked for polite, and sometimes got it. But I would remind the teachers that middle school is designed to be a way-station, a transition. If we did our jobs right, they would be moving on to other things. Hopefully bigger, better things. The students knew in their bones that they were ready to move on and that came out in their emotions. Call it senioritis or whatever, but there is a time and place when transitions take place and there is a price to be paid for that, usually emotionally.
Ministry has this happen a lot, too. There are times and places when we need to send folks out to new pastures, to where God is calling and leading them. Abram left Ur. Moses was taken BACK to Egypt, even with the murder charge hanging over his head. Jesus was led to the Jordan to be baptized by John. And this is where we are getting to today.
John the Baptizer knew his place. He knew his role, his mission that he was to be about. And at the height of his ministry, he pointed some of his key leaders to other fields. I wonder if their were pangs in his heart as he did so?
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.I wonder what toll it took for him to send off these two? How pivotal to his ministry were these disciples?
When I was transitioning into the Episcopal Church, my rector told me one time how hard it was, but how necessary it was, for her to be able to send off some key folks. There were several of us in process toward Holy Orders. Just in the few years we were there, 5 newly called priests and a deacon started there or transitioned through.
Abbott+ and I were talking about it. I was thanking her for her guidance and encouragement in the process. She was shockingly honest about how she was happy and heartbroken at the same time. One of the costs of being a priest is loving the ones in your charge, and the leaders often have to move on. John the Baptizer felt it, too, I am sure.
One of the followers John pointed to Jesus we learn in a few verses is Andrew who goes and tells his brother Simon (who becomes Peter) that they had found God’s Anointed. Think about that. By letting go of Andrew, and encouraging him to this new call, he brings Simon Peter into Jesus’ orbit. And in so doing, the Church gains its dynamic leader who helped make us who we are.
We are not about building our kingdoms, followers of Christ are about building up THE KINGDOM, the Kingdom of God. It is hard. But it is worth it.
On an interesting side note, Abbott+ left St. Andrew’s in Richmond to become the Canon to the Ordinary in San Francisco, and as we speak she is doing the “walk-about” to see if God is calling her to be Bishop of Minnesota. Letting go is a necessary part of building up the Kingdom, and the tug of heartstrings is often the price we pay. Pray for her, and for the Diocese of Minnesota. Amen